They walked down the aislenow they're walking the world, retracing man's epic trek out of Africa
Outside's long reads email newsletter features our strongest writing, most ambitious reporting, and award-winning storytelling about the outdoors. Sign up today.
LEAVE IT TO A PAIR OF STOUT-HEARTED BRITS to turn their honeymoon into a full-scale expedition with a high self-inflicted-suffering quotient. In May 2001, Oxford-based newlyweds James Tremayne, 29, and Louise Hoole, 31, began the first leg of a seven-year adventure trip that they’re calling the Footsteps of Man. The idea is to retrace the 40,000-mile path of human migration from Africa to South America, a journey that anthropologists believe ancient peoples embarked on 120,000 years ago. After a trek through South Africa last year and a spring break to nurse knee and foot injuries, the couple are now crawling up the east coast of Africa en route to Mozambique, Kenya, and Ethiopia. Then they’ll roll their gear sleds down the Blue Nile through the Sudan into Egypt, on to the Middle East and Siberia, across the Bering Strait, and down the west coast of North and South America to Cape Horn.
James, an ebullient, self-deprecating ecologist, says the idea for the expedition popped into his head in 1991, after he was staring at a world map. Ten years later, he convinced his fiancee, Louise, then a London nurse, to join him, and they abandoned their careers to live as “experimental archaeologists.” Sponsored for now by a $10,000 fellowship from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust and $20,000 of their own money—the entire trip will cost $500,000, which they hope to raise through additional sponsorships—they’ll walk 5,700 miles a year, resting one day a week while following a trail of archaeological and ecological sites suggested by the dons at Oxford and Cambridge. They hope to shed light on whether ancient humans migrated along Africa’s east coast or through its interior.
Of course, the world they’re traveling is a bit different from that encountered 4,000 generations ago. In South Africa last spring, they crossed paths with a band of down-on-their-luck white supremacists who were trying to make a living skinning bush cats in a primitive pelt factory. And while the ancients faced diseases and deadly animals, at least they didn’t have to deal with crabby border guards. When it’s all over, James and Louise plan to write a book, but not before taking a long, long, break. “After seven years,” says James, “I think I might just sit down for a while.”