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Mark Jenkins – To Timbuktu

To Timbuktu Mark Jenkins

A Journey Down the Niger

With the pandemic rolling on, I’ve been taking some nice long walks up the canyon road behind my house. 

Normally I would stick to the trails, but I’ve found that with everyone staying home, the trails are just too crowded for my taste, the parking lots are packed, and passing all of the people on the single-track leads to the constant judge-and-be-judged of our new politicized mask wearing environment.

There are some unexpected benefits to just walking along the road, aside from having it to yourself.

The first is that I find it interesting to see something at the pace of walking that I have only seen at cycling or driving speed in the past. 

Stopping to look over a ledge and finding old 70s-era cars that tumbled down the cliffs, missing the turn, before there were guardrails is a grizzly but fascinating archeological find.

I also don’t tend to use headphones and listen to anything when I’m on a trail to maintain awareness of my surroundings, the trail runners coming up from behind as well as my own feet tripping on rocks and roots.

On the road, with regular cars driving past, nothing to trip on, and at a lower difficulty but longer milage pace, I feel a good audiobook, some music or a podcast to be a much better fit for the environment. 

Mark Jenkins On Outside Podcast: A Half-Baked Trip that Ended with a Magical Eclipse

So it was that I found myself listening to an episode of the Outside Magazine podcast that was an interview with writer and adventurer Mark Jenkins titled ‘A Half-Baked Trip that Ended with a Magical Eclipse’.

Here’s the article he wrote about the adventure for Outside:

My Crazy Bid to See a Total Eclipse at 20,000 Feet

The interview wove the tale of Jenkins trip to catch an eclipse from the top of a mountain in the Andes, yet found him, after the requisite misadventures, enjoying it in a field full of eclipse chasers from around the world.

What really caught my attention in this podcast, however, was the brief introduction into how Jenkins became an early Outside staff writer – his regular column named The Hard Way – and the deal he was offered by then editor Hal Epsen.

As Jenkins puts it in the interview, Epsen called him up and said,

“I don’t know what you’re paid, but I’ll double it.  And you get all expenses to go anywhere in the world every single month.  Hard one to turn down.”


I was a long-time Outside Magazine subscriber in the pre-internet days and remember Jenkins’ column.  

After the long walk up the canyon and listening to the podcast, I thought I would add some of his material to my quarantine reading list, which has been heavy on travel and adventure favorites like Paul Theroux, Theodore Roosevelt, JW Wray, and Hemmingway.

Mark Jenkins Writing

Adding Jenkins to the list was fitting, and there is plenty of material without buying books.  On his website you’ll find articles from all of the top publications including Outside, National Geographic, Smithsonian, Atlantic Monthly, and many others.

I also wanted to investigate his longer for writing, so I ended up purchasing Mark Jenkins – ‘To Timbuktu – A Journey Down the Niger’.

It was hard to choose.  With titles like ‘A Man’s Life’, ‘The Hard Way’, and ‘Off the Map’, you know that you are in for something that will take you on an adventure and simultaneously make you question many of your own life’s more conservative decisions.

My favorite thing about ‘To Timbuktu’ however, wasn’t even the part about the river, or the trip down the river.  That part was the part that I could see myself doing in the future, the part I could envision becoming reality. 

A distant an unlikely reality, but, again, with just a shred of a glimmer of possibility.  After all, two unlikely older heroes joined them on that journey, the ones just looking for a long slow paddle, for an escape.

On the other hand, the part that gripped me were the interludes to his youthful adventure with a friend across Europe and Africa, bumming to the extreme as possessions withered, wore, were stolen, and finding freedom with each more-lightened step.

The weaving of these two tales told much more than just that of a river cruising adventure and the requisite suffering that was experienced along the way.  

This part told the tale of how Jenkins was set on this lifelong path, and is the part that an older reader like me can’t personally revisit – that time being gone.

Youth only comes once, and Jenkins lived his to the fullest.

Find more of Mark Jenkins’ writing:

Outside Magazine

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Written by Roam Chronicles

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