Im 42 years old and Im broke and Im homeless, Karl Bushby lamented as he trudged along through the coarse brown sand of a beach in Melaque, Mexico, where I caught up with him last year. Im a professional parasite. Im a professional hobo. Im sleeping on other peoples couches. Im 42 years old, and I have to walk other peoples dogs, just so theyll feed me. My job is picking up dog shit!
Bushby paused now, and when I looked over at him he was faintly smirking, charmed by the dolefulness he exuded as we made our way through the twilight toward the tiny village on Mexicos west coast. There was a sparkle in his blue eyes, but a fleeting one. Since late 2008, mostly living in Melaque (pronounced muh-lah-kay, population 8,000), Bushby had been undernourished, subsisting on less than 2,000 calories a day as he cadged lodgings from friends and did them occasional favors in return. His skin was pallid, as though he were back home in the north of England, where his mother still works in a confectionery factory, and his movements were restrainedsluggish, even. Ive shut down the extremities. These days Im just preserving my core, he said. His tone was at once morose and faux dramatic. Im at the mercy of other peoples kindness. Im a nobody. But in a matter of months, of course, I could be conquering the world.
Well, not exactly conquering the world, but slowly plying his way across it. From 1998 to 2006, Bushby averaged about 2,000 miles a year. Not noteworthy by thru-hiker standards, but no one will question the pace if he completes the journey. The unprecedented length, along with potentially deadly obstacles like the Bering Straits shifting ice, make it a hike no one will likely ever repeat.
The expedition began, he said, as a bad bet. I had something to prove to my paratrooper mates. He also had something to run fromin 1998, he was still embroiled in the aftermath of a nasty divorce. He flew to Punta Arenas, Chile, with $800 and a wheeled cart full of gear.
Strangers fed and sheltered him. He scored a few meager sponsorships, and he just kept plodding along. Bushby walked up South Americas Pacific coast, battling wind in Patagonia and long waterless stretches in Chiles northern deserts. He crossed Central Americas Darien Gap, a guerilla-ridden jungle region where he backpacked into a no-mans land against the advice of the Colombian military. He walked through sizzling heat in the Southwestern U.S. and numbing cold in Canada and Alaska. Then, famously, he crossed the ice to Russia in 2006. And then, not so famously, he retreated (by plane) to this beach town in Mexico, where he could look for sponsorsfilm producers were nibblingas he conserved funds. The unemployed Bushby had a grand total of $700 in his bank account when I visited him and he couldnt even access that money, having lost his bankcard. The replacement was still en route. As we walked through the sand, Bushby cracked open his wallet to reveal a single 20 peso bill, worth about $1.70. Thats it, he said. Thats all I have at the moment.