Sunday, July 22, 2007

Along the Edge of America

When Peter Jenkins finished college he made a decision that was destined to change him forever. He decided that he was not ready for things like graduate school or a steady job. Instead, he decided to walk across America with his dog, Cooper. As word of what he was doing spread around the country, Jenkins was asked to speak to small groups and eventually found himself writing the magazine articles for major publications that led to his bestsellers describing his adventure.

A Walk Across America covers his walk from New York to New Orleans where he fell in love with both the city and the woman who was to become his wife. The Walk West is about his walk with his new wife from New Orleans to Oregon, completing the long journey that he had envisioned as a fresh college graduate. Jenkins continued to travel and to write books about his trips and the people whom he met along the way, and he was so well rewarded for his efforts that he was able to settle his wife and children on a 190-acre farm to live the good life. But despite the fact that he sensed that something was wrong, that the "good life" was killing him both spiritually and physically, Jenkins could not bring himself to do anything about it.

Reality has a habit of slapping a guy in the face to get his attention if he insists on ignoring it for too long. And that's what happened to Peter Jenkins in 1987 when he returned from a two-week book tour promoting Across China only to be met at the airport by a good friend who was there to hand him his car keys and a letter from his wife telling him that she had filed for divorce. Several years later, having remarried and started a second family, Jenkins still felt that something was missing, that some part of him had died and that he missed it. That's when he decided to see if he could recapture the innocence and optimism that he had when he started that first walk across America.

Along the Edge of America is the result of his decision to see if he could rekindle the sense of adventure that had served him so well as a young man. Although he knew very little about boats or navigation, Jenkins decided that his next adventure would take him from Key West, Florida, all the way along the Gulf Coast of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas until he reached the Mexican border, a trip that totaled over 2500 miles (including his side trips exploring rivers and bays that he encountered).

As usual, a Peter Jenkins book is about much more than just getting from point A to point B. The fun begins with watching Jenkins start from a level of zero ability and confidence when it comes to handling a boat on his own as he slowly progresses to the point that he just might be able make the trip that he planned, "might" being the key word even when his instructor has done all he could for him and has left him alone with the Cooper, his new boat.

Jenkins spread his trip over a period of almost two years and that allowed him to settle into several of the various communities that he found along the Gulf for months at a time. Along the way, we meet the people whose families have taken their living from the Gulf of Mexico for generations, people who do not always trust strangers but who eventually open up to Jenkins and, through him, tell us their stories. Anyone who believes that the tiny coastal communities along the Gulf Coast are just like the rest of America will never think that again after seeing how these adaptive people struggle today for their survival. They survive their encounters with Mother Nature in a way that only people who live near large bodies of water are ever asked to do.

In the end, Peter Jenkins found exactly what he hoped to find: the best of himself and everyone whom he met during his search. He managed to fight off hijackers, out-run Hurricane Andrew and survive a nearly tragic encounter with another storm. But the most important thing that he did was to reclaim the man who had been lost to him for so many years.

Rated at: 4.0


  1. Sam,
    You're coming up with so many good books that you're not making my compilation of my shoppping list any easier! Complaining but happy.

  2. This one has really gotten me back in the mood to read more of those "quirky" travel books that I so much enjoy. I picked up a couple of others at a used bookstore last week and one from the library this morning, in fact.

    Just remember, bybee, you can NEVER have too many books. They are like money in the'll be "spending" them soon enough. :-)