THE VISION Smart-alecky backpackers will call it the Phileas Fogg Slog, but we prefer the formal name: The Global Greenway, our proposed around-the-planet hiking-and-biking trail. Starting at the northernmost tip of Alaska, this boat-and-plane-connected supertrek would traverse the Americas, hug the northern coast of Antarctica, dogleg across Africa from Cape Town to Tangier, meander through Europe and southern Asia, and cross eastern Australia, north to south. Twenty-three times longer than the Appalachian Trail, the 50,000-mile course would take the persistent hiker roughly 12 years, 132 million steps, and 18 million calories to finish. Phew!
THE ROUTE Earth is a big planet, but we're already halfway there. If we incorporate existing or in-the-works trailsincluding the Trans Canada and Continental Divide trails in North America, the Mesoamerican Trail in Central America, the Sendero de Chile in South America, the E3 in Europe, and the Bicentennial National Trail in Australiathe Greenway is nearly 50 percent complete. What's left is pretty immense, though. Organizers will have their hands full coordinating respective governments and volunteers and, of course, blazing new trail. Building costs will total about $882 million, and money isn't the only problem. Several regions pose special obstacles.
GETTING IT DONE
Alaska (Trail needed: 1,500 MILES): A path linking Point Barrow with the Trans Canada Trail in the Yukon Territory would zigzag through some of the Last Frontier's most beautiful wilderness. Environmentalists will have to be persuaded to allow a simple, cairn-marked way through roadless areas and precious caribou habitat.
South America (4,000 MILES): Trail builders will face narco-terrorists in Colombia and active land mines in Ecuador. The good news: 15th-century Inca trails are still serviceable in Peru, and when finished, the Sendero de Chile trail system will mean smooth sailing all the way to Tierra del Fuego.
Antarctica (2,000 MILES): With skis and a GPS, globe-trotters could navigate an unmarked path along the Weddell Seafrom the Antarctic Peninsula to Queen Maud Landwith minimal eco-impact. The 44 nations that jointly govern Antarctica aren't likely to welcome more than a few through-skiers each year, but if everybody behaves, that could change.
Africa (12,000 MILES): The Greenway will hit major trekking highlightsthe wildlife-rich East African Plateau, Mount Kilimanjaro, the Atlas Mountainswhile steering clear of the jungly Congo River basin. Searing heat will be the least of trail builders' worries in Libya and war-ravaged Sudan.
Asia (9,000 MILES): Forging a route from Istanbul to Singapore will largely be a matter of piecing together ancient trade routes and well-worn treks along the Tibetan Plateau. But ornery, heavily armed guards in the Middle East and Southeast Asianot to mention political conflictswill make border crossings dicey on even the best of days.
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