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Walking across Africa

Article Published: Mar. 10, 2011 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011

Two coast lines, five countries and 4,000 miles.

It's the makings of an epic journey, and at its heart is High Country expatriate Julian Monroe Fisher.
You may know him as Mike or Monroe from Banner Elk.

This spring, the world will know him as an explorer. Fisher is attempting to be the first American to walk coast to coast across the African continent from Mozambique to Angola, perhaps the first recorded solo expedition along this specific route. The expedition, entitled "Equatoria," is an attempt to bring global awareness to the efforts of the Mines Advisory Group (MAG International).

To Fisher, an anthropologist whose family moved to Banner Elk in the '70s, it's the kind of journey he's waited his entire life to travel. It's a journey that started just up the mountain.

"My father was a food and beverage person for the Carolina Caribbean Corporation company that built Beech Mountain Ski Resort," he said. "Back then it was like frontier country. The locals were resistant to the development. We were like aliens from another planet."

But that feeling didn't last long. The High Country is where he first learned to play the dulcimer, an instrument his 6-year-old daughter, Panama, likens to Justin Bieber music. It's also where he started his explorations.

"(They) started in my backyard in Banner Elk," he said. "I used to climb up through the bushes and cow pastures to the top of Beech Mountain. In later years, I would ride the same trails down on my mountain bike. Dodging cows and angry farmers and fence lines, I miss it this very day."

When Fisher studied anthropology at Appalachian State University, he was one of four students in the department.

"I can remember when my late father asked me why I was studying to be an anthropologist," he said.

His answer, "because it's the study of humans and our evolution," made his father never repeat the question.

On this particular journey, he's not traversing the far reaches. He's exploring something much more in tune with his anthropological studies.

"My approach to exploration is to travel amongst the living and breathing," he said, "along the routes they take daily as they make their attempts to edge out their dollar a day. How else can we collectively ever find solutions to the challenges that face our species if we do not mingle amongst our masses?"

Fisher starts his journey at an Indian Ocean town April 30 and hopes to reach the Angola coast in time to walk his children into their schools for the first day of classes in September. "I will keep those promises, so that means I have a lot of miles to walk," he said.

And, while he will miss his wife, Gina, and his kids ("I wish my kids were a bit older so they could walk a mile or a hundred with me," he said), he knows what he's doing is important.
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