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Can a Trip Be Too Long?

Buzz Poole
02/05/2013 - 06:22

Following up on last week's post about age and travel, this week we drop in on Paul Salopek's Out of Eden Walk. The Eden in question is the cradle of humanity, Ethiopia, and the walk will entail a seven-year jaunt around the globe, as an homage to "the pathway of our species’ original migration out of Africa," which will conclude at the tip of South America. Supported by National Geographic and the Knight Foundation, Salopek will be uploading reports from the trail every 100 miles, and will also be filing longer pieces for the magazine. As it is explained on the project's website: "Along the way, he will explore the major stories of our time — from climate change to conflict, from mass migration to cultural survival — by walking alongside the people who live them every day: cattle nomads, artists, traders, farmers, shopkeepers, scientists, everyone."

Salopek set out on this grand journey on January 22, the first words of his travelogue comfortably wearing the poetics of reality: "On a clear day on flat ground—in a landscape, say, like the bone-yellow floor of the Great Rift Valley of northern Ethiopia that surrounds me now—it is possible to see 60 miles. This is a three-day walking radius. For the next seven years of my life, as I retrace, on foot, the pathways of the first anatomically modern humans who rambled out Africa, this distance will represent for me, as it was for our ancestors, my tangible universe, my limiting horizon." Along the way that day, someone Salopek encountered in the desert asked him where he was walking; Salopek answered "north," knowing that the actual answer, Tierra del Fuego, would have been beyond the stranger's grasp. As the reports indicate, Salopek is in a part of the world that, while not entirely off the grid as this post about an electrical oasis proves, is comprised of traveling between wells and using burial stones to navigate through barren landscape.

To say that this project is ambitious is an understatement, and yet, as Salopek is trying to make clear, walking is how humans are built to get around, and all we knew for a long time. That Salopek is also trying to draw conclusions between an ancient mode of travel and some of today's more pressing issues is interesting, and sure to yield ideas aplenty. But, part of traveling, for me at least, is returning home. As much as I like to get out there and experience a new place, I really like the return, and I usually like it even more the longer the trip. This doesn't mean that I don't miss places, or wish I was back on that beach or wandering through those woods or eating that bread from the kiosk it's just that "home" is almost as an important as an idea as "away." Ten years ago or ten years in the future, I'm not so sure such a long trip would appeal to me.

Would you set out on a seven-year trip like this one, even if it were sponsored and there was a book deal in it for you? How long is too long? 

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