A Great Read...

(Some book reviews...) (Page 1 of 4 pages.)


Davidson, James, and John Rugge. 1988 (1997). Great Heart: The History of a Labrador Adventure. Kodansha International, New York. ISBN: 1-56836-168-8. The ill-fated Hubbard-Wallace-Elson expedition into the Lake Michikamau region of Labrador resulted in Dillon Wallace's book The Lure of the Labrador Wild in 1905. Although the book was dedicated to his friend Hubbard (who died of starvation and exposure on the expedition), Hubbard's widow Mina despised the Wallace account and began a running battle with him in the press. This resulted in two expeditions, one headed by Mina with George Elson the other survivor of the original Hubbard expedition) and the other by Wallace. This book begins with an account of the Hubbard-Wallace-Elson expedition, taken form the original participant's journals, and then accounts the travels and travails of rival parties canoeing their way up the Nascaupee to lake Michikamau and on up the George River to Ungava. A great read and a wonderful portrait of "proper" Victorian adventurers.

Duff, Chris. 2000 (2nd. Edition). On Celtic Tides: One Man's Journey Around Ireland by Sea Kayak. St. Martin's Press, ISBN: 0312263686; trade paperback 288-pages. This was the author's third major solo sea-kayak circumnavigation (Eastern-U.S., England, Ireland, and New Zealand). This journey was undertaken in 1996. A gerat narrative, as was the New Zealand book which I happened to read first. From Amazon.com: "Beginning and ending in Dublin, Duff paddled 1,200 miles over the course of three months. Sometimes he piloted his frail craft through waters too tumultuous even for hardy local fisherman; other times he sought refuge in sixth-century monastic ruins on coastal islands or waited out storms for days on end in his tent. In this sense, Duff's journey is a study in contrasting worlds: land and sea; past and present; solitude and society."

Duff, Chris. 2003. Southern Exposure. Globe Peuot Press, Guilford, CT, ISBN: 0-7627-2595-8; trade paperback 266-pages. Poetic prose describes a terrifying and fascinating trip. This is the second solo sea-kayak circumnavigation of New Zealand's South Island. A gerat narrative, but I wish that the publisher had included more photographs and more detailed maps. Chris Duff is the author of On Celtic Tides the story of his solo trip around Ireland. An endnote in the book states "that in 2003" Chris will be in the process of soloing around Iceland.

Sevareid, Eric. 1935 (1968). Canoeing with the Cree. Minnesotta Historical Society Press, ST. Paul, MN. ISBN: 0-87351-152-2. One of the all-time great canoe trip books. Yes, this is the late, great Eric Sevareid, WWII CBS-radio correspondent, and later a fixture of the Walter-Chronkeit-era CBS television news. In 1930, Sevareid and his friend, Walter Port, both 19 and fresh out of high-school, put off going to college and canoed from Minneapolis, MN, to York Factory, Hudson's Bay, Canada. Two naive kids and a canoe... they almost didn't make it. If you love the north,, and love to canoe, this is very enjoyable account. In this day and age when many kids are materially wealthy and sickenly indulged, it is a blast to read about two totally unselfish kids with real guts and integrity. This book is a quick read, you will be through it in a couple of sittings.

Starkell, Don (with Charles Wilkins ed.). 1987 (1994). Paddle to the Amazon: The Ultimate 12,000-Mile Canoe Adventure. Douglas Gibson Books (McClland and Stewart Inc.), Toronto, Ontario, Canada. ISBN: 0-7710-8256-8. (Large trade paperback, about $14.00). The true story of a father and son that paddle from Winnepeg, Canada, to Belem, Brasil. The Starkells are set upon by pirates, have encounters with drug smugglers and hostile military functionaries, bump into whales and manitees, and punch a lot of holes in their fiberglass canoe... and that is just a tiny bit of the story. In 1980 Don and his son Dana canoed from Winnipeg to start an almost three year trip down the Mississippi, along the Inland Waterway (LA,TX) down the Gulf past Mexico and on along the shore down to Colombia then over to Trinidad, then down the Orinoco to the Rio Negro, then the Amazon and out to its mouth at Belem. They meet-up with overzealous military police, bandits, poverty-stricken indians, drug traffickers, wealthy European males with their young trophy wives, food poisoning, crushing ocean surf, 20-foot long anacondas, crocodiles, sharks, electric eels, intestinal parasites; and of course, poisonous snakes and a lot of insects... well, the book has it all. For instance, there is some really fascinating stuff about the super-intelligent freshwater dolphins that live in the Amazonian rivers, as well as descriptions of neat little impromtu classical guitar concerts where son Dana performs Bach for the local coast or river dwellers. Through the amazing terrain go two pretty naive, at times marginally equipped, sunburned, and totally harmless long-haired Canadian canoe guys (Don age 51 and Dana age 18 at the time of the trip). It really is a wonder that they were not killed many times over (e.g., skirting the Nicaraguan coast just after the Sandanista revolution as the Mosqito Indians were starting to join the Contras, etc). But of course, for every crappy person that they encounter, they meet far more wonderful and generous characters that help and heal them as they progress on their voyage. This is really a neat book. At about 350+ pages, I thought that it would take me some time to get through it, but I just about finished it over a weekend, prior to writing this little revview (I read it in about five sittings!). I am not a Catholic, but I must admit there must be something to that St. Christopher (the patron saint of travellers) business. He really must have been watching over these two guys. The Starkells are in the Guiness Book of World Records for their effort. Don went on and did a solo paddling trip to the Arctic and that account also is out in book form. I plan to read that one as soon as I can get a copy. Additionally, Charles Wilkins, cited as editor, but should have been, more appropriately, listed as co-author for the task of transforming an daunting quantity of raw journal material into this wonderful account.

Wallace, Dillon. 1905 (1990). The Lure of the Labrador Wild. Nimbus Publishing Limited. (no location for publisher noted) ISBN: 0-921054-58-0. The true account of the ill-fated Hubbard-Wallace-Elson single canoe expedition into the Lake Michikamau region fo eastern Canada. This is the great classic of wilderness canoing adventures, particularly controversial at the time of its publication (see notes for Great Heart: The History of a Labrador Adventure). It is perhaps one of the most fascinating tales of human endurance and friendship. Read this one then follow up with Great Heart: The History of a Labrador Adventure. It is written in lilting and polite Victorian prose, and since a great deal of the book is describing the eventual futility of the expedition and its grizzly descent into hopeless death by exposure, the account makes for a fascinating documentary on the resilience of friendship, faith, and the human spirit.

Waterman, Johnathan. 2001. Arctic Crossing. A Journey Through the Northwest Passage and Inuit Culture. Alfred A. Knopf, New York ISBN: 0-375-40409-0.. The videographer of The Logan Challenge (PBS) and Surviving Denali (ESPN), writes about his two-year journey from Alavik to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, USA, then on to Taloyoak and the Gulf of Bothia, Nunavut, Canada, in a well written, but at times dark and distressing book. In a Klepper folding kayak, at times outfitted with outriggers and a sail rig, he takes us on a 2,200-mile journey through the history and culture of the Inuit North. Some of the historical information dovetails well with the Frinklin expedition stuff and similar historical treatments that are listed elsewhere in this bibliography. An impressive journey, but the author's mindset seems to indicate that his intention is less to describe what he sees than to expound upon the negative aspects of modern Inuit lifestyl or the pillaging robber-barons of modern society. For instance, he does little to conceal his contempt for hunters and hunting in general, an aspect of subsistence culture that must be accepted and understood if you want to appreciate the people and their lifestyle (it is not sport hunting, it is shooting meat on the hoof, seldom "sporting" and never pretty). Perhaps if he had left some of his attitude behind before he started the trip he wouldn't continually catch himself in hippocritical rhetoric-- like being disgusted by an Inuit eating "eskimo sushi" raw char (similar to trout/salmon), flesh or eggs, or warble fly larvae (actually a very rich and pure protein source), or desparingly talking of another individual comming back from "down south" clutching a greasy McDonald's bag, while the author has a boat-load of gourmet freeze-dried space-food vittles from back home in the "Lower-48," safely stored in his $5000+ highest-of-tech watercraft. By not surviving like an Inuit he remains a high-tech tourist (mostly sailing) through inhospitable waters. Some of these instances call into question what are otherwise enthralling and seemingly accurate descriptions... for instance, as he describes how a kabloona grizzly hunter potted a bear with his .30-30 from the sled of a snowmobile, it calls into question the entire account... no avid bear hunter, as the hunter was described, would tackle a barren ground grizzly with a .30-.30, this is akin to taking on a wild boar with a bb-gun. Probably the hunter had a .300-win magnum or similar caliber, but this detail hardly interested Waterman. In another instance he reports to have found a cairn that he believes is from the Frankliin expedition (of incredible historical significance), yet he is too tired to get a GPS or star fix on its location and moves on... theses are the types of little details that just "don't jibe" and continued to catch me as I read the book. With respect to hunting and the Inuit, it seems that with modern tools they harvest more than they need, do not care for the meat and show both disrespect to the animals and their hunting heritage... so half-assed guiding of wealthy Kabloona at exorbitant prices hardly bothers them. A good friend of mine that has hunted all over North America and recently went on a Musk Ox hunt in Nunavut described to me that it was the most filthy, unethical and terrible experience he has ever had in the outdoors. In many ways perhaps, Watermans descriptions of similar experiences are more kind. Waterman had the best of intentions making this journey and writing this book. I admire the physical accomplishment of his journey, but at their worst, his negative ramblings remind me of some of the elitist "ugly American" tourists that I've bumped into while traveling in Europe. When the author cooly delves into Inuit social history and ancedotes on the explorative history of the region, the book really shines. The vast majority of his observations on modern Inuit lifestyle are a dark and insightful passage in themselves. In spite of my problems with (a very few) sections of the writting, I have to recommend this book. It is mostly an outstanding treatment that called into question many of my own romantic notions of the Great North.

Waterman, Johnathan. 1996. Kayaking the Vermillion Sea. Touchstone Books, New York ISBN: 06848033-080. I have not read this book, perhaps I will next winter. Reader beware--- If you check out the customer review page on Amazon.com the book seems to be more about the author's failing marriage than his geographical voyage or sea kayaking. Almost all of the reviews are quite negative in the extreme. It seems this book is more about personal depression than anything else. Indications are, that his writting and subject matter greatly improved with Arctic Crossing (reviewed above).

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