WHAT would possess someone to spend seven years of their life walking from one side of the planet to the other?
That’s the question many people would ask of Mihai Tufa, a young man from Romania, currently living in Harrogate, as he sets out on an expedition to circumnavigate the globe on foot next Thursday.
He fumbles slightly over his answer, clearly feeling the magnitude of the question, but only able to answer, as is typical of him, honestly and from his heart.
“Why am I doing it? That’s the hardest question. People ask me that every day and they expect some deep sincere answer, some essence, I just feel like it’s something that I want to do before I die.
“It’s something that I can do because I am as free as I need to be for this.”
And it is that simple for Mihai, he can do this, and he wants to be able to look back one day and have done it, so now is the time.
Mihai, 26, was born in Vaslui in Romania but has made Harrogate his home for some time now, working first in a coffee shop, before moving on to work as a photographer at Sira Studios, a discipline he has been interested in for most of his adult life and which he hopes to use to record his journey.
“It grew into me, over years and years of playing with cameras,” said Mihai. “Back when I was 17 or 18 I was daydreaming of becoming an National Geographic photographer, and travelling the world taking photos, now I’ll be doing this, not for National Geographic, but it’s every photographer’s dream.”
The journey, a little under 60,000 miles, will take Mihai between seven or eight years and aside from a few necessary ferry rides, will be completed entirely on foot.
He said: “At this point I’m still getting to set the route in a more detailed way, although I need to keep it kind of flexible, given the nature of the walking and the camping.”
Mihai sets out from Harrogate on the morning of February 16 heading first for Sherburn in Elmet and from there south to Dover where he will take a ferry to Calais. He anticipates it will take around two weeks to exit the UK.
From France, he walks north east towards Belgium, through the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and then south east, again through Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia before arriving in Romania.
“By the time I reach Romania it will probably be July or August,” said Mihai. “It will be then that I will need to settle down a little bit, hopefully not for more than a month and a half, just to get at least three visas in advance for Russia, Kazakhstan and China.”
“Entering Asia through Kazakhstan and China, I then head to Nepal, Tibet and finally India, the middle point in the Asian leg of the journey,” said Mihai. “Then heading south east towards Australia through the Indo China countries; Miyanmar – which will be a tough one – Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia with a stop in Singapore. Then it’s off to Australia and New Zealand, from which point I will head north to Alaska to Anchorage, the point from which I will be setting off to the deep south. That will be my longest leg I suppose from Alaska to Tierra Del Fuego, the southern most part of South America.”
At which point Mihai stops short, reflecting perhaps, on the enormity of the challenge he has set himself: “It’s strange talking about South America like this, it’s such a huge distance and you can just say it in a matter of seconds.”
When he talks about leaving Mihai becomes quite emotional and clearly has mixed feelings about actually departing.
“This year and a half that I’ve been living in Harrogate, I’ve gotten to have some really great people close to me and it makes me sad to leave them,” he said. “I’m probably selfish by doing it, but I just feel I need to do this.”
Mihai said he had struggled to explain his decision to his parents and although he had obviously considered the dangers he would face, he tried not to think too hard about them.
“If I die on this road, I will die happy, fulfilled. Yes it makes me happy to have friends and to take some photos in my job here and there, and yes it makes me happy to go out and have a drink, but happiness is very different from fulfillment. This what I want to achieve to first of all get a better understanding of myself, and then to take a step on the path to fulfillment.
“Hopefully I will survive this and will get to tell the story to a grandchild one day.”
Mihai has committed to fundraise for three different charities during his journey – International Water Aid, the Princess Margareta of Romania Trust and the British Heart Foundation – all of which will be taking directed donations via dedicated links on his website. There are also links there that you can use to donate to Mihai and support him on his adventure.
“This whole thing is so low budget that it’s actually no budget, I will probably be leaving with about £1,000 in my pocket,” he said.
“If people want to follow me, everything will be on the website, hopefully I will be updating it every day with pictures and stories from the road.”
You can follow Mihai on his world photo tour at www.worldphototour.com or on his Twitter feed @mihaitufa.