I met Matt in Istanbul last year, at the end of an epic journey for both of us. I had just finished visiting every country, and he’d just finished walking across all of Turkey. Of course I had to hear more.
I’m originally a West Coaster from the U.S.—mostly California and Washington State to be exact. My quest was to walk across Turkey, every meter. I started with my feet in the Aegean Sea and 7 ½ months later arrived at the Iranian border. I wanted to show people the world is not a place to be afraid of. It’s a place to be accepted, welcomed, and loved.
Why did you undertake this quest?
Walking across Turkey, or any other country for that matter, had never been something I thought about doing. But in 2011, I was at a crossroads after a divorce. I felt like I was on the verge of a stereotypical mid-life crisis.
I asked myself: In ten years, what will make you prouder of yourself… having bought a flashy car, or having done something big and amazing? I chose the latter. This is the internal conversation that followed:
– “You need to do something big and amazing. What are you going to do?”
– “Huh. I don’t know.”
– “Well, you need to pick something.”
– “Okay then, I’ll, uh, I’ll walk across Turkey. There we go. That sounds like it’ll be big and amazing.”
What were the costs associated with the walk, and how did you fund it?
The total project, including all equipment and airfare expenses, came to about $10,000. I funded about half of it with my own money, and about half of it with money I raised from friends and family on Kickstarter.
Tell us about a low point that occurred along the way and how you overcame it.
There was one particular low point I’ll never forget as long as I live, because it was one of the most panicked, loneliest moments of my life. Just days into my walk, my right foot started hurting tremendously. The pain came without warning. Every time I put weight on that foot, I felt a sharp, disabling jolt like electricity, and the best I could do was limp along the roadside.
I stopped early that day, and checked into a cheap motel. I was in a complete, blinding, desperate panic — out in the middle of nowhere, scared, lonely, terrified that I had sacrificed everything for this walk, and now, a mere 5% of the way across Turkey, I might have to call it off. The pain was so bad I could barely even cross the room to get a drink of water.
I told myself that for the rest of that day I could feel as black as I wanted, that I could scream or cry or punch the walls, but that the next day I would have to wake up and deal with the problem. It was my problem, and no one else was going to fix it.
Come morning, I hobbled to a minibus and returned to a friendly village I’d passed through a few days before. Puzzled, the villagers asked why I was back. I tried to explain, and asked if I could pitch my tent in the park to rest my foot. They agreed.
So I camped there for four nights. A family across the street adopted me like you would a lost puppy, feeding me dinner and letting me watch TV with them. Being around people was very helpful. I’d watch the villagers go to work on the farms every morning, and their dedication reminded me I had a job to do, too—get my foot healthy and keep walking! And I needed to pursue my job with the same professionalism and work ethic they did.
How did the support you received affect the walk?
The walk would have been completely impossible without the tremendous support I received. Financial support from others helped a lot. But what really kept me going was all the times someone cooked me a meal, or invited me to join them for some tea and conversation, or found an empty couch for me to sleep on that night.
I owe a huge debt to humanity now, and I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to repay this debt. This is one debt that I love to owe though, and I know now that everyone else owes this same debt. Knowing that you owe a debt to humanity is one of the fastest, most direct ways to get over pretty much anything.
Did you met anyone interesting during your quest?
Every day! Pretty much everyone is fun and interesting, if instead of asking, “Are you what I think is fun and interesting?” you ask, “What do you think is fun and interesting?”
One of the first people who comes to mind is Melih Mutluay in Mersin, a city in southern Turkey along the Mediterranean coast. When we first met, Melih smoked a lot, drank more than a little, and worked way too much. But one day he said he wanted to come walking with me for the day. After about 17 kilometers Melih was looking pretty ragged. I asked him if he wanted to stop, but he was so focused and dedicated, there was no way he was going to do anything but finish the day’s distance. He’d become a man on a mission.
When we finished the full 30 for the day, Melih was grinning from ear to ear. As exhausted as he was, he even danced a little jig he was so happy. I think he was the happiest, proudest man on the whole planet at that particular moment.
The next day he was so sore he could barely get out of bed. But once he recovered he kept it up, and now he goes on long hikes through the mountains, carrying a backpack, building a camp, sleeping in a tent. He travels all around the country to do this stuff now.
We even have plans to walk The Camino in Spain one of these days. It’s like there was a fire inside Melih, and that 30 kilometers helped him get in touch with it, and now that is the Melih who walks the earth.
What advice would you give to someone else considering a quest?
A friend and I say, “Don’t have dreams. Have things you do.” Having a dream is good, but finishing it is better. And there’s never a good time to follow your dreams, because, well, they’re dreams, and following them will be so disruptive to your life that almost everything you know will change. That’s okay. Do it anyway.
If your dream, or your quest, or whatever you call it, is big enough, simply following it is going to change your life many times over, and it will inspire many people along the way. Beforehand, you have no way of predicting how this will play out, or where the energy will come from to pick yourself up when you fall. Just have faith that it will be good, and do it.
Once you discover the happiness of pursuit, you can’t go back to anything else. So within two months of finishing my walk across Turkey, I had already found my next quest.
All around the world, there are people who are trying to get to that next level in life.
They feel something inside of them, something they want to say, a message, a fire of some sort, and they need to get it out. So that’s my job now. I help people find the resources within themselves to change their world through presentations and public speaking.