As New Year’s resolutions go, Michael Lee Johnson’s is — quite literally — epic.
In July, he’ll board an airplane and fly from England to Beijing, China. Then he’ll strap on a 75-pound backpack and start the trip back to London. Oh, and there’s one catch — he’s doing it entirely on foot.
The 28-year-old Johnson estimates the journey will cover more than 9,000 overland miles — plus 21 underland miles through a little-known service tunnel used for walking beneath the English Channel — and take three to five years to complete.
As far as Johnson knows, no one in the history of mankind has ever walked the entire route. But to become the first, he’ll rely on some decidedly recent pieces of human evolution — the Internet and social media. Think of it as one part social campaign and one part grand human experiment.
He plans to tweet from the road as often as possible to update others on this progress and hopefully attract more sponsors for the journey. A video blogging series is planned if he can raise enough funding, and his website and Facebook page will further track the journey. He also recently launched an online crowd-funding drive that’s gotten off to a solid start.
The social campaign will also serve a more basic purpose, though. The more people who know who Johnson is and what he’s doing, the more strangers will be likely to lend a helping hand along the way, his thinking goes. That will hopefully help keep him fed, sheltered and safe, alleviating his mother’s chief worry about the trip.
“She’s just concerned,” Johnson says. “She’s been trying to put me off it forever. She doesn’t want me to die.”
“The People I’m in it For”
The idea for Johnson’s walk from Beijing to London was hatched with a much different tenor about a year ago. He and a business partner in England had been working on a social shopping startup and planned to do a major overland trip as a sort of viral marketing stunt for the app. They had a falling out and that project is now sidelined.
But for Johnson, a seed had been planted too deep within in him to be dug up. He knew he had to follow through with the walk. Why? His reasoning is slightly vague but infinitely relatable: intense curiosity about the world and its people; dissatisfaction with a robotic 9-to-5 lifestyle; perhaps a touch of disgust at narrow-minded ways of considering what’s possible with one’s time on Earth.
“The people I’m in it for really are the people who are stuck in an office, the people who can’t go out and travel,” Johnson says.
“The people I’m in it for really are the people who are stuck in an office, the people who can’t go out and travel,” Johnson says. “I want them to see it all too. It’s not so much about me, but also the people who are following along. It’s important to show other people what’s going on in the world too.”
Funding a Dream
Despite traveling largely through inexpensive countries, camping often and other times staying with friendly strangers, three years of vagabonding will add up financially.
Johnson says he’s saved up some £10,000 over the years working as a web developer. He’s also lined up Maps.com as a sponsor for the trip, and says the website will pay him between $500 and $2,500 per month depending on how much publicity he’s able to generate for himself and, by extension, Maps.com. Other potential sponsors have expressed interest as well.
Then there’s the matter of the crowd-funding campaign, titled “Fund My Freedom,” on Johnson’s personal website. His goal there is to raise just over £75,000 by July, and the push has already raised more than £5,000. Despite not yet having begun to promote it publicly, Johnson said 33 of the page’s first 500 visitors had donated when we spoke on Wednesday.
Raising money, finding sponsors, planning meticulously — Johnson says his walk from Beijing to London is really just a more adventurous twist on the startup grind he already knows well. But instead of working on the app that first set him on course, he’s got another startup to focus on now — the journey itself.
“This walk is going to be my job,” he says. “It sounds strange, but that’s exactly what I’ll be: a professional walker.”
Do you think Johnson can pull it off? Will you help fund his freedom? Let us know what you think in the comments.
Image via Google Maps, not necessarily indicative of Johnson’s actual route from Beijing to London