When Christoph Rehage set off walking in the fall of 2007, he also decided to take a photo of himself every day of his journey. The original plan was to walk from Beijing, China to where he lived in Germany, which would have been almost five thousand miles.
He didn’t make it quite that far, but he made it quite a ways. And, along the way, he grew quite an impressive beard!
His journey, and the video, starts on November 9, 2007, his twenty-sixth birthday. He is freshly-shaven—both on his chin and head. By the time November 13, 2008 rolls around, we’ve seen him grow his hair and beard out to scraggly lengths before getting it all snipped off again.
In most of the photos, he is solemn-faced—staring into the camera’s lens with a completely straight face. But in some frames he breaks this character, grinning or pulling silly faces.
We see him in the sun; we see him in the snow. We see him in a black, waterproof coat; we see him in a white wife-beater. We see him in the streets or on a plane. Wherever he is, in every photo you can see his beard steadily stretching longer. Towards the end, we see him getting his hair and beard cut when he decides to stop.
So why walk so far? Rehage says he likes walking because it helps him feel connected to the places he visits.
“It makes you own your way. Whenever I walk somewhere, not only do I remember the way, but I also feel like I have a legitimate reason to be there,” he says. “I visit a place by train, and I’m a tourist. I walk to the same place by foot, and the place is suddenly mine. We belong together, and I don’t feel like an alien anymore.”
In the end, he walked from Beijing to Ürümq, which is 2,796 miles total (or about 7.5 miles a day). Of the experience, Rehage says, “After one year of mountains and blazing hot deserts I realized… I had grown a mighty long beard.”
You’d think all that walking might get boring, even when traveling through beautiful countryside and interesting cities. When asked what his state of mind was on all those long days of walking, Rehage said it was similar to any other day.
“Sometimes you think. Sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you worry about passports, dangers, pains, relatives and loved ones, and at other times your steps are light and you sing songs in the desert. Sometimes it is boring. And sometimes you feel at peace.”
It wasn’t the first time Rehage took a long walk. In 2003, he walked from Paris to his home in Germany. The stretch was about 500 miles and took him less than a month. He says this trek is what inspired him to attempt the Beijing-to-Germany route.
“There was something special about that walk. I remembered being on the road thinking, ‘Where will I sleep? Where will I eat?’ ” he says. “There were no metaphysical questions, no big worries, just pragmatic problems to solve. It felt good, and it felt meaningful.”
On his second walk, Rehage didn’t make it to his final destination. He had originally planned to walk all the way to Bad Nenndorf, his home at the time. Although he did make it a long way, he did stop short of his plan. Why? According to his website, why he stopped walking is one of the questions he’s most frequently asked.
“I wanted to gain back my life. I had to regain control over myself and eliminate the inner boss that was telling me what to do. A lot of people look at the video thinking, ‘I want to be free like that guy!’ But they don’t realize that I was driven by something, and maybe I was losing control over it.”
Rehage is slightly cryptic with his answer. But then again, maybe people are over complicating it. Maybe his feet hurt. He probably just got worn out. Wouldn’t you be after walking 3,000 miles?
The video has gotten Rehage some much-deserved attention. He keeps a blog at www.thelongestway.com and also has a book deal in the works. Currently living in Munich, Germany, he’s studying China studies, Russian literature, and modern history at university.
Question of the day:
Would you walk 3,000 miles through China?
Let us know in the comments below!