On a relatively warm day in May, Tom Turcich walked across the Ben Franklin Bridge from Philly to Camden. Walking the bridge is a feat in itself, especially for those afraid of heights as the bridge towers over the Delaware River. Those who make the walk are rewarded with picturesque views of the Philly skyline and the Camden Waterfront.
But Turcich wasn’t walking the bridge that day for exercise, or to get golden hour pictures of the Philly skyline. Instead he was walking home, and still had four miles left to get to his Haddon Township home.
Turcich could handle the couple mile walk from Camden to Haddon Township, after all he is an experienced walker—he was coming home from walking over 25,000 miles around the world.
Through 45 pairs of shoes, and with the help of sponsors and individual donations through Patreon, Turcich and his dog, Savannah, walked through over 30 countries and made it to six continents.
The journey around the world started in Haddon Township, where Turcich grew up and had a relatively normal suburban upbringing of playing sports and hanging out with friends. One of those friends was a girl named Ann Marie, who lived two blocks away from Turcich.
‘’It drove me crazy how nice she was,” says Turcich. ‘’I just remember Ann Marie being too nice, and I remember trying to egg her on and trying to get her to say something mean, but I couldn’t get her to do it. She was a vegetarian from 7 years old because she didn’t want to hurt animals.’’
Ann Marie passed away when she was 17 years old, and it left Turcich in a brain fog. He began to question his own immortality.
“I was really struggling with the fact that I’m going to die,” says Turcich. “I was unsure how I would integrate that fact in my life. Then I watched Dead Poets Society in class and it provided a lot of answers for me, and it pushed me to act.”
About six months after Ann Marie died, Turcich discovered what he wanted out of life and that was to travel the world. He saved up money from working and living at home. Ultimately he decided that he wanted to walk around the whole world. When Turcich informed his parents about the decision, he received mixed reviews.
“I told my mom about my plans, and she was like, ‘Why can’t you just walk around America, why do you have to do the world?'” remembers Turcich. “My dad was all about it though, and he used to live under a tarp in Hawaii. That’s where I got my sense of adventure from.”
Turcich started his journey over the Ben Franklin Bridge and first walked around the U.S. Even though he was staying in places he was familiar with, the journey was thrilling. As he got closer to leaving America, he had a plan for what countries he was going to visit, and it was determined by visa status.
“There were two primary considerations when coming up with the map,” explains Turcich. “I knew I wanted to hit every continent. The other consideration was to go through minimal visa trouble as possible. In South America, I walked through the countries on the west coast like Chile and Peru instead of the east coast of Brazil because I would have needed a visa extension in Brazil.
As he ventured south, Turcich decided he wanted some company, and adopted a puppy named Savannah in Austin, Texas. Savannah would become the first dog to walk around the world, but it didn’t come without difficulty.
“It took a little bit to train her and the first month was really challenging walking from Texas to Mexico,” explains Turcich. “I was in such a rhythm at that point, and I had to change my mindset and put my focus on training Savannah rather than burning out miles. Once we got to Mexico, we synced up. Central America had some really chaotic cities, and we were in a pressure cooker to navigate these places and we synced up.’’
Savannah and Turcich traveled Central and South America, and during that leg of the trip, the reality of walking around the world finally sunk in for Turcich.
“When I was crossing the Andes from Chile to Argentina I was at 5000 meters up for five days,” says Turcich. “I collapsed in the sand from exhaustion, and I was laying there and Savannah came up and laid next to me. It was this real sense of adventure, and I was 8,000 miles away from home with this dog, a friend that I never knew would be with me.”
In his walk through South and Central America, Tucich had to deal with being held up at knifepoint in Panama.
“I sat down at this bodega, and texted my dad Happy Birthday when I felt something cold on my neck,’’ recalls Turcich. “I look up and I see this guy and his eyes are bloodshot. He starts yelling at me, and my back is against the wall in this bodega. After a couple minutes he just takes off, and I go outside and amazingly see the cops and they have him right there. I go down the alley and my backpack is on the ground. It was a miracle because the backpack had my laptop, my paperwork, Savannah’s paperwork. I got really, really, really lucky there.”
Also Turcich had to deal with Savannah being sick because of an infection, and later on Turcich had to deal with an infection himself.
“In Chile, Savannah had a blood infection, and I didn’t realize how common of an infection it was,” says Turcich. “We were in a desert in Chile and she started to sneeze and started to bleed. It was definitely one of the scariest moments. We had to take a five-hour taxi into town and take her to a vet.”
Turcich dealt with a different kind of bacterial infection during his European leg of the trip; it was so bad that he had to return back to Jersey. The silver lining though was that he got to watch his beloved Eagles win the Super Bowl, and he attended the parade in Philadelphia.
Believe it or not, walking around the world is seemingly a more daunting task than a backup QB going up against Tom Brady in the Super Bowl. But like Nick Foles proved, it’s not an impossible task. Once Turcich resumed his journey in Europe he dealt with an opponent tougher than anything one encounters on a football field: His own mind.
“I’m generally a pretty optimistic person, but I had been in pain for so long,” says Turcich about the start of his Euro trek. “There was a three- to four-month period where I was in pain all day everyday. All my thoughts in Europe were negative, and when it rained it felt like the most unbearable thing ever. I just didn’t have the mental capacity to handle it all.”
The Camden County native notes how Europe was supposed to be the easiest part of the trip because of the biking infrastructure and accessibility of the continent, but strangely enough it proved to be the hardest part of the journey.
“Quitting was never an option, but there was a period during Europe where I was like, ‘What the hell am I doing out here?’ I should be with my family and friends, but instead I am out here logging through this.
“When you are walking by yourself, it’s just you and you, and you’re spending all this time within yourself which is remarkably good and healthy,” notes Turcich. “It exposes your thoughts and you have to have your thoughts clean, and you end up knowing yourself very well. But also there is no escape, it can be easy to dwell on the negative things on your mind.”
But no one truly walks through life or around the world alone, and that was the case for Turcich. When he got to Spain, his spirits changed when he found fellow walkers.
“It was nice to be able to share breakfast with people who were also walking for some reason,” says Turcich. “I was able to get out of my head and relax a little bit.”
After his Europe trek, the next stops on his venture were Africa and Asia. During his time in Africa he was able to visit Morocco, Algeria, and Liberia. During the Algeria part of the trip, he was escorted by police throughout the country.
Turcich made it to Asia, and then COVID hit. Turcich would spend the early stages of the pandemic in Azerbaijan. All things considered, Turcich made out OK during the pandemic.
“I was stuck in Azerbaijan for six months, and all the countries around it closed; there was no way in or out,” recalls Turcich. “Azerbaijan was a good place to be stuck, as it was peaceful, quiet and affordable.”
Even though COVID derailed his plans to visit Australia, he was able to visit a continent that is an ideal spot for social distancing. During the South America part of his trek, Turcich was able to visit Antarctica
“Antarctica was incredible, and I felt like an alien landing down there,” says Turcich. “I saw no signs of humanity there, and it’s so rare that you’re in a place where you see no signs of human civilization. There’s a sense of isolation and separation down there which is remarkable and beautiful. There were icebergs floating around and penguins hopping in and out of the water. It was truly incredible.”
After COVID restrictions started to wane, Turcich was able to visit Turkey as it was the largest country around him that was open. Once more countries started to open up, he was able to travel to more countries in Asia such as Uzbekistan, a country that was one of his favorites in the walk around the world.
“Uzbekistan was a very wild place,” recalls Turcich. “It was like entering an alternate reality, and there weren’t any advertisements in the country, and everyone was driving these white Chevys. There were so many laborers in the field without any modern machinery.”
The last part of Turcich’s journey was finishing up walking across America. He started out in the West during the latter part of 2021, and walked across the midwest. He finished his journey in May by crossing the Ben Franklin Bridge into Camden. As he entered the Garden State, one could imagine a swell of emotions as he came to the end of his seven-year journey.
“It was a relief honestly,” says Turcich on the end of his walk. “It was cool finishing the walk with a group of people with me. I really felt like the end was nearing when I crossed the Ben Franklin Bridge, but more importantly when I crossed onto Haddon Avenue. Haddon Ave. was a straight shot home, and I was like, ‘Oh man I’m almost there.’ I crossed the finish line, and I didn’t feel relief or anxiety. It’s more like this is finally over.”
Right now Turcich is enjoying his newfound free time. He was able to attend his best friend’s wedding, play tennis with his friends, and got to visit his grandparents.
“It’s weird, I’ve been around the world and back, and I go home and I feel like nothing has changed,” says Turcich. “You fall right back into place with the people that matter to you.”
Turcich plans on releasing a book about his journey, and keeping up with his blog during the journey was a good way for him to process and document the walk.
In the span of over 25,000 miles, Turcich had a lot of time to process his thoughts and learn. Not only did he learn about himself, he learned about the world around him.
“I know a lot more about myself now than when I started the journey,” says Turcich. “I also have a better understanding that a lot of life is circumstantial. I was very very, very fortunate that I was born with an American passport, and was able to get a good job where I was able to pay back my loans and save money. There’s so many things that had to go right for me to walk around the world.”
And while people in Chile or Peru don’t have debates about whether Central Jersey is a real place or not, he realized that people around the world are pretty much the same and have the same goals and dreams regardless of location.
“People are good everywhere, and people are the same everywhere. They just want to make a little money and hang out with their families, that is universal. The other thing is that people are really small in the sense that motivation is a small thing that decides someone’s life. Almost all of it is where someone was born. In that same vein, it really matters that there are good systems in place to give a vast majority of people good lives.’’