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Muddying the waters

Exploring the double-edged sword of adventure racing

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Fatal Tide

By David Leach

Viking Canada

267 pages, $32.00

I like to think that I’m an adventurous person — well, adventurous within reason, if that isn’t too much of a contradictory concept. You see, I’m the daughter of an admitted worrier, and I think I have inherited some of those same cautious traits. With that said, I’m game to try most things at least once, especially if plied with a bit of liquid courage, and as long as they don’t seem insanely dangerous.

So when a copy of David Leach’s ominously titled book, Fatal Tide, landed on my desk and I spied the subhead, “when the race of a lifetime goes wrong,” I’ll admit it, I was intrigued.

Leach based the book on the true story of a day full of outdoor adventure events — trail running, mountain biking, and sea kayaking — that took place along the Bay of Fundy back in the summer of 2002, and ended in the death of 22-year-old René Arsenault.

As a journalist who has traveled the world researching and writing about outdoor adventure sports, Leach certainly has a wealth of knowledge to draw on, and it really reflects in his writing, as he is truly able to paint a vivid picture of race day.

“Men and a few women stood alone or in pairs, wearing polyester shorts or wind pants and light jackets. They pretzeled limbs and torsos in rituals of physical and mental preparation. Some participants seemed young and lean and hungry to display their gym-fought fitness. Others appeared less revved-up… The scene held the promise that summer was near, if not quite here, and that the cold, gray days of winter were finally done. It was a perfect morning for a walk in the park, you had to agree. And it was a damn fine day for a race.”

Stylistically, Fatal Tide opens with a news-like and factual introduction to Leach’s own interest in the story, and how he became fascinated with finding out what really happened at the Fundy Multi-Sport Race. He even includes a map to allow people to see the route that was followed. Frankly, at this point, I was getting a bit concerned that almost a 300-page blow-by-blow account of the race was going to be a bit tedious. But once I delved into the prologue, where Leach first introduces dialogue, the work of non-fiction began to read a bit more like a novel.

And I must admit that, while a bit daunting at first glance, I found the cast of characters Leach provides at the beginning of the book to be an extremely helpful reference. Let’s face it, this wasn’t an easy story to research or write about, and there are so many people who played a role in this fateful day, that the reader is bound to get a bit confused from time to time.

Aside from the dialogue, Leach also manages to capture a bit of the character of the East Coasters who are helping to tell this story, which helps to provide some additional context and colour. I smiled to myself when I read a description of the financial and political power wielded in New Brunswick by the Irvings: “‘The Irvings are bastards,’ locals will tell you, ‘but they’re our bastards.’”

Fatal Tide offers a fascinating, comprehensive look into the events leading up to and following the accident, which also raises a lot of questions about the risks we take when we head out into the great outdoors for a day of adventure and fun. From the race itself to the aftermath, even touching on the genetic, psychological and cultural factors that may play into our call to challenge ourselves in the great outdoors, this book is a thought-provoking must-read for any adventure sport enthusiast.

B.C. celebrating 150 with a book

B.C. is celebrating its 150 th anniversary this year, and amidst the festivities and events being held to commemorate the milestone, the provincial government commissioned Harbour Publishing to produce a book to capture beauty and diversity of the province.

British Columbia: Spirit of the People is a glossy coffee-table book, rich with imagery from throughout the province, including many pictures by local photographers, like Bonny Makarewicz, Toshi Kawano and Randy Lincks.

The text was researched and written by respected historian, Jean Barman. Barman has worked with the B.C. Heritage Trust, Canadian Historical Association and the Vancouver Museum Revitalization Project, and was appointed a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2002 for her writing and research on the history of Western Canada.

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