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The Accidental Explorer: Wayfinding in Alaska

by Sherry Simpson

Alaska is a place of great adventure and exploration. After having lived in the Great Land for nearly all of her life, Sherry Simpson realized that she had not scaled mountains, trekked across wild tundra, or blazed trails through virgin forests. Did that fact make her less of an Alaskan? In the series of essays that comprise The Accidental Explorer, Sherry Simpson recounts the experiences of an ordinary woman confronting the great expanses of water and untracked land in Alaska, as she makes her best efforts to map her sense of place and her sense of self in a land that seems to require exploration of its inhabitants. While undertaking arduous treks into the backcountry, she falls into a glacial river and nearly drowns. On an archetypal epic solo hike, she ruminates constantly on when and whether she should abandon that folly. She writes with both humor and humility, harnessing great powers of observation of the natural world. In a downright scary encounter with a mildly aggressive bear, Simpson shrinks from any supposed Alaskan larger-than-life persona to assume her place on the food chain: an urbanized human who is appropriately afraid of big bears. Simpson also offers up the (less reverent) Alaskan view of Chris McCandles, the wanderer who perished in an abandoned bus near Denali, subject of Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. Can an ordinary, not especially heroic, person be an adventurer? If she sets out, in a wild place like Alaska, what will she find out there, and what will she learn about the place back home? Throughout this compelling and probing book, Sherry Simpson illuminates the act of exploration as both a feat of extraordinary effort and as an everyday experience.

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