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North to the Night: A Spiritual Odyssey in the Arctic

by Alvah Simon

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2465108,534 (4.14)2
In June 1994 Alvah Simon and his wife, Diana, set off in their 36-foot sailboat to explore the hauntingly beautiful world of icebergs, tundra, and fjords lying high above the Arctic Circle. Four months later, unexpected events would trap Simon alone on his boat, frozen in ice 100 miles from the nearest settlement, with the long polar night stretching into darkness for months to come. With his world circumscribed by screaming blizzards and marauding polar bears and his only companion a kitten named Halifax, Simon withstands months of crushing loneliness, sudden blindness, and private demons. Trapped in a boat buried beneath the drifting snow, he struggles through the perpetual darkness toward a spiritual awakening and an understanding of the forces that conspired to bring him there. He emerges five months later a transformed man. Simon's powerful, triumphant story combines the suspense of Into Thin Air with a crystalline, lyrical prose to explore the hypnotic draw of one of earth's deepest and most dangerous wildernesses.… (more)
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Showing 5 of 5
Good adventure / survival account. Boat stuck in ice. Appreciation for the Inuit people, danger of bears, isolation, etc. ( )
  kslade | Dec 8, 2022 |
“It is the Arctic’s very emptiness that makes it so fulfilling. To look upon or even only consider those vast horizons stretches both the imagination and the soul.”
- Alvah Simon, North to the Night

Non-fiction about a man, his wife, and his trusty cat (?!) that set out to spend the winter of 1994-1995 above the Arctic Circle in a steel cutter. In this memoir, author Alvah Simon attempts to explain the “reasoning” behind such a trip, though anyone who is not an adventure-seeking risk-taker at heart may still have difficulty understanding. He is driven to test himself against the harshest of elements and his wife is a kindred spirit, though she exhibits more safety-consciousness. The book describes the two years of preparations, the journey north, selecting a site in which to spend months of the cutter trapped in ice, enduring winter in the stark Arctic environment, and eventually, the journey back to their starting point. In the interim, the author relates not only the story of the significant physical events that happened, but also his psychological struggles with cold and solitude in twenty-four-hour darkness of polar winter.

I was impressed by the author’s self-disclosure. He is candid about his foibles and the number of times he ignored sound advice in search of the ultimate adventure. The author attempted to describe his internal struggles that led to a personal transformation – not an easy task. His writing is lyrical; his florid descriptions of nature easily evoked the images. The narrative is very detailed in the beginning but picks of steam once the trip begins in earnest. The book is more than a tale of adventure. It is also a platform for the author to express his deep reverence for nature, his admiration for the Inuit and their native culture, his desire to protect the Arctic ecosystem, and how this extreme experience changed his outlook on life.

Recommended to fans of true adventures, accounts of endurance in extreme environments, and stories of the psychological impact of physical challenges.

Memorable quotes:
“Light and laughter are the core fuels of the human spirit.”

“While most accounts of adventure begin at the mountain base or the jungle wall, the adventure itself usually begins as an idea. This idea, if well watered with imagination, will grow into a dream. Such dreams are powerful and, if allowed to grow unchecked, may even become dangerous obsessions, which threaten to take possession of our lives.”

“Half the world is waiting for some perfect time to start living their lives.” ( )
  Castlelass | Oct 30, 2022 |
I have seen that some reviewers thought of Alvah Simon is a narcissist, and maybe his is.

Having said that, going into the Arctic, and spending the winter there is quite an achievement. I would like to bow three times to him, in the Japanese / Korean fashion. Respect, Respect, Respect

Respect for the lucid manner in which he writes. Without this, the book would have been one long drone. He does not make himself seem to be a hero. He does recognise his own urge to conquer new spaces.

Respect for his views on the environment. We need more people like him. Also, for the fact that he lives life on his terms.

Respect for the courage to make this trip to the Arctic, something many of us just dream of doing. ( )
  RajivC | Apr 24, 2016 |
Excellent tale of personal growth and the seeking of what is really important in life. Couldn't put it down. ( )
  Jacobflaws | Jan 20, 2015 |
Alvah Simon fulfills a dream to sail an ice worthy vessel to the farthest reaches in the arctic to overwinter. It is a fascinating survival story, although there are times one wonders about his decision to pursure a dream that even the most experienced arctic explorers considered foolhardy. Trapped in polar ice for over nine months in a very small sailing vessel, was most likely a first. He experienced an especially tense time during the long months of absoultely no daylight when he was concurrently going blind and suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning. He wife is with him for part of the experience and he has the company of a rambunctious cat the entire time as his stalwart companion. An interesting and compelling survival/adventure experience interspersed with arctic history and Inuit lore. ( )
1 vote St.CroixSue | Apr 13, 2009 |
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In June 1994 Alvah Simon and his wife, Diana, set off in their 36-foot sailboat to explore the hauntingly beautiful world of icebergs, tundra, and fjords lying high above the Arctic Circle. Four months later, unexpected events would trap Simon alone on his boat, frozen in ice 100 miles from the nearest settlement, with the long polar night stretching into darkness for months to come. With his world circumscribed by screaming blizzards and marauding polar bears and his only companion a kitten named Halifax, Simon withstands months of crushing loneliness, sudden blindness, and private demons. Trapped in a boat buried beneath the drifting snow, he struggles through the perpetual darkness toward a spiritual awakening and an understanding of the forces that conspired to bring him there. He emerges five months later a transformed man. Simon's powerful, triumphant story combines the suspense of Into Thin Air with a crystalline, lyrical prose to explore the hypnotic draw of one of earth's deepest and most dangerous wildernesses.

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