Why?" It’s a simple question, and one that people ask Angela Maxwell frequently. Yet until recently, the American struggled to answer why, exactly, she upended a perfectly fine life in pursuit of a big dream. But for Maxwell, “why” is a question worth answering. After all, she embarked on a journey that very few people attempt: in 2013, she decided to walk around the world – alone.
A solo walk of this magnitude wasn’t something Maxwell had planned. In fact, she left only nine months after having overheard a conversation in her art class about a man who supposedly walked around the world.
Maxwell’s journey did not sprout from a place of loss, defeat or personal crisis. When she decided to embark on a long-distance walk, she was in her early 30s, ran a successful business and was in a relationship. “I thought I was happy,” she said, “but in retrospect, I realised that I was searching for more… for a deeper connection with nature and people – by living on less and connecting with the world around me.”
![Angela Maxwell suffered from sunburn blisters and heatstroke in the Australian desert and dengue fever in Vietnam Angela Maxwell suffered from sunburn blisters and heatstroke in the Australian desert and dengue fever in Vietnam (Credit: Credit: Angela Maxwell)")
Angela Maxwell suffered from sunburn blisters and heatstroke in the Australian desert and dengue fever in Vietnam (Credit: Angela Maxwell)
The best way to find that, she figured, was by setting one foot in front of the other. Walking would minimise her carbon footprint, plus the slow pace meant that she could fully immerse herself in nature, meet people she would otherwise only drive past and get to know other cultures in a way that is unique to long-distance walkers.
As she prepared, Maxwell found a whole world of women explorers to embolden her. She fell in love with the writing and slow travel style of Robyn Davidson, who traversed Australia with camels. She learned about long-distance walker Ffyona Campbell; and read up on Rosie Swale-Pope, who hitchhiked from Europe to Nepal, sailed around the world, crossed Chile on horseback and, at age 59, began jogging around the world.
“I read their books in hopes of finding encouragement – and I did – by learning about their challenges and struggles as well as their triumphs. Each woman’s story was vastly different and it gave me the confidence to give my walk a try,” Maxwell said.
![“I didn’t start walking because I was fearless,” Maxwell said, “but rather because I was terrified” (Credit: Credit: Angela Maxwell)](https://ychef.files.bbci.co.uk/624x351/p09gznrs.jpg ““I didn’t start walking because I was fearless,” Maxwell said, “but rather because I was terrified” (Credit: Credit: Angela Maxwell)”)
“I didn’t start walking because I was fearless,” Maxwell said, “but rather because I was terrified” (Credit: Angela Maxwell)
Once she made the decision to go, Maxwell sold all her belongings and organised the necessary gear. She packed a cart with 50kg of camping equipment, dehydrated food, a military-grade water filter and four seasons of clothing. Maxwell left her hometown of Bend, Oregon, on 2 May 2014 and headed into an adventure so grand it was probably best she didn’t know exactly what was waiting for her along the track.
When I first connected with Maxwell over Skype in June 2018, she was already nearly four years into her journey, having walked more than 12,500 miles in 12 countries on three continents. Curious, I asked her what kind of person it takes to walk around the world. Her face gleaming, she quipped, “a stubborn one”. She then added, “It’s probably a combination of ambition, a little stubbornness and a pinch of passion – not for hiking as a sport, but for self-discovery and adventure.”