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Wolves, bears and hordes of blackflies: A Q&A with Arctic adventurer (and former Sudburian) Adam Shoalts

The Canadian Geographical Society’s explorer-in-residence hits the Nickel City on Jan. 22 for a talk at Science North

The IMAX theatre is warm and comfortable; not what Adam Shoalts experienced for the four  months he trekked across the Canadian Arctic. The Canadian Geographical Society’s Explorer-in-Residence, Shoalts is the guest of Rainbow Routes and Laurentian's Outdoor Adventure Leadership Program for a Jan. 22 talk at Science North.

Sharing photos and videos from the Arctic, Shoalts will recount the challenges and highlights of this incredible journey from Yukon to Nunavut. Wolves, polar bears, hordes of blackflies, swarms of horseflies whose bites burn like bee stings, he pushes upstream to do what explorers do. The rewards include an affirmation of the vastness and raw beauty of this country.  

His new bestselling book, 'Beyond the Trees' forms the basis of the evening’s talk. 

I chatted with Shoalts about his upcoming book recently. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Hugh Kruzel: Adam Shoalts you have a new book?  How many have you written?  

Adam Shoalts: My new book is ‘Beyond the Trees: A Journey Alone Across Canada's Arctic.’ It came out in October and describes my solo journey by canoe and on foot across Canada's Arctic, which I did in 2017. My other books are ‘A History of Canada in 10 Maps’, which tells the epic story of Canada from the Vikings to the First Nations to the voyageurs and early explorers, and finally my other book is ‘Alone Against the North’, which is about mapping unexplored rivers and sleeping alone in polar bear territory.

HK: Why have you written it? Why now?

AS: I figured we all need a little adventure in our lives, but we're not always able or lucky enough to get away on the adventures we might like to make. I wrote ‘Beyond the Trees’ for everyone who wants a little armchair adventure, either as inspiration for their next trip or just as vicarious enjoyment. I also hope the book will encourage people to "unplug" a bit. We live in a world where people are spending an increasing amount of time indoors looking at digital screens, so I was hoping my book might help rekindle, especially among younger people, a desire to get outside and explore. 

HK: Where does the story take the readers?

AS: In terms of physical geography, it takes readers 4,000 kilometres across Canada's Arctic from the mountains of the Yukon to the Hudson Bay watershed in Nunavut, which was the landscape I traversed on my journey. Mentally, I hope it gives readers an idea of what months of solitude are like in the one of the last great wildernesses left on the planet. 

HK: Like previous books are there hardships? Challenges? Successes?

AS: That depends if you consider losing toenails and dragging a canoe upstream on powerful, swollen arctic rivers challenging. There was also a lot of ice-breaking in my canoe when I was trapped in pack ice, and storms, and bears that disturbed my sleep. But there was also pretty special moments, with wolves looking me in the eye, and the joy of utter solitude when wandering across ancient lava floes from half a billion years ago. 

HK: Who is your audience?

AS: I try to write my books to appeal to everyone. As an author, one of the most gratifying comments I hear is when people tell me they would never ordinary read a book like mine, but picked it up for whatever reason, and ended up enjoying it. So I try to make the story appeal to as wide an audience as possible; certainly people who love the outdoors will enjoy the book, but so will people who don't want to ever sleep in a tent or get eaten alive by millions of blackflies on the tundra.  

HK: You are coming to Sudbury ... this is not your first time talking to Rainbow Routes. When was last time, and what was it about?

AS: When I lived in Sudbury, I did a few local talks to schools, Rotary Clubs and Rainbow Routes. I spoke to Rainbow Routes in 2017, just after I'd returned home from my journey across the Arctic and was still processing it. So now, this is after a little more reflection, when I've had time to write a book, and also edit some video clips to share as well. 

HK: What's next for Adam Shoalts?

AS: I'm going to set off on another long solo wilderness journey soon that will likely be even more difficult than my last one. But you have to come to my talk or follow me on Instagram or Facebook to find out!

You can purchase individual tickets for $10 each through Eventbrite. The presentation starts at 7 pm.

Hugh Kruzel is a freelance writer in Greater Sudbury.