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Meet the Yakima man who strived to walk barefoot around the world

From Seattle to China, the trek that took a century to complete.
Credit: Martinet Family
Hippolyte Martinet sets out on his shoeless journey.

SEATTLE — You’ve probably never heard of Hippolyte Martinet. But once you learn about his journey, you’ll never forget him.

"That was a story I had to share," Martinet's great-great niece, Micae Martinet said. "From what I understand, it started out as a spirited debate between his brother and himself."

It was 1920, just after the end of World War I and the last great flu pandemic, when the Yakima cabinet maker declared he was ready to set out on an adventure across the United States and around the world.

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He had argued that no man worthy of charity would ever be denied food or shelter, that the goodness of his fellow humans would sustain him. 

"If you just project goodwill, and meet people with a smile, they’re going to smile back at you."

To prove his point, he headed east from Seattle, penniless and shoeless. He walked fast, averaging 34 miles a day. Martinet reached New York, then set sail for England.

"He got a job on a ship as a crewman," his great-great niece said.

Hippolyte kept on walking. France, Egypt, India, always relying on the generosity of those he met.

"He lived 100 percent off the kindness of strangers."

Sadly, China would be his final destination.

"He was reported as looking starving."

Hippolyte Martinet’s adventure, and life, came to an abrupt end, most likely due to malaria. Nearly 100 years later, Micae Martinet realized what she had to do. Accompanied by her boyfriend, Doug Parker, she set off for China to pick up where her uncle left off.

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After first discovering her ancestor’s grave, they set out to walk more than a thousand miles to his intended destination on the coast of China.

Parker said, "I think the thing that stands out to me is the kindness of the people we met."

Unlike the original journey, they kept shoes on their feet and some cash in their pockets. But it was no casual stroll.

"For 1200 miles we were walking down a two-lane highway," Martinet said.

But they still enjoyed the kindness of strangers.

"We must be in at least several hundred selfies," Parker said."We took so many selfies with people."

Micae suffered a serious foot injury that cut the trip short, so the couple returned a year later and finished the hike.

"We went to China not knowing anybody," martinet recalled, "And then when we went back to China the next year we had a friend waiting for us at the airport."

She chronicles her uncle’s and her own journey in a new book, 'Growing Soles.' In the end, remembering a life courageously lived might be the greatest act of kindness of all.

"It was the most amazing trip."

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