To do anything well requires practice. Sometimes practice helps us understand a process; sometimes a movement. Other times it helps make us stronger. So here's the question: what kind of practice prepares you for walking more than 6,000 miles in a single journey? Like so many things in life, the answer varies. In fact, I don't think there is a singular answer to this question due to the magnitude of variables, i.e. you, me, and the person reading over your shoulder would each have our own approach. Two friends and I are preparing to walk the Silk Road, and I want to share a bit of this process with all of you.
For one thing, I’ve lead a pretty active lifestyle that has helped me stay in shape and provide me with first-hand experiences. I grew up as an active kid running around the woods and exploring the Mississippi River valley. My family have always been avid outdoor people; we hunt, fish and, camp in every season. Following in my father’s footsteps, I participated in the Boy Scouts, learning to explore many areas of academia and outdoor stewardship. In college, I studied adventure education; I learned how to teach people utilizing an outdoor setting with activities, and even expeditions, to illustrate lessons in a more powerful way than listening to somebody talk about it. In my personal life, I’ve enjoyed a couple kinds of expeditions such as backpacking in New Mexico, canoeing the Minnesota section of the Mississippi River, week-long trips in the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota, kayaking the St. Croix River, and exploring the Apostle Islands of Lake Superior. In my professional career as an outdoor educator I’ve enjoyed working in Los Angeles as an outdoor interpreter, also called a naturalist, but I find that people always think of a nudist colony or something when I say “naturalist.” This job had me mentoring fifth graders about the direct relation between science and stewardship for the outdoors. And as an adventure education facilitator in China, I’ve mentored international school students on their Duke of Edinburgh Award trips. Allowing me to teach, and learn, in more environmental settings than I’ve ever been to before.
The physical training I’ve done specifically for this expedition has been minimal, but rather than rely on my past and instead of starting some rigorous training regiment, I have done my best to integrate a simple training style into my daily life. Simple things like taking the stairs instead of elevators, carrying a little more weight than necessary - usually three or four liters’ of extra water -, and being highly aware of how I pack for each trip helps me observe which items I use most and which items I may not use as much. Small walks when I find time in my personal schedule. Like walking to the airport rather than taking the 30-minute taxi ride. In Kunming (China), I found myself with an extra day before needing to take a flight to Beijing. I gave that one day to be a training excursion to cross a large city on foot and it gave me a sense of purpose—don’t miss your flight! It gave me a sense of place—navigating a network of walking surfaces through a city of gently rolling hills and highways. It also gave me a sense of the people that call Kunming home. Multiple times I stopped to ask for directions or to order food. This helped me practice my Mandarin, which, in turn, sparked conversation about the local food and allowed me to watch how they made it. By taking a full schedule and filling the gaps with this “big walk mentality” has helped me get ready in the physical sense. But, to be honest, I see this expedition as more of a challenge of endurance rather than strength. Organizing a plan considering little details in conjunction with big pictures ideas has helped me feel confident. After all, we are walking and nothing is going to happen quickly.