Benjamin Wallsten wishes he had brought his iPod along for the journey.
The 800-or-so-mile journey. Walking. Carrying a 45-pound pack. On a mission.
Wallsten, a 21-year-old college student from San Bernadino, passed through Carpinteria, Montecito, Santa Barbara, and Goleta earlier this week for Days 14-17 of his “Perception Walk 2012” from San Diego to Sacramento. Wallsten — who wants to be the president one day, as noted on his LinkedIn page — is walking the walk to ignite something in people — members of his generation in particular — who have lost hope in the way things are now.
“Doing this is a good way to get people my age to say, ‘Hey, look, there’s this guy and he wants to be president one day, and he’s walking 800 miles to make a difference in the world, and maybe I’m a candidate, too, and maybe I want to run,’” he said.
Wallsten has long tried to be the change he wishes to see in the world. When he was 10, he said, he decided he wanted to be the president so that he could “help as many people as I can.” His family, he said, instilled in him the importance of small acts of kindness, etiquette, and respect for others. That side of him coupled with his “very analytical” side — in school, Wallsten is studying computational math, computer science, electrical engineering, cognitive science, and artificial intelligence — has made Wallsten into the person he is today: concerned about the future, and concerned that others aren’t concerned enough.
“The thing I want to get across most is that you don’t have to do extraordinary things,” he said. “It’s simply about making a difference within the realm of your life.”
Wallsten wanted to lead — one foot in front of the other — by example.
After he conceived of the “Perception Walk” about a year ago — preparing involved going on some 10-mile walks and stocking up on Clif bars, which Wallsten eats when he isn’t able to have real meals — he chose his route with the help of Google Maps. In the 250-plus miles it took him to get from San Diego to Santa Barbara, he said, he’s stuck as much as possible by the coast and the cooler temperatures.
The journey — which sees Wallsten walk 20 to 30 miles per day — has been harder to overcome mentally than physically, he said, but that was something he prepared for.
“The only reason I’m walking is because I spent weeks of time alone thinking, ‘Do I really want to do this? Can I do this?’ The first couple of days I really wanted to quit,” he said. “There are times when I’m walking and each step is just torture. To me, though, [quitting] is giving up on an entire future. I believe that if we wait any longer to do something, we may not have a type of world to save.”
Homelessness is an important issue for Wallsten. Although he saw many homeless people at earlier stops on his walk, he “never would have guessed” that Santa Barbara would have such a problem. “It just doesn’t seem right to me,” he said. “This experience has really taught me the importance of having a place to sleep.”
When he can, he sleeps in motel rooms. But most of the time, he said, it’s just him outside, in a tent. Now down to his last $50, Wallsten plans on opening a PayPal account and welcomes donations of food, water, and shelter.
Although his walk ends in the capital, Wallsten said that he hopes the perception will not end there. After he — for the sake of his feet — flies back home, he wants to go to New York City and further spread his message.
“It’s about getting other people to see that they can do something to make a difference in the world, too. They don’t have to walk 800 miles,” he said. “They just have to start doing something.”