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Mike Horn is profiled in the March/April 2001 ADVENTURE's Chronicle department.

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Mike Horn
Globe-Circling Adventurer
Age 34
Chateau d'Oex, Switzerland
Birthplace Johannesburg, South Africa
Day Job Outdoors Instructor
  Mike Horn   "I was in front of a death squad, and they were going to shoot me."

In June 1999, Mike Horn sailed west from Libreville, Gabon, in a 28-foot (8.5-meter) trimaran. Last October, 17 months later, he biked back into Libreville from the east, becoming the first person to circle the globe at the Equator without motorized transport.

Horn hiked, swam, canoed, biked, and sailed 29,000 miles (46,670 kilometers), deviating from latitude zero only to avoid African war zones and respect tribal lands in South America. Along the way, he was dragged before a firing squad and caught in a cyclone at sea.

In the past seven years, Horn has navigated 4,350 miles (7,000 kilometers) down the Amazon, paraglided from 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) off Peru's Huascaran Glacier, and steered a body board over a 70-foot (21-meter) Costa Rican waterfall. His next journey: a "top secret" expedition in the Siberian wilderness.

  Why circle the Equator?

Well, three years ago I swam down the Amazon River—about 7,000 kilometers (4,350 miles)—which took about six months. The final stretch of the river was difficult, because I didn't want the adventure to end. So I started thinking of going around the world.

Then I thought I'd go solo and nonmotorized and following the Equator. If you want to go around the world then you have to go around the Equator—there's no other way to me. I mean, walking around the South Pole is going around the world, but for me it had to be the Equator.

  Roughly what route did you follow?

First of all, it took me about six months to choose the starting point. You can't just start anywhere, because you have to respect the conditions: hurricanes, cyclones, etc.

The first stage was to cross the Atlantic Ocean, which took 19 days in a little trimaran. Then I walked for five months across South America, through the Amazon jungle. Then it took almost 79 days to cross the Pacific Ocean to Indonesia, where I spent close to two and a half months crossing the islands of Borneo and Sumatra.

Then I had quite a heavy trip through the Indian Ocean that took me three months. Finally I reached Africa and crossed for four months from Kenya to Gabon.

  Were you ever tempted to call it a day?

Yes, but if you're in the middle of the Amazon jungle and you've gone more than half of the way, then it's a bit stupid to turn back.

I love the jungle, I love nature, so I don't see the negative parts. If you walk through the jungle for five months and you only see the snakes, the ants, the jaguars—the animals that can do you harm—then you'll never make it.

  What were the high points of the trip?

The day that you leave is the greatest moment. A project starts as just a thought in your head, then when you actually find yourself alone on your boat and you're starting your expedition, everything turns into reality. There were other highlights, like reaching the summit of a mountain or crossing Lake Victoria.

  What was the story behind your brush with a death squad?

Well, I was in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, crossing from one rebel territory to another, when one group thought I was a spy. And if they think you're a spy, you can tell them what you want to, but they'll believe what they want.

I was actually in front of a death squad, and they were going to shoot me. When they lifted up their Kalashnikovs or AK-47s and I closed my eyes—well, I was just waiting for the shot. Maybe they were just playing with me. In the end, a police officer saved me. He said it was a police affair, not a military one.

  How did you fare with the elements?

I was lucky to get through a cyclone with 220-kilometer-an-hour (137-mile-an-hour) winds on the Indian Ocean. I was doing 26 knots without any sails, going through big swells of up to 60 meters (197 feet), and just fighting to save my boat.

Alone on your boat with no electricity, with no autopilot because the batteries aren't charged, you just can't do anything.

  How did you make it through the Amazon?
  I did a bit of swimming and used an Indian canoe that I got in the jungle when I was going up through Colombia. The drug traffickers say you have to stay on the river or they'll kill you. The only way to stay on it was by trading medicine for a canoe or a lamp or something.
  Did you get much support from locals?

I actually tried to avoid contact with people, as you never know how they'll react. I was caught in Peru three years ago, and they thought I was a devil or something.

I had a big beard and a black wet suit, and I was swimming down the Amazon River. It was actually the marines of Peru that came in with helicopters and saved me—a bit of luck again.

  How did it feel to finish?

Everything you do is about fighting to get to the end, to stay alive. Then when you're about to reach the end, you think, I don't want to reach the end. What am I going to do after this?

  How did you become involved in the solo adventure trips?

When you do sports or outdoor adventure [for a living], you go down that same river every day, which is OK to earn some money, but I was always interested in doing things that had never been done before.

In between the seasons is when I have holidays, so I try to head off to do things that have never been done before.

  How does adventuring affect your family life?
  I wouldn't say I'm a conventional family man, though I'm married with two daughters. When she married me, my wife knew exactly who I was and what I wanted to do with my life.
  How did you pay for the expedition?

I had a minimal budget for the expedition, so I had to work with family and friends who believed in what I believed in. Not a lot of companies go for it when you go to them and say you want to go round the world. The first thing they say is that it's impossible and we can't invest our money in something that will never work.

So my brother was responsible for the logistics, and my wife did some of the preparation—the press and things like that. I had a lot of friends who believed in me and worked for nothing. Eventually, as you go along, people start to believe, and you get one or two sponsors, but they never really believe until you reach the end.

They don't want to take any risks with money, but I have to risk my life. I can die, but if people lose ten dollars, they get all upset. It makes me laugh sometimes.

  What's next?

I have an idea to "break out" of an abandoned prison in Siberia and try to cross Siberia and into Tibet equipped only with survival techniques. This prison was guarded by nature—you supposedly couldn't reach civilization even if you did escape, because of the harsh country.

I just want to know if it's possible to reach civilization from there if you know how to hunt, how to find food, because on all my expeditions I've had to hunt and survive. But I can't tell you where it is. It's got to be top secret, or you National Geographic boys will nip in there before me and have a go!

—Alison Cockcroft

Photograph by Matthieu Paley

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