Adventurer's Pole2Pole journey warms up in Alberta's Rockies
By Jim Bray
G, wouldn't you love to have a top line Mercedes-Benz off roader to support you on your globetrotting adventures?
Click on the image to open a slideshow.
Mike Horn certainly seems to love it. The "21st century adventurer" brought his pair of "G" Classes - which will be joined on his upcoming global circumnavigation by a sailboat as well as his own physical abilities and guts - to a press event at Calgary's Lone Star Mercedes-Benz dealership on Monday, April 4, after having tested a pair of the German carmaker's G-Class units in Alberta's mountainous wilderness.
Horn has been connected with Mercedes-Benz for many years, and his expeditions are supposedly designed to explore culture and nature in remote regions and then to share his experiences and learnings with people around the world. His Alberta adventure was in preparation for his "Pole2Pole" expedition, a circumnavigation he's making, obviously via the North and South Poles, the latest of his "big adventures." It comes on the heels of his 2015 journey to K2, the world's second highest mountain, a journey that also exploited the legendary abilities of the Mercedes-Benz G-Class.
Horn noted at Monday's Calgary event that he had experienced a bit of angst as his flight approached Calgary, when he noticed the area below was quite flat and brown. That first impression didn't last once his G-Class vehicles arrived from Germany, however. "We drove up toward Banff and Jasper and all of a sudden my eyes opened to some of the most amazing landscapes I've ever seen," he said. "I've walked around the world four times, I've sailed 12 times around the world, I've been to the North and South poles and crossed all the continents on foot…but discovering Alberta was eye opening." He noted that Albertans live in one of "the most amazing places in the world" and advised jaded locals to get out into the landscape and "open your eyes. It's like you plug into the mountains and get charged with this energy, you just want to see more and do more."
I'm torn by his effusive praise for Alberta. I love it here and there are many terrific driving roads, but I'd rather they stayed a local secret.
Anyway, Horn referred to his Alberta jaunt as a "soft adventure, where nobody's going to die doing what they do; you just see some of the most amazing lakes and mountains and forest and ice." And though he expressed frustration with the rules and regulations with which he had to contend (thanking the folks at Travel Alberta for helping navigate the bureaucratic hoops), he noted that once you get all the red tape unwound you'll find that Alberta is a beautiful place - and he wondered why anyone in Wild Rose Country would actually live in a house.
Though Horn said he wasn't in Calgary to sell vehicles he, not surprisingly, had high praise for the rugged and robust G-Class wagons which, along with such venerated competitors as the Land and Range Rovers and Toyota Land Cruisers, are practically synonymous with off road adventure around the world. "When you fly over a country," he said, "it remains unknown to you (but) when you cross it by car and on foot you can see new things, discover the beauty of nature and understand the life and the needs of the people who live there. The Mercedes-Benz G-Class enables me to do this – even in the most remote areas of the world."
Horn eschews such add-ons as snorkels and winches for this G-Classes, preferring to play it safe when the water or ruts get particularly deep - his ace in the hole being the ability to use one of the G-Class wagons to tow the other out of trouble if it happens. And as illustrated by the slides and videos he showed to the assembled media and guests, such scenarios do happen.
Born in Johannesburg, Horn served in the South African special forces as a youth, fighting Russian insurgents on the dark continent. "I knew the difference between life and death," he told the audience, "and all I wanted to do was stay alive." And while traipsing all over Parent Earth in some of the most remote and/or dangerous spots one can find may not strike one as being the best way to keep oneself alive, Horn has thought through that aspect of his life.
He decided that one way to stay alive was to leave Africa, which he did by moving to Switzerland some 35 year ago, which he said with a smile is "just a base where I change my underwear and visit my family." And though he was risking my life with his globe-trotting, "I was given all the freedom and support (I needed)," he said, adding that "the only thing my wife asked of me was to come back alive." Unfortunately, it was Horn's wife who passed away - from cancer - but he has two college aged daughters with whom he likes to spend time on (and, obviously, often off) the road.
Besides Horn's adventures taking him to some of the world's highest mountains, without oxygen, he's visited both poles (he made it to the North Pole during the long Arctic night) and swum the Amazon river. But of course he didn't do it all alone. "When you do these things you need a lot of support," he noted, adding that he gets it not only from his family, but from Mercedes-Benz - which has sponsored his adventures for many years now. "They really give me the tools to do what I do," he said, "and without them I would never be able to do what I do - because someone has to pay for this (stuff)."
Horn said the folks at Mercedes-Benz don't always give him what he wants, but "they give me what I need - and if you have what you need in life I think you can do a lot because what we want and what we need are two different things."
Needless to say, when you're going well off the beaten path it pays to be prepared, but it also pays to be creative and flexible. Horn noted that, on his trip across Eastern Europe and the Himalayas to Pakistan's K2 last year (on which he was joined in part by his daughters), there was a time when they needed 400 litres of fuel for their pair of G's, but there was no place to get it nearby. It turned out that all he could scare up was a measly two litres, which as one might expect wouldn't have taken them very far.
But the experience provided a life lesson. "I bought (the) two litres of fuel," Horn said, "left one car there and managed to cover about 50 kilometres on those two litres, where I then found 400 litres." The lesson? "In life, you have to take each opportunity that you have because it makes a difference; it will take you somewhere else where you will experience something completely new and it might change your life. So often, the very little bit that you don't think (can help) can take you to a place where you can find what you need."
While it may seem the adventurer tackles life with wild abandon, Horn said he's also big on taking responsibility for his actions - and he isn't afraid to fail. "If you decide to do something and it fails, the moment you take responsibility people will blame you but they will respect you," he said. "The moment you don't take responsibility is the moment that people will blame you and lose respect for you, and if a man loses respect, he loses all his value. If you cannot believe someone, then what value does he have as a human being?"
As for his quarter century of extreme travel, Horn said "doing such amazing things just makes me feel alive and…I have had the privilege to spend 15,000 (of the days we each get in our lives) to the fullest of (my) capabilities." He encouraged his audience to get up and get outdoors as well, though not necessarily in the way he does it. "You don't have to climb Everest or K2," he said. "You just have to go out and do something that's a little bit different - and that's when you start feeling alive. And everywhere you go, there's an adventure just waiting."
Horn credits his survival so far, at least in part, to not being afraid to call it quits if necessary. Recounting his trips up K2, he talked about a climb where, when frustratingly close to the summit, the snow was such that he felt it wasn't prudent to go on - basically saying that by not pressing on he lived to try again later rather than risking his life and others tilting at a very elevated windmill. "If you're afraid of losing you can never win," he said. "Don't worry about losing; it's fine."
Horn got his penchant for thinking big from his father. "He told me something when I was very young," he said, "and it changed my life: if your dreams don't scare you, they're not big enough. All you need is a little bit of determination, a little bit of passion and motivation." Even more important than those, however, is discipline. "Life is about discipline," he said, "and if you're disciplined you don't need motivation. No one is motivated to get out of the tent at 6 a.m. at -60 in the arctic, where you'll freeze your fingers and toes; you have to be disciplined to reach certain goals and once you have that discipline, then life takes a different dimension."
Horn will begin the "Pole2Pole" expedition in Monaco on May 6, he'll then sail his expedition's boat south to Namibia before getting back into his G-Classes and driving them through the world's oldest desert, on the Namibian coast. His route will then take him through Botswana's Okavango delta (the world's largest inland delta, according to Mercedes' press materials), before reaching his old home of South Africa. He'll then sail to the Antarctic, cross the icy continent (including the South Pole) on skis, and continue the adventure by exploring parts of New Zealand and Australia.
In Papua New Guinea, Horn's G-Class take him through unspoiled equatorial forests before heading through the tundra in Kamchatka on his way to the North Pole, at which point he'll ski and kayak over to Greenland and return to Europe by boat.
If you're interested in following Horn's adventures, you can check out his website (www.mikehorn.com) or follow the hashtag #Pole2Pole. Horn will give continuous reports on his progress, his experiences and - according to Mercedes-Benz - "how the G-Class keeps managing the impossible."
It sounds like a heckuva trip! I look forward to the video…
Copyright 2016 Jim Bray
Jim Bray is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. His columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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