GBBP 81: Paul Salopek

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Paul Salopek
The Great Big Beautiful Podcast, Episode 81: Paul Salopek

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I first heard about Paul Salopek back in 2013 when he began the Out of Eden Walk. As someone who traveled around the world overland, his plan spoke to me in a big way. However, whereas I traveled around the globe using a combination of trains, buses, boats, and other forms of mechanized locomotion, Paul is covering some 22,000 miles the old-fashioned way – on foot.

He’s walking in the footsteps of our ancestors, tracing their route out of Africa and around the globe: from the Great Rift Valley of Africa, across the Middle East, through Central Asia to the tundra of Siberia, eventually hopping a boat across the Bering Strait to North America, and trudging from there down the entire length of the New World. His unprecedented journey began in January 2013 in Ethiopia and will eventually end at the southern tip of South America – Tierra del Fuego – the last continental corner of Earth to be settled by humankind.

Image from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting
Image from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

Now in its fourth year, the Out of Eden Walk is showing signs of slowing down…though that’s intentional. According to his original schedule, Paul was projected to be somewhere in China by now and in Tierra del Fuego by 2020. When we spoke to him, Paul was in Uzbekistan and taking his time across Central Asia. He still has a long way to go to get to China, and South America is so far off, it doesn’t even factor into his daily thoughts. Though, when asked, he admits he’ll be on the road several years longer than originally planned. Ironically, taking seven years to cover 22,000 miles was too swift a pace. Given the stories and images he’s sharing, though, we’re all the richer for it.

This isn’t just the journey of a lifetime. This is the journey of all lifetimes. Something of this magnitude has never before been attempted, let alone completed. Paul’s journey is completely self-supported. He doesn’t travel with an entourage, camera crew, trip planners, or support vehicle. It’s just him and his two feet.

That’s not to say he has no support. The Out of Eden Walk is largely sponsored by National Geographic, and Paul has been writing regularly from the road for both his site and National Geographic magazine. I highly recommend reading his dispatches (start with this archive) and watching and listening to his milestones (which he does every 100 miles and consists of photographs of the ground and sky, video and audio recordings, and a brief, standardized interview with the nearest human being).

On this episode, we connect with Paul in Uzbekistan and talk about the trip, his storytelling goals, cultural anthropology versus current events journalism, how he prepares for the unknowable, the importance of “slow journalism,” what his day-to-day is like, and how his feet have been holding up.


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