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An Interview after walking Europe and Asia before the next leg of Tony's world walk
By Scott Richards 4/20/2017
You’ve just finished crossing Asia, How long and how far did you walk.
It was a blast! Off the top of my head Asia took about ten months walking and a little under 10,000 kilometers or about 6,000 miles covered.
How many countries have you walked across?
To date I have walk across ten countries. In Europe: England, Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Latvia and Lithuania. As we all know Russia begins in Europe and stretches across Asia. I walked about two-thirds of it before heading south to Mongolia. Then it was China north to south. I finished Asia in Vietnam at the South China Sea.
What was your favorite country to walk in?
Mongolia was a blast. I really didn't expect China to top it but it did. For me China was a slow starter but it peculated slowly. The country may be restrictive but the people don't reflect that. Many cyclists told me to expect a lot of rudeness, that was not my experience. Well, perhaps when they got on the road!
Since the people along the way are all different, and yet the same, your thoughts on this.
People around the world are indeed much the same. I am sure if we were able to stop in North Korean villages and chat to the people, who are perhaps the least know people in the world, it would be the same. Most of us care dearly about our fellow human beings and want to reach out to help those in need. We all want the best for our families and friends.
How friendly and receptive are/were people towards you?
So many people reached out to help me that I couldn't possibly stop every time. But I did stop a lot, that's why many of my days were so long, I am not complaining. My experience was indeed life-changing. I really get to see how people live. For example many people in China may not be materially rich but most have built their own homes in the villages and I have low running costs. Everyone seems to have their own vegetable patch where they grow their food. In addition, so many people have chickens and livestock and have more than sufficient food to survive. If their food is not eaten it often just sits there and rots away. I have seen it. So I did not witness much total poverty there. I was aware that many years ago there was no middle-class in China. Just the rich and the poor. Now a higher standard of living is more attainable. So many people seemed to me to be contented with so little, yet most people own a smart phone and at least an electric bike. You have seen the pictures on my Facebook page or website. Family life is paramount and an integral part of Asian society.
Did you always feel safe out there on the back roads you walked?
Crime-wise I felt safe all the way. Especially in China and Mongolia. I had heard that Vietnam could be dangerous as I was told that many people had guns and knives, but that was not my experience. The main danger is always dangerous drivers. This usually seems to be an issue in poorer countries.
In Russia I was a little worried about bears, because I am a bit of a wimp, that's why I chose to walk the route I did. More remote and quieter roads especially deep in the forest have more bear activity. However, Russian bears are mostly shy brown bears, the opposite to the USA! I also took the added precaution of camping in built up areas, especially at petrol stations. All I needed was a patch of ground, some hot water for my noodles and tea. Also, a place to charge my electrics and wash myself.
Speaking of water, how difficult was it for you to wash yourself and your clothes?
I have to do a lot of body washing in petrol stations especially if I can lock the door of a wash room. Eventually there were fewer wash rooms. I also carried my own mirror and a soapy sponge, whenever I got some warm water I had a body wash. Now you can see the benefit of filling up my thermos before pitching my tent. Anytime I got a cheap hotel I washed my clothes in the shower. It was always difficult to dry them as tumble driers don't exist in poor countries. Sometimes if there was a heater or a fan in a room I used that. But mostly I had clothes spread out discreetly on my cart to dry when I was walking. If I had something small like a fast dry shirt I often washed it at stops and hung it on my backpack. Ah yes! The hobo life!
How hard is it to convince someone you “Actually” walked here from Ireland and you’re not really homeless ( well sort of ) !
Many people don't really understand the concept of me walking all the way. I have talked to so many people for a long time only to be asked by them 'when are you getting your bus!'
Some people think by walking that I mean walking from train or bus stations to their town! I don't have anytime and don't engage with the doubting Thomas's or the naysayers, for I got absolutely nothing to prove to anyone in the world, not am I trying to.
Are the police in each country receptive to your crossing or just tolerant?
Police are always friendly. Even in China when I was stopped so many times and had about eight hotel visits, they were always friendly. Russia was surprising, I was only stopped a couple of times in almost six months. I was stopped more in Canada or the USA on my world run than in Russia. In Holland and Germany I was told that 'wild camping' is illegal. I got caught a couple of times in Holland but they just came over to my tent to inform me and have a chat. One officer even wanted to friend me on Facebook.
When it gets late what type of area do you look for to sleep at?
In Asia I found that I was gravitating towards petrol stations, restaurants and the covered foyers of grocery stores in small villages to pitch my tent. In Europe I often approached farms as I did in the USA on my world run. I like to meet people and besides the whole safety issue this is the best way to realise the family experience in their own community.
Has finding food and supplies on the road been difficult, since your unsupported this go-round, vs your run?
Well I was also mostly unsupported on my run around the world. This time I have had no real issues picking up food as I walked as there have not been too many really remote stretches. When there were I just stocked up and pushed it in Karma, my cart. It's pretty much cheaper to buy food in cheap cafes than cooking besides I prefer to meet people and make talk as best as I can to them. What's the point in sitting at a bus stop cooking up a meal when I could be having a laugh with nice people. Besides, I don't really have time to cook as my days are so long.
How did you communicate with people?
Most of the time it was with sign language and charades. However, google translate apps are great. I used this and many people did also. I saved the frequent answers and my introduction message on my phone. For example I had a message asking I I could camp there or showed a picture of my tent. Sometimes I also showed a picture of food I wanted to eat or just blindly stabbed at a menu and hoped what arrived would be tasty! The real communication problem is missing out on the finer details that people want to tell me. But I think I still do well!
How many flat tires have you had since you started?
Perhaps about twenty or thirty! I got a lot in the first week in England as there were so many thorns. That's the biggest problem! I have changed about four tyres also. How about how many pairs of shoes in 13,500 kilometres? Answer 9!
What was your biggest obstacle in the last year.
Getting across China was pretty tough not mentally and physically. It was also hard for me to do my ongoing logistics as many sites are blocked and censored. I used a Vpn app to get around and unblock those sites I needed, like Facebook. Many people told me it was not important, but they still expected to know how I was doing.
I know the passing of your brother Brian, while you’re on the road has had an impact on you, How so??
It was a shock when I got the calm from home, especially as he is fifteen months younger than me and coming so soon after the death of my mother. After Brian's death I have been really reflecting on my own mortality. I never got married or had children. I am constantly explaining to people that my relationships didn't work out because I was probably meant to be a rolling stone. Most people in poor countries can't understand this, as most are obsessed with getting married and having big families.
It's starting to hit home that all I have in the world is my dear lovely sister. Well, I have so many amazing friends who I know will be there for me, but it's not the same.
Changing the subject to the future, you’ve had a little over a year to think where and how you’ll walk the rest of the world, has your plan changed?
What’s up next in Oceania?
Yes, I am constantly fine-tuning my plan and it's becoming more and more ambitious. Since Brian's death I am thinking why should I hurry, there is little for me to hurry back to at home. I need little to survive on the road. People can sponsor a day or so on the link on my website and that goes a long way. So it depends on funds. Most of my expenses to date have been for visas, the medical tests which were necessary to obtain my long term visas, equipment, flights and travel insurance. If I can get some sponsorship I will spend the rest of this year in Australia and New Zealand. After that I would like to continue in South America. Perhaps from Lima, Peru or Santiago, Chile north-east towards Brazil, Guayana, Suriname, and French Guayana. Few travellers venture into those last three countries as they are pretty remote. From there island hopping through the Caribbean to the USA. Ideally, I would like to walk the full perimeter of the USA and when I get to the west coast, if possible take a short detour to Japan. Then back to USA and Europe. The dream gets longer the more I think about it, so because I'm walking it's not practical for me to talk about any 'when's!' I hate that world for I try hard to stay in the moment!
An Interview before the start of Tony's world walk
By Scott Richards 2/25/2016
Your start date is February 27th 2016, in Dublin Ireland, from the Run-Logic running store, who is one of your sponsors. How long do you think it will take to return?
My estimated walk time is three years. I am yet undecided about the full route for the Asian and North American legs. There is absolutely no reason for me to decide now.
On my world run it was probably a mistake for me to time the start and finish with my city marathon, it was pretty hard-core stuff crossing Europe, and also the final lap around Ireland. I am determined that this will be more leisurely, stroll. Already I have people stop-watching me!
When did you complete your Run Around the World ( RAW )?
I began my world run at the finish line of the Dublin marathon on Oct 25th 2010 and finished at the same place on the finish line on Oct 27th 2014. The final footstep was exactly 50,000km and not a meter more! As one of my friends from my competitive career, John Geesler said... any more would have been showing off! Incidentally, as it was also too late in the day to start running across Ireland, and I had to say goodbye to many of my friends, many of which had come from abroad. That first days distance of 2.9 km to my mothers house was the lowest official daily distance of the entire run as I didn't count the marathon itself because the start finish were in different places. In many ways when I left her house the following morning, my world run began in earnest. The start at the Dublin marathon finish line was a bit bizarre as I literally ran from the finish line of the Dublin marathon to a bar in order to say my goodbyes! Incidentally, my start day of this walk is just 4 kilometers to Dublin Port, perhaps that will also be my shortest road day.
It had been a twenty-plus year dream that never left me. The run more or less just became a monster dream that ran out of control, incubating in my mind! In those days it was never more than a few waking hours from my thoughts! I would have run it several years before, it was just that I had a very successful competitive career that I didn't want to end prematurely. I guess in many ways when I retired from competition, I was put out to pasture to run around the world! I have always said that I am a very average runner, but with an extraordinary ability to tap into my mind power and it's hidden strengths, some people have said like the Incredible Hulk, ha ha!
Since you’ve run around the world in addition to also cycling around the world already, how will this be different?
I am determined that this will be a leisurely stroll, but already I have people stop-watching me! This always happens when you involve others in your expedition, as opposed to just going alone and camping in a field. But I wouldn't have it any other way as I love meeting people and also sharing the road with them. Sometimes people send emails with " urgent answer required - when EXACTLY will you arrive in the subject line!
Why are you doing this?
Purely for the adventure, I am not fundraising this time but I am walking with a cancer awareness message: "Life is precious, early screening saves life's." My mother died from cancer almost a year ago. She would not let me stop or shorten my dream to run around the world as it had become her dream too. Thankfully, she was there to cross the finish line with me. She died five months later. Many people said we kept each other going, I think so; I certainly inherited her persistence.
Is the route different then your RAW?
Yes, almost entirely. On my world run, I didn't get my Chinese visa and I also planned to run through Russia to the Ukraine and Crimea area. That was before the trouble there. Perhaps it was a blessing I didn't get that Chinese visa as my eventual Asian route took me into Europe a different way.
This time, I successfully lobbied the Russian and Chinese embassies. I have a multiple entry Russian Humanitarian visa with each entry valid for six months and a multiple entry 60 day Chinese visa. As I need more than three months for China that means I will probably take a train to Hong Kong and then returning to my route for another 60 days. There is a spike in Kazakhstan I may walk through but that is now a visa on arrival country, as is Mongolia. I will have one eye on the weather in Australia, so that’s the reason for my indecision, I will see what my timing is like. There is also a possibility I may end China in Shanghai or continue onto Hong Kong. Australia is a different route. This time I want to walk from just north of Perth to perhaps Sydney. New Zealand is the closest to my RAW, I want to walk both islands, I am also not sure about South America. Previously I ran to the tip of the continent, this time if I go it will just be just Peru, Brazil and Venezuela through the Caribbean to Key West, Florida and the east coast if North America. If I don't take that route I will continue in North America from the USA west coast as far as somewhere like Oregon and then walk south-west to Key West, Florida.. This time I plan to return to Europe and walk back home to Ireland via Gibraltar, Spain and France.
Are there any journey runner or walker that inspires you?
Rosie Swale Pope. She is currently running across America aged, 69! Rosie is full of life and ran around the world fairly late in life, and there is now sign of her hanging up her shoes, who knows perhaps we will both spend the rest of our lives on the road! So before I began my own world run which I started late in life, she inspired me, and even now as I begin my world walk. It was a travesty that her northern hemisphere world run was not recognized by the WRA until recently despite her having completed the second most compressive world run.
l also have great admiration for Jean Believue who has completed the longest foot journey around the world on his 77,000 48,000 mile, 11 year world walk.
How far do you think you’ll travel this time?
Between 32,000 and 34,000; roughly 20,000- 21,000 miles.
Why did you choose this route?
Because most of the places I did not visit on my world run or world cycle. I am particularly looking forward to Russia. I am told there will be lots of meeting mayors and town receptions and both runners and walkers to walk with me. I also want to walk more in the USA, as it was my favorite country on my 41 country world run.
What distance will you strive for each day?
I am looking for about 32 kilometers or 20 miles perhaps many days I will walk a marathon. I plan to start earlier each day. Whereas, I say I want things to be leisurely, there has to a compromise. When it’s totally leisurely you risk having the goolies frozen off, and then walking through blizzards. So you have to ask yourself if you want to travel in comfort or in severe weather. For me the best friend of the journey runner or walker is time! Because no matter how slow you are, with more hours on the road bigger distance are possible, even when shattered!
Do you ever get lost?
Ha Ha... I have many times, but that distance never counted! I absolutely hated turning back. There have been times when I kept going straight ahead, even when I realized it was longer than turning back!
What supplies will you have to buy on your trip?
I am a great believer in pop up tents. Even though they are not ideal in windy weather, those times I will look for a sheltered area or just use my bivy. I also have a lot of cooking equipment as this time it’s very low budget and perhaps it’s the best way to get my nutrition up. I didn't eat properly on my world run for long periods of time as it was so difficult to obtain sufficient nutrition.
How many pairs of shoes did you go through on your RAW?
50! I found I was getting less wear out them at the start than at the end. I guess that was because I was also afraid of getting injured that I threw my shoes away prematurely. At the end of my run around the world I was just crawling along! Since I finished 14 months ago I have been walking around in the same pair!
How much of your day will be spent walking, and what do you do when you’re not moving?
When not moving I am generally talking to people in cafes or restaurants, as I love to hear what people have to say. Perhaps I will walk about 7-9 hours a day, some days more, some days less. I think the biggest miscalculation I ever made in my life was that I thought I would be finished my days on the world run at lunch time! I had visions of sitting in internet cafes twiddling my thumbs. Eventually I slowed right down. It was to take me all day to do what I used to do all night, run a marathon!
What do you do in bad weather or when it gets cold?
Usually, I persisted and slowed right down. The stats of something like this are staggering. For example: on 1,000 road days, all it takes is one extra kilometer or mile per day equates to a lot of distance. A lot can be done with that extra distance, like taking rest days and catching up later on bad days.
Where do you sleep most of the time?
Often behind hedges or under bridges. In the USA and Canada I was running in the winter and went up to farms, I asked if I could camp in their barn and generally they brought me inside! Some of those people I am still great friends with. They always liked to hear my story and I enjoyed their tales. There were times when I produced my Magic Letter ( letter of introduction from the Lord Mayor of Dublin) at 'mom and pop' type motels and offered them twenty bucks as they were often empty and they knew I want a high-roller. Sometimes they even gave me a bed for free. In Latin America there where many cheap hotels, I called them squalor dollar hotels!
What do you do for food?
This time I plan to cook more. Generally one can have a week’s supply in my cart. I can also carry extra food by taking light bulky stuff like my sleeping bag out of the cart and carrying it in a backpack on my back.
Is language a barrier as you cross the world?
No! Not really as I will always find a way to eat, sleep and to survive. However, the real disadvantage is not picking up on the nitty gritty details that people want to communicate. Sign language is also a great method. I can see the day when foreigners will be sitting in Mongolian yurts and communizing with Google speaking translators!
How can someone reading this help or be involved?
Donate to sponsor a hotel night or meal on the Pay-Pal account I will soon put up! If you can please find major sponsors, be a local contact, help get the word out to local media, find a sponsor willing to provide shelter for a night, line up a group to speak to, etc
You were recently in Florida at the ICARUS Ultra Fest where Andre & Claire Nana, the race directors, had invited all 5 of the people who have run around the world to the event. Did you already know everyone?
I would like to express my gratitude to both Andrei and Claire. Andrei kindly sponsored our flights!
I hadn't met Tom Denniss as he started his run when I was on my own. I helped him with some advice after he emailed me, and he in return helped me, so it was great to finally meet him. I also helped Kevin Carr with some logistics and places to stay in Ireland when he ran through Ireland, and then I ran with him in Dublin. Rosie - Swale-Pope was not there as at that time she was not a member of the WRA (World Runners Association) which is the the governing body for all us world runners and walkers who are a few tacks short of the full box! I also crewed for Jesper Olsen across Ireland. I have successfully lobbied the other WRA members to have her great world recognized, in addition to higher standards.
Will you try to participate in any event(s) along the way?
Absolutely no running! I have retired from running and don't miss it! I have since discovered that unlike any other sport like football, cycling that runners are not allowed to retire! But I am determined. Perhaps if there is some kind of a charity walk when I am walking through a place.
How will you stay in touch with family and friends on your trip?
In the larger countries I will get a data sim and do Skype and phone etc, also text message and email.
Are there any journey runner or walker who inspires you?
Rosie Swale Pope. She is currently running across America aged 69! Rosie is full of life and also ran around the world fairly late in life, and there is now sign of her hanging up her shoes, who knows perhaps we will both spend the rest of our lives on the road! So before I began my own world run which I started late in life, she inspired me, and even now as I begin my world walk. It was a travesty that her northern hemisphere world run was not recognized by the WRA until recently despite her having completed the second most compressive world run. I successfully lobbied the WRA for her inclusion and higher standards.
l also have great admiration for Jean Believue who has completed the longest foot journey around the world on his 77,000 48,000 mile 11-year world walk.
How do you feel with less than two days to go before setting out to walk around the world?
I have a terrible cough and a heavy cold, I am also sneezing a lot, so naturally I am worried. I am also flip-flopping from sheer terror and excitement, which is normal. I am also totally out of shape as I have run nothing and walked very little in recent months, however for some people that can also be normal for something like this as I have a lot of time to walk myself fit! It will also be interesting to see how my weight reacts, I am currently 82 kilos, each week I break a new weight record! When I started my world run I weighed 68 kgs and dripped to an all time low of 62 kilos when I was in Singapore. I was so lacking that some excited dogs ran after me and gave me a hard time! I guess I resembled a running carcass of bones! So, this time I am more bulked up.
Editor Note: You can email Tony at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
I will also be looking for groups or runners who would like to accompany or host Tony once he reaches the USA. Email me at email@example.com ( Scott )
For any other location email Tony directly, in advance, as the ability to check email daily becomes a factor in remote areas, so email early.
Press Donate below to sponsor a day, a meal or a hotel night on the road, via Pay Pal, or my gofundme.com account
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Read another great Interview with Tony about the walk at...
My World Walk .com