From Publishers Weekly
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“This voyage has its share of death-defying episodes . . .but it’s also filled with charming interludes. Through all of these adventures, Horn reflects on why he feels compelled to push himself to such limits. ‘It was inside myself that I took a long, long walk,’ he says. Readers will be grateful to share his experiences vicariously.”
About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
In 2000 after my trip around the world following the equator, I began to look around for my next challenge with three conditions in mind: it had to be something new for me; it had to be at least as difficult as the last challenge; and, most important, it had to be something that no one had ever done before. A physical or athletic exploit is just not enough to motivate me. I need to blaze a new trail, to find my way into new territory. Otherwise, for me, the word adventure loses its meaning.
I quickly settled on the idea of traveling around the earth at the Arctic Circle. In terms of sheer number of miles, the distance is certainly much shorter than along the equator, but the level of difficulty more than outweighed this “handicap.” The extreme cold, the icy waters, the vast ice fields, the crevasses, and the mountains that lay before me, and the ferocious polar bears all create an environment where the techniques of survival differ sharply from those necessary in the tropical jungle. All of it was totally different from anything I had experienced thus far—and that was a fundamental advantage in my eyes. What’s more, many people may have attempted this same feat, but no one had succeeded. Of all the factors that would encourage me to undertake this expedition, that was surely the most important.
The Far North was a foreign landscape to me. But I did have enough experience to know one thing: I didn’t have a prayer of succeeding without the kind of rigorous preparation and training that would make me capable of surviving in that environment.
My friend, the Swiss explorer Jean Troillet, had been dreaming for years of beating the world record for trekking across Greenland. He invited me to come along with him on the adventure along with another Swiss friend of mine, Erhard Loretan, who was the third man ever to have climbed, in succession and without oxygen, every mountain higher than 8,000 meters. I accepted the invitation with special enthusiasm because I had been planning to travel to Greenland to familiarize myself with the equipment, techniques, and every other aspect of Arctic travel. This expedition would serve as an initial preparatory stage for my trip around the Arctic Circle. Moreover, to have as mentors two of the world’s greatest Himalayan specialists was a privilege that I hoped to make the most of.
On this expedition I basically served as a pack horse. I worked and learned. I watched, I listened, and I tried to soak up everything like a sponge. Of the many things that Erhard and Jean taught me, the most important lesson was, unquestionably, patience. In conditions of extreme cold, knowing when to stay in your tent—instead of trying to go on at any cost—can easily spell the difference between life and death. I am by nature impatient and impulsive and have a hard time staying in one place, but I learned the importance of a Zen- like self- control.
That sort of self- mastery is indispensable when, for instance, a blizzard has been blowing for two days, blowing so fiercely and intensely that you could become totally lost just two yards from your tent, the distance at which the tent would become completely invisible. In such conditions everything is a wall of white, there is no earth or sky, no features, no landmarks. Lots of people have died that way in the Arctic: just two yards away from their tent.
That’s what would have happened to us if we had ventured out during the two weeks of terrible blizzard that poured its full force down on us. I couldn’t stay calm. I kept showing my uncontrollable impatience, but Erhard and Jean calmed me down and kept my nerves in check; in so doing, they offered me an example of wisdom and knowledge that would be an important inspiration later on.
Shortly before leaving for Greenland, I learned that I had been named a winner of a Laureus World Sports Award, the prestigious prize given by Daimler Chrysler and Cartier. I was chosen in recognition of my 1999–2000 journey around the world at the equator.
I was invited to spend three days on Le Rocher, the famous rock of Monaco, all expenses paid, of course. Since I am not really comfortable with social occasions or awards ceremonies, I very politely declined the invitation. Erhard and Jean were waiting for me. Given the choice between the luxury of Monte Carlo and a fair likelihood of freezing to death, I didn’t hesitate even for a second.
Back in Greenland, though, I told Cathy over the satellite phone that our food supplies were dwindling. Since the incredibly bad weather was showing no sign of letting up, we were considering turning back. On her end, she told me that the Laureus World Sports Awards representatives were still insisting that I show up for the ceremony; they were saying that I was required to be there. None of which appealed to me in the least. I was happy as a king where I was. If we did decide to turn back, it would be an opportunity for me to trek solo on the ice, giving me a chance to become familiar with that activity. As a joke, I told Cathy that if the people from Monte Carlo were so eager to have me attend their ceremony, all they had to do was come get me on the ice field.
My wife passed the message along, as positive as I had been that no more would be said about it. But the organizers of the Laureus World Sports Awards were not easily discouraged. They sent up a helicopter to get us: it picked up Erhard, Jean, and me at Angmagssalik, on the east coast of Greenland, and ferried us to the military base of Kulusuk. From there, a private jet that had come all the way from Europe just for us flew us back exactly as we were, fairly gamey, with all of our equipment, but without “civilian” clothes. Our civvies were still on the west coast of Greenland, where we were planning to pick them up after our trek, and, of course, we never did reach the other side of the country.
Despite all the attention and care that was being lavished on me, I still felt ill at ease. Twenty- four hours earlier I had been on the ice field, and there was a part of me that kept wondering what exactly I was doing here. But all that changed pretty quickly when the big night arrived. A crowd of living legends showed up to pay me their respects, including Michael Jordan, Alberto Tomba, Ernie Els, Edwin Moses, Juan- Pablo Montoya, John McEnroe, Boris Becker, and Jennifer Capriati. My head was spinning! They knew who I was because, as members of the jury, they all had read my file.
I received my “Oscar” in the category of Alternative Sports, but that was not the only good thing that happened to me that night. Of the major sponsors of that event, a considerable number would become sponsors of my future expeditions, as well. For instance, my fellow South African Johann Rupert, president of the Richemont watchmaking group, which owns Cartier, offered me a sponsorship. He would also become my good friend.
Objectively, I can say that I possess two main assets as an explorer: a rock- solid temperament and a solid capacity for physical endurance. But I wondered if those qualities would be enough to ensure my success without the support of Erhard and Jean, alone for the first time in the Arctic environment.
I was pretty sure that I could find the answer by going to see the Norwegian explorer Børge Ousland. He was the first man ever to reach the North Pole solo, as well as the first to cross Antarctica alone. I saw Børge as the world’s foremost specialist in solo polar expeditions. Since I considered him to be an absolute master, I decided to visit Norway so that I could apprentice with him. I wanted to learn everything I could about his way of life, his personality, the way he works, his attitudes and his reactions to events—and to life in general. I even wanted to know about his everyday routines. Then I would have a better idea of whether I could match his accomplishments.
I moved in with him in his house overlooking a fjord on the coast of Norway. Børge is very, very Zen. He operates like a cold- blooded animal and conserves every last bit of energy. There are times when I think his heartbeat must slow down to about one pulse per minute, like the heartbeat of the great masters of breath- hold diving. Two solid hours could go by between the time he offers you a cup of coffee and the time you finally receive the hot beverage.
I watched and learned.