Richard Bangs and his Sobek rafting company were clearly the early trend setters in world-wide adventure travel. Those who enjoyed other books by Bangs including River Gods and Riding the Dragon's Back will enjoy this first-hand account of Bangs's early development as a world-class rafter including his teen adventures on the Potomac, his first summer working on the Colorado as a swamper and finally a guide through the Grand, and his first major first descent of the Omo River in Ethiopia. It was the Omo trip, which cost the members a total of $1400, where Sobek beat a well-financed National Geographic expedition by three months to what was then billed as the Mt. Everest of Whitewater, a distinction many now bestow on the Tsangpo in Tibet.
The first 2/3 of the book are well-written and include Sobek's tragic initial commercial trip ending with a client death in the first major rapid and later the death of Lee Greenwald, who Bangs met as a client on one of his Colorado trips. Greenwald had provided the financial backing to get the fledgling Sobek company off the ground, and became an accomplished river-runner under the mentorship of Bangs and one of his closest friends.
The book builds towards a climax of the much-anticipated exploratory descent of the Tekeze, a trip Bangs had promised to do with Greenwald two decades earlier and one he must complete to bring closure to Greenwald's premature death, but here the book begins to fall a little flat. The account of the Tekeze expedition reads more like a sequence of daily journal entries that could have used a bit more editing and the writing itself takes a slight downhill turn. There are daily accounts of setting up the satellite phone to transmit reports back to Microsoft's Mungo Park online travel magazine which Bangs was hired to create. For some reason, Bangs turns to language he must feel required to use to match the technology he is using and some of his phrases are a bit heavy handed:
...the tail of the wet season has made every tree and shrub burst into hectic leaf... it feels like we're in an oversized diorama, or the middle of an IMAX film--everything is exaggerated, the colors more brilliant than enhanced photos, or HDTV."
"...and every night I have slept fitfully, as though the night currents were arching through my cerebellum, conducting bytes and bits or worried thought."
"I contemplate pulling out my Minolta for a parting shot but instead grab my DC50 Kodak digital camera..."
Although the adventure aspects of the trip do not live up to the hype the reader anticipates, the story of Bangs coming to closure with the death of Greenwald provides a thread that keeps the story interesting.
While the book does not hold the reader with the drama of Into Thin Air or the Perfect Storm, as promised on the dust jacket, it is a revealing and deeply personal account of the joys and sorrows that come from modern exploration of uncharted territory. The book is a must-read for anyone who has enjoyed previous books by Bangs and those interested in the development of modern adventure travel, exploratory boaters, and those who want to learn how Sobek came to be.