"When you jump over the edge, you are bound to land somewhere." - D.H. Lawrence

In a brave new world of email and palm pilots, it's getting harder and harder to pretend you're Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark. A new breed of travel writers nonetheless keeps trying, flying off in all directions with their Tilley hats, laptops and fancy cameras, unshaven would-be Heyerdahls with Visa cards in their pockets.

Bruce Kirkby isn't quite like that. At 22, Kirkby left his mind-numbing job at Ontario Hydro to take a solo bicycle trip along the newly opened Karakoram Highway in northern Pakistan. A contributor to National Geographic who tackled Everest in 1997, Kirkby wrote his first book, Sand Dance, as a member of the first expedition to cross the Empty Quarter of the Sahara since the 1930s, learning some Arabic beforehand. It was only one of his adventures.

More philosophical than self-inflationary, The Dolphin's Tooth: A Decade in Search of Adventure (M&S $34.99) is Kirkby's well-edited summary of globe-trotting to Ethiopia, Arabia, Nepal, Belize, Tatshenshini, Swiss Alps, Burma, Tibet and Nepal. About one-third of his memoirs describe travels within Canada, chiefly along the B.C. coast, in the Rockies and in the Arctic.

Quoting Carl Jung and Albert Camus is all very well, but Kirkby (or his editor) has wisely chosen The Dolphin's Tooth for a title, thereby obliging reviewers to mention his encounter with a local man who gave a dolphin's tooth to Kirkby when he was kayaking in the Andaman Sea (off Phuket, Thailand). "Always remember that the dolphin still dreams of freedom," he was told.

The Catch 22-like notion that freedom can pursued by concocting risky adventures is, of course, far from freeing, and the quest-driven Kirkby seems to fully understand his psychic predicament as an adrenaline junkie. Along the way, his camera equipment was stolen in Belize City (one of the least safe cities in the Americas) and he lost a Swedish girlfriend named Cecilia.

"I never blamed guiding," he writes, "because I never saw it as a choice between my lifestyle and our love. Feeling young and immortal, I was just too consumed with my search to imagine any other way."

Some years later, after Kirkby had married, he made a plan to jump a freighter with his wife, Christine and their two young sons, and head for the Himalayan Mountains. With seven-year-old Bodi and three-year-old Taj in tow, they went by sea, rail and foot. Their destination was a thousand-year-old Buddhist monastery in the Zanskar valley, one of the last places where Tibetan Buddhism is still practiced freely in its original setting. In Blue Sky Kingdom: An Epic Family Journey to the Heart of the Himalaya (D&M $34.95) is his story of this journey.

A gifted photographer along the lines of veteran climber Patrick Morrow, Kirkby is not another 'creative non-fiction' writer who has taken a brief trip to an exotic place and produced a thick book; he is an outdoorsman who has taken a lot of excursions. Kirkby writes for The Globe and Mail, as well as contributing to the New York Times, Outside magazine, and Canadian Geographic. He has won several National Magazine Awards. When he's not travelling, he lives in Kimberley, B.C.


Sand Dance: By Camel Across Arabia's Great Southern Desert (M&S 2000)
The Dolphin's Tooth: A Decade in Search of Adventure (M&S 2005) $34.99. 0-7710-9566-X
Blue Sky Kingdom: An Epic Family Journey to the Heart of the Himalaya (D&M 2020) $34.95 (cloth) 978-1-77162-269-1

[BCBW 2020]