A kayaker’s lonely but ultimately uplifting diary of a 2,200-mile solo exploration of the Arctic Circle’s fabled Northwest Passage, and of the varied Inuit inhabitants he met along the way.
Seeking to prove his mettle, make a television documentary, and learn more about the lives of the Inuit, seasoned outdoorsman Waterman (A Most Hostile Mountain, 1997, etc.) packs up his kayak, a Global Positioning Satellite transponder, food, changes of clothes, a few flare guns, and some ancient shaman’s stones to spend three consecutive summers (he spent the winters at home in Colorado) paddling and sometimes dragging his boat and sled across the top of Canada into Alaska. An experienced kayaker, the author used his modified version of the ancient Inuit craft to probe a surreally unforgiving landscape of marauding bears and mosquitos so thirsty they can drain a man of his blood in a matter of hours. He lingers for days at a time with hospitable but intensely private groups of Inuit, whose fragile ecosystem and peculiar oral culture have been nearly destroyed by incursions of both rapacious and well-meaning kabloona (“bushy-eyebrows,” Inuit slang for Caucasians). When not suffering bouts of hydrothermia and nagiarneq (“kayak angst,” a madness that comes from being too often literally and metaphorically at sea), the author’s encounters with the Inuit are mostly positive, and he ends up mourning the terrible consequences of disease, alcohol, pollution, inept environmental rulings, oil exploitation, and other misguided kabloona concerns on a people he finds noble but in no way savage.
Soggy with mysticism and openly contemptuous of contemporary civilization, but still Waterman remains a charming, if occasionally bumbling, host on a stirring outdoor adventure. (104 photos and illustrations, with 8 color pages, not seen)