Record-breaking Wigan adventurer reflects on Siberian trek

Michael Stevenson
Michael Stevenson

A Wigan dad who broke a world record for crossing the world’s largest fresh water lake says his love for the outdoors is what helped him win his battle with alcohol.

Michael Stevenson was part of a three-man team to march across the frozen Lake Baikal in Siberia faster than anyone else in history.

Michael Stevenson at home with partner Lauren Highton and their children

Michael Stevenson at home with partner Lauren Highton and their children

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It should be pointed out that Baikal - the world’s biggest fresh water lake - is frozen sold at this time of year and the mission was carried out on skis - not by boat!

Together with Scott Gilmour and Rob Trigwell, the 39-year-old covered a distance of around 640km (397 miles) in 12 days, 21 hours and 13 minutes, finishing on Wednesday March 14 at 2.08am local time - all while enduring bone-chilling temperatures as low as -35c.

The trio beat the previous record of 13 days and 16 hours, set by Kevin Vallely and Ray Zahab in 2010, by around 18 hours.

After returning home to Orrell following the incredible feat, the father-of-four spoke to the Observer about his past troubles and how endurance challenges had helped him push himself to his very limits.

“I had help for alcohol abuse. I went to a residential rehab centre about six years ago,” Mike said.

“Before that, I was quite active at school, playing rugby and I was into the outdoors, doing kayaking etc. But I lost my way after that.”

As a boy, Mike attended St Aidan’s Catholic Primary School in Winstanley, before being removed from mainstream school to go to an intensive speech unit in Hindley Green.

On leaving the unit and being able to return to normal school, the family moved to the United Arab Emirates for two years. They returned to the UK in 1988 and Mike enrolled at St Thomas More school.

“Eventually things deteriorated. I had a low opinion of myself. While I was in rehab, I remember thinking ‘I want to run a marathon’. I came out of rehab in 2012, and in 2013 I did the Snowdonia Marathon.

“I was quite overwhelmed. I remember coming down the descent and getting upset, because I couldn’t believe I had done it. It carried on from there.”

He later met Scott Gilmour while competing in the 268-mile Montane Spine Race, who subsequently introduced him to Rob Trigwell - thus completing the three-man line-up which took on the daunting stretch of frozen water earlier this month.

“We knew what we were capable of,” said Mike, who also volunteers with the Bolton Mountain Rescue Team.

“We knew the distance and the current record. We didn’t go out there shouting about it, but we knew we could do it.

“We were relatively broken by the end.

“The one time it was really tough was the last 20-25k. It seemed to take forever, I don’t know if it was because it was that close to the end - we could see the finish.”

But it is overcoming these physical limits which gives Mike the greatest sense of accomplishment.

He said: “The harder it is, the better sense of achievement at the end. During dark moments you do question why you’re doing it, but in the end it’s great.

“Within a few hours of finishing, I felt like I wanted to be back out on the ice.”

He returned to the UK last week, much to the delight of partner Lauren Highton - with whom he has two children, two-year-old Isaac and 10-month-old Maya. He also has two other children - 17-year-old Grace and 14-year-old Hallie.

“I missed them all immensely. Hallie has been asking so many questions. She says she is very very proud.”

Mike concluded by saying how challenging yourself in such demanding ways could be of benefit to others going through hard times such as he once faced.

“It’s worked for me. Everyone who has issues with alcohol or drugs or whatever it might be, they are on their own journey.

“I can only talk about my own journey, but I can certainly say it has worked for me.”