In this age of planes, trains, cars, boats and carbon footprints, walking has lost its profounder connotations as a way to connect to a larger world and landscape, free of the alienating rhythm and speed of mechanized travel. But now, a former dotcom businessman from Ireland plans to revive walking's honourable status by making a journey from Britain to India on foot — except that he intends to accomplish this walk without money, relying entirely on the goodness of strangers.
Certainly, this takes some courage. Equipped with a few T-shirts, a bandage and spare sandals, the 28-year-old Mark Boyle just began his 12,000 kilometre (9,000 mile) walk on January 30th, on the sixtieth anniversary of Gandhi's assassination. He will trek from Bristol, UK through the Balkans, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. He hopes to arrive in Porbandar, India, the birthplace of Gandhi, within two-and-a-half years.
"I will be offering my skills to people. If I get food in return, it's a bonus," he said.
Boyle's journey aims to spread awareness about the "freeconomy" movement, a group originating in the US and which aspires to create a "transition from a money-based communityless society to a community-based moneyless society." His journey also highlights recent trends in encouraging connective community-building efforts, alternative economies and "Freecycle"-type exchanges of skills and resources.
"My interest started five or six years ago when I was studying economics," says Boyle, whose alias is also Saoirse (pronounced sear-shuh), which means "freedom" in Gaelic. "The more we accumulate wealth, the more it leads to a breakdown of community."
Though it may sound like a zany effort, history has provided ample examples of how a mere "walk" can change the course of history or change people's minds. Gandhi's famous "salt march" in 1930 against the British colonial salt tax galvanized hundreds of thousands of people and was a turning point in the fight for independence.
Equally inspiring is the story of America's Peace Pilgrim, who traversed the country seven times over the course of three decades and well into her seventies — moneyless and tirelessly "walking until given shelter and fasting until given food" — to spread the word about peace during the eras of McCarthyism and the Vietnam War.
When asked about how he would survive without money, Boyle says, "I've got a lot of faith in humanity. If I've got to spend two and a half years to show one person the conviction of what I'm doing, then it's two and a half years well spent."
You can keep track of his journey at Freeconomy's website, www.justfortheloveofit.org. Walk on!