Meet The American Man Who Is Walking Across Turkey

Matt Krause swears that he isn’t crazy. But some of his friends and family members would beg to differ, even though the 43-year-old California native has safely completed two-thirds of a 1,305-mile walk across Turkey.

I read about Krause’s plan to cross Turkey on foot in Outside last September, when he was just a few weeks into his trip, and wondered if he would have the resolve to make it. Krause and I spoke via Skype on Monday from Kahramanmaraş, where he’s taking a week off from his walk to work on a book he’s writing about the adventure he’s documenting on his blog, “Heathen Pilgrim.”

“I wanted to show people they don’t need to be afraid of the world,” he says. “Look at me, I can go out and walk across Turkey and be homeless and vulnerable and basically helpless every single day for 8 months and I’ll be perfectly fine, knock on wood.”

Krause’s Turkish wife asked him for a divorce in 2011 and shortly thereafter he quit a hated kitchenware sourcing job in Seattle. At a crossroads in life, he moved back in with his parents in Reedley, California, and started taking long walks to see if he could physically handle a rigorous walk. Krause lived in Turkey for six years with his ex-wife before returning to the U.S. after a jewelry business he started failed. But he says that he didn’t let the failed business and relationship in Turkey extinguish his desire to see the country on foot.

“I still love Turkey,” Krause says. “I had a bad experience with one person out of 70 million.”

He did some research on other accomplished long-distance walkers and drew inspiration from people like Jean Béliveau, who spent 11 years walking around the world.

Krause set off from Kuşadası, on Turkey’s Aegean coast on September 1, and is on pace to reach Turkey’s border with Iran in early April. For the first 500 miles of his walk, Krause carried a 42-pound backpack and spent most nights pitching his tent at gas stations, mosque gardens and in roadside fields and clearings.

“They say ‘yes’ and then look at you like you’re crazy,” Krause says, when asked how Turks respond when he requests permission to camp on their property. “I’ve never had a hard time finding a place to stay, but sometimes I had to be more persistent than others.”

Eventually he decided that his trip would be more meaningful if he arranged to stay in people’s homes using the website Couch Surfing. Now he crashes with hosts on most nights and then commutes to his walking route by bus each day. When he was carrying his pack, he averaged about 12 miles per day but now that he’s couch-surfing, he averages closer to 20, walking on the narrow shoulders of two and four lane roads.

The apparent murder of Sarai Sierra, a 33-year-old tourist from New York who was on holiday in Istanbul last week drew headlines around the world, but Krause insists that he feels very safe in Turkey.

“Getting hit by a car is the greatest danger I’ve faced,” he says.

He treats himself to a hotel room about once per week when he can’t find a free place to crash and says that he so far he’s spent about $700 per month, including food, health insurance, cellphone and all of his other expenses.

Krause says that he’s experienced tremendous hospitality in Turkey but admits that that hospitality has its limits.

“Turkish hospitality rocks, but it’s not as deep as Turks would like to believe it is,” says Krause, who has an undergraduate degree in Chinese history from The University of Chicago. “It goes a couple days deep, and then it’s like the American saying that on the third day guests start to stink like fish. It’s the same thing in Turkey.”

He dedicates days from his walk to different friends and posts a photo of a hand written sign in their honor to his Flickr page (see right). One of the highlights of his trip so far was a day he spent walking through the scenic Goksu River Valley, where a commander at a military outpost took him out for breakfast and villagers showered him with hospitality. But Krause has had to overcome a foot injury and plenty of rain.

“But even if it’s raining really hard, I still walk,” he says. “I like those days because it clears out the traffic.”

The last leg of Krause’s journey will also be the toughest. He’s heading into Turkish Kurdistan, a restive region where the Turkish military has been fighting Kurdish separatists for years, and he’ll have to face some serious uphill climbs to reach his goal.

But aside from the physical challenges, Krause says that the hardest part of the trip is fighting loneliness and maintaining his sanity.

“My Turkish is only good enough for small talk and I have that same conversation all the time, so I get sick of it,” he says. “You spend so much time in your own head that you need to connect with people.”

Krause says that he will be satisfied if his walk inspires even one or two people to go on a trip, start a business, or take a chance on something they’d like to do but can’t work up the courage for.

“People have lots of dreams but they don’t pursue them because they’re afraid,” he says. “I have a saying, it’s ‘Don’t have dreams, have things you do.'”

[Photo credits: Matt Krause]