LERNA -- A pinnacle experience came when Lance Shoots and Kristin Alwardt set foot in a land with deep historic ties.

Shoots described seeing a "heavily fortified 16th-century town" with "massive walls" of 100 feet or more.

Elsewhere, they stood in a cathedral dedicated to the Apostle Paul, who was shipwrecked for a time in the country Shoots and Alwardt can now call one of the signature achievements in a 13-year effort.

Their visit to the Mediterranean archipelago country of Malta in April marked the 100th country through which the couple have backpacked and hitchhiked.

"It's the only way to really experience the world," Shoots said. "I don't want to do anything else."

The married couple are both 43 years old and live near Lerna, and say they're motivated by nothing more than a love of traveling. They call their labor of love "The Quest to See it All."

They basically split time working jobs to "save all we can" with working on their goal of visiting every country on Earth. They need a tight, daily budget and no frills such as guided tours on their journeys.

"Some people think you have to be rich to travel but we're living proof that's not the case," Shoots said.

Their effort to see all 195 countries not only reached 100 on their last trip but actually passed it. They also spent time in Cyprus, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine during the same trip.

Their treks began soon after they were married, starting in Colombia in South America. They've visited as few as four countries and as many as 24 during a single trip.

Along the way, they've been to the Incan citadel Machu Picchu in Peru and the Roman amphitheater in Tunisia, the second largest in the world after the Colosseum in Rome itself. They count those and other ancient ruins as some of their favorite sites.

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"We just like seeing remnants of vanished people," Shoots said, though adding that they "like different places for different reasons."

For one, Alwardt related, there was the experience of seeing the "incredible" Patagonia region of Argentina and Chile, part of the time riding a bus with a live hog and coffin on its top.

"Bus rides themselves can be an adventure," she said.

It might seem to be a risky venture for a pair of Americans who regularly hitchhike to travel through foreign lands. Shoots acknowledged that it's a "widely held belief" that Americans are disliked overseas but said "nothing can be further from the truth."

People are welcoming and frequently ask them to pose for photographs, he said, and the worst response they've received was being overcharged for some things they bought.

Their treks did feature a more domestic route at one point, as they decided to celebrate their 10th anniversary and make their 10th trip by traveling across the United States.

What they dubbed the "four corners" trip took them from Maine to the state of Washington, then to California and Florida.

It covered 9,800 miles and took a total of 213 hitchhiked rides, and their only travel expense was paying for a ferry trip from New York to Vermont.

Because "it's time to see the pyramids," next up for Shoots and Alwardt is a trip to Egypt and other parts of the Middle East.

Shoots photographs the journeys and keeps meticulous, daily journals of each of day's travel, which are the sources of the descriptions of the Malta visit.

He hasn't published them because "that's not my real goal," as he said he wants to share them with whoever he wants. The accounts are available by email and Shoots said people can ask to join by writing him at the.quest.to.see.it.all@gmail.com.

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Contact Dave Fopay at (217) 238-6858. Follow him on Twitter: @FopayDave



Dave Fopay is a reporter for the JG-TC who covers Coles County, the local court system, Charleston schools and more.

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