On the day before his 26th birthday in 2015, Tom Turcich took his first steps westward on what would become a record-breaking, 25,000-mile trek around the world.
He calculated the walk would take five years. It wound up taking seven.
Starting out solo, the Haddon Township resident realized after about five months that he wanted both the companionship and protection of a dog for the rest of his journey. In Texas at that point, he found an animal shelter, bonded with an abandoned Australian shepherd mix puppy, and was approved to take her with him.
Little did he know that his adopted dog, whom he named Savannah, would become the first canine in recorded history to complete a worldwide walk. Turcich became the 10th human to do so. Together, they covered six continents and 38 countries.
“I wasn’t out to prove anything,” says Turcich, who lost two close friends from Haddon Township while they were both still in their teens. “Their deaths drove home to me that life is short. I wanted to experience the world before I had to leave it, too.”
So, while completing high school and college, Turcich carefully mapped out a walking trip around the globe.
The journey included some unwanted surprises. Among the reasons the walk lasted an extra two years were pandemic restrictions and the time Turcich and Savannah had to take off to recover from life-threatening illnesses. For Turcich, it was an abdominal bacterial infection that started showing symptoms in Scotland; for Savannah, a bleeding disorder from a tick bite apparently inflicted in Peru.
They were held up at knifepoint in Panama, needed police escorts throughout their 45-day walk through Algeria, nearly froze while camping in South America, and were detained at gunpoint for two hours in Turkey near the Syrian border.
Though unsettling, these and other incidents weren’t enough to dampen Turcich’s spirits. “I never seriously considered ending the walk,” he says.
There were countless positive aspects of the trip, such as his stop in Guatemala, where he visited Lake Atitlan. Nestled among mountains, it’s considered the world’s most beautiful lake and became one of his favorite places.
Turcich started his world walk with a positive outlook on humanity.
“Thousands of people worldwide helped Savannah and me,” he emphasizes. “We were offered places to sleep, meals, interesting conversation, encouragement and moral support, among many other kindnesses. I always kept in mind that I was a guest in other people’s countries. For that, I was repaid many times over.”
In the spring, the pair triumphantly crossed the Ben Franklin Bridge from Philly to Camden, surrounded by family members, friends and well-wishers.
Turcich is working on a book about his and Savannah’s world walk. A documentary is in the making, and a television docuseries is under consideration. He also has an agent arranging speaking engagements for him.
On February 18, Turcich will give a TEDx talk at Rutgers-New Brunswick, sharing highlights of what he saw and learned during his travels.
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