“We’re the last generation,” tailor Muhammed Sadik Demir says with no self-pity. He shrugs. “People don’t repair clothes anymore. They throw them away.”

Actually, it is Deniz Kilic who says this.

Photograph by Paul Salopek

Kilic, my Turkish guide, my interpreter, is going home.

He has suffered like no other walking partner on the long Out of Eden Walk trail out of Ethiopia. Shin splints. Sore feet. Blisters on top of blisters. He has endured, too, the torment of my lectures on walking landscapes—avoiding beelines, contouring hills. Yet Kilic never stopped. In the mornings, he pounded on his boots. He tottered on. He loved the slow journey. It allowed him to deploy his streetwise charm. Teasing, joking, he disarmed all we meet. He called the humblest farmer hoca—master, teacher. From Mersin to Sanliurfa, across more than 200 miles of mountains, roads, beaches, and fields, he was my wise-guy window to Anatolia. He forced me to watch my first 3-D movie—Dawn of the Planet of the Apes—claiming it was research. His parents had named him after the 1960s revolutionary Deniz Gezmi?, Turkey’s version of Che, and he was bracingly cynical about all politicians. He completed his thoughts with snatches of pop songs.

Crossing a creek with the mule: “We all live in a yellow submarine . . .”

Frowning up at storm clouds: “Here comes the rain again, falling on my head like a memory . . .”

I will see you again, I tell him.

Like all of the walk’s guides, Kilic is invited to the Beagle Channel between Argentina and Chile, to the finish line of the journey. This is the dream: Every walk partner who has helped shape the route will regroup in 2020. I see Mohamad Banounah, a son of Mecca, walking in Tierra del Fuego bundled against the Antarctic wind. I see Noa Burshtein, a young woman recently discharged from the Israeli army, walking the cobbled shores there. And Elema Hessan, the Afar fossil hunter from the bone-colored plains of the African Rift. And the Bedouin guide Hamoudi Alweijah al Bedul from Petra. And Bassam Almohor from Ramallah. There will be Russian guides. Chinese and Colombian guides. Twenty-one thousand miles’ worth of fellow voyagers. We will stride together, en masse, along the final mile of the human journey, to last beach of human imagining. Kilic will sing, “Baby, it’s cold outside . . .” This journey belongs to them. Warp and weft, they have sewed its story into existence.

Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.

— W.S. Merwin