‘Tis the Season for Some River Reading
C&K's list of five books to read over the winter holidays.
One week to go before Christmas! For those still looking for paddling-related gift ideas, we’ve compiled a list of five books that will keep any boater entertained through the holiday season. From history and instruction to adventure and reflection, these books are great additions to any paddler’s reading collection.
1. Anything Worth Doing, by Jo Deurbrouck
The adventures detailed in “Anything Worth Doing” center on Idaho’s Salmon River, the last long undammed wilderness whitewater river in the lower 48 states and one of the few remaining in the world. Not only is the 425 mile-long Salmon undammed, so are all its major tributaries. The result? A river that runs amok every high water spring, creating the opportunities Reece and his friend Barker seek. Read through Deurbrouck’s perspective, and the simplicity of river-based lives becomes something to envy rather than dismiss as foolish. Winner of the 2012 National Outdoor Book Award, Anything Worth Doing will leave readers recalling a quote from T.S. Eliot: “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
“Thanks to those free mountain rivers, the Clearwater above its first mainstem dam still swells with snowmelt, then clarifies as it falls over the long, warm summers. Thanks to fish ladders, hatcheries, and a barging program that transports salmon and steelhead around the many dams downstream, the Clearwater still hosts remnants of the great runs that once were bedrock to both ecosystem and economy. The river that runs silent by this forgotten town—a cold, rich artery beneath muscular bluffs—is a flowing reminder of a time when big rivers and their inexorable rhythms ruled the region.” Ch. 1, pg. 24.
2. Kayak: The Animated Manual of Intermediate and Advanced Whitewater Technique, by William Nealy
This is a book every whitewater paddler should have in possession and bookmarked in several places. Kayak offers instruction for those who want to advance their skills safely and who have a sense of humor. With everything explained in detailed and funny illustrations, Kayak is a great resource for learning new skills and rescue basics for intermediate and advanced kayakers. This book also teaches basic river courtesy rules and how to hold on to your sanity on the river.
3. The Survival of the Bark Canoe, by John McPhee
Henri Vaillancourt builds birch-bark canoes in the same style, using the same tools, as the Indians centuries ago. The Survival of the Bark Canoe is the story of the ancient canoe and of McPhee and Vaillancourt’s 150-mile trip through the Maine. As McPhee describes the expedition the two make, he also traces the bark canoe’s evolution from trade and culture, from its beginnings as the huge vessels that fur traders used in the Canadian North Woods, where the bark canoe was key to opening up that stretch of North America’s wilderness.
“Vaillancourt built his first canoe in 1965, when he was fifteen. He had tried to make other canoes in earlier years, always working by trial and error, until error prevailed. He had never paddled a canoe, had no so much as had a ride in one. In a passionate way, he had become interested in Indian life, and the aspect of it that most attracted him was the means by which the Indians had moved so easily on lakes and streams through otherwise detentive forests. He wanted to feel—if only approximately—what that had been like.” Ch. 1, pg. 4.
4. Wherever the Water Flows, by Doug Woodward
Wherever Waters Flow is both a memoir of Doug Woodward and a historical account of the rivers he paddled. The story follows Doug Woodward as he develops as a paddler, with accounts of rescues on the Potomac and trips down the Grand Canyon back when no one had to wait for a permit. Woodward adds depth to paddling’s history by weaving in stories of other boaters. The story recalls a time when boats were built down in basements, and young adventurers drove old school buses loaded with kayaks and canoes across the country. It was also a time of many first descents and unexplored rivers in the U.S.
“Now I’m into the curve and the waves and holes are much bigger than I had guessed. Unavoidable. Too many of them. One look at the part of the river I couldn’t see before and I know it’s all over. Our normal kayaks (light weight and fully decked) could make it, but not the loaded FoldBoats we’re in now.” Chapter on the Tatshenshini River of Canada’s Yukon
5. Running the Amazon, by Joe Kane
Running the Amazon is Joe Kane’s personal account of journeying six months and 4,200 miles down the entire Amazon. The story of running the world’s longest river is “a riveting adventure in the tradition of Joseph Conrad, filled with death-defying encounters: with narco-traffickers and Sendero Luminoso guerrillas and nature at its most unforgiving.” The story recounts rapids big and wild enough to swallow whole rafts instantly. Running the Amazon also delves deeper than a group of people paddling the river; it illuminates how these urbanized travelers confront their wilder selves.
“Southern Peru, late August 1985. Beneath a rust-colored winter sky an old GMC flatbed bounced slowly through the high Andean badlands known as the puna. It is a lunar landscape, flat, treeless, ringed with bald dun hills and sharp gray peaks, bone-dry nine months of the year, beaten by frigid, dust-coated winds. At fifteen thousand feet, where the oxygen content of the air is about half that at sea level, the head throbs, and in those rare moments when the sky brightens, cold sunlight races down uncut and stings the eyeballs. I beheld the puna through an involuntary squint. And I thought, uneasily, that I did not at all understand what I was getting into.” First words of the book.