Daren Wendell is on a journey most people have a hard time even fathoming. The 26-year-old is trekking around the world on his own two feet, a journey that he estimates will take about seven years, give or take a few days or weeks. RELEVANT recently caught up with him to talk about the inspiration behind the Earth Expedition, his faith and the span of three days where he sold everything he owned.
What motivated you to do the Earth Expedition?
It all kind of started back in 2005. I was finishing up a two-year internship at a church on the west side of Indianapolis, and my life was becoming increasingly more explainable. Whenever that happens, it usually means that the supernatural is not taking place, which means God’s spirit’s not working in my life. And so I was like, “You know, I want to put myself in a position that allows me to trust a bit more.” You know, I love the Church; don’t get me wrong, I think what the Church does is great. But somewhere I think we’ve lost the translation. We always expect people to come to the Church instead of bringing the Church to the people. It got way more heavy on the side of bringing Church to the people. So I was like, “All right, God, give me an opportunity to preach. Give me the opportunity to feed a hungry person, and I will do it. Give me an opportunity to pray for someone or just speak the truth into someone’s life; I will.” So I decided to ride my bike across the United States from Oregon to Virginia Beach. In those 74 days He gave me those opportunities, and I’ve never felt more alive in my life than during those 74 days.
I kind of wanted to open up a another chapter of my life that would allow me to do the same thing. And so I did some research a couple years ago, and I don’t even know where the idea came from. I’ve always kind of been wild at heart. Love to do endurance challenges—mental, physical, spiritual challenges. So I was like, is it even possible to walk around the world? I did some research and found out two people have done it already. Not the same route, but it’s been done. So I’ll be the youngest and the fourth person to finish. But the inspiration just comes from, really, a life philosophy of giving back to this world rather than taking from it. I just live my life, and I look around and most people are out for, number one, themselves. I want to leave a legacy for my children someday. I don’t have kids right now, but I want to, someday, for my son or daughter to be like, “Hey, my dad—he stood for something; he gave back to this world. He was part of the solution rather than the problem.” You know, my faith in God drives me to help people who are less fortunate. That’s why I’m walking for a humanitarian organization called Blood: Water Mission. They tackle clean blood, clean water, so everyone I talk to, I get to tell them about that, raise awareness, raise money. That’s kind of my inspiration for how I decide to live my life.
How does if feel when you think about how this is a trip that going to take you almost a decade? Is it surreal?
The second I think about that is the second I get overwhelmed. A lot of my day is spent praying and trying to take one day at a time. I’m not promised tomorrow anyway. So obviously I’ve got a plan for the next year, but when it comes to seven years, I’m like, wow, that’s too overwhelming for me to even think about, so I try not to.
Tell me about the planning and preparation.
I’ve been planning for this expedition since 2006. It took me seven months to commit, to answer all the questions—you know, seven Christmases away from my family, seven birthdays. And my grandparents are getting older. And I have a self-imposed dating ban from 2006 so I can do this. I also had $19,000 in debt, so I had to figure out a way to pay off all my debt in a year and a half as well as save up for the expedition. So I went on a huge budget. I also helped to do that by selling everything I owned—everything except for my car, because I still had to get to work. Eventually gave that to my father, so I don’t have a car, either. So everything’s gone except for a couple boxes.
Training-wise, I started preparing for the Chicago marathon six months out, prior to October 7. Then I ran the Chicago marathon, finished that and was pretty excited. Through a news story done on the Sunday night news at a local newspaper, a guy watched it, called me up and said, “Hey, I’m a personal trainer. I want to train you for free, five times a week, until you leave.” So for the past six months I’ve been getting up every morning at 7, 8 o’clock and training.
Can you walk me through a typical day?
It’s really simple. Wake up around 7. It takes me about a half-hour to get going in the morning. I eat a breakfast bar and get going right around 7:30, 7:40. I walk all the way to lunch, I take like a 20-minute lunch, some type of meal. Then I continue to walk until about 6 o’clock, and then I set up camp, filter water, make my meal, journal [and do it all again the next day].
Do you have any stories of interesting or intriguing people you’ve met or things that have happened?
A lot of people on the AT are going through transition, so they quit their job or got fired. I’ve camped with homeless people who are going along the AT. You never know what you’re going to get. I had a homeless guy offer me a shot of vodka, his last shot, and so we did a shot of vodka together. One of my rules of the expedition is if someone offers me something or invites me somewhere, I have to go, so that usually makes the decision for me—obviously with some exceptions.
When you were planning the trip, did you ever consider going with a friend?
I would like to. It’s almost impossible to find someone with the same passion, the same dream, inspiration that allows you to go on an expedition like that. But God’s not boxed by any means. And who knows? If He opened up the door—that’s something I pray about. That’s one of the biggest factors for me—one of the most difficult things is loneliness, as you can imagine. So I pray that God would provide for me a companion from time to time—and who knows? You never know who you’re going to bump into.
What has the response been so far, both from people who find out what you’re doing through the media and the people you’ve met along the way?
It’s mixed. I think it’s as different as the person. Sometimes I tell people; they don’t have to say a word, I can tell whether or not they believe me or not. And other people are really inquisitive. They are like, “Hey, I’m really interested,” and ask more questions. I think that the longer I walk, the more credibility I’ll have, obviously. I think more people will believe me, especially on the Appalachian Trail. A lot of these guys are on the adventure of their lifetime, and for me to be like, “Oh yeah, the Appalachian Trail—that’s just leg one of seven that’ll take me around the world”—It’s almost like I rain on their parade, so I really don’t talk to them too much about it. But I get a better response from people when I leave the trail and I tell them [about the trip]. They’ve got a lot of questions. Last night I was at a small group, and I did a presentation impromptu for about 35 minutes, just answered questions that people have about it.
Have there been times where you’ve really seen God’s hand moving?
Oh yeah. If I could summarize the expedition in one word right now, it would be provision. I’ve been on the receiving end of His grace since I decided to go on this journey. I get between 10 and 30 emails a day, full of encouragement—or, I was walking along the trail and they saw my backpack and they invited me to come stay at their house. It happens all the time. I’ll walk down to the corner and there’ll be a cooler there filled with drinks and pop that someone’s set out for me, and I’ll walk through and grab one and, oh man, I have no one else to thank but God.