Wednesday, May 13, 2009

High Endeavours by Miles Clark

If you have read any of my other posts you know that thanks to the author of A Passage to Juneau I became curious about a couple named Miles and Beryl Smeeton. I followed up be reading 3 of Miles Smeeton's books about their travels together. They were all fascinating but they left me wanting to know more about the Miles and Beryl themselves.

As the author of those books Miles Smeeton was always self-deprecating when describing himself or his actions while he often wrote of his wife Beryl as the real hero in their stories. Also because his books most often described single voyages they were not helpful in understanding how these people came to be who they became. Thankfully Miles Clark tries to do that very thing in his book "High Endeavors, The Extraordinary life and adventures of Miles and Beryl Smeeton."

Penned in 1991 it is a deeply researched and compelling look at one of the most interesting couples of the 20th century. Miles Clark was born in England in 1960 and his Godfather was Miles Smeeton. Since the Smeetons were either travelling or in Canada most of the time the relationship between Godfather and Godson was mostly via the letters they exchanged. This did not prevent them from developing a lasting appreciation and respect for each other and this radiates throughout Clark's book.

As an adventure book it does not have the flavor of an "Into Thin Air" or even Smeeton's own "Once is Enough." It represents the entire story of these two interesting people from their childhoods until their deaths. Fortunately for we adventure book fanatics they spent their entire lives, whether alone or together, doing the most amazing things. As an example Beryl Smeeton undertook solo journeys on foot, on donkeys, in trains, and ships in China, Burma, Russia, India, Persia, Turkey and freaking Patagonia! (And may I just add that when forced to use the convenience of a train or ship she always paid the lowest possible fare so she could sit in the dirt with the rest of the poor people.)

So Miles Clark has plenty of material to work with and he makes the most of it. When he touches on their idiosyncrasies it is in a loving and respecting manner. Descriptions of Beryl's cooking being an area where he was incredibly gentle. Clark manages to capture the essence of the Smeeton's relationship so that the reader understands the glue that holds them together. He helps us in some way imagine what it might be like to live your life with the single goal of being together while experiencing the world.

Reading this book lets you inside the relationship of these two fascinating people and also takes you on a journey of the world as it was when the Smeeton's were young. From Miles in the war in Africa for the British in the 1930's while Beryl travelled the remote corners of the world to finishing their lives in the Canadian Rockies attempting to save endangered species their lives do not have a dull moment. We are lucky that Miles Clark took the time to write it all down for us. Miles Clark died in 1993 at age 32 just six years after Miles Smeeton passed in Canada.