I first met ‘world walker’ Tony Mangan a few months back, when I was driving East-West across the Nullarbor… an approximately 1,100km stretch of land between Adelaide in South Australia, and Perth in Western Australia. Although to say I “met” him is a bit of an exaggeration. Really, I just saw a guy walking along one of Australia’s most remote sections of highway, waving an Irish flag at anyone who passed by, and wondered what the heck he was doing so far from ‘civilisation’ as I whizzed past at 110kmh. Little did I know I would go on to cross paths with him several more times in the coming weeks.
It was only a few days later when one of my friends saw that I was road tripping in the area, and told me I should keep an eye out for his friend Tony from Ireland who was walking around the world, that I realised he was the person I’d passed, and resolved to look out for him on my return journey in a few weeks time. Of course, there was no guarantee I would see him again, but considering there are basically no alternate routes across that part of Australia, I was hopeful I would see him again before he reached a turn off.
As it happens, I did see him on the way back, and this time I stopped for a grand total of about 60 seconds as I wound down my window, said hello, took a photo, wished him well, then continued on my way. I didn’t think much more of it, but by the magic of social media, we did end up later connecting on Facebook. And it was this connection that led me to help him out when I heard he needed a hand as he got closer to the city of Adelaide where I live. Tony takes his world walking very seriously, so when he had to make an unscheduled trip to New Zealand, he did what he does any time he needs to leave his location – mark the spot with an empty plastic bottle taped to a road marker so he can return and resume his walk from the exact same spot as soon as he is able. It’s his way of making sure there are no short cuts – not even a few steps – when he’s walking around the world.
After his support crew unexpectedly took ill, Tony had to revert to crossing Australia completely unsupported and that meant a quick flight across to New Zealand to collect the cart he uses to carry his things. Unfortunately, that also meant having to find a way back from the airport to his last walking spot, some 166kms north of Adelaide. And that’s where I came in. He needed a lift. I thought it would be a good opportunity to find out what makes a guy who walks around the world tick. So I picked him up at the airport and off we went.
The first thing I learned is, Tony is no rookie at this round the world stuff. He’d only relatively recently finished running around the world a few years back. And going back even further, he’d also ridden his bike around a fairly big chunk of it. Wow. Once would have been impressive, but being on his third self powered lap of the globe? That’s pretty incredible.
It all started for Tony back in his 20s when he read a book that inspired him to cycle from Ireland to India. For most people that would be more than epic enough, but not for Tony. “I started thinking and researching, what am I going to do when I get to India?” he explained. Not being one for half measures, he decided to keep going. And that was how his love love affair with ‘slow travel’ began. “I loved stopping at small villages and having basic conversations. I realised slow travel was a great way to see the world”.
But it would be many more years, and a few ultra running world records later, before he would revisit this love of ‘slow travel’ properly. Fast forward 20 of so years, and Tony started toying with the idea of running around the world. At first, the logistics were problematic, but not being one to let logistics, or logic, get in the way of an epic idea, he soon got himself sorted and was on his way. Indeed, one of his biggest logistical challenges on that world run, was deciding where to start and finish. He knew he wanted to start with the Dublin Marathon, but he wasn’t keen on starting at the start line, then finishing at the finish line 3 or 4 years later. He said it didn’t make send to him that he would finish in a different place to where he started.
Instead, he decided to run the Dublin Marathon, then go to his mum’s place for dinner, stay there the night, then return to the finish line the next day and make that his official starting point. Then, when his world run was set to finally come to an end, he hoped they hadn’t changed the course in the meantime, (they hadn’t), and he simply turned up and ran the marathon again, finishing at the finish line – exactly where he’d started his journey four years earlier. While most people were clocking up their 42.2kms, Tony’s distance was a whole lot closer to 50,000kms!
After taking a short break after that particular effort, it was time to start plotting and planning again, and this time, it was going to be a world walk. “I keep getting slower. The body’s a bit more battered. But the mind is as strong as ever” he explained. So after being told by various medical professionals that his injuries were too significant and that his days of ultra cycling, running and walking were over, Tony was, for a time, tempted to believe them. “I nearly took it to heart, then I said ‘nah, I’ll be alright, my mind is stronger’” he laughs. And so far, he’s absolutely right, having just this weekend reached the world famous Bondi Beach, having walked all the way from Perth some 4,000kms away.
For those of you wondering what it takes to walk around the world, don’t worry, I’ve got your back. I asked Tony, and here’s his tips for someone considering it.
“Slow right down. Find a way to slow right down. The slower you go, the less money it costs you when you’re traveling long term. Get out of the cities. Stop and talk to people. Just go back to making life simple. Live in the moment.”
For those who might say it can’t be simple, Tony simply asks “why not?”. Why not indeed.