Walking Across America: Advice for a Young Man

April 2nd, 2013 | By Andrew Forsthoefel with Jay Allison
photo of Andrew Forsthofel

Andrew Forsthoefel. Photo by Therese Jornlin, Andrew’s mom. Chadds Ford, PA.

It’s rare we take the time to listen to hour-long radio stories anymore, but I hope you’ll listen to this one, maybe twice. It’s an epic journey, a coming of age story, and a portrait of this country–big-hearted, wild, innocent, and wise. I co-produced it, but the credit goes to Andrew Forsthoefel, a first-time radio producer, who set out at age 23 to walk across America, East to West, 4000 miles, with a sign on him that said, “Walking to Listen.” Eventually, he showed up here in Woods Hole.Andrew didn’t intend to make a radio story–he just wanted to listen to people. You’ll hear in Andrew’s interviews his quality of attention. He is a magnet for stories and for the desire to connect.

This hour is culled down from 85 hours, an epic task in itself. Andrew has written extensive notes on his process that might be helpful for anyone undertaking a sprawling project. Transom is also collaborating with our friends at Cowbird as Andrew maps his journey, steadily adding new entries in the coming weeks. We hope you’ll listen, and ask questions Jay A

People in the Piece (in order of appearance)

“I don’t know why he’s doing it. He’s just crazy, I think.” Bill Guy, Shady Grove, Alabama.

“Like it or not, it is about breaking this hold that death has on us.” Therese Jornlin, Andrew’s mom, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.

“You’ll know who you are. Because that’s what you’re looking for anyway.” Woody Curry, Baltimore, Maryland.

“You’ve got a lot to learn. You’ve got an education and a degree, but you’ve still got a lot to learn.” Nettie Harlow, Arrington, Virginia.

“My love will be with you…” Paul, Brightwood, Virginia.

“I wouldn’t be the nice little southern girl. I’d be a bitch.” Hacky Pitts (not shown), High Point, North Carolina.

“Did you know that ice sings? Ice sings. It has a song and a voice.” Marian (and Herb) Furman, Camden, Alabama.

“Alright, y’all wanna do ‘Johnny Peut-Pas Danser?’” Mitch and Jen Reed (not shown), Scott, Louisiana.

“You’ll see. You’ll see. You will see.” Frances and Vincent Bosarge, Coden, Alabama.

“After you done walked this whole way…at the end, it’s going to make you a different person.” Ollie Ware, Franklin, Louisiana.

“If you care about someone, tell them.” Karie Fugett (on right), Foley, Alabama.

“They call me Banjo Bill….” Banjo Bill, Washington, DC.

“I’m looking for a great day, when I see my Jesus face to face.” The late Emma Lou Dailey, Beatrice, Alabama.

“Everyone has something divine to share. And you gotta be listening for it.” Josh Terziu (not shown), Lake Charles, Louisiana.

“I’ve been travelin’, travelin’…(harmonica).” Bo Diddley (not shown), Pascagoula, Mississippi.

“Get all the best you can out of your youth, out of your strength, your body, and your mind. While you got the time.” Otho Rogers (not shown), Melrose, New Mexico.

“You might not have enough to drink, your shoes might be worn out, but you yourself inside of you, you’re feeling well and you’re happy. That’s what hózhó is.” Chris and James Paisano, Fort Defiance, Arizona.

About Walking Across America: Advice for a Young Man

I decided to walk across the country for several reasons. Producing an hour-long radio essay about it was not one of them. When I left home, I had no idea what would become of the tape I hoped to record.

At the beginning of the walk, I thought it would be a good idea to have a focus question for the interviews. The question was about transformation: what does it mean to you and when have you experienced it? I was at a transformative time in my own life, so that question seemed right.

The cuts really were making the piece stronger. I found that the constraints inherent in radio can actually release the power of a story. In cutting every unnecessary detail and many of the almost-necessary ones, the most important moments can shine a little brighter.

I quickly abandoned the idea, though. It seemed too contrived or constraining. Instead, I just started talking to people about their lives and, sometimes, what their lives had taught them. I’d ask people about the idea of home, aloneness, family, love, death, all sorts of stuff.

I thought people would be resistant to being interviewed. Not so. The vast majority wanted to be heard, and they didn’t mind the recorder. Nearly every time, they had something they wanted to share. I was wearing a sign that said “Walking to Listen” and there was no shortage of people to listen to.

Trial by Fire

Producing this piece has been a big learning process for me. Before this, I’d had zero experience with projects destined for radio. So the thought of diving into 85 hours of tape, and learning to work in Pro Tools was kind of daunting. I didn’t even know what I wanted to do with all of it.

Jay suggested we go ahead and start by putting together an hour-long radio essay and take it from there. We quickly established that the angle would be “advice for a young man,” because if you cut to the heart of it, that’s what the walk was all about for me. We wanted it to be slow, to reflect the pace of walking.

The Takeaways

I’ve learned a good bit about interviewing and producing for radio in all stages of this project. Here are four of the big takeaways:

Accept, nay, embrace murder:
How do you fit a year’s worth of experience into an hour-long radio essay? Well, you don’t. Stories will be lost, little gems thrown away, entire chapters you once thought monumentally important axed. Embracing editing (murdering your darlings) was the first step in creating this piece.

Early on in production I realized the cuts really were making the piece stronger. I found that the constraints inherent in radio can actually release the power of a story. In cutting every unnecessary detail and many of the almost-necessary ones, the most important moments can shine a little brighter.

Don’t think too much just go:
There were a lot of different angles we could have taken with this story, so many it was overwhelming almost to the point of paralysis. Going forward – blindly, it felt at times – with faith proved a useful tactic.

It wasn’t different from walking across the country. Just go.

Find a collaborator, no question:
For a while, there was a part of me that wanted to produce this piece by myself. Luckily, I didn’t have the experience or technical skills to do so. And I was too close to it.

Make yourself vulnerable:
I found that being vulnerable in interviews – that is, sharing some of my story or perspective – created an honesty that built trust and sort of dissolved the whole subject–interviewer dichotomy altogether. It may not suit some forms of storytelling, but for this, it made sense.

I chose to maintain vulnerability in the piece, too. Having asked so much of the people I recorded, putting myself under the microscope seemed only fair, and it makes everything much more real. That was the hope, at least.

photo of Andrew Forsthoefel

Andrew Forsthoefel

Thank you!

Many thanks to you for listening, and a huge thank you to:

Jay Allison, Viki Merrick, Melissa Allison, Samantha Broun, Rob Rosenthal, Sarah Reynolds, and Sydney Lewis for helping to make this piece a reality; Hugh Birmingham at Coffee Obsession for giving me a job that kept me sane throughout the production process; all of the people I met while walking, both in the piece and not, for co-creating this hour with me; and my family: Dad, Caitlin, Luke, and especially Mom. I couldn’t have done this without you.

About Andrew Forsthoefel

Andrew Forsthoefel is a first-time radio producer and aspiring writer based, for now, out of Woods Hole, MA. He hopes to write a book about his walk across the country, and after that it’s on to the next project, about which he is relatively clueless. If you have any suggestions, don’t hesitate to contact him at aforsthoefel [at] gmail [dot] com.

Cowbird: Walking Across America

Andrew’s Cowbird project has web extras – audio, images, and text.

Related Links

This American Life aired a version of “Walking.”

Andrew’s Walking to Listen blog.

A map of the route Andrew took on his walk.

Andrew’s presentation at his alma mater St. Andrew’s School.

Blog post from Karie Fugett in Foley, Alabama, one of the many people Andrew spoke to on his walk across the country.


Thank you to Matthias Bossi, Carla Kihlstedt, and Jon Evans for the original music they composed for this piece. Thanks also to Mark Orton and Ben Goldberg of Tin Hat. You can find more of their music at:

Lawless Music

Rabbit Rabbit Radio

Carla Kihlstedt

Matthias Bossi

Jon Evans

Tin Hat

Support for this work provided by the
National Endowment for the Arts and the Transom Donor Fund

National Endowment for the Arts logo Transom Donor Fund

169 Comments on “Walking Across America: Advice for a Young Man”

  • Andrew is wonderful can’t wait to see and hear more, love you!

  • julie nelson says:

    thanks for sharing Andrew. Well done – Julie nelson, friend of nancy bryan, sister of charlie Harris, Montgomery. Walked with you all the way!!

  • Michelle says:

    I only have one thought on this. Please, PLEASE don’t promote walking on railroad tracks! My grandfather, father, father-in-law, and husband are all men who are conductors or engineers, and every day they go to work, I fear they will meet someone walking on the tracks and that person will not move fast enough. You might have plenty of experience in knowing when a train is coming, but by promoting the walking on tracks, you are telling newer generations that it is ok, or even acceptable. Trains don’t turn to miss a pedestrian! They cannot stop quickly! Traintracks are not a fun place to walk, or a good place to take photographs, they are private property and they are dangerous. It is not fun for a family to identify a body that has been brought to death by a train. Sometimes it is very difficult to even discover the person’s identity because of the effects of a train on a human body. I fear for the lives of people who “mess around” on train tracks, the lives of the people driving the train, the rail workers who have to come out to take care of the scene, the emergency responders who respond to the emergency, and the people who drive or walk by by a scene of this nature. They will all be scarred by an accident of this nature for life. Please, please reconsider posting pictures on railroad tracks. I’m not criticizing your work, just making a suggestion. Thank you.

    • Lorene Farnsworth says:

      My grandfather was a railroad engineer, but I can still enjoy a story, calm down already. Its a photograph, if you listen to Andrew’s story you will know he’s not walking on tracks for 4000 miles. Geeze Louise, Flutterbelly, take a chill pill..

    • Vivian says:

      As a photographer, I see the image of him walking on the tracks as symbolic of taking a journey and nothing else. But your point, Michelle, alarmist or not, is understandable. When I was a child, my father (carrying my infant sister) was walking with me between two sets of railroad tracks. Trains going in opposite directions suddenly appeared too quickly for us to be able to do anything but stand still and wait out their passing. I remember holding on to his leg for dear life with my eyes tightly shut while those trains roared by us and it felt like eternity. Nothing happened but the memory of it still shakes me up.

    • Jon says:

      Another point is that he is pointing toward the sky in this picture, and that is not a good image to be selling. I remember reading a story about a man who was struck by lightning when he pointed toward the sky. Kids might see this picture, mimic it, and consequentially be struck by lightning! It would be much safer to take this picture off the web. In fact, I would take this whole story off the web (because it’s dangerous to walk across the country and kids might try that too) and shut the entire internet down! We would all be safer without any outside influences!

      Seriously, I loved the radio story, Andrew. I thank you for sharing it with us.

    • caleb scott says:

      yeah i agree, trains are fast and dont turn to miss you but people are fast and can just take a step to the right. you can hear a train a mile away fool. this is coming from someone who has hopped freight trains before.

  • susan says:

    So fantastic Andrew! I really enjoyed this – thank you!

  • Jennifer* says:

    Fantastic show! Hit and evoked so many emotions in me. Well woven together. Love all the extra bits too. I will listen to this again and again. Thanks Andrew and crew!

  • Thinking of you Andrew, with a very full heart. Well done, my sweet. xxxx

  • Joanna Greer says:

    Wow. Walking piece was profoundly good. Sat in my living room just now transported, both touched with emotion and smiling stupidly.

    Thank you, Jay Allison, for developing all these new radio voices. And thanks to Andrew for letting us “read” with our ears these other unheralded authors, both philosophers and self-improvement alike.

    Poignant poetry here. Thank you, thank you. My students will hear this soon for April is Poetry Month and this is the best I have heard.

    Joanna Greer
    John F. Kennedy High School
    Silver Spring, Md

  • Lisa Hazlewood says:

    Can’t wait for your book. Keep us posted. right on, son!!
    Dr. Lisa H

  • Beth Gylys says:

    Absolutely brilliant to hear this, Andrew! I’m so proud of you and this project! Hard to believe it was less than a year and a half ago that you stopped here in Atlanta on your walk across. Impressive and amazing that you’ve been able to capture a flavor of the power and poignancy of the journey in such a tight and moving way. Many many congratulations. Beth

  • Johan Stroman says:

    Brilliant! An inspiration for Living. Good on you!

  • Megan says:

    This is just fantastic! The storytelling is superb.

  • Doug Villella says:

    Enriching experience for everyone Andrew– rich images the whole way through — I was there with you with every interview. Congrats on a this first amazing production. I have no doubt your next journey will also be the one less traveled. Peace , Doug

  • Logan says:

    I listened in awe. What a wonderful year. I look forward to hearing more from Andrew in the future.

  • zak rosen says:

    Is this heaven? Friends, family, and those we met along the way, waiting for us by the ocean, in a circle?

    This is a mindblowingly profound document, Andrew and Jay. I sometimes forget that one (of many) functions of public radio is to instill something of an idealistic prism through which to live our lives. You’ve done that so gracefully and humbly with this story. There’s so much wisdom here, without it once feeling didactic or patronizing. And the bit at the end, about being IN the dark forest, as opposed to looking into it…if only all of our work (or even a fraction of it) could shed such light on the human experience with so few words and artifice.

    I come away from this story full of pride and hope for you, Andrew, as well as all of our brothers and sisters.

    Weep Walkingingly,

  • Jay Allison says:

    Jeez, Zak, we couldn’t ask for a finer response. Thank you, and thanks all of you for your thoughtful notes so far. It was a pure pleasure working with Andrew on this, and all of us at Transom are excited to see where he wanders next.

  • What an gift to join you, Andrew, on your extraordinary journey and hear so many enchanting voices offering incomparable wisdom. WAA is a tranformative piece, for any age, tribe or gender. Thank you Transom for linking the voices to audiences.

  • Isel says:

    Your Mom says it best when she describes being blown open. I believe the Woods Hole community would agree that we were blown open by your sharing and by this profound piece. Thank you! My heart feels like it is experiencing the Grinch’s reality of growing ten times the size and busting through that inadequate, little metal box in which it had been squished. I’m overwhelmed with inspiration. Bless you and all you do, Andrew! Big love to Jay Allison and the Transom crew for their vision and collaborative magic!

  • Tim Dobbs says:

    Wow, this was truly wonderful. Thanks so much, Andrew and Jay, for creating it. I’m a little awestruck, both by the incredible story and by the technical craft that went into the storytelling. I’ll think of this piece when I need to remember how great radio can be. And I’ll think of your trip, Andrew, when I need some perspective on life in general.

    I’m trying not to sound too hyperbolic, but c’mon, this piece is totally totally great! Oh man!

  • Andrew Forsthoefel says:

    Thanks so much for all the feedback everyone, and I’m so glad to hear this piece struck a good chord with many of you. It makes the whole experience that much more meaningful for me. Much gratitude, and we’re always here for questions if you have them.

  • cassandra says:

    This project is awesome and I’m happy to have found it. The meditations are meaningful and also playful, and your willingness to talk to so many different kinds of people is quite amazing and open-minded. :)

  • Nate says:

    Mr. Forsthoeffel: My favorite part was when you sang Carol of the Bells, switching between parts, while walking out in the silence of the west. I learned the same song with the same parts in Junior High choir, and often sing it to myself in just the same way. I can’t easily communicate how much I loved listening to your piece: thanks for every bit of yourself you poured into making it.

  • Annette says:

    Bravo to everyone who had a hand in putting this piece together, especially Andrew for undertaking the Hero’s Journey. The story was beautifully done and deeply moving. Thank you!

  • Ryan says:

    Selfishly, I’m glad you got fired from your job. It just goes to show you how another door opens. Great story!

  • Mr.Stan Clement says:

    Thank you…Love this so much..Thank you

  • JoJo Zawawi says:

    Wow !!! Am listening on KCRW radio right now. Beautiful.

    • Shannon says:

      Listened today with longing to be there . . . again. . . . spent a year on the open road in a VW van with a new husband; no work and no prospects at the end. That was 13 years ago and we STILL evoke the adventure in some context everyday. Would give anything to do it again. Life is short. The world is vast. Adventure awaits you . . . walk/travel/experience and we will follow!

  • katiethetraveler says:

    Wow, this was so incredible to listen to. It kind of makes you look at people differently, makes you wonder what their stories are. If only we were all as courageous as you to take the time to ask and the time to listen.

  • Sue says:

    Brought tears to my eyes–as a mom of a 23-year-old, as a former 23-year-old world traveler and now one of those folks who has to “climb the fence to sit on the horse.” I could relate on so many levels. Keep up the storytelling. You’ve got a knack!

  • Just hear you on THIS AMERICAN LIFE. Reminded me of a book I read years ago called A WALK ACROSS AMERICA. I was amazed by what he discovered at eye level walking all that way, working his way across the country and meeting people. The country is full of amazing stories. I suspect the rest of the world is too. We need to keep our perspective on the micro, not the macro. No more wars. Listen more.

  • Lorene Farnsworth says:

    Very cool thing to do, Andrew. My sister and I were hitchhikers back in the 1970s, for the very same reason, we wanted to hear what people had to say. We set off from upstate New York (up in the Adirondacks, by the Canadian border) and brought our two little mutts with us (to discourage sex trolls, (which, by the way, turned out to be an incredibly effective strategy) and took to the road three different times, once to Cali, once to Florida, then once again out to B.C., Canada. My sister ended up settling in B.C., and has been there ever since, she found her people there. I have been living in NYC since 1981 and have hung up my backpack, but I would take to the road again in a heartbeat it I could find a traveling companion who I trusted as much as I do my sister. Keep on keeping on, bright star.

  • Barbara Houser says:

    I hope to buy the book when it comes out….you have a wonderful way with words…the story gives me hope and more compassion for my fellow beings!! Thank you dear heart!

  • Kathryn Hunt says:

    Awesome! Thank U for sharing.

  • Marv Wilkenfeld says:

    Thanks for bringing me along into your adventure. I’m never going to walk from Boston to L.A. in this lifetime but one of the marvelous things about radio has been for me (I’m 77 y/o) is the amazing fantasies that I was able to experience from the Lone Ranger serials in the 1940’s to the journeys I often take listening to programs like yours, Radio Lab, The Moth and a whole new variety of personal story telling. The imagination is so much more powerful than any CGI screen image for a truly personal experience.

  • David Olson says:

    I am a walking man with a recent stunning job loss also; my 23rd year a few decades ago, thanks for reminding us of our lives stories’ value, you told this part of yours beautifully, brought many connections into a positive focus; amidst the many & goofy difficulties at hand, your walk and its exposition inspires!

  • Guido says:

    I’m from Germany and like to listen to NPR here and then. Yesterday, I listened to your story on KERA and it really moved me. How you heard about so many personal experiences and insightful thoughts on life from people who were complete strangers to you, felt so authentic and uplifting. Your story is just full of life. Thank you for letting us in on this beautiful piece of the world.

  • Andrew Robertson says:

    Heard this yesterday on This American Life. Possibly the best show I ever heard. Powerful.

  • I loved loved loved the piece. Real people’s stories are so much more interesting than fiction. I enjoyed hearing from all those folks along the way and in different parts of the country. Sounds like you learned alot. You are very brave to have taken on such an endeavor..I applaud you! Nice piece fo journalism too; I think you have a future in it. I agree that the reducing of content, and picking and choosing what to leave in or take out, is always most challenging…. but once compete, yields a much deeper product in the end. Good job!!

  • Nathan from Nashville says:

    I’m forty now, and I’ve invested some good energy in my life traveling and getting to know people on the ground level. I grew up in Tennessee. At 18 I worked as a night janitor in an Alaskan tourist lodge, then in a restaurant, then I hitchhiked across New Zealand for 3 months. I’m a sociologist now and spend too much time in front of a computer, writing theoretical articles about how people in organizations work. As I was saying in a presentation last week to my peers, we have to remember the *human* level at all times, even if we’re thinking about big politics and big movements of society. If we forget the human level, we participate in helping make our society inhumane. I was heartened to hear so much in this story. Josh Terziu’s words: “Everyone has something divine to share. And you gotta be listening for it.” And a previous commenter who said “we’ve got to keep the perspective on the micro, not the macro.” I think we have to do both. But if it’s going to be one, it’s got to be micro. That’s where the human soul is. — I just rooted around in my books for 10 minutes looking for a quote, but I didn’t find it. I’ll paraphrase. An American journalist was in Poland the first winter after WWII. The cities were destroyed. She saw a lot of things. She traveled around other parts of Europe, writing. And her insight was this: ~”Human institutions are just human nature on a large projection.” For all of the justifications that are made about science, war, and policy, I realized that this is true. Who we are to each other person to person creates the society and world that we all live in. Bless you for this piece.

  • Luanne Baker says:

    I heard Andrew’s road story yesterday, and was thrilled to hear it again today! If I could purchase this audio, I would order at least 5! Thank-you, Andrew for your courage, vulnerability, and strength! You helped me realize it’s all a journey, and we all just have to stay awake, have courage, and keep walking no matter our age.

  • This was WONDERFUL! I was moved to tear, laughter, joy, fear, exhaltation by this EPIC journey of a wonderful young man. I have sent the link on to my grandkids who are just entering adulthood . THANK you ever so much for all the effort it took to create this,I look forward to his book!

  • Dave Kosliw says:

    Heard you very moving story on TAL. Couldn’t wait to come here and hear more. Wanna share it as widely as I can thank you.

  • Corey Holly says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience, strength, and compassion, Andrew. Thanks so much.

  • David Avery says:

    Andrew this was an amazing piece! With my recent fight (and victory) with cancer this was something that I enjoyed listening to, I look forward to the publication of a book and hopefully get a signed copy from you :) God bless and thanks again for the inspiration!

  • michelle simona says:

    Dear Andrew,

    I loved listening to this story. I spent two weeks hiking alone through the desert in Israel, and I feel like so many of the revelations you describe about being alone in a vast and powerful landscape are fou for familiar and meaningful to me. Thank you for the radio-story. It was a joy to listen to and I’ll look forward to the next one.


  • Does anyone remember know what the word was the meant “you are balanced…living your life in the way you’re supposed to be living it.” It’s around 26:10 in the This american life podcast. The guy says it is the goal that all navajo people strive for.

  • fweetieb says:

    This story was lovely and interesting and thought-provoking. Can’t wait to read the book. Hoping for more photos…

  • Amy says:

    Hey Just listened to your story on This American Life, wonderful.
    I spent some time traveling alone across the US in a Volkswagen Beetle. Your story reminded me of the courage that took and the fear and anxiety I had. I loved the meaningful conversations you had with strangers and your vulnerability. Listening I heard you face your fears and come out stronger from the process. Thank you for sharing it!
    It is an amazing journey, this living, and I am grateful for the wisdom I acquire in just being present.

  • tschantz says:

    Beautiful. So much depth here, and hope. We all have stories and I love how respectful you were of each person. Thank you for sharing their paths and your own. I’ve listened to this 2x already this morning and will keep it bookmarked.

  • J T says:

    Fantastic story! Evokes so many emotions. Love how your story shows the humanity in all of us though we internally stifle it through ignorance and intolerance. Kudos to your bravery on setting out on such an expedition!

  • Danny says:

    not to steal any thunder, but I think this man http://www.planetwalker.org/ deserves credit for blazing this trail in total silence — and earning a PhD along the way. Read more here http://nelson.wisc.edu/news/news-details.php?e=1141

  • Candy Coons says:

    Andrew, this was a great thing you did, thank you for doing it and thank you for sharing it. It is my dream to walk across america, so thanks for the inspiration.

  • Amy says:

    I had a similar reaction to my own travels. Couchsurfing was a fantastic experience, I met some interesting individuals I would not have met through more typical methods of travel. I was awed by the consistent generosity and kindness of complete strangers. As a child I was warned against trusting strangers, yet I found that most people are generally decent. Age and cultural differences were rarely barriers when people were willing to share their stories and home. I loved listening to your story, its a reminder of why I travel the way I do and the profound meaning it can bring.

    Best wishes,

    -A recent college graduate

  • Joni Sensel says:

    One more long-distance walker here (though not on your scale) who loved this story to pieces. I will also be awaiting the book. FABULOUS job.

  • Gary says:

    Andrew’s Excellent Journey…….loved it!

  • Geoff says:

    Thank you for this. As I am listening to this at my office, I can’t help but laugh, smile, and tear up at the stories. Excellent job, Andrew. You’re an inspiration.

  • Julia Tremarelli says:

    My husband and I loved your story, reminded us of when we were younger. (keep on hoofin’) J&J

  • Beth Gifford says:

    Andrew, I listened to your story in NPR last evening. Fortunately for me my drive was long. But you kept me mesmerized and as soon as I arrived home I ran into the house and turned on the radio, not wanting to miss a moment. Fascinating! I felt as though I were walking with you, meeting these good citizens with you. Thank you for sharing your experience and the stories of everyone you met. You are a great American storyteller!

  • Will Bronson says:

    Absolutely incredible. I loved it all, as will any intelligent soul that hears it, or allows themselves the time to listen… I was weep walking, sitting here in my study listening to your words. Truly wonderful. Thank you. I will remember your name, friend, and will look forward to whatever you do in life. Inspiration is a title that simply doesn’t do you justice. Well done, sir. Now go live your life. Stop on through the northeast sometime; you’ve got a place in my house if you’d like it, or the yard if you’d rather. :)

  • DMB says:

    Especially moved by how your story handles the darker issues of life (aging, death) and American life (racism, Iraq war).

  • Carrie Jane says:

    What a wonderful story. Listened to this on my way to work this morning, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. What a great trip you were able to take. Even though you may forget pieces of your trip and the lessons you learned, they will still be with you forever. I’m no stranger to the cathartic roadtrip myself, and I can only hope that my son will one day be drawn to that similar excursion himself.

  • Georgia says:

    This piece has touched me so deeply at a time that I really needed it, and I believe it came into my life for a reason. I heard it while driving in my car and sat in my driveway to listen to it completely, and the ending lessons you learned left me in tears. I am a 21 and the three things you would tell your 23 year old self was exactly what I needed to hear and are now written on a piece of paper I taped up in my room. You know exactly what to do. Don’t be afriad. Keep Walking. Thank you Andrew.


  • Derrick says:

    Andrew, I just finished listening to the story on This American Life. I was worried for you after you first sat out and came across the men on the train tracks. Then I began to wonder if you had come in contact with any dangerous people and how “those other people” treated you when you walked through those towns you were warned about. Then I remembered “those people” make up such a small minority that you would be more likely to run into just the kind, caring, friendly people that you came across.

    Great job and keep walking!

  • Loretta says:

    I heard this story on This American Life this past Sunday, and now I’m listening to the longer version on transom.com. I was transfixed by this story, and Andrew’s openness and youth and fabulous adventure. The voices of the people he met are mesmerizing. This story made me want to get serious about what is #1 on my bucket list: drive across the U.S. before I die. (I’m too old to even CONSIDER walking!) I imagine listening to this story will trigger something different for everyone….what is that great adventure you’ve wanted to have but you push it to the back of your mind while you get up, go to work, go to bed, repeat…For those of us on the down side of 50, it makes you think about what WOULD you say to your 23 year old self? For me, it would be: don’t be afraid all the time. Don’t think that your attempts to control your life will make you safe. Because they won’t. They didn’t. Thank you, Andrew. I can’t wait to read your book.

  • Deb says:

    I just spent my morning knitting and crying as I listened to your story…thank you , thank you , thank you…

  • Phil says:

    Great story Andrew! Very powerful and very touching. It is those moments where you FEEL the truth, versus knowing it change your perspective.

  • Renee Lloyd says:

    WOW! What an incredible story! You completely transported me from my world and I saw so many beautiful people, heard stories that gave me goose bumps and moved me to tears. Thank you, thank you so much for sharing your journey with me.

  • Linden says:

    This is going to sound weird, but I think we are friend soul mates.

  • I also read: A Walk Across America, when I was 32, in 1995. I thought I was older then, reading in a little room on Beacon Hill in Seaatle. My Aunt Laura in Kodiak Alaska sent the book to me. Both of these walks are tear jerkers. Though I am 50, now I’ve been hiking, walking and running for 10 plus years and would still love to plan and accomplish such a journey. All the best in life to you Andrew and the walkers. What promises you have! You have experienced, touched and found life. Donald Ray Ursin

  • Drensky says:

    Thank you Andrew and Jay! As your opening goes, I listened to it more than twice :)) so inspirational!

  • Bleu Hope says:

    My reaction, “stunned and weeping silence.” The tears flowed down my cheeks without effort. What an amazing adventure and wonderful debut to radio. The people you met along your journey were the texture and breath to your story. Thank you for your courage to takes those first steps. May the fear fade away as you treak and trudge on your life path. -Bléu, 30 something, single mom of Phoenix, teenage son Jacksonville Florida.

  • Mike Wagner says:

    My daughter Taylor is in the same mind set as your self at the same age. She’s going to Peru for her adventure. I just wish i wasn’t so scared for her

  • Ildiko Cziglenyi says:

    Your story just blew my heart open when I first heard it on This American Life, which I listen frequently online while I work. I found myself crying a few times, it was so moving. I had to listen to it in again but its full version to see if listening would inspire those same tears….and it did! Bless you, and thank you so much for walking and sharing your story, and congratulations on getting this far on your journey. May you have many more journeys of all kinds in this life.

  • Amazing, wonderful, moving. Thank-you, thank-you! My favorite part was you singing with Emma Lou Dailey.

  • Lucy says:

    Loved your story…there something so wonderful about just leaving your life and seeking some meaning.. Bravo!!

  • Hello, I just heard your amazing story on This American Life and would like to share it in my English class.
    Thank you for this journey, which all got to take with you in many way. Carlene

  • Traci says:

    I started out feeling your mothers fear for you. However, by the end I cried for the beautiful journey that you bravely walked through. What a great start to a young persons life. I look forward to hearing more of what your life’s journey will bring. Everyone of us is walking through this life. Some limp, while other sprint. Some dance and sing. Doesn’t really matter in the end what path we take to get there. Just that we simply arrive…

  • radiotelefon says:

    I am a “veteran” writer for German Public Radio stations. (Which is why sometimes listening to the radio is hard as it is so difficult to be moved by anything after 20 years of doing very personal radio stories. Not everyone wants to go all the way. In fact, most reporters don’t.) However, I was moved to TEARS by that story. (Listen to it on the Berlin subway at eight in the morning. People were staring at me, I didn’t care. Will listen to the long version tonight.)

    Thank you so much for this unique experience. And thank you everyone at this website for helping people to tell their story for RADIO. Keep up the good work. And Andrew: Keep walking!

  • Leah Grant says:

    The best kind of education is not always taught in the classroom, but is experienced through the risks we take in life. Thanks for taking a risk, telling your story and for your raw honesty on your journey.

  • Dina says:

    Yep…I loved this!! I’ve always wanted to do something just like this. I still in my daily life do the same though, interview/visit with people about their lives. It helps me in a way to know their stories. I’m so happy for you that you were able to SAFELY take this journey!!

  • Swiss guide says:

    l just listened to a podcast version of your story via TuneIn radio on my tablet in Switzerland, thanks for sharing,loved every moment of it. I’ve done a lot of travelling and a few roadtrips around the US myself, and always loved how easy it is to meet people on the road, and how friendly and open most people are.

  • Andrew you gave us such a treat, Thank you for sharing this epic adventure with the world. It’s a beautiful story to explore after hearing you on TAL

  • DizzleP says:

    no one cares…get a job, put down the pipe yuppy

  • Kel says:

    I happened to tune my radio to the station airing this piece and it grabbed my attention.I listened to every word, every sound.I was there on the road with him.I took a journey.

  • Great job. Why not make all of the audio you recorded available to the community and see what happens?

  • Rick Wells says:

    I listened again and again to this beautiful production, each time stirred in thought and spirit. Thank you all for sharing your gifts, talents and faith into the guided unknown.

  • Andrew Forsthoefel says:

    A continued thanks to everyone who’s contributed constructive feedback, support, and encouragement. It means a lot to know the story has resonated with so many listeners. Thank you!

  • Tom Blyboo says:

    Brilliant, brilliant programme – and a lesson to anyone interested in how to make great radio. One question – what device did you use to record your audio while you were walking across America?

  • Kristen says:

    Andrew, thank you for your inspiring story. I have tears in my eyes after listening to it on This American Life. It’s a much needed reminder that we shouldn’t let fear hold us back from connecting with “strangers.” We’re all in this crazy soup together, and talking is the best way to escape the dangers of an Us v. Them mentality. Again, thank you!

  • Teri Dignazio says:

    the wisdom from across America brings tears to my eyes….how to harness this real energy and sincere core of the American people for the good it can be? All the good energy, is needed now to stem the negativity. The piece about the “strangers” down the road – “the others”. brilliant simplicity …….there are no “others”.

  • It’s good to know that there are still young people who venture out. It’s something you will always be able to look back on with a sense of accomplishment. Good for you you young man!

  • Jeff says:

    Well, God bless you. I slept on the ground sometimes, poached for food, and so forth, actually a little younger than you were on this trip. Lost, nowhere near as aware as you were. Thank you for sharing the beautiful lives shared with you.

  • Jenny Silverman says:

    I heard a piece of this on NPR yesterday. Really profound story telling that renews my faith in the goodness of humanity. Amazing what can happen when you venture outside of your comfort zone and really meet people! Thanks for bringing these stories to light.

  • Inspired UK says:

    I cried listening to this when you talked about facing the prospect of death in the desert…then being more afraid of reaching the end of your journey. So powerful, so wonderful. Well done and thank you for being an inspiration.

  • Mary Nell Watson says:

    I enjoyed all the program, but hearing the late Emma Lou Dailey from Beatrice, AL brought me to tears. I knew her, but had not seen or spoken with her for a few years. She was so genuine and a woman of great faith as is evidenced here. I am sure she is someone you will always remember…as will I. Thank you for this!

  • Evan says:

    As a 22 year old, listening to your story of wandering, questioning, and listening was awe-inspiring. I appreciate that you took the initiative and the time to not only do this but to share it with as many people as possible. I think that your example is one that should be emulated. Too many of us aren’t walking with any attention to where we are and it’s a been good to listen to your story. Thank you.

  • I hope you have an amazing experience and continue to meet interesting people and find out what their journey’s are about. I did a 2,800 mile bike trip when I was 14, but I was too focused on my journey to open up to the interesting people we met along the way. Safe travels

  • Honestly, I just want to say that your piece has finally inspired me to buy a recorder and to start using it as a storytelling device. I’ve been admiring a lot of radio shows online for the past year or so and I’ve caught myself daydreaming plenty of times about trying to make a story. This was the piece that finally convinced me to shell out the money for a recorder. Thanks for the inspiration and thanks for crafting a beautiful story Andrew and Jay.
    -From another young 20something year old.

  • Just listened to the This American Life show and was SO MOVED! Thank you for distilling what must have been a lifetime of experience into a radio program that speaks to all ages, including me at 52. Thank you and walk on!

  • HKS says:

    I can’t tell you how much this broadcast moved and inspired me. To hear the rich voices of America, the insightful advice, the struggle of the challenge and so much more. Thank you for your gift to the world. You’ve motivated me to finally start telling and collecting my own stories. I hope this is only the beginning of a continually fascinating life for you.

  • Joe Richman says:

    wow !!! I finally got to listen and this piece is wonderful! Andrew and Jay I can’t believe how elegantly you wove in so much material, chronology, so many people and ideas. I got misty for my own brief days hitchhiking across country in my 20’s. And even mistier for that time when everything feels ahead of you… with ears and mind wide open. This is a very special piece of radio. Thank you.

  • Jona says:

    Wow. Thank you for this piece. Really. Thank you. If you’re ever in Asheville, NC, you’ve got a free place to stay.

  • GIStro says:

    The blues harp player “Bo Diddley” was excellent, I’d love to hear more of his sophisticated country playing (not an oxymoron!). Already posted on Andrew’s WordPress site, thought I’d dupe that here – Andy, Houston, TX

  • Julia Carol says:

    First, I loved, loved, loved the story as it aired on This American Life, which is how I heard it. I applaud you, and I’m glad you made the trip and recorded your story. It made me smile, laugh, and cry and it was heart opening. So no criticism of you. And an observation… I realized, listening, that your story could ONLY be the story of a straight, white male. No woman, no gay or obviously gender bender, no person of any color would have done that journey and have come out of it without having been assaulted, raped, violated or worse. Eleven months? Less than $1,000? I don’t believe it’s possible unless you have white male privilege. And I’m glad you have it — I don’t want to take it away from you. I just wish it wasn’t privilege but something we all had. I had no trouble believing that people trusted you and were mostly good to you. And most people would be good to a woman or gay or person of color too. Most people. But in 11 months, there are enough racists, and homophobics and those who see women as objects it’s ok to attack… that it would not have been safe. So I’m happy for you… and also sad.

    • Corbin says:

      Julia, you are so right, and it is no criticism of Andrew; he was born who he is. I’m a white straight male, a social worker, and I was told from day 1: you are privileged, so you DO something with that privilege. And Andrew has done that. I work with the dying, and at 54, I think I’m able to make real connections with people at the end of life. I’ve taped interviews with some of them. But at 23, I would have had the empathy that Andrew so clearly has. That was at least a small part of what got him through without a scratch. Andrew, you lived what I wished I could have done as a young man. Bravo!

  • michael says:

    well the demons are always out there waiting and we worry ourselfes to death…. isn’t life a patchwork of many walks where we have to take the risk of not knowing?

  • Mark says:

    Andrew. I listed to your story on a This American Life podcast while I was on a long Backpack trip in the Superstition Wilderness in Arizona. Being Isolated myself probably made the impact of your story hit hard. I envy your opportunity. I’m 45, but can totally relate to Otho Rodgers of NM. I fell my life picking up speed and the opportunity to do certain things slipping away. I find that I still want to go off and do something like this trio, or a long Pacific Crest or Continental Divide thru hike, but knowing those days are likely past due to the responsibilities of a family. You’ll always have the tug of branching out on your own and trying to experience the freedom you felt on this trip. My guess is that you had times along your journey where you wished you had your best friend or girlfriend along with you who could share a specific moment or experience. The question you might ask yourself is which path should I take? There is joy in both situations. Don’t let either overpower you. Enjoy those who love you and that you love, but take time for yourself, just a bit less at a time. I look forward to your book.

  • Andrew, I wept. This story of your journey is so full of courage,love,wisdom, heart and truth. It points to how fear, hatred and ignorance dominates most of our lives and limits our ability to see and feel.

  • jcha5568 says:

    Andrew, How can I thank you. I am from Sydney Australia and I heard your story through this American Life podcasts and I am inspired. This was beautiful, meditative, frank, open, honest. Everything I didn’t think radio could do for me. I loved the background sounds of the cereal bowl, crackling fire, mouth organ, accents of people as you transected a variety of demographics. As an architect retraining as an opera singer, I am struggling to turn from being predominantly a visual person to an aural person. I honestly didn’t think my ears could distinguish so much richness. Thank you for creating such a vivid sound world for me. Truly truly grateful, Jermaine

  • Love this! I did an 8 week car road trip across America in 2011. Yours was much more interactive than mine. Enjoyed hearing all the conversations and your insights.

  • Paul Bieber says:

    Thank you Andrew and Jay. Haven’t cried that good in a long time. Powerful, thoughtful, poetic and true. That’s a tough combination but all present in your beautiful work. Thank you.

  • Lark says:

    Hey Andrew found this when I wanted to see what you were up to now. It was awesome. I thoroughly enjoyed listening, proof got home at 2:30 with visions of piles of pillows and bundles of blankets, it is now 3:33 am where I am and I have to work tomorrow. Your story is a wonderful and beautiful one. I’m glad I listened.

  • Thomas Brooks says:

    Wonderful story, wonderful song, a song of words that make us long for the open road. Andrew, you did not lose a job – some temporary contractual obligation, you found the Door to a life of stories, of moments that can last forever in someone’s mind. I await your next trip.

  • David says:

    Great story. In 1976 I walked and hitchhiked 15,000 miles across America and back with only $10.00 in my pocket. No cell phone, no creditcards, no destination. Just searching… It was the most meaningful thing I ever did. It prepared me for the success I later became. It taught me to trust in humanity and open my heart to everyone and I can overcome anything. The best thing I ever did!

  • Thank you for a beautiful story. My husband and I love to listen to podcasts as we drive to our next adventure. This weekend it was your story on This American Life. I was mesmerized then entire time. You have done a beautiful thing. We often run across those who have done/are doing/plan to do the PCT (as we live close to the Sierras) but I think what you did has so much more power. Going outside the box to find yourself. My husband and I were married the year we turned 23 and I think about how juvenile we were at that time. Good for you in taking this risk, and thank you for sharing your story so that others may also take risks instead of taking the easy ways in life.

    Best of luck to you……

  • This was well done and Andrew deserves props for walking 4,000 miles.

    The actual advice component could have been better. “Don’t worry” and “Enjoy your youthful vitality” are very sound but hardly original. I liked the exhortation to spend more time barefoot, though I think this was also in one of those plaid covered “Life’s Little Instructions” books. And “Be a bitch?” PC, and fashionably trangressive, but not constructive. The world does not need more people like that.

    Thirty years ago, I took similar, shorter trips like this and met many inspiring and generous people. But I also met some troubled people doing evil. Andrew didn’t seem to meet anyone bad, except those who warned him about “others.” I guess that’s the highest form of evil in NPR’s view.

    I also liked the Christian message. I’m surprised that NPR broadcast it. Do NPR and its listeners love their enemies?

      • NPR listeners think of themselves as tolerant but don’t tolerate even mild disagreement.

        The endurance aspect is impressive but many thousands of people have traveled across the US and other parts of the world and have heard stories better than those presented here. We just didn’t have digital recorders or display our experiences. Also, anyone who has visited a nursing home would know, without being told, that one’s youthful vitality is precious. And anyone with life experience in a variety of neighborhoods would know that people do far worse things to each other than call each other names. I’m grateful that I’m stronger and faster than the strangers with bad intentions that I’ve encountered. Not everyone is so fortunate.

        If not gushing or crying over Andrew’s story makes me a bad person in you eyes, your threshold is very low. But peace to you.

  • Hannah Louise says:

    I loved listening to your story. It was very inspiring and enlightening. As a 23-year-old myself, I’ve often felt the urge to go out on my own and do something impulsive and meaningful like you did.
    I do, however, have one little critique. I’ve lived in Alabama my entire life and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. It’s a beautiful state. So, first of all, please don’t believe for a second that everyone in the South is a racist. I’m offended that the overall impression of the South was that we are still living in a segregated world and that whites still regard themselves as better than blacks. There are some older people that refuse to accept people for who they are and cannot grasp the fact that we are all created equal, but the majority of the younger generation don’t even consider a difference when it comes to skin color alone. I, for one, never judge one by the color of their skin. Do I sometimes judge someone based on their other physical characteristics? Sadly, yes sometimes. But never on skin color alone. And most of the people that I encounter are the same way. But the fact remains, in Alabama, and many other southern states, there are sections of towns and cities that are dangerous (involving more crimes than others). And most of the time, at least in the areas close to where I live, those areas are prominently black. It’s a proven fact. You can go look at the annual police reports. I’m only stating the facts to help you understand a little bit of where these people were coming from when they tried to “warn” you. I’m not defending them by any means, and I certainly do not agree with their racist tone. They were obviously being very judgmental and racist and I don’t agree with either one. So, don’t think I’m trying to say they were right. That’s not the case at all. But there is fact, and then there is judgmental opinions. All I’m saying is that before you go and judge a whole region of the country based on comments from a few people, you should, first of all, get the facts. And second of all, live here for a while and you will probably realize that most of us all live quite well together until the media continuously throws around the racism card to stir up tension and hatred amongst us.

    • Andrew Forsthoefel says:

      Thanks for your comment, Hannah. I appreciate the complexity of this issue, and we tried to get that across in the piece, noting that many of the people I met who had abhorrent views were also incredibly hospitable, generous, and kind. And, by featuring so many voices from the south that were simply lovely, we hoped to undercut stereotypical impressions of that region. Another nuance we tried to include was the fact that these intolerances didn’t just fall across racial lines, nor were they constrained to the south, nor to white people. It’s why the writing was kept a little more general in that section. But perhaps we could have made the point clearer. The fact remains, though, that the issue of intolerance is tricky, sticky, sad, and uncomfortable. Hard to hear and see reflected, no matter how you cut it.

      Best to you in Alabama, one of my favorite places in the world.

  • I did listen twice, Andrew (once on This American Life, once here). We are about the same age and your journey, albeit on a bigger scale, reminds me so much of my own. Instead of recording, I photograph. I have never felt so present and vibrant as the moments when I was alone in a thunderstorm ion the Smoky Mountains or spending hours listening to strangers’ stories in the Chihuahua Desert. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story. It verifies why just listening with your mind is one of the most important things you can do.

  • Callie says:

    Kia Ora and hello from New Zealand. Found this story this morning through cowbell and is the first time I have listened to an audio story for years. I love the way you have woven the sharing of voices so that we get to participate in your journey as a listener but also get to reflect on our own perceptions of the wisdom provided. I’m sure many more amazing adventures ahead for you. Thanks for sharing.

  • A Syed says:

    A most inspirational podcast heard on This American Life. Since I first heard it, it’s remained with me and inspired me ever since: “there’s nothing to be afraid of, you always know what to do, and, just keep walking”. I am in corporate management with 300 people working under me and I’ve drawn strength from these words during times of uncertainty… many thanks. You’ve added value to my life and indirectly inspired me to act positively on 300 other lives, plus my wife, son and parents. May you continue to prosper Andrew…

  • Martin says:

    Easily one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever listened to. Thank you.

  • Oliver says:

    Absolutely intriguing project and I also really like the title of Andrew’s blog! “Walking to listen” has such profound simplicity and simple profoundness, incredible!!
    The idea itself sounds a bit like the the ancient “wandering philosopher” – stepping into people’s life and help them discover some of the questions and answers they already carry inside… A marvellous patchwork of stories and vibrant portrait indeed!
    Even though I’m more of a reader I certainly need to give these essays a listen…

  • buggy says:

    I typed in “crush” in the This American Life subject search and this was one of the radio shows that came up. I am a 41 yr old mother of 4 kids, life is pretty much kept between the lines for me. But as a kid, I read Peter Jenkins’ Walk Across America books and loved them. So glad to know humans continue to be born and the desire to know others continues. I had to drive to from Bakersfield to LA today, couple hours….I laughed and cried all the way there, loved your radio show. I just bawled while crawling through LA traffic as you described walking into the ocean, with the Navajo drummers alongside you… another sweet reminder of the willingness we humans have to connect with others, no matter what the journey.

    thank you

  • Pat Matula says:

    Thank you NPR for broadcasting this moving account of a remarkable adventure. Thank you Andrew for your bravery. As a Mom I want to say, Momma you did good with this son.

  • Patricia A. Salazar says:

    Back in the 70’s I did a lot of hitchhiking aah, those were good times and lucky for me I came across a lot of good people. In fact thats how I met my husband LOL!,

Links to “Walking Across America: Advice for a Young Man”

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