Chasing Mike Horn Through Namibia

We spent five days with the famed explorer

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Adventurer and environmentalist, Mike Horn has circumnavigated the globe along the equator without the use of motors, he’s summited multiple Himalayan peaks without supplemental oxygen and he’s trekked the Arctic Circle for 27 consecutive months, covering 40,000 kilometers—among other things. Given his drive and perspective, it’s no surprise that he’s also a motivational speaker and television show personality. Next month he will walk across the Namibian desert as the kick-off (no pun intended) of Pole2Pole, his lap around the planet via the North and South Poles. Arranged through his sponsorship from Mercedes-Benz, I caught up with Mike and his team for a brief adventure through Namibia.

Our days were spent in standard-issue Mercedes-Benz G Wagons chasing Horn from one waypoint to the next, left on our own to deal with the hurdles put in our path. Horn was always in the lead pushing us harder and harder to keep up. We covered rocky terrain, sandy desert and even a bit of beachfront. But this wasn’t a typical press drive—between 10 journalists and five cars we managed to kill one transmission, blow at least six tires, bend one rim and totally destroy the front shocks on two of the vehicles. Fortunately we had an MB engineer and Horn’s support team to help us work through the challenges, but we were by no means hand-held through the experience. While our first tire change took nearly half an hour, the last one was completed in seven minutes. Regardless of our prior off-road adventure experience levels, each of us on the trip gained new skills and perspective.

Mike Horn is somehow both a soloist and a leader. He prepped us on the essentials of off-road driving and how to avoid scorpion and snake bites, but in the moment each day he was racing ahead of the pack, not guiding from alongside us. One night around the campfire we got a glimpse of one of his core, underlying philosophies that drives his decision-making. Reflecting on his eight-year-old self caught trying to ride his bicycle to his uncle’s house 300km away, he recalled his father ignoring him instead of punishing him. When he couldn’t stand it any longer he talked to his dad and realized “it’s for me to go and fix a situation, not for him to come and punish me. So from that moment on I understood that if I do something wrong I have to admit it, not wait to get caught. He made me decide what’s right and wrong.” Similarly, we were left to be accountable for our actions as opposed to told how to solve the problems. Further to the topic of decision making, he added, “People have a hard time making decisions because they are unwilling to take responsibility for those decisions.” Truth.

Our journey through Namibia began northward along the coast, leaving from Walvis Bay where the desert literally meets the ocean. We eventually turned inland, then continued north aiming for the border of Angola. Each day the route was set and reset based on the obstacles we encountered, but that was all part of the experience—our glimpse of what it’s like to be an explorer, an adventurist. We did encounter a few giraffes, zebras, elephants, foxes, ostriches and lots of birds, but this was no safari. The difference between safari and adventure is speed; we had to move very quickly. That said, I do find Africa to be quite calibrating and though Mike Horn says, “I don’t meditate on how life should be because in the mean time life is happening,” I found the change in perspective to be quite reflective.

Of course, the adventure was also an incredible opportunity to take pictures. Dust at dusk over the Martian-like landscape made for dreamy textures and our various mishaps were memorable moments. But this was true run-and-gun shooting—there was no time to set up shots. More on the photography from this trip (and additional shots besides what’s in the story and slideshow above), coming soon.

Images by Josh Rubin