Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Journeyman weaves his way through central Idaho

Owen Martel making trek from Seattle to El Paso

Express Staff Writer

Owen Martel takes a break in Ketchum last Friday during his cross-country trek. Photo by Willy Cook

After walking from Istanbul, Turkey, to Edinburgh, Scotland, Owen Martel is making another long trek, this time from Seattle, Wash., to El Paso, Texas. On Friday, Martel made a stop in Ketchum, staying with local resident David Lloyd.

Upon reaching Ketchum, Martel had walked 800 miles in 40 days, including his days of rest.
Martel, 26, said he is not making the walk to raise awareness for any particular cause or organization, but is documenting his experiences during his walk through the western United States. He said he is writing about the trek every night and plans on completing a video on the journey once he has completed the journey. Along the way, Martel is trying to interview an array of people who work in long-distance travel or communication.

“I’m fascinated by the ways people deal with space,” he said. “If I can tell stories that make people more aware of how they get around and how they get the things they want, then that’s a worthwhile cause.”

Martel said he has interviewed people for the story he is writing that work with air travel, telephones and horses. Martel said he hopes that before the walk is over, he will have the chance to talk to people involved with radio, television, automobiles and the Internet.

“By adding in these interviews, you’ll get an unusually broad scattershot of the transit picture in the western United States,” he said.

 Martel, who was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii, initially hoped to receive a grant from the National Geographic Society to fund his journey, but took his efforts to Kickstarter, a website that helps people raise money for creative projects, after his proposal was turned down. He said he received donations from 48 people, including a dozen that he’s never met.

When Martel made his first long trek, he passed through Bulgaria, Serbia, Austria, Italy, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Germany, France and England. He said his walk across Europe was something that he had wanted to do for a long time, and he decided he could afford to do something “off the beaten path” when he couldn’t find traction while living in Seattle after going to Williams College in Massachusetts and studying abroad in New Zealand.

“I knew the only thing I wanted to do at that point in my life was walk across Europe,” he said. “I thought about it for a few years but then decided I’ll do it someday in the future. Facing the prospect of not knowing what else to do with myself, I said, ‘This is it.’”

If I can tell stories that make people more aware of
how they get around and how they get the things they want,
then that’s a worthwhile cause.”
Owen Martel

Despite the fact that he needed two months to allow his feet to recover from the pain of all the walking, Martel’s thirst for exploration remained strong.

“When I finished my walk across Europe, it was so successful that I wanted to make sure it wouldn’t be a one-time episode in my life. I thought I should try to have a next chapter.”

Martel also spoke of what piqued his interest in documenting transportation and communication in a broad context on the West Coast.

“The West Coast is a part of the world where a lot of technologies got their big start,” he said. “Getting around the West has been a huge issue as long as people have been living on this part of the world. Resources are thinly scattered and precious. You need to be able to move people, goods and messages really quickly.”

While walking through Europe, Martel said, he covered an average of 15 miles a day. This time around, he’s covering 20. He credits a cart that he bought before the walk for enabling him to cover more ground by allowing him to take weight off his backpack. However, he walks mostly along two-lane highways.

When Martel needs an extra boost, he said he often turns to candy to give him the extra jolt he needs to walk a few more miles before pitching his tent.

“Growing up, I ran cross-country and had the mentality, ‘I could always go another mile.’ Then in Europe, it would be another five miles. Now, I say I can go another 10 miles when I’m tired.”
During his walk, he has routinely seen cars pull over to ask him where he’s going, leading to offers to stay as a guest at people’s homes along the way.

Martel said he met David Lloyd while he was walking along the side of a road and Lloyd was on his way to drop his father off along a stretch of the Idaho Centennial Trail. He said that receiving offers to stay at people’s homes or to put up his tent on their lawns has made has made the trip “joyful.”

He added that he has enjoyed his brief experiences in the Ketchum area.

“I’m always excited to see places where people see the good in their location and they’re really enjoying it,” he said. “That’s clearly what’s happening here in Ketchum.”

Martel is documenting his journey through the West on

Eric Avissar:

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