On Saturday, September 1, 2012, I will start an 8-month solo walk across Turkey, from the Aegean to Iran, 1305 miles in all. I will carry a backpack, a tent, and a sleeping bag.
Why will I do it?
To put my life where my mouth is.
In 2003 I met a girl on an airplane to Hong Kong. We ended up going out, then moving together to her hometown of Istanbul and getting married there. We lived in Turkey for 6 years, but in 2009 things unravelled and I came back home to the US.
When I came back to the US, people kept asking me about the differences I had seen in Turkey. Political differences, religious differences, cultural differences, gender differences, just about every kind of difference you could think of.
But I really wanted to tell them about how people are so much the same. Living in Turkey had reminded me that most of what we are as human beings, and how we act in any given situation, is pretty much the same. Human nature being what it is though, we can't take our eyes off our differences, and I think that focus on difference makes us more afraid of each other than we need to be.
I don't want to talk about this in theory. If these similarities are so profound, I should be able to walk, alone and unprotected, across the country.
I will be walking from Kusadasi, a town on Turkey's Aegean coast, to the country's eastern border with Iran. I will be walking with only my backpack and a hefty dose of "I don't know what I'll find, but I guess I'll find out" attitude. I will be writing and photographing along the way.
I will be walking across the southern half of the country, through river valleys, mountains, plateaus, along coastline, and across high deserts. I'll be walking past miles and miles of fig orchards, cattle grazing pastures, sandy beaches, and rolling hills covered with scrub brush.
I will be walking through cities of well over a million people, and I'll be walking through sparsely-populated areas where I may not see a village for days.
I will be walking a series of mostly two- and four-lane highways and frontage roads, covering about 12 miles per day, 60 miles per week, 180 miles per month (I'll spend about one week per month resting up and writing in "layover cities"). At that rate, I estimate the walk will take me 7-8 months.
The whole point of the trip is to meet lots of people along the way. I will be seeking out and accepting invitations to drink tea with shopkeepers, join families for dinner, sleep on peoples' living room floors, attend weddings, entertain classrooms of children, and whatever other social opportunities come up.
I am only planning to walk about 4 hours per day so I can spend plenty of time with the people I meet. After all, they are the ones who are going to provide most of the material for my writing.
The people in that part of the world pride themselves on their hospitality, and I intend to work that hospitality for all it's worth, seizing it as an opportunity to get to know the people I meet along the way.
Creative output during the walk:
During the walk I will be posting daily photos and short trip updates (anecdotes, observations, progress reports, etc) to my website, www.heathenpilgrim.com. I will be using a digital camera and an iPhone with a local SIM card and data plan. Cell coverage in Turkey is quite good, so I expect very few days without a connection.
Those daily updates will be freely-available to the general public via the website. I want everyone to be able to follow the walk, whether they are Kickstarter backers or not.
I will also carry a laptop for longer-form writing and heavier photo and video editing. However, the iPhone and its data connection will be my main day-to-day connection to the rest of the world.
Creative output after the walk:
When the walk is finished, I figure that with 4 months of really long days I can finish producing the trip's "creative output." I plan on producing four books: two narrative books and two photo essay books.
The first of the narrative books is tentatively titled "Turkey on 12 Miles a Day." It will be a book about the preparations for and execution of the trip. There aren't many people who do walks like this, so even the sections about training, equipment, and logistics will have something that can be applied to life in general.
The second narrative book is tentatively titled "Walking Turkey." It will be a collection of stories about the trip, something people can read and feel like they are experiencing the walk from their own living rooms.
The two photo books will be coffee-table-style photo essays focusing on two different aspects of the trip. Their working titles are "Walking Turkey: the landscape," and "Walking Turkey: the people."
I plan to self-publish these books, since I will want to put them into the hands of my backers as quickly and as directly as possible. When the books are finished and distributed to my backers, I plan to make them available to the general public on Amazon, too.
Preparation and training:
I've already earned half of the money I'll need for this trip by working in the peach and plum orchards near my hometown of Reedley, California. I've already got all my equipment. I've already bought my plane ticket.
Since November I've also walked 1200 miles, most of them past those same peach and plum orchards I worked in, to make sure my body would be up to the task. In fact, after earning enough money for the trip, making sure my feet and legs could handle that many miles was my main concern. I wondered things like would I get blisters on my feet? Would my knees hold up? How far could I walk per day, per week, per month, and still recover for the next one? Could I carry a backpack day after day?
All that walking would have gotten kind of monotonous, if it hadn't been for the beautiful scenery and the dogs. Oh, the dogs...
I also spent hundreds of hours researching the route, going over it mile by mile on Google Earth. I've broken the route down into nine legs and written about each one here. I've divvied up those nine legs further, to smaller segments averaging 7 miles each, so I know where I will and won't have access to water, bathrooms, and grocery stores.
I also wrote a couple books and published them on Amazon. The main book is called "A Tight Wide-open Space" and is about adjustment to life in Turkey -- going through culture shock, becoming one of the family, learning to love the country. The book has been reviewed in the Today's Zaman newspaper and on Adventures in Expat Land and The Displaced Nation. One of my favorite stories from the book is about a run-in with the beggar kids in Istanbul's Taksim Square.
Where you come in:
If this project catches your eye, please become a backer here on Kickstarter.
There are rewards for just a few bucks, and there are rewards for thousands of dollars, and there are rewards in between. All of them are designed to help backers experience the trip vicariously in some way.
And if you back the project, please tell a friend about it.
Kickstarter funding is all or nothing:
Funding on Kickstarter is all or nothing. If I don’t clear the hurdle of $3900, nobody is charged anything, and I don’t get a dime.
What will the money be used for?
The money will be used for food and international health insurance (in case I break a leg or something along the way).
This walk across Turkey is going to happen regardless of what happens here on Kickstarter -- I am already seeing to that. So this is not funding to make the walk happen. This is funding to help me focus on bringing the country to you, my backers, not interrupting the walk midway through to dig ditches for additional food money.
What your contributions will mean to me:
I bought my plane ticket months ago. I've already walked 1200 miles to make sure my body's up to the task. My equipment is ready to go. If ditches need to be dug in order to finish the project, I'm going to dig them. I'm "all in" on this walk, and whatever happens here on Kickstarter will not change that.
So more important to me than money for food and insurance is what your contributions will mean to me day-to-day on the road: months into the trip, when I wake up in the morning and crawl out of my sleeping bag and pull on my boots, your contributions will be a reminder that I am not on vacation, that I have a job to do, and that people back home expect something from me. I like having that sense of purpose and duty, and that is why I am seeking financial backing here on Kickstarter.
I picked that name for a couple of reasons. The main reason is that a heathen is a person who does not share one’s religion. Christians see non-believers as pagan; Muslims see them as infidels; and as far as Jews are concerned, gentiles can never be members of God’s chosen people.
One thing we all have in common is that someone, somewhere considers us heathen. And if you want to travel outside of your own circle, you must be willing to be considered a heathen by someone else. If the people around you are not considering you heathen yet, you have not traveled far enough from home.
I also have a tongue-in-cheek reason. A secondary definition of “heathen” is “a rude or uncivilized person.” I’m a fairly polite and well-mannered person. So calling myself a heathen pilgrim is a bit of an attempt at self-deprecating humor.
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