Jedidiah Jenkins has a way with words. Maybe you know this through his wildly popular Instagram, or perhaps you know his previous work as the Director of Idea Development at the non-profit Invisible Children. If you don’t know Jedidiah Jenkins, his story is worth knowing about.
In 2013, Jenkins left the comfort of his home in southern California and started on a 16-month bike trip from Oregon to Patagonia. He was approaching 30 and, as 30 tends to invoke, needed to shake things up. Benjamin Franklin said, “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” He knew a book was inside him, and this bike trip would be a catalyst to bring it to life. He would do something worth writing. Fast forward to October 2018, and the book, To Shake the Sleeping Self, landed on the New York Times bestseller list. In line with his literary heroes—authors like Jack Kerouac—he chronicled his travels as a personal journey as much as a geographical one. In it, he attempts to reconcile his faith and sexuality, all the while finding his place in a dynamic family structure.
Jenkins is now based in Los Angeles, but he’s constantly on the go. Whether traveling to film festivals, or visiting his hometown in Nashville, or biking from one continent to the next, Jenkins is a travelin’ man. Jenkins and I talked in a desert oasis just outside of Marrakech, Morocco, about travel, writing, and how the two have influenced the way he sees the world.
Has travel always been a part of your life or did you come to it later?
My parents had been adventurers. They walked across America for five years and wrote for National Geographic. I guess that sense of adventure was very inborn and encouraged in me. But also it’s been my personality ever since I was a kid. I would go out in the woods, and I would turn over every rock and log to see what was under there, see if I could catch a snake in the creek. I think my personality is drawn to travel because I want to see what’s out there. I wouldn’t say I’m discontent with staying put, but I’m just curious. It’s a positive emotion to want to see what’s out in the world, and my parents definitely encouraged that.
Would you say To Shake the Sleeping Self is a “travel book?”
The book I wrote is a travel memoir. Sometimes it’s in the travel section of a bookstore; sometimes it’s in the memoir section. It can be in either. But that’s the legacy of those self-discovery travel adventure books. Like my parents books, Walk Across America and The Walk West, are very much that. And books I loved: Into the Wild, Wild, In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin. Even A Moveable Feast, On the Road, Big Sur… Those books really impacted me, and I just wanted to join the ranks as best I could.
What makes a good travel memoir?
For me, travel is just a canvas by which to unpack myself. I didn’t ever really read books to learn about a different culture or learn about what a different mountain looked like. I read books to learn about the way someone’s thinking had changed and the way they saw the world had changed. I read to get inside someone else’s thoughts about identity, about spiritual growth, and travel tends to do that. It’s funny, I don’t really remember reading books and being like, “Wow, I feel so transported to another place.” I remember reading books and being like, “Wow, I think differently now.”
You’ve obviously traveled quite a bit. What is it about those experiences that changes minds?
When you stay in one place your whole life, you might start to believe that that is just what being a human is like. The way you’re treated, the way you treat others, the way food tastes, the way red lights and cars work. You might just think that’s the way it is. What’s really profound about traveling is that you get to see how many ways humans have remixed and tried living differently. It will show you the common denominator of what is actually ground-level truth about human existence and what is not. Whether it’s religious beliefs, sexual behavior, the way you see nature, the way you don’t see nature. The way you live in a tiny apartment in Tokyo or on a ranch in Montana. There are so many different ways to be human and unless you go out and see that, it’s hard to believe. You might feel stuck in your one way and not realize there are other ways. So travel just exposes you to different examples. Then you can really find which one fits your soul the best.
In your book you mention packing for travel. What have you learned about packing?
I really feel like I’ve traveled enough to where I’ve found that happy medium of: you do need to pack the essentials but you do not need to pack as much as you think. I really wear the same three t-shirts over and over again and wash them. I wear the same pair of jeans, maybe two pairs, and a pair of shorts. Some underwear. Some layers. I have a puffy jacket that wads up really small but is very warm. Then I have a denim long sleeve shirt and a beanie. I can be in pretty cold weather with that.
On the Oregon to Patagonia bike trip I really learned what I needed and what I didn’t. I thought I would need so much more water because I thought I was going to be in the middle of nowhere, but I forgot that human beings live all over, and they need water, so water is available most places. My biggest nightmare is schlepping too much stuff through a city. That’s why I like to keep it tight and easy. It keeps me nimble.
Do you think there is there another book within you? Does it exist in a travel sphere or is it something else?
I definitely want to be a writer. I want to be an author for the rest of my life. I love it. It’s my dream. I care more about ways of thinking than I do about travel. But I do believe travel is the best way to encourage your mind to think differently. And so I’ll probably always travel. I’m too curious. I have to know what’s on the other side of the mountain. I’ve been looking at the Atlas Mountains recently, and I’m dying to go in there.