The Sun is a Compass by Caroline Van Hemert

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I was travelling around the province – roadways, ferries and footpaths – taking advantage of loosening travel restrictions to explore the seemingly endless coast of BC’s Gulf Islands. It was also an ideal opportunity to visit with independent booksellers as part of a Gone Viking tour, promoting my latest travel memoir. In Comox, I stopped at Blue Heron Books, where I picked up Caroline Van Hemert’s The Sun is a Compass, her personal account of travelling, along with her husband, for five months by rowboat, kayak, raft, foot, ski, and sled from Washington State to Alaska, crossing Canada’s Yukon and Northwest Territories in the process.

This is a proper armchair adventure, well-written travel lit shared in real-time, thrusting the reader into the excursion alongside the author. It’s an expedition few would endeavour to tackle. Exceedingly ambitious. Borderline foolhardy. Despite the planning, our explorers run out of food, surviving on stubborn hope for five days. But the author and her spouse make a resilient and reliable team. This trek is one of savouring nature, basking in the outdoors and wanting the very best for our environment. Van Hemert is a highly trained and skilled ornithologist, her observations of bird species along the way comprehensive and absorbing.

The land itself soon becomes a primary player in the adventure, from rugged coast to surging sea, rainforest to tundra, rivers, bogs and deltas, mountains, glaciers and ice floes. If you like the notion of exploring arctic terrain without the inherent demands, discomfort, risk, or week upon week of dehydrated bland food, The Sun is a Compass is an ideal way to do it, and author Caroline Van Hemert makes for an engaging, entertaining and informative travel companion and guide.

  • Title: The Sun is a Compass: My 4,000 Mile Journey into the Alaskan Wilds
  • Author: Caroline Van Hemert
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Spark, 2019
  • ISBN: 9780316414449
  • Pages: 306 pp

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Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of A Season on Vancouver Island, theGone Viking travelogues, andA Perfect Day for a Walk: The History, Cultures, and Communities of Vancouver, on Foot(Arsenal Pulp Press, Fall 2024). Recipient of a Fellowship at London’s Royal Geographical Society for his expeditions, Bill’s a frequent presenter and contributor to magazines, universities, podcasts, TV and radio. When not trekking with a small pack and journal, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, where he lives near the sea on Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh land.