Jesse Jarnow

travels with charley

The summer before eighth grade, in 1992, I read John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley as an assignment for fall English. If I’m remembering correctly, that same English teacher — fresh out of college and new to the school that year — passed out an untitled/uncredited novel chapter on the first day of class. After a few days, maybe, he explained it was from a book called On the Road. Later, he assigned us Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. It is probably not a coincidence that, the same autumn, I discovered hippie music.

But when I read Travels With Charley, I was bored by all Steinbeck’s sightseeing (at least, that’s what I remember the novel being about). What completely enchanted me was the preparation for the journey.

Equipping Rocinante was a long and pleasant process. I took far too many things, but I didn’t know what I would find. Tools for emergency, tow lines, a small block and tackle, a trenching tool and crowbar, tools for making and fixing and improvising. Then there were emergency foods. I would be late in the northwest and caught by snow. I prepared for at least a week of emergency. Water was easy; Rocinante carried a thirty-gallon tank.

I thought I might do some writing along the way, perhaps essays, surely notes, certainly letters. I took paper, carbon, typewriter, pencils, notebooks, and not only those but dictionaries, a compact encyclopedia, and a dozen other reference books, heavy ones. I suppose our capacity for self-delusion is boundless.

I suppose I was in preparation myself, which is perhaps what appealed to me about it. It was a good summer, though, reading-wise. I also acquired my first Bloom County collection, Penguin Dreams and Stranger Tales, and, on a trip to visit family friends in Maine, a copy of Hunter S. Thompson‘s Great Shark Hunt.

POSTSCRIPT: After posting last night, I got into bed & finished off Jonathan Ames’ What’s Not To Love?. In the epilogue, Ames spends a paragraph talking about what he’s bringing with him to Europe, concluding, “well, enough of that, but packing isn’t talked about sufficiently in travel writing.” Pleasant convergence.


  1. Andrew E. says: - reply

    I didn’t know you had a blog, its so cool and you link to all your writing, that’s great! I don’t remember reading On the Road for class, were we in the same class? Hope you’re doing well, and we should hang out some time

  2. david Burke says: - reply

    Hey Jesse,
    Now that I’m as old as Steinbeck was when he took his trip — and I’m on a trip of my own, I’m re-reading Travels with Charley and am finding it a lot more interesting. I guess we’re always most interested in things that relate to our own lives…
    Anyway, on Valentines Day I left home on a 12-month tour of the U.S. and Canada.
    I’m maintaining a web site with a blog, column, forum, map room, photo gallery and both audio and video podcasts.
    Input is welcome. Ride along with me at

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