“My trip was something about imagination – to be able to imagine something and to really think about it and make it happen.” These are the words of Don Starkell who with his son Dana, completed the longest single journey undertaken in one canoe. They travelled from Winnipeg to Belem, Brazil at the mouth of the Amazon River – a distance of over 20,000 kms! The trip lasted two years, beginning in 1980.
Starkell was a long-distance canoe racer who had competed in the 3,300-mile Centennial Voyageur Canoe Pageant in 1967, from Rocky Mountain House, AB to Montreal. A man often described as driven if also recklessly stubborn, Starkell had for years dreamed of taking a “monumental canoe trip” with his sons. On reaching Brazil, Starkell wrote in his diary “…we have taken some 20 million paddle strokes to get here and have travelled every variety of waterway. We have slept on beaches, in jungles, in fields – sometimes in the canoe on open water… Strangely enough, the only animal that has given us any trouble was man; we have been arrested, shot at, robbed, jailed and set upon by pirates…Forty-five times our canoe has been broken on rocks or reefs. Our skin has been baked to scab by the sun. We have been close to starvation… In spite of all we’ve endured, our arrival here in Belem was anything but triumphal. No banners, no champagne, no tears or kisses. Nobody at all… Perhaps we deserve such a fate. We have come too far.”
Starkell’s story has been widely read in his published account “Paddle to the Amazon”.