Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Kayaks to the Arctic

While re-reading R. M. Patterson's The Dangerous River in the McPherson Library at UVic, I found an interesting book on the shelf near the good ol' D.R. (as fans call it). This book "popped" out at me because of its yellow cover, and its title: Kayaks to the Arctic. Ooo! I had to take a look at it
As it turns out, the author E.B. Nickerson is Elinor Nickerson, a physical education teacher from Alamo, California. Ooo Ooo! Another book on adventure travel by a woman. With her husband Richard Nickerson (known as "Nick") and three of their four sons, Elinor kayaked the MacKenzie River to the Arctic Ocean in 1964. The eldest son held the fort at home while the rest of the family spent weeks camping and kayaking.

The paper jacket is long gone on the library copy I read. But I liked the photos (all taken by "Nick"). I also liked the descriptions of villages along the river, and the Nickerson family camping methods. As for their kayaks, the Nickersons paddled folding kayaks that look and sound like Kleppers. The kayaks look much like the one in this 1964 photo from the Klepper website. Their 19-year-old son Devon paddled a solo kayak, while Elinor paddled a double with ten-year-old son Brian and Nick paddled a double with son Lincoln, who turned 12 on the trip.
They took five paddles with them to the Arctic. Five paddlers, five paddles. No spares.
If you're looking for a paddler's guide to the Mackenzie, you'll have to look elsewhere, such as the "Canoeist's Guide to the Liard and Mackenzie Rivers" by Harlow and Ariane Pinson, posted online here. The Pinsons note that Kayaks to the Arctic is not a guide book, but one of "several chatty but useless narratives of recent river travel." Useless to someone planning which river channel to take at the delta, maybe. But to someone comparing Alexander Mackenzie's journals to more recent works about travelling along this river, this book is interesting enough for me to gallop through it.
The most powerful scene in Kayaks to the Arctic comes as the Nickerson family approaches the Sans Sault rapids, the only bit of rough water they've been warned about. All the family knows to stay close to the left bank. When Devon's kayak veers a little less to the left than either of his parents prefer, Nick calls him to shore to have it out. Hot words get shouted, including "a few choice expletives." Then the blade of a kayak paddle swooshes through the air, and --
But that would be telling.

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