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The Long Walk
By Lauren Edwards and David Anderson
Photography by David Anderson


CALCUTTA - November 22, 2004

- Slavomir Rawicz in The Long Walk

I was on my way to the hospital where Rawicz and the others might have recuperated after their trek. Through the open window of our taxicab, the city of Calcutta flowed into my senses. The humid air was thick with exhaust fumes and the smell of 12 million people jammed into a city designed for less than half that number.

In 1690, Job Charlock, a representative of the East India Tea Company, used typical colonial-era tactics and paid the local Mughal emperor $68 a year to lease the land that would become Calcutta. The city thrived economically, becoming a center for the arts, education and the capital of India until 1912. Renamed Kolkata in 2001 to honor its original name, Kolkata is today one of India’s technology centers. But the transition to the city it is today has not been easy. An estimated 60,000 beggars roam the streets. Famine, disease and despair have plagued the city and inspired people like Noble Prize winner Mother Teresa to devote their lives to helping the unfortunates.

At the hospital, I walked to the information counter clutching a sky-blue orchid to use as a persuader in my quest to find admission records of The Long Walk survivors. A pleasant woman wearing heavy black-framed glasses told me the bad news. “We have some records from 20 years ago,” she said, “but 1942…I am afraid that is not possible. I am sorry there is nothing I can…”

Her words cut short when a bloodied man was dragged into the emergency room followed by his wailing family. I turned back to the information desk intent on continuing my battle, but the reality of present day struggles here in Kolkata made my quest for information from the past seem insignificant. All I could do was leave the orchid on the desk and walk away.

reported by David Anderson

HOME AGAIN

For three months, every day of our expedition had been consumed with constant questions and unknowns. What track does the train arrive on? How far can we expect to travel by camel each day? What if a storm comes in while we’re trekking across the Himalayas? Will a meal of fried water buffalo pass smoothly through my digestive system?

As a group, we navigated all of these challenges together. Our expedition was the length of a typical NOLS Semester. Ant, Keri, Lauren and I went through all the phases of expedition behavior. We laughed, cried and learned about an amazing array of people and places. Our experiences stretched out across two continents and over 8,000 miles. The personal impact of our journey will take months if not years to process completely.

But for now, I am left with one final question: Is The Long Walk true, or did Slavomir Rawicz simply fabricate the journey with his own imagination?

Attempting to find truth in every written word of The Long Walk dooms the book to skepticism. But the adventure story takes on a more believable tone when you give Rawicz some creative leeway, and consider that English was his third or fourth language and that he wrote the book more than 15 years after his journey ended.

The book’s tale of traveling over 4,000 miles by foot—through some of the most inhospitable terrain on earth with no map, compass or supplies—does not seem humanly possible. But the human spirit is not a simple mathematic equation, and the variables of mental and physical determination cannot be exactly measured or quantified. In today’s world of continued environmental, social and political instability, where problems seem insurmountable, we need heroes like Rawicz who persevered despite the horrendous odds. The truth is that we all want to believe The Long Walk is a true story. And I for one believe.

reported by Dave Anderson

For more information about the expedition visit:
dea-media.com

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