Book: Karl Bushby Giant Steps
Giant Steps by Karl Bushby
My prediction, after reading this book, is that by the time he arrives home in Hull some time in 2011 Karl Bushby will be one of the most famous explorers / adventurers of all time! Let me explain.
In 1998 Karl quit the armed forces and decided to get as far away from his home town as possible, with the express intention of walking home! The furthest point - still connected by land or ice - was Punta Arenas in Chile, the southern most tip of South America. He set off pulling a converted golf cart loaded with his kit, a couple of loose sponsorship deals for free shoes and insoles, and about $50 in his wallet.
He is currently (May 2006) in Russia. You may have heard about his exploits. Having become the first Briton to cross the Bering Straits on foot, navigating the breaking ice flow with the aid of kite borne cameras, he then got himself thrown into jail for a month or so for entering the country with the incorrect papers. He obviously made all the headlines. He's now on his way again, thanks in part to Roman Abramovich, the Chelsea football club chairman.
Giant Steps is a book about the first half of his journey, from Punta Arenas to the Bering Straits (it doesn't actually cover the crossing of the straits). It comprises a long series of diary extracts with just a hand full of intervening comments from the editors. Initially I was pretty sceptical. His whole reasoning for starting out on the walk, an inferiority complex born from a poor physical record in the army, and a desperate need to prove himself to the world, put me right off. His approach, to hang around the outdoor pursuits trade show at Harrogate looking for a sponsorship deal smacks of amateurism. And his incessant descriptions of 'bedding' women at South American disco's as he made his way north is hardly endearing. However, as he progresses towards a warmer climate his character starts to soften and his reputation begins to precede him. A small bubble of fame follows him around as he is befriended by all and sundry, fed, given much needed money, has his equipment mended and generally has a truly unique experience. That's not so say that it is all plain sailing. Far from it. The number of scrapes he gets himself into and out of, with the aid of a machete and a baseball bat is impressive and something that his military background will have served him well for. His description of crossing the Darian Gap - an infamous Bermuda Triangle type chunk of land between Colombia and Panama - is staggering and surely worthy of some award.
As he keeps going the loneliness of being on the road by himself intensifies as he meets more and more soul mates along the way. I initially wondered why it had taken him so long to walk the length of the Americas - his schedule is somewhat less than 10 miles a day - but it becomes clear that he isn't doing it for the tick. This is his life and he is living it to the full. If that means stopping off for a couple of months to stay with a friendly group for New Year then so be it. By starting out with no sponsorship deals he is in an enviable position of having no responsibilities. As the bubble of fame has grown then inevitably other sponsors have come on board. The important thing is that they have come on board on Karl's terms. It's a good job they've shown an interest too as there is no way he'd have made it across the Bering Straits without some serious financial clout.
As I said at the start of the review I think the bubble of fame is destined to grow into something he had never even dreamed of, and I only hope that it doesn't somehow burst along the way.
As to the book, it’s not particularly well written and the photos aren't particularly good, but I'd say that it is essential reading for anybody with an adventurous side. It's an incredible journey and I'm glad we live in a time when it can be relayed to the masses whilst it is still going on.
Goliath Expedition website