Thursday, July 21, 2011


To this day, Andrew McAuley remains something of a controversial figure to some in the kayaking community. Some would consider his risk-taking adventures as acts of foolhardiness and selfishness, especially in light of his young family that he left behind. Others would say that he lived the life that we wanted to live on his own terms, fully knowing and weighing the risks that his adventure-seeking lifestyle demanded.
And it’s this issue that we adventure sports participants wrestle with every time we take part in the sports we love so much, whether we feel at home in 10 metre waves, or scurry to shore at the first sign of a ripple in the water. Is it worth staying out when the weather looks dodgy, or the wind picks up, or the waves get gnarly? We want to challenge ourselves, to do something few have done, to have an “experience,” but what of the cost? Do we play it safe? Or do we, literally, get in over our heads? At the end of the day, no matter our skill level or desire for adventure, we all want to go home.
In many ways, this is the central dilemma in Vicki McAuley’s new book Solo, the tragic story of her husband’s ill-fated solo kayak crossing of the Tasman Sea in 2007. Andrew, whose draft text for his own now-uncompleted book about the crossing is quoted extensively, describes his wish to be the first to paddle across the 1600 km sea as a dangerous and selfish quest, yet he is driven to accomplish his dream, believing his life would remain unfulfilled should he never attempt it. He seems torn, understanding the anguish he is putting his family through by taking on this risky venture, and it seems at times that the right word from Vicki would halt the expedition planning and he would like his dream go, yet she can’t bring herself to show any weakness that she feels may undermine her husband’s confidence.
The book describes Andrew’s career in mountain-climbing until a near-fatal fall ended it, and his growing interest in extreme expedition kayaking, then moves up to his preparations for his Tasman crossing, his aborted first attempt, then the crossing itself, and its sad conclusion, and Vicki’s battle with grief and depression afterwards. And it leaves questions that will never be answered. Did Andrew truly appreciate the magnitude of the endeavour he was undertaking? Did he rush his preparations and planning fearing that another expedition might make the crossing first?
It’s a gripping story and told well, with Vicki’s heartbreak dripping off almost every page. He was an extraordinary individual, and

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