Christopher Columbus, Marco Polo, Magellan…these are some of the most famous explorers to have traversed the earth. Fast forward to the present day, we have Mike Horn, who is living up to the title of a legend. The modern explorer has covered some of the most remote regions of the earth in the most extreme conditions. If you haven’t heard of him, get ready to be astounded.
Mike’s first taste for the adventurous life started when he was a young child, where he’d spend most of his time outdoors exploring the Johannesburg plains. Like Tarzan, if you may. When Mike was 24, he quit his job in sports science, gave away all his belonging and moved to Switzerland with only $50 in his pocket. This was to be the beginning of his journey in pushing boundaries and testing the limits of human ability.
“The impossible exists only until we find a way to make it possible”
Ready, set, go!
Mike started off working in a hostel before learning to become a ski instructor and riverboarder. This stint led to one of his earliest and biggest adventures where in 1995, he riverboarded down a 22-metre high waterfall at the Pacuare River in Costa Rica and in 1997, after over a year of preparation, he took the plunge and swam down the Amazon River with a hydrospeed board.
His taste for the unknown and his yearning for the wild only intensified with time. The adrenaline junkie went on a 17-month trip dubbed ‘Latitude Zero’, where he circumnavigated the globe with no motorised transport. For this outstanding feat, the father-of-two was awarded the 2001 Laureus World Alternative Sportsperson of the Year Award.
In 2004, he completed ‘Arktos’—a solo circumnavigation of the Arctic Circle using only a kayak, ski kite and also his own two feet while pulling a sledge with 180kg worth of equipment. The expedition took him two years in the most unforgiving environment.
Following this, he went on a trip to the North Pole on foot with Norwegian Børge Ousland, walking through the terrain in the middle of winter covered in permanent darkness. The first two who were crazy enough to ever do so.
If this isn’t bad***ery, we don’t know what is!
In the last two decades, Mike has scaled four mountains and seen more of the Earth than any other human possibly could. He uses his experience to conduct motivational talks and inspire others. His physiological coaching helped the Indian cricket team win the World Cup in 2011—the country’s first in 28 years. Mike is also said to be instrumental in helping the German national football team as they prepared for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, which they eventually won after 24 years.
Mike is currently aboard the Pangaea for his latest expedition – Pole2Pole – where he will spend two years circumnavigating the globe via the South and North Pole. The Pangaea is a 35-metre sailing boat that he fondly calls his SUV of the oceans; for his journey on land, he takes the Mercedes-Benz G-Class. His recent port of call was Malaysia, where we got upclose to talk adventure with him.
5 Minutes with Mike Horn
You do a lot of motivational coaching and have been cited to help several sporting teams to achieve success. What do you find is the most common obstacle or setback to great teamwork? How do we break the cycle?
The most common obstacle I’ve encountered in my coaching experience is the ego. One needs to lose sense of the ego in order for the team to become one. And for that one needs to learn how to understand, accept and adapt.
From your first big expedition in 1997 to your current Pole2Pole adventure, what still surprises you about the human spirit after all these years?
I will always be surprised by the lack of respect for each other and for our planet. On the other hand, I’m always surprised and inspired by the authentic and passionate people living the life they dream!
You’ve done expeditions on foot, vessel and also motorised vehicle, have you got any other mode of transport you would like to attempt? Where would you go?
I’ve always wanted to walk under water (with oxygen supply!) to witness the undiscovered beauty of the underwater world. There is so much to see and so much left to explore under the surface of the water.
Can you share with us your daily thought process when you’re on expeditions?
While on expedition, I wake up everyday with the same goal: the finish line of my expedition. It is by focusing on a successful end that I find the motivation, but above all, the discipline to overcome the everyday obstacles encountered when on an expedition!
What do you miss most when you’re on your solo adventures?
Definitely my friends and family! But they also become the main reason and motivation to stay alive and come back home safe.
What is the first thing you do when you get home from a long time away on your trip?
Enjoy a good and relaxing meal with my daughters.
Do you think your daughters take after you? What qualities of yours do you see in them?
I don’t think they will become extreme explorers like me, which is probably a good thing! Laughs. I’m a protective dad and wouldn’t want them to risk their lives the same way I have over the years. But they have definitely inherited the adventurer’s gene! They love travelling as much as I do, they’re imaginative, and extremely motivated to reach their dreams.
Follow Mike Horn on his Pole2Pole adventure here.
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