Man and dog return home after grand adventure

For three long years, Tim Cope endured temperature extremes from scorching desert heat to below freezing mountain conditions as he followed a childhood dream.

With only his faithful dog Tigon and a succession of horses as company for much of his 10,000-kilometre journey, Tim travelled from Mongolia to Hungary, following in the footsteps of Genghis Khan.

His journey took him across the Eurasian Steppe through the deserts of Kazakhstan and the Carpathian mountain passes, meeting friends and enemies along the way.

It took him another three years and different challenges to produce a book about his adventures, and he will be in Wollongong this week to launch On the Trail of Genghis Khan.

It will be Tim's return to a city which he holds dear, but the first visit for his constant and loyal companion Tigon.

A herder named Aset, who had travelled with Tim for 10 days early in his journey, was so concerned about Tim's future safety that he gave him Tigon, with the words: "Tim, you need a friend on the road. Someone to keep you company to Hungary, keep you warm on cold nights in the tent, and most importantly, someone to protect you from the wolves."

Tigon (meaning fast wind or hawk) was a scrawny six-month-old pup who was so desperate to get his paws out of the cold that he would leap off the snow onto Tim's shoulders.

In one of those strange coincidences, Tim received news from Australia that his family's dog had died on almost the exact day he had been given Tigon. The two became inseparable.

The 35-year-old award-winning adventurer, author and filmmaker has an almost unquenchable thirst to experience life off the beaten track.

He has ridden a bicycle across Russia to China, rowed a boat through Siberia to the Arctic Ocean, guided in Antarctica and studied as a wilderness guide in the Finnish and Russian Arctic.

He speaks fluent Russian and guides in Siberia and Mongolia.

Throughout his childhood, Tim was into surfing, bushwalking, kayaking and skiing. Every summer was spent with the family camping on the coast near Wilsons Promontory in Victoria. Early on, he dreamed about being an author or a journalist for Australian Geographic.

At 16 he travelled to Nepal to trek and raft, and at 18 deferred university to take up an exchange program in England where he worked at a children's adventure camp. Three months into the program he left and headed off with a friend to cycle around Ireland and Scotland.

He returned to Australia in 1999 to take up his Arts/Law degree at ANU in Canberra but after only one semester he was selected to study the International Wilderness Guide Course based in Finland and Russia. He soon found himself transported from the law library to rural Finland where he began to learn about survival in the taiga forest.

"In a nutshell, I guess that my motivation comes from the prospect of learning about people and places and about personal growth and living life with a vivid edge," he says on his website.

"Although there are many hard times that I don't enjoy, moments like waking up in the Gobi to greet the hues of dawn and a couple of nosy camels, before sliding out of a filthy sleeping bag to eat a pot of poorly cooked porridge, can be paradise.

"I hope that by sharing my experience, particularly with young people, it can inspire others to follow their own dreams no matter what they are."

Tim describes his Eurasian journey as "a vehicle of understanding".

"There is a kind of black hole in our geographic minds about that part of the world, especially in Australia," he says.

Tim could go for days or weeks in total isolation from humanity, but along the way he immersed himself in the cultures he encountered to try to gain an understanding of the free life of Mongolia and nomadic people in other parts of the Steppe.

He encountered the best and worst of his fellow man, from the warm hospitality of the nomads with whom he lived, to horse thieves with little respect for his need to survive in such a harsh environment.

"I was in Kazakhstan in the winter of 2004-2005 and it was one of the coldest winters on record," he says.

"When I was riding it dropped to about minus 40 degrees. I got into big trouble because one of the horses had an abscess in his back foot. I managed to stay in a small village on the Steppes (north of the Himalayas). I was stuck there for about 15 months. I tried to leave four times. The first time my stove broke. The second time my horse was stolen and was lost for seven days."

Tim's odyssey took him through wolf-infested plateaus, into deep forests and over glaciers, across sub-zero barren landscapes and scorching deserts.

His canine companion helped break down some of the barriers he encountered.

"To start with, he had to find his own place to sleep in frozen Kazakh villages, but by the end was so spoilt that he would no longer accept bread from strangers unless it was lathered thick with cream and jam," he writes.

Not that Tigon was immune from adventures. During the journey he survived being stolen, frozen (and revived on raw eggs and vodka) and broken ribs when he was hit by a car.

Tim says the whole experience before, during and after his trek, has been a special project.

"No-one has looked at all the communities along the Steppe and tried to understand it as one geographic area before," he says.

"This is not an A to B travel book. It is about understanding the people, their culture and their history. It was about getting to the fabric of Eurasian society and understanding its history and culture and gaining an insight into where it fits in the political community of Eurasia at the moment.

"It is a place that is going through a lot of change at the moment."

Despite the isolation during parts of the trip, Tim's progress was followed by millions of people on a website created by Wollongong IT business Internetrix.

He used a satellite phone every week to send updates and photos to the website so people around the world could follow his journey.

It's his long-standing friendship with Internetrix guru Daniel Rowan that has lured him back to Wollongong and a stop on his 14-day book launch tour.

He and Daniel met in England when they were both 18 and on an exchange program and they later worked together in an outdoor adventure centre.

"I wanted to do a special book launch in Wollongong because I have a great connection with the community. I have a great friendship with Daniel and Internetrix, which played a crucial role in taking both my big adventures since 2002 to the world through a website it set up," he says.

Tim visited the city during his adventure when he was plucked from his horse and flown back to Australia in 2006 to be awarded Australian Geographic's Young Adventurer of the Year.

During this visit to Wollongong, Tim will show some behind-the-scenes footage of his journey.

He is also bringing with him Mongolian throat singer and horse fiddle player Bukhu Ganburged who will give a performance to help set the mood for Tim's presentation.

"I am really looking forward to coming back to Wollongong," he said.

And he is bringing best friend Tigon, who kept him company and remained by his side as the most loyal of companions.

Tim Cope on tour

Tim Cope will talk about his journey, the lowlights and the highlights and how they have shaped his philosophy on  life at the University of Wollongong on Friday.

He will be signing copies of On the Trail of Genghis Khan from 6.30pm until the presentation at 7pm, and then afterwards in Lecture Theatre 104 in the McKinnon Building.

Tickets are $20; to book go here or call 1300 720000.

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