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Tossed in the High Seas of Adventure

September 15, 1998|MICHELLE WILLIAMS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Look at the charts. Among the bestsellers these days are books about modern-day action and adventure. Think of them as the Grippers:

* "The Perfect Storm," Sebastian Junger's gripping tale of a ferocious storm in the North Atlantic.

* "Into Thin Air," Jon Krakauer's gripping story of a fateful climb up Mt. Everest.

* "A Walk in the Woods," Bill Bryson's gripping (yet charming) account of a walk along the Appalachian Trail.

Now meet Jon Turk. The title of his book kind of says it all: "Cold Oceans: Adventures in Kayak, Rowboat, and Dogsled" (HarperCollins, 276 pages, $24). To prepare yourself properly for Turk, it is highly recommended that you first read those other books, so you'll be well-versed on water, wind, trail mix, rain, heavy rain, freezing rain, snow, blizzards, avalanches and wild critters.

* When you first meet Turk trying to enlist his mountain-climbing buds to go kayaking with him around Cape Horn, and they say, "No way, Jack," you'll remember the daredevil mountain climbers in "Into Thin Air" and say, "Dang, if climbers won't join him, then it must be dangerous."

* As you read of Turk navigating Cape Horn in a little kayak, you'll think of the poor doomed fishermen in "The Perfect Storm," who were in a much bigger boat and still perished, and you'll wonder what Turk, an admitted kayaking beginner, was thinking.

* As Turk takes a bunch of sled doggies on a ride through Arcticland, you'll be reminded of Bryson's dogless stroll along a 2,000-mile-plus path that, by comparison, was a walk in the park.

Turk, whose accounts are painstakingly detailed, offers readers lessons on the land. He knows his outdoors. He has thoroughly researched the history, geography and science of the mean-as-rattlers waters and terrains of this book.

Cape Horn, in case you've forgotten your grade-school geography, isn't Venice Beach. As Turk writes: "Three oceans, the Pacific, the Atlantic, and the Antarctic, converge at Cape Horn; each one is ruled by a different current. . . . Each current is driven by its own prevailing winds. Thus it's not only the water that collides, but also the air above it."

I did mention the kayak part, right?

Turk goes further than his action-adventure counterparts and explains the why: why he won't just settle down, get a job at the bank, buy a house in the suburbs and become a golf addict. Heck, even surfing is tame to him, although one gets the feeling that his idea of the perfect outing would be skiing down Mt. Everest on a surfboard, right into those treacherous waves at Cape Horn.

He writes of the origins of his travels, some of which are decades old, and he tells of the sometimes terrible toll his adventures have taken on his family, on his relationships. He writes of how he finally finds a woman who understands his need to roam. (That would be Chris "Kayak Woman" Seashore.)

The book even has a happy ending, with Turk and Chris traveling successfully to Greenland in a kayak built for two.

By the time you finish reading "Cold Oceans," you'll either believe that Turk should grow up and get a real job, or you'll ditch your real job and head over to Kayaks R Us with your credit card and book passage to that place where the Atlantic, Pacific and Antarctic converge.

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