Author Sarah Marquis Talks Wild by Nature

What's it like to walk for three years straight? Marquis explains.

Sarah Marquis

Image via St. Martin’s Press

“I was born an explorer in the beginning,” declares Sarah Marquis, a Swiss adventurer and writer. “If you ask my mom, she will tell you, ‘Well, that’s Sarah,’ nothing unusual about what I am doing today. It’s just who I was at the beginning.”

Marquis has an impressive list of expeditions to her name: She’s hiked the Pacific Crest Trail from Canada to Mexico, walked through the United States border to border, and spent a month in a New Zealand national park without bringing food. She’s written books and given talks about her travels, and in 2014 she was named a National Geographic Explorer of the Year.

Her most recent book, Wild By Nature, details one of her recent explorations: a three year, 8,700 mile solo hike from Siberia to Australia. From 2010 to 2013 she walked through Mongolia, the Gobi Desert, China, Siberia, Laos, Thailand, and Australia. She ended under a tree in Southern Australia that she slept under during a previous adventure and promised to return to.

Two years of planning went into the trip. “I always have a backup,” Marquis declares, “Backup of the backup of the plan b and I’ve got the plan z! So yeah, I’m really, really prepared.”  She mapped her route using a topographical map—which she feels gives her a better sense of place than a GPS—and visited the countries to get a feel for them and establish contacts in each one.

For the first six months, she says that her body was constantly in pain, and she heard the voices of her family and friends reverberating through her head, an “echo of her old life,” as she describes it. But, eventually, she reached a breaking point and the voices melted away,

“Suddenly you’ve got this amazing—it’s like an enlightening moment. Where you are just there. There is no such a thing as the past or the future, you’re just with the wind, with the sand. I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s really amazing. You embrace the beauty of everything.... It’s a sensitivity regarding where I am at that moment in time and place.”

After her journey, she says it feels strange to have missed out on three years of contact with the world. Her most important takeaway was a message of human strength and infinite possibilities. “I discovered that we do not have limits. We just limit ourselves.”

In her work, Marquis feels like a messenger, traveling to faraway places and returning with knowledge—sometimes with an environmentalist message— to share: “I go from one world to another and I come back and explain to people, ‘Oh my god we need to be caring for this planet. We’ve got, all of us here, the same address, we are on the planet Earth.’”

Marquis laughs when asked if she would do the trip again, “Oh no, no, never. None of the expeditions I would do again…It’s painful.” While she may not embark on the same adventure, Marquis plans to keep exploring, “I’ve got many trips planned. You know, I’m a dreamer. That’s how an expedition starts, when I start dreaming about a wild place. So I’ve go a few dreams lined up, don’t worry!”

See Marquis March 1 at the Cambridge Public Library at 5:45 p.m. Admission is free.