For some of us, starting a new life overseas is challenge enough. But for others, it represents an opportunity to take things to the next level. It’s fair to say that Matt Krause falls into the latter category. Returning to California after following a Turkish woman back to her native land, he used the material for his first book. And now he’s preparing to set out on a 1,300-mile solo walk across Turkey — a country he still regards as his second home. I caught up with Matt recently to ask about this latest, much more athletic challenge.
Hi again, Matt. Welcome back to The Displaced Nation. It seems like only yesterday that we were reviewing your expat memoir, A Tight Wide-open Space, and now we find you preparing for an epic travel adventure. Can you say a little more about it?
On Saturday, September 1, 2012, I will start an eight-month solo walk across Turkey, from the Aegean to Iran — 1,305 miles (2,100 km) in all. I will carry a backpack, a tent, and a sleeping bag.
Why are you doing this?
To put my life where my mouth is.
In 2003 I met a girl on an airplane to Hong Kong. We ended up going out, then moving together to her hometown of Istanbul and getting married there. We lived in Turkey for six years, but in 2009 things unraveled and I came back home to the US.
When I came back to the US, people kept asking me about the differences I had seen in Turkey. Political differences, religious differences, cultural differences, gender differences, just about every kind of difference you could think of.
But I really wanted to tell them about how people are so much the same. Living in Turkey had reminded me that most of what we are as human beings, and how we act in any given situation, is pretty much the same. Human nature being what it is, though, we can’t take our eyes off our differences, and I think that this focus makes us more afraid of each other than we need to be.
I don’t want to talk about this in theory. If these similarities are so profound, I should be able to walk, alone and unprotected, across the country I still think of as my second home.
Going to the dogs
What have you done to prepare for this odyssey?
I walked 1,200 miles (almost 2,000 km), 700 of them with a fully loaded backpack. That’s four hours a day, five days a week, for five months.
I walked the same four 12-mile routes about 25 times each — those were 1,200 very repetitive and boring miles.
However, I love dogs, and the dogs added some flavor to the walks. The first few times I walked those routes, the dogs all acted ferocious, but week by week they warmed up to me. The Labs were the first, of course — I only had to walk past them once or twice before they’d run out to me wagging their behinds like I was an old friend.
The last to go was one particular Doberman Pinscher. He spent about four months acting like he was going to rip my head off each time I passed by, and then one day when I walked by he was busy talking to another dog. He looked over at me like, “Are you serious, are you going to make me interrupt this perfectly good conversation in order to come chase you?” He broke down quickly after that, and now when I walk past his house he just playfully runs alongside me, glancing back at the house every few seconds to make sure nobody’s watching. He’s got a reputation to think about, after all.
How will you finance the trip?
I have savings, which I’ve supplemented by working in the peach and plum orchards near my hometown of Reedley, California. I was grafting, which is basically cutting off the top of an old tree and sticking a new kind of wood into it. The new wood takes over, and within a couple years the tree is producing a new variety of fruit.
I will also be raising some money on Kickstarter in a few weeks.
Will you be grafting any electronic devices onto yourself while you walk?
I’ll have a pocket camera and a cell phone connection so that I can post daily updates (people photos, landscape photos, short written updates, etc) on my Web site, Heathen Pilgrim. Most of the time, of course, I’ll be out in the middle of nowhere. It’s not like I’ll be able to run into the nearest Starbucks and connect over wifi, so I had to figure some things out. I’ve been doing a lot of equipment testing.
An oxymoronic concept?
“Heathen Pilgrim” — that’s a curious name for a project.
I picked that name for a couple of reasons. The main reason is that a heathen is a person who does not share one’s religion. Christians see non-believers as pagan; Muslims see them as infidels; and as far as Jews are concerned, gentiles can never be members of God’s chosen people.
One thing we all have in common is that someone, somewhere considers us heathen. And if you want to travel outside of your own circle, you must be willing to be considered a heathen by someone else. If the people around you are not considering you heathen yet, you have not traveled far enough from home.
I also have a tongue-in-cheek reason. A secondary definition of “heathen” is “a rude or uncivilized person.” I’m a fairly polite and well-mannered person. So calling myself a heathen pilgrim is a bit of an attempt at self-deprecating humor.
Well, particularly when you juxtapose it with a word like “pilgrim,” since pilgrims are supposed to be on a journey to a holy place. Your itinerary is pretty ambitious. Do you identify at all with the athletes who are now preparing for the Olympics?
No, not at all. Those guys train all their lives. I’m just a guy who likes to eat donuts and walk — although I did have to turn a lot of things upside down in my life in order to do this.
On the subject of ways of looking at this project, there’s a relevant saying I like, that we are not entitled to the fruits of our labors, only to the labors themselves.
In this case, I have no control over the meanings people might assign to my walk. I only have a say in whether or not I do it.
A few last-minute jitters
What’s left by way of preparation for this unholy journey of yours?
Not much. At some point you’ve just got to take the leap of faith (no pun intended!), and that time has arrived for me. Right now I’m preparing for the Kickstarter campaign in a few weeks, and there are still a few things I still need to get, like a sleeping pad and a small whiteboard. But I’m as prepared as I’ll ever be without actually doing it. It’s time to go.
But what about psychological preparation? Are you nervous? Despite your affection for Turkey, do you worry about feeling out of your element, displaced in ways you’ve never been before?
You bet I’m nervous. I’ve never walked across a country before. I’ll be displaced and out of my element 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for the entire trip.
What makes me most nervous is that I don’t know where I’ll be sleeping at night. I don’t want to stay in hotels, because then I’d just be doing the tourist thing. So I’ll be taking people up on their offers to pitch my tent in their front yard, or let me sleep on their living room floors, or even sleep on their roofs (many of the roofs in that part of the world are flat, and people use them like a front porch).
For a while, I was really worried about approaching all these strangers and asking for help. In fact, until a few months ago I would wake up in the middle of the night worrying about how that was going to pan out. But then I talked to a young woman who had backpacked through that part of the world many times. She said don’t worry about them, they’ll be fine with it. The worry is in you. Get over it quickly by knocking on a stranger’s door the very first night.
How to follow Matt’s progress
If people want to follow your progress, what should they do?
I’ve put out an open invitation to anyone who wants to come walk part of the route with me. So if you can, get yourself a backpack and a sleeping bag, and join me on the road somewhere.
However, if you can’t join me in person, follow the trip vicariously. There’s the aforementioned Heathen Pilgrim site, a weekly email newsletter, a Facebook page, and my Twitter account (@mattkrause). Use whichever of those you prefer — they’ll be showing pretty much the same content.
I assume you’ll also be getting some books out of this?
I’ll also be writing four books at the end of the trip: two books tentatively titled “Turkey on 12 Miles a Day” and “Walking Turkey”; and two photo essays, tentatively titled “Walk Turkey: The Landscape” and “Walk Turkey: The People.”
Those books will be available later on Amazon, but you can sign up for them early, and get some other trip-related goodies, by backing the trip on Kickstarter. The Kickstarter campaign isn’t live yet, but if you keep an eye on my cyber-coordinates, in early August you’ll hear about it when it starts.
Thanks, Matt. You may not think of yourself as an Olympic athlete, but I’m impressed by your determination and all the meticulous preparations. Readers, make sure you follow Matt’s journey in one of the ways he suggests and spread the word about his Kickstarter campaign. You can also support him by downloading his memoir on his expat life in Turkey — as Kate Allison said in her review, “For all that this is a love story, Matt pulls no punches in the telling of it.” He’s honest, as well as humble. Two great qualities for a pilgrim, even if he is a bit of a heathen!
STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s Displaced Q on the Olympic Games and the sometimes awkward issues they raise for us displaced types about national loyalties, by Tony James Slater.
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