It’s difficult to imagine what walking 10 + miles a day for two years would be like. It’s equally as difficult to imagine what sort of training regimen would go along with such a task. For the past three years, I have developed a lifestyle, along with my two walking compadres to be able do exactly that, walk over 10 miles a day across the Silk Road. Let me explain who I am and what I mean when I say “lifestyle.
I am Paul Ronan, walker extraordinare! I walk to and from work every day, take long walks on the beach and have been called the bigger man by my grandma when I walked away from a conflict on the playground. All jokes aside, my passion alone for walking cannot solely sustain me for 12,000+ kilometers worth of travel, I need the skills for it as well, luckily, I have those also. Over the past three years, I have been developing character traits, language and technical skills that will surely come in handy during our walk.
A large majority of our route is in China! Living there I have learned not only Chinese but by being totally immersed in the culture I’ve picked up and learned the subtle (and not so subtle) new slang, figures of speech and even different ways to construct sentences versus if I had studied at a university. I have had hour long conversations with taxi drivers who are obsessed with global affairs, and chewed the fat with farmers in their fields, but you need someone who has the patience to speak slowly and dissect a broken sentence structure. Being a foreigner who knows how to say, “that’s the sh**’s” vs “that’s’ sh**” definitely turns some heads. Even with my lower level of fluency, the team and I will be able to communicate with hundreds, if not thousands, of people who were previously inaccessible in China. This alone has made living in China entirely worth it
Not only has China taught me a new language but helped me develop the skills to handle uncertainty and strife. When I first went to China, suddenly my entire world was unfamiliar. The food, smells, language and architecture were entirely different. My brain was on overdrive recording every new vivid detail in the open wet markets, the trash piled on the curb seemingly forgotten by the entire community, the insanely intense chili in my noodles and the smell that has forever been classified as the “China smell” in my head since that first day. Taking the 52-hour train ride from Guilin to Baotou with wee little ladies blasting their communist disco music each morning at 6:30 am or missing my flight in Shanghai and having to reorganize all my plans for the next month because of it are just a few examples of what I mean when I say China has helped me develop the skill of handling uncertainty and strife.
China is also the place that I’ve practiced my craft, outdoor education. I work for the company, Insight Adventures (IA) and they’ve been encouraging and challenging me in my personal and professional development since day one. Through IA I have taken groups of students on backpacking trips on the southern island of Hainan to the dunes of Inner Mongolia. On these trips, there is a constant stream of miscommunication with local farmers as we try to find our way with low quality maps (topographical maps are illegal in China). When we go hiking in China, many times we do not have defined camping areas and we work with the local farmers to see if we can sleep on their land. Seeing the uniquely fluid, ugly and sometimes beautiful way nature and humanity meets in the de-facto wilderness of China has giving me great confidence for embarking on this Silk Walk journey.
It is with these practices and more that I feel confident in my preparation for the Silk Walk. As I said previously, at face value there seems to be no way to train for such an undertaking. But if you line your life up in just the right way, you can bring the pieces together to bring you success. Currently I walk to work every day totaling four Kilometers, run ten Kilometers five days a week, preparing my legs physically the best I can. I have a flight next week to Inner Mongolia and I plan on walking to the airport. I am Paul and this is how I’m training for walking a third of the world.