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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.

Bushby believes that what Adam needs is precisely what he needed himself: a long hike. “Going to the Arctic would be a struggle for him,” he told me. “But it could change his life.”

In 2010, when the film producers flew Adam to Mexico, for his first paternal visit in six years, they asked him if he wanted to accompany his dad in the Arctic. With the cameras rolling, Adam Bushby entertained the idea. Later, I called Adam myself. He was genial discussing his dad, but also tentative and pained. “This long hike was something he wanted to do and I have nothing against it,” he said. “But it was kind of hard not having him there as I grew up. I did suffer in a way, I suppose.”

I asked Adam if he was ready for the Arctic. “Oh, the Russia thing,” he said. “We did talk about that, but I don’t know, that walking—that’s my dad’s thing. I want to stay here in Belfast and get my own life sorted out.”

Of course, when Karl Bushby set out from England some 35 million footsteps ago, he too was bent on sorting out his life. Has he succeeded? If success means attaining stability and some measure of material comfort and a certainty about, say, where your next meal is coming from, well then no, he’s failed miserably. But if success means being at peace with the path you have chosen, Bushby appears triumphant. Even in Melaque, at an obvious low—without money, without a certain timetable for returning to Russia—Bushby exhibited only hints of sadness. “There have been times, walking,” he told me, “when I’m out in the pouring rain looking through someone’s window, into their warm living room. I’ve felt a tinge of jealousy.”

When I saw him at La Flora, just before heading to the airport, I was aware that I was leaving Bushby to fester in Spartan poverty. I just hoped that his bankcard arrived soon. It seemed as though his spirits were fraying.

But when my taxi pulled up, Bushby was smirking. “OK, then, mate,” he said. “It was a good time, wasn’t it?”

The cab rolled off. When I looked back, Bushby was already checking his email, and I knew that he was hunting for a message that would promise him a glorious future. For hope is always on his horizon. A couple of weeks later, as we talked over the phone, Bushby imagined emerging out of Russia, finally, and coming onto the homestretch of his epic hike. “Europe,” he said, “is going to be nothing but one big drunken party. I won’t even remember it. And I can’t wait to get there.”

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