A chemist-turned-adventurer retraces the footsteps of polar explorers in some of the harshest conditions the earth has to offer. Observing the tired, sallow faces of his older scientific colleagues, Turk rejected a career in the lab for life on the land. His first adventure--kayaking around Cape Horn in homage to Sir Francis Drake--ends 50 miles short when he's shipwrecked and nearly killed. Next, he and his girlfriend and eventual wife, Chris, tackle the grueling Northwest Passage inside the Arctic Circle, where winter oceans freeze from North America to Asia and summer thaws produce ice floes the size of Texas. They attempt the trek (first completed by Roald Amundsen in 1906) by rowboat, alternately dragging themselves across ice and rowing through open water. They fail; the relationship suffers. Turk doesn't always or altogether enjoy his rugged travels. Still, he values them as manifestations of the independent lifestyle he craves: ""I am not at peace with this adventure, but I'm afraid of myself if I abandon it."" In fact, Turk's soul-searching is dual. He examines his motivation for adventure travel (for which he jettisons family life) and his inability to proceed wisely. Obsessively goal-oriented, he's haunted by defeat. Faced with dangerous seas during the Cape voyage, he rashly pushes on instead of waiting out the storm, then repeats his mistakes on subsequent trips. Just when he seems ready to conquer his own foibles, he's saddled with a dangerously selfish traveling partner on a dogsled trip across Canada's Baffin Island. When the man leaves him stranded overnight in the Arctic without food, water, or heat, then quits without explanation, Turk must quit too. Finally, he and Chris successfully retrace the kayak migration of an Inuit band from Canada to Greenland, largely because she convinces him that discretion is the better part of valor. Genuine adventure and poignant self-exploration, too.