10 Regular People Who Have Walked Amazing Distances
While many people have a hard time walking from the couch to the kitchen, there are some amazing individuals out there who have dedicated their lives to walking awe-inspiringly long distances. Some walked for a cause, while others simply had a taste for adventure. Some had big budgets and corporate sponsorships, while others barely had any money or equipment at all. All proved that humans are capable of amazing feats of endurance and willpower.
John Francis’s nickname is “Planetwalker,” and for good reason. In 1971, he witnessed an oil spill in San Francisco, which made him so irritated with humanity that he refused to ride in any motor vehicles for the next 22 years, preferring to walk around the country instead. As if that wasn’t enough, Francis decided to be completely silent from 1973 until 1990. Instead of speech, Francis communicated through writing, gestures, and his trusty banjo. While most people thought he was mentally ill, Francis actually flourished and even managed to earn a PhD while living his extreme lifestyle.
Over the years, Francis has walked all across the lower 48 states, and even walked all the way to South America. In 1990, he finally decided to start using motorized transport again after his epic 22-year abstinence. Francis now works in politics in Washington and has recently written a book about his life.
A hardcore adventurer at heart, Sarah Marquis crossed Turkey on horseback at the age of 17. Since then, she has devoted her life to lengthy walking expeditions. In 2000, Marquis walked from America’s border with Canada to its border with Mexico. The trip spanned 4,260 kilometers (2,647 mi) and took her four months and six days to complete. Marquis led a relatively normal life for the next few years, but her desire for adventure soon returned. In 2006, she walked for eight months across the Andes from Chile to Peru.
In 2010, Marquis decided to attempt her craziest stunt yet. This time she walked through the wastelands of Siberia, all the way through the Mongolian plains, through China, and into Laos and Thailand. Not done yet, Marquis took a ship to Australia, where she walked across the outback. The whole trip was done alone, took her three years, and involved over 16,000 kilometers (10,000 mi) of travel. The incredible expedition deservedly earned Marquis a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year award. An endearing woman with a dreamy attitude, Marquis says that she doesn’t really like being around people, making long months of isolation a breeze.
Peace Pilgrim, born Mildred Norman, is one of the original high-profile walkers. Her walking escapades started in 1952, when she became the first woman to complete the entire 3,500-kilometer (2,175 mi) Appalachian Trail in one season. Then, in 1953, she decided to dedicate her life to walking the United States. For the next 28 years, she claims she wore the same clothes every day and only carried a pen, a comb, a toothbrush, and a map. She said she would fast until someone gave her food and would walk until she found shelter.
Through it all, Peace Pilgrim maintained her hyper-positive attitude and zest for life. She crossed from coast to coast so many times that she had already walked around 40,000 kilometers (25,000 mi) by 1964, at which point she simply stopped keeping track. She had an incredible belief that, no matter what happened out on the road, she would always turn out safe and unharmed. And for many years, she was right.
Sadly, in 1981, Peace Pilgrim was killed in a rather ironic way. After years of avoiding cars and using her own two feet for transportation, she accepted a lift to Knox, Indiana, where she was scheduled to give a speech. Tragically, there was a collision and Peace Pilgrim passed away before medical help could arrive. Her legacy continues to this day through the Friends of Peace Pilgrim organization.
In an attempt to raise money for breast cancer, Polly Letofsky started walking west from her Colorado home in 1999. Her trip would ultimately continue for 1,825 consecutive days. During that time, Polly traveled over 22,000 kilometers (14,000 mi) across 22 countries and four continents. As she walked, Polly pushed a modified baby stroller, which held everything she needed for the journey and managed to hold up for the entire trip, despite “really tak[ing] a beating,” as Polly put it.
Polly first walked to California, then flew to New Zealand, walked through Australia, Singapore, and Malaysia, and walked all the way across Asia to Europe. From Ireland, she flew to New York and walked back to Colorado. The trip took her five years and raised over $200,000 for breast cancer prevention. In the middle of her walk, Polly received news of the September 11 attacks and the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan, which required a major last-minute change of plans, since she could no longer get through Pakistan and Iran. But Polly continued on and didn’t stop until she achieved her goals.
Perhaps the most memorable moment of her trip came in a desolate region of Northern Australia, when an elderly woman rushed up to her demanding to know if she was the woman walking around the world for breast cancer. When Polly said yes, the woman lifted her shirt and declared: “I had breast cancer 40 years ago. Take a look at these!” As Polly later quipped, “what do you say to that?”
On his 45th birthday, Jean Beliveau left his life as a neon sign salesman in Montreal and started to walk. He didn’t stop for 11 years, traveling precisely 75,554 kilometers (46,947 mi) through 64 countries. Beliveau was sick of his job and mundane life and thought walking around the world might be more rewarding. At the beginning, people wrote his plan off as a midlife crisis, but the sheer scale of his walk now speaks for itself.
Beliveau met some impressive people on his travels, including four Nobel Peace Prize winners. Nelson Mandela actually told Beliveau that “the world needs people like you.” There were challenges as well, including attempted robberies, Chilean pumas, health problems, and severe culture shock, but Beliveau pressed through. Perhaps the most difficult moment of the walk came a month before it even started, when Beliveau worked up the courage to share his plan with his wife, Luce. Although she was surprised to say the least, Luce eventually came around to the plan and became her husband’s biggest supporter, even backing him financially along the way.
Beliveau says he has no regrets and urges his fans to follow his example and embrace their own dreams: “Just go, make your first steps. You will build your way on the road.”
Dave Kunst is the first person verified to have walked around the entire planet. Kunst began his epic trek with his brother in 1970, walking over 23,300 kilometers (14,500 mi) until he returned to his hometown of Waseca, Minnesota, in 1974. The brothers planned their trip on a shoestring budget, leaving home with just $1,000 and a mule to carry their gear.
The Kunst brothers had many incredible experiences, including visiting Princess Grace in Monaco, causing a sensation by bringing their mule into Venice, and becoming the first non-Asians to walk the full length of the Khyber Pass since Alexander the Great. But tragedy struck when they reached an isolated area of Afghanistan. Local bandits opened fire on the brothers, killing John instantly and badly injuring Dave, who only survived by pretending to be dead.
After months of recovering from his injuries, Dave decided to continue his expedition. He walked across India and Australia before flying to California and walking back to Minnesota. He went through 21 pairs of shoes on the trip and kept a scroll with signatures from the mayors of every town he spent the night in. Kunst now lives a quieter life with his wife, whom he met while trekking through Australia.
Growing up in a small town in Ohio, Steven Newman soon began to dream of walking across exotic foreign locales throughout the globe. And as his nickname “the Worldwalker” indicates, Newman grew up to do just that, undertaking an epic four-year trek that spanned over 24,000 kilometers (15,000 mi) and an estimated 41 million steps. Throughout the trip, he shared the details of his adventure with a dedicated audience in the Columbus Dispatch, which made his trek the first intensively documented worldwide walk.
Newman said he wanted to see if the world was really as terrible as everyone makes it out to be. He mostly had positive experiences, although there were some scary and dangerous scenarios as well. Newman was attacked by armed bandits twice, arrested four times, beaten by a drunk in Australia, and had stones thrown at him by students in India. He also contracted pneumonia and a severe skin rash that spread across his body. Despite all that, Newman says the world isn’t as bad as most people think.
While some people walk to have amazing experiences, see new places, or raise money for charity, Arthur Blessitt walks for God. A devout Christian preacher, Blessitt has been trekking across the world with a huge cross on his back since 1969. He is still walking today.
Blessitt started his journey when he heard about the growing hippie scene in Southern California, prompting him to immediately move out there and start trying to save some souls. Soon afterward, Blessitt claims that God instructed him to carry a large cross all over the world. Even though he soon suffered an aneurysm and was ruled unfit for such strenuous activity, Blessitt decided that “the circumstances don’t alter the call.” He’s been walking ever since.
In 2008, Blessitt had officially walked through every single nation and major island group on the planet. Showing his fearlessness (and faith in God), Blessitt’s walk has taken him through some of the world’s worst war zones. He has also been arrested 24 times.
In 2009, a documentary was made about Blessitt’s life and his amazing accomplishments have been recognized by Guinness World Records.
Some have flown around the world, some have sailed around the world, and a surprising number have walked around the world, but Robert “the Runningman” Garside is the first to have run around the whole world.
When Garside started his run, he was an obscure clinical psychologist, wholly unknown as an athlete. According to Garside himself, he was always a loner, meaning months spent running by himself posed little mental challenge. He quickly settled into a routine of running around eight hours a day, covering up to 80 kilometers (50 mi) in good terrain. Garside’s adventure would ultimately last five years, including five days in a Chinese jail and three straight days without food, and see him travel over 56,000 kilometers (35,000 mi).
Initially, Garside’s feat was challenged by many in the media, who suggested his story was inconsistent and probably exaggerated. However, the inconsistencies were explainable and many of the original critics have now changed their view, with journalist Dan Koeppel expressing regret that “my disbelief—publicly expressed—did great harm to what is, in my view, the greatest running achievement in history.” In 2007, Guinness World Records was convinced enough to officially recognize Garside’s record.
While other people have “walked across the world,” former British paratrooper Karl Bushby is currently attempting to become the first to do so in an unbroken line, from Chile to England. How is that possible? Well, instead of taking a boat between the Americas and Asia, Karl carefully timed his expedition so that he could walk across the frozen Bering Strait between Alaska and Siberia. That’s harder than it sounds, since the Bering Strait doesn’t freeze completely solid, leaving Karl to camp on moving chunks of ice and swim between floes.
Somehow, in 2006, he made it across the frozen strait and into Siberia. From there, Karl’s plan was to walk across Russia and into Europe, before walking underneath the British Channel thanks to a maintenance route in the Anglo-French Channel Tunnel. Unfortunately, Karl then ran into an even greater challenge than shifting ice floes or treacherous terrain: Russian bureaucracy.
Apparently in the belief that he was “a recon specialist” disguised as a walker, a suspicious Russian government repeatedly refused Karl a visa, expelled him from the country, and otherwise blocked his plans. After 27,000 kilometers (16,777 mi), Karl was at a standstill. For six years, Russia would only grant him temporary visas. Since many areas of Siberia are only passable when frozen, he was effectively restricted to short bursts of walking once a year.
In 2012, he staged a dramatic protest by walking from Los Angeles all the way to the Russian embassy in Washington, DC, a journey that took a year. The resulting publicity finally jolted the Russian authorities into granting him a full visa and he is currently completing his trek toward Europe.
I am a dude living in New Hampshire who loves music, random creative projects, and minimalist budget travel.