7 Awesome River Reads by Women

4 Min. Read
7 Awesome River Reads by Women
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Tales of Adventure That Will Transport You to the River & Beyond

If you’re stuck behind a desk hustling as much as I am, you probably can’t get out on the river as often as you’d like. A great alternative when I’m stuck in the minutiae of day-to-day life is to read about some of my fellow boatwomen’s inspiring adventures. Following along as these inspirational sheroes prepare and pack for their solo journeys and challenge themselves on the water always gives me the fix I need. Here’s a list of my personal favorite river reads—the stories that keep me going when I’m bogged down in the everyday and can’t make it out on my own adventure.

Amazon Women book cover

Amazon Woman | Darcy Gaechter

Through her journey as the first woman to descend the entirety of the Amazon River, Gaechter shines a light on the discomforts and difficulties of planning and executing a source to sea kayaking expedition. Navigating border crossings, dodging clashes with guerrilla warriors, weighing the pros and cons of a life of adventure kayaking over adulting, and being the only female on a three person expedition team are just a few of the challenges Gaechter describes in Amazon Woman. Readers will especially enjoy the epic opening sequence in a multi-mile stretch of Class V whitewater through a mining corridor which seems to promise certain death. Charming details like Gaechter’s elation to find vegan calories like Lays potato chips in the remote jungles of the Amazon make readers love this book.

Down River: Into the Future of Water in the West book cover

Downriver: Into the Future of Water in the West | Heather Hansman

Hansman takes readers with her on a solo pack-raft paddle journey down the Green River as she interviews stakeholders and dissects antiquated laws surrounding water rights. Top-notch journalism blends with a personal and intimate narrative as Hansman shares perspectives from farmers, city officials and fellow boaters, as well as her own reflections. Downriver is a thoughtful look at the complicated past, present and future of water in the West. Bonus: Look for Hansman’s latest work, Powder Days.

The Sun is a Compass book cover

The Sun Is a Compass | Caroline Van Hemert

From the rainforests of the Pacific to the Alaskan Arctic, Van Hemert and her college sweetheart navigate 4,000 miles of Alaska’s rugged wilderness by rowboat, ski, foot, raft and canoe. As a doctoral student, Van Hemert mixes thoughtful environmental metaphors and avian observations with waves of personal reflection and discovery into an insightful memoir. Adventure-heavy and romance-light, The Sun Is a Compass is an excellent pick for the cold, wet and lonely precipitous nights of winter.

River House: A Memoir book cover

River House: A Memoir | Sarahlee Lawrence

A modern pioneer woman and quintessential Oregonian, Lawrence invites River House readers to join her while she recounts her hydrologic heroine’s journey choosing between a life of world-class rafting and family legacy. From rafting first descents in Egypt to building a log home from the ground up with her father to launching an organic farm on her dry and dusty family land in Central Oregon, Lawrence has an eye for identifying subtleties in nature and embodying everything about frontier living. If you enjoy her memoir, visit Lawrence’s farm, Rainshadow Organics.

Breaking into the Current book cover

Breaking Into The Current: Boatwomen of the Grand Canyon | Louise Teal

In her book Breaking Into the Current, Teal profiles infamous and lesser-known female Grand Canyon guides. She covers all the major players, including Georgie White and edge-of-your-seat accounts of the notorious 1983 floods that shook Glen Canyon Dam and the Army Corps of Engineers to their core. This text is culturally problematic on occasion and needs a modern reboot (Desert Cabal, Amy Irvine style), but the collection of stories about some of the first women in the whitewater industry still has a well-earned place in your river library.

Canyon Solitude book cover

Canyon Solitude | Patricia McCairen

A biographical account of her solo Grand Canyon rafting trip down the Colorado River, McCairen, or “Patch,” makes no bones about sharing the highs, lows, triumphs and self-doubt she navigates emotionally and physically on this endeavor. Against a backdrop of memories as a cocky river guide babe and other times as an earthy river momma she reflects on the incidents and escapades of her immediate trip and the rewards of shirking conventional choices. Her willpower, grit and determination are present on every page in Canyon Solitude. McCairen gives a voice to a tale familiar to every woman who’s ever paddled. This book is deeply relatable, no frills, raw and gutsy. You’ll find it readable for decades to come.

Paddling North book cover

Paddling North | Audrey Sutherland

At age 60, after retiring from teaching and training by swimming island to island in Hawai’i, Sutherland embarks on a solo paddling voyage along Alaska’s Inside Passage from Ketchikan to Skagway. Not technically a “river read,” the cadence of Paddling North will soothe and calm the restless paddler’s soul. Readers easily slip into tandem with her escapades in an ill-suited inflatable kayak crossing massive channels riddled with barges and ships, massive waves, wildlife encounters and extreme weather. A trip diary of sorts, readers will also find maps, camp recipes, foraging lessons and reflections on what she learned along the way. Bonus: Check out Sutherland’s prequels, Paddling Hawai’i and Paddling My Own Canoe.

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K.M. Collins

K.M. Collins is a geologist-gone writer. Covering everything outdoors and a spectrum of journalism, she operates her content and marketing company, Guerrilla Media Bend, from Central Oregon. Between whitewater paddle boarding, kayaking and rafting, she's a jack of all water trades.

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