BANGOR, Maine — For many hikers and campers, getting out of the house is as much about learning about themselves as exploring the world around them.
For Spencer Morton, 22, walking from Bangor to California seems like the best opportunity to see the country, meet new people and discover more about himself.
Morton will leave his apartment May 14 to start the trip. He will travel down the East Coast to Virginia, visiting relatives along the way. Then he will walk to Kansas, go through Texas, New Mexico and Arizona before finishing in Los Angeles.
“I’m most looking forward to meeting people and seeing the country in a way that not a lot of people have. The world looks like a completely different place when you’re going 3 miles an hour rather than 60,” Morton said.
Morton, who lived in California until he was 13, is hoping to walk 20 miles a day, and with a total of 3,800 miles, expects to reach LA in eight months, but realizes it could take longer.
“If I went straight I could do it in five to six months. And I’m not. I have some other things I want to accomplish during the trip like filming a documentary, writing and soaking everything in,” Morton said. “I don’t want to rush through this.”
After moving to Maine from California, Morton attended Lake Region High School in Naples and graduated in 2006, then went to Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic, Conn., for a year before returning to Maine. He transferred to the University of Maine and graduated with a degree in journalism in 2010.
After graduating, Morton worked full time at the obituary department of the Bangor Daily News. Around December of last year he decided it was time for something new.
“I didn’t really like working in an office, staring at a computer screen for eight hours a day. I’ve always kind of had this hunger and thirst for adventure. And it seemed like the right time. I don’t have any huge bills to pay or any kids. I don’t even have family up here anymore,” Spencer said.
His parents, Kathy and Chip, moved to Virginia after he graduated from UMaine.
“Obituary writing got me thinking of people’s lives and stories that were never told,” Morton said. “And also, what would be in my obituary someday? Have I done anything noteworthy in my life? No, not really, I haven’t. And so maybe through this trip I can tell someone else’s story and have a good story to put in my obituary someday, too.”
He gave up his job, along with health insurance; his apartment in Bangor; and his black Lab, boxer mix, Chloe, who he had for almost a year, to take this once-in-a-lifetime trip.
Everything Morton will need he’ll carry on his back in his Field & Stream hiking pack. He will bring gear such as a tent, headlamp, tarp, Leatherman, Coleman propane cook stove, clothes and a medical kit, along with an iPod touch and video camera to document his trip and a prepaid cell phone for emergencies. Morton plans on updating his website, spencerwalksamerica.com, daily.
Morton will bring beef jerky, oats, cranberries, fruit trail mix, chili and multivitamins. He also made packages of food that he will mail to post offices on his route. He has saved money for food or supplies needed along the way as well as for emergencies.
When the sun starts to set, Morton plans on knocking on someone’s door and asking if he can pitch a tent on their lawn.
He said he realizes there will be stretches of road with no houses. In those cases he’s prepared to camp in the woods.
“On this trip I’m banking a lot on the good charity of people,” Morton said. “I think the world, and our country in particular, is a better place than it’s made out to be. I don’t think it’s as scary a place as people think.”
When Morton gets to LA he will stay with friends while he edits his documentary, writes a book and records a spoken word album sharing his stories and the stories of people he meets.
“I’ve always loved watching documentaries and filming and I’ve always loved the idea of true people telling their stories so I’d love to get into that career someday,” Morton said.
Where he’ll settle down after the trip is undecided. He’s open to staying in California, coming back to Maine or moving to Virginia to be near his family.
“The whole trip is very open-ended; it’s going to be affected a lot by what I find and what happens,” Morton said. “That has me really excited, actually. A lot of people would probably be nervous about that, not having a final outcome. It adds a little bit more excitement.”
While his mother and grandparents are worried about his trip, his friends and father are more excited.
His father gave him a shirt for his journey, “It says ‘Not all who wander are lost.’ I think it’s very poignant for this journey. I’m sure a lot of people look at me and think either I’ve lost my mind or lost my route literally. But I’m not really lost,” Morton said.
His biggest fears? Getting hit by a car, getting stuck in extreme weather or having an illness or other emergency in the family and not being able to help out.
“I’d have to really think about if I would put the trip on hold. I wish for the best health for all my family during my trip,” Morton said. “They’re all worried about me and I’m like, ‘I’m worried about you guys.’”
Despite his fears and the concerns of others, Morton is ready to start walking.
“Everyone has a different path in this life and I think it’s really naive for people to say that what you’re doing is wrong or that they don’t agree with what you’re doing,” Morton said. “This is just my route.”
To follow along on Morton’s journey, visit spencerwalksamerica.com.