Meet The American Man Who Is Walking Across Turkey

matt krause heathen pilgrim walk across TurkeyMatt 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.”




matt krause heathen pilgrim walk across turkeyKrause’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.”

matt krause 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.”

matt krause walk across turkeyHe 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]

Record turnout on Spain’s Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail

For more than a thousand years, the faithful have been making an arduous journey along rugged trails in Spain’s northwestern province of Galicia to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Dedicated to the Apostle St. James, it’s one of Europe’s most popular pilgrimage destinations and the routes leading there are seeing record numbers of hikers.

Part of the boom is because this year St. James’ feast day lands on a Sunday, a holy event that hasn’t happened since 1993. Tough economic times have also led some people to look to religion for reassurance, and led the Galician government to promote the route in the hope of bringing in much-needed cash. At the beginning of the year the province paid for a big insert in many of Spain’s major dailies. It has even brought in major acts like Muse and the Pet Shop Boys to do concerts.

Hiking “El Camino” is popular with people of all faiths and none. Most people do one of the many routes in Galicia, although hardier hikers with faith in God and their legs start from as far away as France. Many pilgrim hostels offer very low cost accommodation, but with an estimated 200,000+ pilgrims this year, it’s best to finish your day’s hiking early if you want a place. If you want to go, several online guides offer tips, this one being one of the best.


Photo courtesy user Liesel via Wikimedia Commons.

The East Highland Way day three: exploring Scotland’s lochs


The best part of long-distance hikes is seeing the world get bigger.

We spend so much time in cars, planes, and trains that the miles go by in the blink of an eye. Subtle changes in topography and flora aren’t noticed, and little corners of beauty are passed by undiscovered. Walk, and you see the world as it really is.

It’s my third day on the East Highland Way and I’m deep in the Scottish countryside now. The town of Ft. William is far behind (although still only an hour’s drive) and the rare villages now have barely more than a dozen houses. For hours I don’t see a soul.

Heading out from Tulloch I enter a forest. This, like so many woods in Scotland, is managed for logging. Rows of slim fir trees alternate with cut areas where tiny saplings have been planted to make the next crop. It’s a slow process, and not once does the roar of a chainsaw or the crash of a falling tree disturb my peace. After a few miles I come to Loch Laggan, the first sizable loch I’ve come across at seven miles long. The glassy water, unrippled by a single boat, reflects the hills beyond. All is quiet. I sit down to have lunch and enjoy the view.

There the peace ends, courtesy of an army of midges. These little insects are as annoying as they are persistent. They’re like miniature mosquitoes with more intelligence. First one flies around my head. While I swat it away, another sucks blood from my neck. The signal goes out, and within a minute there’s a hundred all around me. I wipe off my arms, neck, and face and my hands become smeared with mashed midges. Time to move. The strange thing about midges is that if you’re moving they have a hard time keeping up, but woe betide the hiker who gets caught while sitting peacefully by a loch. I finish my lunch on the go.

%Gallery-100127%Continuing along the southern shore of Loch Laggan I spot the spires of a Disney-style castle poking above the greenery. I’ve come to Ardverikie House, a stately home built in 1870 that recently gained fame as the setting for the BBC series Monarch of the Glen. I don’t own a TV, so I’d never even heard of this hugely popular show until I came to this part of the country. Now I sometimes feel like I hear of nothing else. The estate has become a pilgrimage site for fans, and locals tell me that people even peer through the windows and knock on the door. I can understand why there are Private Property signs everywhere.

Sadly, this means I can’t see the wonder of Loch Laggan, the ruins of a castle on a tiny island. The wooded, rough shores block the view from everywhere except the estate. Luckily there will be no shortage of castles on this hike.

I have another problem. The lone accommodation in this area, a B&B in the village of Feagour, has recently shut down. It’s 17 miles from Tulloch to Feagour, and the next place to stay is in Laggan, another five miles. I can walk 22 miles, but somewhere between 17 and 22 miles it stops being fun. So I’ve arranged for the folks at The Rumblie B&B in Laggan to pick me up at Feagour. Lazy? Sort of, but I don’t have anything to prove to anybody.

They’re meeting me at a waterfall on the River Pattack near Feagour. I arrive early (having, ahem, walked 17 miles in an hour less than I thought I would) so I have plenty of time to admire the falls. The fast-flowing river has cut a narrow gorge through the rock. The water, brown from the peat upstream, rushes down it. I scramble up the rocks to get a better view and to my surprise discover a wooden platform and railing, plus a path down to a parking lot on the other side. This rugged view of nature has been made safe for those who want to appreciate nature without actually being in it. Nothing can spoil the beauty of the falls, however.

Right on time a car pulls up and I’m whisked off to Laggan, a booming metropolis with two shops, a school, a public telephone, and some houses. I arrive at The Rumblie to a hero’s welcome. A Spanish couple is staying there who don’t speak any English. Their poor 14 year-old daughter has been doing all the translation on their vacation, using her high school English to book hotels and rent cars from people with heavy Scottish accents. The owner of the B&B knows I live in Spain and told the family that help is on the way. As soon as I get there the kid heaves a sigh of relief, all English stops, and I become translator for the evening to give her a well-deserved break. You never know when a foreign language will come in handy!

Next to The Rumblie is the Laggan community center, and I hear there’s a céilidth on tonight. A céilidth (pronounced “Kay-Lee”) is a traditional gathering to perform folk dances and sing songs. I’m exhausted from a long hike and two beers, but I can’t pass this up. I find the céilidth in full swing. Locals of all ages are gathered around tables in a long hall with a stage at one end. Old photos and children’s drawings about farm safety adorn the walls. A slim young woman is dancing to the accompaniment of a fiddle. I grab a beer and sit down. Everyone seems to know everyone else and the common greeting is, “What are you performing tonight?”. Not “are you performing” but “what are you performing”. Singers perform a series of Gaelic songs before a man with an accordion gets everyone out on the dance floor. I know nothing about the history of dance, but I think I’ve discovered where square dancing comes from. Scottish dances involves the whole crowd dancing together, making lines and circles and moving with each other in complicated patterns.

Then comes the next surprise. A crowd of Spanish and German teenagers come in, volunteers from a local farm where they do manual labor in exchange for learning English. Ironically the Spanish press reported a couple of weeks ago that farmers in Spain can’t find Spaniards to help out in the fields, despite a good wage and an unemployment rate of 20 percent. Instead the farmers have to hire Africans on temporary work visas. Good deal for the Africans, because they need and deserve the money more, but it’s weird to see these Spanish kids working for free in the Highlands when they could be making 1,000 euros ($1,271) a month back home.

Hey, if they stayed home they wouldn’t be seeing this! Every one of them seems to have acquired a local boyfriend or girlfriend and soon they’re doing the dances like they were born here.

It’s getting late and my eyes are getting heavy. As an old woman mounts the stage I stumble to my bed next door. I fall asleep to the lilting sound of her clear, strong voice singing in Gaelic.

Don’t forget to read the rest of my series on the East Highland Way.

Coming up next: Prehistoric forts and empty wilderness!

The East Highland Way day two: hiking into the hills


Haggis is not breakfast food. Yes, Highlander is a cool movie, and haggis is Scotland’s national dish, Robert Burns even composed an Address to a Haggis, but don’t have it for breakfast. In fact, I’d suggest not having it at all.

OK, you have to try it at least once, like you have to try sheep’s head when you’re in the Middle East, just don’t expect to like it. On my first morning in the Scottish countryside I’m served a “full Scottish breakfast” of eggs, toast, bacon, baked beans, sausage, and haggis. Basically a “full English breakfast” with haggis added.

Haggis is sheep lungs, heart, and liver cooked with onion, salt, oatmeal, suet, spices, and stock. The traditional recipe calls for this witch’s brew to be simmered in a sheep’s stomach. Coming as two thick patties on my plate it looks like mealy, low-grade sausage, and somehow manages to taste both spicy and bland. I expect to be revolted, having never eaten lungs before, but instead I’m simply underwhelmed.

You don’t have to come to Scotland to try haggis now that the U.S. government has lifted its ban on haggis, but you’d be missing some amazing countryside. After the first day on the East Highland Way I’m in Spean Bridge, an old village of tidy stone cottages, friendly pubs, and a small museum about the WWII commandos who trained in the area. It’s not far from my clan homeland around Loch Fyne. In fact the local history pamphlet is written by a schoolteacher named MacLachlan, who gleaned some interesting anecdotes from elderly residents, such as the fact that kids in the 1920s looked forward to springtime because they could take their shoes off and not wear them until autumn. All the boys were keen shinty players back then. Shinty is a bit like full contact field hockey and is not well known outside Scotland. In fact, until I got here the only meaning I knew for “shinty” was that it’s the Amharic word for “piss”.

Puzzling over this linguistic curiosity, I head east towards Tulloch, eleven miles deeper into the Scottish Highlands. Within moments the village is left behind and I’m all on my own in a wooded area following a dirt road. I’m using Ordnance Survey maps, incredibly detailed maps showing not only the topography and landmarks, but also individual buildings, ancient sites, and fences. My compass rarely leaves my pack.

%Gallery-99965%Hiking a new trail has pluses and minuses. At times the route follows dirt logging roads or even paved roads. This is not ideal and hopefully proper trails will appear in these parts. A big plus, however, is that when I’m not on the few stretches of paved road I don’t see anyone for hours. That, and stunning scenery, is why I hike.

The trail follows the contours of a chain of steep hills. To the north is the River Spean and beyond it more hills. The woods open up, giving me a clear view of the rugged hills and the river gleaming dully under a cloudy sky. While I see nobody, this is not an abandoned land. Sheep graze on short grass amid fields of blooming purple heather. An occasional fence shows this is private property. Much of the countryside is open access, meaning I can legally pass through. Not all farmers are happy with this, especially when they discover their once-remote property is on the route of a new trail.

I come to a gate that’s been tied shut. A ladder has been lashed across it with heavy rope to make the point doubly clear. A farmhouse stands nearby, dilapidated but obviously inhabited judging from the trash scattered all around. I can see that the gate on the other side of the property is also tied shut. I check my map. Yes, this is the right place. I have the right to cross here but obviously the landowner doesn’t want me to.

What to do? If I assert my rights I risk getting shot by a Scottish redneck. Shot in Scotland? Yes, farmers and hunters can own guns here, and while Scots aren’t as hyperprotective of their land as Americans, I am not happy about this situation. With the river on one side and almost sheer hillsides on the other, a detour isn’t an option. After a cautious look I scramble over the fence, run across the yard, and scale the other fence. I walk down the farmer’s driveway, legs pumping, hoping he didn’t see me. I don’t feel comfortable for another mile.

Soon all is serene. I’m crossing an isolated field with a sweeping view of the Highlands. A cluster of ruined farmhouses provides a good rest stop. My first impression is that these date from the Highland Clearances. After the Scots lost the rebellion of 1745, the English evicted thousands of families and burned their homes. Many got shipped off to the colonies. It wasn’t the first time. After the failed Argyll Rebellion of 1685, some of my ancestors were sent as bonded labor to the West Indies. Slaves, in other words. But why hold a grudge? In later years Scotland was the industrial powerhouse of the British Empire, as responsible for all its glories and sins as England herself. If I held a grudge against England for past misdeeds, I’d have to accept grudges from everyone whose ancestors were ever hurt by the British Empire. Not a pleasant prospect.

There’s not much left of these old farms. The walls only come up to my waist, except for one house where the chimney and hearth stand to their original height. I sit eating my sandwich where a family once ate porridge and haggis. It’s an eerie feeling. I wonder what happened to them and feel better when I notice the stone walls have mortar in them. That means this house dates to the nineteenth century. These people left to find their fortune in the city or another country. They may have left because of poverty, but at least they weren’t forced out by soldiers.

Bidding the ghosts goodbye I tromp into some woods and up a steep slope before descending again, crossing a bridge, and entering the “village” of Tulloch. It’s actually only a train station and two houses. The bunkhouse is part of the train station. A few other hikers are staying here, using it as a base for daytrips into the hills. As we sit in the lounge drinking beer the Flying Scotsman, a luxury train, stops at the station for some reason. I and a fellow hiker hurry out onto the platform and peer through the windows at couples in formal evening wear dining under crystal chandeliers. A woman wearing diamond earrings looks out at me and smiles. I smile back and toast her with my beer can. She laughs and toasts me back with her champagne glass. Her considerably older husband is too busy with his steak to notice.

It’s a bit surreal, these two worlds of grungy hiker and bejeweled heiress meeting briefly at a lonely rural station on a Highland evening. The train chugs to life and starts to pull off. She waves at me, husband still devouring his steak and what the hell, I blow her a kiss. She laughs and blows me one back.

It’s the closest I’ll ever get to marrying a millionaire.

Coming up next: Exploring Scotland’s lochs!

Check out the rest of my journey hiking the East Highland Way.