Explorer Mike Horn on taking risks and being the first man to circumnavigate the globe
The man might be 51 this year, but is undoubtedly one of the world's greatest explorers of our time. The good news is, age isn't a factor or a concern when it comes to the adventures of Mike Horn. Horn is tanned, rugged, well-built, and all smiles when we caught up with him during his stopover here in Singapore while on his current epic expedition.
Titled Pole2Pole, this adventure sees Horn circumnavigating 21,000 miles and six continents via the North and South Pole with just the help of skis, a kayak, a Mercedes-Benz G-class, and his explorer sailboat, the Pangaea. His other previous expeditions include swimming down to the Amazon River alone and scaling four of 8,000m summits in the Himalayas without oxygen support.
These adventures might sound absolutely ludicrous to common folk like us, but to the South African champ, it's simply a way of living. Horn elaborates more during our quick chat.
I understand that you sailed here on your boat. Tell us about that.
Yes, it took me a year and a half to get here. We didn't take any shortcuts; we took the longest way. Singapore is a good hub for us — once we got out of the Southern Hemisphere, it's just north of the equator and it's always nice to have a place that is easily accessible for us.
How has the Pole2Pole expedition been going so far?
I think it has been quite successful because I'm still alive (laughs). The moment you die is the moment you fail so up till now, I'm happy with the overall outcome. We've done interesting stuff that has never been attempted before, like crossing Antartica and crossing the skeleton coast in Namibia. All these little expeditions that I'm doing one after another are actually all part of this huge project. And they make life a little bit more interesting.
"To me, life isn't what I want to do in 10 years' time or the house that I want to buy in the future; it's what I have now."
Was exploring the world something that you always knew you wanted to do? Or did you wake up one day and suddenly decided to do it?
No, I don't think you can just become an explorer. I think you're born to be an explorer. As a kid, I never wanted to play the way where I had boundaries. My parents understood that and gave me the freedom that I needed to do so. In life, we have 30,000 days till the age of 82, and in half of those 30,000 days, we're asleep. So all that's left is 15,000 days to live. To me, life isn't what I want to do in 10 years' time or the house that I want to buy in the future; it's what I have now.
What's the most challenging part of what you do?
It's the moment when I get back into civilisation. Planning for expeditions isn't hard because you are allowed to prepare and utilise the knowledge and experience you have at hand. It's exciting for me to do so, especially when you can get to the day and say, "Now I'm leaving!" But once it's over, you don't have anywhere to go tomorrow.
We know it can be hard to choose, but tell us about the most impressionable adventure you've had so far.
It was on my 50th birthday in Namibia. I know it sounds like a stupid thing to do, but I always wanted to touch a wild rhino — to be able to stalk the rhino for eight hours, understand where the wind is blowing in, and to appear where it can't smell you. Moments like that are unique, and it's stuff that I've never done before.
"For me, I would rather see more with the possiblity of falling off the cliff. And it's not because I don't respect life, but I do what I do because it makes me feel alive."
Have you had any near-death experiences?
I was put in front of a death squad in Congo when other people were going to take my life, because they thought I was a rebel. In life, you can walk close to the cliff with a possiblity of falling off but your view is amazing. Or you can walk away and not see anything, but you can be certain that you're safe. For me, I would rather see more with the possiblity of falling off the cliff. And it's not because I don't respect life, but I do what I do because it makes me feel alive.
Who do you take with you when you travel?
I often just take my daughters along with me because I understand them best and know that I can take care of them. When they were both 10 and 11, they asked for a trip to Disneyland but I took them to Greenland. We had to ski 500km to cross Greenland, which nobody has ever done before.
Sounds like a normal family. Did you go on expeditions when you were young as well?
My first expedition was when I was 8 years old. I rode a bicycle to my cousin's place that was 300km away. The truth is, I was curious to how many days it would take me to get there. Unfortunately, my dad caught wind of my brilliant plan and ended up picking me up along the road. I later found out from him that all I needed to do was to ask for permission.
How about the craziest thing you've ever eaten?
Probably rotten walruses. It tasted like very old cheese; the kind that burned in your mouth and stank worse than durian. It was the worst thing I had ever tasted.
Tell us more about your relationship with Mercedes-Benz.
I've been sponsored by Mercedes-Benz for 16 years. For my first expedition, I didn't use vehicles so they thought of me as a pioneer in the world of exploration, just like how they are the pioneers in making cars. We connected really well in terms of our values — their slogan is, "The best or nothing", while for me, I have to be the best otherwise I will die. The vehicle for me had to be perfect; it had to be able to go over mountains or over the river. Those aspects made it a very close partnership. And I consider myself very privileged to be their ambassador.
What's the greatest misconception people have of what you do?
Sometimes, people don't understand that taking risks is part of my life or they think I don't value life as much as I should because I take unnecessary risks. I think it's risky to wear a tie to go to work for example — because that to me, is what I cannot do. Having Mercedes-Benz and Panerai as partners to support me, they support the philosophy of what I stand for. They understand what it means to go out there and be pioneers and to create something that has never been done. It's the same for every other job like a doctor, engineer, or journalist — we are all equally happy when we reach our goals.
"Perhaps put down your mobile device, go walk in nature and find silence — find where birds sing, where waves break on the beach and it'll make you a better person straight away."
What would you like to see more from the digital millennial generation?
I would like them to reconnect with nature again because that's where the truth of life can be found. Perhaps put down your mobile device, go walk in nature and find silence — find where birds sing, where waves break on the beach and it'll make you a better person straight away. I think we shouldn't be afraid of nature — we have to reconnect with it.