Even meeting Mike Horn in Sydney drew me into his world. The text message was clear and somewhat reminiscent of a spy movie: “Make your way to the Man O’ War Steps by the Opera House and a boat will be waiting for you.”
Minutes later, the tiny, inflatable tender dropped me at Pangaea, a 35-metre two-masted yacht anchored in Farm Cove, just off the Royal Botanic Gardens. In the expansive lounge that is quite accurately described as a 16-seat conference room, Mike Horn was waiting.
Tanned and fit with an agility that belies his 51 years, Horn was born in South Africa, but has long lived in Switzerland.
Horn's adventures have taken him from the icy cold of the Antarctic to the heat of Africa
He has two daughters and the friendly but no-nonsense manner of someone who has things to do. He’s made a career of doing the hardest adventures in the hardest way:
1999: Circle the equator – no need for motorised transport when there’s a trimaran, bicycle and canoe, but let’s walk across Africa anyway.
2006: Walk to the North Pole – let’s do it in the dark.
2007: Climb two 8000-metre Himalayan Peaks – oxygen not required.
Mike was in Sydney after sailing to Antarctica on Pangaea, then crossing the continent solo on skis – the first to ever do so. He used a kite to pull himself along and achieved the remarkable feat of covering 5100km of the inhospitable terrain in just 57 days. It’s part of his current two-year Pole2Pole expedition that began in the Yacht Club of Monaco in May, 2016.
Mike’s polar travel tips may deter all but the bravest. Weight was a priority so he didn’t take underwear. He hung toilet paper up to dry so he could get a second use of it. He also used Viagra unconventionally – to achieve better circulation and avoid frostbite.
Mike Horn scaled the monumental peaks of the Himalayas without an oxygen supply in 2007
One of his principal sponsors is Mercedes Benz and he used its wind tunnel to perfect a tent that would work in 200 km/h winds on the polar plateau. “This was really working at the extreme edge of equipment design,” Mike said. “Despite being blown across the Mercedes wind tunnel, I ended up with a tent that stuck to the ice like an F1 car.
Back in 2002, Horn travelled around the Arctic Circle against all prevailing winds and currents – and without motorized transportation
Mike has a message for everyone to make the most of each day:
“If you live to be 82, you will have lived just 30,000 days. Some people grow older and stop dreaming because their dreams scare them, and that’s okay. Others do their dreams and that’s great. But some dream but don’t do and that’s not rewarding – just dreaming is not enough.”
“My father told me that if your dreams don’t scare you they aren’t big enough.”
Horn has worked with several sporting teams and states that motivation will get you to a certain level but only discipline will allow you to achieve your full potential.
He arranged his visit to Sydney around the launch of the Greek spirit Metaxa 12 Star, for which he is a brand ambassador, with his face seen on billboards and ads around the world.
Mike lists his passion as simply “preserving the planet” and he uses his expeditions to inspire youth. The Pangaea is sponsored by Mercedes Benz as part of the company’s “TrueBlueSolutions” sustainability strategy.
When the vessel is not under sail, it’s propelled by BlueTec engines that produce low emissions. The boat’s batteries are charged by a mix of solar panels and hydrogen fuel cells. Ultimately, the whole aluminium boat will be recycled.
After a couple of months in the Outback, Mike has left Australia bound for New Caledonia and the Pacific. After that, there’s Asia, Siberia, the North Pole (again), and Greenland on the way to the end of the adventure in the place where it all began: Monaco.
Horn's Pole2Pole expedition began at the famous Monaco Yacht Club
While it’s unlikely any of us will emulate Mike Horn’s adventures, he inspires as an example of how much a person can achieve. Towards the conclusion of his book Conquering the Impossible (2007), he wrote about his circuit around the Arctic Circle:
'After all this time, all this work, all these sagas, all the ordeals, and all the joys, I only want to say one thing, I am happy to be alive.'
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Image credits: Chris Brinlee / Inkwell Media, Dmitry Sharomov.