As cross country teammates at Trinity University, Harry Bellow ’20 and Elliot Blake ’19 could have called it a day after running a few thousand miles together by the time their graduations rolled around.
Even with their Trinity undergraduate degrees in geosciences, these young professionals could have looked out on a challenging job market with dread in the summer of 2022. Instead, they decided they just needed a drink—and a 3,200-mile hike from the Netherlands to Turkey.
“I was in graduate school, and I did really bad on this big test, so I texted Harry: ‘OK, dude, let’s ... go to Istanbul,’” Blake says with a laugh. “I said it just as a way to vent, just joking around, but Harry was immediately on it. He already had a rough skeleton of our map, and he just jumped into planning mode.”
What started out as a moment of frustration soon panned out into a once-in-a-lifetime journey for these two Trinity friends, who’ve since gained significant international attention for undertaking what has been dubbed “the world’s longest pub crawl.”
The basics: The journey covered 3,200 miles and 12 European countries over the course of five months, all on a $2,500 budget. The pair became sensations on social media platforms such as TikTok, where they garnered more than 30 million views and 180,000 followers for their exploits.
Starting in Bloemendaal aan Zee, a city in the Netherlands, on June 14, 2022, the pair stopped at each town in their path for a beer, downing more than 200 pints together on the way to their final stop of Istanbul, Turkey, in October.
In each of the 13 countries—the Netherlands, Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Turkey—the pair experienced different highs and lows. Temperatures at various locations swung between a sweltering 95 degrees Farenheit to a frigid 42 degrees. Some roads were
tougher (or more pleasant), as were some towns and camping locations.
But across languages, cultures, and geography, Bellow and Blake found their way using many of the same skills they demonstrated during their time at Trinity: an insatiable curiosity to discover new perspectives; an athletic and spiritual grit to endure tough trails and tough days; and, of course, knowing how to keep a good time going.
Before they were trekking through beer halls in Czechia or the Balkans, Bellow and Blake could often be found at one of San Antonio’s hot spots.
“Cullum’s Attagirl and Bombay’s Bicycle Club were our favorite places,” Bellow says, as Blake
deadpans, “As cross country runners, we really love our beer. As geologists, we really love our beer.”
This line is delivered tongue-in-cheek: The pair is really saying that as high-mileage
distance runners and geosciences students at Trinity, their schedules were already full enough without going out on the weekends.
Bellow, who came to Trinity considering a major in computer science (with dreams of creating his own successful app), says the pull to geosciences came after “being blindsided by a volcanology class.” He found it “fascinating to learn how the world works and how nature functions.”
Blake, on the other hand, came to college already knowing he wanted to study something environmental. He remembers one of his environmental geology classes ticked all the boxes on his list.
The two Tigers became fast friends in “Intro to the Environment,” a class that incorporated environmental science policy and environmental art. “I remember I sat next to Harry in the back corner, just making little jokes and having a good time with the teacher,” Blake says.
The students continued bonding while studying climate change, a particularly fascinating subject to Bellow, despite that he says, “It’s not true geology, but it was taught by a geology professor, and that was really fascinating to learn the science behind climate change.”
And as cross country runners, these fast friends spent their college years getting even faster.
“I really enjoyed being a student-athlete at Trinity,” Bellow says. “It gave me a structure, and it kept me on the rails.”
For Blake, running with Bellow instilled the mental and physical toughness one needs not
only to survive all-nighters and cram sessions at the University but also to eventually undertake a 3,200-mile hike across, say, an entire continent.
“Being a student-athlete, especially at Trinity with top-tier academics, definitely imparted some sense of grit,” Blake says. “I can recount many times where I was having to work on labs all night, all the way up to 30 minutes before [cross country] practice the next morning, and then go to practice running on zero sleep. But I definitely don’t regret doing it at all—I would do it again in a heartbeat. It definitely made us tougher.”
ROOM TO BREATHE
Toughness aside, the pair want to be clear they didn’t set out on an epic, continent-spanning pub crawl because they wanted to make their lives harder.
They did it because, after the all-out sprint through graduation into the postgraduate world and an international pandemic entering its third year, they needed a breather.
When the summer of 2022 rolled around, Bellow was living in Nice, France, with his girlfriend, also a Trinity alum, while Blake had traded his job with a geotechnical and engineering firm in Houston for graduate school at the University of Georgia. When Blake finished his degree—after sending the aforementioned text to his Trinity friend—the time was ripe for the two to take a hike.
“This trip was never actually planned to be a pub crawl,” Bellow says with a laugh. “We were really just wanting to walk all the way across Europe, experience things firsthand, and live life every single day in the moment.”
The pair originally wanted to start in Spain, but they pivoted to the Netherlands when their astute geosciences and environmental sciences instincts told them that crossing the hottest parts of Europe during historic heat waves resulting from climate change probably wasn’t the type of breather they were looking for.
“It was really bizarre because those heat waves were international news—‘huge heat waves sweep through Europe’—and all my friends were sending me screenshots of the warnings to stay inside,” Blake says. “So, we would just take it easy, duck inside a pub and drink some beer during the heat of the day, and get more miles in during cooler hours.”
Their days started with waking up in backpacking tents, making coffee on a portable stove, then eating a bunch of granola bars and setting out on the day’s walk. Bellow says their daily goal was to make it more or less 25 miles in the general direction of Istanbul.
“I had all the maps on my phone, so we kind of knew where we were going most of the time,” Bellow says. “And usually we’d run into a town at least once a day. They were always so unique and cool, so we would usually hang out for a few hours in the town; we would charge our phones and cameras and find a bar in town. Then we would end up getting a beer because that’s how we recharged.”
As the pair started to meet more and more people, they started thinking about how the trip was serving as more than a breather; it was the eye-opener people often get while studying abroad—something the two hadn’t gotten the chance to do as student-athletes.
From Northern Europe through the Balkans, Bellow and Blake say they learned from both the people and the brews they encountered.
“Every country had different attitudes toward us,” Bellow says. “Overall, we had maybe one or two sour encounters out of thousands and thousands and thousands. Everyone was really generous and kind.”
On one stop in the German Heartland, the pair was flagged down by a man who Bellow says, “was like, ‘Hey, we have a beer tap in our garden: Do you want some beer? Come sleep on my property.’ And then he comes out with two massive, liter-size beers and is like: ‘Enjoy!’ That sort of thing would happen sporadically.”
Bar none, the pair’s favorite place to drink was a spot in Czechia, in a small town of 1,800 people called Chodová Planá. “They had this beer cave where you could just go sit in this dank, musty cavern and eat soup and drink beer,” Blake says. “We went into this building thinking that was the pub, but they said, ‘No, you have to go drink beer in the cave.’”
But the two weren’t hiding under a rock as they drank their pints in Chodová Planá—they had been posting videos of their adventures on social media. Thousands, then millions, of viewers started following their journey.
“Each day I did a short vlog, and people really seemed to like it,” Bellow says. “In every country we would visit, we would get a few more viewers from that country who would tell us a bunch of tips and stuff. It was really cool to hear about what brews to try and also what not to do.”
At the end of the trip, about 20% of their Tik-Tok viewers hailed from the U.S., about 19% from the United Kingdom, and the rest from those countries the two friends had traveled through.
“Whenever we would stop for beer, we’d tell the person at the pub what we were doing, and they’d ask us, ‘So, what’s your favorite?’” Blake says. “So obviously, we’re answering, ‘Your country’s beer!’ And they’d say, ‘Well, of course it is.’”
Still, the pair was fascinated to see how the beer differed from country to country. “Starting in the
Netherlands, it’s these strong tripels and such,” Bellow says. “Then in Germany they have lagers; Czechia has pilsners; and Austria has both of those. And then once you get to the Balkans, it’s mostly just lagers, but they also have up-and-coming craft brewery scenes, which are really cool to try out.”
And after four months, Bellow and Blake reached Istanbul, albeit on their last legs.
“When we got there, we were so dead,” Bellow says with a laugh. “Also, we only had shorts, so we couldn’t go into any of the mosques, which was a little sad. But we went to the Grand Bazaar; we got some really hot peppers; and we spent that afternoon at a bar eating some of the spiciest ones.”
Bellow and Blake say this experience has been a life-changing one, both for themselves and for those watching their travels online.
“This journey was the most rewarding thing I’ve done,” Bellow says. “It was just wonderful to
be able to share this adventure with people that haven’t had the opportunity to make it, or maybe inspire people to do something adventurous, even if it’s not necessarily this trip. Seeing all the comments online about people telling me they’ve been inspired—that really made it all worth it.”
Blake says this is the type of adventure that Trinity prepares its graduates for.
“Leaving Trinity, I felt pretty well-rounded as a person because I took so many classes that were out of my major, and they gave me perspective on a lot of different fields,” Blake says. “I think without that, I would’ve been a clueless American out there in Europe. I think without Trinity, without those experiences, I wouldn’t have been as comfortable.”