Walking the Pan-Am Highway, 1999
Bushby aims to cover about 20 miles a day. Awed by the sight of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed foreigner, locals nickname him Kurt Cobain. He suffers a stomach infection for months. Close to starving in Patagonia, he attempts to poach livestock, to comical effect. "Everything started to look edible," he says. "I ran after this one cow and drove my machete into her back leg. It bounced off and bent at a 90-degree angle!" The one bright spot on this stretch of the trip: In Medellín, Colombia, Karl meets Catalina, the woman he calls the love of his life.
Departing Punta Arenas, Chile, 1998
Bushby begins his journey with a few hundred dollars – mostly donations from his mother's co-workers at a Nestlé factory in England – and 100 pounds of gear, including sutures and painkillers, packed into the Beast. Though he initially had the financial and material support of the British army, they rescinded their offer before his departure, fearing bad press if he ended up dead somewhere. Bushby solicited sponsorship from boot and insole makers instead, and asked his father to help coordinate logistics and monitor his trip from home.
Crossing the Darién Gap, 2001
Catalina works to disguise the conspicuous Bushby as a drifter for his approach to the Darién Gap, the thick jungle between Colombia and Panama that is home to anacondas, crocs, jaguars, narcoterrorists, and FARC guerillas. "We dyed my hair and skin to make me look less like a gringo," he recalls. "But it started to fade quickly." Bushby floats along the Atrato River for four days, stuffing empty soda bottles into his vest for buoyancy, and camouflaging himself under a mat of branches. Boats carrying paramilitaries pass just feet from his head.
Detained in Panama, 2001
On the Panamanian side of the Darién Gap, Bushby is nabbed for running the border. The jail is "scary," he says, "a big yard with huge guys working out with chunks of concrete and a pit in the middle for a bathroom." The inmates call Bushby "El Caminante" – the Walker. When one breaks the prison's work saw, Bushby gives him a tiny wire saw, a survival tool that he'd sewn into his collar. Guards soon separate him from the others. After three weeks, he leverages diary entries containing info on guerilla positioning within the Darién Gap to secure his release.
Crossing the Bering Strait, 2006
Because this is the deadliest part of Bushby's journey, his mother flies to Alaska with his son, then 15, for a reunion and farewell. To accomplish the feat, Bushby must swim from ice floe to ice floe, letting the winds and currents take him where he hopes to go. "Some of these chunks of ice are the size of houses," Bushby explains. "I was swimming across leads in an immersion suit, then climbing a 10-foot wall." Fourteen days later, after drifting over 125 miles, he is deposited near the Russian village Uelen. He calls his father on a satellite phone, shouting, "Terra firma!"
Detained in Russia, 2006
Hours after hitting Russian soil, Bushby is apprehended by the FSB, Russia's security service. "It was utter confusion," Bushby says. The Russians didn't believe his story; his pistol, satellite phone, and military past raised suspicion. "But I was kind of enjoying it in a strange way," Bushby says. "When I joined the forces in the 1980s, the Soviets were the enemy. And here I was in remote Siberia with a Russian officer in my face! I'd been prepared for this moment." After 58 days of interrogation, Bushby is released but barred from re-entering Russia without proper paperwork.
Waiting in Melaque, Mexico, 2008 to present
Initially, Bushby works out a deal that allows him to keep walking, but only for 90 days at a time. He spends his interim months in the scrappy seaside town of Melaque, Mexico, where he can live cheaply, flying back to his last point on the route when the weather is right. But in 2010, FSB officers label Bushby a spy and ban him from Russia for five years. He returns to Melaque, penniless, and continues to appeal to authorities via email. This year, he plans to walk from L.A. to the Russian embassy in D.C., and then to the United Nations to plead his case.