Crazy for coasters — or just plain crazy?

Karol Gajda may not be the most extreme roller coaster rider out there, but this summer, he’s likely to be one of the busiest. Having embarked on a self-funded Roller Coaster Tour on May 21, he’s planning to drive 13,000 miles, hit 59 parks and ride several hundred coasters across the country.

For the 30-year-old Gajda, the tour is the latest manifestation of a lifestyle that’s seen him sell most of his possessions, travel constantly (and, we assume, extremely lightly) and espouse a philosophy of “ridiculously extraordinary freedom.”

According to Gajda, roller coasters are merely another expression of that lifestyle. Having grown up outside Detroit, he rode his first coasters at Cedar Point, in Sandusky, Ohio, and decided that this summer he’d hit the road in search of others.

We caught up with him in Texas to find out why. Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation:

Q: So where are you now?

A: I’m passing through Austin. I was at SeaWorld in San Antonio this morning and I’m on my way to Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington.

Q: How were the coasters at SeaWorld?

A: Great White was really fun — it’s one of those where your feet are dangling in the air. I wear these shoes called Vibram FiveFingers that are like gloves for your feet. It feels like you’re not wearing shoes at all so it’s like you’re flying through the air barefoot.

Q: What’s your favorite coaster so far?

A: My favorite coaster that I’ve ever been on was X2 at Six Flags Magic Mountain. It’s insane — you don’t know if you’re up, down, going right, going left or whatever. It’s impossible to even explain it; you can watch it go but you don’t get it until you’re actually strapped in and riding it.

Q: Any surprises along the way?

A: Wooden coasters. I grew up in southeast Michigan so we went to Cedar Point a lot, which is known for its big [steel] thrill rides. They also had wooden coasters, but I didn’t enjoy them because they were bumpy. But as this tour has progressed, I’ve started to fall in love with the beauty of wooden coasters.

Q: For instance?

A: The Legend at Arnolds Park in Iowa, which is in the middle of nowhere. It was built in 1927 and it was really cool to go on something that’s so historic.

Q: Why the tour?

A: I just like to do fun things that will inspire people to do fun things. I like people to dream big and go for their goals no matter how wacky they are. I understand [the tour] is a weird and wacky thing to do but, hopefully, it’ll inspire some people to do their own weird projects no matter what other people say.

Q: You also say you’re not a hardcore coaster enthusiast, yet you’re spending three months doing this. Can you explain?

A: I’m not documenting every twist and turn and I don’t go on forums and discuss coasters all night. The tour is almost like an art project for me; the coasters are the medium. It’s not really about the coasters; it’s about inspiring people to do what they want.

Q: Your website shows another 30-plus stops from Arkansas to Ohio to Florida to New England. Where does it all end?

A: The tour is scheduled to end on August 14 at Cedar Point, which is known as a great roller coaster park. Growing up outside Detroit, it’s also sort of my home-base park, so it has nostalgic value as well. [After that, Gajda plans to head to Abu Dhabi to ride the Formula Rossa roller coaster, which at 150 mph, is the world’s fastest.]

Q: Other than roller coasters, have you experienced anything else of interest along the way?

A: The one thing that really hit me was Wall Drug in South Dakota. I saw the first billboard — Wall Drug: 452 miles —  and as I kept driving, I saw more and more billboards — Wall Drug: Only 132 miles away. By the time I was within 20 miles, I thought, you know what, I’m stopping and sending my parents a postcard. So that’s what I did.

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Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him at Twitter.

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