Alumnus Walks Across America

Over the past year, Andrew Forsthoefel ‘11 walked 4,000 miles across the United States with a sign that read, “Walking to Listen.” On Wednesday, April 3, Forsthoefel and his co-producer Jay Allison held a listening event in Woods Hole, Mass. for the release of their hour-long radio documentary for transom.org.

Over the past year, Andrew Forsthoefel ‘11 walked 4,000 miles across the United States with a sign that read, “Walking to Listen.” On Wednesday, April 3, Forsthoefel and his co-producer Jay Allison held a listening event in Woods Hole, Mass. for the release of their hour-long radio documentary for transom.org.

By Emma Eastwood-Paticchio

 

On Wednesday, April 3, Andrew Forsthoefel ’11 and his co-producer Jay Allison held a listening event in Woods Hole, Mass. for the release of their hour-long radio documentary, which follows Forsthoefel’s 4,000-mile walk across the country through the voices of people he met along the way. The radio piece is published on Transom.org, along with a map of the route Forsthoefel walked and more details about the project.

Forsthoefel started walking from his home in Chadds Ford, Penn. in October 2011, and traveled through Virginia, Louisiana, New Mexico, and every state along the way until he reached the Pacific Ocean in Half Moon Bay, Calif. on September 8, 2012. His parents were waiting for him along with a circle of friends he had met along the way. When Forsthoefel arrived, he had with him over 85 hours of audio, capturing various perspectives on life, death, fear and age.

When Forsthoefel set out, he did not have any plan of how long he would walk or where he would end up. He knew that he would record conversations and that he wanted to ask people about transformation, but he did not know what he would find nor what would become of his journey. He wanted to learn, to listen and to spend time with people — and so he chose to walk.

“For [the period] after graduation, I hoped to find some ingredients in an experience that would give me a potent learning experience. And I thought walking might have some of those ingredients,” Forsthoefel said.

Forsthoefel set off from his home with a mandolin and a 50-pound backpack holding a tent, beef jerky, maps and a few other necessities. He also wore a sign that said “Walking to Listen.”

The documentary narrates Forsthoefel’s travels across America, from voice to voice, linking each new location with a person who has something that needs to be said. The comments range from stories of lost loves and skydiving, to those that provide advice on how to live.

The second half of the documentary explores the idea of age, as well as the fear that Forsthoefel encountered and overcame during his walk.

“Finally it hit me. I could actually die out here [in the desert]. From then on, I was fear-walking,” he said. Later in the piece, he added, “But I am in the forest, and I know it’s not a scary place. And the fears of death I had been carrying with me, in that moment, were gone.”

Even when Forsthoefel finished walking, he did not know what the stories would become. He thought of creating an archive, of making a series, of setting up a gallery to combine photos with voices and of incorporating walking in the presentation of his work.

Allison, who worked closely with Forsthoefel to create the piece, believed that the medium of radio was perfect for this project.

“Andrew captured audio on his walk — not video. He is an amazing listener. What could be better for radio?” he said.

Allison also explained the impact Forsthoefel’s journey has already made on the town of Woods Hole, Mass.

“It’s a testimony to [Forsthoefel] that, in his short time here, he has come to know so many people. The town hall was overflowing. People who didn’t know [him] before we played the piece certainly knew him afterward, and they gave him a prolonged standing ovation. It was a lovely night.”

Forsthoefel agreed, saying, “It felt great to be in the room hearing people hear the piece, which is a representation of my year [and] of me. I was very humbled to see so many people show up. I couldn’t have dreamed of a more perfect way to end it,” he said. Forsthoefel added that he was very thankful to Jay, his family, and everyone he was met throughout all areas of his project.

The piece has also been well received by online listeners. Zak Rosen, one of the many people who have commented on the piece on Transom.org, explained why Forsthoefel’s piece resonated with him.

“There’s so much wisdom here, without it once feeling didactic or patronizing,” he wrote. “And the bit at the end — about being in the dark forest, as opposed to looking into it — if only all our work could shed such light on the human existence with so few words and artifice.”

Daniel Brayton, associate professor of English and American literatures, was also impressed by the piece.

“Here’s a young man who had the courage to throw himself to the winds, putting himself at the mercy of all kinds of strangers as he walked across this country,” he said.

“Very few have the courage to pursue adventures like this one, and even fewer have the talent to record and convey their experiences so compellingly.”

Sue Halpern, a scholar-in-residence at the College who introduced Forsthoefel to audio, added, “It reflects precisely who Andrew is. It is, as he is, honest, searching, sincere, and I think that because he is all of those things, people opened up to him all along the way,” she said. “It’s the best audio piece I’ve heard, hands down. I think it should be required listening for anyone who aspires to grow up.”

In making this radio piece, Forsthoefel created a way for listeners of any age and stage in life to access the stories he unearthed during his walk and to take from them whatever each listener needs the most. As Allison noted, “This is a great piece for young people about old people, and this is a great piece for old people about young people.”

Next, Forsthoefel intends to write something about his walk, telling the stories that cannot be captured through audio. Beyond that, though uncertain of his next move, Forsthoefel wants to keep listening.