Mountain Mama: A Paddler’s Journey

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Books fall into one of two categories for me. When my three-year old falls asleep sprawled across my lap on a cross-country flight most books remain tucked in my carry-on that’s stowed under the seat. Only certain books beckon to be read in such a way that I risk waking up my little guy to retrieve them and then proceed to plow through  cover-to-cover before the plane lands. On a recent flight from North Carolina to California, Bryant Burkhardt’s memoir, A Paddler’s Journey: Adventures on the water and wisdom gained along the way, proved to be one of those risk-wake-sleeping-toddler-one-hour-into-flight reads.

Bryant Burkhardt is a badass kayaker by all accounts –- he’s instructed instructors how to teach paddling, he was a member on the Olympic polo team, he’s an accomplished expedition-style sea kayaker, and he’s paddled the whitewater gnar. To get there, he’s sacrificed a mainstream career path. He takes readers on a sometimes humorous, sometimes white-knuckling ride down rivers and through ocean waves. He makes his tales accessible to non-paddlers, while still making sure that diehard kayakers aren’t eddied out by long explanations or definitions.

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While I found Bryant’s kayaking anecdotes amusing, my favorite aspect of his writing is the way he squares up to uncomfortable questions even when he doesn’t have the answers, like the emptiness he felt with the opportunity to embrace the paddler’s dream of fun-employment and spend his days paddling.  Bryant’s willingness to talk about his loneliness coming home to an empty house and having nobody to share his adventures takes a rare type of courage too rarely displayed by adrenalin sport seekers – vulnerability. At the same time, he grapples with his need to push himself and experience the ups and downs of living a full life. He ends with the most insightful and true realization. “Kayaking is part of who I am.”

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Bryant signed a copy of his book for me. He wrote, “One of these days we’ll have to get on a river together.” Indeed, I hope we will.  If it goes like most paddling encounters, it’ll be when we least expect it, at the take-out or while scouting one of us will call out to the other and we’ll hug and have a good laugh, as if we’re old friends. Although we’ve never met, we have so much in common, the deep and abiding love for kayaking.

For paddlers looking for a good read or those intrigued about the sport, A Paddler’s Journey: Adventures on the water and wisdom gained along the way, is available at Bryant’s website,

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