Interview with Karl Bushby
I’ve known about Karl’s phenomenal attempt for well over 10 years. If there is one person who constantly tops my list of people that inspire me, it’s Karl.
Karl has been, and is, attempting to walk around the world with unbroken steps. He’s already made history in being the first person to cross the Bering Strait from Alaska to Russia. And there’s so much more to this epic journey.
“This is an incredibly revealing interview that I encourage anyone who’s any interest in travel, human nature or life to read all the way through”.
How can anyone embark on something like this? How can they continue? And, what happens to them afterwards?
12 years of travel on a mission to do something no one else has and still a lot of years to go. To most people this is nearly incomprehensible. Tell us the grass roots of this journey, why did you start this?
Not an easy question to answer. On the surface it was a simple challenge framed in a question ‘what would it take, and is it even possible, for a lone man to get back home to the UK from the Southern tip of South America unassisted by any form of transport’. Once the fire is lit it smoulders at the back of ones mind for a long time and I found I was never able to put it down. How such an idea came into being, I guess that was part of my immediate culture or environment.
As a young British Paratrooper there is a lot of competitive banter at hand, driven men always looking to find ways to push them selves a little further, never willing to back down from a challenge. Within this environment, and taking into account ones own wonder lust, my own history, you can start to piece together an hypothesis as to why I undertook this challenge. But its very much a game of introspection.
I believe I know why I do what I do, not that it will always make sense to others. Humans rarely do. But at the end of the day it’s a huge challenge and a battle of will, and the question remains “what would it take and can it be done”. The theory is simple but in practice, that’s a whole new ball game.
Have your reasons for doing this changed over the past 12 years?
Again I can only re-alliterate the above. Somewhere throughout my life, from childhood to the day I stepped onto the road, the reasons are scattered hither and too.
Have you drawn any inspiration from other travellers, past or present, and if so who and why?
The only real case that I drew inspiration from was Ranulph Fiennes and Mike Shroud crossing of Antarctica on foot in 1993. I found their effort mind blowing. I still do. Their have been many an example, incredible feats by incredible men in a class way beyond anything I am capable of. But the Fiennes Shroud 1993 effort left an indelible memory and image I have never forgotten. In particular a single photograph of the two men at the end of their ordeal. Two emaciated figures, half the men that set out only months before.
One could not imagine what it had taken, what these guys had gone through to get that last snap shot at the end of a mind blowing endeavour. Other than that I had little interest in such events, and was not really interested in walking. I chose to walk because I know how demanding it can be, that’s the point of the challenge. And I don’t see its really about walking, but more about moving a set weight and amount of logistics from point A to point B on foot, there is a big difference.
In your 12 years of walking, what has been the one thing that has surprised you most about the world we live in today?
I think the first thing that stood out was the warm hearted reception I received everywhere I went. I remember very well the early days where I would stumble across small farms run by indigenous peoples in Patagonia, and without hesitation I would be invited in, fed and warmed. That’s been the story from Chile to Russia and not something I expected. The kindness of people I think has been an intriguing insight.
After living 12 years in the army and coming from the big cities of Europe it was incredible to find so many good natured people out there, in every nook and cranny from every walk of life. That has been inspiring and one feels indebted to the world after so long and having received so much help.
The current situation might be a candidate. I was very much convinced that if I could achieve the Bering Strait, it would be down hill from there. Somehow I got that wrong! Having got over the worst of it, the obstacles considered the most challenging and threatening to this endeavour, having got over the half way point, everything suddenly begins to unravel. This was not expected, perhaps not so much of a surprise in hind sight. I had lived on a wing and a prayer for far to long and it was going to catch up on me one day.
Tell us what the worst day was in your journey so far and why?
Mid December 2005 somewhere in the heart of winter wilderness Alaska. It was all about a woman, what else could bring a man to his knees? A woman I was losing slowly over the last 5 years prior. The one woman who had truly meant everything, I guess, for want of a better word ‘my soul mate’. But again not a surprise, this had been predicted, a foot note on some long forgotten scribbled plan, underlined and marked with exclamation marks and question marks, followed by “be prepared”. But nonetheless, after years of struggle, I had reached the bottom of a dark pit of despair.
After everything I had faced down, this was the day I could not get out of my tent, the only day. I went down into such a frightening place an incredibly painful place and it took a little while to get out. Only one other time in my life had I felt anything similar I believe, also on this journey, in the early days for totally unexpected reasons, but this one had been on the cards for a long time, there had been countless hard days dealing with this. Those few days where the grimmest I can remember.
The physical stuff you can deal with, but a software glitch is a problem. A dark Arctic winter was not to help. The girl I left behind in Colombia, now nine years ago, still to this day, is the dominant factor I have to deal with, and to my horror, a daily concern. The mood you find me in at any given day is tide directly to a relationship that finally died two years ago now. Not to mention the son I left behind.
The hairy monster called time visits more often now, and knocks me around harder with every passing year. But after each beating the mission has not changed and neither have I. Moving is easier, being static seems to aggravate the issues. To much time to sit and think. If I was younger perhaps these things would not mean as much, but I am 40, old enough to deal with it, and old enough that I could do without it.
Likewise, what was the best day in your journey so far and why?
This one is harder. So many good days. I could say the day mother and my son visited me in Fairbanks Alaska. The first time after six long years, and the last. But it was hard. The day I met Catalina, but I grew to Catalina, over time, it was not a supernova moment. Hitting the coast of Russia and making history, but some how in the light of all that has past, that would feel superficial.
The day I reached Riosucio on the Atrato River and had managed to avoid been gunned down by Colombian guerrillas. The day I walked over a cliff in a snow storm on a winter Alaskan coast, and broke no bones. Finding a whole discarded sandwich on the side of the road in Chile after days of hunger. So many amazing days. Each to its own.
With social networks, travel television networks, and books galore, do you think the age of traveller exploration is coming to a close? (have we seen and done everything?)
No, I think we will define it differently over time, but it will not be over. To day I am reminded of the change. People sometimes refer to me as an explorer, but I am not. Those who follow maps are adventures, those who wrote the maps where the explorers. To day there are few explorers left. Few remaining places that have yet to be mapped. Ocean depths, some forgotten cave perhaps.
The Bering Strait crossing was a first but far from exploration in my mind. The only real uncharted territory we entered was the troubled Russian politics, as they scrambled to deal with something new and unexpected, some one walking to Russia from the USA. I am an adventurer. The next great explorers will define this species in a whole new class, an interplanetary species.
You recently re launched your website, are you changing strategies?
Trying to find a strategy is more the case. This thing began even though it probably should not have. With no support, a few bucks in my pocket and a lose plan. I pulled it off for a long time. Got by on a shoe string or nothing at all. Got luck when it mattered. Lived in the day to day, horizon to horizon. How things change.
Today I am struggling to find anyone willing to partner or sponsor the endeavour, in the worst place at the worst time. Without the marking or business plan, the experience and skill needed in the field of marketing. I am struggling, doing what I can with what I have. But remember, I am here for the challenge, so it appears I have found my utopia!
As I follow your journey, I know your tremendous difficulties in getting into Russia continue. Please tell us about this and what can be done about it?
Firstly. We need help with Russian bureaucracy. We are currently trying to find a way to overcome visa restrictions limiting the Expedition to only 3 months in Russia at a time. This creates an impossible situation for an unfunded expedition on foot and currently placed in Bilibino, Chukotka, far North East Russia.
There is hope after Russia announced plans a few months ago that it needed to relax its visa rules. So I am waiting to hear further developments on this. All our attempts over the last number of years have not mounted to anything.
I have 900 miles between me and the nearest road system, that’s 900 miles of Arctic/ Subarctic tundra. Its hard going at the best of times, later winter. Extremely unpredictable in the summer when conditions make it almost impossible to cover any distance in a timely fashion, if at all. Not expecting any chance soon in Russian politics it really comes down to sponsors.
With the right backing I can reach the road system and get back on the move year round and it just gets cheaper from there. Its difficult for people to understand the nature of the challenge in Far North East Russia, the terrain, politics, logistics and money for remote Arctic expeditions need real support. Its mind numbingly frustrating at the moment and I just need to keep a stiff upper lip and keep the faith.
Life after travel: When you have completed this epic feat, have you given any thought into what you will do?
No. it’s to far ahead, the world will be a different place in a different time. The next horizon is the focus and I cannot see beyond it. I spoke earlier in this article briefly about an unpleasant moment early on in this journey, and I believe it was due to looking to far ahead.
Trying to cope with the whole picture in one sitting on one plate and I almost choked to death on it. Since then I have learned to keep focused on the road in front of me, right now its enough to deal with.
Is there any great travel tip you would like to share with the readers here that’s helped you on your own travels?
It’s like the man said “just do it”. So many people ponder on making a move but don’t act upon there dreams and ideas. More often than not its out of fear, it’s a lack of self confidence.
Our addiction to safety and over abundance of caution can stop us from being the best we can be, can stifle the human spirit. Man has to realise he got where he is today because he was willing to take risks and he will have to take risks again.
Finally Karl, how can people follow you and support you on this incredible journey? (website, facebook, twitter, rss links etc)
Yes, the website I try to keep updated. I’m constantly adjusting and adding to it, lots of room for improvements. The website is: www.odysseyxxi.com
I will be opening a forum this week( editors note: it’s live now!) I hope as people feel there is a lot to talk about and I agree. I have a Facebook but its not real active right now. I use Twitter: http://twitter.com/OdysseyXXI there is a link on the website home page.
Inspirational Travelers: they do exist.
What do you think of Karl’s journey?
Could you ever embark on something like this?
This interview is an additional entry exploring how other travelers are inspiring and can help us all learn