On May 1, 2014, Angela Maxwell and her boyfriend celebrated their two-year anniversary in Bend, Oregon. On May 2, she left her boyfriend, her thriving coaching business, and her happy home life to spend the next five years walking around the world.
“My life has never been as delicious as it is now, but I was afraid of always resenting other people for following their dreams,” she says. “Like if I didn’t do this, it would cause me to wither and die inside. I knew it would be hard for me to encourage other women to pursue their dreams if I hadn’t.”
The 33-year-old’s dream is taking her both inward and very far outward—across 24 countries and four continents. She plans to walk 15 to 20 miles a day, six days a week, at three miles per hour, mostly alone, lugging provisions in a three-wheel bike trailer behind her.
The seed of this wild adventure was planted in a weeklong watercolor class Maxwell took in August 2013. She overheard a classmate talking about a man counting his steps and being in Bali. Is he walking around the world? she wondered. It turned out the man in question was an inmate in prison, counting his steps while mentally charting his progress. But that chance snippet of conversation planted an idea she couldn’t shake: What if I walked around the world? “The idea popped in my head, and I started researching,” she says. “I kept thinking about it and looked up who had walked around the world.” Discovering a lineage of female walkers—Ffyona Campbell, Rosie Swale-Pope, and Robyn Davidson—helped inspire her further.
From the start, Maxwell realized this was a bold idea, equal parts brave and absurd. And yet she had faith in it. “With many things in my life, there’s been the sensation of me pushing—rather than just life expressing itself. The difference in this is that I felt called to it. I trusted it,” she says. “I felt like I would be turning my back on my calling to not do it, to try to be comfortable and safe and loved where I’m at.”
And so, on Nov. 25, Maxwell “came out” with the idea. It’s an extreme thing, telling your closest friends and family you want to walk around the world, mostly alone, for five years. Reactions varied—often along gender lines. “My girlfriends would be like ‘Wow!’ There was a little more jealousy, like ‘I want to travel the world’ (because many of them have kids and jobs) or ‘I’m going to come walk with you,’” she says. “My guy friends immediately went to worry: ‘Are you going to carry a gun? Are you in training?’ And my mom begged me not to do it, but now she’s my biggest fan.”
While Maxwell did some training for the trip (including spending a few days with adventurer Karl Bushby, hiking outside during the polar vortex), the greatest training was mental: being prepared for surprises, open to possibilities, and knowing that no matter what she did physically, the first week of walking was going to be painful. Though it’s physically taxing, Maxwell says this isn’t primarily an athletic journey. “The strongest point for me is to really reconnect with nature. To actually be walking, using my feet to feel the rhythm of the earth. Finding out what I’m made of. Honing my ability to listen.”
She started honing that ability to listen long before she took the first steps of this trek, and it hasn’t always been easy. Sometimes that listening meant major changes needed to be made to her vision or her own expectations. For instance, what started as a huge vision—including women’s retreats, a travel company, and regular video episodes—soon started to feel overwhelming. Maxwell realized it was too much for one person, and she started to let things fall away, simplifying down to the heart of the trek and letting that be enough. “I wouldn’t say that I know it yet, but I’m discovering that this is enough: I’m enough. It’s enough to just walk.”
Another lesson came in April 2014, shortly before her trip, when she went on a retreat with Thomas Hübl, one of her spiritual teachers. As she took a few days to reflect, she realized she’d structured her walk in a way that could make her feel like a failure if she didn’t live up to it. What if the walk took longer than five years? What if she walked for two years and felt called to stay somewhere? “I don’t want to be so stubborn that I’m not listening to my highest purpose,” she says. “I realized I didn’t actually create freedom around the walk.” As soon as she got back from her retreat, she changed the map on her website, taking off the language about five years, 24 countries, and four continents. “I thought, ‘Why would I do that to myself?’ It helped me see where I create construct around myself in just showing up in the world. I don’t know how long it’s going to take; it’s estimated five years, but I don’t want to miss out on opportunities.”
In some ways, her project now is more simple and elemental: She wants to feel her feet against the earth, connect to nature, live on less than $5 a day, and do something humans have done for thousands of years—walk. At the same time, Maxwell has also distilled her bigger mission for this wild adventure: As she travels the world, she wants to connect with other women, share their stories, and inspire others to pursue their dreams. “I’ll write every day in my journal. When I find a story that’s interesting to me, I’ll share it on the blog,” she says. “As I share the stories of these women I meet, I hope it encourages other women to share their stories—practicing vulnerability.”
It’s a practice Maxwell will explore as she walks, sharing her own vulnerability along the way: her scared-shitless moments, her breakdowns by the side of the road, the silly things she misses, and the incredible moments she experiences as she circumnavigates the world one step, and one story, at a time.
Stay tuned! We’ll be sharing Angela Maxwell’s first-person reports from the road starting next month with her Australian adventures.
Want to Get Involved? 4 Ways to Show Support:
- Follow Angela Maxwell on Facebook or visit her website, She Walks the Earth, for updates.
- Buy a select piece of art at Society6.com/ProjectWEThrive or donate your own original art for sale, and a portion of proceeds will go to her project.
- Collaborate! Put Maxwell in touch with someone along her route, help her organize a women’s retreat in a far-off land, or join her for a week of walking. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Donate money, 90 percent of which goes to Angela Maxwell, 10 percent to the women’s charity she partners with each year of her trek. The first year’s charity is World Pulse, a global network that empowers women and helps them be grassroots leaders in their communities.