2017-02-09 / Life in Leelanau

LET’S TALK

Andrews spreads message warning of social media dependence, walks the walk
By Patti Brandt Burgess
Of The Enterprise staff


CHRIS ANDREWS has spent nearly every summer at his family’s place in Suttons Bay. The 23-yearold is now trekking across the United States to spread a message of less technology, more conversation. CHRIS ANDREWS has spent nearly every summer at his family’s place in Suttons Bay. The 23-yearold is now trekking across the United States to spread a message of less technology, more conversation. People have yelled out their car windows at Chris Andrews as he slowly makes his way across the country on foot, pushing the soupedup dog cart that carries everything he needs — food, water, his tent and sleeping bag.

They’ve thrown things at him and tried to run him off the road.

They’ve also let the 23-year-old pitch his tent in their yards, told him their stories and given him food.

In fact, Andrews said, people stopped to offer him a breakfast burrito three different times while he tackled an arduous 142-mile stretch of highway between Carlsbad, N. Mex. and El Paso, Texas. It’s a stretch where there is no water and not a single building, only an endless ribbon of highway punctuated by oil tankers, pick-up trucks and the occasional bearer of food.


CHRIS ANDREWS is shown with a group of students at Trinity School in Midland, Texas. The 23-yearold has talked to more than 1,500 students at several schools he’s visited along his hiking route. CHRIS ANDREWS is shown with a group of students at Trinity School in Midland, Texas. The 23-yearold has talked to more than 1,500 students at several schools he’s visited along his hiking route. “It’s a lot of desert,” Andrews said. “It’s beautiful, but it’s one of those challenges when I have to carry seven gallons of water.”

Andrews, the son of Karin and Rick Andrews of Suttons Bay, started his journey on Aug. 8 in Washington, D.C. As of a couple of weeks ago he had covered 2,125 miles in the 152 days he had been walking, minus an occasional day off.

The goal of his journey is to spread the message that people need to pull themselves away from their phones and computer tablets and engage with the world around them.

He said he knows the value of social media as both an advertising tool and as a way to keep in touch with far-flung friends and family who are just a click away.


CHRIS ANDREWS was born in Argentina and lived in both Mexico and Chile as a youth but spent summers at the family cabin in Leelanau County. Andrews is the son of Karin and Rick Andrews of Suttons Bay. CHRIS ANDREWS was born in Argentina and lived in both Mexico and Chile as a youth but spent summers at the family cabin in Leelanau County. Andrews is the son of Karin and Rick Andrews of Suttons Bay. The problem is when social media begins to take over.

“Instead of tools, they become a way of life and that’s when we need to be careful,” Andrews said. “There has to be a balance.”

Andrews is also the grandson of Marlis Mann and Tom Skinner of Leland. He was born in Argentina and lived in Mexico and Chile while growing up, but spent his summers at the family cabin in Suttons Bay.

Growing up out of the country has given him an understanding of other cultures. But Leelanau has always felt like home.

“It will always be home for me,” he said. “It’s the one place in my life I went back to year after year after year. Suttons Bay is my history and the roots that I do have are there. That means a lot to someone who has lived a nomadic life.”

Andrews said that about a year and a half ago he started to realize that the amount of time he was spending on his phone and on Facebook was pulling him away from the people who were right there.

“And I saw it everywhere,” he said. “It’s endlessly stimulating ... And no one was talking about the little hits of dopamine we’re getting with every ‘like.’”

He did some research and came to the conclusion that the most valuable skill in the modern age is being able to hold a coherent conversation, making eye contact, engaging with people and building relationships.

“The message is not to condemn technology, but rather to celebrate face-to-face encounters as something that improves your quality of life,” Andrews said.

While on his trek he’s talking to people everywhere. He’s knocked on doors, asking people if he can pitch his tent in their yard. Sometimes he has to knock on five or six doors before someone says “yes,” he said.

It’s something that’s taught him a lot about handling rejection, but a surprising number invite him in for a meal and a conversation, which is the point of his trek.

“The generosity that I’ve experienced out here makes me realize that there are more good people than bad,” Andrews said.

He’s also shared his message at several schools along the way, with students who have grown up with the devices in their hands.

His cross-country trek will end next week in Los Angeles. At that time he may start looking for a job, or he may parlay his journey into a book or a platform for a speaking tour.

Andrews graduated in June with a business degree from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. He’s taken long hikes before — 300 miles in Spain, 150 in Portugal and 110 in Scotland.

But this trip is on a whole new level, he said.

Instead of a backpack, all of his stuff is loaded into a cart normally used for older dogs that he souped up with solid rubber tires to handle the hundreds of miles the cart would travel. It was also outfitted with solar panels that are used to keep Andrews’ camera, lights and phone charged up.

When he’s not walking and talking he plays his guitar, writes music or journals by hand in a notebook, saying that writing is a good way to process everything he’s seen and all the people he’s met.

And he hasn’t completely unplugged, as he writes a blog, uploads photos and posts updates on his website, Letstalkusa.com, and his Facebook page at LetsTalkUsaProject.

So what’s his favorite place in Leelanau County?

“Being in a booth at Boone’s (Prime Time Pub) waiting for a burger.”

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