Ice Capades

Alaska's husband-and-wife team of avalanche experts work to save lives all winter, then take to their kayaks in summer

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Fredston’s parents eagerly support her adventures, but that doesn’t keep them from fretting, she writes in Rowing: “No matter how much I cajole and reassure [my mother], she worries whenever we are beyond the comforting reach of telephone or mail. My father says she is exuberant the first week after I call to confirm we are still afloat, tolerable the second, irritable the third, and impossible by the fourth. I’ve come to realize that Doug and I don’t go on trips by ourselves; our families and friends are with us, and the decisions we make ripple beyond the shores within view.”


As it happens, her parents recently bought her a satellite phone, workable from virtually anywhere in the world. She turns it off a lot. She doesn’t want her mother calling, Fredston likes to joke, when a polar bear is on her tail.


But what life is without danger, really? Her father, Arthur Fredston, a courtly Manhattan attorney, was walking near the WorldTradeCenter on the morning of September 11, 2001. Her mother, Elinor Fredston, was diagnosed with peritoneal cancer almost six years ago. It was word of her mother’s illness that prompted Jill to start writing about her own life, as though to explain it to her mother. That account would grow into Rowing to Latitude, published last year to warm reviews and dedicated to her mother, who is in good health, and her father. So, compared with terrorism and cancer, what’s an occasional polar bear?


One afternoon last September when a plaza in Anchorage was still abloom—to a newcomer, the city appears improbably rich in flowers—Fredston was only a couple of weeks off the water, her hands still calloused from hundreds of hours of pulling oars. “They really are not adventures for us,” she said of the trips. “They’re a way of life. . . . I know a woman who lives in a village up north. She could live anywhere. I asked her why she lives there, and she said, ‘Here I have time to do anything I want. I have time to do my art, to pick berries, to go on trips. There really is a freedom that comes from having not so many choices.’ ”


Fesler says, “It’s about enjoying when the sun comes out. I don’t have to worry about the stock market or what’s going on in Afghanistan.”


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