Look up “adventurer” in the dictionary, and if it’s a good dictionary, you might see a picture of Don Starkell’s face.
In 1980, Starkell and his son Dana paddled 19,603 miles in a canoe, from their native Winnipeg to the mouth of the Amazon River in Belem, Brazil. During the trip, which lasted two years and landed the pair in the Guinness Book of Records, Starkell was “arrested, shot at, kidnapped by pirates and nearly starved,” according to Canoe & Kayak.
On Saturday, Starkell died in Winnipeg after succumbing to a long fight with cancer. He was 79 years old.
Cancer and the Amazon weren’t Starkell’s only adventures. An orphan, Starkell was forced to master the canoe during the 1950 Winnipeg flood, during which he ferried neighbors and delivered groceries.
In 1990, a decade after his Amazon journey, Starkell embarked on a 3,200-mile paddle from Churchill, Manitoba through the Arctic Ocean’s Northwest Passage. Just 30 miles away from his planned destination of Tuktoyaktuk in the Northwest Territories of Canada, Starkell was stopped in his wake by an impenetrable field of ice.
“When I did the Arctic trip, I gave absolutely everything I had,” Starkell said according to the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame. He probably wasn’t referring to the several fingers and toes he lost due to frostbite. Despite coming up short, he considered the journey a “success.”
Over the course of his life, Starkell claims he has paddled more than 75,000 miles. “I’ve paddled three times around the world,” he told Canoe & Kayak. “If someone wants to beat that, I don’t give a damn.”
Starkell’s sons say they will scatter his ashes in the Red River.