Mike Horn has seen more of the world than anyone else, and he’s done it in the most punishing of ways. This is a man who has been tested by physical and mental pain. He has crossed South America solo (following the length of the Amazon River), circumnavigated the equator without motorised transportation, and with fellow explorer Børge Ousland was the first to ski to the North Pole in the permanent darkness of winter. Along the way, he has lost the tip of a finger to frostbite, raised equally adventurous children, and inspired The Telegraph to pen down 19 reasons that make him “the world’s greatest living man”.
He’s in the midst of his most ambitious campaign ever: Circumnavigating the world by sailboat, kayak, and skis, from the North Pole to South Pole. And again, he’s doing it without that thing called a “motor”. If all goes as planned, it will take him two full years to complete his epic Pole2Pole adventure. Already two-thirds through, he’s crossed the African continent, skied solo across Antarctica (cheating death every step of the way), and seen more of New Zealand and Australia then its own residents ever will.
But before he makes his way up to the Himalayas where he will next climb as yet unnamed and unclimbed peaks, and cross the volcanoes of Kamchatka, he swung through Singapore in his home on the water — the ice-breaking sailing vessel, Pangaea.
Urged to make a pit-stop by his long-time sponsor Officine Panerai (which has for the last decade developed the hard-wearing, freeze-proof and amagnetic watches he navigates by), he sat with Prestige to chat not only about his quest, but perhaps more revealing of what maketh a man: Raising his incredible support team, daughters Annika, 24, and Jessica, 23.
Do your daughters think you are crazy? Or they’re comfortable with dad going off on these never-before-done adventures?
They’re just as crazy. (laughs) You know, it’s what they are used to and they think it’s just normal. It’s not something special. When they were young, I had already written six books. The first book I wrote was Latitude Zero, when I went around the world on the equator. And I’d read it to them as a bedtime story. They didn’t know that it was based on my experiences. They’d always say, “Papa read us the story of the guy that follows the equator around the world.” I never told them it was me. For them it must have just been a fantasy. And then one day, a teacher passed a copy of the book to Annika for me to sign. And that’s how they found out that was me.
How old was she?
She was nine. She came home and said, “Papa, it’s you!” (laughs) That’s how they discovered what I was really doing. And then they got very interested. When they were 10 and 11, we skied 500km across Bylot Island, the island next to Greenland which had never been crossed. They actually wanted to go to Disneyland, but I said, “I’ll take you to a better place”. So for one month, they skied with me and my wife. They became the first kids to ever cross the island.
Did they ever say, “Papa I don’t want to do it, it’s too tough?”
No, they’re up early in the morning — dressed and ready to go. They loved it.
So you never took them to Disneyland, not even after that?
No! (laughs) And the year after that they became the youngest kids to ski to the North pole. They’ve also sailed up the Amazon. And then they took a year off school before going to university, spending a year with me on the boat sailing.
That’s a very unusual childhood. Your approach to fatherhood is also unconventional to say the least.
A father that works in a city can come back home and see his kids. But he doesn’t always share his work with his kids because his kids may not be interested in what’s happening at work. For me, I never really visited my kids at home — they came to see me. If I had gone home to them, I would have disrupted their daily lives since I’m never there for long. And if I’m there, it’s very difficult for them to see me go. That’s why I always arranged for them to come and see me, so it was exciting, it was a holiday. And when they leave back to their normal lives, it’s easier for them. It was not me leaving them. It’s them leaving me. It’s also important that a father gives something to his kids that is unique. Because otherwise any man can be the father. So the psychology of that made our family very close.
And of course to be a good explorer, you need a supportive family.
If your family supports you and gives you the freedom to go out there and explore, it makes you want to come back to them — you want to stay alive. It makes me think twice before I do something extremely dangerous or crazy. Because I want to see my family. In life, there is a line. You’ve got selfish on one side — and most of us live on the selfish side — and on the other side, we have selfless people that give everything to others. When I go on expeditions, I have to be completely selfish. Because I want to survive, I can only think of me. And when I come back home, I have to become a completely selfless being. I must give all my time to people that support me. That’s how you keep the balance of life.
For more on Mike Horn’s expedition, read the January 2018 issue of Prestige.