The woman who walked the world

Looking for a deeper connection to the world, Angela Maxwell set off to stroll it alone. Six years and 20,000 miles later, she introduced that connection house.

“Why?” It is a easy query, and one that individuals ask Angela Maxwell continuously. But till not too long ago, the American struggled to reply why, precisely, she upended a superbly effective life in pursuit of a giant dream. However for Maxwell, “why” is a query value answering. In spite of everything, she launched into a journey that only a few folks try: in 2013, she determined to stroll world wide – alone. A solo stroll of this magnitude wasn’t one thing Maxwell had deliberate. The truth is, she left solely 9 months after having overheard a dialog in her artwork class a couple of man who supposedly walked world wide.

Maxwell’s journey didn’t sprout from a spot of loss, defeat or private disaster. When she determined to embark on a long-distance stroll, she was in her early 30s, ran a profitable enterprise and was in a relationship. “I believed I used to be blissful,” she stated, “however on reflection, I realised that I used to be trying to find extra… for a deeper reference to nature and other people – by residing on much less and connecting with the world round me.”

One of the simplest ways to seek out that, she figured, was by setting one foot in entrance of the opposite. Strolling would minimise her carbon footprint, plus the sluggish tempo meant that she might totally immerse herself in nature, meet folks she would in any other case solely drive previous and get to know different cultures in a method that’s distinctive to long-distance walkers.

As she ready, Maxwell discovered a complete world of ladies explorers to embolden her. She fell in love with the writing and sluggish journey fashion of Robyn Davidson, who traversed Australia with camels. She discovered about long-distance walker Ffyona Campbell; and skim up on Rosie Swale-Pope, who hitchhiked from Europe to Nepal, sailed world wide, crossed Chile on horseback and, at age 59, started jogging world wide. “I learn their books in hopes of discovering encouragement – and I did – by studying about their challenges and struggles in addition to their triumphs. Every lady‘s story was vastly totally different and it gave me the boldness to provide my stroll a strive,”

As soon as she made the choice to go, Maxwell offered all her belongings and organised the required gear. She packed a cart with 50kg of tenting gear, dehydrated meals, a military-grade water filter and 4 seasons of clothes. Maxwell left her hometown of Bend, Oregon, on 2 Might 2014 and headed into an journey so grand it was in all probability finest she did not know precisely what was ready for her alongside the observe.

After I first related with Maxwell over Skype in June 2018, she was already practically 4 years into her journey, having walked greater than 12,500 miles in 12 nations on three continents. Curious, I requested her what sort of individual it takes to stroll world wide. Her face gleaming, she quipped, “a cussed one”. She then added, “It is in all probability a mixture of ambition, slightly stubbornness and a pinch of ardour – not for mountaineering as a sport, however for self-discovery and journey.”

Maxwell informed me that though she shortly discovered her routine – get up round dawn, have two cups of instantaneous espresso and a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, pack up, stroll, pitch the camp for the evening, eat instantaneous noodles and snuggle up within the sleeping bag – no day was the identical. Initially, she set out with a plan, however shortly realised the detours make the journey. That is why, regardless of following a common path, she would at all times belief her intestine feeling of the place to show left or proper.

Maxwell would undergo from sunburn blisters and heatstroke within the Australian desert and dengue fever in Vietnam. She could be attacked and raped by a nomad who broke into her tent in Mongolia; hear gunshots whereas tenting in Turkey; and be taught to sleep with one eye and one ear open, awake to the vulnerability of deep sleep. Regardless that it was unimaginable to know what they’d be, Maxwell had anticipated hardships of all types.

Nonetheless,” she stated, “I did not begin strolling as a result of I used to be fearless – however relatively as a result of I used to be terrified. I used to be extra afraid of not following my coronary heart than I used to be of dropping every thing I owned and liked.”

Dealing with the trauma of the sexual assault turned out to be a defining second, one through which Maxwell in the end resolved to maintain strolling. Whereas she was nonetheless scared, different girls‘s tales of perseverance and power helped her proceed: “I used to be decided to not let the incident power me to surrender this dream of mine and go house. I had left my entire world behind, had nothing to return to and understood the dangers inherent in my journey.” Maxwell was strolling to find simply how robust of thoughts and physique she may very well be, even within the face of violence.

Alongside the way in which, her sluggish tempo allowed her to be drawn – briefly however deeply – into different cultures. She roamed tiny seaside villages alongside Italy’s Tyrrhenian Sea, absorbing the colourful environment and accepting invites to speak, sit and drink wine. In Vietnam, exhausted after reaching the highest of Hai Van Move, she was greeted by an aged lady who invited her to relaxation in her small picket shack on the summit for the evening. One friendship blossomed on the border between Mongolia and Russia and led to a reunion years later in Switzerland. Maxwell even grew to become a godmother to the daughter of a girl she met in Italy.

Whether or not these intercultural encounters lasted seven minutes or seven days, Maxwell at all times stored two issues in thoughts. First, to be an excellent listener so as to be taught. “Strolling has taught me that every thing and everybody has a narrative to share, we simply must be prepared to pay attention,” she stated.

Alongside her journey, she discovered generations-old household recipes in an Italian village, beekeeping within the Republic of Georgia and camel dealing with in Mongolia on the historic Silk Highway. Second, Maxwell discovered the significance of contribution. She chopped wooden in New Zealand and handed out meals to homeless folks in Italy. In Sardinia, she helped an Italian farmer renovate his home.

Most of the time, nonetheless, Maxwell’s tales had been her greatest contribution. She spoke at casual gatherings, faculties and universities, and even on the TEDx stage in Edinburgh, sharing her experiences to encourage others. She grew to become a voice for feminine empowerment, particularly after she determined to proceed strolling regardless of the assault in Mongolia. “Quitting was by no means an choice,” All through her pilgrimage, Maxwell collected donations for NGOs reminiscent of World Pulse and Her Future Coalition that concentrate on supporting ladies and younger girls. In whole, she raised about $30,000.

Embracing curiosity and open-mindedness, Maxwell stated, is a robust method toextra deeply expertise the world and its inhabitants”. For six-and-a-half years, Maxwell selected a life-style of curiosity, uncertainty and excessive vulnerability. And she or he did so seeking one thing she might by no means be sure to seek out: private happiness and a deeper connection to the world round her.

On 16 December 2020, Maxwell’s pilgrimage ended proper the place it began: on the home of her finest good friend Elyse again in Bend. Simply as she had answered the decision to start her journey, she knew the time was proper to finish it. She knew, too, that this journey had turn out to be a way of life that she might return to at any time. For now, although, she’s engaged on a ebook, planning future journeys and creating methods for girls to seek out, specific and embody braveness of their every day lives. Whether or not a stroll leads midway world wide or simply down the street, Maxwell has proven the true value of slowing down, paying extra consideration and giving greater than we obtain alongside the way in which.