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Road Trip Brought Millennial and His Boomer Mom Closer

by Staff

Mom Barbara Jenkins and son Jedidiah “Jed” Jenkins both wrote about how their a cross-country road trip brought them together.
Jed Jenkins

  • Jedidiah “Jed” Jenkins and his mother Barbara Jenkins put their differences aside for a cross-country road trip.
  • The trip helped them find common ground and discuss painful parts of their relationship.
  • They both chronicled the trip in their own books and shared their takeaways with Business Insider.

Mom Barbara Jenkins and son Jedidiah “Jed” Jenkins disagree about religion, politics, vaccines, climate change — pretty much all the big stuff. 

She’s a conservative Christian in her 70s who lives in Tennessee. He’s a liberal millennial who long ago decamped for the left coast. Her health regimen includes colloidal silver and prayer. He trusts vaccines. 

She believes homosexuality is a sin. He is openly gay. 

Yet in 2021, the two embarked on a weeks-long road trip, from New Orleans to the coast of Oregon. Jed wanted to retrace the hundreds and thousands of miles Barbara had trekked with his father, the travel writer Peter Jenkins, as part of their Walk Across America book trilogy, which caused a sensation in the 1970s.

“I was worried, to be honest,” Jed, 41, admitted to Business Insider. But Jed liked traveling with his mom. Besides, “this was intentional time that I was spending with my mother to get to know her and ask her questions,” he said. “That structure helped alleviate the ‘mother gaze,’ where she can just sit there and stare at you eating.”

“I got on his nerves more than he got on mine,” Barbara later said, laughing. “I mean, he doesn’t get on my nerves at all. But even when you’re an adult, your parent can get on your nerves. I’m sure my jabbering didn’t help!”

“It actually ended up being really fun,” Jed said.

And illuminating.

Both Barbara and Jed revisit the former’s epic journey in two new books. In “So Long as It’s Wild,” Barbara tells her side of her and Peter’s mythic “walk across America” — from meeting her charismatic former husband while a seminary student in New Orleans, to escaping a band of outlaws and falling off a mountain side during their ambitious walk, to surviving the crushing aftermath of their marriage. In “Mother, Nature,” Jed follows his parents’ footsteps through his mom’s eyes, in an attempt to better understand her and their complicated relationship. 

As they get ready to spend the holidays together, Business Insider spoke with both writers about their adventure and how they maintain their loving rapport despite their differences.

The following is from two separate interviews, condensed and edited for space and clarity.

Business Insider: It’s crazy that you both have books out at the same time.

Barbara Jenkins: People have asked me for at least 25 years to write my story. But then one day my granddaughter said to me, “Did you really walk across America?” That was what tipped me over and made me realize if I did not tell this story my voice and my stories would be lost forever. I was in the draft stage, I think, when Jed and I did our road trip.

Jedidiah “Jed” Jenkins: We’ve been wanting her to write her side because so much of the “walk across America” story became my dad’s. When they divorced and my mom was raising three kids, my dad was off still speaking at colleges and my mom was never getting asked to do that.

And then I wanted to write a book about our relationship, but also getting to know this great adventure she went on. I never really understood her perspective on her walk across America, because that was the first three years of her marriage to my dad, which fell apart dramatically. 

Barbara, what was your immediate response when Jed proposed this road trip? 

Barbara: As we say in the South, I was “tickled pink.” 

I dug out all my old notes from all those years ago, and I would read to him different places and experiences. It was a precious and treasured time, because obviously, I was reliving my walk, but I was getting it to share it with my son.

Jed: Some people only want to stay in a five-star hotel. They don’t like driving through the boonies. They don’t really like hiking. I want to be in the dingiest diner. I want to go down the scariest dirt road on a cliff. And my mom is the same; that makes traveling with her very fun. She’s very bread crumbs and caviar. She loves a nice meal, but she also loves Doritos. She’s very down to be in a $35 Motel. 

What were your biggest concerns going into this trip?

Jed: I was worried when we first got to New Orleans and the restaurants wouldn’t let us inside because she wasn’t vaccinated. I was worried that that was gonna be our whole story, and we were going to be eating only drive-through McDonald’s!

And I am afraid of having hard conversations. I don’t like conflict. But I knew that we had to — because I had begun thinking, what would happen when I really find a [romantic] partner? Will my mom come to my wedding? Can I bring him home for the holidays? I knew I had to ask her because even if I know that she strongly disagrees with my life, at least then I can move forward.

Barbara: I was talking with Jed, and he said, “Families are so fragmented by everything that’s going on in the world, by politics.” He said, “I know people who won’t even speak to their family members, or their parents, they’re totally estranged.” That just breaks my heart. A mother’s love is probably the purest kind of love, because it’s the most selfless kind of love. And that’s certainly the kind of love I have for my children.

Jed: I do feel that part of the reason why we can have such a close relationship, in spite of our deep differences, are our similarities. Like, my mom loves nature, exploring, going into weird little antique stores and trying new food. There’s a whole ground floor of similarities that we can share and have a really fun time. 

What do you think about each other’s books? 

Barbara: Jed is more of an intellectual than I am. Jed is very, very bright, and a fabulous writer. I think I’m a good writer; I think he’s a better writer. 

Jed: My mom’s amazing! She’s a great storyteller!

Barbara: It’s an anomaly. It’s a phenomenon. It’s certainly out of the ordinary that our books come out almost back to back.

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