As Thomas Turcich traveled through the desert in Peru with his dog, Savannah, he would walk three or four days before encountering other people. This left him alone with his thoughts. While it felt tough at times, it also shaped some of the philosophy that aided him during the seven years he walked the world with his pup by his side.
“I was able to see my thoughts clearly. And I learned to accept that if you have a bad day out there, the next day might be better,” Turcich, 33, of Haddon Township, New Jersey, told TODAY. “Not every day is going to be a great day, but the next day might change.”
Over the years, he became “good company to himself” as he saw the world on foot. He went through 45 pairs of shoes and had no major injuries. Though his habits adapted as he continued on his adventure.
“When I started I would walk 24 miles a day, every single day without rest. I was a maniac,” Turcich explained. “As the years went on, my body couldn’t take that beating in quite the same way. So then I would probably take one day off a week just to let my body recover a little more.”
This allowed him to enjoy the places he visited even more. People in rural areas or little known villages often felt pleasantly surprised a visitor arrived. As for the language barriers, Turcich often found “some young kid that speaks a little bit of English” to help him or he used Google Translate. The “basics” of a language often helped him get by as he wandered.
“I would set a little limit and was trying to hit that miles walked for the week,” he said. “I would take Saturday or Sunday off … to explore some little town.”
The idea for the trip started after he tragically lost a childhood friend Anne Marie.
“I had known her most of my life and she was a very good person,” he said. “(Her death) really hit home that I was like, ‘If Anne Marie can go so immediately and so arbitrarily, then I definitely could.’ So it really drove home the fact that life isn’t guaranteed and I don’t know how much time I have.”
In 2015, Turcich started his walk. He had been saving up money since he was 17 and by the time he was 25, he had enough money to begin the trek. Along the way, he hoped that someone would sponsor his trip. In fact, someone did donate to help him in honor of Anne Marie. He also received help from his Patreon, a platform that allows followers to pay for a subscription to get exclusive content from a user.
Bumps in the road
It was fortuitous that he became more resilient while hiking in South America because when he moved onto the European leg, he experienced a GI bug that almost derailed him.
“I had to take seven months off. I lost 45 pounds. I was in pain all the time and it took a long time for them to figure out what it was,” Turich said. “When I started walking again from having been in pain for so long, my mind was pretty pessimistic and dark.”
Doctors eventually discovered that he had a bacterial infection. The symptoms first started when he returned home to make sure Savannah’s paperwork was correct so they could travel through Europe. He began experiencing “mild stomach cramps.” As he walked through Iceland and Ireland, the pain slowly worsened.
“By the time I was halfway across Ireland, I was having these stomach spasms that were 10 out of 10 pain that would basically put me on the ground for 30 seconds,” he said. “When I got up to Scotland I had deteriorated to the point where I had walked six miles in one and at that point I had never walked less than 15 miles a day.”
He knew he was seriously ill and diet and probiotics weren’t helping. He took a train to London to stay with his cousin. For the next month, he was in and out of the hospital as doctors tried to understand what was wrong. Finally, he returned to New Jersey where a doctor put him on an antibiotic and he slowly started recovering. He flew back to Europe, but restarting his trek felt tough.
“I was walking through Europe from Denmark down to Spain, which should have been objectively the easiest walking and it ended up being really difficult,” he said. “I was in such a bad place still recovering mentally from all that pain.” Still, he continued.
Some standout moments from his travels
He says a few moments of his seven-year odyssey really felt memorable to him, such as crossing the Bosphorus Bridge in Turkey.
“I was the first private citizen allowed to cross it on foot and it’s the bridge that goes from Europe to Asia,” he said. “That was really amazing and really special.”
He also fondly remembers traveling in Kurdistan with “a guide and a horseman.”
“We wandered the mountains basically for two months and that was really unique and unlike any other walk I’ve done,” Turcich said. “The landscape there was so untouched and dramatic and beautiful that it really brought me an appreciation of nature that I hadn’t had before.”
Even the pandemic couldn’t stop him, though it did change his itinerary.
“I wasn’t able to get to Australia because of COVID. I wasn’t able to do Kazakhstan or Mongolia either,” he said. “I ended up getting stuck in Azerbaijan for about six months and that was the first extended break of more than a month I had beside the illness.”
This pause slowly introduced him to what his days might look like after he was done walking the world.
“It tested me in a certain way, just living a normal life and not always packing up and breaking camp and setting up camp every night and constantly being on the move,” he said. “COVID definitely had me longing for the next chapter earlier than I would have otherwise.”
He had adopted Savannah right before his trip, so in many ways all she knew was long days of walking. The now 7-year-old pup has been enjoying her retired life of getting scratches and treats.
“My dad goes for a four-mile walk around the river every morning so she gets a good walk,” Turcich said. “Also she’s seven so I think she’s probably ready to slow down.”
The experience taught him how fragile life can be and how he is just a small part of the world, in an awe-inspiring way.
“People’s fates are much more determined by their circumstances more than any willpower that they have,” he said. “It allows you to accept your limitations and your faults and do the same for others as well. That’s probably the most transformative of many lessons.”
For now, he's submitted a book proposal to several publishers and hopes to do some public speaking. He's enjoying moments with loved ones, such as playing tennis or hanging out. The last leg of his trek, across the United States, felt tough in many ways yet returning home brought him new joy.
“It was incredible. I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “To see everyone, they were supporting me and just having been inspired by the story and the journey, it was really powerful ... The primary emotion was just relief.”
This article was originally published on TODAY.com