(Photography by Matt Krause)

Pedestrian crossing

Matt Krause received a warm welcome on his trek across Turkey.

Ask Matt Krause, AB’92, why he spent seven months walking all the way across Turkey, from the Aegean coast to the border with Iran, and you’ll get more than one answer. He did it to prove that Turkey is a safe place, with welcoming people and a culture not so different from America’s. He did it for a little boy named Pryor, the son of close friends—“I just wanted to do something big for him.” He did it to face down his own fears and apprehensions. He did it because he knew it would be hard and he hoped it would be rewarding.

Beneath all those reasons, though, is a deeper one: love of an adopted country. Krause first came to Turkey in 2003, when he followed his then girlfriend from his native California to her native Istanbul. They lived there for several years, and for Krause, it was an expansive, sometimes exasperating experience. He wandered ancient streets and more-ancient ruins and was within blocks of two bombings. He learned a little Turkish, made a few friends, and adapted to a city that felt familiar even as it was undeniably foreign. “It’s hard to describe,” he says. “I just feel comfortable here. It feels similar.” The romantic relationship didn’t last—he and his girlfriend got married but eventually divorced, and he returned to the United States—but Krause found a deep and permanent connection to the country. In 2011 he wrote a memoir chronicling his expat life. 

Last year Krause decided to return to Turkey. He quit his job as a supply chain manager for a Seattle kitchenware company and began training for the long walk. A widely traveled hiker and backpacker, he laid out a rough route taking him from the coastal resort town of Kusadasi, near the ancient city of Ephesus, to Van, a Kurdish city near the Iranian border. Then, on September 1, 2012, he set off, not knowing exactly who he would meet or what he would see along the way, or where he would sleep for most of the next 200-some nights. “In fact,” he says, “I had never been to any of the places on the walk after the first day.”

He understood he was walking into potentially dangerous territory. Situated between North Africa and the Middle East, Turkey is relatively calm—although that calm can be precarious. To the east lie Iran and Iraq. And while Krause walked, Syria’s civil war raged to the south. In Gaziantep, a city close to Syria, he came upon what looked from a distance to be a colorful outdoor market. As he got closer, he realized it was a Syrian refugee camp.

For the most part, though, Krause says, the unrest in Turkey’s neighboring countries remained elsewhere. He never felt in danger, even after a vacationing American woman was murdered in Istanbul this past winter. “The most danger I ever had was one day toward the end of the trip. I ran into a guy on the road who wanted to rob me but was too polite.”

On the walk—he averaged 12 miles a day during the first half of the journey, 20 miles a day after that, taking weekends off to rest—Krause slept in bus depots and gas stations, and camped in roadside meadows and remote clearings. “Some of my favorite nights were spent camping in the wild,” he says, recalling one rainstorm that shook the pine trees above his tent and left behind an electric, warm, “magical” silence. Some mornings, Krause awoke to the sound of shepherds guiding their flocks through the fields beside him. 

Krause began his journey at sea level, walking through a lush river valley of ripening fruits—“there were figs and melons and apricots and grapes; it was amazing”—and trudging through desert scrubland for days on end, before climbing up to an altitude of 7,600 feet along Turkey’s mountainous eastern border. His rudimentary Turkish kept conversation flowing but light, and he was welcomed into strangers’ homes, where they fed him tea and buttered rice and asked him about life in the United States. Waiting outside a mosque after prayers to ask permission to camp in the gardens, he found himself invited to the imam’s house instead. “When I walked into a town, people would just say, ‘Why don’t you just come stay with us?’”

On April 13, Krause reached the Iranian border, having walked more than 1,305 miles in 225 days. Now decamped to Istanbul, he is writing two books: a collection of stories from the trip and a how-to guide for those undertaking similar projects. Besides tips about supplies and packing light, he’ll include some of the mantras that kept him going. “Every day be born a dumbass anew” was one. In other words, he says, “learn to suspend—not forget, just suspend—the things you think you know about the world, and just let the world that’s right in front of you show you what it is.”

He’s also already planning another walk, this time across Iran. “Which  is a harder nut to crack, especially for an American,” he admits, sounding not at all deterred. The reason he wants to do it? “Iran gets so much press these days as one of the biggest enemy countries in the world. But there are good people in Iran. And I want my fellow Americans not to be afraid.”