C&K’s Guide to Fall Reading 2018

Three new books have found their way to C&K’s bedside table. From northern history to canoe expeditions and a sea kayak epic, there’s something for everyone in new books this fall. 

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Canoe Trails and Shop Tales by Hugh Stewart (McGahern Stewart Publishing, $25)

For a few years, my friend Hugh Stewart has been alluding to his “memoirs project.” In our visits, I was lucky enough to preview drafts of a couple of stories documenting his memories of a lifetime of canoe tripping in the Canadian wilderness. It was enough to get me excited about the prospect of a full collection. Canoe Trails and Shop Tales, the first contemporary title for Ottawa-based boutique publisher McGahern Stewart, doesn’t disappoint. Stewart, 73, eloquently weaves memories of wilderness travel with a unique perspective on history and the environment in a compilation that’s far more nuanced than I ever anticipated.

Reading Canoe Trails and Shop Tales compelled me to start a gift-list of friends (canoe trippers) and colleagues (outdoor educators) who will appreciate Stewart’s outlook. My favorite chapter is “The Little Sticks,” an account of a 10-week transit of the Barrenlands in 1980. More than a travelogue, the story contrasts the author’s experience with those of previous travelers, including P.G. Downes (author of Sleeping Island, a canoe-tripping classic) and J.B. Tyrrell of the Geological Survey of Canada, and explores the psychological challenges of canoe expeditions. The same examination of hardship and reward play out in Stewart’s journal entries from a 1984 expedition in Labrador and Quebec, reprinted in another chapter.

Stewart’s memoirs capture a rich, multifaceted life. After studying English at Sussex, UK, Stewart returned to Canada to pursue a PhD in New Brunswick. However, his fascination for canoes disrupted his studies. Stewart took to hanging around the headquarters of the venerable Chestnut Canoe Company, learning the tricks of wood-canvas canoe-building trade. Instead of a doctorate degree, Stewart left New Brunswick with several classic Chestnut building forms, acquired when the company went out of business in 1979. These designs became the hallmarks of Headwaters Canoes, Stewart’s Quebec-based workshop, which continues to produce traditional, expedition-ready canoes today.

Hugh Stewart in Temagami canoe country. Photo courtesy of Headwaters Canoes (Facebook)

Stewart likes to highlight how canoe tripping involves physical, intellectual and emotional stimulation—a theme that runs through each chapter. There’s more to the activity, Stewart insists, than just picking up a paddle. With this in mind, reading Canoe Trails and Shop Tales is like sitting around the campfire with the author himself, talking about journeys past and present—and dreaming of those yet to come.

To order a copy, contact McGahern Stewart Publishing at mcspublishing@gmail.com

— Related: Go behind the scenes on the construction of an 18-foot Headwaters Prospector canoe

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Lines on the Map by Frank Wolf (Rocky Mountain Books $25)

Adventure writer and filmmaker Frank Wolf’s curriculum vitae is a map of Canada, crisscrossed with long, sinuous lines—each representing self-propelled journeys into the wild. Wolf is the definition of a “hard traveller”—the sort of person who quits his job each summer to take a long wilderness trip, pushing ridiculously fast across impossible distances, headwinds and heavy loads be damned. “I approach the daily challenge of canoe tripping kind of like a shark—a creature in constant motion that rarely rests and is able to cover long distances,” Wolf writes in Lines on the Map, his new collection of stories published in October.

— Related: Read about Frank Wolf’s 2018 expedition.

Lines on a Map assembles Wolf’s best adventure narratives, documenting canoe journeys across the Canadian North, sea kayaking in British Columbia and Southeast Asia, and whitewater paddling in Laos and Cambodia. It also includes a pair of previously unpublished stories from his 1995 cross-Canada canoe trip, in which he and a partner completed the first-ever single-season journey from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific coast.

Since that first big trip, Wolf has gravitated to obscure routes instead of claiming first descents or tackling popular long-distance routes. “Working through the unknown, seeing with your own eyes what few, if any, have seen, is true adventure,” writes Wolf. One exception is an attempt to row the Northwest Passage in 2013—a hazardous journey that only served to reinforce his passion for canoes and kayaks. “[Rowing] is the most regressive mode of self-propelled travel on Earth,” he concludes.

Frank Wolf in his element–bug-bitten in Labrador, 2014. Photo: Frank Wolf

Fans of Wolf’s writing will recognize many stories in Lines on a Map from various periodicals; it’s nice to see all of his travelogues contained in a single volume. Moreover, Lines on a Map provides glimpses of some of Wolf’s earlier adventures, including the cross-Canada epic and several brushes with danger in Southeast Asia. Wolf is at his best when he’s exploring his personal definition of adventure, inspiring readers to cut loose, accept the challenge and live their most audacious dream.

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The Pacific Alone by Dave Shively (Falcon Guides, $24.95)

After reading Canoe & Kayak content director Dave Shively’s exclusive account, there’s no question that Ed Gillet’s 1987 crossing from California to Hawaii was kayaking’s boldest voyage. After a post-expedition appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Gillet’s unbelievable journey became a myth; the paddler remained silent on the subject until Shively interviewed him for a feature profile in a 2014 issue of Canoe & Kayak magazine.

Related: Read an exclusive excerpt

Gillet called the 1987 crossing “the most difficult trip I could conceive of surviving.” He paddled a stock Necky tandem kayak, with small modifications to allow him to sleep in the cockpit. What’s more, Gillet employed navigation technology (a sextant) and communications gear (a tracking beacon that failed within two weeks of setting out). “Improvisation and spontaneity suited my style better than meticulous planning,” Gillet said. It’s especially remarkable in a time of sponsored expeditions, custom-made trans-oceanic kayaks and satellite-enabled uber-connectivity to learn the inside story of Gillet’s 2,400-mile, 64-day crossing, pieced together through interviews and access to the paddler’s trip journal. 

It’s equally astounding that it took so long for the full story to come out. Shively’s narrative is worth the wait—especially when he places the reader inside Gillet’s cramped, damp kayak cockpit, midway across the Pacific. Shively uses an active voice to recreate Gillet’s inner dialogue, pushing the reader along like a tailwind. 

The Pacific Alone is a short, 158-page book; it left me wanting more—particularly a closer examination of Gillet himself, more insight into what would possess a man to embark on such a pilgrimage. In the final chapters, Shively puts Gillet’s crossing in context: Despite numerous attempts, Gillet’s California to Hawaii crossing has yet to be repeated by sea kayak. In this regard, the author has created a monument to an accomplishment that may never happen again.

More books at CanoeKayak.com:

The article was originally published on Canoe & Kayak

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