Walking Across America
By: John Paradise, November 15, 2011
Christopher Allen had 5 1/2 years of college under his belt and was just a few credits shy of earning a degree when he decided to walk across the entire United States.
“It just came to me one day—walking America—and I decided that now was the time. I’m not married, I don’t have kids, I don’t own a house. There was nothing stopping me,” the Sandwich native said.
“Also, with the state of the nation—10 years after 9/11, the war, the economy—the time was just right.”
On his blog, Allen offers the following quote from Christopher McCandless, an American hitchhiker who adopted the name Alexander Supertramp and hiked into the Alaskan wilderness in April 1992, where he later died. You might know his story from the book and film, both titled Into The Wild.
So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.
“I would say more,” Allen wrote, “though I’m not sure I can summarize my thoughts any better than this.”
It took Allen just five weeks to get his affairs in order. He sold his Ford F150 pickup truck, paid off any debts he had, bought supplies, and packed.
In May 2011, he set out on his journey from his hometown, carrying a backpack and $1,800 in his pocket.
On his first day he walked, and walked, and walked and made it to Wareham.
On his second day, he reached Lakeville. On the third, Taunton.
Hiking an average of 20 to 30 miles a day (40 on a really, really good day), the former cross-country track runner for the SHS Blue Knights has now made it to Kansas. That’s roughly 1,500 miles.
That means half a year into his walk, he’s made it halfway to California.
One foot in front of the other
Allen has had a few setbacks on his travels. He injured his right foot near the Pennsylvania/Ohio state line and had to rest for several weeks. Another injury, this time his left foot, sidelined him for another two weeks in Fairmount, Indiana.
After that first injury, he gave up carrying a backpack. From there on, he has been pushing his supplies in a rugged three-wheeled jogging stroller.
Last week, Allen was laying low in Stewartsville, Missouri, very near the Kansas state line, nursing bloody toes, blistered heels and an aching right shin.
Allen said his hardest days on the road so far have been the windy days.
“That’s when I start getting cranky. But I just tell myself that it will get easier. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon,” he said.
As the cool temperatures settle in, Allen said it’s getting harder and harder to crawl out of his warm sleeping bag in the morning.
“But then I just keep thinking about the West Coast,” he said. “I’ve been doing a lot of fantasizing about California. That keeps me moving.”
At home on the road
Chilly weather, wind, and injuries aside, Allen said he is thoroughly enjoying his journey. He’s made plenty of pit stops and often pauses to take photographs or talk with people he meets up with.
People offer him a place to pitch his tent for the night, some welcome him into their home for the night, others have given him money for a motel room.
“But,” he's quick to say, “I don’t ask for handouts.”
One memorable example of this generosity happened in Pennsylvania, while buying some supplies in a convenience store and telling the girl behind the counter about his journey.
Six miles down the road, a woman who was behind Allen in line pulled up in her car. She handed him $100 and told him to go relax in a motel for the night.
Has he met any unsavory characters in his travels?
“Sure, I’ve met some crazy people. Maybe a handful of people have given me a hard time. But that’s compared to the thousands of people that have been so kind to me. This sort of blind generosity has really been something,” he said.
Allen’s most frightening encounter was a nighttime close call with what he said was a “big cat” in Pennsylvania back in June. It was past dusk and he had set up his tent in tall grass behind an abandoned factory. He donned his headlamp and crouched low to set up his camp stove. As he stood, he heard an animal let out a scream about 20 or 30 feet behind him.
“Every hair on my body stood on end. It was like a high-pitched scream. I heard it retreating slowly to maybe 50 yards away. But it kept screaming. I spent the night in my tent with my knife in one hand and a can of mace in the other,” he said.
Finding meaning in the spontaneous
Allen’s overall goal is to reach Boulder, Colorado, where he plans to stay working and skiing through the winter, then set out for California when milder spring weather arrives.
As for plans, that’s about it—and he wants it that way.
When he wakes up in the morning, Allen uses his Magellan GPS to pick a location that he would like to reach by nightfall. He wants to keep his journey spontaneous.
In one of his blog posts, Allen wrote:
“There’s a certain magic to walking with no particular destination—you begin to pay more attention to all the places you see, the people you meet, the sounds and smells that carry in the air, the feel (or vibe) that things and places give; everything becomes more meaningful.”