Disappointment River by Brian Castner leads the reader on a historical investigation and an epic canoe adventure. Following someone on a journey through the power of their words goes part way towards making the trip oneself; with the added benefit of no bugs or wet clothes at the end of the day.
What makes the narrative compelling is the way Mr. Castner switches from historical investigation to personal experience. Most minimally educated Americans grow up hearing about the exploits of Lewis and Clark, but never hear about the other journeys of exploration which mapped this contenent. A great example of this lack of historical awareness is the trip made by Alexander McKenzie in 1789. Acting on inaccurate information, Mackenzie set out to find the Northwest Passage, finding only frustration and disappointment instead. Castner followed in Mackenzie’s paddle wake in 2016. The Deh Cho (Mackenzie) is the second longest river in North America, running from the Great Slave Lake to the Arctic Ocean. Both journeys are potent reminders that not all the history on our continent takes place below the 49th parallel. While the United states was ratifying its constitution and electing its first president, the people who would become Canadian were exploring the larger reaches of the continent in pursuit of commercial advantage in the fur trade. Castner notes that Mackenzie’s description of his travels from Montreal to the far reaches of the north accompanied the Core of Discovery on its journey to the Pacific.
Anyone who has paddled in rough water or into stiff head winds will identify with Castner’s descriptions of the physical effects of intense and focus paddling. I found myself imagining the ache in shoulders and clenching of fingers by the end of chapters describing long hours on the water.
This book is going on my best books of the year list and one I will enjoy sharing with others for years to come.