A question often asked of us in one form or another, is how are you training? Training for a two-year expedition walking across Asia requires more than just a physical regiment of carrying a heavy pack for miles. It requires a lifestyle shift. Two years ago, we sat down in a tiny cabin located in Ely, Minnesota that was cluttered with house plants and instruments of every assortment to conduct our first planning meeting. All our notes from that first meeting fit onto a single of an 8 ½” x 11” notebook page with only quick notations of budget and equipment. At the time, we did not realize what was to come, but before I go on let me introduce who “we” are. My name is Timb Mannuzza, and myself along with two friends, Paul Ronan and Pat Exe, make up the Silk Walk Expedition team. This is not just a journey of miles; our mission is to walk from one symbolic end of the Silk Road to another, during a single expedition; to gain a better awareness of our global community. To make it from Xi’an, China to Rome, Italy has required training of the mind, body, and spirit and I am excited to share with you how I have taken on this challenge.
What has prevailed as an essential part of training is shifting my way of interacting with the world. Every day I awake
with the goal to increase my tolerance for adversity and uncertainty. This has taken on many forms,
from climbing and glaciating (sliding down on my feet) down giant snow piles on the street and large washes in the desert. It has included doing a five-day fast, to an imitation of Ramadan, to walking through the worst sections of a small sand storm. It means regularly getting myself lost in the woods or in countries where I don’t speak the language and finding my way out. Camping in a cave using only my rain gear and backpack as a sleeping bag. Simply put, I try to take the most challenging way across the easiest route, to prepare me for harder tasks with higher consequences in the future. It is with this mindset that I train mentally every day for the challenges that will surley lie ahead.
The majority of my training, however, came naturally and did not have the objective of walking across Asia. I was blessed to have a father that worked as a luggage handler which allowed my family to prioritize travel. Growing up traveling to amazing places I found with each passing year I became farther and farther removed from the culture I grew up in. Growing up visiting my Sicilian cousins I learned just how easy it could be to experience a unique culture despite language barriers. At the age of 18, armed with only a few vocab words and a thirst for adventure, I went to Ecuador alone. Hoping to immerse myself in the country, I found myself staying at a farm in a town where no one spoke English much better than I spoke Spanish. After my time in Ecuador, I began to travel as much as I could to the point where I even ran out of passport pages! While I travel, I always follow a personal ethical code. This entails me always trying to use the local dialect, even in America when on a Navajo reservation. I open myself up to local interaction by closing my phone, taking local transportation and trying to eat where the menu does not include English translations. My system enables me to feel more immersed in local culture and be a part of their society rather than an isolated observer. These experiences have afforded me the ability to feel confident navigating foreign lands. This journey though will not be as most people travel, the majority of our days will be spent amongst the fields, deserts, mountains, and valleys rather than in the cities.
My experience in outdoor expeditions started when I enrolled in the Outdoor Leadership program at Vermilion Community College, where Paul and Pat also studied. Since then I have worked for Voyageur Outward Bound School as an instructor teaching expeditionary travel over the summer. It was at Outward Bound where I became dialed in expeditionary travel, gained strong judgment and risk management skills. Elements Wilderness, where I work as field mentor, allows me to experience desert winter backpacking. My eight-day shifts in the San Rafel Swell are preparing me for walking along the edge of Taklamakan desert this time next year.
It is challenging to get a true understanding of the areas we will be passing through; Google really does not suffice. The necessity for information is what led me to travel from Istanbul (at that time it was our end destination) to the border of China in summer of 2015. During that period, I previewed experiences we will have during our walk, drinking fermented horse milk in a yurt, seeing the Kyrgyz horse festival and traveling along the border with Afghanistan to name a few. Over the course of this scouting expedition, I got a better handle on the area and the challenges that we will face in each region. Although I traveled in hours’ distances that will take us days to cross each day I learned about the various cultural norms and language barriers we will encounter. It is often said that people all over the world speak English, but I found that belief does not hold true in Central Asia, where meeting a local who spoke any English was a rarity. That expedition exposed a vital piece of information; we will need to have Russian language skills as we pass through the former Soviet states of Central Asia. The quest to learn the Russian Language is taking me to Moscow this February for three months to learn the basics.
An expedition of this magnitude will require a diverse skill set of cultural immersion, expeditionary travel, and mental fortitude. We must always be aware of our risk management practices for we will often be traveling in wilderness areas with no access to rescue services requiring us to rely on our skills, judgment and each other to be successful. Each of us has our own story of how we are preparing for our walk. Look for upcoming posts by Paul and Pat about how they have each been training and our sponsorship with Granite Gear. To learn more about the Silk Walk Expedition, check out our website Silkwalkexpedition.com.