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South to Alaska: A True Story of Courage and Survival from the Heartland of America to the Heart of a Dream [Kindle Edition]

Nancy Owens Barnes

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Product Description

Product Description


A Journey Even Huck Finn Would Have Admired

South to Alaska Carries Readers from the Heartland of America to the Last Frontier…THE HARD WAY
(To view the video book trailer for this book, click on "Visit Amazon's Nancy Owens Barnes Page" in the More About the Author section.)

A True Story of Courage, Perseverance and Survival

Born in the dusty heart of Oklahoma in 1916, ten-year-old Melvin sees a photograph of a cabin in the Alaska wilderness in his fourth-grade geography book and dreams of living there. Nearly fifty years later he builds a 47-foot boat in his Arkansas backyard, launches it on the Arkansas River, and cruises 10,000 miles to Alaska by way of the Panama Canal. Melvin has never been south of the United States/Mexico Border and has never been on a boat in the open ocean.

"Learn by doing," he says.

In South to Alaska, author Nancy Owens Barnes takes readers on two journeys. On one, readers follow a young boy's dream that begins in a one-room, Oklahoma schoolhouse in 1926, and ends decades later on an island in southeast Alaska. On the other, readers become a passenger aboard the Red Dog as it cruises along the Arkansas and Mississippi Rivers to the Gulf of Mexico where, in 1973, Melvin begins a solo journey along the Caribbean coasts of Mexico and Central America, through the Panama Canal, then into the Pacific Ocean to Alaska. Plagued by mechanical problems, international fraud, violent ocean storms, threats of foreign jail, illness and loneliness, Melvin fears a deadly end before reaching the place of his dreams and returning to the woman he loves.

A true story of courage, endurance and survival, South to Alaska chronicles Melvin's 10,000-mile journey through a dangerous world he knows little about, to a world he cannot forget.

About the Author
As the daughter of the main character in South to Alaska, Barnes watched her father’s dream weave its way through the lives of her family. In 1971, she boarded the Red Dog for the first leg of its journey along the Arkansas and Mississippi Rivers.

Barnes was featured in the Winter 2010 issue of Coeur d'Alene Magazine as one of nine North Idaho authors who have achieved acclaim for their work. Her writing has appeared in a variety of publications such as We Alaskans and Idaho Magazine, and in literary journals such as The Lyric and Snowy Egret, the oldest independent journal of nature writing in the United States. In 2008 she received the Zola Award for Poetry from the Pacific Northwest Writers Association. She has also authored a short anthology of nature writing titled Moose for Breakfast, as well as a brief guide for beginning writers titled How to Swat the KILLER BEs Out of Your Writing. Barnes received her BA degree from Vermont College of Norwich University where she studied creative writing.

Product Details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 3332 KB
  • Print Length: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Rushing River Press (Aug. 27 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00413QPGA
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #354,820 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars  124 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars If you love Bill Bryson you will love this! Aug. 11 2011
By M. McCurdy - Published on
What were your dreams growing up?

To be a fireman? Policeman? Princess?

Those are common responses if you were to query a grade school aged child.

I wanted to be a football coach. Obviously, that didn't happen.

When Melvin Owens spotted a picture of an Alaskan cabin in a 4th grade text book, he knew from that day on, his dream was to live there. After a 50 year journey, his dreams came true.

Nancy Owens Barnes has created a masterfully blended account of her father's childhood in Oklahoma, her parents' marriage, her own upbringing, and ultimately his quest to build a boat in land-locked Arkansas, which would take him to his beloved destination.

It took three years of laboring in his "spare time" for Melvin to build the Red Dog in his Arkansas back yard. According to the author,

"The Red Dog surprised many who drove over the rise of the hill by our house to find a large ocean-going vessel sitting high and dry...they couldn't see that the Red Dog would be my father's song, and the final unfolding of a dream that had slumbered against his thoughts for many years."

From that point on, it would take another two years to navigate (primarily alone) the Red Dog thru con-artists, waterways, canals, Gulfs, foreign ports, customs, and finally to its destination - Ketchikan, Alaska.

South to Alaska is part Thor Heyerdahl, Bill Bryson, and Sebastian Junger (and even the prophet Noah!) in scope. With narrative that is equally entertaining as you read Melvin's folksy mannerisms; agonizing as you experience the many treacherous storms; and educational as you immerse yourself in the geography and botany of the lush Latin American region - it is rewarding on multiple levels.

In the end, I fell in love with Nancy's parents - people I seemed to recognize immediately from my own background. Two great people, working incredilby hard, and living their lives to the fullest.

I don't think Melvin ever saw an angel, but South to Alaska is ultimately about a man who was inspired to fulfill a God-given calling and dream.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dreams of Alaska May 28 2010
By Sparky - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As told by his daughter, a factual story of one man's never-forgotten dream to move to Alaska via water. Travel with Melvin Owens and later, his wife, Cecil, aboard their boat--"Red Dog"-- which Melvin constructed from the first board. Very moving story of an American dream that was never forgotten and eventually realized. A well-written, very enjoyable book.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
By D. Blankenship - Published on
Nancy Owens Barns stated in the forward of this work that "Some suggested I fictionalize the story. By doing so would allow me to drive drama to a higher level and to void my worries about maintaining truth."

Well thank goodness and lucky for us she made the right decision and went with the truth. I cannot imagine how adding a bit of fiction to this story would in anyway "add to the drama." or make this a more satisfying read. I have to tell you that at the end of each year I sort of do an informal review of the books I read during the past twelve months and rank them in order of pure reading enjoyment. I will tell you right now that this read made the top three and it is quite debatable whether or not I should stick it in first place. My goodness, this book has so very much going for it.

This true story, put in a nutshell, is the telling of the remarkable journey of her father - an odyssey really, starting from the time he was a young child; a child of the Great Depression, living in Oklahoma, through his remarkable voyage in a boat he built himself and sailed it from Fort Smith, Arkansas (of all places) all the way to Alaska...for the most part, completely alone. But the book is so much more than just a sea voyage; a scary one, I grant you, but a voyage never-the less. It is also the story of her mother, Cecil Marie, a rather remarkable woman in her own right.

The author's parents, Melvin and Cecil Owens had a dream. They wanted to live in Alaska. Both these individual lived the majority of their lives in either Oklahoma or Arkansas - they were not sea dwelling people. George Owen work construction and was one of those individual (alas, I am not one of them) that could build just about anything he set his mind to. We are taken through the three years, where in his spare time, Mr. Owens built the ship they named "Red Dog" in his backyard and then through his remarkable journey down the Arkansas River, the Mississippi River, the Gulf of Mexico, through the Panama Canal and then up the western coast of Central America, America, all the way to Ketchikan, Alaska where he and his wife finally made their home. (They ended up living in a home built by Mr. Owns near the water and forest for over twenty some odd years - remarkable!)

We travel with Melvin as he navigates river ways, crooked customs officers in foreign ports, the open sea and rather evil conmen, storms, sickness, anxiety..... Speaking no language other than English this quiet but determined man made a journey of a life time against tremendous odds.

Now let me be frank and explain. When I first heard of this book and the homemade craft, the Red Dog, I had visions of something like what I would build which would have been hammered and wired together out of scrap lumber, orange crates and empty oil cans. Mr. Owns though was a craftsman and the boat he built with his own two hands and spare parts was actually quite a sophisticated and seaworthy craft. The building alone; the process he went through absolutely amazed me.

But don't think this book is just about his two year voyage. This is actually the story of a family; a family of like mine and yours. Good hardworking people; a close family full of love and respect for each other. The author has used the techniques of flashbacks throughout the book to bring of a vivid picture of a family who made it through the depression, worked extremely hard all of their lives and above all, followed their dream. (I consider myself an armature historian when it comes to the Great Depression and I have to tell you that I learned much from this book. The author was able to capture the essence of those times perfectly. I felt she could have been writing about my own family at times). I also grew up in the same area (Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma) so I knew much of the physical background the author describes and can assure you she is spot on.

Furthermore, not only do we have a wonderful story here, but we have a story written by an author that can actually write and I might say, write extremely well. Her prose borders on lyrical and her ability to describe puts her on the same level with all the great travel writers....folks, this is one talented lady!

If you have not already read this work I would strongly suggest you do so. It is a great true story that has been written by a true master writer.

Other books by this author include:

Moose for Breakfast: Nature Writing in Essays and Poetry (My next Amazon order)


How to Swat the KILLER BEs Out of Your Writing: A Writing Skills Handbook on How to Write in Active Voice

Don Blankenship
The Ozarks
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great read; Not what I expected April 8 2012
By WillowTreeCreek - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Although we have all heard the old adage "never judge a book by its cover" that is still something I find myself doing and what I did with this book. Even though the book description is clear that this story was about a mans voyage, by boat, to Alaska I assumed the book would be more about Alaska than it was. I love stories about survival in the Alaksa wilderness. Althought this book is about adventure and survival, very little of it actually takes place in Alaska.

This is a true story of a man who built a boat and sailed it from the Gulf of Mexico to Alaksa. His daughter tells us the story years after the fact by collecting his own testimony and comBining that with information found in the ships log book. While you know from the beginning that he makes it, the author still manages to keep you on the edge of your seat. Some of the events are so fantastic they almost seem unreal but you know they must be real because they are too wild to be made up.
The book is an excellent story of adventure, family, love and a passion for having a dream and seeing it through to the very end. The book was excellent just not what I had been expecting.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Circuit Rider Oct. 7 2012
By banip - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I found the book South to Alaska to be very inspiring. This is the story of an ordinary man who had a dream to build a boat and sail it to Alaska and then worked on that dream everyday to make it a reality. I greatly admired the main character's work ethic, his ability to apply previous life skills to building his boat, and his courage to sail it (mostly alone) from Arkansas to Alaska. Even in his old age, when his daughter visited her parents, her father was still busy every day taking care of necessary tasks and chores. The book made me want to aspire to the quite industriousness of this ordinary yet extraordinary man.

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