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.
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.