Chris Andrews

FOR years I woke up every morning, rolled over and checked my phone. Just like everyone else, I was always plugged in. I went to university in St Andrews, and in that environment, phones were vital – from work for class to social events, everything was arranged online.

I couldn't imagine my life without my phone. It was fast, easy, reliable, entertaining and necessary. But still, something didn’t feel right. My hyper-connected life made me feel lonely, dissatisfied and anxious. I could look around a full room of friends and none of us were talking to each other because we were all plugged in.

When I graduated in 2016, I decided to walk coast-to-coast across America. People all around me were getting corporate jobs but I didn’t want to do that. I was inspired by a French sailor Bernard Moitessier who sailed around the world in his yacht.

At that point, it had nothing to do with a message – I just wanted to have an adventure. I chose connectivity when I set out as my topic for discussion along the way.

Over 210 days, I walked 3,200 miles and had 10,827 conversations. I would walk 15 to 20 miles a day, knock on doors and tell people what I was doing, getting them to engage.

I took everything that I needed with me in a pushalong cart – dehydrated food, solar batteries, a tent. I realised, after it all, that the only things that we need as humans to survive are food, water, and shelter – life is amazingly simple.

My realisation about my online connectivity didn’t happen until I reached the desert. When I started out, I was using my phone in an unhealthier way, using it when I was in my tent at night to just scroll. I wasn’t able to just have nothing to do.

When I was in the desert, it took me to lose phone signal to finally lose that connectivity and find myself. It was exciting to not be distracted, to strip away from everything and be provided with an opportunity to reckon with ourselves.

In my cart, I had a small guitar and I came out of the desert with a ziplock bag of 20 songs. I had the clarity to understand and commit to my decisions – I wanted to be a musician, and I wanted to marry my girlfriend, Emma. We have so many things calling towards us it can sometimes be hard to put our fingers on what we want. There, everything that didn’t matter dropped away.

I now enjoy stepping into silences, and the power of presence.

I met a huge number of different people, all in different places and situations, but the one thing that was the same – how we all rely on our phones.

One woman was sitting outside an art gallery in Arizona. There was a woman on the seat outside and I, by then, was used to approaching people. She said to me, “I did that when I was 30”. I asked her what her takeaway was. She said: “You can go anywhere if you go slow enough.”

I work as a farmer in Virginia now with my wife and I travel to schools and tell kids about my walk. I have released two albums, the first about my walk, Angelfish and a second called Noche Oscura. I treat my phone like I do the gym – keep it separately in a different room, greyscale my phone, use it when I need and then I leave. I share in real-time and remind people that life, as it is, is exciting.

Carla Jenkins