Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Paddle to the Arctic: The Incredible Story of a Kayak Quest Across the Roof of the World - Don Starkell

The Basics: Paddle to the Arctic: The Incredible Story of a Kayak Quest Across the Top of the World, Don Starkell, 1995, 313 pages, hard cover

How I found it: I had read Greg's copy of Paddle to the Amazon, which is about Starkell's earlier paddling adventure from Winnipeg to the mouth of the Amazon River by canoe. I quite enjoyed that book so I thought I'd like Starkell's other book as well.

What's it about?: Starkell attempts to be the first person to paddle the Arctic from Churchill Manitoba to Tuktoyaktuk NWT. He travels mostly alone, but partly with his female friend (girlfriend?) Victoria Jason. Fifty-nine year old Starkell is an experienced paddler but he still faces many challenges in his journey including hypothermia-inducing icy waters, polar bears, storms and sea ice. I won't tell you what happens though - you'll have to read it to find out.

Did I like it?: As far as adventure travel books go, it was okay. It was certainly a compelling story and a quick read. However that was mostly because a lot of the time Starkell is an idiot and takes way too many risks leading to some tense situations that make for excellent reading. It was also refreshing to read a modern account of travel in the arctic. I'd read a bit about the Franklin expedition (and the Shackelton expedition to Antarctica) but obviously times have changed and equipment and technology have improved. Starkell travelled in the early 90s and repeatedly states that he would have become hopelessly lost without the brand-new technology of his GPS. The one thing that really bothered me about the book was Starkell's attitude towards his sometimes companion Victoria Jason. If you have watched any couples on reality television (such as the Amazing Race) you know that there is a certain type of North American man who is so driven and competitive that they treat the women they love like baggage/crap and expect way too much of them. Starkell tells the story from his side of it and apologizes for the way he treats Jason, but I still get that vibe from him and like him a lot less than I did in his Amazon book where he treated his young sons as near equals on the trip. All in all, Starkell comes across as a bit of an a-hole, but I guess it takes that type of personality to be successful that these sort of adventures (See Colin Angus for example).

Will you like it?: If you like adventure travel books Starkell's are a must read. He accomplishes some pretty amazing things and lives through incidents that would have killed other people. If you've never read adventure travel books his are also a good place to start. They are Discover Channel-style sensationalism at its best and if that is what you expect from adventure travel books you won't be disappointed.

But don't take my word for it: Editorial and real people reviews from, and a review of Victoria Jason's book, Kabloona in the Yellow Kayak, from her part of the expedition and some web discussion of Starkell's book and his character.

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