Planetwalk and Healing Journey Begin Twin Voyages

Stopping to smell the roses is good.

Going to smell the roses might just be even better.

Over the next few days and weeks, National Geographic Explorers John Francis and Jon Waterhouse will be doing the latter. Francis will be leading university students on a week-long “Planetwalk” through Indiana and Ohio. Waterhouse will be visiting elementary schools and tribal councils on a “Healing Journey” along 400 miles of the Yukon River. You can follow their voyages here in a blog series on Explorers Journal, and on and the Planet Walker Facebook page.

The two explorers have teamed up many times, walking and canoeing long distances in a shared mission to slow down, step out of the modern cultural whirlwind, and reconnect to the people, plants, and landscapes that are so often overlooked.

Two Journeys

Freezing weather can't put a dent in the excitement of heading out on a Healing Journey. (Photo by Mary Marshall)
Jon Waterhouse and his wife Mary Marshall kicking off this month’s Healing Journey. (Photo by Mary Marshall)

This time, their journeys are taking place some 3,700 miles apart, as seen in the map above. Also, while Waterhouse usually travels in warmer weather in a traditional canoe, the frozen Yukon makes that not an option this time. Instead, he’ll be flying and traveling by snowmachine, jumping from village to village along the river. He’ll still take his customary periodic water samplings though, which define the scientific part of his expeditions, only this time they’ll consist largely of snow and ice (map: track Jon’s journey).

John Francis
John Francis, walker, author, and educator. (Photo NGS)

John Francis in the meantime will be traveling once again on foot. For the past six years, he led observational and reflective pedestrian voyages, gradually retracing each segment of the cross-country walk he made in the 1970s. After witnessing the environmental damage caused by an oil spill in San Francisco, John had decided stop taking motorized transportation, and even to stop speaking out loud. It was time to listen and observe. Today he speaks and rides, and his voice rings loud and clear to his classes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the fellow Spring Break Planetwalkers that join him each year around Earth Day.

The Two St. Mary’s

Coincidentally, both Jon and John and everyone with them will be passing through a St. Mary’s: Waterhouse in Alaska, Francis in Ohio. They will also be joined in the evenings via live video “virtual campfire chats,” sharing their experiences and reflections on the environment and the local cultures.

John Francis will be leading university students on a Spring Break walking journey near St. Mary's, Ohio. (Image from Google Maps)
John Francis will be leading university students on a Spring Break walking journey near St. Mary’s, Ohio. (Image From Google Earth)
Jon Waterhouse is starting off from St. Mary's Alaska, and will fly or take snowmachines to explore the villages along the Yukon River. (Image from Google Maps)
Jon Waterhouse is starting off from St. Mary’s Alaska, and will fly or take snowmachines to explore the villages along the Yukon River. (Image From Google Earth)


In all, Waterhouse plans to cover some 400 miles, visiting 7-10 villages, working with elementary and high school students, as well as local tribal councils. As he put it, he’ll be doing a lot of giving presentations, and “a lot of listening to elders.”

John Francis and his team on the other hand will cover about 80 miles, writing and drawing in journals, moving through the landscape at the pace humans have kept for as long as we’ve been around.

Both explorers hope you’ll follow the journey, participate by leaving comments on these blog posts, and find ways to slow down, listen, and take in the rich and unique world around you every step of every day.

NEXT: Jon Waterhouse’s First Post



Human Journey

Meet the Author
Andrew Howley is a longtime contributor to the National Geographic blog, with a particular focus on archaeology and paleoanthropology generally, and ancient rock art in particular. In 2018 he became Communications Director at Adventure Scientists, founded by Nat Geo Explorer Gregg Treinish. Over 11 years at the National Geographic Society, Andrew worked in various ways to share the stories of NG explorers and grantees online. He also produced the Home Page of for several years, and helped manage the Society's Facebook page during its breakout year of 2010. He studied Anthropology with a focus on Archaeology from the College of William & Mary in Virginia. He has covered expeditions with NG Explorers-in-Residence Mike Fay, Enric Sala, and Lee Berger. His personal interests include painting, running, and reading about history. You can follow him on Twitter @anderhowl and on Instagram @andrewjhowley.