Thomas Hornyak is a man who likes to experience the world we live in. Right now, for instance, he’s traveling somewhere in Peru. Where will he head after that? Who knows? It’s very hard to predict what Thomas will do next.
Thomas attended Purdue University for Mechanical Incalculable Engineering. His Junior year he dropped out of school and bicycled from Naples to San Francisco, which you can read about in his amusing photography blog, here. Then he returned to Purdue and studied Industrial Design, graduating with a B.S. in Innovative Design Engineering.
What would you expect Thomas to do after that? Interestingly enough, he joined the Peace Corps, and spent two years teaching math and science to high schoolers in the West Nile, Uganda. He returned to the States and became a Youth Crew Leader for Montana Conservation Corps through AmeriCorps. Next he joined AmeriCorps Vista as a Fundraising and Community Outreach Specialist for the DaVinci Center in Stockton, California.
Thomas then went on another bicycle tour from Stockton to Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, Nevada for Burning Man–an annual gathering/festival that takes place at a temporary city set up there called Black Rock City–then headed back up California across the PCT tracks, across Oregon to the Wallowa Mountain Range. From there he continued the trip to Portland, Seattle and then returned to San Francisco along the coast on Highway 1.
Next he joined a family farm, Rising Sun, in River Falls, Wisconsin, as an intern. He rode his bicycle to Michigan and then flew over to Europe. He spent a year in Europe and the Balkans/Turkey. This year abroad included working in a hostel in Croatia, riding his bicycle from the Black Forest through Switzerland, house-sitting in Bulgaria, bee-keeping and goat-rearing in Turkey, staying at a campground and practicing tantra in Northern Italy, and another campground position in the U.K.
Thomas was also a volunteer at the Shy Wolf Sanctuary in Naples, Florida.
Naples Noteworthy: You were in the Peace Corps for two years in the West Nile, Uganda. What was that experience like?
Thomas Hornyak: I joined Peace Corps because I wanted to travel and check out a new place. Ugandan culture is completely different from American culture in so many ways I could write a book on it. It was as if I had traveled back in time 200 years. I was in rural village without running water or electricity. It was located in the West Nile region where Idi Amin grew up and where Joseph Koney had rampaged not too long ago, a half hour walk to the DRC and two hours south of South Sudan. Even the tribe (Lugbara) who lived there vastly differed from the rest of the country.
Naples Noteworthy: You rode your bike from Naples to San Francisco, and have done several more long trips after that. How do you get fit enough to do the journeys? What is it about traveling that is so appealing to you?
Thomas Hornyak: Depression is the catalyst for these journeys. It’s my way getting out of a negative mindset and starting fresh. As I ride my body adjusts; there is no preparing or training–it is completely spontaneous. Anyone can do it. Travel is a good way to get out of my comfort zone and I actually dread it.
Naples Noteworthy: What is your philosophy of life?
Thomas Hornyak: Everything is temporary.
Naples Noteworthy: How do you feel your travels around the world have changed you?
Thomas Hornyak: Most people love to talk about themselves and their culture so I am quite skilled in listening. Traveling has destroyed a lot of concepts and thoughts that I grew up with and I’m not sure what’s left afterwards.
Naples Noteworthy: Of all the places you’ve traveled to in the world, which was your favorite and why?
Thomas Hornyak: Each place has its own flavor. My semester abroad in South Korea is a standout. Green Tea McFlurries, karaoke bars, Kimchi festivals, spicy seafood, Gangnam style and bowing every time you greet someone? Yes, please.
Naples Noteworthy: Tell us more about your experience in Turkey. Why did you decide to go there?
Thomas Hornyak: I have family that I never met who lived there so I thought it was about time to pay my respects. The country has had a lot of interesting events unfold recently so it’s even more reason to go see for myself. I stayed in Istanbul for three weeks then decided to help out at a yoga retreat near Bodrum, which is the south western tip of the country. Eventually I left for a goat and beekeeping farm near Fethiye. Many people who visit Turkey only see Istanbul but the country is so huge and the real treasures lay within the people in the countryside. Everyone feeds the stray cats and you will probably drink at least nine cups of tea throughout the day.
Naples Noteworthy: What is the Shy Wolf Sanctuary and what did you do there?
Thomas Hornyak: It is a sanctuary for wolves and other exotic animals. There is a public stigma about wolves (think Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs) so they educate the public about these intelligent creatures. They are nonprofit and operate off donations and unpaid helpers. I volunteered there for a summer assisting with cleaning and feeding. Some of the wolves have remarkable stories and hearing them all howl at once sends chills down my back.
Naples Noteworthy: Where do you hope to be in ten years and what do you hope to be doing?
Thomas Hornyak: I hope I’ll be doing something I never thought I’d be doing in a place I call home.
Naples Noteworthy: Why did you pick Innovative Design Engineering for your B.S. and what are you hoping to do with it?
Thomas Hornyak: I picked it because it was my way to take industrial design classes and still graduate with a mechanical engineering background. I use it for “qualifications” and to persuade people that I’m educated. However I have little interest in pursuing either of those careers.
Naples Noteworthy: Since you graduated from high school, what has been the biggest challenge for you?
Naples Noteworthy: What do you think are some of the most critical problems facing the world today?
Thomas Hornyak: Lack of respect for everything outside of our ego.
Naples Noteworthy: Do you have plans for more travels? If so, where do want to go?
Thomas Hornyak: Of course, maybe one day I’ll get around to India and Southeast Asia and Washington D.C.
Naples Noteworthy: How are you able to travel with everything you need packed on your bike? Isn’t your bike hard to ride?
Thomas Hornyak: A loaded bicycle is not so different than a mind full of mental baggage, packed with things that we ‘think’ we need. I am constantly learning to travel lighter and to declutter.
Naples Noteworthy: What are some of the best moments you’ve experienced over the past few years?
Thomas Hornyak: Joking with Kurdish refugees as they hosted me in their camp on the Serbia-Hungary border. Standing in the desert in Nevada thinking about why someone left a full bookcase here when a man in a flamingo outfit bicycled up and handed me a snow cone. Yodeling with an Austrian family in their mountain cabin. Accidentally participating in a ‘food not bombs’ demonstration in downtown Istanbul as they handed out free food.