Three Books for the Perceptive Traveler

Traveling across the United States by foot was not in Alan Christofferson’s plan. Happily married to the love of his life, head of his own successful small advertising agency, nice house, good plans. Then…

his world turns upside down. In the space of a month, his wife is injured in a riding accident, complications ensue and she dies. His business partner, who had been supposed to be handling things while Christofferson was with his wife, took away the agency and its clients. Grieving the death of his wife and figuring out how to go on without her, with nothing left to hold him in Seattle and not exactly knowing why he’s doing this, Christofferson sets out to walk to Key West.

Those are the bare bones on which Richard Paul Evans bases three (so far; there’s a fourth one due out in the spring of 2013) novels. The stories are told in the form of Alan Christofferson’s journals.

The stories are a mix of reflection, insight, questioning, appreciation of landscape, quirky and offbeat and often unexpected encounters good and bad with places and people along the roads of the northwest, and an unfolding story of a journey of both spirit and geography. The books would be a good choice to throw in your travel kit to take along on your own journeys, and they’d be equally at home for armchair exploring of what it means to travel as well as ground level experience of travel by foot through parts of the American landscape.

The story begins with The Walk, as at first Christofferson looks back at bits and pieces of his life that led him to set off. Without knowing much about his own reasons to leave, he gives a trusted friend. instructions to sell what he still owns, and sets out.

It proves no easy beginning. Getting body and mind used to the walking is one thing; living though grief is another. As he walks across Washington State he is settling in to all these things and questioning himself on them all. It is a tale grounded as much as in landscape as it is in reflection, though, and you can take it either way, or both. The physical side of things crashes to the fore when Christofferson is mugged and badly beaten just out side Spokane.

The second book, Miles to Go, finds him waking up in a Spokane hospital.

A woman he had met out on the road a few days before crosses his path again, and she offers him a place to stay while he recovers. She has a reserve of her own secrets, but by one step forward and two steps back, a friendship develops. Things take several unpredictable turns for good and bad, resulting second chances and in a Thanksgiving Day story which may well stay in your memory.

As he continues his walk across Idaho, Montana, and into South Dakota, he encounters cowboys, diner people, landscapes he likes and ones he does not, and a teenaged runaway with whom he forms a bond.

Discouragement and loneliness are companions on the journey as much as people and landscape. These strike again as Christofferson walks through Wyoming. Crossing into South Dakota, he somewhat grimly sets out to see Mount Rushmore and the nearby Crazy Horse Monument. These renew his spirit, and hefting his backpack on the way out of his lodging to continue on, he glances at woman who looks familiar, and then turns around as she calls his name.

The Road to Grace begins as this woman, ill equipped for hiking, follows him along his road. She is connected with his wife and his past, but he will have none of talking with her, until circumstances force him to change his mind. A story of right choices and wrong ones, memory and forgiveness, plays out against the background of well known prairie icon Wall Drugs.

Forgiveness is an idea that, often quite subtly, plays out through the stories of the others who cross Christofferson’s path on this part of his walk, from a young single mother to a survivor of World War Two to a man looking to connect with the ghost of his long dead wife. Walking through the home stamping grounds of General Pershing, Walt Disney, and Mark Twain, Alan makes Saint Louis. His arrival in Saint Louis, which concludes The Road to Grace, turns out to be not what he would have predicted — or wanted.

Travels through geography and travels through spirit: Alan Christofferson and the people he encounters come off as real and believable, good, bad, exasperating, people whose choices you agree with and those you know you’d handle in another way. There are landscapes and journeys too: if you’ve enjoyed true tales such as A Walk a Across America or The Man Who Walked Through Time, I think you’ll like following this walk.

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