There are lots of magical places in the world where you can enjoy a meal with a view: Revolving restaurants on top of "space needles," the Eiffel tower, and there's probably something in Las Vegas too. And then there are the kind of dining peaks capable of producing a natural high.
Randi Skaug has tried most of these. She's a professional adventurer and the first Norwegian woman to climb the Seven Summits—the highest mountains on every continent. She is also an expert in Norwegian mountain food, not a fussy eater, and generally pretty awesome.
We talked to Skaug about eating your way to the summit of Mount Everest, having the runs in Svalbard, eating freeze-dried food for a month, and the joy of well-timed pancakes.
MUNCHIES: Hi Randi. How did you became a professional adventurer?
Randi Skaug: It's normal for children to go on adventures. Most people stop doing it as they get older, but I never did. Today I make a living by going on adventures. That means my life is split between spending time in nature and then telling stories about it afterwards. It is my aim in life to help people and make every day a great day.
I have sort of established a term in Norwegian called "Kongefølelsen." It means something like "feeling that you're on top of the world." That's my objective. Not only going on adventures myself but to inspire other people to use nature to get that feeling. I believe that if we go outside a lot, the body gets strong and so do our minds.
I've experienced kongefølelse many times but it's not a constant. If it were constant it wouldn't have any value. It needs to hunted. It's a reward of feeling like nobody or nothing can beat you.
When was the last time you felt 'kongefølelse'?
The last time I experienced that feeling was just a couple of days ago. I own an island in the north of Norway north of Bodø near Lofoten called Naustholmen. I managed to bring four other people to a nearby lighthouse, which is something I haven't gotten to do before. We just sat there watching the sunset, drinking a beer. So it can be something simple like that.
You grew up on a farm. How has that influenced your relationship with food?
A lot of people ask me if i've always known how to cook. Just to be clear, I'm not a very keen cook but I'm very concerned with good food. Real food. I don't make the most exotic of dishes, but i make good and solid food with great produce. I cook everything from scratch. I don't buy prepared food and that's definitely something I have from my childhood—my mom was a housewife and she never threw anything out.
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What type of food do you eat when you're on your expeditions?
Depends on where I am. But when I was in Antarctica for instance, it wasn't possible to hunt or fish. There are no grocery stores and you can't bring a whole shopping cart with you. So I ate freeze-dried foods for a month. When you eat freeze-dried foods for so long it affects your stomach—when you get back and you get to taste real food again, it's a special kind of feeling.
Is there something you always bring with you?
Well, I always bring some traditionally preserved Norwegian food with me. Like dried reindeer heart, which contains around 80 percent protein. Also tørrfisk [dried fish] which is produced near my island. It's lightweight and durable. It will never rot or mold or anything, so it's always a part of my expeditions. I really like it when I get a chance to sit down, bring out my knife and cut off a fatty slice of reindeer heart. It's like a snack and it tastes like nuts.
You've climbed the "Seven Summits." What did you eat when you were climbing Mount Everest?
First of all it becomes difficult to eat. The thin air in high altitudes makes you feel nauseous and makes you lose your appetite. But it is critical that you keep eating. All the time. Variation is key, so you don't get bored, so I ate lots of small snacks, like almonds and raisins. I supplemented with cod liver oil and with dried lamb leg and lots of cheese I had brought with me.
For breakfast I ate oatmeal. I would just mix it with lukewarm water and then it would be fine—you can't really cook anything in that environment. The higher you get, the lower the temperature of the flame gets, due to the low amount of oxygen in the air. Water won't boil so it takes 20 minutes to cook an egg, for instance. Another consequence of that is that it's impossible to get a hot cup of coffee.
But the most important thing I ate on Everest was mackerel in tomato sauce. Its a tin can super-food, filled with fat and protein. The last climb up to the summit took 12 hours. The weather was really bad so I only spent 10 minutes on top of the world. Then it took us another 10 hours to get down again. During those 22 hours I only ate one piece of chocolate and drank a half a liter of water.
Can you describe the most extreme eating experience you've had?
I was skiing on Spitsbergen in Svalbard with a group of three other people. We had accidentally stored our food along with the cans of kerosene that we used to fire our stoves. The thing about kerosene is, if you drink it you start burping and you get the runs. Turned out one of the kerosene cans had started leaking and so there was kerosene in our food. So we knew what would would happen if we ate it.
It happened during the end of the trip and due to bad weather we had already used up our food reserves. So for the last two days we could eat food with kerosene or nothing at all. So of course what you do is you eat kerosene. Very little, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. When we happened upon a Russian settlement we just got down on our knees and begged them to cook something for us. They didn't speak English or anything, but they cooked us soup and served us pancakes with plum jam and that is a meal I will never forget.
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Haha, wow. What about the most pleasant?
One time I was kayaking off the north Norwegian coast that stretches approximately 1800 kilometers. The weather was unusually warm, too warm to paddle during the day, and so we kayaked during the night when the temperatures were cooler, but it was still pretty warm. Early one morning we paddled to shore and set up our tents. When we woke up it was so hot and there was just krøkebær—small blackberries—all over the place. Krøkebær is a small blackberry. We stripped down to our underwear and there were so many berries on the ground that walking around felt like walking on bubble wrap. We had some sugar and some flour so we made some pancakes and then used the berries to make jam. It was an amazing moment. Too often we're so concerned about what is and what isn't healthy. Should we eat this or should we not eat that? But it's okay to relax a bit sometimes. And eat some pancakes. I guess I really like pancakes.
Thank you, Randi!