How Andrew Forsthoefel Packs His Bags to Walk Across America

Adventurer Andrew Forsthoefel

My name is Andrew Forsthoefel, and I’m a writer, storyteller, peace activist, and poet. I also teach listening wherever I am invited: at schools, businesses, retreat centers and community centers. After discovering the transformative power of the practice of listening on my walk across America, I’m trying to share what I’ve learned with others about this practice so that its fruits can be tended to and enjoyed by all of us. I live in western Massachusetts.

Adventurer Andrew Forsthoefel

How and why did you get into walking and adventuring?

It was after graduating from college that I embarked on the journey of walking across America. To me, at that time, the urgency was great enough to kick me out the door. I felt all these existential questions inside me, and rather than running away from them or ignoring them, I listened to them and obeyed them and that was enough to get me walking. I wanted to find out more about what it actually meant to come of age and grow up, and I wanted to see if deep connection was possible between all of us, anyone I might meet out on the road. It was my best attempt to build a bridge between myself and the so-called other, to break down the barriers that prevent us from connecting with one another.

I actually wasn’t that prepared for it. In some ways, I don’t think any amount of preparation could’ve prepared me for the actual walk. I just had to start doing it, and be patient with myself as I learned how to do it. I took with me just the most basic camping gear, an Olympus LS 10 audio recorder, and a mandolin. If you’re thinking about setting off on a journey of some sort, I would urge you to prepare, but not too much. It’s easy to get lost in the preparation, and sometimes preparation can create agendas and expectations and close your mind. Just stay open and get in line with the intention behind your call to journey. What is the truth of your reasons for doing this? Get in touch with that and then be open and honest about that with the people you meet along the way. Have the audacity to share your true, vulnerable self, and the courage to listen to others.

Adventurer Andrew Forsthoefel

How do you finance your adventures?

I worked on a lobster boat for three months in order to finance my walk, saving up four thousand dollars. I had a friend who worked for Outside Magazine as a gear tester and when I told him about what I was going to do, he got in touch with his editor, and they sent me everything I needed in order to do the walk: camping gear, hiking clothes, everything. In exchange, I tested and reviewed what they gave me. I didn’t end up spending that much money on the walk, less than $1000 over the course of the whole year on the road. That’s a testament to the way that people helped me and supported me on my journey. People would take me in, cook me food, pay for my bill at the diner, sometimes even give me money. I would never solicit anything other than a safe space to camp out at night and the stories of their lives, and I think when people felt and trusted my sincerity, they felt safe enough to open up.

Adventurer Andrew Forsthoefel

How do you eat and sleep on the road?

I was walking, so wherever I ended up at the end of the day was going to be where I had to sleep. I would try to find someplace like a general store, a diner, a bar, a gas station, church, fire station, and ask them for permission to camp out. Most of the time I could find permission to camp, but sometimes I couldn’t, and on those nights I would try to find a hidden place and just pitch my tent there: in the woods somewhere, or under a bridge. I ended up spending the night underneath a roof most nights, 75% of the time people took me in. It defied all my expectations and humbled me so much. Getting taken in by somebody and trusted made me want to be the best possible version of myself that I could be.

For food, I carried a food bag with just the basics, but I often ate at diners and cafés and general stores. It was also a great way to meet people, which was one of the main reasons I was walking. I wasn’t spending much money on anything else, so I decided that food was something I would be happy to spend money on, especially because it was a great way to connect.

Adventurer Andrew Forsthoefel

How do you bring your things with you?

I carried my stuff in a 50 L Deuter backpack, and I had dry sacks, stuff sacks, that I put all of my stuff in, compartmentalized. It was an easy way of staying organized.

How do you organize things in your bags?

I put my tent and sleeping bag and sleeping pad at the bottom of my backpack, clothes in the middle, along with the rest of the gear, and then food on top. I wanted to have easy access to the food and the stuff that I might need during the day, so I put all that on top. The stuff that I would need at night I put on the bottom. But I think each one of us figures out our own little method for packing and organizing. Also, I kept rain gear easily available.

How do your bags and gear hold up?

I don’t remember the brand of my bags and stuff sacks, but they held up pretty well. I would recommend bringing duck tape if you’re going on a long journey that’s going to put a lot of wear and tear on your bags. I would also recommend getting water resistant or waterproof stuff sacks. They’re a great way to stay organized, and it’s good to keep your stuff protected from the water.

Adventurer Andrew Forsthoefel

Any gear you wish you had brought with you from the beginning?

If anything, I wish I had taken less stuff, less gear. I didn’t end up needing as much as I did. I probably didn’t really need the little cook stove. I probably didn’t need to carry as much food as I did. There definitely wasn’t anything I didn’t have that I needed. It’s good to keep it as a stripped-down as possible, keep your pack light.

My pack was about 50 pounds, which was way heavier than it needed to be, but I wanted to be sure I didn’t get stranded without the proper gear and provisions, so I carried a heavy pack, just in case.

Adventurer Andrew Forsthoefel

What has been your best adventuring purchase below $100?

The Sawyer mini water filter has been my favorite purchase for adventures. I did not need a water filter for my long walk across America, because I was on the highway the whole time and I could just fill up at gas station, but for my hike on the Appalachian Trail, the Sawyer water filter is great. And very inexpensive.

Adventurer Andrew Forsthoefel

What inspired you to write your book?

I wrote my book, Walking to Listen, as a means of telling people about what happened out there, and about what’s possible with the willingness and ability to listen. To ask questions. To look at the people surrounding you as if they were your teachers, as if they had something worth sharing that might be of service to you and your Journey. Giving people the respect and dignity that come when you listen to them authentically, with devotion, the devotion that says I am with you and for you, thank you, I appreciate you.

The book is a collection of stories that serve as evidence of what can happen when we lay down our opinion and judgment and predictions and fears, and simply listen, open and with gratitude. And you don’t have to walk across America to do it. You can, and must, do it where ever it is you happen to be.

What is your best advice for people who want to follow your footsteps?

Trust your self.

Adventurer Andrew Forsthoefel

What will the future bring?

My adventure now is at home: learning what it means to take care of the home, to be in partnership, to be in community. The adventure of doing the laundry and washing the dishes, tending to the garden. Finding the miraculous and the connection right here at home. I also will continue to write, and speak and teach where ever I can, to spread the practice of listening.

Visit Andrew Forsthoefel on his website and follow him on Facebook and Instagram

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