The stories that became Paddling South, Winnipeg to New Orleans by Canoe stem from a voyage a high school friend and I took in the fall of 1969. Although there was a forty year wait between voyage and publication, the book retains its accuracy because both John Van Landeghem and I kept separate journals.
While I was writing the book John lent me his diary so I was able to refer to both accounts. After forty years it was a revelation to see what John actually thought of the trip and me, so much so that at one point I phoned John in Edmonton and said:
“You didn’t like me much did you.”
Personal faults aside this was an amazing adventure in the Mark Twain tradition. This was not so much a man against nature saga, although there was that element, the trip was just two kids on an adventure. And it was an adventure.
We couldn’t find a place to camp so we spent three nights in The Fargo City Jail as guests of the Fargo Police.
“But you gotta be out by Thursday. We need the space. Thursdays is when we start getting our regulars.”
While on the Mississippi we almost sank a half a dozen times, we almost got swamped by a ship, a barge, waves, you name it. Getting almost killed was a daily event.
We met a collection of characters; from the merely odd to the melancholy and to the downright dangerous. It was as if Samuel Clements was writing our itinerary.
Paddling South was nominated as The Best Non Fiction Book by a Manitoba Author 2008.
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About the Author
When people ask me to explain my history I’m tempted to preface my answer with the Monty Python saying; ‘and now for something completely different.’ For example: When I tell acquaintances what I do for a living, both my writer friends and my welder friends say the same thing; “You do what?” Yep, I really do have two Journeyman’s Certificates, one as a Boilermaker, the other for Welding; and I really do have books published. Never mind, I’m working on more books. You see I’ve always held to the principle that ‘find out what everybody thinks is a great idea, then don’t do it. While in school it was drilled into us that you were going to be an abject failure unless you went to university and then wore a suit. So when I finally got away from school I did the exact opposite. As far as formal education was concerned I majored in being a disaster. I think I still hold the record for the lowest mark in Grade 10 French. I hated the place and I’m pretty sure the feeling was mutual. The one shining attribute that I did acquire wasn’t from any formal education, it was from my mother. She was a librarian and she instilled in me the love of reading. I always read. Hell one time I flunked a high school literature exam because I had spent the study time home reading my older brother Dave’s university literature books. I can’t say that I didn’t learn while I was in formal education, just not in the things they gave marks for. It’s an interesting experience to be invited back to my old high school and stand in my old classroom where I suffered so many humiliations, and give a seminar on my award winning book. I came from a large boisterous and loving family, where my older brother and sister used to regularly torture me, and I in turn would torment my younger siblings. Gawd I miss those days. When I was fourteen I hitchhiked from Moose Jaw Saskatchewan to Toronto. At seventeen I hitchhiked from Winnipeg to Mexico. At nineteen I paddled down the Mississippi River in a canoe. After I got married we emigrated to Australia for a year. It seemed like I spent my teens and early twenties ‘Of No Fixed Abode.’ That came to an abrupt halt when my daughter Rebecca arrived. Suddenly I had to become serious about this making a living. I became an apprentice at the railway, along came Tara and Jessica and when I finally became a journeyman I looked around and there was a crowd at the table, all women. It was an easy decision to accept a well-paying job in the high arctic because we were broke. Not just a little broke, we were lay-awake-at-night broke. Besides I thought, it was only going to be for a couple of years. >My books describe some of the more printable experiences while I worked in Canada and the United States but there’s been several side trips, ‘U’ turns, anomalies, whatever. The expression; ‘never wish for something too much, you just might get it,’ fits right here. But one of the things I take most satisfaction about, is that I’ve never been afraid to try. And I don’t get all worked up if I fail, as long as nobody’s looking. I’ve always had a love of reading but over the years I’ve developed a love of writing. It’s become formalized. I first started writing letters to my kids, then to my extended family, then small articles in the local newspaper to people that knew me. Now I just write the same stories in my books. If I can get my kids and my family laughing and crying while reading my chapters, I know you will.