Thursday, June 21, 2012

Rowing to Latitude

Illus. credit:

Another selection out of the Paddlers’ Reading List is “Rowing to Latitude: Journeys Along the Arctic’s Edge” by Jill Fredston. (2001, 286pp., North Point Press, NY, with selection of color photos) Jill rows and her husband, Doug, paddles a kayak. They live in Alaska, work as scientists inspecting snow ridges and predicting avalanches, and coordinate rescue teams when victims are caught in slides that do occur. During their off season, they do expedition paddling and camping in areas clogged with ice. I found myself wondering if they ever really get warm. Their travels have taken them along the Alaskan Peninsula, the inside passage from Seattle to Skagway, above the Arctic Circle and along the North coast of Alaska, down the Yukon and Mackenzie Rivers, Labrador, the coast of Greenland, Norway, and Spitsbergen.
The first 50-pages are autobiographical about how Jill grew up rowing on Long Island Sound, rowed her way through Dartmouth College, migrated to Alaska, and met and married Doug. Their interests were so linked that their wedding cake, consuming a hundred eggs and 20-pounds of butter, was covered with seals, whales, moose, caribou, and a couple in a rowboat negotiating whipped cream waves.

The value of the book to almost any paddling reader is not just the sharing of their adventures, but some great insight into how they planned and executed their travels, from the equipment they used, to how they provisioned for five months, landed in surf, slept on rock and ice, dealt with numerous encounters with grizzly and polar bears, protected supplies, and even the importance of the 20-book supply of reading materials they routinely carried. Their smallest pack was always clothing. While selecting good gear, and insuring that they could layer for hot, cold, wet, and freezing weather, they changed in and out of the same clothing for months.

The whole of Chapter 10 concentrates on risk and hazard assessment, and sharpening decision making skills. They walk you through some of the mind games they’ve gone through over go or don’t go; turn around or press on issues. While they define experience as an accumulation of survived bad decisions, the importance of experience is making fewer mistakes, understanding the possible consequences of mistakes, and making sure those that creep through are of minimal significance, especially when paddling in places where one is in 30-degree water and where support or assistance is non-existent.

They emphasize that the importance of trips, any trip, is in the going. Just go. Travel, however, is not meant to be easy. It comes from the French travail, meaning “hard work or arduous effort.” The author emphasizes the importance of accepting nature on its terms and giving yourself and your body time to settle in. She said, “Rowing trips require a certain adjustment period to relax into a different pace, to weave a web of connectedness in surroundings much bigger than we are. Even on several-weeks forays, it may never happen.” So, while sharing a series of great stories, the author imparts many invaluable lessons on preparation and survival.

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