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Voyageur: Across the Rocky Mountains in a Birchbark Canoe [Paperback]

Robert Twigger
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 Feb 2007

Fifteen years before Lewis and Clark, Scotsman Alexander Mackenzie, looking to open up a trade route, set out from Lake Athabasca in central Northern Canada in search of the Pacific Ocean. Mackenzie travelled by bark canoe and had a cache of rum and a crew of Canadian voyageurs, hard-living backwoodsmen, for company. Two centuries later, Robert Twigger decides to follow in Mackenzie's wake. He too travels the traditional way, having painstakingly built a canoe from birchbark sewn together with pine roots, and assembled a crew made up of fellow travelers, ex-tree-planters and a former sailor from the US Navy. Several had tried before them but they were the first people to successfully complete Mackenzie's diabolical route over the Rockies in a birchbark canoe since 1793.

Their journey takes them to the remotest parts of the wilderness, through Native American reservations, over mountains, through rapids and across lakes, meeting descendants of Mackenzie and unhinged Canadian trappers, running out of food, getting lost and miraculously found again, disfigured for life (the ex-sailor loses his thumb), bears brown and black, docile and grizzly.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Phoenix; New Ed edition (1 Feb 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0753821486
  • ISBN-13: 978-0753821480
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 193,540 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Robert Twigger writes about extreme experiences and extreme places. He has written about several expeditions to remote parts of the world he has taken part in. He writes in sometimes memoir, sometimes fiction formats.

Product Description


Robert Twigger, by his own admission, typifies the type of middle-class modern man who longs for primitive physical adventure. That he combines this with a witty and vivid writing style is the reader's luck. ...Entertaining throughout (Katie Owen Sunday Telegraph)

A truly interesting journey, told with wit and panache. ... Twigger is a fine raconteur... his book is also an eloquent tribute to the melancholy surrealism of small settlements in the middle of empty space, and the severity and grandeur of wild places

(Joanna Kavenna Spectator)

This book is mesmerising from the first page to last and deeply, unexpectedly moving. (Duncan Fallowell Daily Telegraph)

There is a nice line in self-deprecation that runs through what is a very elegantly written account of Twigger's obsessive, masochistic reprise of Alexander Mackenzie's trek across the Rockies 213 years ago by traditional birchbark canoe. ... Twigger reminds us that the adventurous spirit of the British explorer is alive and well, and Voyageur is a fine addition to the genre (Daniel Topolski Guardian)

A genuinely delightful piece of work, and I thoroughly recommend it

(Marcus Berkmann Sunday Telegraph)

Robert Twigger is not so much a travel writer as a thrill-seeking philosopher (Esquire)

Voyageur is a great read, brimming with intrepid adventure, close shaves and servings of pemmican. It is a grown-up Swallows and Amazons (Lizzie Matthews Wanderlust)

A compelling read that vividly brings to life an often overlooked historical achievement (Tom Chesshyre Times Literary Supplement)

Book Description

Best-selling author of Angry White Pyjamas travels across the Rocky Mountains by canoe

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Staggeringly Brilliant! 11 Aug 2006
I never read travel books, I never watch road movies, and autobiographies bore me. However, a friend of mine bought me this book for my birthday, so I thought I'd better thumb through it before we met again.

It is brilliant! Twigger doesn't try justifying this totally bonkers escapade, but from page one the reader is caught up in a whirlwind of enthusiasm. The balance between travelog and adventure story is perfect; the word-pictures so artfully painted that the included photos were no more than a distraction.

Enhance your library by reading this book, and make a friend by buying another copy!
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating 21 July 2006
I'm a big fan of Robert Twigger's books, and this latest is no disappointment. In fact it's better than even I had expected. I can only marvel at how someone can go to all those lengths to row his way across the Canadian outback. And what adventures along the way! And as ever, there is a sense of a greater journey, and a greater purpose behind what he is doing. The best travel books give you an insight into other worlds, not just other parts of the World, and Twigger is a master at doing this. Highly recommended.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Authenticity leaps from every page 12 Feb 2006
By A Customer
When so many 'non-fiction' works are being shown to be made up or based on three days research in a library it is refreshing to come across a magnificent account which reminds me of nineteenth century travelogue (or even an 18th century journey, given the trip follows the diabolical route of MacKenzie in 1793 across North West Canada, from Lake Athabasca to the Pacific) where the key signature was toughness and a do or die willingness to open new routes for trade and sometimes conquest. Twigger is clearly a throw back in that he is obviously as tough as old boots and seems to relish nightmare conditions which most of us would prefer to watch on the National Geographic channel on television. But he has modern sensibilities and the pen of a poet.
This book cost three years and much sweat and toil from Twigger and his later day crew of Voyageurs. They covered over two thousand miles - and if that doesn't impress, one thousand was against the current. (Like running from Lands End to John O'Groats up a down escalator!) This book is a must read for anyone who wonders if the daily struggle simply to commute to the office is really a defining challenge and who might yearn to escape into the vast unpeopled water-wilderness of the Canadian landscape.
In summary a quite brilliant book by one of the most original travel writers now working.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Up the Rugged River with Alex Mackenzie 13 May 2006
This is a great wallop of a river-road book in the tradition of the English wanderer who is dedicated to peeling off the seemingy intact veneer of the present to reach the denser heartwood of the past and illume the shoddiness of now.

The main eye-opener for many citizens of the USA will be to learn that it was NOT Lewis and Clark, backed by the full might of the US Army and eager support of President Thomas Jefferson, but the entrepreneurial Scotsman Alexander Mackenzie who first traversed the North American continent to reach the Pacific Ocean -- and he did it across Canada in a birchbark canoe, mostly upriver and against the current, with a roughneck crew of rum-rationed backwoodsmen 15 years earlier in 1793.


It is Mackenzie's route that Robert Twigger, after building his own birchbark canoe, and his pick-up crews labouriously pursue over three summers, pittng brawn, brain and bloody-mindedness against everything the Canadian wilderness (and various outposts of Canuck civilization) can throw at them.

Like the eccentric Victorian travel writer George Borrow (and many others since -- Thesiger, for one, John McPhee for another), Twigger distrusts the "dark Satanic mills" of his day. Civilization, especially urbanization, leaches out something essential from the human endeavour, rendering it feeble, feckless and insipid.

This is a constant theme of the book, a yearning for a more muscular reality where the risks (grizzly bears, getting lost, nasty rapids) are real and the subtle rewards commensurate. More than once the Twigger lads spurn local creature comforts to tramp back to their tent and a more heart-felt truth, such as (at the end, when they are by a lake) "the ever-present loon calling across the water".
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