Liam Burnell walked through Milford and Stratford this week on his cross-country trek to try to change the way Americans think.
Burnell, 40, lives in Maine, and that’s where he started his walk July 22. He’s heading toward Los Angeles, Calif., planning a southern route to follow the sun and heat, without much more than a backpack, a tent, sleeping bag and a copy of his book, Take Courage America, that he plans to market along the way.
The book is self-published, so spreading the word about it is on his shoulders: Walking and talking to people on the road to California seemed a good way to get the word out.
His book challenges Americans to confront their fears and make better decisions. The author says that many of the worst dangers people face as a society come about as a result of their own fear-based decisions.
Burnell has held different jobs over the years, most recently farming in Maine. “It’s meaningful work,” Burnell explained during a stop in downtown Milford Tuesday. “It doesn’t really make me poor; they give you heaps of free food, and it’s healthy, fresh food, so I hardly ever have to go to the doctor.”
He seems to be a minimalist, but not so when it comes to dining, he said, adding that he had just stopped at The Plate, an eatery on New Haven Avenue in MIlford, and it was well worth it. “But I’m not very materialistic,” he said.
That comes across loud and clear as he walks down the street with his home for the next year or so on his back. This is his second attempt to walk across the country, and while he said the first try about 15 years ago lacked a sound plan — he walked from Maine to South Carolina — it held the same motivation: Burnell wants to “save the world,” he said with a grin.
“I am concerned that people are making a lot of bad choices based on fear. And those choices are making the world a more dangerous place,” he said.
Burnell pretty much stopped watching television years ago, only tuning in once in awhile — though he’s always read the newspaper.
“Last fall I moved in with a senior citizen who watches about 12 hours of CNN every day, and it’s pure hysteria,” Burnell said. “If that’s their window on the world, like this poor person who can’t leave their house, you’re going to think the world is a really scary, dangerous place and never leave your home.
“That’s not the world I live in,” he said.
He continued, “I grew up watching television, but I decided at age 18 that it was warping my sense of reality, and I cut it out of my life. I spent some years living in the ghetto and other years living in the country. I met thousands of people, and no one ever stole anything from me or did any harm to my body.
“I met some dishonest people, and I got cheated out of a lot of pay one time, but I never experienced anything really awful like you see on TV every few minutes.”
He attended the University of Wyoming but did not graduate college, and credits his father with teaching him the value of being articulate and mastering English grammar, skills he said that have helped him write his book and share what he describes as “a more level-headed perspective.”
The book’s chapters include Trauma Vs. Television, Conservatives Vs. Liberals, and the second to last chapter, Death.
“The first chapters take on big subjects of fear, then the origins of war, a look back in history to see how we got to this situation,” he said. “The end of the book offers suggestions about how we can work our way out of this sort of cul de sac that we’ve gotten into.”
This week as Burnell walked along New Haven Avenue, from West Haven, into Milford, heading toward Stratford, two men he talked to told him to avoid Bridgeport because of the crime.
“Of course I’m going to Bridgeport, because I’m telling people not to be afraid,” he said.
From there he would pass through Fairfield, Westport, Norwalk, Darien, Stamford and Greenwich to the New York line.
He’s aiming for big cities — he can’t wait to get to New York City, where he will probably linger a bit, sharing the flyers and cards he’s printed to advertise his book.
Once he gets to Washington, D.C., he said he will stop and plan his route from there.
He’s not terribly tech savvy, just now learning Facebook and Twitter to take advantage of social media marketing: He just bought an iPhone two days ago.
He’s relying mostly on printed maps, which he said he’s always been drawn to. “One thing that makes this less intimidating is that I’m good at reading maps,” Burnell said. “If I get lost, it’s not a big deal. I eventually find myself.”
This wasn’t his first time passing through Milford. Working as an activist with the Toxics Action Center a number of years ago, he was in Milford fighting area power plants.
He said he met some great people in Milford and Stratford during that campaign. “I was happy to know I’d be coming back through here,” Burnell said.
The backpacker said he unrolled his sleeping bag at the base of Savin Rock in West Haven the previous night and slept under the stars. The next night he planned to sleep on someone’s couch — a deal he found online.
He doesn’t know how many miles this jaunt measures, but he’s hoping to reach LA by next summer.
He left Maine with only $900, and so far, he hasn’t spent much of that. He says he still has about $900, one month into his journey, because people he’s met along the way have been generous.
The book can be purchased at takecourageamerica.wordpress.com or Amazon.com.