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The Only Kayak: A Journey into the Heart of Alaska

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  466 ratings  ·  62 reviews
Finalist for the 2006 Pen Center USA Western award in creative nonfiction.
Paperback, 280 pages
Published April 1st 2006 by Lyons Press (first published 2005)
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Average rating 4.26  · 
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Dec 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
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 rea
Sep 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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 f
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
Read this book during and after my trip to Glacier Bay, Alaska which made it that much better!
Jun 02, 2020 added it
Favorite quotes:
So we paddled through the rain and the waves to be the only kayak, to prove to ourselves (more than anybody else) that we could do it. We were ready for it to end, for the hot showers and chocolate ice cream waiting in Bartlett Cove. We also wanted it to last forever, the lean living and cherished illusions, the rhythm of the paddles, the music of the water, the feeling of coming home to a home we’d never known before.

Wilderness areas are places to explore deeply and yet lightl
Jun 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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 deem ...more
Etienne Pelletier
Feb 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
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
J Wahl
May 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
After the first 20 pages I wasn't sure that I would like this book. I am glad that I stayed with it. I loved this book. My only opportunity to see Glacier Bay was on board a massive cruise ship in 2010. While I never felt comfortable on board that huge floating city with thousands of people, I did appreciate and will forever be grateful for the opportunity to see the landscape of this area at a distance. With this book I was able to get up close and imagine what it might have been like to take p ...more
Brian Miner
Jul 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The Only Kayak surprised me. At times making me reminiscent, joyful, hopeful, sad, and melancholy. It touched and called to my soul in a way not many books have. The author is at times a staunch defender of the environment, and at other times a philosopher; sometimes wanting Alaska to himself, and then turning around and wanting everyone to be able to experience it. It is a story of life, live, friendship, and adventure. But mostly it is the tale of the glaciers and their connection to each of u ...more
Jul 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Feb 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Jerry Campione
Aug 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
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
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.
Tyler Dempsey
May 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The cover calls the book a "coming-of-middle-age" story. I agree. The tone has a dead-center-of-a-tightrope feel. It's alive with 20-something hunger, while being curbed by dark wisdom. Like the depths of Alaska it describes, the book is marvelous and terrifying. From fog-swept shores of Glacier Bay, to wind-swept ridgelines in Denali, Montana, Spokane--and the heartbeats between. This book was formed by glaciers. ...more
Nov 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A lover of Wild Alaska

A true lover of the land, especially the wonderful Glacier Bay, Alaska. Kim weaves philosophy, adventures, amazing friendships, love and loss into his own personal magical basket that can carry us too, both back into Deep Time & potentially forward into a heartbreaking wasteland or a world where nature and wildness can still be s part of the human experience. G
Gary Street
Oct 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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.
Kelsy Allan
Jun 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
“Do you work a job that slowly kills you so you can afford health coverage to pay for medical expenses? Or do you live right with the earth and make your own way, keep things simple, and take care of yourself?”

Adorable book. And the best articulation at how complicated life and conservation and progress really are.
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. ...more
Tracy McClowry
Jan 11, 2021 rated it really liked it
Interesting book about living in a sparsely populated area of Alaska and the changes occurring over time, due to industry and tourism. Author raises interesting questions about the influx of people when he himself is not a native.
John Kern
Oct 04, 2017 rated it liked it
A very personal book. A good read, but I think he missed an opportunity here to tell a more important story.
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
This is a brilliant and beautiful book. You should go read it, right now.
Jul 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Thoughts forthcoming . . . .
Oct 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Karen Kisgen
Mar 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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
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 b
May 24, 2008 rated it liked it
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 woul ...more
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 (humans
Jun 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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 fee
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Kim Heacox is the award-winning author of several books including the acclaimed John Muir and the Ice That Started a Fire (which received starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, and Publisher's Weekly), The Only Kayak (National Outdoor Book Award Winner--Classic), and Jimmy Bluefeather (the first National Book Award winner to receive the award in the fiction category.)

His feature articles have appe

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