By Ben Salmon
Adios FUNraiser Party
What: Padma Maxwell will talk about her planned walk around the Earth and invite others to share stories. There will also beer, kombucha, food and music.
When: 6:30 p.m. April 17
Where: Hawthorn Healing Arts Center, 39 N.W. Louisiana Ave., Bend
Cost: $10 suggested donation
Contact: www.projectWEthrive.com or www.facebook.com/projectwethrive
Padma Maxwell doesn’t have a car, so she walks everywhere.
A couple of weeks ago, she was walking from dinner at a friend’s house to her west-side Bend home when she stepped awkwardly off a curb and sprained her ankle.
“I wish it was that I was saving a baby from a wild wolf or something,” the 32-year-old Virginia native said last week. “I wish I had a better story.”
If Maxwell’s next five years goes as planned, she’ll definitely have a better story. Probably lots of them. On May 2, she will walk away from her friend’s house on Northwest Quincy Avenue in Bend pulling a small bike trailer packed with gear and provisions. She plans to walk across the Earth.
Her approximate route — posted on her website, www.projectwethrive.com — will take her through four continents and around 25 countries in five years at a pace of about 15 miles per day, six days per week.
Along the way, she plans to write about her adventure, and she hopes to collaborate with people, connect with other cultures and raise money and awareness for organizations that support girls and women. And she will have no choice but to learn how to rough it on the road.
“I see this as my walkabout,” Maxwell said, referencing the wilderness journey taken by adolescent male Australian Aborigines as a rite of passage. “This is like finding out what I’m made of.
“I don’t see this as athletic. I am not an athlete. I have gone cross-country skiing three times in my life and downhill skiing twice,” she said. “I don’t really ride bikes. I sprained my ankle walking. I’ve only camped … in campsites. I’ve never just gone out into the wild and camped. So this is totally out of my norm. But to me, that’s kind of the point.
“The best part is most people who walk (around the Earth), there’s no way you can prepare for it,” Maxwell said. “There’s no way.”
The journey begins
The seed for Maxwell’s journey was planted in late 2011, when she was looking to escape New York City after a bad breakup. She had moved from Washington, D.C., to the Big Apple a year before and expanded her business as a consultant helping women, “particularly healers like massage therapists and energy workers,” she says, learn how to build a practice and be successful. She coached most of her clients via phone or video chat.
“I thought, well, I could stay in New York or I could just go big,” she said.
So she went big. She created “Project SHE Thrives” and made a plan to travel to a different city every 30 days, interviewing women “on how they persevered (and) how they made their dreams come true” at each stop. She started in Los Angeles, then moved to San Francisco and Bend, where she fell in love with the lifestyle, realized filmmaking wasn’t her strength and shuttered the project. After a short return to San Francisco (where she met her boyfriend) and a winter in Costa Rica, she returned to Bend a little more than a year ago, “ready to settle down” but still infected with the travel bug.
And so her ears pricked up last summer when she heard a nearby student in a watercolor painting class say the words: “as he counted his footsteps, he was in Bali.” She asked, “Is someone walking around the world?”
They weren’t — the student was talking about an inmate who killed time in prison by counting his steps in the courtyard and mapping his virtual progress — but the exchange unleashed a torrent of ideas in Maxwell’s head.
“I’d be having coffee and I’d just start researching (walking around the world), and I discovered several people who’d done it in different ways. I became obsessed,” she said. “It was the first time in my life that I feel like I didn’t form something in the way I form a business or I form my life, like I go out and get plates and cups for my house and I have a vision of colors.
“It’s a new-age term, but I was just downloading,” Maxwell said. “It was just coming, and I had to write it down … and it started turning into this big thing.”
Since then, Maxwell has pared back her plans, primarily to putting one foot in front of the other one for five years, because that will be a massive challenge on its own. She is calling her journey Project WE Thrive, where “WE” not only means all of us, but also stands for “Women Empowered.”
She is leaving May 2 with enough money, she hopes, to get her through a year, and she’s taking donations on her website. Each donation will be split 50/50, with half supporting Maxwell’s journey and half going to a charitable organization. She plans to change the beneficiary each year of her journey; in the first year, the money will go to World Pulse, a Portland-based group dedicated to using digital media “to connect women worldwide and bring them a global voice,” according to its website.
Maxwell has pored over maps and Google Earth, considering route options. She has settled on something like this: From Bend, she’ll walk to Sisters and over Santiam Pass to Portland, where she’ll catch a plane to Perth, Australia, and walk up that continent’s western coast.
In the sailing community of Darwin, she’ll “head to the docks” and find a way across the seas around Indonesia, landing in Vietnam and then working her way west across Asia and Europe. In the United Kingdom, she’ll fly to Iceland, cross that island, then fly to New York City and walk her way back to Bend.
Maxwell will be pulling her bike trailer, which she’ll hook up to ski poles and a waistband. Among her essentials: a tent and sleeping bag, a camp stove, several journals, a hydration bag and water filter, bungee cords and three books to start in Australia: “Mutant Message Down Under” by Marlo Morgan, “The Songlines” by Bruce Chatwin and “I Heard God Laughing,” a book of works by the Persian poet Hafiz. She has also memorized Mary Oliver’s poem “The Journey” for when she needs inspiration and can’t rely on a book.
She plans to eat mostly beans and rice, and wants to get down to living on around $5 per day.
“I want to know what it’s like to live on less and feel like I’m thriving and to feel like I’m free and connected to the land and Mother Nature and people,” Maxwell said.
She is, however, going to miss sushi. She loves sushi, she said.
Preparing for such a journey may be futile, but that hasn’t stopped Maxwell from trying. In January, she spent three days walking across northern New Mexico with Karl Bushby, a Brit who has been walking since 1998. Bushby shared what he has learned, though Maxwell says she realizes “there’s still more for (her) to do.”
But most of all, she’s ready to head out into “the extreme unknown” and open herself up not only to others, but to her fears.
“I’m an introvert, even a loner. I choose to be alone at home rather than to go out and do something, so to walk around the world is a challenge in itself,” Maxwell said. “Not just because of the walking, but to be out there and meeting strangers and hearing people’s stories, and letting people help me. There’s a challenge in just letting people help. And if I’m able to receive from people helping me … I want to help and give back to the world, too.”
But, she said, “I’m going in it to actually feel the abandonment, the loneliness, the places in myself that I avoid feeling,” she continued. “I know it’s going to be tough. I’m expecting to be under some overpass, crying and cold and lonely and hungry. I’m expecting that.”
What she’s not expecting is to set any land-speed records. She reiterates that Project WE Thrive is not an athletic goal. It is about following a dream, cultural connection and self-discovery.
“It’s kind of like a petri dish and just dropping Padma into it,” she said. “I’m going to go walking. Let’s see what happens.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0377, email@example.com