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Four Canoe Tripping Books

Nov 30, 2017
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Note: I wrote the basic draft and then gave it to Chat GPT. I removed some of the really florid stuff and a sentence where Chat GPT says I read these books while windbound on a serene lake. :)

Embarking on my recent canoe adventure, I made sure to pack a selection of books. Given my penchant for fast reading and windbound days, I ended up reading them all at least three times each.

What made this reading experience truly remarkable was the unexpected alignment of three of these books with the very terrain I was traversing. It was like the literary universe was conspiring to deepen my connection to the natural beauty that enveloped me in this rarely traveled area. I started in Stony Rapids, which is on Athabasca Lake with the intent to paddle to Black Lake.

Among these riveting reads, one book stood out, capturing my heart and imagination—the remarkable Canoeing with the Cree by none other than Eric Sevareid. Astonishingly, he penned this adventure epic during his teenage years, foreshadowing his future fame as a distinguished writer and news correspondent.

The narrative unfolds as Sevareid and his intrepid companion, Walter Port, embark on a daring journey from Minneapolis, MN, through the challenging waters of the Red River, across the expanse of Lake Winnipeg, and into uncharted territories leading to York Landing on Hudson Bay—all of this transpiring in the tumultuous 1930s. What's more, neither of them had prior canoeing experience, setting the stage for a tale of audacity and discovery. Armed with rudimentary camping gear, including a pup tent, blankets, and rubber sheets, and saddled with a secondhand canoe missing its center thwart, their adventure was fraught with obstacles and close calls.

It seems that guardian angels might have been their constant companions, as they encountered perils that would have tested the mettle of the most seasoned outdoorsmen, who in fact told them it could not be done. Canoeing with the Cree is an enthralling chronicle of their extraordinary journey, leaving readers on the edge of their seats, all while instilling a profound respect for the wild.

Running a close second is Water and Sky by Alan S. Kesselheim, who, along with his partner Marypat, embarked on an equally captivating odyssey. Their voyage led them up the rugged Athabasca River, across the expansive Athabasca Lake, and into a winter sojourn in Stony Rapids. When spring's thaw arrived, they steered their course northwestward from Black Lake, ultimately reaching the Arctic Ocean. Throughout their 14-month expedition into the Canadian north, Kesselheim's writing combines eloquence with thoughtfulness, offering a unique blend of entertainment and contemplation.

Robert Perkins, in Into the Great Solitude, recounts his daring solo expedition along a river known to whites as the Great Fish River and to natives as Thlew-ee-choh. Having previously navigated this river with a partner and with access to the journals of the 19th-century explorer George Back, Perkins embarks on a riveting solo journey. His courageous adventure was captured on film, and a documentary exists to chronicle it. Incredibly, Perkins continues his solo paddling pursuits in the Arctic, proving the existence of a dedicated guardian angel overseeing his remarkable exploits. (Paddling Pitt recently met him on a plane where he was embarking on yet another solo arctic trip.)

Perkins's narrative is marked by candid admissions of the perilous nature of his undertakings, acknowledging the inherent dangers and risks. He will tell you why he should do this, then does it, and then drifts around amazed he got through. Apparently his guardian angel is still on duty.

North to Athabasca by David Curran rounds out this quartet. Chronicling a six-day voyage down the Franklin River into Athabasca Lake, this book provides valuable insights into a less-explored river. While it may not have been my personal favorite among the four, it still offers an entertaining read and serves as a valuable resource for those seeking information about a relatively uncharted waterway.

In the world of canoe tripping literature, these books stand as testament to the indomitable human spirit, the lure of uncharted waters, and the unwavering presence of guardian angels guiding the daring souls who dare to paddle into the great unknown.
Those sound excellent Erica. Thanks. And that's a good question. Can one become windbound on a serene lake?
I have the first 3 books, all great reads. It would be nice to hear about your trip, long ride from FLA. Pics?
While going to college at Bemidji State, I met Walter Port, he worked in the Pharmacy store (called a drug store back then, it also had a lunch counter) in the photography section of the store. He remarked to me that he enjoyed seeing my canoeing photos that they developed for me. He told me that he had been a canoeist in his younger years. A very nice man, at that time I had not read or heard of the book CANOEING WITH THE CREE. He told me that his friend had written a book about their canoe trip.
I too am looking forward to reading about your adventures.
Very cool that you met Walter Port. The canoe trip was originally his idea. I wondered what happened to him later in life.

He gave up a scholarship to University of Chicago I think it was in order to complete the canoe trip.
After posting that I had met Walter Port, I looked for his obituary. I found one for Walter Port, not sure this is the one we are talking about.
Walter C. Port born December 10 1907. Died January 28, 1994 in Bemidji Minnesota. Would be a little older in the early 30’s to be just out of high school (unless he was a student like I was).
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There's nothing better than reading about someones canoe adventure while you are on one of your own. I've taken "Canoeing With the Cree" and "Water and Sky" on trips, both were great. I'm looking forward to your TR also.
Great books and I am familiar with all but the Kesselheim book. I remember reading that Eric Sevareid responded to a question about the canoe trip that for many years afterward when seeing the woods he got a sick feeling in his stomach or something to that effect.
After posting that I had met Walter Port, I looked for his obituary. I found one for Walter Port, not sure this is the one we are talking about.
Walter C. Port born December 10 1907. Died January 28, 1994 in Bemidji Minnesota. Would be a little older in the early 30’s to be just out of high school (unless he was a student like I was).

Walter Port Obit.jpg
Sevareid included their gear list in Canoeing with the Cree. It is impressive to compare their gear to what we would take today. I have it on file, and not to derail the thread, but here it is:

Gear List for a 14-week, 2,250-mile Canoe Trip (with 60 portages)

From Canoeing with the Cree

Eighteen-foot canoeAll-purpose pocket knife
Three five-foot, copper-tipped paddlesSkinning knife in sheath
Two sponges for canoe cleaningHeavy hatchet in sheath
Pack sack with food in small canvas bagsPocket whetstone
Pack sack with clothes and miscellaneous articlesBottle of boot oil
Four wool blankets rolled in two rubber ponchosBottle of mosquito lotion
Gunny sack with cooking utensilsLength of mosquito netting
One army pup tentdiary book
.22 caliber rifle, single shotWaterproof match container
One-gallon water bagOne tin pail
Rod and reelSmoked glasses
Length of small ropePersonal toilet articles
First aid kitHeavy wool underwear for sleeping
Travelors’ checks, five dollars in cashHeavy sweater apiece (excellent as pillows)
Swimming suitsFelt hats with wide brims
Frying panCamera films
Maps, army compassCooking grate
Two small kettles with loop handlesHigh boots
Two tin cupsMany pairs of wool socks
Three pie tins for platesBreeches, plus long trousers
Wool shirt, cotton shirt apieceTablespoons, not teaspoons
Steel wool to clean pans
Source: Sevareid, Eric. Canoeing with the Cree, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul. Reprint Edition, 1968. pages 8-9

I would have been stunned to meet Walter Port. Very cool.

Back to the topic and books about where you are paddling, In 2011, I made a trip from Greenville, Maine with the specific intent of retracing the route described in Thoreau's 1853 book The Maine North Woods. Amazingly, the Greenville Library let me check out their very beat up copy of the book, and we'd read it every day, comparing what Thoreau documented in 1853 to what we were paddling through in 2011. So, I concur with Erica that it is interesting when the book(s) you bring coincide with the route you are paddling.
I like those kinds of books. Kesselheim is a really good writer. So is Jerry Dennis.
I liked the story of the McGuffins crossing Canada.