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Great Kayaking Books List

Great Kayaking Books List

January for most is a month when there is little kayaking going on. Though the sun is shining brightly today the cold winds are blowing and uninspiring me to put my newly renovated wooden kayak back in the water after many months of sitting in the workshop. Instead, January becomes a month of loafing on the sofa with books. We all have to make time for that activity as it is as rewarding a thing to do as paddling a kayak on a dreamy summer’s day. The reading list as you may have guessed is kayak-related and not all of the books I suggest here are front page news, no hacking off of limbs with pocket knives, no lost at sea epics, no not at all. Just books that tell individual stories of relationships with kayaks, nature and something lost as our connection to nature has become over the centuries, our connection to each other. Two books offer very different directions and experiences in solo paddling the inside passage between Vancouver, British Columbia and Alaska. One male voice and one female voice to make things all the more interesting as comparative reads. Then the other pair of books. One, a book of tales both lovely and astonishingly horrific as described by someone entering the new world of paddling to wilderness beaches on Vancouver Island. The other a book in my collection is a memoir, a coming of age and staying put sort of book set under the glaciers of what the author describes as the “Africa of America.” It should be noted as well that these books were either self-published productions or done by smaller press houses.

This is meIf I were to be inspired to put paddle to the water in the next few days it would be because of Danny Wilks. In the past weeks I have travelled even farther, exploring the Inside Passage from southern BC north to Alaska. I did this trip not just once, but twice in so many weeks. My first journey was with Danny Wilks’s brand new book about his adventures paddling from Vancouver, BC to Alaska. Wilks is a laid-back sort who will tell you his story as if you asked him about his kayaking trip at the pub. Paddling solo with little kayaking experience, a fishing rod, a hammock, the bare essentials, and the will to see if he can do it.

spirited watersHowever, my first outing was as reading companion to author Jennifer Hahn who let me tag along on her journey south from Ketchikan, Alaska all the way to her home in Bellingham, Washington in her book, Spirited Waters. Not an easy task as she had made one critical error in regards to the prevailing wind direction. Most paddlers come from the south with the winds at their backs. Undaunted by the challenges she takes the reader deep into nature and the vast history of the coastal community. Part kayaking trip log of a solo woman paddler, and part tutorial from a naturalists point of view this book is a treat. Though, she does get a little touchy feely here and there, her unfolding of the journey is marked with wit, understanding and depicts the inner self of one paddling alone in the wilds.

day of two sunsetsIf you are wanting a taste of the ‘other’ coastal shore line in BC, that of Vancouver Island then Michael Blades will take you there. His book, Day of Two Sunsets. This is the book that inspired me to put pen to paper about my own kayaking experiences. His introduction to kayaking is one that we all can relate as are his tales of far flung west coast beaches unmarked by human feet, of wolves, bears, capsizes and the sense of freedom that comes with wilderness camping and kayaking.

only kayakA book that I come back too often is Kim Heacox’s love letter to Alaska, The Only Kayak, A journey into the Heart of Alaska. “I live in the sunlight of friends and the shadows of glaciers.” Heacox describes his coming of age memoir set in Glacier Bay with a tenderness and humour that will draw you in and won’t allow you to put the book down. As kayakers we all have the great and fortunate opportunity lost to others in that we are in touch with nature on a pure level. We see our surroundings on a slower, more captivating level as well. We by the simple act of driving a small craft through the ocean gain much more than the busier folk. As a result we see nature in clear vision, and part of that is seeing places that can be lost to us in a mere blink of an eye due to our needs and lusts for resources. Kim Heacox puts you in his seat drifting through the bay of glaciers, bears, old growth forests and we all can relate. This book is more than a book about paddling, it offers the reader a chance to look inwards and ask how we all might live with more purpose, and thankfulness for the wild places we still have.


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Real Adventures

Around Madagascar  What astonishes me in this demanding age of instant gratification and information over-load is how come I had never heard of African-based adventurer, Riaan Manser. I discovered him by accident as I was looking up Madagascar on a whim after many semi-tongue-in-cheek conversations about paddling around the formidable island with a paddling friend of mine. He was adamant that he could accomplish what no one had done before, but alas, someone had.

My investigations lead me to this Manser fellow who had successfully kayaked around the island. This was in fact his second grand African adventure as a few years before he had become the first to circumnavigation the African continent by bicycle as he pedaled through over 30 countries, not all of them happy places.

I downloaded his book Around Madagascar on my Kayak to my ereader and settled into the sofa for a good read. I was left not disappointed as his prose are detailed, and filled with personality and heart, but all in all I wondered how much of this story was left on the floor because of the documentary he and his trip manager were creating throughout. That said, what transpired from page one to the end was a solo and unsupported kayaking epic on the level of the first accent of Mt. Everest. Is that putting it to a more lofty height than Manser deserves. Not in the slightest. In the tradition of ‘it has never been done before’, or ‘because it is there’, Riaan Manser set out to paddle in waters filled with dangers, both from Mother Nature and from Human Nature. He battles his own limitations as a kayaker as well as an adventurer. He is welcomed by the poorest of the poor and arrested by those who insist on maintaining slim control in this country, though separated from the continent by water still faces the uncertainty of economics and dodgy politics.

Any one of us who has ever set out on a windy day in our kayaks will know the feeling. Most of us will go on the water for a couple of hours safe in the knowledge that after we can dry off, settle in with a pint at the pub and a warm bed in our own home at night. No all of us would be willing to paddle upwards of 13 hours a day, everyday for nearly a year while landing in fierce surf onto sandy beaches that come with their own set of dangers and challenges. This is why he is the real deal, a real adventurer having real adventures.

For that vicarious thrill of paddling dangerously I recommend reading Around Madagascar on my Kayak. Check out some of his video diary clips on youtube, they are a nice companion to the book.

(He has recently published a new book Around Iceland on Inspiration, which accounts the five-month circumnavigation of Iceland in a tandem kayak with partner Dan Skinstad who has mild cerebral palsy).

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