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A World Walker's Running Story : Journalist Chronicles Final Chapters of 3-Year Adventure

August 14, 1986|KATHLEEN DOHENY | Doheny lives in Burbank. and

Steven Newman doesn't depend on Hollywood soap operas or the latest mystery best seller for entertainment. The last three years in his life sound like a script that borrows its action from James Bond films, Marco Polo adventures and paperback romance novels.

Since April 1, 1983, when the 32-year-old Bethel, Ohio, journalist and former marathoner set off to walk around the world alone, he's trekked through 21 countries. En route, he's fought off bandits and wild boars, been arrested four times on spying charges, slipped into India disguised as a missionary and rendezvoused with a French poet.

Racking Up the Miles

To date, he's worn out two pairs of sturdy walking boots and logged 12,827 miles. "Not counting side trips," said Newman, a 6-foot-2, 170-pound mustachioed redhead with hazel eyes and a boy-next-door look. "If you count side trips, it's more like 14,000 miles."

Newman's latest side trip was to Los Angeles. As he prepared to fly from Australia to Seattle to complete the final leg of his journey, he got a telephone call from City Sports magazine here. The publication invited him to be a group leader in Hill Stride, a 6.2-mile trek through Pacific Palisades last month that drew 3,000 walking enthusiasts.

As Newman led his group of walkers--or striders, as they're more fashionably called--over the scenic, 2 1/2-hour route beginning and ending at Temescal Canyon Park, he answered nearly nonstop questions.

One of the first questions put to Newman, who dubs himself the "World Walker," was: Why?

"One purpose of my journey is to learn," said Newman, who expects to return to Bethel, a tiny town southeast of Cincinnati, by April. "As a journalist, I want to see what the common people in the rest of the world are like," said Newman, who believes many of his colleagues spend too many hours in front of video-display terminals and too few hours talking with people to obtain "the human story."

Newman said he planned his route to enable him to observe and learn from as many cultures as possible, while avoiding countries hostile to the United States. "A true adventurer survives," Newman said.

He vowed never to pay for accommodations, relying instead on the generosity of strangers willing to put him up, feed him and educate him about their ways. Gregarious by nature, Newman said he often meets people by asking for a glass of water. Asked if some people suspect his motives, or fear he may be a robber, he looked startled. "Look at me," he said, flashing a devilish smile. "Would I hurt anyone?"

Besides learning about other cultures, Newman said he hopes his trip will promote walking. "Walking is the best thing people can do for exercise," he said. Newman said he's never felt healthier since he began his trip; there have been no detours to doctor's or dentist's offices.

His globe-trotting isn't meant to set speed records. Although he tries to walk 20 miles a day, it's not always possible. "I may get in only one mile because someone interesting stops me and drags me into their house."

Completion of the trip could earn him a mention in "The Guinness Book of World Records" as the first person to walk around the world alone and document the feat. (Along the way, Newman obtains signatures of people he meets, something he said many previous globe-trotters neglected to do.)

Installments Sent Home

To help finance his four-year odyssey, Newman works on a free-lance basis for three publications, writing articles in longhand after he's walked across a country and then mailing the manuscripts--sometimes accompanied by his photographs. His work has appeared in Capitol magazine of the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, the Cincinnati Post and Capper's Weekly, a Topeka, Kansas-based publication.

"I'm probably the only free-lance writer in the world who can get away with turning in longhand copy," said Newman, who carries paper, pens, a tape recorder and a camera along with maps and a single change of clothes in his 50-pound backpack. Another plus to his working arrangement, Newman said, was that an editor in need of a rewrite must first find him.

His mother, Mary Newman of Bethel, serves as his banker, occasionally forwarding another $1,000 from his bank account to the American Express office of the next major city on the route. During the last three years, Newman estimated, he has earned about $8,000 from his writing and photography, but spent only about half of that.

In his stories, Newman tries to capture the gamut of his experiences, and he's never lacked material.

In Thailand, Newman was walking through the jungle one night when he suddenly faced two machete-wielding bandits. Despite Newman's efforts to fend off the villains, things looked desperate until a pickup sped by and Newman managed to jump in. "Half my body was hanging out," he said, laughing in retrospect, "and the old farmer (driving the truck) and his wife and daughters at first thought I was attacking them."

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