By Dan Clendenin
Matthew Kepnes, Ten Years a Nomad: A Traveler’s Journey Home (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2019), 226pp.
I read this book for a particular reason. In the last decade, my wife and I have done eight long-distance back-packing trips, from the 500-mile Camino Santiago (2012) to the 105-mile Tour du Mont Blanc (2019). Without fail, at the end of these hikes, no matter how dirty and tired you are, most everyone says the exact same thing: “I wish I could keep hiking; I don’t want to go home.”
Well, Matthew Kepnes (born 1981) didn’t go home. He quit his first job after college, started traveling the world, and didn’t stop for ten years and ninety countries. His boss was surprised, his parents were incredulous, and his friends were indifferent. Before he started, Kepnes had never been out of the United States. This book tells how and why he became a nomad — a person who “never stops moving,” and what he learned about the world and himself.
The book isn’t merely a travelogue of places visited. Nor is Kepnes merely an adrenaline junkie who was addicted to travel as a means to more and more adventure (although that is partly true). Rather, and not to spoil his story, his experiences point to a paradox that is articulated by the southern writer John Graves (p. 204).
“The provincial who cultivates only his roots is in peril,
becoming more root than plant. The man who cuts his
away and denies
that they were ever connected with him withers into
half a man.”
So, we need both roots and wings. We need independence and adventure, but also community, commitments, and accountability. This memoir explores how Kepnes discovered his hard-earned wisdom. For a movie on this theme see A Map for Saturday (2007).
Dan Clendenin: firstname.lastname@example.org
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