2x poplars
Photo of the Yukon by nordicshutter used under a Creative Commons license.

Jill Fredston, Rowing to Latitude (North Point Press, 2001).
Fredston is an avalanche expert who lives near Anchorage nine months out of the year; for the other three months, she and her husband take long-distance trips in oceangoing rowing shells in colder climes. This book is the story of 20,000 miles of kayaking along the coasts of British Columbia, Alaska, Yukon, Greenland, Labrador, and Norway, with a little of Sweden and Washington thrown in for good measure. Oh, she rowed 2,000 miles down the Yukon River to the Bering Strait, and before she reached the Yukon coast on that other trip she rowed down hundreds of miles down the Mackenzie River from Hay River, Northwest Territories. For those of us who dream about such trips but likely will never feather an oar in those waters, Fredston’s book is a wonderful opportunity to row vicariously — a better way to experience the tedium, mosquitoes, and bears. The book won a 2002 National Outdoor Book Award.

Here (scroll down) is Fredston’s bio at the National Avalanche School. You’ll find an excerpt here. Philip Johns says it’s a tremendous book. Dana De Zoysa says Fredston writes rings around mass-market travel scribblers (whomever they may be). Judyth Willis particularly likes Fredston’s connection with the coasts of Yukon and Labrador. David would reread it in a heartbeat. Carol Standish is glad that it’s not a sloppy paean to nature. KiwiBird appreciates Fredston’s thoughts about what’s truly wild (and she should know). Brian Handwerk (National Geographic) picks up on the same theme. Sarah Sammis says it’s one of the best books she’s ever read. It’s Katie Lindsay’s favorite travel writing book (or was in 2004). Karen Karbo (The New York Times) focuses on Fredston’s husband. Gavin J. Grant interviewed Fredston.

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igloo hotel 011
Photo of the ice hotel in Alta by used under a Creative Commons license.

Vendela Vida, Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name (Garrett County Press, 2005).
Having been abandoned by her mother at 14, Clarissa is devastated again years later when her father suddenly drops dead of a heart attack. She finds her birth certificate in his desk, only to discover that it says she was born in northern Finland and that her “Dad” is not her father. Her fiancé compounds the betrayal by telling her that he has known for years. Clarissa sets out for the Finnmark region of northern Finland and Norway to find herself there as best she can.

Lots of reviews: Madison Smartt Bell (The New York Times), Sage van Wing, Meredith McGuire, John Marshall (Seattle Post-Intelligencer), Peter Carty (The Independent), Rachel Giese (, Ryan Paine (, Connie Ogle (Miami Herald), Donna Rifkind (Washington Post), Ruth Davis Konigsberg (The Observer), Jenny Diski (The Guardian), Lily Gontard (GEIST), and Sage Van Wing (Boldtype). Lots more bloggy reaction as well: Lotus Reads, svw, Shantanu Dutta, wholeclothdesigns, Gentle Reader, Blog, Girl Detective, Lasrisas, and Melissa. In something of an upset, Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name knocked off The Savage Detectives in The Morning News 2007 Tournament of Books (but then lost to Tree of Smoke in Round 2). Here is an interview of Visa by Felicia C. Sullivan. Here’s a podcast with Vida, posted by the publisher. Here’s another podcast hosted by Michael Silverblatt. Here’s another at The Sound of Young America. Here is Vida discussing the book on video. Joshunda Sanders profiled her for the San Francisco Chronicle. Here is the website for 826 Valencia, where Vida is a tutor. Finally, a few years ago Vida wrote this diary for Slate.

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The storfjord
Photo of the Storfjord and the Lyngen Alps by Peter Nijenhuis used under a Creative Commons license.

David Howarth, We Die Alone (The Lyons Press, 2007).
In March of 1943, Jan Baalsrud and other Norwegian commandos fighting with the Allies smuggled themselves back into an island off northern Norway by fishing boat, the first step in a plan to raid a German airfield. But soon after they reached the Toftefjord, sixty kilometers north of Tromso, an ambush left his compatriots dead or captured and Baalsrud injured and on the run, only hundreds of yards ahead of German soldiers. Somehow he escaped to the mainland, and then into the Lyngen Alps. We Die Alone is a survival story, the story of Baalsrud’s epic flight and endurance, and also the story of the Norwegians who helped him escape. It is hard not to read this book in one sitting.

Robert C. Allen reviews it in Wilderness and Environmental Medicine. Mike Wright retraced Baalsrud’s path. Euan Cameron calls Baalsrud Norway’s greatest war hero. This page talks about the Shetland Buses, the fishing boats used to infiltrate into northern Norway. And the reindeer pendant here was inspired by the book.

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