The sun will rise again. The only uncertainty is whether or not we will rise to greet it.
Alan Christoffersen’s diary
Several months after I was mugged, stabbed, and left unconscious along the shoulder of Washington’s Highway 2, a friend asked me what being stabbed felt like. I told her it hurt.
Really, how do you describe pain? Sometimes doctors ask us to rate our pain on a scale from one to ten, as if that number had some reliable meaning. In my opinion there needs to be a more objective rating system, something comparative; like, would you trade what you’re feeling for a root canal or maybe half a childbirth?
And with what would we compare emotional pain—physical pain? Arguably, emotional pain is the greater of the two evils. Sometimes people will inflict physical pain on themselves to dull their emotional anguish. I understand. If I had the choice between being stabbed or losing my wife, McKale, again, the knife has the advantage—because if the knife kills me, I stop hurting. If it doesn’t kill me, the wound will heal. Either way the pain stops. But no matter what I do, my McKale is never coming back. And I can’t imagine that the pain in my heart will ever go away.
Still, there is hope—not to forget McKale, nor even to understand why I had to lose her—but to accept that I did and somehow go on. As a friend recently said to me, no matter what I do, McKale will always be a part of me. The question is, what part—a spring of gratitude, or a fountain of bitterness? Someday I’ll have to decide. Someday the sun will rise again. The only uncertainty is whether or not I will rise to greet it.
In the meantime, what I hope for most is hope. Walking helps. I wish I were walking again right now. I think I’d rather be anywhere right now than where I am.
We plan our lives in long, unbroken stretches that intersect our dreams the way highways connect the city dots on a road map. But in the end we learn that life is lived in the side roads, alleys, and detours.
Alan Christoffersen's diary
My name is Alan Christoffersen and this is the second journal of my walk. I'm writing from a hospital room in Spokane, Washington. I'm not sure how you came to be holding my book—truthfully, I don't even know if you are—but if you're reading my story, welcome to my journey. You don't know much about me. I'm a thirty-two-year-old former advertising executive, and sixteen days ago I walked away from my home in Bridle Trails, Seattle, leaving everything behind, which, frankly, wasn't much by the time I started my trek. I'm walking to Key West, Florida—that's about 3,500 miles, give or take a few steps. Before my life imploded, I was, as one of my clients put it, "the poster child for the American dream"—a happily married, successful advertising executive with a gorgeous wife (McKale), a thriving advertising agency with a wall of awards and accolades, and a $2 million home with horse property and two luxury cars parked in the garage. Then the universe switched the tracks beneath me, and in just five weeks I lost it all. My slide began when McKale broke her neck in a horse-riding accident. Four weeks later she died of complications. While I was caring for her in the hospital, my clients were stolen by my partner, Kyle Craig, and my financial world collapsed, leading to the foreclosure of my home and repossession of my cars. With my wife, business, house, and cars gone, I packed up what I needed to survive and started my walk to Key West. I'm not trying to set any records or wind up in any newspapers. I'm certainly not the first to cross the continent by foot; I'm at least a century too late for that. In fact, the first attempt was made more than two hundred years ago by a man named John Ledyard, who planned to walk across Siberia, ride a Russian fur-trade vessel across the ocean to (what is now) Alaska, and then walk the rest of the way to Washington, D.C., where Thomas Jefferson would warmly greet him. Such are the plans of men. Ledyard only made it as far as Siberia, where Russian Empress, Catherine the Great, had him arrested and sent to Poland. Since then, no less than a few thousand pioneers, prospectors, and mountainmen have crossed the continent without air-cushioned walking shoes, paved roads, or, unbelievably, a single McDonald's. Even in our day there is a sizable list of countrycrossers, including an eighty-nine-year-old woman who walked from California to Washington, D.C., and a New Jersey man who ran from New Brunswick to San Francisco in exactly sixty days. Nearly all of these travelers carried causes with them, from political reform to childhood obesity. Not me. The only torch I'm carrying is the one for my wife.
There’s a legend that once the sand of Key West is in your shoes you cannot go back from whence you came. It is true for me. I’m alone on the beach watching the blood-red sun baptized in the Gulf of Mexico. And there is no returning to what I left behind.
The air is sated with the smells of salt water and kelp and the sounds of breaking waves and screeching seagulls. Some part of me wonders if this might be a dream and hopes I’ll wake in bed and find that I’m still in Seattle and McKale is gently running her fingernails up and down my back. I would turn to her and say, “You’ll never believe what I just dreamed.”
But it’s no dream. I’ve walked the entire length of the country. And the woman I love is never coming back.
The water before me is as blue as windshield wiper fluid. I feel the twilight breeze against my unshaven, sunburned face and I close my eyes as they fill with tears. I’ve come a long way to get hereÐnearly thirty-five hundred miles. But journeys cannot always be measured in distance. I’ve been on trips halfway around the world that seemed like a jaunt to the corner Starbucks. I once took a short drive that seemed like a trip to a distant planet. If you stay with me, you’ll hear about that.
I slide the backpack off my shoulders and sit down on the sand to untie my shoes and pull off my socks. My threadbare, gray, once white, cotton socks stick to my feet as I peel them off. Then I walk onto the wet, shell studded sand and wait for the receding water to cover my feet. I’ve had hundreds of hours to think about this moment and I let it all roll over me: the wind, the water, the past and present, the world I left behind, the people and towns along the way. It’s hard to believe I’m finally here.
After a few minutes, I go back and sit cross-legged in the sand next to my pack and do what I always do at the pivotal moments of my life: I take out a pen, untie my brown, leather diary and begin to write.
My writing habit began long ago-long before this diary, long before my walk. The Christmas I was eight-years-old, my mother gave me my first diary. It was a small, yellow vinyl book embossed with deep flourishes. My favorite feature was its brass key and lock. It made me feel important to have something in my life of such consequence that I needed to lock it up from the world. It was that Christmas night that, for the first time in my life, I wrote in a diary. I figured that with the lock and all, only I would be reading it, so I wrote the entry to myself, a habit I would continue the rest of my life.
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