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       Miles to Go, p.1

           Richard Paul Evans
 
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Miles to Go


  ALSO BY RICHARD PAUL EVANS

  The Walk

  Promise Me

  The Christmas List

  Grace

  The Gift

  Finding Noel

  The Sunflower

  A Perfect Day

  The Last Promise

  The Christmas Box Miracle

  The Carousel

  The Looking Glass

  The Locket

  The Letter

  Timepiece

  The Christmas Box

  For Children

  The Dance

  The Christmas Candle

  The Spyglass

  The Tower

  The Light of Christmas

  Simon & Schuster

  1230 Avenue of the Americas

  New York, NY 10020

  www.SimonandSchuster.com

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and

  incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or

  are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events

  or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright © 2011 by Richard Paul Evans

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or

  portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address

  Simon & Schuster Subsidiary Rights Department,

  1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

  First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition April 2011

  SIMON & SCHUSTER and colophon are registered trademarks

  of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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  Designed by Davina Mock-Maniscalco

  Manufactured in the United States of America

  1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

  Library of Congress Control Number 2011 006 336

  ISBN 978-1-4391-9137-8

  ISBN 978-1-4391-9147-7 (ebook)

  “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” from the book,

  The Poetry of Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem.

  Copyright 1923, 1969 by Henry Holt and Company.

  Copyright 1951 by Robert Frost. Reprinted by permission of

  Henry Holt and Company, LLC.

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  I thank the following for their assistance on this book: My daughter Jenna, for her wisdom, editorial advice and endurance on the road. It was Jenna’s idea on where to end this story. I’m proud of you, honey.

  Laurie Liss, just for being you. Dr. Steve Schlozman for helping me at such a difficult time. Jonathan Karp, for your enthusiasm for this series. Gypsy da Silva, Karen Thompson and Amanda Murray, for editorial advice. Liz Peterson and Chris Evans—for helping us find our way around Spokane. Kailamai Hansen. Kelly Glad, thanks for always being ready with an answer. Pattie Servine, P.R. Department at Sacred Heart Medical Center. Taylor Swift just because I really like your music. Carl Evans and Detective Corbett Ford of the Cottonwood Heights Police Department. Tony Bonney.

  And the crew of the Windstar, especially Amanda Millar, who delivered the proofs of this book in Virgin Gorda, miraculously.

  My staff: Diane Glad, Barry Evans, Heather McVey, Fran Plat, Lisa Johnson, Lisa McDonald, Sherri Engar, Jed Platt, and Doug Smith.

  The family; Keri, Jenna and David, Allyson, Abigail, McKenna and Michael.

  As always, my Heavenly Father.

  To Karen Christoffersen

  Contents

  Acknowledgments

  Prologue

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  Chapter Twenty-Six

  Chapter Twenty-Seven

  Chapter Twenty-Eight

  Chapter Twenty-Nine

  Chapter Thirty

  Chapter Thirty-One

  Chapter Thirty-Two

  Chapter Thirty-Three

  Chapter Thirty-Four

  Chapter Thirty-Five

  Chapter Thirty-Six

  Chapter Thirty-Seven

  Chapter Thirty-Eight

  Chapter Thirty-Nine

  Chapter Forty

  Chapter Forty-One

  Chapter Forty-Two

  Chapter Forty-Three

  Chapter Forty-Four

  Chapter Forty-Five

  Chapter Forty-Six

  Chapter Forty-Seven

  Chapter Forty-Eight

  Chapter Forty-Nine

  Chapter Fifty

  Chapter Fifty-One

  Chapter Fifty-Two

  Chapter Fifty-Three

  Epilogue

  Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

  Whose woods these are I think I know.

  His house is in the village, though;

  He will not see me stopping here

  To watch his woods fill up with snow.

  My little horse must think it queer

  To stop without a farmhouse near

  Between the woods and frozen lake

  The darkest evening of the year.

  He gives his harness bells a shake

  To ask if there is some mistake.

  The only other sound’s the sweep

  Of easy wind and downy flake.

  The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,

  But I have promises to keep,

  And miles to go before I sleep,

  And miles to go before I sleep.

  —Robert Frost

  PROLOGUE

  The sun will rise again. The only uncertainty is whether or not we will rise to greet it.

  Alan Christoffersen’s diary

  Several months after I was mugged, stabbed, and left unconscious along the shoulder of Washington’s Highway 2, a friend asked me what being stabbed felt like. I told her it hurt.

  Really, how do you describe pain? Sometimes doctors ask us to rate our pain on a scale from one to ten, as if that number had some reliable meaning. In my opinion there needs to be a more objective rating system, something comparative; like, would you trade what you’re feeling for a root canal or maybe half a childbirth?

  And with what would we compare emotional pain—physical pain? Arguably, emotional pain is the greater of the two evils. Sometimes people will inflict physical pain on themselves to dull their emotional anguish. I understand. If I had the choice between being stabbed or losing my wife, McKale, again, the knife has the advantage—because if the knife kills me, I stop hurting. If it doesn’t kill me, the wound will heal. Either way the pain stops. But no matter what I do, my McKale is never coming back. And I can’t imagine that the pain in my heart will ever go away.

  Still, there is hope—not to forget McKale, nor even to understand why I had to lose her—but to accept that I did and somehow go on. As a friend recently said to me, no matter what I do, McKale will always be a part of me. The question is, what part—a spring of gratitude, or a fo
untain of bitterness? Someday I’ll have to decide. Someday the sun will rise again. The only uncertainty is whether or not I will rise to greet it.

  In the meantime, what I hope for most is hope. Walking helps. I wish I were walking again right now. I think I’d rather be anywhere right now than where I am.

  CHAPTER

  One

  We plan our lives in long, unbroken stretches that intersect our dreams the way highways connect the city dots on a road map. But in the end we learn that life is lived in the side roads, alleys, and detours.

  Alan Christoffersen’s diary

  My name is Alan Christoffersen and this is the second journal of my walk. I’m writing from a hospital room in Spokane, Washington. I’m not sure how you came to be holding my book—truthfully, I don’t even know if you are—but if you’re reading my story, welcome to my journey.

  You don’t know much about me. I’m a thirty-two-year-old former advertising executive, and sixteen days ago I walked away from my home in Bridle Trails, Seattle, leaving everything behind, which, frankly, wasn’t much by the time I started my trek. I’m walking to Key West, Florida—that’s about 3,500 miles, give or take a few steps.

  Before my life imploded, I was, as one of my clients put it, “the poster child for the American dream”—a happily married, successful advertising executive with a gorgeous wife (McKale), a thriving advertising agency with a wall of awards and accolades, and a $2 million home with horse property and two luxury cars parked in the garage.

  Then the universe switched the tracks beneath me, and in just five weeks I lost it all. My slide began when McKale broke her neck in a horse-riding accident. Four weeks later she died of complications. While I was caring for her in the hospital, my clients were stolen by my partner, Kyle Craig, and my financial world collapsed, leading to the foreclosure of my home and repossession of my cars.

  With my wife, business, house, and cars gone, I packed up what I needed to survive and started my walk to Key West.

  I’m not trying to set any records or wind up in any newspapers. I’m certainly not the first to cross the continent by foot; I’m at least a century too late for that. In fact, the first attempt was made more than two hundred years ago by a man named John Ledyard, who planned to walk across Siberia, ride a Russian fur-trade vessel across the ocean to (what is now) Alaska, and then walk the rest of the way to Washington, D.C., where Thomas Jefferson would warmly greet him. Such are the plans of men. Ledyard only made it as far as Siberia, where Russian Empress, Catherine the Great, had him arrested and sent to Poland.

  Since then, no less than a few thousand pioneers, prospectors, and mountainmen have crossed the continent without air-cushioned walking shoes, paved roads, or, unbelievably, a single McDonald’s.

  Even in our day there is a sizable list of countrycrossers, including an eighty-nine-year-old woman who walked from California to Washington, D.C., and a New Jersey man who ran from New Brunswick to San Francisco in exactly sixty days.

  Nearly all of these travelers carried causes with them, from political reform to childhood obesity. Not me. The only torch I’m carrying is the one for my wife.

  You might guess that my destination was chosen for its balmy weather, blinding white beaches, and topaz blue waters, but you’d be wrong: Key West was simply the furthest point on the map from where I started.

  I should add the disclaimer that Key West is my intended destination. It is my experience that journeys rarely take us where we think we’re going. As Steinbeck wrote, “we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.” There’s a difference between reading a map and traveling the road—as distinct as the disparity between reading a menu and eating a meal. So it is with life. As the saying goes, “Life is what happens to us while we’re planning something else.” That is true. Even my detours had detours.

  My most recent detour has left me in the emergency room of Sacred Heart Medical Center with a concussion and three knife wounds to my belly after being jumped by a gang three miles outside Spokane. That’s where you’re joining me.

  For those of you who have been following my walk since my first step (or before), I warned you that my story wouldn’t be easy. I suppose that’s no surprise; no one’s story is easy. No one goes through life without pain—of this I’m certain. The price for joy is sadness. The price for having is loss. You can moan and whine about this and play the victim—many do—but it’s just the way it is. I’ve had a lot of time to think about this. That’s one of the benefits of walking.

  I also warned you in my first journal that you might not believe or be ready for all I have to share with you. This book is no different. No matter—accept or dismiss what you want to believe.

  Since I began my walk, I’ve traveled only 318 miles, less than ten percent of the distance to Key West. But already there have been profound experiences; I’ve met people along the way I believe I was meant to meet and I’m certain there are more to come.

  This is a story of contrasts—about living and dying, hope and despair, pain and healing, and the tenuous, thin places between both extremes where most of us reside.

  I’m not sure whether I’m walking away from my past or toward a future—time and miles will tell and I have plenty of both. As the poet Robert Frost said, I have “miles to go before I sleep.”

  I’m happy to share with you what I learn. Welcome to my walk.

  CHAPTER

  Two

  I’ve gone from a schedule of hours and minutes to not being able to tell you what day of the month it is.

  Alan Christoffersen’s diary

  My second night in the hospital was rough. I was wet and hot with fever and somewhere in the night I started coughing. Each expulsion felt like another blade plunging into my stomach. The nurse checked my bandages, then told me not to cough, which wasn’t at all helpful. In spite of the medications they gave me to help me sleep, for most of the night I just lay there, lonely and aching. I wanted McKale more than life. Definitely more than life. Of course, if she were with me, I wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place. Exhaustion finally overcame me and I fell asleep around 4 or 5 A.M.

  The next day I woke to a young nurse walking around my bed looking at monitors and writing on a clipboard. Since I’d been admitted to the hospital, a bevy of nurses and doctors had been swarming around me in my delirium, flashing in and out of my consciousness like dancers in a music video. But I didn’t remember any of them. This was the first nurse I was cognizant of. She was small, petite, and barely the height of a floor lamp. I watched her for a few minutes then said, “Morning.”

  She looked up from her clipboard. “Good afternoon.”

  “What time is it?” I asked. It was kind of a funny question since I didn’t even know what day, or week, it was. The last two weeks had run together like eggs in a blender.

  “It’s almost twelve-thirty,” she said, then added, “Friday.”

  Friday. I had left Seattle on a Friday. I’d been gone for just fourteen days. Fourteen days and a lifetime.

  “What’s your name?”

  “I’m Norma,” she said. “Are you hungry?”

  “How about an Egg McMuffin?” I said.

  She grinned. “Not unless you can find one made of Jell-O. How about some pudding? The butterscotch is edible.”

  “Butterscotch pudding for breakfast?”

  “Lunch,” she corrected. “Also, in a couple hours we’re sending you in for a CT scan.”

  “When can I take the catheter out?”

  “When you can walk to the bathroom on your own—which we’ll attempt after we get the results back from your scan. Are you claustrophobic?”

  “No.”

  “Sometimes people get claustrophobic in the scanner. I can give you something for anxiety if you are. A Valium.”

  “I don’t need anything,” I said. I didn’t care about the scan; I wanted the catheter out of me. In the haze of the last forty-eight hours, I vaguely remembered pulling the catheter out and making a real m
ess of things.

  I had two good reasons for wanting it out; first, because it hurt. No one should stick anything up that part of the male anatomy. Second, an infection from a catheter is what killed my wife. The sooner the thing was out, the better.

  A hospital orderly, a husky young freckled man wearing bright purple scrubs, came for me around two in the afternoon. He unhooked some wires and tubes from my body, then wheeled my entire bed down the linoleum corridor to radiology. I didn’t know it was my second visit until the technician operating the equipment said, “Welcome back.”

  “Have I been here before?”

  “You were out the first time,” she replied.

  The scan was tedious, surprisingly loud, and took about an hour. When it was through, the orderly wheeled me back to my room and I fell asleep. When I woke, Angel was back.

  CHAPTER

  Three

  Somewhere between being stabbed and waking in the hospital, I had an experience that’s difficult to describe. Call it a dream or a vision, but McKale came to me. She told me that it wasn’t my time to die—that there were still people I was meant to meet. When I asked her who, she replied, “Angel.” Who is this woman?

  Alan Christoffersen’s diary

  The first time I woke in the hospital, there was a strange woman sitting in a chair next to my hospital bed. She was about my age and dressed casually, wearing a fitted T-shirt and jeans. When I could speak, I asked her who she was. She told me that we had met a few days earlier just outside the small town of Waterville. Her car had been stopped at the side of the road with a flat tire.

  I recalled the encounter. She had tried to change the tire herself but had spilled the wheel’s lug nuts down the side of the incline into a deep gorge, leaving her stranded. I had taken a nut from each of the other tires and attached her spare.

  She had offered me a ride to Spokane that I turned down. Just before she drove off, she gave me her business card, which (since I’d thrown my cell phone away on the first day of my walk) was the only contact information the police found on me. They called her and, inexplicably, she came. Her name was Annie, but she told me to call her Angel. “That’s what my friends call me,” she said.

 
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