Andrew Forsthoefel packed his bags and set on a transcontinental walk across the United States, traveling around 4,000 miles in 11 months.
Forsthoefel is the 23-year-old son of Professor of Religious Studies Thomas Forsthoefel, Ph.D., and a graduate from Middlebury College born in Chadds Ford, Pa.
“Walking to Listen,” the blog where he recorded all of his travels in the form of text and audio posts, as well as pictures and video, was the beginning stage of his project, which is now being worked into an audio documentary and a book.
In his blog, Forsthoefel talks about his quest, saying, “I wanted to do something that would both affect others in a positive way and satisfy my own need to explore the worlds inside and outside of myself…I began this listening walk as a way to try and make this happen.”
Forsthoefel began this journey wanting to know America and Americans in general in a more complex, rich and directly personal way, as opposed to reading about them in books or magazines.
He wanted to set one foot in front of another in order to encounter people and diversity and gain a deeper knowledge of what it is to live in this nation.
Dr. Forsthoefel thinks the biggest lesson anyone can take out of his son’s walk is “the bountiful goodness of people, the generosity and kindness of Americans, and the encouragement to develop a vision and see it through, no matter what.”
The walk began Oct. 14, 2011, as he left his home in Chadds Ford, Pa., and continued all across the country, south to Atlanta, Ga., and west through Alabama, Texas and New Mexico, all the way west to San Francisco, Ca.
One year later, Forsthoefel thanks everyone who helped him in his adventure, either by giving him a story or allowing him to pitch a tent in their property, as they gave him the strength to go on.
“This marks a separation from one phase of his life into the next one,” said Dr. Forsthoefel, who supported him from the very beginning.
“As his dad, I’m amazed. I love my son dearly; I’m amazed at his gifts, but this is astonishing,” Dr. Forsthoefel said.
Forsthoefel had to face challenges, from finding people to let him pitch a tent in their homes to walking across Death Valley, where the temperatures can reach up to 134 degrees Fahrenheit, forcing him to walk at night.
“I got to see the goodness in Americans and it convinced me — that it is what’s underneath all the bad stuff,” said Forsthoefel. “That’s the foundation. To be out of the flow of my normal life, literally be out there, it got me thinking a lot about what I wanna do and how I wanna be.”
He added, “We all have a story, we’re all human, we all have our chapters of joy and triumph and sadness and sorrow, and that’s incredibly important to remember.”
More about his travels and encounters can be found on his blog, http://www.walkingtolisten.com.