Barbara and I have had adventures that left our hearts soaring or crunched. Our minds have been constantly challenged as we’ve learned of different peoples and philosophies until we thought we could hold no more. And yet we are not just people with physical bodies burning for adventure. We are people with spirits and souls that yearn for more. Come along with us down these unseen roads. (Front Matter)
It has been more than a decade since I first read both A Walk Across America and The Walk West, books which chronicle Peter Jenkin’s walk across these here United States. As a college student at the time, I was thunderstruck by this wide-eyed dreamer and his slow-plodding adventure, and was ultimately driven to fall in love with the Chinese landscape by reading his book Across China. While I’ve owned The Road Unseen for as many years, I’d not longed to read it, mostly because in college I had some unnatural aversion to reading anything written by a lady. Strange, I know, but if there’s any book that has proven how ridiculous a notion that was, this is it. Barbara Jenkins relates her own story here in such a loving, powerful way that I was tempted to skip over Peter’s chapters to get back to whatever she had to say.
Perhaps I had given Peter Jenkins a bit too much credit over the years, simply because everything I knew about him came from his own mouth! It’s kind of like the Apostle Paul who, though certainly a godly man that every single Christian should model, likely had his own character flaws that would have annoyed more than a handful of people. As you delve into this book and hear Barbara’s side of the tale, you come to realize that Peter’s drive to finish his Walk and desire to meet more and more new folks along the way came at the expense of the relationships he’d already forged, not the least of which was that which he had with his new bride.
Barbara relates to the readers a callous and lippy side of Peter we just don’t get from his other books. For example, early on in the walk when she would get tired and exhausted, he’d say, “You should get an academy award for acting like a ninety-year-old woman.” (41) Or near the border of Louisiana, they had this heated little exchange:
“Cool it! You’re ruining the whole thing,” Peter finally snapped. “If you stopped being so rebellious, maybe you could get your act together. You try to put all the blame on me; but if you want to blame somebody, then blame God!”
“You can take this walk and shove it! I’m sick of you, sick of blisters and sore muscles, tired of your callous attitude toward me, sick of…” I shouted in tears. My voice cracked with fury. “You’re the biggest jerk I’ve ever known.”
“Why don’t you grow up and act like a mature adult!” Peter countered. “You think you’re the only one who ever had a problem. Why don’t you quit feeling sorry for yourself. And stop whimpering. Sometimes I wish I could cry, too,” he said, mocking my tears. (51)
These arguments didn’t spring up out of thin air, of course. They were attitudes that had been festering for quite some time, for even from the very start, Barbara had felt forced in the Walk, almost bribed into it with the promise of marriage if she went. This book gives us an honest look at the Walk from Barbara’s viewpoint, a viewpoint we can’t really see in The Walk West. In fact, she was fully aware that this Walk was Peter’s from the beginning, and halfway through, he had merely invited her along for the ride. At one point, she writes:
I felt left out, like an afterthought. Surely this was an untold side of my walk across America—my inner anguish, the back seat I took to Peter’s adventure, although I was very much a part of it…
“I’ll be glad when you treat me like a wife instead of a replacement for your dog,” I snapped. (119)
Because The Road Unseen also retraces the same years as in The Walk West, though from a more spiritual angle, it feels almost like a “behind the scenes” version of that second book, “director’s cut” with commentary. It gives real life to the overall tale, pulling the lofty, idyllic adventure back down to earth a bit, and I found that incredibly pleasant. I found that most of the final chapters were unnecessary additions to the more exciting Walk episodes, like filler to lengthen the book, and I could have done without them. Still, I loved The Road Unseen and say it’s a must-read for those who also enjoyed the originals.