In an adventure of a lifetime, Jennifer Kingsley and her five companions canoe through one of the planet’s most rugged settings. They battle raging winds, impenetrable sea ice, treacherous rapids, and agonizing sores and blisters while contending with rising tensions among the group. But they also experience the lasting joy of grizzly sightings, icy swims, and the caribou’s summer migration. Woven through this spellbinding narrative are often-harrowing accounts of the journeys of earlier explorers, some of whom never made it back home. Paddlenorth paints an indelible portrait of the spectacular Arctic landscape, rendered with a naturalist’s eye and an artist's sensibility, and offers an eloquent exploration of how wilderness changes us.
Kingsley's debut book is an odd mix of how-to and travel writing set in Canada's north. The story follows Kingsley and her paddle mates Tim, Levi, Jen, Drew and Alie as they spend two months of the summer of 2005 canoeing through the heart of Nunavut up the Baillie and Back rivers to the Arctic Ocean. Interspersing her own mostly charmed Arctic journey with stories of the harrowing and deathly journeys of those who have gone before, the book places itself firmly in the tradition of European exploration of Canada's Arctic. This book adds nothing new to that conversation, and yet Kingsley disparages the other tradition from which she draws: "the wilderness as a backdrop for so-and-so's personal struggle," as she puts it. She paints herself as an irrational, selfish, stubborn, resentful, and impatient person. The moment of personal growth seems to come at the end of the trip when her canoe-mate delineates all of the things that kept Kingsley from feeling like part of the group. Kingsley listens, but the narrative ends shortly after with any growth during this "true encounter" with the wilderness remaining unclear. Agent: Martha Magor Webb, Anne McDermid & Associates.