“They did WHAT?” – Three Epic Walks, And The People Who Took Them

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Since we’re an adventure travel company that runs long-distance treks in some of the most spectacular corners of Europe, we generally hear this a lot:

“Why on earth do you class walking as an adventure sport?! Come on now.”

You’ll have to ask us in person if you want the full explanation and really want your ear bending (or, you know, drop us an email instead) – but here are a few things to note:

It now seems that walking is the most popular form of exercise in England – and that was a survey of young people.

There’s a lot to be said for a sport that, in its least demanding form, can be done by almost anyone at almost any level of fitness. (And since the barrier for entry is so low, it’s getting more people fit than anything else and guiding many of them into more intense sports. Pretty impressive, right?)

It depends on how you walk. Ever tried walking fast enough to make your heart thump – and keeping that pace for a while? Ever tried keeping a pace like that up a steep mountain slope?

It really depends on how far you walk.

Let’s dwell on that last point.

Here are three wonderfully absurd examples that prove (yes, prove) that putting one foot in front of the other can turn into the adventure of a lifetime.

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1. Karl Bushby

Karl’s an ex-paratrooper from Hull, northern England. He’s also attempting to become the first human being to walk an unbroken path from the sothernmost tip of South America, all the way up the American continent, across the Bering Strait, across the whole of Asia and Europe, through the Channel Tunnel and back to Hull.

And in the way of the best adventures, it’s proving…tricker than expected.

He started in 1998, and expected to walk for 8 years, finishing in 2006. Then upon arrival in Asia, after 17,000 miles of walking, the Russian border authorities arrested him for carrying a firearm (it was to protect himself from polar bears as he walked across the ice of the frozen Bering Strait). Years of bureacratic frustration followed, as he tried and failed to get the right visas to continue walking – and in 2013, Russia banned Bushby from reentering the country for 5 years.

This is the point of the story where most folk would throw their hands up and go home.

Instead, Bushby enlisted the help of National Geographic and walked 3,000 miles across the United States, right up to the doors of the US Russian Embassy, to impress upon them his determination and willingness to negotiate. It worked. They overturned his ban and grated him a visa.

As of 2017, he’d made it to Mongolia – and is due to finish the walk this year (although, it’s an adventure, so who knows, it could be a while yet).


2. Paul Salopek

Paul Salopek is a twice-Pulitzer-winning journalist, and in 2012 he got together with National Geographic Magazine and the Knight Foundation and said “how about telling the story of a walk that joins all of humanity together?”

The result is the Eden Walk, which he started in 2013. It’s 21,000 miles of walking, beginning in Ethiopia and ending at the southern tip of Chile, all on foot – and along the way, Paul Salopek is blogging the whole thing in a series of award-winning articles about culture, food, history, fashion, and anything else that seems relevant to his mission.

It’s part-funded by the organisations already mentioned, but they also run a Kickstarter every year to raise extra funds. It’s unclear how high their expenses are, but Salopek is part of a team including Nat Geo quality filmmakers and photographers, so it’s made by a tightly focused group of professionals at the top of their fields.

Right now he’s in Central Asia – and like Bushby’s walk, things are taking a little longer than planned.

Since the walk was originally going to be 7 years and this is the 5th year, we’re guessing lots of conversations are being had behind the scenes about project creep. (Understatement of the year, perhaps.) He still has a long, long way to go – but remains fully committed to the project.

Like millions of others, we look forward to seeing how this walk plays out.

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3. Lillian Alling

For every well-publicized, adequately funded adventure in the world, there are dozens happening out of the limelight, undertaken purely for fun – and sometimes for something deeper. There’s no better example than that of this 27-year old Russian immigrant, living in New York, doing menial work and suffering from acute homesickness.

It was 1927. Travel wasn’t cheap. Alling had no savings (and barely enough money to live on). Paying for transport fares was impossible – so she decided to walk.

She walked to Chicago. Then to Minneapolis. Then she crossed the border to Winnipeg. This was now a journey of 1,700 miles, and she was nowhere near done.

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She was seen in the northern part of British Columbia, striding along carrying a length of iron pipe to deter unwanted attention. She went over the Yukon Telegraph Trail, reached the town of Dawson, worked for a while to build some cash, purchased a boat, and sailed it down the Yukon River, abandoning it near Nome and continuing on foot to the Bering Strait.

Sadly, this is as much as recorded history can tell us. Her last sighting was when she was bargaining with Inuit people to secure a boat for her passage. That’s as much as we know. Did she make it? Did she succumb to the elements? Nobody knows – and maybe that’s part of her enduring appeal. (In 2010, an opera based on her story premiered in Vancouver.)

The only thing we know is that she covered at least 4,000 miles on foot, through some of the most demanding terrain you can find in the northern hemisphere.

If that’s not an adventure, what is?

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Now is a great time to get walking.

The sun is increasingly out, everything’s a-bud and lush and green, and it costs you exactly nothing to go for a stroll.We’re huge fans of walking, for all sorts of reasons.

(We’ve listed them here – and we also wrote more about the importance of walking here.)

And as we said before, we can take you on the kind of walks you can’t find at home.

But however and wherever you do it, lace up your shoes and go for a walk until you find an adventure. Because yes, the two really do go together.

– The Rug & Rock Team


Images: Karl Bushby, Out Of Eden Walk, Mental Floss, Globe & Mail, Unsplash.

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