Why walk the world for 22 years – Karl Bushby

We’ve had some truly unbelievable adventurers join us since the first Armchair Adventure Festival back in April. It’s been the perfect way to keep us all entertained during the various lockdowns throughout 2020 and now in to 2021. So many stories have blown us away but if we had to choose one which we were truly mesmerised by it would be that of Karl Bushby who set off in 1998 to walk an unbroken path from Argentina back to his home in Hull, UK. 23  years later and he is still going. At the November festival he teased us with just a glimpse of what it must have been like walking through the Darien Gap and over the Pack Ice from Alaska to Russia.

Karl will be joining us once more at the Armchair Adventure Bootcamp where he will be going into more depth on extreme environments and the things you need to consider if you’re dreaming of ever adventuring to some of the world’s most extreme environments. You can learn more about Bootcamp here, there really is no one with a better adventure cv to run this class. Below, you can read the piece Karl very kindly put together for us for the last festival. It explains why he chose to take on the longest walk in history…

Karl walking across The States in 2013

Wind driven

Perhaps the most common question I am asked is, why? Why spend 22 years (as of November 1st 2020) walking, or trying to walk, around the world?  Well, not technically around the world, call it the longest point to point. The timely response is simply, “it’s a challenge based endeavour”.  Truth is, I could probably squeeze another book out of that story alone, because it’s not just about me, its a story of us, why are we (a minority, granted) inexplicably driven to travel?

So, rather than a highly condensed synopsis of the last 22 years, and 37,000 kilometres, I thought I would try my hand at explaining the story of how I ended up over 30,000 miles and 25 years from home, on a journey that began on the 1st of November 1998. Perhaps I will touch on the ‘we’ aspect of the story to wrap up,  because the things that motivate me won’t be too different from those that motivate others, like feeling that inexorable tug in a given direction. However, for that we will need to take a look back to who I was prior to stepping onto the start line, oh so long ago. I’m not a writer, in fact I will do just about anything to avoid having to spend time in an introspective exercise examination of one’s life, but let’s have a crack at this anyhow.

At 15 years old, badly dyslexic, with no educational qualifications to speak of, and coming from a military family, I was dropping down a well-defined funnel, options were limited.  By 16 I carried a gun, having joined the Junior Parachute Regiment in1986, willing to be the best I could be.  The only thing that mattered to me at this time was dying on a battlefield, in foreign lands, with my boots on, having been the best solider I could have been.  You know; Queen, country, the flag, the brothers next to you.  I had no idea what I was being paid, and I had little interest.  I’ve never done anything for money.  I suspect, in part, this is less some grand humanistic principle and more a learned coping mechanism; the cards life dealt me.

Beaten into something better

In the late 80s the Parachute Regiment, and its training depot in Aldershot, was less British army and more a cult of war. We had taken esprit de corps to its ultimate place in time and space.  For recruits, Abu Ghraib was where you might have gone on vacation. Times were different then.  It would typically take 24 weeks to break down a snotty nosed civilian kid and then rebuild him into a paratrooper.  Someone not only capable of surviving the horror of a modern battlefield, but positively thriving on it. It’s a hell of a process and very much an art form, one that always impressed me.  My destiny was seemingly carved in stone, Parachute Regiment, Pathfinders and ultimately, special forces; roughly following in father’s footsteps.

However, there was a problem with this plan. My first ever reports from junior Parachute Regiment set the pace, reading; “…one of the keenest young soldiers we have, however, this man has no fitness.”  Fitness was almost everything to the Parachute Regiment, an elite fighting unit designed to operate behind enemy lines on its feet with no support.  They were right, at 16, I had the physical appearance of a 9 year-old, and was comparable physically, lacking the ability to carry the kind of weight expected and needed.

There was a reason the regiment’s selection process had an approximately 90% failure rate. The regiment has an intense physical selection process known as ‘P Company’, the toughest selection process outside of special forces, mid-way through basic training. Its gate keepers were ruthless and unforgiving.  Few make it as far as P Company, much less to the other side.  You go into this meat grinder, and if you are made of the right stuff, 24 weeks later, you come out a different man.

Karl walking in the sunset, Uzbekistan 2019

What if you spent almost 2 years in such an institution rather than just the 24 weeks, what would that do to you? Well this is where things get interesting.  For some it might be hard to define just when and where, within such a narrow time frame, you became the person you are. You: your character, your abilities, pretty much everything about you, and everything in your life that comes after.  That 2 years shaped me and the rest of my life.  No one had spent this amount of time as a recruit before. No one had been allowed to spend this long in Depot Para Aldershot, no one had been allowed five P Company attempts.  My illustrious career of pushing boundaries had started earlier than most are aware.

P Company (P-Coy), is a week-long physical selection course every recruit Paratrooper must pass to earn his Maroon beret, go on to advanced training, jump school, and finally join one of the three battalions. Approximately 130 recruits could start a recruitment cycle, and as few as 10 would finish. The vast majority would give it one shot, one crack at P-Coy. Some more than one, I had heard of a few trying three times.  Beyond that, even if you wanted, you probably would not be allowed another attempt. But five…?!

Above the instructor’s office door in Junior Para Company, a banner in large bold letters simply read, “The weak shall die, the strong shall live”. We were just 16 years old, but to the staff of ex Falkland war vets (one of whom was left in the dead pile for over 12hrs until someone realized he was actually still alive, now down to just one lung), our age was irrelevant.  The gate keepers were here to cull the heard and maintain the reputation and credibility of one of the world’s elite fighting units.  They had gone up Mount Longdon with bayonets fixed. This wasn’t a job, this was the unimaginable, and todays lesson, and every other, was going to be a hard-hitting reality check.

Over the coming months it