Riding his bike across the world, Jedidiah Jenkins isn’t lacking for inspiring stories. He wants to live to be a billion. If you ask him how, he’ll tell you he wants to live every day fully alive. And really, he has. During my conversation with him, I learned what inspired him to live this unconventional life, why we need to push ourselves outside of our comfort zones, and why curiosity is so important.
So why exactly did you quit your job?
I quit a job that I loved to honor and respect the itch of purpose that I knew I had inside me. I didn’t want to say one day, “I never tried that because I was scared of being embarrassed.”
I thought to myself at the end of the day, if I do this at 30 and I spend 5 years chasing this dream, and it crashes and burns. I’m 35. I can go back to what I was doing before I took this risk. If I ended up moving back to Nashville mowing lawns in the summer and making drinks and popcorn at the movie theater, I would go be okay with that.
Whatever I get to do in life, I know that I’ll be okay. I value working hard, and I feel like I can make it on that alone.
I just knew that at the end of the day, if I don’t try this really scary thing, then I’d regret it.
So you wanted to become an author?
Yes, I had this dream inside me of being a writer, but I felt inadequate until I turned 30. Right about then, a timer on the oven went ding and the cake was ready, I finally felt like, “You know what, I’ve lived long enough on this planet to have something to say.”
I don’t know everything. I don’t even know a lot, but I know some things.
I also didn’t feel like anybody would care. I was like, “Maybe if I do something really weird, then I can just write about that thing, and it’ll train my writing to be good enough where people will care.”
I think Toni Morrison said it most famously, “Write the book you want to read. Tell the story you want to hear.” For me, I wanted to write stories, and I wanted people to say things like, “Man, if I was 22, I wish someone had said this,” or “if I was 27 again, I needed to hear this.”
So what was that “something weird” that you did?
I rode my bicycle from Oregon to Patagonia. It was about 10,000 miles. I bicycled most of it, but sometimes I had to hitch hike through the miserable desert. There was only a freeway in Mexico City for whatever reason. It was a 10,000 mile journey, and I did it to change my life. And I succeeded.
Were you scared going into the journey?
I am not a fearful person. It’s a problem. I’m so optimistic, and I just believe people are innately good. I think bad people are damaged from lack of love. I just empathize with that during my whole bike trip; I experienced cartels, I experienced drug dealers, I experienced trespassing, angry ranchers, the list goes on. They were all ultimately so kind to me because I was kind to them, but I know that’s not necessarily everyone’s story.
For whatever reason, I’m alive. And in all my travels, I’ve just had excellent experiences and I don’t really get scared. I try to not be dumb. I don’t like walking to a volcano that’s erupting.
Also, I try to trust local voices instead of regional isolationism. For example, all my friends who lived in Tijuana and Ensenada were like “it’s awesome down here. Don’t be afraid. If you’re not trafficking cocaine, you’re probably fine.” They were right. I just choose to trust the locals. I just think that people can be fearful when they’re far away, and I do not like to live that way.
What are your parents like?
I grew up with creative parents because they’re both writers, travel writers. My mom is writing a novel now and my dad is writing a new travel book. They divorced before I can remember, but they are amazing parents. I grew up blessed in the sense where they had non-traditional jobs and their life was very feast or famine. I remember being a kid, I felt economically stable to some degree but then my teenage years were dirt poor. It was a big deal to go to Wendy’s because they had a dollar menu. I’m very grateful for that because now, my baseline for happiness is very low. I don’t need nice things to feel that sense of safety because my parents did a good job of creating a sense of belonging and safety on a pretty low baseline of survival. I did feel very loved and affirmed early on.
For me, I think that I was really loved. I was a weird kid, not good at sports, effeminate, strange in the south but my parents never like “Wow. We didn’t get Johnny High School. Bummer.” Never. They just said, “You’re amazing.”
There’s some psychology between the ages of 0 and 12. Those are some important formative years on how you see the world because your brain is realizing “how do I feel loved? How do I feel safe? How do I control how other people respond to me?” Those factors are formed by the time you’re 12. If you live in a volatile place where you don’t feel loved from your parents, from friends, from teachers, then you try to compensate with other things. Those building blocks really affect the rest of your life.