Peter Jenkins set out on a journey to discover America. On the way, he discovered himself. He began his walk on October 15, 1973 in New York and ended it about one year later in New Orleans. He walked away from a failed marriage and walked toward another one, which sadly ended in failure as well.
Jenkins appealed to National Geographic for a good camera. In exchange he would write an article for them. The article led to A Walk Across America, published in 1979. This is another of the books mentioned in the Atlas Obscura article by Richard Kreitner and Steven Melendez: “The Obsessively Detailed Map of American Literature’s Most Epic Road Trips.”
The author is two years younger than I am, so I remember the turbulent times of the early 1970’s. During his walk, Richard Nixon announced that “I am not a crook” in response to concerns about Watergate; Gerald Ford was appointed Vice President after Spiro Agnew resigned amid charges of income tax evasion; the Endangered Species Act was passed; Patricia Hearst, granddaughter of William Randoph Hearst, was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army; Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record; Alberta Williams King, mother of Martin Luther King, Jr, was shot and killed while playing the church organ; the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee adopted articles of impeachment; Philippe Petit walks across a high wire slung between the World Trade Center’s twin towers in New York City; Nixon resigns and Gerald Ford accedes to the Presidency and then pardons Nixon for any crimes he may have committed; Evil Knievel attempts to rocket across the Snake River Canyon (unsuccessfully.)
Jenkins was disappointed in his country and wanted to leave, to live anywhere else but here. He told this to a friend, and was advised to know more about the US before he made such a decision. He decided to give the country one more chance,and learn about it by walking across the US. This first book follows the first leg of that journey. He stayed in a few spots for weeks or months, earning money to continue the walk, at times living with a local family. He learned that kindness as well as meanness comes in all colors, and with all accents.
During the 60’s and 70’s, many people, disillusioned with the establishment, went off to join communes. Peter spent some time at one such commune, The Farm, about 75 miles SSW of Nashville, Tennessee. It was established in 1971 by Stephen Gaskin, a writing instructor at San Francisco State College. Frankly, he read like a cultist to me, and I fully expected that this commune would have passed out of existence long ago. I was wrong! It is an operating commune with about 200 members on seven square miles of land, which they farm. They offer trainings in sustainable farming practices; they are know for the Midwifery Center; they run an ecohostel and a few Bed & Breakfast establishments. They embody the spirit of those original hippies.
Did you know that Winston County, Alabama, the Free State of Winston, attempted to secede from Alabama during the Civil War? Residents here were strongly unionist, and their representative to the state’s secession convention, Charles Christopher Sheats, refused to sign the the secession ordinance. Sheats was expelled from the convention and imprisoned for treason until after the end of the war. Winston experienced some turbulent times itself following this rebellion within a rebellion.
Peter Jenkins is a travel author who has penned several other books about his travels in America. I truly enjoyed his writing style, so may have to try a few more.