Beyond the Trees: A Journey Alone Across Canada’s Arctic by Adam Shoalts
Book by Canadian Explorer Adam Shoalts who takes a journey by canoe into the Canadian Arctic over a span of 5 months, starting from the west side of the MacKenzie River in Yukon, all the way to Baker’s Lake in Nunavut. This is an extremely remote area of Canada where it’s possible to travel for several months without seeing a single person. The author undertook this journey in 2017 after raising funding through a mix of grants and crowdfunding. He’s an experienced explorer, having embarked on journeys in the Arctic before, but this is his longest one so far.
The journey begins in the Yukon in springtime, where he waits for the ice to melt so he can travel up the MacKenzie River by canoe. For a few days, he has a crew traveling with him, but after that, he’s all alone since nobody has the time to spare due to adult responsibilities. Throughout the book, we see several ways he navigates: when on a river, he uses a pole to go upstream, combining poling with a small sail. When there’s no river, he often has to undertake difficult portages, carrying his load across land.
He does encounter wild animals, but they don’t pose as much danger as the ice, which on several occasions forces him to wait until it clears before he can proceed. Wind conditions are also crucial, especially on Great Bear Lake, where, in a small canoe, the waves can be perilous. This lake is one of the largest in the world, but only a few hundred people live near it. Since he’s trying to cover a lot of distance in limited time, he travels dozens of kilometers every day, relying on packaged nutrition bars instead of hunting or fishing.
Overall, I read about half of it before I got bored. The journey, mostly a long and grueling grind across the Arctic, makes for a similarly grueling read. The traverse through nature is initially interesting but quickly becomes repetitive. I wish there were more intriguing personality conflicts or historical drama, but not in this book. It’s just him by himself, and since he’s a skilled adventurer, there’s no real danger to his survival at any point.