In 1973 Peter Jenkins sets off to discover America by hiking from New York to the Gulf of Mexico. Jenkins is part of a disillusioned generation fed up with the war in Vietnam, assassinations, social injustice, greedy corporations, and pollution. Recently divorced and newly graduated from Alfred College in New York State, he sets out with on his quest with his dog Cooper, a large mixed Malamute. Hoping to find something better about the country he lives in, Jenkins takes the advise of a professor by arranging to photograph and document his journey on foot for The National Geographic Society. He started training months prior to his walk and felt good about his chances of succeeding.
He walks from New York through Pennsylvania to Washington, DC where he is outfitted with his photography gear at NGS. He is stunned by the warmth and thoughtfulness he experiences at every turn of the road. When Cooper has unwisely attacked a porcupine and comes out of the scrap with dozens of painful quills about the face, it is a nameless stranger driving by who stops spends more than a half hour extracting the potentially lethal barbs from the tranquillized pet. Jenkins is offered handouts of food, housing, and money to help him along the way. He encounters a true mountain man named Homer Davenport who warms to Jenkins companionship and offers to let him take over ownership of his humble dwelling and land.
Walking in all weather enduring bitter numbing cold and energy sapping heat and humidity, the pair of best friends trek southward, moving from one small hamlet to another. In one unfriendly town in North Carolina he is suspected of being a drug dealer and is run out of town. Later, by chance, he winds up living with a loving and gracious black family named Oliver, headed by the fiery-willed mother Mary Elizabeth, staying in their clean but cramped trailer. He finds work at a local mill to save enough money to continue his walk to the Gulf. Along the way he learns a lot about the country, the people, and himself before eventually reaching the Gulf of Mexico at New Orleans. Changed by his experience, Jenkins holds a high regard and a newfound respect for the generous and friendly people he encountered living and working in the small towns that make up America. In short his lost faith has been restored.
This report prepared by David Fletcher