Remembering Audrey Sutherland

“Go Simple, Go Solo, Go Now.”

Audrey Sutherland with Yvon Chouinard, Photo: Chouinard Collection
Audrey Sutherland with Yvon Chouinard, Photo: Chouinard Collection

I didn’t know Audrey Sutherland, nor did I ever meet her, and that’s a true loss for me. Patagonia commemorated her life this year by publishing updated paperback editions of two of her memoirs. Her writing is that of an old friend telling fantastic stories of a life well-lived.

Sutherland, a single mother of four, grew up in California but lived in Hawai’i for 63 years. She supported her family by working as a school counselor, though her love was the water, either in it or on it.

Being primarily a solo adventurer myself, her writing strikes a chord with me, as does the idea that we are leaving family and friends behind when we venture forth.

Audrey Sutherland Paddling My Own Canoe book cover (Patagonia, 2018)
Paddling My Own Canoe (Patagonia, 2018).

A solo adventure on the coast of Moloka’i, Paddling My Own Canoe, is Sutherland’s recounting of her yearly journeys exploring the mostly uninhabited and untrammeled coast. Spying waterfalls crashing down enormous cliffs from a plane’s window, she decided to explore it by water, originally swimming and pulling a raft. After consideration and practice, she graduates to kayaking. Though easier, she yearns for the contact and experience she gets while in the water.

Equal parts self-help book, environmental tract, and a reflection on one’s mortality, this book is beautifully written and an inspiration to find one’s own adventures, be they solo or with trusted partners.

Audrey Sutherland Paddling North book cover (Patagonia, 2018)
Paddling North (Patagonia, 2018)

At the age of 60, when most people are wrapping it up, Sutherland decided to paddle Alaska’s Inside Passage. One summer’s voyage became two, then became more than twenty. Paddling My Own Canoe is a compilation of her early writings regarding her explorations there, and includes animal encounters (bear, wolf, and whale), recipes, and a quiet way of explaining the things she saw and experienced.

This book (more than the other) touches on  the role of other people in our lives. Solitary travel and adventure can give one a great feeling of independence, of accomplishment, of ability. There are times, however, that we all feel the tug of aloneness, when a partner or a group would enhance rather than detract from the experience. Sutherland does a masterful job of pulling on this thread throughout the book.

Both special edition paperbacks include illustrations by Yoshiko Yamamoto.

“There is a smug ironic satisfaction in finding an ingenious solution to a problem that was caused by my own inadequacy or stupidity.”

*Books provided for editorial purposes – all opinions are my own.

More travel by water:


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