Don Starkell, 1932 – 2012

Posted by Ken Campbell January 31, 2012 0 Comment 925 views

I have been reflecting lately on the way that the idea of death intrudes on the living as time goes by. When we are young, death dwells in the province of older folk, so distant and separate, almost on a different planet. But then, as we age, death comes a little closer. Imperceptibly almost, stealthy, like everything we’ve ever heard death would be.
It goes without saying that the deaths of those with whom we are closest are the ones that make the most impact. At least that’s how it seems, anyway. But there are others too, some we never even meet. When the news arrives that they have passed on, it can hit hard in a different way, but no less profound.
Don Starkell died last weekend. Paddle to the Amazon, Paddle to the Arctic – that Don Starkell. I remember reading about that epic trip to South America, from the frozen wastes of prairie Canada to the jungles down south, and my mind buzzed for weeks after I put the book down. Starkell was a man who lived large, who dreamed things no other paddler dreamed, and then made those dreams come true. He was, by all accounts, a complicated man and he had his share of demons, but there’s no denying the genius.
For me, Paddle to the Amazon was a magical book. The story of one man and his son taking a canoe from Winnipeg to the Brazilian rainforest captivated my imagination. Here was proof that everywhere was in reach, as long as you had the time. It took Don and his son Dana 2 years to cover the 12,000 miles of the journey and I was with him for every paddle stroke as I turned the pages.
He didn’t stop there. His other epic trip was the subject of Paddle to the Arctic, another long and arduous adventure. For some reason, this story never resonated with me the way the other one had, I couldn’t say why. Perhaps it was too much alike in scope, or maybe I was just older, less easily enthralled. It was no less of an odyssey though, and he ended up losing his fingertips to frostbite, and was rescued just a few miles short of his goal in a classic near-death finish to the expedition.
What got him in the end was cancer, as it is with so many. He was 79 years old and he had had himself a life. With his passing, there is one less heartbeat in the world, and one more legend.

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