On a final walk in Antarctica, Tom Turcich came upon a group of loafing elephant seals, which he later described as “massive and sleepy and their skin … amazingly textured.”
His followers thousands of miles away could relate.
In Gualeguaychú, Argentina, Turcich posted a picture of a closed wooden gate in a hazy field and wrote, “Day 654. Happiness is the only measure.”
“You seem to have a gift for it!” wrote a follower, one of about 26,000 who’d become accustomed to Turcich’s daily @theworldwalk instagram diary as he and his dog, Savannah, ambled through three continents over two years of a planned five-year journey.
He has a gift indeed. So, how jarring to see Turcich, 28, fall off the Instagram radar in the summer, only to resurface in … New Jersey: first the Pine Barrens, where he reassuringly camped out in a friend’s teepee, but then more prosaically in Haddonfield, in a second floor apartment belonging to his parents, too sick to walk.
In Haddonfield, sleeping in
In Haddonfield, Turcich is mostly sleeping in while his dad wakes at 5:30 a.m. to take Savannah for a five-mile walk. The 6-foot-2 Turcich is battling back from a debilitating 35-pound weight loss from a raging bacterial infection picked up somewhere in South America and carried undiagnosed for months, eating away at his insides. He was down to about 130 pounds, though he has gained a bunch back.
Savannah is mostly waiting by the door, cooling her paws.
“She’s restless,” he says. “She’s ready to get walking.”
So is he.
He began the journey in 2015 with something that looked like the cart pushed by Jersey Shore ice cream men, but evolved to a repurposed jogging stroller. The cart, as it’s known to his 26,000 followers on Instagram and 10,000 on Facebook, is now in storage in Cherry Hill.
He picked up Savannah, a Nova Scotia retriever, four months into the walk, a stray puppy found on the street in Austin, an able companion and photo subject if also a complication at border crossings. (The early “Free Savannah” skeptics have been disproved; at 2½, Savannah’s endurance is mighty.)
It’s been about four months since Turcich was forced to temporarily abandon his casual but closely observed walk around the world — just your totally normal guy from Haddon Township who 2½ years ago walked out his parents’ front door, turned right, and, with a wave to his neighbors, walked off toward the Ben Franklin Bridge.
“Then they drove by me a second later,” he joked. He got blisters. The cart broke three days in, somewhere in Downingtown. But he rallied.
‘I had thought about everything I had to think about’
With Savannah in tow, Turcich hit his stride. His photography improved, his eye sharpened, the sense of purpose in his daily routine was reinforced. The following grew, putting a little more pressure on the writing and art. He found a loyal sponsor in Philadelphia Sign Co., whose owner knew a friend of Turcich’s from high school who had died in a watercraft accident when they were teenagers. Her death had led to the idea of a world walk that took eight more years to plan and execute.
He found that walking every day allowed him ample time to process through a recent breakup with a girlfriend, and every other possible thing the philosophy and psychology major might want to mull over. What else is there to do?
“It took like four months of walking, going over all your memories,” he said. “You’re turning it over every which way. It’s like this slow process. You look at it this way. And the next day you look at it that way. And it just gets smaller and smaller. Same with everything in my life for over the first year. By the time I was in South America, I was walking in Peru, it was desert, it was reflective of where I was in my mind: I just didn’t have any problems. I had thought about everything I had to think about.”
His observations were simply stated: His relief at a wall to sit against at the end of a long day of walking; the people he came across; the beauty glimpsed around a curve; the jarring changes of crossing into a new town or a new country; abrupt shifts from relative wealth to stark poverty; coming upon an abandoned house for shelter; making it at last to pristine Antarctica with its “sapphire” waters.
It felt endlessly interesting and different, purposeful. His journey felt profound to people checking in from their regular lives. He’d broken out of that himself, without a lot of money, and was happy to take along his electronic stowaways.
He says his Instagram feed stands out as a spare, authentic diary of an extraordinary journey — the opposite of the typical glossed-up Instagram lives on display. He’s not above a little ceviche with a frat brother in Lima, or a cute “doggle” picture of Savannah, but is also looking for the accidental beauty, literally just walked upon, and the small insights that populate his daily walks. He rarely appears in photos himself.
For our first landing we stopped at a Gentoo penguin colony. Since it was the end of summer the penguins were molting. Their old, used feathers were being pushed out by fresh, new ones. It didn't look like a very pleasant experience for them. #theworldwalk #travel #antarctica
A post shared by Tom Turcich (@theworldwalk) on
‘In New Jersey, in a stasis’
He’d made it through Mexico and into South America. He’d reached Antarctica. He was back in Europe for the summer with an eye toward Africa in the winter, that timing now thrown way off.
At his peak, he was up at 5:30 a.m., out walking 25 miles a day, eight hours a day, camping in church yards or abandoned houses, nothing overly planned, searching for the best walking paths along the way.
And then he was derailed, first in Scotland, then in London, where he spent a month in a hospital, and, finally, home, where his raging illness was diagnosed.
At home, his health has improved, and he’s gained back 20 pounds. Antibiotics and IV fluids have mostly done their job. He’s waiting for medical clearance, and figuring out new timing, plotting new routes around the globe, to resume. Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia await. He has never considered not going back.
He’s content for now to watch the Eagles, be home for Christmas. He rides his bike to the gym. Savannah ponders the insufficiency of a five-mile walk. He hopes to get out again by March.
“Here, in New Jersey, I’m in a stasis,” he wrote recently. “My health has mostly recovered and my spirit is asking for more. Where’s the danger? The unknown? The challenge? I’m remembering why The Walk had such a pull on me in the first place. It was never a choice. The need to be somewhere far away on my own is a fundamental aspect of who I am.”