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The Only Kayak: A Journey Into the Heart of Alaska

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  418 ratings  ·  55 reviews
“I live in the sunlight of friends and the shadows of glaciers.”
So begins The Only Kayak, Kim Heacox’s coming-of-middle-age memoir written in the tradition of Edward Abbey, John McPhee, and Henry David Thoreau, with a voice at times tender, irate, funny, and deeply humane. In it, he asks, what does it mean to fall in love with a place that cannot stay the same? When do you
ebook, 272 pages
Published April 1st 2006 by Lyons Press (first published 2005)
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Dec 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book startled me. First - the author's voice. Kim is fully and completely open as he describes how a place brought about his metamorphosis. His honesty and authenticity commanded my attention. Even more impressive is his conviction. Kim describes how his experiences led to him becoming a 'conservationalist,' and he doesn't mince words about the sadness and challenges that came with standing on those convictions. This story has kept me up at night since I finished reading it. The courage it ...more
Peter Beck
Have you ever wondered what that national park ranger collecting your entrance fee and warning you about the wildlife is really thinking and dreaming about? Kim Heacox begins his life in Alaska as a young seasonal ranger in Glacier Bay. There is a good chance two of the people who heard his cruise ship lecture were my maternal grandparents. He blossoms into a naturalist and conservationist whose photographs are every bit as amazing as his writing.

I was drawn to “The Only Kayak” for the same
Sep 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best books I have ever read.

He insightfully questions what it means to be a part of modern society but still long for open spaces, to experience wildness, to be a human in the midst of a world so inhuman.

It's one of the most profound works of philosophy and poetry I've encountered in a coming of age story.

He somehow manages to capture the stunningly visual landscape of Alaska into a verbal dialect that is a conversation with the reader but it's so astoundingly thoughtful that you
From the January 2012 issue of Backpacker magazine: Required Reading:
From the first sentence—"I live in the sunlight of friends and the shadows of glaciers"—this book is a uniquely descriptive and often-gripping tate of Heacox's life in Glacier Bay, Alaska. The book spins around a dichotomy I find so compelling: Outdoor adventure is about finding natural wonders, far from civilization, but it's also about the people you seek it with.
Michael Lanza
Northwest editor
Jul 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read this book during and after my trip to Glacier Bay, Alaska which made it that much better!
The author’s writing paints a beautifully accurate view of the unspoiled riches of the Inside Passage and the truly majestic grandeur of the Alaskan landscape. It is a book that one could read in a single setting, traveling vicariously through his words. He does tend to get a little overly indignant and IMHO unrealistic about finding resources to balance supporting those who live and rely on the area while preserving it responsibly. I had the feeling his idea would be to only allow those he ...more
Etienne Pelletier
Feb 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Kim Heacox writes a thought-provoking book about environmental issues affecting mostly Glacier Bay, Alaska using an eclectic mixture of personal stories, quotes from literature (such as from "The Great Gatsby"), and discussion of environmental issues to weave a story about Alaska. How does one share the wonder of a place such as Alaska without inundating it with tourists? Not everyone can kayak through the wildness. But if only those fit enough to hike and kayak in a remote place such as Alaska ...more
Jul 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow. I loved this book - part memoir on Heacox's life in Alaska, part meditation on the changing landscape of Alaska, part essay/soulful plea for conservation of our wilderness, part story of gratitude for family and love. It's also a story of moving from grief (over the land and over the loss of a dear friend) to gratitude. Heacox's love for the wilderness runs deep and is contagious; I was moved by his writing.
Jerry Campione
Aug 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I purchased this book while on a cruise to Alaska, so being able to actually see the sites that Heacox was referencing was wonderful. It was an insightful book that got me to think about my role in interacting with Mother Nature, even if my home base is 5,000 miles from Alaska. There were times when I had to keep track of the timeshifting nature of the prose, but overall it was a very enjoyable read.
Lee Roversi
Jul 19, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
my love for southeast alaska is as vast as the area is. anyone who has been there will understand. this book captures the serenity, the diversity, the way se alaska gets under your skin and into your heart. it also makes perfectly clear the impact that visitors have had and will continue to have on the fragile ecosystem. this book is nature writing at its finest by someone who treasures southeast alaska.
Feb 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a wonderful book! The author combines some of his personal background and story with the natural and political history of Alaska. Heacox is a beautiful writer, and his love for the great wilderness shines through, as does his pain over some of the inexorable changes that are taking place there (and all over our great earth). While nothing like it, the quality and passion of Heacox's writing remind me of the great "citizen writer" Terry Tempest Williams.
Gary Street
Oct 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an incredible nonfiction account of a person learning to love living in Alaska. I have been to Alaska, and was caught up by its natural beauty, but The Only Kayak let me see it in even more depth. Making the account more enjoyable, it is written in the style of John McPhee, one of my favorite authors.
Kristen Luppino
Thought provoking. I really didn't enjoy the first half/two-thirds of this book, but the end mostly redeemed it. At times preachy, forced, and not at all A journey like indicated on the cover, it hits on some of the disonannce related to wanting to be in the wild but not affect it.
Nov 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Kim shares his profound understanding of what is most important; the earth we live on and the people we share it with. One of the most important books I have read in a long time.
Mar 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a brilliant and beautiful book. You should go read it, right now.
Oct 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I found myself wanted to underline many passages in this book. He articulated so many thoughts I've had about conservation and wilderness.
John Kern
A very personal book. A good read, but I think he missed an opportunity here to tell a more important story.
Jul 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thoughts forthcoming . . . .
Karen Kisgen
Mar 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is such a good book. Non-fiction at its best. While reading this he spoke of a photographer from Japan and I wondered if he was the same one I read about in The Blue Bear. It turned out it was. I am going to read more of Kim Heacox books.
Jul 27, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Only Kayak: a Journey into the Heart of Alaska by Kim Heacox

Kim Heacox, a guitar playing Beatles fan who carries a well worn copy of the Great Gatsby and wants to be a photographer and writer, finds himself along with his friend Richard in the only kayak in the vast waters off Glacier Bay, Alaska while employed by the National Park Service. Kim shares 25 years of his life as he recounts the friendships made and lost, his marriage and the changes that are inevitable in wanting the share the
Mar 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved every moment of this book including the sad parts. The author takes us on a true journey of the Alaskan Wilderness. He gives you the feeling of truly being a part of Alaska. This is the Alaska I want to catch a glimpse of when I visit there. I want to see the wilderness.
I have not been one to read much non-fiction but the life this man shows us in the book makes you want to be part of it, one with nature. God made all creatures humans being last we always want to make it about us
May 24, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I only read this book because I know the guy who wrote it, and I thought it would be interesting to see a different side of him even though this isn't my usual sort of book. It was really deep, and definitely worth reading, and it was actually painful how vividly he wrote about what Alaska used to be, and how it is changing, and how much more it is about to change. I've been to Alaska, seen its majesty, and I know what it was he wrote about. The only reason why it isn't 5 stars is because I ...more
Itasca Community Library
Jeff says:

This book caught my eye since a friend of mine expressed an interest in kayaking and I thought I’d like to try it myself. I don’t think this book will help as it’s not a how to on to kayaking, but it is a beautiful memoir on the author’s life in a place he finds beautiful and wishes to remain that way. I also like how the author recognizes his own shortcomings as he feels cruise ships may be destroying the land yet finds himself working on one and also wants to publish a coffee table
Mar 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Sandra and Rena
I loved this book for all it's sentimental descriptions and love for friends, outdoors, kayaking and environmental politics. I've been to Glacier Bay and even had a close encounter with the same bear that became known as a nuisance in this book. I went to high school and hung out with one of the author's favorite friends, Hank and learned a few things about Hank that I hadn't known of when I hung out with him. I went back to Gustavus and kayakked GB again last summer '07. Unfortunately we missed ...more
Jun 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I wasn't sure what to expect with this book, I picked it up in Bar Harbor simply because of the title and cover photo - reading the back cover blurb confirmed it might be something I'd like. It was indeed. The author tells the story of coming to Glacier Bay, Alaska in the late '70s as a park ranger, falling in love with the place, and eventually settling there over the next few years.

His 'only kayak' allegory appears several times throughout the book, to describe the changing appearance and
Jul 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: EVERYONE
By far the most heartfelt and real book I've ever read. One day while in the travel section looking for a book on Puerto Rico (I was going on a trip with my family), I saw this book sticking out of the rest slightly, which caught my eye. I read the inside cover and was immediately transported into the wild wonderfulness of Alaska, and it's people. Kim Heacox's writing is one of the most beautiful styles of writing I've EVER read. It's truly straight from the heart. I'm a fourteen year old girl, ...more
Jan 02, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this to be a pleasant reflection of life in Alaska by a guy that just seems like a very nice/thoughtful/community-oriented naturalist. It isn't full of crazy action/adventure (although there is some), but rather it conveys the beauty & dangers of Glacier Bay and explores what role people should take towards protecting the land. I especially enjoyed his interactions with photographer Michio Hoshino. This isn't "Into the Wild", but rather more like "Desert Solitaire".
Jun 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Bought and read this book a few years ago after friends vacationed in Glacier Bay. Re-read it after my own trip to Alaska earlier this month. Heacox's passionate love for the natural beauty of his adopted state is poetry as prose. The variety of his personal experiences living and working in Alaska give him a strong voice as a committed conservationist, who has long walked the walk, and feels a responsibility to talk the talk. A deeply moving portrait of a rapidly changing landscape.
Jeff Nicholson
Jan 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It took me more than two years to read this, just because the author has such a captivating voice and a desperate story to tell. I wanted to ration the book and make it last as long as possible. I reread numerous passages, just for the emotional tone they conveyed about a place. Kim Heacox is definitely the equal of the great nature writers he constantly references. I imagine buying a few copies of this book for people I admire.
david Gorrell
Aug 17, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Bill Cunningham
After an enlightening visit to Glacier Bay aboard the Sea Wolf tour & kayak support boat I picked up Kim Heacox's book on his personal connection with Alaska in general and Glacier Bay in particular. His writing is excellent as he relates what he saw and how it affected him in his 30 year history with the Glacier Bay National Park. His stories of the friends and acquaintances he gains along the way add a great note of humor and help bring his own personality into focus.
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