I recently read the book A Walk Across America, which is the autobiography of Peter Jenkins. The book was published in 1979. I got a copy of it from the Omaha Public Library but it is also available on amazon.com.
Peter Jenkins was born in 1951 in the town of Greenwich, New York. He describes his hometown on pages fifteen and sixteen of the book,
“Greenwich is a town of about 60,000 where a large number of folk commute into New York City every day. In Greenwich, you never see a house trailer, mostly just huge, perfectly manicured homes and country clubs…I had the feeling that I would never really make it in life if I didn’t attend Yale or Harvard…I never saw a pickup truck unless it belonged to one of the Italian families who had a gardening business…When I was a young boy what mattered was not how fast you could swim across the local swimming hole, but whether you were winning medals on the country-club swim team. It wasn’t important that you could ride your bike faster than everyone else; did you have a brand-new Raleigh with high handlebars? Greenwich was my hometown and a place to grow up. New York City is a place to grow up. Denver is a place to grow up. Orrville, Alabama is a place to grow up and so is Thibodaux, Louisiana, These are all places where people are born, places where people die, and Greenwich was my place to be born and grow up. My problem was that I thought all towns in America were just like Greenwich.”
While he was in college, he met a girl and they got married. Shortly thereafter, they broke up. Peter felt terrible about that and began trying to decide what to do with his life. Most of his peers where hippies, or addicted to drugs, and he just wanted to get away from it all. He asked his step-grandmother, Rhoda Jenkins, for two thousand dollars to buy a motorcycle and drive to a sheep ranch in Utah with his half-Alaskan Malamute dog, Cooper. She reminded him that he wanted to get freedom and owing people money, wasn’t free. He decided to leave the country.
When he told a friend his plan to leave the country, his friend told him that he really needed to give this country a chance; “What you need to do, Peter, is stop believing all those slick people on the television and news and stop listening to those crazy people making that stuff they call music…[America’s] the greatest place that ever happened to this whole world and if you don’t believe me, try it.” (page 24) At that point, Peter decided to walk all the way across the country. On October 15, 1973 he and his dog set out, destined for Louisiana. It took them over a year and a half to travel the whole way on foot. Along the way, Peter realized that not all towns in America where just like Greenwich. Peter met a mountain man who still lived in a log cabin on the top of a Virginia mountain. He nearly died of influenza on the Appalachian Trail, was nicknamed Albino by a loving black family, worked in a North Carolina sawmill, as well as many more adventures. My favorite was when he attended a revival in Alabama and, as he says, “came face to face with God and accepted him as my own.” After that, he met Barbara Pennell at a seminary he visited in New Orleans, and they got married. They then decided to walk to the Pacific Ocean; together. That story is chronicled in the sequel to A Walk Across America, entitled The Walk West, written by Peter and Barbara Jenkins. I hope to read it soon.
A Walk Across America is a very good book and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys adventures or wants to know more about America. I would, however, advise it not be read by young children. One of the reasons I like it so much is because it is a true story but even more than that, I think it has a great ending when Peter becomes a Christian and shortly thereafter gets married. I also like it because Peter instead of just going along with what his generation was doing, decided to figure out what things really were like. Too often today, people are willing to just ‘go with the flow’ and don’t realize bad things are happening. I hope more people will take initiative to figure out the truth about what’s happening around them and live lives according to the truth; not what they are told.
Note, While there are some tough topics in this story (Peter’s divorce, hardships on the walk, etc.), I would still recommend it for kids 10 years old and up, who may still want to talk it over with their parents.