Adventurer finds no road too challenging

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Adventurer finds no road too challenging

Choi Jong-yeol, 45, has crossed the Sahara Desert by foot, starting from the Atlantic Ocean and reaching the Red Sea, a total of 5,350 miles. But he terms himself a "challenger of human limitations" more than an explorer. Beginning with a cross-country trek in Korea back in 1985, Mr. Choi climbed Mount Everest (1987), became the first Korean to reach the North Pole (1991), crossed the Sahara (1996), followed the Silk Road (2000) and trekked along the equator in Africa (2002). His adventures have been a continuous set of challenges.

Since Thursday, Mr. Choi has been holding a special photo exhibition of his equatorial African trek in the Chungbuk Jecheon Citizens hall.

In the hope of extending his "adventurer's retirement age" to 55 years, Mr. Choi exercises for three or four hours daily to stay fit.

Mr. Choi was born in Busan but spent most of his childhood moving between Danyang, Yeongwol and Jecheon after his father's business went bankrupt. It was during this period that he first experienced the joy of mountain climbing.

Once hooked, he started to take it seriously during his early 20s. Joining the Jecheon Alpine club permitted him to befriend accomplished mountaineers like Heo Yeong-ho, and he became immersed in the life of climbing and exploration.

At first glance, Mr. Choi does not look like a rugged alpine climber: he stands 5 feet, 4 inches and weighs only 126 pounds. One can only wonder where his superhuman endurance and challenge mentality come from.

Recalling his 12-hour-a-day trek in temperatures of 54 to 56 celcius (129 to 133 degrees Fahrenheit) across the Sahara, Mr. Choi says: "When I was breathing in, it felt like I had a hair dryer in my mouth, as if my lungs were baking. I began to miss the freezing air of the North Pole."

After failing to reach the North Pole in 1990, he decided that confronting challenges was his true calling. The following year, he succeeded in reaching the North Pole and planted a Korean flag there after a 63-day journey.

"If there are no more challenges to overcome, I will have no reason to live," Mr. Choi says. "Each time I pull through a life-threatening situation, I tell myself, 'I will not do this anymore.' Yet after some time passes, I start to think about my next adventure."

Mr. Choi traveled amid battling tribes during his Sahara exploration. He also overcame malaria and dodged scorpions and snakes while walking up to 60 kilometers (37 miles) a day. He endured blisters for six months of his seven-month journey.

Next came the Silk Road. For five months he biked from Rome across Austria, Hungary, Romania, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and China. He covered 10,300 miles by cycling 150 to 200 miles in 12 hours a day.

Mr. Choi works in Chinese medicine, though he dreams of one day operating an expedition school. For now, the current plan is to return to the equator, this time in South America.

by Ahn Nam-young
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