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Tom Turcich had been walking around the world for 5 years when, suddenly, the world shut down. It was April 2, 2015 when the Haddon Heights’ resident walked out of South Jersey pushing an aluminum cart full of supplies. He had a lofty mission: inspired by the loss of a friend, he vowed to make the most of the remaining days of his life by walking around the world. Today he’s still walking, but this time into uncharted territory.

When SJ Mag last featured Turcich in 2016, he was one year and 5,000 miles into his journey, trekking through the Americas with his dog Savannah, a rescue who became his steady travel companion. Since then, he’s crossed the Americas to the horn of Antarctica, walked through Europe and across the top of Africa and is now at the doorstep of the Asian continent. His journey was made possible through years of savings, some sponsorships, fundraising and the generosity of people he’s met along the way.

Turcich returned briefly to South Jersey earlier this year while awaiting travel documents for the next leg of his journey. He had resumed his journey and was walking through Azerbaijan when the pandemic caught up to him, derailing his plans. It’s been four more years, 13,000 more miles, countless more experiences since we saw him last, and he has lots to share about a story that’s still unfolding.

 

Q: How has Coronavirus impacted your World Walk?

Originally, this leg of the trip was supposed to be from Azerbaijan to Mongolia. Because almost all of that is really desolate, I hoped the virus wouldn’t have an impact. I walked through Azerbaijan, but now all the borders in the region are closed. Savannah and I are holed up in an apartment in Baku until this is over. Now my visas are off and I likely won’t be able to make it to Mongolia before winter, so I’m not sure what the next leg of my walk looks like anymore.

Image from Tom Turcich’s photography book on India

Q: How has the trip differed from your expectations?

My perspective is completely different than when I started at 25 years old. I feel like I really grew up since then. I knew this journey was going to change me, but it’s one of those things that you never know just how profoundly until it happens. And of course I never expected there to be a global pandemic.

Q: Did you ever consider stopping?

Yes – I was sick for almost a year at the end of 2017 into 2018 with a bacterial infection that nearly killed me. In Ireland I had stomach pains that weren’t bad at first, but by the time I got to Scotland, I was writhing on the ground in agony. I spent a month in a London hospital before being sent back home. No doctors I saw had any idea what it was, so they just started throwing antibiotics at it, and luckily one of them worked. It was the most painful thing I had ever experienced. I remember thinking, “I gave it a good shot. If I die, at least I walked through the Americas. That’s pretty cool.” I was oddly at peace with that.

Q: What has most surprised you?

It never ceases to surprise me how much each country changes at the border. When I was in Ecuador, for example, there was this great little city called Macara. People sat on their hammocks reading. There was good food, and people were well off. Then you cross the border into Peru, and people are living in bamboo shacks. There’s no drinking water, no toilets. They’re just a few miles from each other. And you see that over and over again, how quickly life can switch from one country to the next.

Q: What keeps you going?

The great thing about walking around the world is that I have this purpose. Every morning, I wake up and I know exactly how far I have to go. I fall into a rhythm – walk, eat, walk, eat, find a place to sleep. That’s pretty much it. But at the same time, everything around me is constantly changing. So there’s this nice balance between the new and the familiar. I always have the same core mission, but there’s constant change and adjustment so it’s never dull.

Q: What’s a standout moment?

When Savannah and I were crossing the Andes from Chile into Argentina, we had been walking at 5,000 meters of elevation for 4 days with no food, no water – other than what we brought with us – and very little sleep. I was totally exhausted, and all of a sudden, my legs gave out on me. I knew I’d be ok once I rested and was able to make it to town, but at that moment I had pushed my body to its absolute limit. I had Savannah by my side overlooking these big mountain peaks. I felt like I was really accomplishing something important.

Images from Tom Turcich’s photography book on India

Q: How’s Savannah doing?

She’s stronger than I am, honestly. We’ll walk 30 miles a day. I’ll drop down on the ground exhausted and she’ll run up to me with a stick in her mouth ready to play. She grew up on the road. Since she was 4 months old, the only thing she’s known is walking every day. She was the first dog to walk across the Americas, and she’ll be the first dog to ever walk across the world. That’s pretty amazing.

Q: Talk about people you’ve met.

In every country, people have taken me in for the night and given me food. Truck drivers stop on the side of the road to give me fruit or Gatorade. One girl in particular stands out. I was in San Sebastian, Spain, for over a month waiting for my visa extension, and I’d go to this coffee shop to study Spanish and hang out with her. A part of me wanted to stay with her, but I had to keep going. The walk is my priority.

This trip has taught me to really trust my instincts. 99.99% of the people I meet are incredible, but there are weirdos in every country. I met a man in Georgia who gave me a bad vibe, and I spent more time with him than was probably safe. I was held at knifepoint in Panama City. But I’m always about to meet someone else, so if I get a bad vibe, I just keep going.

Q: What country has had the most impact?

India. I had beggars coming up all the time asking for money. I saw kids growing up on the street. I had seen poverty around the world, but never anything as visceral as this. It really made me think more about the privilege I have and the impact I want to have on the world. I walked away from India realizing I need to do better, be better.

Q: What do you plan to do when you come home?

I just got the first draft of my photography book of India. I had never really taken photos before I set out on the walk, but photography ended up being one of the only hobbies I could have on the road. My mom is an illustrator, so we’re working on a children’s book about my adventures from Savannah’s perspective. I’m also working on a literary book about the bond between me and Savannah as the first man and dog to walk around the world. But I have more adventuring to do before I know for sure what life looks like after the walk.

 


Read the 2016 article about Tom Turcich here.

May 2020
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