Ten Questions: Tom Turcich
The World Walker
By Erin Bell

On April 2, 2015 – the eve of his 26th birthday – Haddon Heights’ Tom Turcich walked out of South Jersey pushing an aluminum cart full of supplies. He left to embark on a five-year walk around the world, and he’s been documenting his progress with daily Instagram posts. We caught up with Turcich and his new dog, Savannah, in Colombia – more than one year and 5,000 miles down the road (but four years and countless miles to go).

Tom Turcich at Guatemala’s Lake Atitlan

Tom Turcich at Guatemala’s Lake Atitlan

Why did you decide to go on a world walk?
It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. My friend Anne Marie Lynch passed away when I was 17, and that made me reconsider my values. I’d never been close to anyone who had died before. So I wanted to do things while I was alive. I wanted to find out about myself and the world. I was looking for cheap ways to travel and found world walk websites. On a world walk, I would be forced to pass through little towns that you would normally take a bus through on your way to the next place.

How did you prepare?
Oddly enough, the longest hike I did before this was 10 days on the Appalachian Trail. Maybe I should have worked out my legs more before I left. But I was active; I played tennis and swam recreationally in college, and did yoga and the gym after college.

I had planned to use my savings and just bleed it out until Argentina, hoping that would prove to companies that I was serious about walking around the world and might lead them to sponsor me. But I told Tom Marchetty, who owns The Factory in Collingswood, what I was doing, and he made me my first custom cart and helped me find sponsors and get the thing paid for. We threw a fundraiser, and he put together a press conference. Now I have sponsors like Philadelphia Sign – we have a contract and they’re giving me enough money to see this thing through.

What is your route?
Every year I’m planning on doing about 5,000 miles. I use Google Maps to plan what roads I’ll take. It’s not perfectly accurate, but it’s enough for me to judge. In the past year, I went down the East Coast of the United States and through Central America. This year I’ll be walking down the west coast of South America. I have to be down in Argentina or Uruguay by February of next year to catch a boat to Antarctica, then I’ll zig-zag through Europe. I’ll skim the south coast of the Mediterranean: Morocco, Tunisia, then up to Italy, through Ukraine, into Russia, then down to Kazakhstan and China, Beijing, the south coast of Australia. Then back to the West Coast of the United States and home. I will stay out of the Middle East – I have no desire to go there. And I’m staying out of the majority of Africa. I would love to go, but I think the continent is just too massive, the language would always be changing as I walked and the infrastructure is just too unstable.

So what is walking all day, every day like?
I’ve turned over every thought I’ve ever had a million times. I’m walking eight hours a day sometimes. The first week or so, I was getting pretty bad cramps and waking up with charley horses. My legs were throbbing. But after the first month, I could walk as far as I wanted and not feel it too much the next day.

I used to be worried about how hidden I was at night. When night was approaching, I would get panicky and give myself two hours (that’s six miles of walking) to find a spot to set up and sleep. But in more than a year of walking, I’ve never not found a place to sleep. I can sleep pretty much anywhere, on the side of the road if I need to.

How are you doing on your own?
I’m not lonely – I’m so exhausted at the end of the day I don’t have time to think about it. I have this immediate purpose every day. I get up and walk, and I’m fulfilling that purpose. I do miss my family. I talk to them every week or two, but it has to be on Wi-Fi or the call will be too expensive. I think, “It would be great to have Sunday dinner with them and just watch the Eagles game.” But I’m living my dream.

I haven’t had to see a doctor at all – this is the healthiest I’ve ever been, hands down. I’m in the sunlight all the time. I’m not lifting weights or training, but I’m physically moving in fresh air all day.

What’s in your cart?
There’s 60 to 75 pounds of stuff in there. I have a big Tupperware crate where I keep my food, my tent, sleeping bag and sleeping pad, rain jacket, five pairs of socks, some clothes, down jacket, pillow, Dromedary hydration bags that I can fill with water, my Nikon D5300, solar panels and a 9-watt battery. I have bug repellent and a snake bite venom extractor pump, just in case.

What I eat depends on the country. In El Salvador, food was insanely cheap, so I could have six meals a day and spend $15. But in Costa Rica you’re paying American prices. So I’ll make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the morning, get chocolate milk at a gas station. In the afternoon I’ll have another liter of milk and more PB&Js. I eat three or four PB&Js a day, and I usually have one local meal a day. That way I get to experience the food culture.

When did you get Savannah?
I started thinking about getting a dog after Georgia – I met a pretty creepy guy, and I was thinking, “A dog would have known this guy was creepy.” I did the research and knew it was possible to get a dog through all these countries. I went to a shelter in Austin, Texas, and when I saw her, I knew she was my girl.

When we first started walking, I thought, “What did I get myself into?” She was a puppy, and when she was rescued, they had found her on the road, so she was terrified of cars. After a week or two she became desensitized to the cars and figured out what we were doing. At first she could only walk an hour or two. But we walked a little further every day. She’s insanely well trained, and we’re so synced, because I spend every minute of every day with her. I say her name or give her a look and she does exactly what is expected of her.

What was your most frightening experience?
The border of Mexico was tense. All the locals I talked to said, “Why are you walking? Even I don’t walk around here because of the cartel.”

One night in Honduras, I found a place to sleep, an overlook next to a field. Around 9 pm, I hear a truck drive up, and a guy with a machete gets out and starts climbing the ladder to where I am. He looks in, and he says in Spanish, “Oh, it’s just a gringo.” And he tells me he’s looking for guys who had stolen a cow. I explained what I was doing, that I just wanted a place to sleep. And he left and was on his way.

Turcich makes an adventurous dive

Turcich makes an adventurous dive

But you’ve had good experiences too – right?
There have been a lot of people who have stopped and given me food or water. The best example would be my second day in Guatemala. The entrance is vertical – it’s walking straight up a mountain, and I’m pushing my heavy cart. It was only 1 pm, and I was soaked in sweat even though it was cold. I sat against this church, and this guy comes by, and we start talking. I asked him if there was a hotel around. He said there was nothing for six miles, so he invited me over to stay and eat. That was my favorite place – Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. It was outrageous and so beautiful.

What has the response been like on social media?
I’m amazed. Social media is hard to get your head around. People say, “I feel like I’m on the journey with you.” But for me, when I take a photo, it’s the tiniest sliver of what I see. What people are seeing is so strongly filtered. Some of my favorite spots are nothing Instagram would enjoy, because you have to see the whole scene, not just one picture.

July 2016
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