Don Starkell is a Survivor
He’s been kidnapped by pirates, faced arrest in Central American slums, been shot at countless times, nearly starved to death, survived towering Gulf of Mexico seas in an open canoe, capsized and swam in the icy waters of Hudson Bay, been chased by polar bears, entombed in the ice of the Arctic Ocean and has lost parts of all of his fingers due to frostbite.
In yet another brush with death, Canadian canoeist and author Don Starkell, 77, suffered severe burns and smoke inhalation when fire engulfed his Winnipeg residence on March 24. The author of Paddle to the Amazon and Paddle to the Arctic is currently recovering in hospital—and according to an article in the Winnipeg Free Press, dreaming of the day when he can get back in his kayak.
“I’m not looking for bravado, but I know damn well I’ve beaten another bullet,” Starkell told the Free Press. “I’ll be back in a kayak in a couple of months. That’s what I love.”
Starkell is best known for his two-year, 12,000-mile canoe trip from Winnipeg to the mouth of the Amazon River, which he completed with his son, Dana, in 1982 and documented in Paddle to the Amazon, a bestseller. In 1990, Starkell fell just shy of his goal of sea kayaking the Northwest Passage in Canada’s Arctic Ocean. His expedition ended with a helicopter rescue less than 30 miles from his destination, when an early winter left him icebound, stranded and hypothermic in his kayak for 26 hours. Last summer he logged about 1,500 miles in his sea kayak on Winnipeg-area rivers—his lowest mileage in years.
Canadian filmmaker Chris Forde is currently wrapping up a documentary of Starkell’s Amazon epic. In an interview with Canoe & Kayak last fall, he described the man as being driven by hardship. “He liked it when people said, ‘you can’t do that, you’re crazy, you’re insane,’” said Forde. “And then he proved them wrong.”
Weeks prior to the house fire, Canoe & Kayak magazine caught up with Starkell for an interview for an upcoming Unfiltered story. Starkell spoke at length about his passion for paddling, survival instincts and his 75,000 miles of lifetime paddling—a title he claims is a world record. Watch for it this summer—just in time for Starkell’s return to the water.
– Conor Mihell