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The long-distance walker

Posted in Adventure, Geography on Friday, 27 April 2007

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Perils of walking

It was pitch dark as the two men made their way along the narrow railway bridge across a ravine. Suddenly, a distant sound broke the silence. By the time they had reached the middle of the bridge they realised to their horror that a train was coming towards them at full speed.

Desperately, the walkers swung themselves down into the night, holding on to the protruding sleepers. A nightmare of noise and hot ashes tore around them as the train thundered over, shaking the bridge as it passed. Fred Walker, a Scotsman from Glasgow, almost fainted, and had to be hauled back up by his companion, an American named Tarver. This was not the first of Fred Walker’s hair-raising adventures — nor was it to be the last.

His travels had begun in 1905, when he was 17. Fred’s only ambition was to see as much of the world as he could, and do as many different things as possible. He started off in the United States and Canada, earning his living as a cowboy and building dams, survived the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and then headed down to Mexico to work on a ranch.

When the First World War broke out, Fred enlisted and fought in France. And when it was over, he took up his travels again and made for South America. After trying his hand at whaling, the Scot landed in Peru, and it was here that he met Tarver.

The episode with the train occurred in the middle of a mammoth trek he undertook with Tarver from Peru through Ecuador to the north Colombian coast. When they reached the sea, they decided to aim for the oil-fields at Maracaibo in northern Venezuela, but Tarver was so sick that he decided to go by boat. Walker, on the other hand, lived up to his name and opted to undertake the ten-day march overland: after all, it was the cheapest way. It was not, however, the easiest way, and by the time Fred reached Maracaibo he had had to avoid attack by hostile Indian tribes, and even face, armed only with a stick, the charge of a black panther. Fortunately, the beast turned away at the last moment, giving Fred yet another tale to add to his enormous collection.

Fred Walker had other adventures in store for him in South America, including earthquakes, revolutions, near-starvation and Indian attacks. Only once did he stop his travels, and then it was to write an exciting autobiography, Destination Unknown.

One comment on “The long-distance walker”

  1. 1. JohnnyNero says:

    Love these stories of old adventurers. The US edition of Destination Unknown was subtitled “Running Away to Danger” which sums up the attitudes of these guys. Anyone know what happened to Walker after his autobiography was published?

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