In unremarkable prose, an intrepid adventurer recounts her rowboat experiences contending with some of the earth’s most beautiful and treacherous waters.
Fredston and her husband have divided lives: In the winters they are avalanche experts and co-directors of the Alaska Mountain Safety Center near Anchorage; in the summers they take extensive trips (in separate craft, sometimes for thousands of miles) on wild waterways. Paddling, says Fredston, is their favorite way to travel: “It allows us to tickle the shoreline, and opens our senses to the rhythms around us.” Fredston begins with a bit of autobiography. For her tenth birthday, she received her first rowboat, and has since used every opportunity to get to the remote waterways of the northern world and advance her considerable skills. She recounts seven long trips (with an interlude about avalanche rescues), the first in 1986 from Seattle to Skagway, Alaska. Then it’s a journey down the entire length of the Yukon River, another in the Chukchi Sea, then down the Mackenzie River and along the coasts of Labrador and Norway, with a final trip in Greenland’s waters. Lots of miles, bears, and high winds for a little volume, and therein lies one of the problems. Each of these trips offers enough material to fill a book, so there’s a pervasive sense of incompleteness, a rush to load another boat and shove it out into the water before we’ve really figured out, or even thought much, about where we are. Pretty soon we don’t care. Fredston cannot resist telling us what wonderful condition she is in, how quickly she learns, how cool she is under fire. She disdains people on cruise ships and those who pollute her playgrounds. But the most serious problem is her writing, which rarely breaks the surface of conventionality: “Most days were a rich collage”; “the country is a study in contrasts”; and so on.
Extraordinary trips; ordinary writing.