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article imageMeet the man who walked across America Special

By David Silverberg     Jun 6, 2013 in Travel
He walked across 15 states, around 4,000 miles, in under one year. He spent less than $1,000, camping under bridges and beside farms. Learn why 24-year-old Andrew Forsthoefel was simply "walking to listen."
He started in Chadds Ford, Penn. in October 2011. The walk took him across 16 states until he ended up in Half Moon Bay, Calif. on September 8, 2012. Forsthoefel made this trip all on foot, pushing a baby stroller to help him carry his 50-pound backpack filled with some food and water and clothes. He didn't spend more than $1000.
Wait, how can you spend a year on the road and not spend more than $1,000?
The kindness of strangers, Forsthoefel answers in an interview, echoing that iconic line from A Streetcar Named Desire. "I have never felt such gratitude so consistently," he says now from his Woods Hole, Ma., home. In almost every state, strangers offered him a bed to sleep on, some food to eat, some water to drink. He rarely felt unsafe, never felt like his life was in danger.
Andrew Forsthoefel on the road during his 4 000-mile trek across the U.S.
Andrew Forsthoefel on the road during his 4,000-mile trek across the U.S.
Courtesy Andrew Forsthoefel
"I was stunned by all the kindness, it was shocking," he said. In Arizona, a state he didn't know much about, rewarded him with generosity in the form of a Navajo reservation where locals gave him food, drink and even money for the rest of his journey.
Passers-by gave him hot dogs as gifts. They welcomed him into their home. And many talked with him at length about their own passions and hobbies.
Forsthoefel embarked on his exhausting journey so he could mingle with his fellow Americans; he avoided hiking trails and stuck to the main roads and highways. While he stayed connected with a cellphone and laptop, he loved learn about people face-to-face.
"There was something raw and real about having those bonding moments in person," he recalls.
What might've helped was the sign he wore around his neck. It read "Walking to listen," Forsthoefel wasn't strolling across America for a charity, for awareness about his own projects. He just wanted to grow as a human, to learn something about himself by listening to others.
"I hope other people were affected by what I was doing, and maybe they enjoyed stepping into my experience."
He had some rules during this trip. No hitchhiking. Stick to main roads. He spent nights camping under bridges or on people's lawns (he got permission). And no giving up.
This is how Andrew Forsthoefel set up camp during his walk across America
This is how Andrew Forsthoefel set up camp during his walk across America
Courtesy Andrew Forsthoefel
Forsthoefel plans to write a book about his adventure, which wasn't always such a peachy trip. In Nevada, the heat was so unbearable his body almost gave up on him. His went through five shoes. The solitude sometimes drenched him with a deep weight, but then he'd spot a local diner and those moments would be like a Sahara wanderer finding a tantalizing mirage.
But Forsthoefel's will never faltered. He was even determined to chronicle the ups and downs of this trip, recording an audio diary of his walk. When the piece aired on This American Life recently, listeners were quick to react with more than just congratulations.
Daniel Brayton, associate professor of English and American literature, said about the radio documentary:
“Here’s a young man who had the courage to throw himself to the winds, putting himself at the mercy of all kinds of strangers as he walked across this country."
Below is the route Forsthoefel took when he walked across the U.S.:

View Walking to Listen in a larger map
Here are some more photos of people Forsthoefel met along the way:
Two men Andrew Forsthoefel met in California during his cross-US trip
Two men Andrew Forsthoefel met in California during his cross-US trip
Courtesy Andrew Forsthoefel
Grandparents in Alabama. Photo via Andrew Forsthoefel
Grandparents in Alabama. Photo via Andrew Forsthoefel
Courtesy Andrew Forsthoefel
Learning how to make enchilidas in Texas. Photo via Andrew Forsthoefel
Learning how to make enchilidas in Texas. Photo via Andrew Forsthoefel
Courtesy Andrew Forsthoefel
A woman showing Andrew Forsthoefel a small gator during his cross-America walk
A woman showing Andrew Forsthoefel a small gator during his cross-America walk
Courtesy Andrew Forsthoefel
Andrew Forsthoefel looking at the wide expanse of this highway during his 16-state walk across the U...
Andrew Forsthoefel looking at the wide expanse of this highway during his 16-state walk across the U.S. in 2011
Courtesy Andrew Forsthoefel
More about America, Walking, Cross country, Andrew Forsthoefel, This American Life
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