“Paddle. Camp. Repeat.”
These three words are how memoirist Brian Castner described his latest book, “Disappointment River.” Castner will appear on Thacker Mountain Radio at 6 p.m. tonight at Off Square Books to talk about the book, which came out earlier this month.
The history and travel memoir, follows Castner’s journey of retracing the exploration route of Alexander Mackenzie and his Chipewyan partner Awgeenah by canoe.
The trip took 40 days and covered 1,125 miles. Fully immersing himself in the journey to discover a northwest passage, Castner paddled westward down the Mackenzie River all the way to the west coast of Canada.
When asked about his motives for the trip, Castner said, “I didn’t need any more journeys of self-discovery. I needed something more concrete, and retracing Mackenzie’s paddle strokes from Great Slave Lake to the Arctic Ocean was exactly that.”
The goal: Garry Island. It was the last island in the delta, the northernmost point and the place where Mackenzie was halted by ice and forced to turn around. To Castner, it was the finish line of a marathon.
Castner found the disheartening story of Mackenzie and Awgeenah after an impromptu Google search that left him both surprised and intrigued by the two forgotten voyagers who scoured North America for a northwest passage a dozen years before Lewis and Clark.
To prepare for the monthlong expedition, Castner packed only essential equipment for the trip. The only item not used was a deck of cards to pass the time.
In addition, he recruited the help of his family before his departure.
“I took my kids camping in the backyard to try out the new tent and mattress pads. I bought samples of the new dehydrated meals and cooked them for my kids for lunch so we could test every flavor.”
Castner said the biggest lesson he learned from his cross-country journey was that the beauty of the wilderness does not always equate to the simple life we imagine when picturing the outdoors.
“Our romance of the wild is shaped by the creature comforts we bring to it. That the in-between places far outnumber the places of extreme aesthetic beauty. That there are still areas of the world that protect themselves because they are so full of bugs, bears and cold.”
Writing “Disappointment River” became Castner’s life for almost three years. Fully dedicating himself to his work, Castner linked parts of the journey to parts of the book, creating a cohesive masterpiece.
Despite the trials of the Canadian wilderness, including exhaustion, cold and hunger, Castner said giving up was nowhere on his radar.
“It was only how we would go forward, not whether we would. Maybe that’s the military training kicking in. Or maybe I’m just stubborn. Probably both.”
Kallye Smith, a freshman English major from Magee, said she plans on attending tonight’s event.
“I enjoyed reading (John) Krakauer and (Henry David) Thoreau in my high school English class, and when I heard about the concept of ‘Disappointment River,’ I was interested,” Smith said.
Tonight’s show is also celebrating the 100th issue of The Oxford American magazine.
Appearing with Castner on Thacker Mountain Radio Hour this week are singer/songwriter Destiny Stone, author and The Oxford American columnist John T. Edge and poet Molly McCully Brown, who is the 2017-2018 Jeff Baskins Writers Fellow for the magazine.