Beyond the Trees by Adam Shoalts

    After first reading the book was going to be about a 4,000 kilometer canoe trip, I knew it would be a pretty good travel story. However, after also reading that these 4,000 kilometers were also pretty much all above the Arctic Circle in the far north of Canada, I knew this would also be an excellent adventure story as well considering the harrowing conditions involved. Beyond the Trees: A Journey Alone Across Canada’s Arctic  by Adam Shoalts is the author’s firsthand account of this epic endeavor that he completed in 2017 and reads as a monumental travelogue.

    Unfortunately, despite essentially being a travel journal of the highest order, this in part becomes the work’s largest flaw. While much of what the author is doing on this adventure is grand in scope and is also quite detailed, the work bogs down frequently with what becomes almost a play-by-play of the days and weeks of this journey. This is magnified by the fact that many of the scenarios involved on this canoeing trip are by nature repetitive. Namely that the author canoes upriver in unfavorable conditions, followed by a portage to the next body of water (that has to be done usually three times to carry all of his gear and supplies), followed by a period of relatively easier going. Many of the obstacles along this journey were the same such as having to wade through the water dragging his canoe behind him or having to portage over rocky terrain. While the names of the rivers were different, it just seemed many of the stretches of the journey were very similar to each other so that a day by day rendition of the trip became quite repetitive. 
    There were also a few other downsides to the book as well. Probably most strikingly is the question of the purpose or the real reason why the author did this journey in the first place. Without this why it did seem that the trip, while epic for sure, didn’t seem to have a whole lot of meaning behind it. There is some vague gesturing to celebrating Canada’s sesquicentennial, but to be honest it’s not really clear why this would be a celebration of that anniversary and after that the question of why is never addressed. And this leads sort of to my last disappointment with the work in that because the purpose and why of the journey is not really addressed, but only the how, much of what I was expecting in the work simply wasn’t part of the book. There wasn’t much deep reflection on the actual nature and environment of Canada’s Arctic aside from the immediate physical path and obstacles on his journey. Every now and then there were token musings and reminisces on such topics in most chapters, particularly with some of the wildlife he encountered, and it just left me wanting more. Part of this was due to the author’s time-crunch in completing his journey before the weather became too dangerous, but it just seemed that while he was indeed alone in the arctic wilderness he couldn’t appreciate and soak in all that was around him due to always having to be on the move and progressing towards the goal. However, I am sure that in real life the author certainly did appreciate these sorts of things, it just may not have come across well in the book.
     Now, that isn’t to say that there wasn’t anything good in this adventure work. Far from it. Just as a pure travel journal on how the author actually physically made this trip is mind boggling. Considering the scale involved of being above the Arctic Circle for months completing a 4,000 kilometer journey by himself, the fact the author accomplished it is amazing. The how-to and perseverance of the author tackling problems and obstacles left and right on his journey was certainly a highlight. Even though the narrative might have been repetitive it was interesting to learn about different ways of canoeing and traversing through rough waters and terrain with a canoe. He also show that with practice, skill, and determination a single person can accomplish astounding things. Lastly, I felt the author was at his best when writing about his encounters and sightings of wildlife with a particular favorite being the family of wolves he observed towards the end of his trip.
Overall, Beyond the Trees by Adam Shoalts was an interesting and detailed description of how one actually does a canoe trip across the Canadian Arctic. While the detailed day by day nature of the work may not be for everyone, no one could deny the immensity of the completing such an undertaking and this alone makes it a worthy read.
    3.5 out of 5 stars. 

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