The Twenty-Ninth Day: Surviving a Grizzly Attack in the Canadian Tundra
By Alex Messenger
Expected publication date: November 12, 2019, by Blackstone Publishing
At seventeen, Alex Messenger was already an accomplished wilderness traveler. He had hiked and canoed through forests and mountains across the northern United States and into Canada, and so a forty-two-day expedition sounded like the perfect ending to the summer before his senior year of high school. And so he and five friends journeyed hundreds of miles from the nearest town to embark on a canoe trip that would test their wilderness skills to the limit. They were not quite alone, as a group of five young women were on a course parallel to theirs, but aside from a few brief meetings, Alex and his friends were alone. Everything was going fine for the first four weeks but on the twenty-ninth day, while Alex was exploring part of an island near their camp, he was attacked by a Grizzly bear. While he was fortunate to have survived the initial mauling, Alex and his friends had to make the most of their skills and supplies while pushing through the wilderness, while simultaneously aiding their gravely injured friend.
While wilderness adventure memoirs are a genre in their own right, few of the authors have a survival story as extreme as Messenger’s. How many of those who are mauled by Grizzly bears live to tell the tale? That Messenger did so– and that he kept his wits through the encounter– is a testament to his cool-headedness and survival training.
But The Twenty-Ninth Day is not entirely about the bear attack, which occurs near the halfway point. It is also a love letter to the wilderness and the story of young friends bonding in extreme circumstances. Messenger’s descriptions of the tundra flow with a sort of uncouth grace and his explanations of canoeing maneuvers would seem dry and unnecessary if he didn’t follow them up with descriptions of dangerous river passages and the threats posed by massive sheets of lake ice. What Messenger lacks in writing skill he more than makes up for in his passion for the subject.
“Finding the shells served as a reminder that even though we were bushwhacking, we were not the first people to walk this esker. We were guests here. The tundra of Nunavut had been home to the people who made that stone kayak stand, the man who fired those shells, and the countless others over the centuries. This ground held a history we barely understood, and secrets we would never know.”
On the day of the crisis, the titular twenty-ninth day, Messenger wakes up like it’s any other day and, finding that his friends have left camp to do some fishing, he decides to explore the area near their camp. Though it seems like a safe thing to do on an island in the middle of a deep river, Messenger soon has his fateful encounter with a Grizzly bear. Though he keeps a level head and does everything he was trained to do to ward off such an attack, the Grizzly bear charges him anyway. The description of the attack is riveting and filled with enough detail that one can almost hear the bear’s breathing and feel it striking Messenger.
In the wake of the attack Messenger– bleeding, disoriented, and afraid for his life– still keeps his wits about him and struggles back to camp where his friends find him and treat his injuries as well as they can while preparing to leave the island. The bear is still there, after all, and Messenger isn’t the only one afraid that it will come back.
What follows is an account of field medical treatment that is not for the faint of heart. Though they have packed extensive first aid kids, none of the young men are doctors, nor is the extent of Messenger’s injuries obvious at first. Because they are hundreds of miles from aid, they have to push on, with Messenger contributing as best he can while his condition slowly deteriorates.
Though The Twenty-Ninth Day is not the most polished of wilderness travel memoirs, it is memorable if only for the Grizzly bear attack. But what shines through the entirety of this story is Messenger’s boundless love for the wild places of the world. Though physically scarred by the mauling, he has refused to let it prevent him from returning to the forests he loves. The attention and passion he devotes to every part of his journey sets this book apart from many of its peers and makes it linger in the reader’s mind.
Thank you to NetGalley and Blackstone Publishing for providing me with a free eGalley in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion.