This inspirational memoir is riveting. Reading it will incite wanderlust. —Library Journal


The Sun is a Compass

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Little, Brown Spark March 2019, THE SUN IS A COMPASS chronicles a 4,000-mile human-powered expedition from the Pacific rainforest to the Arctic coast. For six months, Caroline and her husband, Pat, crossed some of the most remote and rugged places left on earth. A unique blend of science, adventure, and personal narrative, the book explores the bounds of the human body and the tenuousness of life in the company of creatures whose daily survival is nothing short of miraculous. 

Praise for The Sun is a Compass

2019 Banff Mountain Book Competition winner!


“For all the readers' vicarious thrills and Van Hemert's admirable writing, it is the author's candor regarding her doubts and her appealing vulnerability that make this memoir so resonant. One follows this engrossing adventure feeling as eager as the travelers to see what's around the next bend in the river, on the next island, across the next coastal passage, or over the next mountain pass. —Kirkus Reviews

“Van Hemert proves equally adept at exploring the inner dialogue that accompanied the harrowing physical feats, touching on love and loss, new parenthood, and the struggle to combine her passions for scientific inquiry and adventure. She leaves nature lovers with a story—of adventure, of environmental awareness, and of personal discovery—worth savoring.” —Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)

“In her first book, Van Hemert embarks on an epic journey toward understanding the concept of zugunruhe, the German word for migratory restlessness most markedly seen in certain bird species. Disillusioned by the drudgeries of academia and realities of adulthood, Van Hemert and husband Pat commit to traveling north from Bellingham, WA, to the upper reaches of Alaska and then across the Alaskan wilderness eschewing motorized transportation of any kind. They traverse water via homemade rowboats, canoe, and inflatable rafts, and cover land by ski and foot. Throughout the adventure, Van Hemert reveals the concerns that plague her: can she recapture her love of the natural world snuffed out by the grind of pursuing a PhD? Is it the right time to start a family? How will her dad fare with his recent diagnosis of Parkinson's disease? These thoughts are juxtaposed by a quest that requires sheer force of will, strength, and a driving determination to finish what she started. This inspirational memoir is riveting. Reading it will incite wanderlust.”—Library Journal 

“Marvelous. Van Hemert is a fearless spirit and a master storyteller, to be admired equally for her astonishing grit and her elegant, compelling prose. An enthralling blend of adventure story, insightful memoir, and keen-eyed nature observation.”—Jennifer Ackerman, author of The Genius of Birds

"A riveting book full of birds, danger, beauty, and wonder. Van Hemert’s intrepid travels with her equally adventurous husband left me breathless with awe."—Sy Montgomery, author of The Soul of an Octopus

"A truly astounding journey, beautifully written. Van Hemert follows in the tradition of wilderness adventurers John Muir, Margaret Murie, Cheryl Strayed, and Robert Macfarlane, but she is not one to stick to well-trodden trails. An edge-of-your-seat thrilling read. My favorite book of 2019, and one the best Alaskan books I have ever read."—Eowyn Ivey, author of To the Bright Edge of the World and Pulitzer Prize finalist The Snow Child

“An exciting modern adventure story that will appeal to anyone with a yen for experiencing wild nature."—Bernd Heinrich, author of Mind of the Raven

"I was thoroughly charmed by Caroline Van Hemert's memoir of Arctic travel. The astonishing length of the journey she and her husband chose to make leaves you shaking your head in wonder. Her honesty about her own anxieties, her informed thought about fearful and beautiful encounters along the way, and the gritty determination with which she and her husband faced each day offer us a rich and compelling story.”—Barry Lopez, author of Horizon and Arctic Dreams

“A gorgeous, feral reminder of the resilience we all possess, and what we truly need, which is in fact very little—a bit of food and warm clothes, wildness, and love.”—Lyanda Lynn Haupt, author of Mozart’s Starling

"Van Hemert's vibrant and elegant book transports, educates, and inspires. To read The Sun Is a Compass is to be masterfully guided through the wild by an expert not only on nature itself but on the deep and often hidden connections between the natural world and our human lives."—Barbara Natterson Horowitz, MD, coauthor of Zoobiquity

“Imagine trekking four times farther than Cheryl Strayed did in Wild, without a trail, through swarms of mosquitoes thick enough to suck caribou dry. In this marvelous tale of grit and grace, ornithologist Caroline Van Hemert leaves behind a lab full of caged chickadees to embark on her own epic migration to the Arctic, reconnecting with the reverence for nature that drove her to science in the first place. For those of us less skilled at fashioning our own rowboats, dodging avalanches, and fending off hungry bears, this intimate book is a precious window into a remote wilderness of formidable beauty.”—Emily Voigt, author of The Dragon Behind the Glass

“Ornithologist and naturalist Caroline Van Hemert has written a thrilling account of her journey from the Pacific Coast to the Arctic Ocean. A triumph in wilderness travel, scientific curiosity, and adventure writing that exposes the sublime thrill and loving touch to be found in nature and our fellow human beings.”—John Marzluff, Professor of Wildlife Science and author of Welcome to Subirdia

“Most adventures start with a map, often following a route that looks possible on paper but turns out to be less than possible in real life. Caroline Van Hemert's The Sun Is a Compass tells of a journey that looked almost impossible on a map. I was left with the same sense of amazement I have felt, five miles from land in the Gulf of Alaska, with nothing in bloom for a thousand miles, when a hummingbird flies by, circles once, and continues north.”—George Dyson, author of Turing’s Cathedral

The Sun Is a Compass is an adventure story but also a love story. It is thrilling, uplifting, and hopeful, both as a journey across northern wilds and as a diary of a couple growing ever closer together. Caroline and Pat’s journey will rekindle your faith in human endurance, and intimacy.”—David Rothenberg, author of Nightingales in Berlin and Why Birds Sing

 “Caroline Van Hemert has crafted a book as remarkable and dimensional as her epic journey. She is able to offer a scientist’s insight into the natural world while writing of danger, beauty, and love without ego and with refreshing grace and honesty. Her book is a gift not just to those who like to venture on the wild side, but to anyone intrigued by the possibilities of strong partnership, imagination, and curiosity. This is unlikely to be a book you just read; it is one that will make you soar.”—Jill Fredston, author of Rowing to Latitude and Snowstruck 

“In The Sun Is a Compass, adventure and romance journey hand in hand, covering 4,000 tough miles, reminding all of us that the easy way may not be the best way.”—Bill Streever, author of Cold

“In a time when stories of extreme outdoor adventures have become commonplace, Caroline Van Hemert’s The Sun Is a Compass stands out because it is at heart a love story. A remarkably skilled and experienced wilderness traveler, the author writes in the clear language of a scientist who observes her world through the eyes of a poet, across 4,000 miles of risk and endurance, in concert with an extraordinary man. It’s a hell of a read.”—Lynn Schooler, author of Walking Home