SINGAPORE (Jan 15): South African explorer Mike Horn was noticeably absent from the adventure scene over the last three years. He was mourning the loss of his wife, Cathy, who had been his driving force and had encouraged him to take on challenging expeditions. But he is back. Horn’s latest project, the Pole2Pole expedition, will see him attempt to circumnavigate the globe by passing through the two poles. This expedition, which starts on May 6, marks his fourth partnership with Officine Panerai, the others being the Arktos (2002 to 2004), the North Pole Winter Expedition (2006) and Pangaea (2008 to 2012).

Doubtless, this is perhaps the most emotionally difficult project for Horn, 52. “I’ve been through a little bit of a hard time with my family as well because my wife passed away and, you know, it was an expedition that I planned with her. All of a sudden, she was no longer there to support me, and we worked very closely together. We had the most amazing married life and professional life doing what we love doing.”

Losing Cathy to cancer was like having a rug pulled from under him, he says, and it left him hanging in mid-air. “I decided, after she passed away, to stay at home because I thought that was what my daughters wanted me to do. More than a year and a half ago, they said to me, ‘Hey, why aren’t you doing an expedition? We will support you.’”

He says his daughters, Annika and Jessica (both in their 20s), have somewhat taken over the role of their mother in prepping him for his expeditions. They told him, “You’d better get out there because if somebody can do it, it’s you. You have all the knowledge. You have the boat. You have the support from the sponsors and you must try because you will always have this question. If you don’t try, you will always regret, maybe, later in your life.”

They were words Horn needed to hear; after all, the thirst for adventure runs in his blood. Horn, who has an impressive résumé as an explorer, started his outdoor life as a ski instructor in Europe, later leaving to take on a rafting and paragliding expedition in the Peruvian Andes. In 1995, he opened the No Limits Outdoor Activity Sports Centre in Switzerland and broke the record for the highest descent of a waterfall with a hydrospeed, a flotation board, in Costa Rica.

This was the start of his many exploits, which got bolder and a little bit more dangerous each time. For six months in 1997, he travelled alone through the South American continent and tried his hand at sailing — completing a transatlantic crossing two days and 14 hours shorter than the world record. In 1999, he embarked on a 16-month expedition around the world along the equator using various modes of travel, followed three years later by the Arktos Expedition, trekking around the Arctic Circle for 27 months.

Last month, Horn spoke to Options aboard the Pangaea, short for Pan Global Adventure for Environmental Action, an environmentally friendly yacht berthed at Keppel Bay.

The Pangaea, short for Pan Global Adventure for Environmental Action, is an environmentally friendly yacht

Your aim with the Pole2Pole expedition is to get people out of their comfort zone and understand the world we live in. How has that been so far?
I’m extremely fortunate to be able to do what I love doing and that makes me calm and happy, and that is the driving force behind what I do. I don’t think what I do is anything special. I just do what I can do with the knowledge that I have. Sometimes, I look around and ask myself if I would have loved to do anything else, and the answer is no.

If you have to ask yourself why you are doing what you do, then you have to change your job, because you’re not content with what you’re doing. I don’t think I’ve ever asked myself — even in the worst conditions, very close to failure as well — why I’m on the ice or why I’m hanging off a rope or why I’m bitten by mosquitoes in the middle of the jungle.

The Pole2Pole [expedition] has been challenging because it’s an accumulation of 25 years of experience as a professional explorer [and] after my Pangaea Expedition, where I shared more with the younger people and I wanted to create World Environmental Ambassadors. There was still this need for me to do something that writes history in the world of exploration. We need to be able to do something that people can recognise and, once they recognise it as a human feat, we can then use that to do something else that’s more in education, more in sharing and more involved with the environment.

How would you motivate someone to take up the challenge and go on such adventures?
If you need to be motivated to do what you do, you need to stop doing what you do. That is very important to understand. Americans started with this phrase of ‘thinking positive’ and you have to motivate yourself to always achieve more. I don’t need to motivate myself to do what I do. I want to do it.

What we need more than motivation is discipline. In life, we work with thinking positive and with motivation, and I think we are going in the wrong direction. We have to be more disciplined with ourselves and, the moment you have discipline, you can go further than where motivation can take you.

For example, the wind is blowing 100kph and it’s -70 degrees in Antarctica and I have to get out of the tent. This could be the last time I get out of the tent because, if something happens, I won’t be able to pitch the tent again and I will die before I can set up camp because I’m alone. No one is motivated to get out of the tent because nobody’s motivated to go out there and risk their lives. But the discipline that I have allows me to get out of the tent.

It’s the same in life. You have choices and, in Singapore, Europe and the US, we have more choices. [Let’s say you have a problem and you] have five or six options, but the problem is still not solved. There is no breakthrough, so you have to find another solution.

I take all options away from what I do, so I must make it. There’s no bailing out. And the moment you can apply that theory in your daily life, where there are no options, you can’t run away and your life changes. It’s the basic philosophy of life. We always want more and more options, and that’s just a coward’s way of living your life.

The Luminor Submersible 1950 3 Days GMT Automatic Titanio — 47mm by Panerai

How can a watch brand like Officine Panerai play a role in such expeditions?
This is more than just a sponsorship. I’m part of the [Panerai] family, as they are a part of my family and that makes it very personal. It’s not just promoting the brand because I think I’m a bad promoter of the brand. I like the partnership because our philosophy is the same.

I’ve just visited the manufacturing plant in Neuchâtel [Switzerland] and you see the dedication of the people and the precision that goes into making a consumable product. You get to see how much they put into making a watch that is for me. It’s for one guy to try and do something that no other man has done. That gives me a tremendous connection to the brand.

This, to me, doesn’t only tell time. It’s my life. It has to keep good time because at, -50 degrees, when all other watches stop working because the oil freezes and crystal liquid freezes at -18 degrees, you can’t use your iPhone or GPS. You can’t even read the screen. It’s liquid. It freezes.

So, having a tool made for me, that I can go to the South Pole and find the South Pole, means I trust the brand. And once you have this trust, it is the moment where it’s much more than a sponsorship. Panerai has made four watches for me now and they allow me to do what I do and give me the best tool. They take as much risk in sponsoring me as I take risk on the ice because, at the end of the day, if it doesn’t work, then I don’t get to where I want to go.

Has the Panerai Luminor Submersible 1950 3 Days GMT Automatic Titanio lived up to your expectations?
It has definitely more than lived up to my expectations because time, to me, is equivalent to distance, and then distance is equivalent to life because if I have to travel from here to there and I only have 48 hours of food left, it’s like fuel. Food is energy and 48 hours tick away very quickly, and that is where I need to time my distance to make it through alive. That’s why it’s very important never to lose the notion of time in unsupported expeditions, especially when crossing the Antarctica. You cannot sleep five minutes longer than what you should and the only indication of that is time. It’s more than a watch to me.

Will you retire? Or at least slow down?
I will retire the day I die... because it’s not by choice. I’m not actually slowing down, so I’m busier than ever before. The big problem is that it’s like water. If water doesn’t move, it starts smelling; it’s the same with athletes. If we keep on moving, we’re maintaining our physical condition in a state that we can still perform, but the moment you actually stop is the moment it’s very difficult to start again.

Yes, I’ve been injured, and age is definitely a factor that plays a big role in my performance. Today, I have the knowledge, and experience replaces a little bit of physical performance because you can make the right decisions. It’s like hitting a nail into the wood. You can take all the power and hit the nail or you can just use the weight of the hammer to hit the nail into the wood. Today, I’m using the weight of the hammer more than my physical power.

The right partnership
Explorer Mike Horn’s Pole2Pole expedition brings with it all of his past experiences, including his values and philosophy on living in harmony with Mother Earth. In this expedition, Horn’s mission is to inspire people to enjoy their own adventures without the fear of leaving their comfort zone and understand the laws that rule the planet in which we live, and to publicise the need to protect this extraordinary environment at a time when the dangers threatening nature are extremely serious.

It is because of Horn’s values, along with a shared passion for the sea and the awareness of how important it is to care for our planet, that Officine Panerai decided to be a part of the his adventures.

To keep up with the unstoppable Horn, Panerai developed the Luminor Submersible 1950 3 Days GMT Automatic Titanio — 47mm, a Special Edition of only 500 pieces. The timepiece is tested for extreme weather conditions and equipped with functions vital for explorers such as Horn and for travellers with a penchant for adventure holidays.

Here are its features:

•             Water-resistant to a depth of 300m and with a rotating bezel for measuring the time of immersion, the timepiece is extremely tough, thanks to its solid case (47mm in diameter), made of brushed titanium, a hypoallergenic material that is much lighter than steel;

•             The P.9001 automatic movement has functions that are invaluable for any traveller: the date, a long power reserve —
a good 72 hours — and the GMT function, with a central hand indicating the time at home when one is abroad; and

•             On the midnight-blue dial, with applied hour-marker dots coated with Super-LumiNova®, the sports character of the watch is enhanced by the inscription POLE2POLE, printed in yellow and matching the second time-zone hand and the small seconds dial at nine o’clock.