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South to Alaska:
From the Heartland of America to the Heart of a Dream
by Nancy Owens Barnes

South to Alaska relates the story of ten-year-old Melvin Owens who, born in the dusty heart of Oklahoma in 1916, dreams of living in Alaska. Nearly fifty years later, he single-handedly constructs the forty-seven-foot Red Dog in his Hartford, Arkansas, backyard. After launching the boat on the Arkansas River in 1971, Melvin, along with his wife and daughter, cruises the Arkansas and Mississippi Rivers to Galveston, Texas, on the Gulf of Mexico. From Galveston, after struggling for more than a year with mechanical difficulties and an entanglement with a fraudulent boat-business owner, Melvin begins a solitary journey along the Caribbean coasts of Mexico and Central America, through the Panama Canal, and into the Pacific Ocean to Alaska.

The problem is, Melvin has never crossed the southern border of the United States, has never even ridden on a boat in the open ocean, and has certainly never navigated a homemade watercraft for thousands of miles in the Caribbean and Pacific. Faced with illness, threats of jail from Mexican authorities, thievery, loneliness, violent ocean storms and a fragile marriage back home, Melvin fears a deadly end before reaching the place of his dreams and being re-united with the woman he loves. Nancy Owens Barnes tells the story well, after all, Melvin is her father.

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