Adventurers of the Year 2007

Tim Cope: Horse Whisperer

On the morning of his fifth day on the Eurasian steppe, Tim Cope, 28, woke to find his horses gone. For someone who had planned to undertake one of the longest equine journeys ever made, crossing 6,200 miles (9,978 kilometers) of harsh, roadless plains in the style of Genghis Khan and his Mongol horde, this was a troubling development. In the distance Cope saw a yurt. As he neared it, he could see three horses suspiciously like his own milling about. He asked the yurt's occupant how he'd come by them. "They arrived by themselves," the nomad replied, and he and Cope settled into a silent stalemate. Then the nomad spoke: "A man on the steppe with no friends is as narrow as a finger; a man with friends is as wide as the steppe." He then gave back the horses. For Cope it was a wake-up call; if he was to survive on the steppe, he needed not only to learn its culture, but to live it.

Over the three years he spent riding from Mongolia to Hungary, Cope stayed with no fewer than 160 families. He ate with them. Shared vodka with them. And whether Mongols, Kazakhs, Kalmyks, Tartars, or Hungarians, he bonded with them over the horse. He crossed mountain ranges in blinding cold and deserts in blazing heat; he was given a dog and bought a camel; and as he approached Hungary, where the rolling steppe withers into the banks of the Danube, he found himself a folk hero. Crowds gathered in every village and horsemen rode beside him. At one point a rider reined up next to Cope and said, "Do you know why everyone is helping you? Because you're honoring our ancestors. You've become a horseman in heart and mind." For Tim Cope there could be no higher compliment.