Sandwich Man Is Out To ‘Walk America’
By: John Paradise
Christopher L. Allen had 5 1/2 years of college under his belt and was just a few credits shy of earning his degree when he made a decision that some will certainly call rash but others just might consider adventurous on an epic scale.
The 2003 Sandwich High School graduate decided to put his studies on hold to purse a new-found ambition: 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,” he 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, Mr. Allen offers the following quote:
“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.”
That quote was 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. His story has been adapted into a book and a film, both titled, “Into The Wild.”
“I would say more,” Mr. Allen added on his blog, “though I’m not sure I can summarize my thoughts any better than this.”
It took Mr. 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 (including a tent), and packed. Also on his “to do” list was to tell his
friends and family about his plans.
What did his parents, Caroline B. and Donald H. Allen—owners of F.W. Schumacher seed company on Spring Hill Road in East Sandwich—have to say about his trip? “Well,” the 26-year-old Mr. Allen said after a laugh and a pregnant pause, “my dad said maybe I ought to think it through a little while longer.”
But Mr. Allen had his mind made up. This past May, he set out on his journey from his hometown, carrying a backpack full of supplies 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 his third, Taunton.
Hiking an average of 20 to 30 miles a day (40 on a really, really good day), Mr. Allen, who ran cross-country track for the Blue Knights, has now made it into Kansas. That’s roughly 1,500 miles. That means half a year into his walk, he’s made it halfway to California.
He’s had a few setbacks on his travels. He injured his right foot near the Pennsylvania/Ohio state line and had to rest and heal for several weeks. Another foot 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 out, he has been pushing his supplies in a rugged three-wheeled jogging stroller.
Last week, Mr. Allen was lying low in Missouri, in a town called Stewartsville very near the Kansas state line, nursing bloody toes, blistered heels and an aching right shin. He was back up and walking on Monday. He made it 27 miles, but after switching out his running shoes for boots, his knee began giving his trouble. On Tuesday, he was resting that knee in the town of Wathena, Kansas. He hopes to be underway again by the end of the week.
He said his hardest days on the road so far have been the windy days. “When you’re walking up a hill into a gusting headwind, it can get tough,” he said. “That’s when I start getting cranky. But I just tell myself that it will get easier. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon.”
Also, as the cool temperatures settle in, Mr. 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.”
But chilly weather, wind, and injuries aside, Mr. 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.
“The one thing I would say surprised me most on my trip so far is the generosity of the people I’m meeting,” he said.
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 was quick to say, “I don’t ask for handouts.”
One memorable example of this generosity happened in Pennsylvania; he couldn’t remember the name of the town.
“I was in a convenience story buying a few things and I was talking with the girls behind the counter about what I was doing,” Mr. Allen said. “A woman behind me in line was listening and when I left, she wished me luck.”
Six miles down the road, the woman pulled up to Mr. Allen in her car. She handed him $100 and told him to go stay in a motel for the night and have a relaxing evening.
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.”
Asked if he has had any run-ins with wildlife on this journey, Mr. Allen laughed. “Oh, yes, “ he said.
Mr. 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 had never heard anything like it before. I jumped around shining my headlamp in all directions. It had crept up behind me while I was working on my stove. 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 has told this story to several people on his travels, and most agree, he said, that the animal was either a bobcat or a mountain lion.
Most nights, however, are quiet and he is usually fast asleep by 9 PM.
Mr. Allen’s overall goal is to reach Boulder, Colorado, by winter.
“I should make it there within a month,” he said.
Mr. Allen said he is thinking he might stay in Boulder through the winter, working and skiing, and then set out for California when the milder spring weather arrives. As for plans, that’s about it.
Mr. Allen said he wanted to have as few plans as possible on the trip.
When he wakes up in the morning he 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, Mr. 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.”
Those interested in following Mr. Allen’s progress can read his blog at www.allensjourney.com. The site, which is managed by his pal Dan Mulgrew, who is also a 2003 graduate of SHS, includes many photographs that Mr. Allen has taken on his journey.
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