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The Lost River: A Memoir of Life, Death and Transformation on Wild Water (Sierra Club Books Publication) Paperback – 20 Sep 2002
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In this award-winning book, Richard Bangs recounts his dramatic expedition to raft Ethiopa's unrun River Tekeze.
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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.
In any event, the narrative is always fascinating if the prose is somewhat heavy-handed or purple at points.
Within three pages "The Lost River" grabbed me and when I looked up it was 3:30AM. I didn't want to stop reading, but I had a lot to do the next day, so I headed straight to bed. In the morning I decided to read some more and by 2:00 in the afternoon, I was making phone calls to cancel my appointments so I could finish the book, which I did by 6:00 that evening.
This story is one that will stick with me for a long time. It is not only a wonderful adventure story about how he and his partners started Sobek, his rafting company, it is also an intensly personal self examination by Mr. Bangs. He dives deep into his own feelings. Ultimately, he triumphs over these feelings and by bringing the reader along this journey with him he teaches the value of good friends, the hope of great visions and the catharsis of confronting your past, head on. This is one of the great adventure stories of all time, but for me, it also served as a "self help" book. You'll be amazed and entertained by a fabulous story while going through your own internal exam at the same time.