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The Long Way Home

When Karl Bushby set out to hike 36,000 miles across four continents, he vowed he would only return to his native England on foot. Which could be a real problem if he ever wants to get there.

While he waited, Bushby steadfastly eschewed anything resembling a job. “I’ve offered him work as a housecleaner,” said his friend Kyla Poirer, a Canadian who manages a swank Melaque hotel. “And other friends asked him to haul jet skis out of the water, but he always has an excuse. He says he’s got to be available to talk to the film producers.” Once, Bushby did a stint as a waiter at a fancy restaurant. “It was horrible,” he said. “After three shifts, I was done with the clients and all their snootiness—with their sideways comments about how the tea wasn’t hot enough and their food wasn’t arranged on the plate the right way. If I did that for a living, I’d end up putting a plate over someone’s head.”
Most mornings, Bushby took his own table at La Flora. He enjoyed a bottomless cup of coffee, complements of La Flora’s owner, an admirer of his expedition, and he peered at his laptop, poaching a Wi-Fi signal from a nearby shop.

While Bushby is clearly consumed by his goal, he doesn’t glorify his achievements. At La Flora, we watched a BBC video about his 2006 Bering Strait crossing, and he never got boastful. “I’m an average guy,” he said. “I’m less than average. I’m an underachiever. All I’m doing is putting one foot in front of the other.”

On the laptop’s screen, the BBC’s narrator whipped himself into a lather over how cold the Bering Sea is, and Bushby rolled his eyes, then aped the man’s fretful upper crust British delivery. “One could perish in that water in a matter of seconds,” he crowed. “Seconds, I say! Mere seconds!”

The moment yielded more than a brief laugh. It also pointed toward the very quality that’s endeared him to strangers across two continents. He’s a world traveler, yes, and a record setter, but he remains a working class bloke from the north of England. Encountering him, you recognize at once that his quest is not Olympian, but human and plodding. You want to shelter and feed him. You want to buy him a cup of coffee.

With the Bering Strait behind him, Bushby will likely survive if he manages to continue his journey. Though what remains isn’t easy. Russia still presents formidable obstacles—skiing isn’t one of Bushby’s strengths, visa regulations are maddening, temperatures can reach -80°F, and chartered flights into Siberia can cost more than $12,000.

But once he clears those hurdles, it’s just a long hike home, through Asia and Europe. Bushby’s goal is to walk back into Britain via the emergency service corridor inside the Chunnel, the 31-mile train tube beneath the English Channel. Then he’ll continue on to the modest brick home in Hull, England, where his mum waved him good-bye so long ago. With the ongoing visa issues, Bushby can’t say with any certainty when he’ll complete the journey. But he knows this: He will not touch British soil unless he gets there on foot.

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