The examined life from Oregon to Patagonia. Mostly by bicycle

To Shake the Sleeping Self
By Jedidiah Jenkins
Convergent Books, 2018

Your dad walks from New York to Oregon in the late 1970s. Finds Jesus on the road. Gets covered by National Geographic. Writes a best-selling book about the trip.

Fast-forward three decades. You feel like you’re sleep-walking through life. The road worked for Dad. Maybe it’ll work for you. What’s your life-changing adventure? 

Welcome to Jedidiah Jenkins’ 16-month bicycle ride from Oregon to Patagonia.

Welcome to hammocks, desert, the Incas, bus and boat portages, boredom, the kindness of strangers, good internet connections, his riding companion’s low-rent approach to laid-back travel—and the thought: “Wow, I like Weston so much more on coke than weed. Maybe this is a good change.”

Note: This is not a book about drugs because Weston didn’t write it.

This is not a how-to

We don’t know a lot about Jed’s equipment, though the folks at Surly must be pleased with his endorsement of the Long Haul Trucker, which he bought after listening to an REI mechanic who had ridden across the U.S. three times: 

“If you’re headed into South America, you don’t want a fancy carbon bike. That thing breaks, you’ll be hitchhiking the rest of your trip. You want steel. Any mechanic can weld steel if you get hit by a car or a bus. This Surly is tough as hell. It’s heavy, but sturdy. That’s the one you want.”

We know Jed uses clip-in pedals and that he apparently choses the day he leaves—fully loaded—to learn how to use them. I do not endorse that strategy. If you can’t figure out how to unclip the first time, or first couple of times, you fall, and it’s hard enough to fall without your stuff than to fall with your stuff. But then again, I haven’t pedaled across two continents. Or through the towns of Pueblos Mágicos in Mexico.

“At the center of each town is a massive cathedral and square. These beautiful relics, still very much alive and bustling with life, are far older than anything in the United States. They feel so completely European that their proximity to the United States comes as a shock.”

Maps and monsters

The internet has its uses, way-finding and shelter acquisition among the more exemplary, and so Jed uses a phone to navigate and an app to find places to stay.  

But the book itself includes hand-drawn maps. Kudos to the author. Maps are the pushpins of travel narrative; without them, even the most thoughtful text can tumble away next to the missing sock that’s no longer under your chair.

Ah, yes, Bogatá is north of Quito; this is the desert you rode though, this the desert you didn’t. More travel books——the artifacts that survive the journey and the author—should include hand-drawn maps. 

In case you missed the advent of smart phones and stamps that don’t have to be licked, the modern era is different from the 16th century. Evidence: While walking toward Machu Picchu, Jed paraphrases what he learns about the Spanish conquest. Let’s just say religion, a recurring subject throughout the book, doesn’t emerge unsullied.

“…the Spaniards tied Atalhualpa to a chair…. The priest rechristened him Francisco, Pizarro’s middle name. Then, acting quickly for fear Atalhualpa would change his mind, they strangled him to death.”

Surprisingly, the map is unhelpful here. I’m looking in vain for the time-honored phrase Here be monsters or at least a drawing of their ship.

Nope. Nothing.

Despite this oversight, To Shake the Sleeping Self makes me want to find out more about Jed, maybe even revisit his dad’s book A Walk Across America. Jed updates his parents’ stories throughout the book and includes a hike with his mom in Chile at the end.

Chile may be no country for old knees.

How to read this book

When my friend Nadia lent me the book, I let it do all the talking, divorced from any additional information. It’s interesting to avoid the Internet’s firehose of explanation and opinion before cracking the covers. I dare say it’s the best way to read.

Want to try it? Forget everything you just read here and pick up To Shake the Sleeping Self. But really, forget everything, and especially be sure to forget about Atalhualpa. And Pueblos Mágicos. And falling with your stuff.

While Jed explores life’s big questions—religion, sex, politics, privilege, whether Weston will rejoin the road trip after a friend’s wedding in Hawaii—he also prompts a huge question that he utterly fails to address.

After reaching the El Chaltén, the end of his cycling journey, Jed writes: “I never got on the bike again.”

What? Ever? Dude…

Guess I’ll have to follow his Instagram—my friend Aaron followed his ride in real time on Instagram—and pick up Like Streams to the Ocean, Jed’s book of essays coming out September 15, 2020, to find whether he still has his balance.

About 16incheswestofpeoria

Former bicycle mechanic, current peruser of books, feeder of birds.
This entry was posted in book, Report from the road, Travel and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The examined life from Oregon to Patagonia. Mostly by bicycle

  1. adventurepdx says:

    Nice review. I remember following Jed on either Instagram or tumblr many years ago, I think right after the tour. I knew about his dad from the Nat Geo article, but didn’t realize the family connection until Jed mentioned it. I stopped following Jed’s social media a few years back, since I was weary of the “Instagram Influencer/Beautiful People” angle that it seemed to be taking.

    I just checked back in, and yep, he isn’t riding bikes much, if at all. He got his LHT from the trip stolen earlier this year, and managed to score a replacement custom bike gratis (the benefit of being an Instagram Influencer, I guess.

    I find it weird that he doesn’t ride his bike after the tour, but this seems to be a thing that happens with folks who out-of-the-blue decide to do a big big bike tour. They go from not riding a bike at all, to riding for 1-3 years, then when the trip is done, they hang the bike on the wall. I’m more interested in folks who integrate biking and touring into their lives vs. one or two “epic journeys of self-discovery” that stand separate from the rest of their lives. Though I must admit those epic journeys do make for good books. Maybe I should check his book out?

  2. Thanks for reading. Yep, it’s not like riding a bicycle is the same as crossing the English Channel in a pedal-powered airplane. When you get done with the plane, you hang it in the Smithsonian. But the bicycle you ride to the other side of the world works just as well on a coffee run. And then you have coffee. I’m surprised Jed hasn’t thought of that.

  3. Kent Peterson says:

    I read about half of his dad’s book in the 70s. I only made it part way through because I also read Colin Fletcher’s The Man Who Walked Through Time. Fletcher was meticulously calculating how much water he would have to carry, where he could find water sources, etc. He prepared and thought and obviously knew what the hell he was doing. Jenkins started walking in the east and then started bitching mightily as soon as he got to anyplace where stores were more than one day’s walk away. I don’t think I have the patience for the Jenkins approach to adventure.

  4. randall senneff says:

    I read “The Walk West”. They wintered over in Lake City Colorado. We stayed there on a bike trip ( Lee Ryerson, Charlie Klees / me ) in around 1998. I’ll have to buy this book ! Randall

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