Just finished “Walk Across America” by Peter Jenkins, which chronicles his journey across America from 1973 to 1975 with Cooper, his half Husky/Alaskan Malamute companion. As a young man of 21, Peter was bitter and disillusioned with American society. So he decided to take a pilgrimage across the country, from New York to New Orleans, to see if his negative opinions about his people and his country were correct. I admit that I am a fan of these types of books – the “road trip adventures finding yourself” novels – and this one did not disappoint.
Peter takes us along a fascinating journey and tells of the many interesting people he and Cooper came across, most of them loving, generous, and kind-hearted, all demonstrating hospitality in different ways. Some of my favorites included Homer, the reclusive hermit who lived in a shack on top of a mountain, Mary Elizabeth and Pau Pau, the mother and the patriarch of the family in Texana who “adopted” Peter for several months, and Governor George Wallace who Peter met with privately at the Governor’s office . He met all matter of eccentric, patriotic, wise, funny, loving, generous characters (some even a tad frightening) along his route, each with something to teach Peter about himself and life. Each new adventure in the book has its own lesson to teach and to me, each chapter was its own story with its own theme, each leading to self-discovery on Peter’s part. As he continued his hike across America, the lines of race, politics, socio-economic status and his own preconceived notions about “Southerners” and “Rednecks” seemed to disappear as he saw people as they are – just people. I can’t help but wonder how true this would still be today.
Peter did an excellent job of presenting the conversations he had although I did find the attempted use of dialects irritating and difficult to read. There is a reason that authors should avoid transcribing conversations into a local dialect unless they are exceptionally adept at doing so. This was just a minor irritation for me however and did not diminish my enjoyment of the book.
The novel is simple, well-written and easy to read — and by the end of it, I considered Peter somewhat of a friend. What really added to the book’s value was the inclusion of several pictures he took along the way, that made me feel as if I had been there myself. Towards the end, Peter discovers his spiritual side during a Southern revival so he not only made discoveries about Americans but also transforming realizations about himself.
The book was funny, entertaining and touching and in addition to being an enjoyable read, it can help you question stereotypes you may hold and perhaps even rekindle your faith in people. There is a follow-up to this book called “The Walk West: Walk Across America 2” that I may have to add to my reading list.
If you like travelogues, stories of self-discovery or fun road-trip adventure stories, I recommend this excellent tale. Be careful though – it may give you itchy feet and a desire to hit the road!