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Readers note: This is an excerpt from the Trailblazers: Australia’s 50 Greatest Explorers exhibition, developed in 2015. This content was written as a brief biography on why this person was included in the exhibition.
Tim Cope is a ‘long-rider’, a special breed of explorer who travels to discover something of both the cultures they encounter and themselves. In 2004, Tim took equestrian long-riding to the extreme. He spent three years and four months covering 10,000 kilometres to become the first person in modern times to follow Genghis Khan’s march from Mongolia to Hungary.
Cope was born in 1978 and raised in Gippsland (Vic), the eldest of four children. His father, Andrew, an outdoor educator, often took Tim and his siblings on bushwalks, ski and kayaking trips, instilling in them a love and respect for the bush.
In 1998–99, Cope trained as a wilderness guide in the Finnish and Russian Arctic before setting out with fellow Australian Chris Hatherly on an ambitious expedition to ride recumbent bicycles from Moscow to Beijing – even though Cope had never ridden a recumbent bike before! Both 20 years old at the start, they encountered Siberian forests, Mongolia’s Gobi Desert and Chinese bureaucracy before rolling into Tiananmen Square, 14 months and 10,000 kilometres later.
In 2001, Cope and three others repaired, then rowed, an old, five-metre boat 4200 kilometres down the Yenisey River, from Lake Baikal in Siberia, north to the Arctic Ocean. It was during this gruelling expedition that Cope realised he measured the success of his adventures by how much he learned about the local people and their environment.
After completing articles, a book and a film about his Moscow to Beijing ride, Cope began planning his greatest expedition. Keen to better understand nomadic life, he hoped to ride horses the length of the Eurasian Steppe, from Karakorum in Mongolia, through Kazakhstan, Russia, Crimea and the Ukraine to Hungary.
Six months into the trip, a Kazakh nomad, concerned that Cope travelled alone, gave him a young dog named Tigon. Cope’s new companion would share challenges from wolves to horse thieves, extreme temperatures from scorching deserts to sub-zero plateaux, and offer comfort as Tim grieved the tragic loss of his father.
Tim Cope has earned both Young Adventurer of the Year and Adventurer of the Year awards from the Australian Geographic Society, and Adventurer of the Year from National Geographic. His books and films have inspired audiences worldwide.
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