What compels someone to walk for three years across two continents and six countries? 10,000 miles and 1,000 days, to be exact.
For Sarah Marquis, Swiss adventurer and explorer, it is her raw relationship with nature, her innovative desire to see, explore and feel, or as she tells me: “My mission is to reconnect humans and nature. We belong to nature and without it we are nothing at all!”.
This materialised into Sarah’s most epic adventure to date: a three-year expedition (2011– 2013) walking from the Gobi Desert in Siberia to the Nullarbor Plain in Australia. The feat elevated her already recognised status within the travel and adventurer community and in 2014 she was named National Geographic’s Adventurers of the Year.
“Nature is not a threat,” Sarah tells me, “it’s not dangerous. It’s with this state of mind that I go, and I always survive, and I always come back in one piece.”
It’s certainly a mentality that Sarah needed in undertaking her incredible 10,000-mile mission. Her time in Central Asia and Australia was punctuated with encounters with crocodiles, wolves, snakes and other hostilities, including harassment from local nomads, Laotian drug dealers and a nasty contraction of dengue fever. At times Sarah disguised herself as a man in order to travel unnoticed, often covered her tracks and even spent a time sleeping in a drainpipe; “I tried to be a shadow in the landscape because it was so challenging,” she says.
How do you prepare for such an adventure? It certainly goes beyond the presupposed limits of human behaviour and capability. “It took two years to get raw and be raw and to face the unknown. That’s the mindset I need to have, then I know I am ready,” Sarah explains. “It’s a type of process, it really is not a normal thing. At one stage I feel it and I am ready to go because I am beaming to go, and I am like a little y attracted to the light at night.”
Logistically, it’s a lot of planning but this kind of ambitious adventure needs so much more then administrative management and strategy. In fact, it requires a dedication and level of commitment on a spiritual, emotional and holistic level, it would be neglectful to suggest otherwise. To be able to embark on such an incredibly isolated and perilous journey, Sarah needed to nd the ‘original being inside of me’. “I really needed to peel back who I am as a female and my religion. I needed to forget about my daily shower, my fridge and food.”
Sarah travelled alone with a curated kit, no phone, books (too heavy), food (she relied on hunting) or any other distractions from her journey.
She got through eight pairs of walking boots and was harassed in her tent every night for weeks in the Gobi Desert. She endured minus 28-degree temperatures in her tent and nearly died of dehydration in Thailand. The expedition was marked by extremities; extremes in temperature, human interaction, nature, wildlife and animals. In the Gobi Desert, the lightning storms were so intense that she could feel the lightning strike next to her: “Nature is the strongest element ever,” she explains. “When you get to those moments and face the danger you evolve on a different level of consciousness.”
It’s an experience and journey which has evidently (and understandably) left its mark on the explorer. How do you even go about readjusting?
“Well, that’s another expedition [laughs],” she tells me. “After three years you are raw in every sense. It has always been really difficult to come back. I have realised over the years that I need to be in nature and that’s why I live inside the forest.”
Sarah’s journey didn’t just mark a personal celebratory feat but has also paved the way in getting female explorers recognised in a somewhat male-dominated industry. But, one thing she is keen to recognise is that “an explorer is an explorer.”
“Of course, you are going into remote locations and of course you are going to face a situation which is unpredictable and dangerous, and beautiful and amazing, but what is really striking is the capability we have to adjust to those situations as a human being,” Sarah explains.
“An explorer is somebody who can read the landscape and understand nature and move according to nature and not against it. This is a different type of smartness; it doesn’t have a gender.”