By Richard Stephens
BEATTY — “I graduated from college a year ago, and for a long time I knew I wanted to take some time after school to both have an adventure and keep learning and challenge myself,” says Andrew Forsthoefel, 23.
“On Oct. 14, 2011, I walked out the back door of my home in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania and began a cross-country search for the most basic human interface of them all: Stories. Every one of us has an extraordinary story worth hearing, and I’m walking the country to listen.”
It is a long walk from Pennsylvania to Death Valley, especially if you go by way of New Orleans, but Forsthoefel passed through Amargosa Valley and Beatty last week and is now past Death Valley and on his way to Yosemite and then on to the Pacific Coast.
He is making the trip to listen to people’s stories and learn from them.
“An important motivation for this project is my conviction that there’s no such thing as the Average Joe. I spent much of my four years at college interviewing all sorts of people about their lives, from tenured professors to recovering heroin addicts. The notion that only a select few have stories worth hearing while the rest of us lead unremarkable lives is a bunch of BS, as I was shown by the folks I met.”
“I think this is why it’s such a gift to be truly heard and fully seen by another, for it’s in being heard and seen that our story is recognized as a great one, and that all its chapters of tragedy and triumph are the components of some ineffable but undeniable miracle, every bit of it beautiful, every bit of it us. To forget someone’s extraordinariness is heartbreaking. And to put stock in a celebrity instead of my neighbor, a sitcom instead of myself? Disaster.”
Forsthoefel sometimes is able to break long stretches between towns or camping spots by catching a ride back to his starting point and then another ride to where he left off. He did this on his walk from Las Vegas to Indian Springs and again on the leg from Beatty to Stovepipe Wells in Death Valley.
He says the walk from Indian Springs to Lathrop Wells “was kind of an exciting day for me because it was the longest walk of all this time. I wasn’t expecting to do that, but somehow I was just feeling good. That is one thing I’ve been learning — the relationship between mind and body. I was just in a good mental space. I was just cruising.”
At Lathrop Wells he was treated to dinner by a trucker named Kirby, and someone he identified as Dennis did not charge him for camping at the RV park and let him shower and get cleaned up.
“There are good people everywhere,” he says.
He was also examined at the Amargosa Clinic and diagnosed with dehydration, something he refers to as a “wake-up call.” He has learned to walk at night in the desert to avoid the heat of the day.
He found the walk from Lathrop Wells to Beatty more challenging, even though it was much shorter than the distance he covered the day before.
“I can’t explain it,” he mused, “but it is different every day.”
In Beatty he was a guest in the house Goldwell Open Air Museum keeps for visiting artists. He met a number of locals, had a “great burger” in the Sourdough Saloon, and helped load some stored furniture into a moving truck at the Red Barn.
He walked to Daylight Pass, the high point in the mountains between Beatty and Death Valley on Friday night and got a ride back to Beatty with a passer-by. Getting a ride back to that point, he continued on Saturday night to walk to Stovepipe Wells.
The latest post on his blog (www.walkingtolisten.com) was on Monday, Aug. 13, from Panamint Springs:
“A brief check-in to let you know that the worst of Death Valley is behind me, praise be. It’s been an exhausting couple days on all levels. … but for now, it’s just a celebratory, sleep-deprived, muscle-aching Huzzah! I’m almost out of the desert. So good, so very, very good. I’m going to sleep now, and I’ll dream about that.”