From My Portfolio

Insider's Guide to the Pacific Northwest

I'm proud to be a regular contributor to Alaska Airlines Magazine.
Check out my most recent stories:

1. Head for the Pacific Northwest for your next outdoor adventure

2. Packing secrets of frequent travelers (including me). 

3. A Primate Tour of Uganda 

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We Meet At Last

Welcome. I'm an award-winning journalist, travel writer and author of MURDER IN ITALY, about the Amanda Knox case.

Based in Seattle, I'm obsessed with Italy, Mexico, Africa, the Americas, India and, well, anywhere you want to send me. I can find value in the bleakest of foreign towns. I write about everything from outdoor adventure to true crime, women's issues, business, food and wine.

Catch my stories in Slate, The New York Times, MSN Travel, Art & Antiques, The Chicago Tribune and Alaska Airlines Magazine, plus Seal Press and Traveler's Tales anthologies. I've appeared on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, CBC, Italian TV and CNN's "Crimes of the Century, Amanda Knox." I blog at seattlepi.comWays To Escape and Italyest.

Check me out on Wikipedia. I'm proud to be a Byliner author, a former MSN producer, and magazine and newspaper editor. I love to kayak, ski, climb, hike. I appreciate good food and wine. Born in Spokane, WA., I'm a coastie in Seattle,  not to mention a wife and mom.  I'm a 2012 and 2013 top writer for Quora. You can find me on Linked In and Wikipedia. I have a master's degree from the University of Oregon School of Journalism.

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New York Times: Lost Child Rescues Himself

When my son, Jacob, was 5 years old, I dropped him off at a Seattle day care center, not knowing it was closed for Good Friday. He knocked and knocked on the front door. Nobody answered.
This disaster predated the cellphone. Jacob — blond, blue-eyed, impish — had nothing but my business card. He had asked for it several days before. He was proud that I had one, like the other moms. He had zipped it into the pocket of his red jacket, the one he wore when I dropped him off that day. I was a magazine editor on deadline, young, stressed.
Jacob eventually stopped knocking. He sat on the concrete steps. He did not know what to do next.
My child on the milk bottle, my child on the evening news. Those images haunt me. Yet this story has a surprising twist. Recently, I asked Jacob what that first moment was like. Was he terrified? Twenty-six years have sped by. He’s a lawyer in Seattle.
He laughed and said: “Mom, stop beating yourself up. I have vivid memories of that day. It was an adventure.”
In my shame I had forgotten that children long for new things. They love to explore. In fact, we were experimenting that day. Jacob’s day care provider lived in a rhododendron-draped house in fancy Laurelhurst, at the bottom of a green hill near Lake Washington.
Jacob wanted to run into the house by himself that morning. He wanted to know what that felt like. He had been complaining of being babied. So I watched him go to the door, pull back the screen and knock. I could swear the front door opened. He looked back and waved me off. “Go, go.”
An hour later, a man called my office. “You have a very intelligent little boy,” he said in a cheery voice.
“Yes, I know.” I waited for him to explain himself. He identified himself as a store manager. He said Jacob was with him at the market on Sandpoint Way, a four-lane arterial several blocks uphill from the day care.
“That can’t be my son,” I said.
“Well, he’s got your business card.”
At first I thought Jacob had run away from day care. When he was 3, he had figured out how to burrow under our backyard fence. I caught up with him at the neighbor’s house across the street, minutes later.
Once I grasped this latest horror, I shoved manuscripts into a bag and told the manager I’d come right away. “He must be so frightened,” I said.
“Nope, he hasn’t shown a bit of worry. He marched right in here this morning. He asked, ‘Where is the phone? I need to call my mother.’ He’s very self-confident.”
Jacob sat on my lap the rest of the day. We watched TV. He held the channel changer and ate Popsicles. He is my only child. We learned, and are still learning, how to do this job together.
“I wasn’t scared,” he now insists. “I wondered, could this really be true? Nobody’s here? At first I thought I should wait. But I was afraid of being bored. I didn’t see how I could wait around all day.”
“Why did you go to the store?”
“I knew you had to find a public place to phone.”
“What’s the main thing you remember?”
“I ate so much fried chicken,” he said. “They said I could eat anything I wanted. And I did.”
“You weren’t scared a single second?”
“You have to remember I had wanderlust,” he said. “I always did. I had already been thinking about riding a bike up and down those hills, down to the lake, everywhere. I couldn’t wait to do that.”
He can still recite my office number. He knew he could call me anytime.
“You have to let kids do things,” an Italian aunt used to tell me, when Jacob broke his arm snowboarding or nagged me for skydiving lessons. “If they live, they’ll be strong.”
She meant we can teach courage as well as carefulness. When we stress safety above all else, we forget our trapped childhoods, how we longed to climb boulders, ride ocean waves or float like Huck Finn on a river raft.
We forget how young we were, when we first hungered for freedom.

Candace Dempsey is an award-winning journalist, travel writer, and the author of Murder In Italy, the true story of Amanda Knox.T

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Girl Kayak Guides of Juneau, Alaska

If I were in Juneau right now, I'd be taking a nap. Naps are a very Juneau thing to do. Jane, a self-styled "girl guide," told me that while we were feasting on smoked salmon and reindeer sausage at Eagle Beach not far from downtown Juneau, Alaska's tiny capital.

We had paddled our sea kayak — a long narrow boat swift and silent as a shark — to a beautiful outlook where humpback whales rode the chilly waters and eagles huddled in black trees. Way off on the horizon, mysterious peaks pierced the clouds that hover perpetually over the steel blue Gulf of Alaska.

A lanky girl with bright brown eyes, Jane stood on the shoreline and scanned the channel for squalls. Then she scanned the black sand beach, which gave way to lush meadows of fireweed and rye grass. She listened to the squawking of ravens, flying up to stands of Sitka spruce. She sniffed the air, which smelled of kelp and wildflowers. Finally, she yawned.
"Boy, I wish I could take a nap right now," she said. "We're real nap-oriented here. My boyfriend has what he calls a safety nap. He'll spot something dangerous. And he's like, 'Whoa! — time to take a nap!'"
What a revelation. Where I live near Seattle, the lights at Microsoft burn all night. I never nap without feeling that I've taken a sad and possibly fatal turn toward sloth. Now here was Jane, an adventurer, promoting naps as a safety tip. And here was I, a failed kayaker, hanging on her every word. The truth was that before I met Jane, I was thinking about giving up sea kayaking, because I simply wasn't strong enough to stay out of trouble on saltwater.
Just a month before, I had gotten myself in a nasty mess on Puget Sound — the wildcat waterway on which Seattle perches, some 900 miles of icy water south of Juneau. I crossed a shipping lane with a group of kayakers on a glorious summer day. Suddenly, a current caught my boat and tossed it to the right. Everybody else went left. I kept trying to turn the kayak, but it was like trying to turn the head of a rebellious horse. Next thing I knew, I was headed out to sea. I couldn't see a single member of my group, not even their white paddles going up and down — a sight that, from a distance, looks like a flock of tiny, elusive white birds.
Then the wind rose. I had to fight both the current and the chop. I panicked. I knew that kayakers, even experts, died on the Sound every year. My biggest fear was that I would flip the kayak and either get trapped underneath or fall into the icy water and be unable to struggle back into the boat. "There is no lonelier, more desperate maneuver when you are far from shore and help," my kayak manual says.
"Whatever can go wrong will go wrong, made worse by cold, fumbling hands."
I knew I should conserve my strength, in case the kayak capsized. But I kept thrashing around, because I couldn't think of anything else to do. Luckily, a woman from our group finally spotted my uplifted paddle — which she said looked no bigger than a handkerchief in the wind. She doubled back and towed me, humiliated, to shore.
How I longed to be courageous like Jane, who soothes angry bears with compliments: "I see you, bear. I respect you, bear. Brave, brave bear." Jane, who can tell a storm is coming by the smell of the wind. Like the Tlingits who settled this lovely, rain-drenched land, Jane makes tea from a prickly plant called devil's club. She can out-paddle a squall and survive by her wits. 
"My first year in Juneau I lived in a cabin, without heat or running water," she confided, as we climbed into our double kayak to paddle back to our starting point. "The cabin was on an avalanche chute. Every night I had to think, 'Now, where am I going to sleep tonight?' I had seven escape routes." 
She laughed. "But, hey, it was cheap and available. And avalanches bring trees down with them. If an avalanche comes down the hill without hitting the house, you can get your firewood for free." 
Juneau draws many women like Jane — adventurers from the Lower 48 who climb the near-vertical streets in drab raincoats and yellow, knee-high neoprene boots rolled partway down. It is a tilted town of brightly painted gingerbread houses pressed up against a muddy mountainside, with water everywhere. You can't drive from Juneau to any other town, because the longest road fades into wilderness after 40 miles. You step outside your front door into a maze of wild rivers and crumbling glaciers and slippery peaks.
On my wildest days, I like to pretend I have what it takes to be a girl guide. Strength, courage, know-how and patience. How thrilling to rate a chapter in Jane's memoirs, which she plans to call Girl Guides of Juneau. At Alaska Discovery, where she works, girl guides tend to be tall, cool, powerful blondes of few words. But Jane was like a younger version of me — small-boned, dark-haired and talkative. She made me feel that, given the time and inclination, I too could be a guide. I could give up my desk job and survive a winter in Southeast Alaska without running water or electricity.  
All the way back to Juneau, I did the paddling. Jane sat behind me, steering the boat and critiquing my technique. "If you keep jerking back like that, you're going to flip the kayak," she warned, as we skirted the edges of a forlorn island, its tumbled-down buildings covered with moss. Even though it was a balmy day in mid-July, she had insisted that we don life vests, plus waterproof jackets, pants and boots.
"You wouldn't want to fall into that water," she said. "It's 45 degrees. We become animals at that temperature. We thrash around. We go insane."
I loved Jane's stories about careless sailors sent to the deep, hapless tourists who choked on poisonous mushrooms, reckless tenderfoots who thought they could conquer Alaska without studying it first. She taught me that what I lacked wasn't strength but know-how, not courage but cunning. She showed me how to paddle with the power of my entire body, not just my arms. She made me pay attention to the currents and read the wind — a kayaker's greatest enemy.
"You have to look," she kept saying. "You have to be aware."
Suddenly, I got it. The kayak skimmed the water like a sailboat blown by the wind. Chum salmon leapt all around us. An eagle soared overhead. My heart soared too. I remembered why I had started kayaking in the first place. Because I love sea kayaks — boats as gaily painted as kites, so sleek and light that they feel like part of your skin. Because I longed to explore the wily, hard-hearted gorgeous Sound — every island, sea cave, twisted channel and river mouth. Because I was tired of standing on the shore while other people set off on adventures.
Back here in Seattle, 900 miles down the Inside Passage, rain falls all winter. When a Yukon Express blows down from Alaska, rain pounds so hard on the roof of my house that it wakes me up at night. So I read trashy novels. I lift weights to prepare myself for kayaking. I remember the mantra of the girl guides of Juneau.
"Always be prepared," Jane told me. "That's what the wilderness has taught me. I never leave my house without my raincoat — even when the sun is out."
Always be prepared. That's good advice for venturing anywhere. Have seven escape routes. A compass, map and whistle.
When in doubt, take a safety nap.

*This story appeared orignally appeared on Illustration by Steven Salerno
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