In 2009, Allie Stevens, 61, began to walk from Oceanside, California, to Miami, Florida, to set the Guinness World Record for the longest distance traveled by foot. So far, he has walked close to 4,100 miles to Mobile with his 400-pound rickshaw and will stay here for several weeks before moving on to Prichard.
Stevens, a California native, has not always lived his life on the road. Before he decided to set out on his first journey in 2007, he founded and ran his own successful limousine company.
“Nothing was fantastic about my life except the fact that I always knew I had a dream,” Stevens said. “I always wanted to do a world record, but I always thought the record would be eating the most cabbage or something.”
In 2007, Stevens’s wife died of pancreatic cancer. Soon afterwards, in 2011, he lost his daughter to cervical cancer.
“My wife’s death started me on this journey. And the fact that President Obama ran for president. I figured if he can run for president, I can walk across the country,” he said, laughing. “I was joking … He won and I’m walking.”
While fishing one day in Oceanside, Stevens decided to give people free rickshaw rides along the length of a 1,942-foot pier, partly to get in shape and partly to get his mind off the loss of his wife.
“I named the first rickshaw the Shangri-La rickshaw, because Shangri-La means ‘imaginary heaven on Earth’ and since I give you free rides and I sing to you while you’re getting a ride, it takes you to heaven right there on the pier,” Stevens said.
During one of these outings, he remembered his lifelong dream to break a world record and wondered if he could reconcile the two ambitions.
“I called the Guinness book and they said they can’t do a world record rickshaw walk up and down the pier but they can do one from one destination to another. So then I decided to walk to the Shangri-La Hotel in Las Vegas.”
Stevens was able to walk 147 miles before he was hit in the back with a bottle and paralyzed for three days.
“I was walking with the rickshaw and some idiots up near Twentynine Palms, California, thought I was a target and threw a big bottle out the car — it busted my spine and knocked me to my knees.”
On his second journey in 2008, Stevens was able to walk 642 miles before he was struck by a police car in Tombstone, Arizona. A year later, he began his third and current journey.
Along the way, Stevens has experienced his fair share of difficulties. Traveling the state of Texas took him three years alone.
“It’s a huge state, for one. A lot of bad weather. I got attacked by some wild pigs, which put me in the hospital for a while. I got attacked by some snakes. I got attacked by a brown recluse spider. I got flipped over by a couple of windstorms and tornados. I got caught in a sandstorm … My daughter passed away in 2011 so I had to go back for her. She actually died in my arms.”
One of his goals for the journey is to collect personal and family histories from the people he meets along the way.
“I promised God that I would stop at every single town, I don’t care how big or small, to find the history of it.”
The oral histories Stevens is collecting in many ways parallels New York eccentric Joe Gould’s “Oral History of Our Time,” which was chronicled in Joseph Mitchell’s famous work “Joe Gould’s Secret.”
Another goal of Stevens’ is to visit as many churches as he can and share songs he has written.
“I’ve spoken and sang at over 270 churches. I write music, I write songs and I give them away … It’s not about money.”
Although Stevens has written many songs, he does not copyright them. Like a Buddhist monk creating a sand mandala with the intent destroying it, he creates art so that others may share it.
“That’s where a lot of people fail. They count their blessings but they don’t give out their blessings. They hoard. And God gives them to you freely. You’re supposed to share them.”
Although raised Catholic, Stevens now follows a nondenominational faith.
“Every single religion on this Earth has limits, things you can and cannot do. And God has no limits. I’m proof. So why would I believe in a religion and limit myself? I’m able to visit all kinds of churches … My walk is not a political walk. It’s not a religious walk. It’s a spiritual walk.”
While on the road, Stevens cannot be picky about his diet, especially when he is far from civilization.
“I eat whatever I can. I’ve become a culinary master when it comes to exotic foods. I love to cook, period, which means you have to know how to season plants, animals, critters … certain bugs are actually edible.”
His favorite kind of insect to eat is grasshoppers.
“They’re hard to catch. Especially when you’re in the desert and you’re seeing triple.”
Although many people would never touch a grasshopper, let alone eat it, Stevens sometimes is not afforded the luxury. He has had to eat many other insects as well.
“I have eaten a lot of worms. Some of the big walking bugs. Half of them I didn’t know what they were, they just looked good.”
Although Stevens isn’t very choosy about where he stays, he is sometimes offered living space by people who are inspired by his journey.
“I’ve stayed in governors’ homes, senators’ homes. I’ve stayed in people’s driveways, garages.”
Other times, he sleeps in an army cot, a practice he said he perfected while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps.
A modern supplicant, Stevens lives solely on the kindness and generosity of others.
“I’m very serious about this walk. I left everything that I had in California to do this, because I wanted to show what faith can get you.”
Although Stevens never asks for donations, gifts are appreciated when he receives them.
“Wal-Mart is one of my sponsors. You can go to Wal-Mart, give them whatever you want to donate, and then call me at 619-592-5161 and give me the reference number … I’d rather get a gift card or cash, that way I can get things I need.”
Although the journey has been arduous, Stevens has not had to accomplish it alone. He has a dog named Roxy that has accompanied him along the way.
“She’s a protector. She’s faithful, patient. You touch something on the rickshaw, you’re going to leave something there. You’re going to be there or a part of you is going to be there.”
When asked what the most difficult part of his journey has been, the answer was not what one would expect.
“The hardest part of this journey is leaving the towns. I go to all these little towns and these big cities and I fall in love with them because I get to see things most people don’t see.”
The best part about the journey, Stevens said, is the love that he sees in everyone he meets.
“Even if they don’t want me to see it. People come to me with so much negativity, but I see the God in them. By the time they hear my story and talk a little while, they’ve changed. It’s beautiful.”
“I’m a California man. Hustle, bustle, money. I started walking across the South and I don’t think I can ever live in California again — It’s the freedom, the luxury that you guys have — I will never live anywhere but the South. I’m buying a home in Louisiana.”
He feels Mobile, in particular, is graced with a beauty and simplicity found nowhere else in the country.
“Everything about Mobile is beautiful, but there are people here that don’t realize how beautiful they have it. If I wasn’t a Saints fan, I would probably move to Mobile.”
Although Stevens has experienced a lot of hardship in his life, he’s still grateful for everything that has happened to him.
“Sometimes God blesses you with a catastrophe. He blesses you with a death. God gives us the ability to choose, and you learn from every single blessing.”
After he reaches Miami and completes his journey, he’s going to write an autobiography and create a documentary about his experiences. Not for the money, he clarifies, but because he wants to share them with the world and, in doing so, glorify God.
“It’s not about me. It’s about Him. I’m just a vessel God’s using to do this.”