Interesting Engineering has the latest reminder of what we believe is the longest walkable single distance on Earth, from South Africa to the far northeastern Russian city of Magadan. At no point would you need to use even a small boat to ferry across a river, because the entire route is made up of roads with bridges.
To go further into northeastern Russia, you’d need to cross through terrain that isn’t currently walkable. (Full disclosure: Google Maps’ suggested walking route between the same two cities includes a ferry trip, but the route’s original popularizer manually pulled it to cross a bridge instead.) The total trip is over 14,000 miles.
A real person walking this route at a sustainable pace would need about three years to complete the trip. They’d need to pack a variety of things or, like in the award-winning game 80 Days, sell their stuff and buy new stuff along the way: desert gear, rain gear, and even body armor for the sections through anarchic or war-torn regions like South Sudan. There’s a little bit of everything along the way, from extremely dangerous rainforest animals to near the coldest inhabited place on Earth in Russia. (Remote Bilibino, home to the smallest nuclear plant on Earth, is just a three hour flight even farther northeast after Magadan.)
People around the world do walking pilgrimages for purposes that are often spiritual. The most popular route on the Camino de Santiago, which leads to the shrine to St. James the Apostle in the Santiago de Compostela cathedral, is 500 miles long. That the hypothetical longest walk on Earth makes this daunting trip sound short is, well, blasphemous. The Appalachian Trail that runs vertically along the eastern edge of the U.S. is about 2,000 miles long, and while it’s not an explicitly religious or spiritual journey, the caretaking organization calls it a “sacred space” for its reach to people and for its preserved natural beauty.
The longest known ongoing religious pilgrimage is by a man named Arthur Blessitt, who’s walked over 40,000 miles since 1969. His walk isn’t contiguous, and has therefore included all seven continents, where he has carried a large cross and preached his Christian beliefs. Now 79 years old, Blessitt has walked in every nation on Earth during his 50-year walking career. For someone who’s walked in Antarctica, the inhabited north of Russia may be doable. And he’s already walked in the nations along the 14,000 walk from South Africa to Magadan.
At the same time, the rugged single journey is likely through rougher terrain, and Blessitt’s pace during his documented Guinness World Record-setting walk (as of 2013) averaged out to just over 3 miles a day. (In Stephen King’s The Long Walk, contestants in a dystopian race must stay above 4 miles per hour.) At that pace, the longest contiguous walk would take him another 13 years, with a lot of downtime each day and requiring 4,800 places to crash. In much of the U.S., you wouldn’t find a legal place to camp or even park a car overnight every few miles, let alone a legal place to relieve yourself in public.