“Mileage craziness is…obsessively placing more importance on how many miles are traveled than on the real reason for traveling…a person must be very careful not to become overly concerned with arriving.” (Peter Jenkins, A Walk Across America, 37)
What college student hasn’t dreamed of stepping away from it all for the sake of adventure, of leaving everything and everyone else behind for a few months or years in order to go and do something epic and, in turn, grow up a bit? I suppose that’s why this book jumped out at me the way it did, shortly after I finished my BA degree back in 2005. I was already preparing to move overseas at the time, and while I had a basic sense of why, my motivations were all scrambled up in a mess of childish ambition and a newfound sense of responsibility. So latching on to this story of a 22-year-old single guy like myself—admittedly from a different era than I, yet with the same longings—was exactly what I needed to get my own trip off on the right foot.
Peter Jenkins’ A Walk Across America chronicles his trek from New York state all the way down to New Orleans with nothing but his pack on his back, his Nikon in his hands, and his dog Cooper by his side (this is actually Part 1 of a two-part series; you can read about the remainder of his trek across American in The Walk West). Peter’s sense of adventure is palpable as he seeks to discover America for what she really is, and his genuine love for his best friend, Coop, is a touching addition. These compatriots follow two simple rules as they walk: “One is a Sioux law: ‘with all beings and all things we shall be as relatives.’ The second…’Every morning we will leave our campsite as a deer would, with only a few hundred bent blades of grass to show we have been there” (37).
Jenkins breaks his trip and book up into seven sections, and I can’t really decide which exactly was my favorite, for they all offer such unique glimpses into the fabric of our nation. In “Section Three,” for example (from Saltville, VA, to Murphy, SC), Jenkins settles down for a while with a black family in Texana, a family as devoted to their Mount Zion Church as they are to their comfort foods. “Section Four” (from Murphy, NC, to Summertown, TN) covers his visit to The Farm, a commune led by a nut-job named Stephen Gaskin, and a place that brought Peter closer, not to nature or some outlandish cult, but to the true God he’d been needing in his life (217).
And that need takes over to “Section Six” (From Montgomery to Mobile, AL), the section where Peter Jenkins finds what he’d been searching for from the very beginning, the answer to his whole purpose in walking: “to cover the hollowness deep down inside of me that hurt bad and never really went away” (20). He finds the answer in the preaching of an evangelist:
- The powerful question finally came. “Have you ever repented of your sin and turned your life over to Jesus Christ? Are you saved?”…When the question ended its roaring echo, I decided for the first time to admit that I needed God…I heard myself saying, “Lord Jesus, I want the gift of eternal life. I Am a sinner and have been trusting myself. Right now I renounce my confidence in myself and put my trust in Thee. I accept you as my personal Savior. I believe you died for my sins and I want you to come into my life and save me. I want you to be the Lord and Master of my life. He’ll me to turn fro”m my way and follow you. I am not worthy, but I thank you, Lord, for saving me. Amen. We all finished our request to God and my next sensation was beyond the words of the world. A vibration shot from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet, like a current of pure truth pushing out the old Peter and putting in a new one…Now I knew what people meant when they sang “Amazing Grace.” (287-288)
I’ve loved this book ever since I first picked it up, and over the past ten or so years, I’ve read it four times—once when I assigned it to my high school sophomore students in our English class! I love how Jenkins writes about the food he encounters along the way, as well as the wonderfully unique people, like Homer and Mary Elizabeth. It’s an inspiration to anyone who’s got the hunger for adventure and escape, whether a single college student or a married parent like me. Learn a few lessons from Peter Jenkins and enjoy the walk.