To Shake the Sleeping Self

by Jedidiah Jenkins

44 Reviews
A book surrounded by Lego creations

Review: To Shake the Sleeping Self (2018), by Jedidiah Jenkins. Arrangement by Francis Tann. January 2021.

Reading time: 5 minutes

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March 7th at 4:58pm

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Hesitation

I admit it.

My patience for Christians is short. I therefore harbored misgivings about To Shake the Sleeping Self by Jedidiah Jenkins - a story in which the author rides a bike 14,000 miles from Oregon to Patagonia, processing what it was like to grow up in a faith that hated him for being gay.

Background on this series is here.

The Christian navel-gazing is tedious, but the book is saved by Weston, the riding companion Jenkins clearly resents.

Pre-launch

The author, age 30, leaves on his "spirit quest" because his parents walked across America in the 70s and became celebrities.

It's an excruciating read, akin to watching skinny guys powerlift.

"I wanted to go on a great adventure," he writes, "in a way that felt completely original to me."

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Jenkins needs to criticize Weston a lot.

To prepare for that adventure, he does... nothing.

You might think I would've ridden my bicycle and trained, but nope. I didn't do shit. I guess I was confident that I could ride a bike (I didn't even own one), and that I'd learn as I went. Or maybe training would've made it too real. Too scary.

This is the Jenkins I like. When he isn't talking about Christianity, he's an amusing narrator making casual, insightful observations.

The Partner

A few pages later, we meet the aforementioned Weston.

In the first of many spiteful lashes from his verbal scourge, Jenkins informs us that, "to be honest," Weston invited himself on the trip.

Throughout the book, the handsome narcissist (Jenkins's words) triggers something in the author. "There was a good chance he might get me in trouble or drive me mad," he says in a burst of murky foreshadowing, "but maybe I craved that."

The Trip

Portland to Patagonia: a lot happens.

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Francis apparently understood that church was important in the book.

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Not so sure about dinosaurs and Cat Boy from PJ Masks.

USA

The pair meet up with tech bros in San Francisco (thereby becoming Instagram famous) and bathe under McWay Falls in Big Sur.

Jenkins later relates a horrible story about coming out to his mother, a devout Christian. "It is an abomination," she says with nothing resembling love and humility. "It disgusts me. [...] I'm heartbroken, Jed."

With each mile traveled, Jenkins prays, struggles with doubts about himself and his undertaking, and gets semi-accustomed to Weston - except for the latter's consumption of weed. Marijuana doesn't agree with Jenkins, and every time Weston mentions weed, smokes it, or finds money to pay for it, the author is compelled to comment on it.

Mexico

As Jenkins and Weston head east, across Baja to the Sea of Cortez, they sleep in the desert, where the temperature drops to the mid 40s.

I awoke stiff as a fossil.

"Wow, that was one of the worst sleeps of my life," I said, going for commiseration.

"I slept fine. I was cold, yeah, but I was out."

Ugh. Damn him. Sometimes it hit me that his "man-of-the-earth" schtick wasn't a schtick. He really was tough and principled and strong. I think the fact that he wasn't flawless in this gave me ammunition to poke holes.

After fun times in Puerta Vallarta, they take a bus ("we felt like cheaters") to Nexpa, a village which locks down days later because the military and vigilantes start fighting with the local drug cartel. Eventually the pair escape, head to Mexico City, and see the sights.

"Jed, you're a smart guy, but I don't think you're supposed to be a Christian. I really think you're just... trapped in a tradition."

They cruise through Mexico, with Weston up ahead and Jenkins trailing, lost in thought. The author begins to think about his homosexuality. In a fascinating but sad passage, he recalls a meeting at the world’s largest "ex-gay" ministry, Exodus International.

Jenkins later relates a horrible story about coming out to his mother, a devout Christian. "It is an abomination," she says with nothing resembling love and humility. "It disgusts me. [...] I'm heartbroken, Jed."

Alt tag goes here

The first half of the book could be titled this.

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Yes, that's Spider Man in a wig, riding an Indominus Rex.

All the while, Jenkins tries to make sense of his faith and his feelings. "I just kept pedaling, talking to God."

Central America

The two spend a hedonistic New Year's in Nicaragua, pet wild coatis in Costa Rica, and go clubbing in Panama City.

But just as the narrow geography of Central America connects North and South America, it also serves as the bridge between old Jenkins and new.

"Backsliding felt a lot like walking forward," he says later.

By the time the pair arrive in Colombia, we understand that Jenkins's faith and family have taught him he is repulsive. We see him chafe against the hard edges of American Evangelical Christianity - and yet he is still aggressive toward Weston, irritated that the latter dares to be himself, even if he's self-absorbed as only an attractive young white man can be.

It's like Jenkins knows what Weston's role is, and feels compelled to fight it - to "poke holes" - every step of the way.

Colombia

Jenkins and Weston do mushrooms outside of Medellin. Later, they hike amidst the waterfalls and cliffs of the Cocora Valley, where Weston decides to ask Jenkins about his faith. He drills down hard, then summarizes like this:

So you're telling me you really think this was the best idea God had for us... we show up with a deadly handicap that will doom us, hundred percent, unless we learn a story about His son, and say His name, and understand the story of how it happened? That was God's best idea?"

"God is so much bigger than us, it doesn't always have to make sense," I said, falling back on the time-worn justification.

"Jed, you're a smart guy," Weston said. "But I don't think you're supposed to be a Christian. I really think you're just... trapped in a tradition."

Jenkins later admits, "Our conversation rattled me."

Peru

In Trujillo, Jenkins scolds Weston for buying weed but not paying for accommodations.

In a fascinating but sad passage, he recalls a meeting at the world’s largest "ex-gay" ministry, Exodus International.

After a horrible night in the countryside where they wake up in a freezing rain, the two can't stand each other anymore. Weston flies to a friend's wedding in Hawaii and - surprise - he never comes back. But it doesn't matter. He fulfilled his role; he accompanied Jenkins all the way to Colombia and then burrowed deep inside his head.

Gina Says:

  • Get over the weed, dude
  • What he did was impressive, but was it impressive enough that now he hangs out with famous people?

Machu Picchu

Several of Jenkins's friends come down to Peru for a tour of Machu Picchu.

It's the worst section of the book.

Interspersed with a narration of the Spanish slaughter of the Incas are sophomoric discussions about what it means to be a Christian, and how the author and his friends struggle with the dogma they've been force-fed since birth.

It's an excruciating read, akin to watching skinny guys powerlift, but we see that Jenkins has, or very soon will have, a more spiritual, less rigid view of God. "Backsliding felt a lot like walking forward," he says later.

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In one important way, Weston was the hero of this story.

Bolivia

Leaving Peru, Jenkins and two companions ride at "breathtaking altitudes," passing "treeless vistas and wind-blown, rock-strewn valleys." They soak in hot springs. In La Paz, they go to the movies and ride dirt bikes.

The Close

Chile marks the final leg. Jenkins, now alone in Patagonia, is finished with the bike. His mother flies down to visit him. They hike in the Torres del Paine National Park.

Halfway through, night is falling and his mother lags behind. She's in danger of getting lost, and she's in pain - her knees are a mess. She can barely see.

We see him chafe against the hard edges of American Evangelical Christianity - and yet he is still aggressive toward Weston, irritated that the latter dares to be himself.

Through the cold darkness, the author escorts her back to camp, holding her up, shining a light to illuminate the way. They arrive safely at a refugio, where Jenkins experiences the blank mind of one who has made a spiritual breakthrough.

I sat there, exhausted and watching her, and I didn't think about my trip. I didn't think about thousands of miles. About Oregon, Baja, or Argentina. I didn't think about my identity or my faith or my loss of it all. I didn't think about Jesus or sex. I didn't think about Weston or my father.

It was over. My trip was done. On my thirty-second birthday. And I was wet and frightened and shaking. But the claustrophobic kid who needed escape, needed approval, needed hatred or fire, was not there.

The story of a long distance over ground, To Shake the Sleeping Self is also about the longer journey from the head to the heart - an essential expedition that, without Weston, Jenkins never would have completed.

Click here to list the 44 Reviews which have already been published.

 Baedeker's United States Adrift 

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