Audrey Sutherland, the author of the recently-released book “Paddling North” is a legend among outdoorspeople. Having spent her earliest years in California, and then living for 40 years in Hawai’i, she started doing some lengthy solokayaking trips in her mid-40’s after having raised her four children. But even before the kayaking, Sutherland was drawn to the seas.


Paddling North book cover“Before I could afford a boat, and before this one was even manufactured, I used to swim miles of crawl stroke with swim fins along the Na Pali coast of Kaua’I and along the north coast of Moloka’I towing a bag of gear and camping in the valleys,“ Sutherland writes in "Paddling North." 
The trips she writes about are just a few of many this intrepid woman has tackled over the years. As David Thomson writes in Hana Hou!: "In a kayaking career spanning five decades, Audrey has paddled an estimated twelve thousand nautical miles—the equivalent of half the circumference of Earth. She racked up almost all of that mileage on long, lone voyages in the stubby little blow-up boats she adores, going solo not out of misanthropy or because she’s antisocial but because it’s just easier that way."

Sutherland always took her journeys alone, and while previous books of hers focused on the Hawaiian Islands (Paddling my Own Canoe went through nine printings, and its follow-up, Paddling Hawaii is still considered the how-to guide for trips in the Islands), this one covers an 87-day, almost-900-mile trip along the Inside Passage of Alaska, when she was 60. Why does she go? Because she needs to, and in this case, when her job won't give her the time off she needs to do the trip, she quits. She does attempt to explain her reasons for going, which are numerous and wide-ranging, but in the end she needs to do the trip she does due to a visceral thing inside her. “I wanted to be lean and hard and sunbrowned and kind. Instead I felt fat and soft and white and mean.”


Reading the book is like being right there on the journey with Sutherland, as it is written in a day-to-day chronological style. She offers plenty of how-to suggestions for long kayak trips (not to mention recipes for yummy camp food), as well as life advice, which is worth something from a woman who has lived a full as life as Sutherland has: “Sometimes you have to go ahead and do the most important things, the things you believe in, and not wait until years later when you say, ‘I wish I had done, gone, kissed…’ What we most regret is not the errors that we made, but the things we didn’t do.” (This passage appeared as a musing during a stop at a desolate cabin on an Alaskan island.) 

It seems like in her full life of explorations, adventures and wild-animal observations and intereactions (there are plenty of those), that Sutherland shouldn't regret a thing. Whether she does or not, this fast-paced, easy to read book is filled with situations and proddings that may help you regret less, or at least get out into the woods/on the water/on your bike more often. 


Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.

Great reads: A woman's solo kayak tour of Alaska
"Paddling North" is solo kayaker Audrey Sutherland's memoir of exploring the Alaska coastline.