Adventure, Spotlight, Travel

Great Adventurers of Our Age

What’s the farthest you’ve ever walked?

When I say I’m walking from the US to Brazil people think it’s impossible. But I’m not the first person to declare a major walk across the world—and I won’t be the first to succeed. Today I want to spotlight a few of the walkers and wanderers of out time: their routes, their philosophies, and the reasons why they go.

The World is My Playground

Meet Jean Beliveau. Jean is almost at the end of his walk, expecting to take the final steps back to his Montreal home on October 16. How far did he go? Not very far…. just a little route you may have heard of. It’s called around the entire world.

Jean’s total journey took him through 64 countries and 46,000 miles. Total duration? Eleven years. No biggy.

(Incidentally, he did this at a total cost of roughly US $3,900 per year, an amount you can easily earn online while traveling.)

Why did Jean launch this trip? For personal reasons. When he left at age 45, he was going through a mid-life crisis and felt depressed. Now, he “radiat[es] a joy and peacefulness he gained from total freedom.” And I bet he’s damn fit, too.

The Walk for Water

Fellow adventurer Amy Russell turned me on to this cause. Starting next year, she and a group of intrepid hikers are walking across Africa—and not the easy way.

“We’ll be the first US Citizens to walk this far across Africa. There have been a few other US people that have walked west-east or east-west, but we are going south-north; which is obviously longer. And yeah, I really believe in clean water.”

Amy’s walk will benefit Charity:Water, with the aim of increasing the availability of safe, clean drinking water in developing nations—a particularly urgent need in much of Africa.

Seeing this walk take shape has underscored my desire to use my own walk to benefit a cause. But how much of a difference can it really make? Well…

One Foot In Front of the Other

Polly Letofsky has a guess. Like Jean, she walked the entire globe, and like Amy she did it for a cause. In Polly’s case it’s for the fight against breast cancer.

Polly’s route took her through 22 countries and 14,000 miles in 5 years, and raised awareness and dollars for breast cancer research, treatment and education every step of the way. Even when she got home she didn’t stop: she turned the story into a movie that is continuing to raise crucial funding.

“There was never a time I felt like quitting,” Polly says of her walk. “…I thought of the women I was walking for that had been diagnosed with breast cancer. And they are sick and tired of the chemo treatment, and the cost of it all, and how it has interrupted their lives, and they could never just throw up their arms and say, well, I’m done with all this nonsense.”

So she kept going.

Nate Walks America

Nate Damm is walking America from East to West, with all the obstacles you remember from your Oregon Trail days. (Well, hopefully not the typhoid.) And of these walkers, he’s the only one I’ve met in person.

When I said, “I’m walking to Brazil,” Nate’s eyes lit up. It’s as if the dust suddenly fell right off him. We began to talk route, gear, and the emotional cost of spending whole days and nights in a tent in the rain, alone.

Nate’s walk hasn’t raised money for anything, but his purpose feels just as momentous: “I want to see America in the most slow and mindful way possible… A cross-country walk has long been a dream of mine, and it’s about time I do something about it. Also, I want to (hopefully) inspire people to pursue big dreams of their own. The last thing anyone wants to do is get to the end of their life and wonder, ‘What if?'”

This is one of the most vital principles of the heroic life: something you undertake only for your own personal nourishment can powerfully grow to help many others.

1,000 Miles for the Heart

Scientist-turned-novelist Loreen Niewenhuis also took her walk for personal reasons, but for me her route cuts much closer to home.

Like Loreen I grew up on the shore of Lake Michigan, a Great Lake (read: sea) in North America. And like Loreen I too fell in love with scrambling up rocky shores, sliding down sand dunes and staring into the wind off the water.

For some reason, I never thought of walking all the way around the damn thing.

Loreen did, and bested significant challenges to do it. With sons at home, she couldn’t just disappear for a thousand mile hike. Rather than giving up her dream, she worked it out in segments: a week here, a few days there. When she ran out of time she’d get a ride home, and when she was able to resume she’d pick up from where she left off.

Stretch by stretch, she completed her circuit of the entire Lake this way, inviting others to join her for each leg. Her only rule: no matter how much her companions might bellyache about the difficult hike, she never complained.

Well, Marco Polo Did It

In their 30s, with no special training, Dennis Belliveau and Francis O’Donnell decided to launch their own journey-of-a-lifetime, and followed the exact route of Marco Polo. They didn’t walk the entire way, but they did keep to the same methods of transport that Polo himself used. This meant no flying and a whole lot of time on animals.

As a wedding photographer and an artist from Brooklyn, the two didn’t have extensive experience to rely on in making their trip. They did, however, have epic determination, making a pact that they would absolutely not turn back in defeat. They pledged to come back to the United States “either dead or successful.”

This was the 90s, and their trek took them into a variety of dangers, including a firefight in Afghanistan. They survived through a combination of luck, skill and careful preparation. Because they willingly entered dangerous areas and found a way to survive, they are a special source of inspiration for me. You can watch the documentary of their journey here.

These are just a few of the inspiring hikers and adventurers I’ve learned about or met. In many cases, I only heard about these exemplars because a friend tweeted or emailed me. Do you know of anyone else we should keep an eye on?

Please share or tweet this post so others can find it.


14 thoughts on “Great Adventurers of Our Age

  1. Sure, I’ve got two links for you. Met these people when I was living in Turkey and hosting couch-surfers as a way to have a beer-drinking social life.

    Eric and Lydie are a Swiss-French couple biking from France to New Zealand. They’re in Australia now. Blog at in French.

    David “the Pilgrim” was a Hungarian walking from Budapest to Japan. He just left Malaysia. (Hungarian) or (mostly English).

    There was also a Dutch guy hitching from Amsterdam to Nepal but he’s already made it home.

    You can google translate the pages of course. Actually, google translate is a great tool on the road – I’ve even had entire conversations about technical subjects like setting up internet access entirely through it.

      • It is thanks to people like Kira that we can find the willing to go on sometimes ! There are some beers that we remember longer than others !
        We board a freighter in 2 days from New Zealand to Colombia. 8 month in south america. Just about enough time to meet some more cool people.

    • Yes, I am SO happy you sent me that Susan! I should’ve mentioned you in the post, it totally slipped my mind *guilty look*. Their purpose and modus operandi particularly resonated with me.

  2. The Mother Earth Water Walk was done around around all of the great lakes by a group of Ojbwe-ike elders. In the Anishnabe cutlre women are the sacred keepers of the water and their lore. They started in 2003 and their latest walk this past year (2011), was the biggest yet. Josephine Mandamin and Joanne Robertson are two beautiful spirits I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with at my university in Sault Ste. Marie.

    • Wow Beth, thank you for sharing a link to this amazing woman. She died just about six weeks before I was born in 1981. What an honor it is to read about her pilgrimage. Thank you.

  3. Pingback: I Faked an Answer « Rogue Priest

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