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Alaska Trip Helps Heal Father and Son in 'Backcast'

Dec 1, 2007 (Weekend Edition Saturday)

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For Lou Ureneck, an Alaska fishing trip tested not just his survival skills, but the survival of his frayed relationship with his son.

The author of Backcast: Fatherhood, Fly-fishing, and a River Journey Through the Heart of Alaska traveled to Alaska in 2000. The trip was an attempt to heal his relationship with his teenage son, Adam, following a bitter divorce. Ureneck's journey helped him reflect on his parenting skills and on the gaping hole his own father left when he abandoned Ureneck at age 7.

Determined to reconnect with his son, who is preparing for college, Ureneck plans a 110-mile, 10-day float trip down the Kanektok River, which flows into the Bering Sea — without a guide.

Backcast is largely a reflection on Ureneck's own childhood, marriage and divorce. The narrative weaves together past and present against the backdrop of the Alaskan wilderness. The men catch salmon and Arctic char, and survive close encounters with huge brown bears.

Ureneck, who is chairman of the Journalism Department at Boston University, provides colorful descriptions of the journey down the Kanektok with his son, who is often sullen and silent. The men emerge from the trip with a bond reinforced from the experience of relying on each other for survival.

John Ydstie spoke with Ureneck about his family relationships and his Alaska adventure.

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