Monday, December 10, 2007

Voyageur: Across the Rocky Mountains in a Birch Bark Canoe - Robert Twigger

The Basics: Voyageur: Across the Rocky Mountains in a Birch Bark Canoe, Robert Twigger, 2006, 390 pages, hard cover

How I found it: My Dad highly recommended this book so I requested it from the local library.

What's it about?: Twigger is a Brit with limited outdoor experience who attempted to replicate a journey that has not been repeated since Alexander MacKenzie did it in the 1700s: cross the Rocky Mountains by birch bark canoe. He spent a considerable sum having a birch bark canoe made for him in the traditional way and did a bit of paddling about on the small English rivers near his home in Oxford. Otherwise, he didn't do much preparation. His expedition stretched out over 3 consecutive summers, but I won't give away how far he got as it would take away from the experience of reading the book.

Did I like it?: I am not the most seasoned outdoorsperson I know, but I believe I am fairly knowledgeable. Therefore, books like this one get me a little aggravated. Twigger bumbles through the book, seeming to know close to nothing about canoeing (he is inexperienced in white water), trip planning (he agrees to take on trip partners he has just met, and has never camped or canoed with, he buys all of their food for one summer in a mad 30 minute rush in a grocery store in the last big town before the put-in), and even basic camping and survival skills (he brings huge amounts of extremely heavy gear, but has little first aid knowledge). Despite the aggravation, I found this book to be an okay read. A description of a journey of this magnitude could never be boring, and Twigger writes in a straight-forward, honest, and often self-deprecating style that I liked. However, I still feel that Twigger is one of those guys I would never ever want to share a campsite with, despite the fact that he fully owns up to his idiocy.

Would you like it?: If you are a fan of adventure travel literature, this book is one of the few written about trips in Canada, and its not a bad book. It's just not a great book. If you are more of an armchair traveler, than a hands-on one, the idiocy of many of Twigger's decisions may be lost on you, and you might like this book far more than I did.

But don't take my word for it: Some really basic info from Amazon, a review from the travel site Road Junky, a bunch of glowing reader reviews from the British Amazon site, a review from The Spectator, and one from The Guardian.

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