The cover photograph of a canoe and a well-worn paddle resting on the cobblestone shoreline of a sprawling lake are appropriate images for a trail that is mostly a water route. These iconic images introduce Bastedo’s philosophy that the trail is best explored by canoe or by bicycle. In fact, Bastedo goes further and opines that humans are “buil[t] for long, steady, rhythmic motion” (p. xiii).
The tome is layered with sidebars full of history, tales, and tidbits of bygone ways as well as nostalgic quotations. The framed text boxes open windows into another time. They add a profound sense of place to a vast trail. Collectively, the information in the guidebook leads to a richer experience and helps the traveller connect the activities of canoeing and cycling with community and culture. Explore the book for information on maps, access and egress options, points of interest and landmarks, community services and wildlife.
Although departing with an inviting tone, Bastedo’s passion for science is revealed by its academic flavour. So be ready for the occasional use of words such as “ephemeral”. Be forewarned, it has a small font size. The upside is that the small font results in a volume packed with historical knowledge and information.
The glossy pages may aid the photographs but I question the reader's ability to jot down notes on them. The volume’s numerous photogenic images from children to elders create an inclusive and generational feel. I sense a connection between trail users of the past with signs and stories of previous passers, contemporary adventurers (the author and his cohort) and future generations (children, including Bastedo’s daughters).
Most of the trail spans the Northwest Territories longitudinally and follows Canada’s longest river—the mighty Mackenzie. Accordingly, the handbook is primarily a Mackenzie River travel guide or vade mecum and thus a must have companion for any Mackenzie River tripper. The trail includes massive lakes and rivers as well as attractive side channels. Seclusion and surprise await the traveller. Many wilderness trippers may not be used to an extensive guidebook for northern travel. The author offers extremely useful camping information. For example, Bastedo draws attention to swampy sections or sides of the route to avoid camping on.
Similar to the barrens, the trail is not void but rather it is well peppered by past and present human usage. You will see signs of the past and hear of peoples stories. Follow in the wake of those who lived and travelled on the land. Witness firsthand a traditional life of hunting, trapping and fishing. It’s not a bygone lifestyle. Carrie McGown eloquently explains life on the Mackenzie. “It’s a river that’s big enough to become a part of your everyday life. Stay out here long enough and it becomes your life. It becomes the norm. It invites you to be a part of it. It gives you time and space to think.” (p. 140)
It’s publishing was supported by the Canadian Council for the Arts, Ontario Art Council, and the Government of Canada (Book Publishing Industry Development Program, BPIDP). Thus I was surprised to read that it was printed and bound in China and bears no paper source Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) symbol. I encourage you to learn more about the importance of the FSC symbol. Watch or read about the FSC story at http://www.fsccanada.org/fscstory.htm
The overleaf map refers to chapters by numbers but the table of contents does not title chapters by numerals. Don’t look from the map to the table of contents for quick referencing, instead use the colour coded thumb indexes, a nice feature that works well for navigating to any trail section.