Around the World, Around the World

Simon, our British expat living in Germany, spent last weekend walking through the Chiemgau with a real globe trotter. A man who has been on the road for nearly three months and two thousand kilometres, and still is only just starting. Clad in a UNICEF t-shirt and pushing a child’s buggy before him, James Thomas is walking the world!

When I joined James at Feldkirchen-Westerham he was looking much like I would have expected someone walking round the world to look: totally exhausted. He had come down from Munich the day before and got badly lost on forest paths, finding only obstacle strewn footpaths to cart his belongings over where he had expected tarmac cycle ways. He had struggled through the evening, camped where he found himself and struggled on since dawn. His expression said it all.

But fortunately, once back on smooth tarmac, he began to cheer up. James is originally form County Cork in Ireland but has spent many years living in Edinburgh where he first studied and then worked in photography. As he turned 30 he decided that he wanted to do something special. Scouting around for ideas he came across the fact that the polar opposite of Edinburgh is a place called Dunedin. Back in the day some home sick Scots recreated their capital city street by street on the exact other side of the world, in New Zealand. He soon became fixated on the idea of walking to this place. So it was that in early 2012 he gave up a career to envy as a fashion photographer, sold all his belongings and set off to walk to the other side of the world. He plans to reach his destination in New Zealand for his 32nd birthday in December 2014.

I wanted to know why. There are probably several reasons. For one he clearly wants to do something special. He says that he chose not to cycle it because everybody is cycling around the word these days (what do you know!). He wants to make a name for himself and maintaining press attention is all part of the job (he could certainly lay claim to the most socially-media-active round the world explorer, with a strict routine of four tweets a day). On top of this he is already a keen traveller, with many adventures already under his belt. I think that perhaps the main motivation though is his love of the outdoors. He clearly relishes the wild camping and total exposure that are going to be his constant way of life for most of the next two years.

There is a very altruistic motivation too. He is aiming to raise over 20 thousand pounds for UNICEF – a charity that he believes does most to alleviate the sufferings of the world’s most impoverished children and, he informs me, spend the vast share of their funds on aid, rather than administration.

The world record for walking around the world is still held by an American named David Kunst who completed his circumnavigation in 1974 after 4 years and 4 months (also in support of UNICEF). Using mules, losing a brother and falling in love along the way, his circumnavigation could have been smoother and quicker. This makes it a record crying out to be broken and James might not stop in Dunedin; he might keep going and give it a shot.

His secret weapon is the buggy. While it raises some eyebrows on first sight, you don’t have to walk with him long to realise that with the buggy he can really motor. He is packing 34 kilos of weight and yet I struggled to keep up. The buggy is a dream to push, its soft suspension system rides effortlessly across rough terrain and on the flat you barely notice the extra effort. Once you’ve tried the buggy, you’d never dream of lugging full kit around on your back again.

We got all the way around Chiemsee that weekend and it has never looked more stunning than in the sparkling Spring sunshine. The mountains looked like they were coming straight out of the lake. Traunstein was the last stop for me and we parted with a farewell beer. I offered him my copy of A time of Gifts but it turned out he already had a copy in the buggy!

I have to admit I did feel envious. While I was returning to office life in Munich, he was walking into the forest to hang up his hammock, make a fire, cook dinner and sleep in the wilderness; ready to wake up with the dawn for another full day in the sun.

I was inspired by James’s adventure. It’s not easy to give up all the comforts of modern life and pursue a grand dream, and hats off to anyone who does it. I found the weekend a reminder of the joys of outdoor adventure, a good opportunity to think about some of the adventures I would like to pursue, and a very good opportunity to donate to UNICEF.

Photos 1, 4 & 6 courtesy of Simon Goodall. Photos 2 (Stuart Caie) and 3 (James Dignan) courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Thank you Simon Goodall for your contribution to the InterNations blog. You can find out more about James’ adventure on http://www.justgoingforastroll.com/

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