“Why?” It’s a simple question that people ask Angela Maxwell frequently. Yet until recently, the American had a hard time explaining why, exactly, she had turned a perfectly beautiful life upside down in pursuit of a big dream. But for Maxwell, “why” is a question that deserves an answer. After all, she has embarked on a journey that very few people attempt: in 2013, she decided to travel the world on foot – alone.
A solo walk of this magnitude was not something Maxwell had planned. In fact, she left only nine months after overhearing a conversation in her art class about a man who had allegedly been around the world.
Maxwell’s journey was not born out of a place of loss, defeat, or personal crisis. When she decided to go for a long-distance walk, she was in her early thirties, running a successful business, and in a relationship. “I thought I was happy,” she said, “but looking back I realized I was looking for more … for a deeper connection with nature and people – living on less. and connecting with the world around me. “
The best way to find him, she thought, was to put one foot in front of the other. Walking would reduce her carbon footprint, and the slow pace would allow her to fully immerse herself in nature, meet people she would otherwise only lead, and experience other cultures in a way unique to walkers of long distance.
As she prepared, Maxwell found a whole world of female explorers to embolden her. She fell in love with the writing and slow travel style of Robyn Davidson, who crossed Australia on camels. She’s heard of long-distance walker Ffyona Campbell; and read about Rosie Swale-Pope, who hitchhiked from Europe to Nepal, sailed around the world, crossed Chile on horseback and, at 59, started racing around the world.
“I read their books in the hope of finding encouragement – and I did – by learning about their challenges and their struggles as well as their triumphs. Each woman’s story was very different and it gave me the confidence to try my walk, ”said Maxwell.
Once she made the decision to leave, Maxwell sold all of her belongings and organized the necessary materials. She packed a cart with 50kg of camping gear, dehydrated food, a military-grade water filter, and four seasons of clothing. Maxwell left her hometown of Bend, Oregon on May 2, 2014 and embarked on such a grandiose adventure that it was probably best that she didn’t know exactly what to expect along the track.
When I first connected to Maxwell via Skype in June 2018, she was already almost four years into her journey, having traveled over 12,500 miles in 12 countries on three continents. Curious, I asked her what kind of person it takes to go around the world. His shiny face, she joked, “a stubborn.” She then added: “It’s probably a combination of ambition, a little stubbornness and a pinch of passion – not for hiking as a sport, but for self-discovery and adventure. . “
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Maxwell told me that although she quickly found her routine – waking up at sunrise, having two cups of instant coffee and a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, packing, walking, riding. overnight camp, eating instant noodles and snuggling up to the sleeping bag – no day was the same. Initially, she left with a plan, but quickly realized that the detours are the adventure. That’s why, although she was following a general direction, she would still trust her intuition to know where to turn left or right.
Maxwell is said to be suffering from sunburn and heatstroke in the Australian desert and dengue fever in Vietnam. She would be attacked and raped by a nomad who broke into her tent in Mongolia; hear gunshots while camping in Turkey; and learn to sleep with one eye and one ear open, awake to the vulnerability of deep sleep. Although it was impossible to know what they would be, Maxwell had planned trials of all kinds.
“Yet,” she said, “I didn’t start walking because I was fearless – but rather because I was terrified. I was more afraid of not following my heart than of losing. everything I owned and loved. “
Dealing with the trauma of the sexual assault turned out to be a defining moment, during which Maxwell finally decided to keep walking. While she was still scared, stories of perseverance and strength from other women kept her going: “I was determined not to let the incident force me to give up my dream and go home. I had left my whole world behind me, I had nothing to do. come back and understand the risks inherent in my journey. ”Maxwell walked around to discover how strong in mind and body she could be, even in the face of violence.
Along the way, her slow pace allowed her to be drawn – briefly but deeply – to other cultures. She traveled through tiny seaside villages along Italy’s Tyrrhenian Sea, soaking up the vibrant atmosphere and accepting invitations to talk, sit and drink wine. In Vietnam, exhausted after reaching the top of Hai Van Pass, she was greeted by an elderly woman who invited her to rest in her small wooden cabin at the top for the night. A friendship blossomed on the border between Mongolia and Russia and led to a reunion years later in Switzerland. Maxwell even became the godmother of the daughter of a woman she met in Italy.
Whether these cross-cultural encounters last seven minutes or seven days, Maxwell always has two things in mind. First, be a good listener to learn. “The walk taught me that everything and everyone has a story to share, we just have to be prepared to listen,” she said.
During her trip, she learned about generations-old family recipes in an Italian village, beekeeping in the Republic of Georgia, and handling camels in Mongolia on the historic Silk Road. Second, Maxwell learned the importance of contribution. She chopped wood in New Zealand and distributed food to homeless people in Italy. In Sardinia, she helped an Italian farmer renovate his house.
More often than not, however, Maxwell’s stories were his greatest contribution. She has spoken at informal gatherings, schools and universities, and even on the TEDx stage in Edinburgh, sharing her experiences to inspire others. She has become a voice for women’s empowerment, especially after deciding to keep walking despite the attack in Mongolia. “Stopping was never an option,” she said.
Throughout her pilgrimage, Maxwell has raised donations for NGOs such as World Pulse and Her Future Coalition that focus on supporting girls and young women. In total, she raised approximately $ 30,000.
Embracing curiosity and open-mindedness, said Maxwell, is a powerful way to “experience the world and its people more deeply”. For six and a half years, Maxwell has chosen a lifestyle of curiosity, uncertainty and extreme vulnerability. And she did it in search of something she could never be sure to find: personal happiness and a deeper connection to the world around her.
On December 16, 2020, Maxwell’s pilgrimage ended where it started: at his best friend Elyse’s in Bend. Just as she had answered the call to begin her journey, she knew the time had come to end it. She also knew that this adventure had become a way of life that she could return to at any time. For now, however, she is working on a book, planning future trips and creating ways for women to find, express and embody courage in their daily lives.
Whether a walk leads halfway around the world or just down the road, Maxwell has shown the true value of slowing down, paying more attention, and giving more than we get along the way.
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