by Jedd Ferris
This past spring, Daren Wendell walked away from North Georgia College with everything he owns on his back. His plan—non-stop walking for seven years. Wendell embarked of what he’s calling the Earth Expedition, a foot journey around the world with the purpose of raising awareness for the water crisis and AIDS epidemic in Africa. He plans to cover over 18,000 miles through 14 countries, all on foot except for one flight from Canada to Portugal. The first part of the journey will be a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail.
BRO: What was the catalyst for this undertaking?
DW: Back in 2005 I was finishing up an internship at a church, and my life was feeling very boring and traditional. I needed to take a step out, so I took a bike trip across the United States. During those 74 days, I never felt more alive. I wanted to open up another chapter, so I did some research and found out that it was actually possible to walk around the world, and that it had been done by a couple people before. I decided I was going to become the youngest person to do it.
BRO: How do you close up your life to leave it behind for the better part of a decade?
DW: It took a year and a half of me having to answer a lot of personal questions. Could I spend Christmas away from my family or my next seven birthdays alone? What if someone gets married, has a baby, or dies? I slowly committed to all of these sacrifices, including a self-imposed dating ban.
I had $19,000 in debt, so I went on a strict budget and sold everything I owned. I eliminated my debt six months before I started and was able to save everything since. I now have enough for the first 10 months, and some corporate sponsors from the outdoor industry are supplying my gear. I’ll be working to get more sponsors along the way.
BRO: What about the physical preparation?
DW: Last year I trained for and ran the Chicago Marathon. Also, there was a local news story about me, and after seeing it, a physical trainer called me and said that he believed in what I was doing. He trained me for free five times a week.
BRO: How did you pick the route?
DW: I spent a lot of hours in the library. This route has never been done before. It’s basically the safest route for the current political climate. Obviously there are going to be risks being a Westerner with everything I own on my back.
Some of it is still tentative. I want to walk the Great Wall of China, but I’ll have to cross parts of the Gobi Desert, so re-supply points will be difficult. Also, the Bering Straight is semi-frozen for only a few months out of the year, and I won’t do that alone. If I have to skip it, I don’t think it will hurt the integrity of the expedition.
BRO: Since you are only a few months into this journey, do you feel optimistic that you will complete it?
DW: I don’t get too optimistic or pessimistic. I consider myself a realist. The honeymoon period is over, and I have realized that this is going to be my life for the next seven years. I love the lifestyle of everything I own being on my back and not knowing where I am going to sleep at night. It’s a very free feeling.
BRO: How did you get your trail name?
DW: “Vagabond” means homeless traveler, and although it is weird to say, I am homeless. A couple of hikers I was walking with kept calling me Vagabond, so I finally accepted.
BRO: What is the purpose of your walk?
DW: I’m a huge believer in giving back to the world, rather than taking from it. One day when I have children, I want my kids to know that I stood for something, and that I was part of the solution, rather than the problem.
Through this walk I’m raising awareness for Blood Water Mission, which works for clean water and HIV initiatives in Africa. I found them through online research. Other organizations took over a month to get back to me, but when I called Blood Water Mission, they immediately talked to me. That’s the kind of relationship I want to have with the humanitarian organization that I am walking for. With the platform that I will have, especially as the expedition comes to an end, I think we could raise over a million dollars when it’s all said and done.
EARTH EXPEDITION BY THE NUMBERS
17 times zones
37 pounds in pack weight
36 million steps