Swiss-based adventurer Mike Horn on Thursday became the first man to circumnavigate the Arctic Circle without using motorised transport.
Having completed his two-year solo odyssey, he spoke to swissinfo about his feat and what he plans to do next.
Horn set out in August 2002, travelling on foot, skis and by kayak across Greenland, Canada, Alaska and Siberia.
But it is not the first time he has braved and beaten the elements. In October 2000 Horn completed a 40,000-kilometre trek around the world, following the line of the equator – again without the help of motorised transport.
In May the following year unfavourable conditions forced him to abandon plans to cross Greenland on skis, pulled by a kite. He was named extreme sportsman of the year in 2001.
The adventurer, who has a South African passport, has lived in Switzerland for more than ten years.
swissinfo: What went through your mind before you stepped off the boat bringing you here to Honningsvag on the northern tip of Norway?
Mike Horn: You think that you don’t want to get off the boat, because that is the end. You want to delay everything a little bit, but in the end you have to go.
Of course, you want to see your family and be at home, but then again you don’t. All the images come flooding back into your head. You hesitate and finally you realise it is all over.
Ultimately the question that haunts you is: what now?
swissinfo: Which do you fear more: the cold or the heat?
M.H.: If you make sure you drink enough, the heat can’t really do you any harm; I’ve experienced this in the jungle. Freezing temperatures, however, can kill you. The cold comes very quickly, and if you’re not careful your body temperature drops and you die.
swissinfo: And what about fear itself?
M.H.: Fear keeps me alive. If one day I lose all fear, it’s time to stop going on expeditions, because there is the risk of making huge mistakes.
The head feels completely empty while you’re walking. You only start thinking and worrying under extreme weather conditions.
swissinfo: You had the time to think a lot during your solo trip, possibly also about God and nature?
M.H.: When you’re so close to nature, you come to the conclusion that there is something that created all this. For me, this is God; others call it Buddha, the Sun god, Neptune… After 800 days out there, you say there must be something behind all this.
swissinfo: What is the driving force behind your expeditions?
M.H.: Well, it’s a good way of learning something new every day. I was born an adventurer and explorer, and the expeditions are a form of expressing myself. I can focus my energies on the expedition, and I can also share my experiences with those who are not able to do the same.
I think the people I have around me have respect for what I do, and I respect and trust them. I must be able to have full confidence in them – an expedition is a matter of life and death. It is a very strong relationship that you don’t usually experience in everyday life.
swissinfo: These expeditions take you away from your family for long periods. How do you cope with that?
M.H.: It’s easy for people to criticise me for not being a very good dad to my daughters. But how many fathers come home from work tired and don’t really see their children?
I might not be at home very often, but my daughters know I’m there for them. And once I’m home, I’m 100 per cent committed.
I see my role as a father as somebody who lets them share special moments and go out and do things. My daughters travelled to Canada, to the North Cape, to Russia, Alaska, Greenland… to Africa, Australia, New Zealand to come and see me.
swissinfo: And finally, what does the future hold?
M.H.: The future, what’s that? (laughs) I’m getting old, I have listen to what my body tells me. I’m going home, but I have plans – maybe something to do with children.
If I could do something to teach about nature, this would be a way of focusing my energy. I think we have lost touch with nature, but it is important to know about it.
swissinfo, Bernard Léchot in Honningsvag
On Thursday Oct 21, 2004 Mike Horn completed his “Arktos” expedition, a trip round the Arctic Circle, launched on Aug 4, 2002.
His solo odyssey led him through Greenland, Canada, Alaska, Siberia and Russia.
He travelled on foot and skis, by boat, bicycle and kite.
Mike Horn was born in Johannesburg in 1966.
He was a member of the South African army’s special forces between 1984 and 1987.
He graduated from Stellenbosch University with a degree in humanities and left South Africa in 1990 to travel in Europe.
He lives in Moulin, a village in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, together with his wife, Cathy, and his daughters, Annika and Jessica.
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