Hiking the World: Updates from the Road

Circumnavigating the world on foot is a slow business, but over the days, months and years, those kilometres really add up. We check in with a handful of adventurers at various stages of their long-distance expeditions.

Karl Bushby, Jamie Ramsay and Angela Maxwell

Karl Bushby (second from left), Jamie Ramsay (right), Angela Maxwell (second from right) and the rest of the team. Photo: Steppes to the West

Long-haul travel is usually a lonely pursuit. Finding someone else willing (and able, both physically and financially) to walk thousands of miles across continents is far from easy. But back in late 2017, a number of notable long-distance travelers elected to join forces in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

The well-travelled crew included Karl Bushby from Hull in the UK. Bushby set out on his aptly named Goliath Expedition in 1998 from Punta Arenas, Chile. He planned to walk an “unbroken path” around the world and he’s made a good go of it. Bushby has walked the length of the Americas but became embroiled in red tape trying to enter Russia. Eventually, he overturned a visa ban and was able to continue through Russia to Mongolia.

Bushby’s next challenge concerned him: He had to cross the Gobi desert. Until that point, Bushby had been pulling all his belongings on a hand-cart. The Gobi would require a change of tactics. While Bushby’s self-imposed rules exclude the use of any transport, motorized or not, they did not exclude loading up a camel with his belongings and walking alongside.

Enter the Mongolian adventurer Baigalmaa Norjmaa. Norjmaa was planning a three-year, 12,000km adventure called Steppes to the West, traveling from Ulaanbaatar to London via the old Silk Road. Joining Bushby, Norjmaa and the camels came two more long-distance masochists, Jamie Ramsay and Angela Maxwell. Ramsay had previously burnt through 17 pairs of shoes running a pleasingly correlated 17,000km through two continents and 14 countries. Maxwell has been walking the world for five years and is approaching 32,000km covered.

Jamie Ramsay on the Hayduke Trail. Photo: Jamie Ramsay

The group joined forces in early 2018. Perhaps predictably, the project unraveled soon after. Details are scant, but it seems that the hastily assembled team could not co-exist. Bushby, Maxwell and Ramsay have all left the project, leaving Norjmaa to continue alone. It’s unclear where this leaves Bushby, but Maxwell and Ramsay quickly turned to other challenges. Maxwell has just set off from the Atlantic coast near Washington D.C. across the United States with only a single duffle bag for company.

Ramsay first climbed Aconcagua and then set off on a much shorter hike, the 1,300km Hayduke Trail through southern Utah and northern Arizona. Leading a small group, he has already had to alter his plans due to unusually cold weather. He has imposed a 40-day time limit on the hike rather than insist on completing the entire trail. The group have already been forced to return to civilization twice to pick up extra supplies.

Baigalmaa Norjmaa

Baigalmaa (right) with a camelteer. Photo: Baigalmaa Norjmaa

Norjmaa has continued to make headway on the Silk Road toward Europe. Since crossing into Kazakhstan’s expansive grasslands, she has felt at home. Mongolian and Kazakh cultures have some similarities, and Baigalmaa and her team have been welcomed with open arms by various communities. The expedition has spent about a month traversing the Kazakhstan wilderness. The country is the third through which they have passed.

She describes her preparations for this journey as rocky. At first, people around her “ridiculed and laughed” at her idea. However, she has persevered, despite the obvious cultural and traditional hurdles. It is not common for a Mongolian woman to take this path.

On the road in Kazakhstan. Photo: Baigalmaa Norjmaa

In Kazakhstan, camel is more often a delicacy than a mode of transport, so Baigalmaa and her team have drawn some attention. “Travelling on camel back is almost a zoo attraction,” she says. “A lot of people stop and take pictures.”

Their 10 camels, all 4-5 years old from the Gobi Desert, were untrained, unweaned and had difficulty adapting to winter conditions. This additional and unexpected training delayed their progress. But apart from this hurdle and some stressful visa formalities, the journey has been largely smooth sailing. Up next: Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Turkey and finally Europe.

Karen Penny

Karen Penny started her journey around the UK in Ireland. Photo: Karen Penny

Meanwhile, in the UK, Karen Penny is working her way along the Irish coast, the first part of her four-year mega-journey around Britain’s entire shoreline. Averaging slightly below her planned 25km per day, she is 1,770km into the 32,000km hike. Her route through the counties of Wexford, Waterford, Cork, Kerry, Clare and Galway exposed her to the full gamut of Irish weather conditions, from sunshine and balmy temperatures to snow and sleet within a few days.

Sonja Richmond and Sean Morton

Ontario couple Sonja Richmond and Sean Morton. Photo: Sonja Richmond

Richmond and Morton are making their final preparations before leaving on the longest recreational track in the world, Canada’s 24,000km Great Trail. Having sold their house and possessions, the pair have been working hard for the past five months to secure additional funding for the multi-year hike. Now, with just six weeks before beginning their hike in Cape Spear, Newfoundland, they are turning their attention to intensive physical training.

Jelle Veyt

Photo: Jelle Veyt

In mid-January, Jelle Veyt returned to Belgium and his day job as a physiotherapist. But by no means has he put his dream of a human-powered Seven Summits to rest.

At the moment he admits that he is “not doing much” adventure-wise, but rather is dedicating his time to family, friends, charity projects and adventure workshops. He is raising funds for a home for disadvantaged youths in Nepal.

To remain active, he will be climbing in Kalymnos, Greece for 10 days and during the second week of August, he plans to row the English Channel. For this “side project”, as he calls it, he will be using the boat that fellow Belgian Koen De Gezelle built especially for Veyt’s voyage to Oceania’s highest peak, Carstensz Pyramid.

In August, he will continue his Seven Summits project by biking from Belgium to Portugal. From there, he plans to row to French Guiana, then cycle to Aconcagua (6,962m), the highest peak in South America.


Interview with Baigalmaa Norjmaa: Mongolia to London by Camel