JASON FOUX had an itch. And like any itch, it wasn’t going to leave him alone until it was scratched.
His itch isn’t that uncommon, to be honest. But Foux’s reaction was.
Many men, of any age, get a longing to travel. Foux wasn’t to be satisfied by any ordinary vacation. No, he wanted to just get up and go; be on the move. No plans, no destinations, no return date.
Foux took that trip – with a pack on his back and the pavement at his feet – and traveled up and down nearly the entire East coast.
He always knew it would be a one-way trip, leading right back to his front door, but that’s about all Foux had in mind.
What took place was a two-month journey that took Foux from Louisiana to Rhode Island and back. He called his journey his walkabout, more about internal growth than just sightseeing.
When he returned home, he set out on his next journey. Once completed, he published his book An American Walkabout, which follows his journey from start to finish.
We caught up with Foux, and asked him about his trip, his return and his book:
The Man F.A.Q.: You have an interesting nickname, Newanderthal. Where did you come by it?
Jason Foux: Before my trip, I was thinking a lot about some of the things I would be doing. I had spent a lot of time camping, sleeping in the woods. I was thinking about being primitive, thinking about the neanderthals, the hunter-gatherers. That kind of worked into it. I knew (on my journey) I had no set destination, so I slipped ‘wander’ into it.
TMF: So, why this long backpacking trip? I mean, you basically lived like a homeless person, right? What was your driving force?
JF: I always had a wanderlust. Being in one place didn’t set well with me. I was always happy on road trips, backpacking trips. I was intent on taking a prolonged backpacking trip, and I didn’t want to have a goal in mind. I just had to go out and explore. The urge became stronger over time. I realized I wasn’t going to get any younger. About a year and a half ago, I just started making preparations.
TMF: Preparations? Didn’t you just have to grab your pack and go?
JF: I did a lot of conditioning. I wanted to make it farther than the edge of town. Once I actually set a date, it was a little more than a year our. I started working out at the high school track. I did a lap, followed by going up and down the bleachers. I also bought new backpacking gear. I started conditioning about a year and a half before the trip, but I later realized I could have done it all in about three or four months.
TMF: So you said you got all new gear. What all did you take with you?
JF: I had an internal frame pack, nothing special. I took a tarp shelter, water, my alcohol stove, a pot, some food, extra clothes, a sleeping bag and a light. When I left, my pack weighed about 50 points. … I quickly found out that I’d overpacked. On the trip, I would get rid of things. I lost about 15 pounds off the pack.
TMF: So your pack lost weight. Did you? What did you do for food?
JF: I lost between 15 and 17 pounds. What I found, in the eastern half of the United States, you’re almost always within a few hours’ walk of food. I never had to carry more than about a day-and-a-half worth of food.
TMF: When most people think of backpacking, they think of mountains and streams. Was that like your trip, or was it more urban?
JF: Whenever I was on the road, I was hitchhiking. I’d spend days or weeks in towns and cities, but I spent a lot of the time in woods and fields. I did a lot of cutting cross-country, so it was a mixture. I spent a lot of time in Providence, R.I., but I when I was in North Carolina, I spent a week in the mountains.
TMF: I read on your blog (newanderthal.blogspot.com) that your diary was stolen when you were in New York. How did you handle that?
JF: What I did was, as soon as I got a replacement notebook, I sat down and spent 12 hours writing and trying to remember everything I’d done. I maybe wrote half of what was in the original journal. That took a lot out of me. When it happened, I kind of wanted to go home. I was heartbroken. It was the most important thing that I had. All those memories and experiences were gone, and there was no way to get them back. There was no way for me to remember all the little details. At the same time, I learned from it. I found ways to have backups of everything I wrote.
TMF: Like your blog. How did you maintain that while you were on the road?
JF: As best I could. I went mostly into stores like Staples and Best Buy, every now and then a Radio Shack. At first I was looking for public libraries, but they’re hard to see. You can see a Best Buy from a mile off.
TMF: And eventually you made it back home and wrote your book. Did you know there would be a book?
JF: I’m a writer, been writing for years. Before I left I figured there’d be a book. That was one of the reasons I took so many notes.
TMF: What was your process?
JF: What I did was just read my journal, maybe five or 10 pages. I’d read the journal, and it would refresh my memory. Then I sat down and just wrote from that. The book is really just my journey, kind of day by day. There’s no particular format other than just the way the trip developed.
TMF: Was there any trouble adjusting back to a more normal life?
JF: Cooking, for one. The first time I went to cook a meal, I took my alcohol stove and pot from my backpack. I’d go look for something, and I’d look in my backpack. It was hard to get out of the old habits. I was used to sleeping when I was tired and eating when I was hungry. It was hard to get back on society’s schedule.
TMF: What about your family; what was it like to see them? What about your girlfriend?
JF: I was thrilled. I kept in touch as best I could with e-mail. When I got back into town, the first thing I did was track down my family. My girlfriend was the first person I actually saw. When I started to head back home, I didn’t tell anyone I was going. On my blog, I said there was another destination, but I didn’t say where.
TMF: Elaborate on your relationship with your girlfriend a little bit more. What was it like being away from her?
JF: It’s kind of hard to describe. Being away from her, I could talk to her on the phone or online. I loved her so much, and I wanted to be with her but I couldn’t. Then all of a sudden, I was standing right in front of her. It felt like I was right where I belonged. It was a big relief … to be able to hold her again.
TMF: So what would you say you got out of the experience?
JF: In a way, I’m more at peace. I’m able to deal with everyday problems a lot easier. (On my trip), I was dealing with problems day to day, and not just little problems. The little problems used to stress me out, like a dead battery on the truck or a broken hot-water heater. They don’t now. I also have a bit of advice that I’ve been trying to share with people. Everybody has something they want to do, some wild dream. Most don’t make the effort to do it. They end up 80 years old, wishing they’d done this or done that. It’s sad. Achieving something is not really that hard, you just have to be willing to make a few sacrifices and give up a few comforts. You can do what you want to do. If it means not getting that new computer or not having a few extra cable channels, then I think it’s worth it. I slept in ditches and ate on the side of the road. I wouldn’t give up any of it. It’s the most fulfilling experience I’ve ever had, and I got something I’ll never forget.
Jason Foux is back at home in southwest Louisiana, near Lake Charles. The 29-year-old quit his job as a graphic designer to take his trip, but is soon going to be starting work at the local newspaper helping with inserts and distribution. His book is available for purchase online at Lulu.com – An American Walkabout, and his blog may be read at http://newanderthal.blogspot.com/.