Wondering how you’ll keep your thirst for paddling in check while awaiting spring? When you aren’t tackling rapids in freezing temps, here’s an alternative. When you’re not on the water in real life, let these wild women guide you on journeys through bucket list expeditions in your own backyard and all over the world.

[ Discover 8 classic tales every paddler should read ] 


Amazon Woman by Darcy Gaechter

In this adventurous autobiographical account, Darcy Gaechter describes the physical, social and geo-political challenges of her three-person expedition down the Amazon River. With an epic opening sequence in a class V-VI multi-mile mining corridor which seems to promise certain death, the reader gets a clear sense of the dangers and remoteness of the journey. Gaechter experiences innumerable discomforts and much team dissension. Obtaining travel permissions, border crossings, avoiding clashes with guerilla warriors, coming to terms with a life of adventure kayaking over adulting and searching out vegan food opinions, all while juggling the “first woman” trope. The reader will walk away with respect for what women go through in male dominated spaces and sports—which Gaechter maps out directly and indirectly.


Downriver: Into the Future of Water in the West by Heather Hansman

A first-class environmental writer and reporter, Heather Hansman enlists raft guiding skills from her earlier years to solo paddle the Green River while simultaneously unpacking a murky history of water rights in the west. Hansmen blends enlightening discussions with farmers, city officials and fellow boaters with long periods of solitude. From source to confluence on the most significant tributary of the Colorado River, Hansman considers the many uses, users and perspectives of the surrounding water that transports her over 700 miles and how it became so over-taxed. This book echoes variables and concerns in water rights debates around the world.


The Sun is a Compass by Caroline Van Hemert

Deciding to travel 4,000 miles by rowboat, ski, foot, raft and canoe with her college sweetheart, Caroline Van Hemert and partner odyssey from the rainforests of the Pacific to the Alaskan Arctic. Academic and thoughtful avian observations and environmental metaphors are a-plenty from Hemert’s doctoral filtered perspective. The sweetness Hemert shares with her long-time partner on the expedition made for a light adventure romance sub-theme which stands out nicely next to the many solo paddle selections mentioned above. Undeniably a top pick for lonely winter nights.



Paddling North by Audrey Sutherland


Paddling North by Audrey Sutherland

After many an adventure island-hopping under her own swimming duress in Hawaii, Audrey Sutherland embarks on a solo inside passage Alaskan voyage. Humble yet confident in her own abilities, she successfully employs an ill-suited inflatable kayak and paddles from Ketchikan to Skagway, 850 miles, without a lifejacket. The reader easily slips into tandem on Southerland’s sojourn as she details animal encounters, camp recipes, foraging finds, weather and more. Sutherland passed away in 2015. Check out her chronological paddle prequels, Paddling Hawaii & Paddling My Own Canoe.


River House: A Memoir by Sarahlee Lawrence

With a master’s degree in water resources, a penchant for captaining first descents in Egypt and beyond and dusty high-desert agriculture in her DNA, Sarahlee Lawrance isn’t just a renaissance woman. She’s a quintessential Oregonian with an eye for the subtleties of nature and an embodiment of the frontier. This is a coming-of-age tale in which Lawrence grapples with the intoxication of world of whitewater and her magnetic draw to carry on the legacy of her family’s farmland back home. Follow along as she untangles her passions through the act of building a log cabin with her father in the dead of winter.


Chasing Grace by Lily Durkee

A fiction novel for teens, Chasing Grace tells the story of 17-old-year kayaker Ginny Kinsey. When her parents ban her from paddling, she does what any reasonable teenager would do—she jumps in her car and embarks on a cross-country road trip with two other paddlers bound for the the mighty waves of the Ottawa River. On the road, she encounters more than just whitewater and gas stations and realizes that kayaking, like life, is a lot more complicated than it seems. Chasing Grace was self-published by Diversify Whitewater co-founder Lily Durkee when she was a teen herself.


Breaking into the Current: Boatwomen of the Grand Canyon by Louise Teal

This chronicle of infamous and lesser known female guides on the wiliest most legendary river state side, features interviews and reports on river characters from the author, to the late great Georgie White. With riveting accounts of the notorious 1983 six-digit cfs flood and its havoc on Lava and Crystal rapids, this book also includes many other Colorado River yarns and tales fit for any campfire. Although this text sometimes needs a reboot through a modern outdoor lens of diversity, equity and inclusivity (Desert Cabal, Amy Irvine style), the writing represents a distinct and relevant geographic and cultural chapter of a shared and sometimes problematic whitewater herstory.


Bonus Books:

The Inside Passage by Susan Conrad

Cowboys Are My Weakness by Pam Houston (Chapter 2: Selway River, Idaho)

KM Collins lives in Bend, Oregon, and writes extensively about river life and paddling. Missed your favorite book? Send us a note at editor [at] paddlingmagazine.com. This reading list is curated by Whitewater Lit Review Reading Crew. All are welcome. Click for details.


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