When last we met Alan Christofferson — the Seattle businessman who lost everything and decided to walk to Key West in Richard Paul Evans' "The Walk" — he had awakened in a Spokane hospital, in intense pain, following a mugging and stabbing.
Little did Evans know how much pain there was. But in a classic "life imitates art" event, Evans himself was "mugged" by a rogue wave while body-surfing in St. Barts two months ago. The wave slammed him into the beach hard enough to break four ribs and shatter his shoulder.
"I'd never broken anything before, and I couldn't believe how much it hurt to breathe, to cough, to move. I only wish it had happened before I wrote the book; I'd have felt Alan's pain even more."
However, both Evans and the fictional Christofferson have recuperated well. "Doctors who looked at my shoulder said it was the worst they'd seen in someone who hadn't died. At the time, I thought I was going to die. But it turned out I didn't even need surgery; the muscles held the broken bones in place until they could get the shoulder immobilized, and it has healed remarkably well."
As for Christofferson, his story picks up in "Miles to Go: the Second Journal of The Walk Series." Christofferson's journey is put on hold while he painfully recuperates, but he is taken in by a woman he met days before on the road — a woman named Angel. And over the next few months, it becomes clear to Christofferson that he is there to help Angel as much as she is there to help him.
Angel is just one of the people whose life becomes entwined with Christofferson's as his journey continues.
There are actually three stories woven into "Miles to Go," says Evans. Angel's story is one; interaction with an aging-out foster girl Kailamai is another; and lastly comes the grueling walk across Wyoming, which feels much like the Greek king Sisyphus pushing his rock up the hill, and a surprise encounter in South Dakota.
After the first book in the series came out, the most frequent complaints Evans heard were that it was too short, and that people didn't want to wait a year for the next installment. "Those are actually good things," he says. And while the next installment won't be out until next year, "Miles to Go" is about twice as long as "The Walk," he says.
That's not the only difference in the book. For one thing, it covers many more miles. But for another, "up until now, everyone Alan has met has been there to help him. Now, he realizes he can be of help, too."
Christofferson's experience with Kailamai is one partially based on a true story that has touched Evans' own life. The real Kailamai "is the most hopeful person I ever met, who had the crummiest life. She was beaten and abused every week of her life, and you wonder how she even managed to survive, let alone become so positive."
Her story also helps call attention to the problems of youth who are aging out of the foster care system, something that Evans' charity, The Christmas Box House, has been working on in recent years.
"Not many 17- or 18-year-olds can live on their own in the best of circumstances. Statistics show that within 24 months, 60 percent of those who leave foster care will be homeless, incarcerated, pregnant or dead. We've started to provide them with Life Kits that provide some of their physical needs, such as sheets and towels, as well as information on contacts, were to find help, how to get in school. Ideally, we'd like to hook them up with mentors; mentors are the surest way to success."
They are now providing Life Kits in five states and hope to spread to more. "We are losing too many of these youth," Evans says.
He had not heard from Kailamai for a couple of years, as he and his daughter were doing a research drive through Coeur D'Alene, Idaho. "We knew she lived in that area, but had no way to contact her.
"That night, as we checked into our hotel, I received my first ever email from Kailamai. She just wanted to let me know how she was doing. It was such a bizarre coincidence. We ended up meeting with her, and she gave us permission to use some of her story. My daughter also helped her write her true story, and we are selling downloads on our website (www.richardpaulevans.com). Proceeds will help Kailamai go to school."
"Miles to Go" ends up with a visit to the Crazy Horse monument, where Korczak Ziolkowski started carving his mountain in 1948, and crews are still at work. Evans and his daughter had not planning to go there, but it turned out to be one of their most pivotal experiences. "It sums up the idea of the whole book; it's a metaphor for Alan's journey, and for the arcing message of 'The Walk,' which is all about hope."
It's a message the world needs, Evans says. That may be why "The Walk" sold twice as many copies as the publisher expected, why it landed on the New York Times Best-sellers list, why it has received the 2010 Wilbur Award, presented by the Religion Communicators Council.
There are equally hopeful messages in the continuing journey: "There are still people out there with selfless, giving hearts;" "I guess sometimes we're lucky to have someone to miss so much;" "cowards always hide behind bravado or stoicism; it takes courage to show emotion;" "there's no problem so big that whining won't make it worse;" "each small step was an act of faith and hope, affirming to myself that life was worth living."
The next segment of the journey will probably take Christofferson from South Dakota to Memphis, Tenn. "I get letters from people who want me to tell them what happens next," Evans says. "The truth is, I don't know. That's the fun of creation. I won't know until I get on the road again."
But his goal, he says, is not to provide just an entertaining read, but an experience. His goal is to remind people there is a power to hope that helps any circumstance, whether it's walking across the country, dealing with the loss of loved ones or even being slammed into the beach.
If you go
Richard Paul Evans book signing
April 5: noon, Barnes & Noble, 340 S. 500 West, Bountiful; 7 p.m. Barnes & Noble, 1780 North Woodland Park Dr., Layton
April 9: 11 a.m., Costco, 5201 South Intermountain Dr., Murray; 2 p.m., Sams Club, 11278 South Jordan Gateway, South Jordan
April 16: noon, Costco, 3656 Wall Ave., Ogden