I am not numerically inclined, and during the walk, I kept imperfect track of the numbers describing it. The wonders of the internet and food safety laws, however, allow for a decent reconstruction of some statistics that might be useful in planning down the road.
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Time and Space
Between the morning of March 14, when I set off to walk the length of the Bosphorus, and the afternoon of December 6, when I arrived at the top of Arthur’s Seat 268 days later, I walked just over 4,080 contiguous miles, or 6,570 kilometers. Shuffling the vicissitudes of snow-covered mountains, hunger, sleeplessness, blinding and scorching sun, days spent almost entirely inert, gear failures, gale-force winds, confusing maps, bogs, pack weight, skin damage, joint pain, back pain, laundry, and torrential rain for any given interval along the way, I nonetheless covered an average of 15 miles / 24 kilometers per day every day for almost nine months straight.
Day by day, my progress was far from consistent. Out of the total 268 days, only 184 were full days of walking; I spent 35 days partially at rest, and I took 42 days off entirely. Off the route, I spent an additional seven extraneous days loping around Vienna, Prague, and Berlin on a kind of strenuous pedestrian vacation from the walk proper. Altogether, this made for an average ratio of about one day off and one partial day for every five full days on the move. My longest blocks of consecutive full days were Freiburg-Dover (23 days); Loch Eil-Thurso (20 days); and Sofia-Belgrade and Buchs-Freiburg (both 14 days).
The full days were a numerically varied bunch unto themselves. My average full-day distance was 21 miles / 34 kilometers, but 19 days involved hauls of 30 miles / 48 kilometers or more. The longest day of the entire walk was the first, when I tried and failed to exit Istanbul by following the Bosphorus all the way to the Black Sea and half the way back again. This occupied about 36 miles / 58 kilometers. Dozens of the most trying days of the journey, however, were less than 30 miles long – sometimes, considerably so. Particular distinction goes to the three of these days that involved the least horizontal progress: in Austria, the climb up the Garnitzenklamm in continual cold rain (11 miles); in Wales, the Glyders in zero visibility (11 miles); and in Scotland, Glen Dessary (10 miles of mud).
My closest approach to efficiency was the stretch that saw me clear of the Schengen Treaty area on the last day of my visitor’s permit. Between my departure from Freiburg on July 28 and my arrival in Dover 23 days later on August 19, I walked just over 580 miles, averaging a bit more than 25 miles per day. In the middle of this stretch, the highest-mileage week of the entire walk was from August 3 (beginning near Ars-sur-Moselle) to August 9 (ending near Claye-Souilly, on the outskirts of Paris). I averaged 28 miles per day during this 196-mile span.
Over the course of the trip, I tried to keep to rugged country as much as possible, with cities interspersed for variety and agricultural country typically posing major logistical problems in between. I ultimately spent a bit more than 40 full-on days, and 700 miles / 1,100 km, going up and over assorted mountains. These weren’t the days spent traipsing flat-footed along valley roads while admiring big surrounding scenery – these were the days going over high passes in Austria and Switzerland, or cross-country through the woolly wild of the northwest Highlands. My daily distance over this kind of terrain averaged about 27 km, or 17 miles. Even in mountainous country, I rarely went more than a few days in a row like this before the overall northwesterly line of my route put me back in a valley for a while.
Having once been a track runner, I was also curious what my splits were, so to speak. It turns out that I unknowingly passed my halfway distance on July 21, on the way toward the Swiss-German border, and unknowingly celebrated my halfway day soon afterward in Freiburg by going to the movies on July 25. I hit 1,000 miles on my way to Vukovar, Croatia, on May 10 (day 58); 2,000 miles near Burgdorf, Switzerland, on July 19 (day 128); 3,000 miles just north of the Brecon Beacons in Wales, on September 3 (day 174); and 4,000 miles on my way to Thurso, Scotland, on November 20 (day 252). The first thousand miles took 58 days; the second, 70 days; the third, 46 days; and the fourth, 78 days. I suspect the variation is largely due to the mountains in the second and fourth thousand miles, the Schengen sprint in the third, and, well, fatigue.
The highest point of the walk was the Vorderes Umbaltörl pass in the Venediger Group of the Hohe Tauern, at a snowy 9,600 feet, or 2,926 meters. The most vertically strenuous day of the walk was July 16, the day I passed the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau over the course of just over 22 miles, or 36 kilometers. This involved 7,854 feet / 2,394 meters of ascent and about 7,200 feet / 2,200 meters of descent over Grosse Scheidegg and Kleine Scheidegg, albeit over well-maintained and well-marked paths. The picture above is from Grosse Scheidegg, with the Eiger looming over Grindelwald in the center and Kleine Scheidegg in the distance. When I reached Grindelwald in the middle of the day, I ripped open and ate an entire apple pie as an hors d’oeuvre.
On 139 nights of the journey, I slept in a room with a roof; on 124 nights, I slept in a tent; and on four nights, I slept in the open as follows: by the side of a highway in a ditch, by the side of a highway on a roadcut, on the threshold of a snowed-in mountainside hut, and on a park bench. I was surprised and a little dismayed, in retrospect, at just how snug more than half the nights turned out to have been: so much for roughing it. Among the recurring causes for staying at a hostel, hotel, or guesthouse were a) needing to dry off; b) being unable to pitch a tent amidst urban sprawl; and, in Croatia, c) land mines. My longest stretch between rooms was the eight nights between budget hotels in Freiburg and Châlons-en-Champagne. The average roofless stretch was only three nights in a row, while my average roofed residence was three nights long. The latter average owes a lot to my three longest rests in Wales and Scotland near the end of the walk, each of them longer than a week, but it would be fair to say that my life as I know it depended on them.
I don’t know how much my pack weighed – I would guess that around 30 pounds, or 15 kilograms, was fairly standard, while various people along the way hefted it and guessed as high as 50 pounds, or 25 kilograms – but I do know that the weight varied considerably depending on how much food I was carrying and how long I’d been out in the rain. A fully-loaded 60-liter pack can absorb an enormous amount of water, and after several hours in torrential rain, when even a combination of waterproof pack cover and internal dry bags will fail, the increasing weight becomes extremely difficult to manage. I also know that I personally weighed the same amount at the end of the walk as I did at the beginning, but that I was pretty gaunt and leathery when I cleared the Alps in Switzerland, and that I was also hungry for a few days in Slovenia and a few days in France. Given my daily energy expenditure, if I didn’t eat much for a day or two, I seemed to lose about as much weight in those days as I would otherwise have eaten, and this was weight I could ill afford to lose. For someone gaunt, hungry, chronically fatigued, and perpetually exposed to rain and wind, hypothermia becomes a danger even in surprisingly mild temperatures.
On August 5, in the thick of what turned out to be the highest-mileage week of the walk, I kept track of everything I ingested. This amounted to 14 pains au chocolat, a can of cassoulet, a liter of chocolate milk, a chocolate bar, a chorizo, and a couple of small cheeses, plus 5 liters of water – in total, about 2.9 pounds / 1.3 kilograms of food and 6 liters of fluids, yielding about 5,500 calories. I finished this particular 32-mile day not so much hungry as tired.
Over the duration of the trip, currency conversion averaged about $1 / €0.71 / £0.62. From Istanbul to Edinburgh, my wanderings cost about $8,000 / €5,700 / £5,000, which was the bulk of the money I had. That’s an overall average of about $2 / €1.42 / £1.24 per mile, and about $30 / €21.30 / £18.60 per day; actual daily costs were much higher in and after the Alps than they were from Turkey to Slovenia. From Serbia onward, I ate copious amounts of highly-processed foods, and I stayed in lodgings more often than I had originally expected to. The total above also includes the costs of two fleeting vacations from the route proper, one to see a few cities I would otherwise have missed, and one to catch my dad while we were both on the same side of the Atlantic. By comparison, my spartan settled life in Cambridge, Massachusetts, following the walk cost me an average of between $21 and $39 per day. It appears that European photographic vagabondry costs about the same as American city scraping.
Comparing a few converted costs of lodging per night, a Bulgarian guesthouse was $14.49; a Serbian hotel, $32.73; a Slovenian hostel, $30.15; an Austrian hut, $14.49; a Swiss hotel, $82.35; a German hotel, $43.48; a French hotel, $54.28; an English bed and breakfast, $49.18; a Welsh guesthouse, $72.58; and a Scottish hotel, $44.44. In each of these cases, I was going with the cheapest option I could find. It’s amazing what I can be induced to pay when I’m soaked through and staggering.
From a farthest south and east in Istanbul (41ºN 29ºE), I walked to a farthest west at Bla Bheinn (57ºN 6ºW) and a farthest north at Dunnet Head (58ºN 3ºW).
Comparisons across continents aren’t exactly practical, but in rough terms, the distance and latitudes involved would resemble a fairly direct walk from Boston, Massachusetts, to Juneau, Alaska.
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From Istanbul to Bla Bheinn as the crow flies is 1,907 miles, or 3,069 kilometers – my own route, it turned out, wasn’t so direct after all.