Friday, October 08, 1999

Around-the-world walker still going

Ripley man is still treading his own path

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Steven Newman has spoken to more than a million people about his walk.
| ZOOM |
(Craig Ruttle photo)
        It's been 12 years since Steven Newman trekked into his hometown of Bethel, in Clermont County, completing a four-year, 15,509-mile solo walk around the world.

        He now walks 4 miles daily, but not alone. He's accompanied by his wife of three years, Darci, and their black Labrador retriever, Gabriel. They often follow an old stagecoach road near their hilltop home in Ripley, about an hour east of Cincinnati on the Ohio River.

        It's a peaceful, laid-back life for Mr. Newman, who wrote three books upon his return and now makes a living by delivering about 150 talks a year to schools and community and corporate groups.

        Mr. Newman says he still hears from people who know him only from the stories he sent to the Columbus Dispatch and Capper's, a weekly publication based in Topeka, Kan.

  • Letters from Steven: Stories From the First Solo Walk Around the World (1987; Capper's Books; out of print). A compilation of letters he sent to Capper's, a Topeka, Kan.-based publication. <
  • Worldwalk (1989; Morrow; out of print). A personal narrative of Mr. Newman's walk around the globe.
        “They call me up and read poems to me. They still treat me like a son or a brother, many of them. They say, "You know, it's been 12 years. I was just curious what you're doing these days.'”

        Tempo was curious, too. A planned walk with Mr. Newman was wiped out by a rare rainy morning, so we ducked into a restaurant along the river in Ripley and chatted over pizza.

        QUESTION: Does it seem like 12 years since your world walk ended?

ANSWER: It seems like I came home yesterday, because I'm constantly reliving my journey through my lectures and stories. In a sense, you could say I'm still on the journey, because all these people I speak to, they want to be a part of something like that.

  April 1, 1983: Mr. Newman leaves Bethel.
  April 1-July 23, 1983: Eastern United States.
  July 24-Sept. 9, 1983: British Isles.
  Sept. 10-Dec. 9, 1983: France, Spain.
  Dec. 10, 1983-March 9, 1984: North Africa.
  March 10-June 8, 1984: Italy.
  June 9-Oct. 12, 1984: Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey.
  Nov. 2, 1984-Feb. 23, 1985: Pakistan, India.
  Feb. 24-June 29, 1985: Southeast Asia.
  July 1, 1985-June 20, 1986: Australia.
  June 21, 1986-April 1, 1987: Western United States.
  April 1, 1987: Mr. Newman returns to Bethel and receives a hero's welcome.
        Q: How many talks have you given?

A: Over 2,000. I've spoken to more than 1 million people. It's amazing the people who call me up and ask me to speak: Fortune 500 companies, brain surgeons, attorneys, grave diggers. I think the general theme of my walk — the adventure — has that Johnny Appleseed, Mark Twain character to it. That's still very popular among the American people.

        Honest to God, I never did this (walk) to make a penny. If anything, I fully expected to lose everything and to come back poor. I thought when I got home I might be asked to speak to a couple of Lions clubs.

        I feel lucky that people want to hear it, and that I'm able to inspire them or motivate them and educate them, too. I wake up every day thinking this is probably going to end real soon. But the phone keeps ringing.

        Q: What question do you most often hear?

A: I get asked very frequently by adults: With the way the world is today, you probably wouldn't walk around it, would you? That's a perfect example of how people sometimes don't know much beyond their own little world. They think the world is worse and worse with each passing day. But the world is better today than when I walked around it. It's safer, more accessible. There are more freedoms, more affluence.

        Q: Have you revisited certain places?

A: I've been back to Australia, to Ireland, England. Some of my books have come out in other languages, so I've gone on book tours, or have shown Darci some of the things I got to experience.

        Q: Your wife's a teacher. How did you meet?

A: She had read one of my books, Worldwalk. She said to her principal, "I wish we could have him speak at our school. I'll bet he's interesting.' The principal said "He's coming to speak at another school in town.' She wrote to me, said she wanted to meet me. And we started dating.

        Q: What image from your walk remains most vivid in your mind?

A: I followed the Ganges River (in India) for a month. Hindus believe it is sacred. I ran across every bizarre, unusual, fantastic character that man can dream of. People who'd walked thousands of miles nude to go into this river. People going into the river to die. The dead, being brought by the hundreds to the river, on handlebars of bicycles and piled on taxicabs.

        One day when I'm standing near the Ganges, there was a big bonfire and they're burning a body. All along the river, dozens of other bodies are being burned, too. There's a mass of humanity. Then I hear this growling and blood-curdling yelping. A few feet away are two dogs in shallow water, fighting over a human arm. One dog's ripping another dog's neck open. But yet, right beside them, paying absolutely no attention, are families. Mothers doing laundry in the river, children bathing in the river. And right among them and the dogs and the human arm and the burning body is a huge sewer pipe, dumping hundreds of gallons of raw sewage. Nobody's paying any attention to any of this.

        At moments like that I realized I was part of something larger than life. I was in the pages of the Ernest Hemingway books I'd read. I knew I couldn't give up on my journey. I needed to share this with people.

        Q: Can you imagine what your life would be like if you hadn't walked around the world?

A: I think about that sometimes, and I wonder if I would have been a bitter person. I think it's very possible. Because I really do think all the choices you make in life add up to what you become. You make your own path through life.

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