Fearless: One Woman, One Kayak, One Continent

 

Book Title: Fearless: One Woman, One Kayak, One Continent (Freya Hoffmeister)

Author: Joe Glickman

Publisher: Falcon Guides,Globe Pequot Press, Guilford, CT

Copyright Date:  ©2012

ISBN/eISBN: 978-0-7627-7287-2

Reviewed by: Yackman

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 Yackman’s Rating: 7 points out of 10

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Review: It is easy to admire Freya Hoffmeister.  It is much more difficult to like her, or relate to her as a human being.  Freya puts on a cloak of superhuman invincibility that is hard for mere mortals to penetrate.  She is a super athlete, which by itself sets her apart from most of us. 

As a child, she excelled as a gymnast.  As a young woman she won beauty contests and competed as a bodybuilder.  Then she became an accomplished skydiver until she had a child.  She gave up the danger of jumping out of airplanes for the more sedate sport of sea kayaking.  But not content to simply paddle with the rest of us, Freya became a rolling expert, and in just three years was teaching, winning titles and giving demonstrations alongside the legendary Dubside. 

Speaking as a uncoordinated, somewhat clumsy guy, I find this easy to admire but hard to relate to.  By itself, Freya’s seemingly endless physical talent and the ease with which she conquers any sport she takes up could still make her a sympathetic figure if she showed any sense of struggle or fear in addressing the things she achieved.  But she does not.  Freya never acknowledges fear or struggle or heart ache.  Again, admirable but hard to relate to.

Not content with becoming a master of sea kayaking’s most abstract skills, Freya’s restless spirit cast about for new challenges to master.  She settled on long distance sea kayaking trips, challenging herself to complete them faster than anyone had done them before.  Her list of accomplishments in this area led her to the subject of this book, the solo, unsupported circumnavigation of Australia.  It had only been done once before and that trip was supported.  It almost killed the legendary Paul Caffyn in the attempt. Everyone told Freya she was crazy, that she would die in the attempt.  But with her usual high level of self-confidence, she forged ahead.  Among other things, Freya is a master of planning and detail.  And this, combined with luck, her athletic ability and incredible self-confidence seems to have won that day. 

Joe Glickman seems to have had many of these same feelings as he wrote this story, drawing details from Freya’s journals, web posting, conversations and interviews.  It is clear he admires her as he describes the many difficulties she addressed with little or no indication of distress.  It is also clear that he just can’t figure her out.  He can’t get a grip on her humanity.  This makes for a quirky book in my opinion.  There is this love-hate relationship, written by an admiring skeptic about his subject.  In the end, we never really get to know Freya Hoffmeister beyond the single dimension she will show us.  Does she miss the child she left behind for a year to make her voyage?  When she’s caught out alone in terrible storms, is she afraid?  When her love relationship breaks up does she hurt?  We’ll never really know because Freya keeps these things to herself.  I see and can relate to the personal and physical struggles of Cheryl Strayed (Wild) and Warren Richey (Without a Paddle) because they shared them with me and because on some level I have experienced similar situations and feelings too.  Perhaps Freya isn’t ever afraid.  Perhaps she has a self-confidence born of experience. Perhaps she believes in her ability to overcome all physical obstacles. And perhaps she is not sentimental about the loss of relationships.  Perhaps she is the person she shows us.  Perhaps.  But I still do not like her and cannot relate to the life she shows us.  


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