Paddle to the Amazon: The Ultimate 12,000-Mile Canoe Adventure, by Don Starkell

Nine stars

Back in the late spring of 1980, Don Starkell began an epic canoe journey with his two sons, Dana and Jeff. They planned to travel from the Red River in Winnipeg (Canada) down through to the Amazon, into the depths of Brazil. At over 12,000 miles, this would be the longest attempted journey ever in a canoe, which would test them at every turn. From the early attempts to get their rhythm and try not to bicker with one another, the Starkells sought to create a strong connection and teamwork as they made their journey into the Mississippi. While travelling through Canada and the United States was, for the most part, smooth sailing, their crossing into Mexico started a series of events can none of them could have predicted. Being stuck on land due to the weather, running out of supplies, and the start of salt sores, which almost paralyzed Don and Dana, things were sometimes overwhelming. Six months into their trip, Jeff decided that this was not the trip for him and he left, happy to return back to the barren winter of the Canadian Prairies. This left Don and Dana to forge onwards, where gun-toting pirates awaited them, as well as various military contingents, all wanting to see their documents. While Don documented the trip, Dana honed his guitar skills and entertained locals wherever he could. The journey progressed and while there were setbacks, the Starkell men were able to push onwards and make significant progress, eventually reaching the Amazon. It was there that much of the flora and fauna changed, becoming extremely tropical (as well as dangerous for cuts and infections). Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, these two pushed themselves past their limits and made it, twenty-three months later, to the heart of Brazil, having accomplished their ultimate journey. Left with memories and a lifetime of stories, Don and Dana Starkell made that incredible trek, paddling to the Amazon in their canoe. A wonderful read for those who can handle journal storytelling, told frankly and with much inspiration. I am so happy to have been able to revisit this story so many years later.

While I do not have a personal connection to this story, I did grow up in Winnipeg and read the complete published book in grade school, as well as meeting the author. His tale left me wanting to know all about it and I cannot be happier that Don Starkell took his massive handwritten journal and put it into something that could be published. His story is not only one of determination, but a journey of the soul, where he was able to get closer to his son (Dana) no matter the adversity that was placed before them. The Starkells faced many a dangerous experience and wanted to turn around numerous times, but did not let this spoil their sense of adventure. Sickness, disaster, political roadblocks, and even weather shaped their trip, but the Starkells simply rolled with the punches and made the best of what they could. This book, told in a number of journal entries, breathes life into this journey and helps the reader better understand what was at stake and how daunting this trip turned out to be. While they did earn entry in the Guinness Book of World Records, it was not praise or notoriety that drove these men, but the sense of wanting to accomplish something. It is for that reason that this was such a great book for me to choose as I sought something about a journey for my Book Challenge. I would encourage anyone with a sense of adventure to strap themselves in and try this book, then go out and see Don Starkell’s more troublesome adventure in Canada’s Arctic waters. But that, my friends, is another story entirely!

Kudos, Mr. Starkell, for your wonderful determination. I am so happy to have shared in this adventure and to have met you all those years ago. I hope others take the time to learn about this adventure and what it meant to you.

This book fulfills Topic #4: Here to There in the Equinox #3 Book Challenge.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: