Fearless, by Joe Glickman…a book review

Fearless, by Joe Glickman(This is an older post from my older and now extinct kayaking blog, but one that I kept in the folder as it is a great read, an awesome book, and worth repeating here on the new-improved kayaking blog)

Living on a small island has its ups and downs. It has its problems and its perks. One of the perks is a friendly association with your local rural mail man, or in this case mail courier woman, person, um…she delivers my mail. I know her well because a few years back I was working for her, delivering that very same mail. And she is a kayaker as well and we have exchanged various books over the years via my mailbox.

I bumped into her at the box the other day and kayaking is the usual topic at hand. I told her about the amazing 2.5 hour paddlers video diary of a solo kayaker paddling from Vancouver to Alaska with little experience, or gear I had just posted on the Kayak Rogue and as it happens I think I was the last to find out about it. Check it out at your convenience.

After a brief discussion about that, she mentioned that she had just finished the book about Freya Hoffmeister, titled Fearless. I wanted a go at it and this morning low and behold Fearless arrived in my mailbox.

It is the story about a 46-year old former sky diver, gymnast, marksman and even a Miss Germany contestant who left her 12-year old son behind to paddler alone around Australia. It was a daunting task that drew criticism from expert paddlers as foolish and possibly deadly journey.

Determined to paddle faster than the only other paddler to complete the route 27 years before she set out to kayak the 9,420 miles of shark infested waters.

Acclaimed outdoor journalist Joe Glickman follows Freya’s year-long journey around Australia, and writes an account based on conversations with Hoffmeister and what he can discover from her daily blog posts as she paddles. While reading this book I could only imagine the frustrations from a writer’s stand-point. Hoffmeister is a truly annoying subject who reveals little about her exposure to the element, the difficulties faced each day or shows much interest in the colour and culture of where she is paddling, other than repeated notes about her birthday suit. Glickman fills in the blanks as best he can and it is his writing about the incredible backdrop of her kayaking adventure that creates a sense of the enormity of what she is doing. Only a few of us has ever known the pain of what sitting in a kayak for 12-14 hours feels like, and what it does to a body. Freya will not divulge such information and you can comb through her blog posts and find no complaints at all. A piece of piss, this kayaking around Australia. However, as a kayaker who has done some considerable miserable hours in a kayak I smirked at Glickman’s example on page 47.

– Three hours in a kayak is uncomfortable; double that and it’s like flying coach in the middle seat with linebackers on either side and a nose guard in front of you with his seat all the way back; double that time, and you had better be a former gymnast with an ass of a draft horse and a lower back like Gumby’s- Joe Glickman.

As a marathon kayaker, Glickman knows of what he speaks and I agree with his assessment, and with no offense directed at a writer I have followed over the years, it is just a shame that it is not her words about the journey that count in this book.

By the time I had read through a third of Fearless I was struck by how boring this paddler actually was. I cannot say I agree with how she approaches life, or kayaking. To paddle around that little island to me would be epic, not just physically and mentally but emotionally as well. I am not Freya Hoffmeister, I can’t say I even like her much from the impression I get from the book. How wonderful to read a book about a kayaker attempting something that could at any moment bring her to her demise, yet who does not arouse a sense of sympathy at all. However you view this person, remember she is athlete first and she was not there to take in the scenery or to soak up the experience in its fullest. Freya Hoffmeister’s goal was the key to why she was put there cruising the shoreline of pristine untouched wilderness around an island so big it classifies as a Continent. Hoffmeister has little or no interest in the history, the culture, the place. Australia is just something to paddle all the way around and in a pigheaded, rather vain manner. She is a single-minded paddling machine with one purpose, to be faster than the last guy.

Freya Hoffmeister overcomes what had to be real, if unspoken fears. She masters the art of endurance paddling, and accomplished this in record time. No matter what you may think of her as a person, that feat alone is enormous, and awe inspiring.

Fearless is a great read about a hero that you may or may not like that much. Alike the controversy about Canadian runner Steve Fonyo, sometimes you are placed in a position to admire someone for what they accomplish, and not for who they are. This is the case with Freya Hoffmeister, sky-diver, gymnast, mother, and endurance kayaker. For those who want to paddle vicariously in a tiny kayak on the edges of the unknown southern land, Fearless in the book for you. Though you don’t get to choose your paddling partner.


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