Dana Starkell grew up in Winnipeg, Canada, a city known for warm summers and long bitterly cold winters. From the time Dana was a young boy, his life was filled with adventure. Dana’s father Don had an extensive background in canoe racing and made plans to involve his two sons in some form of a memorable event each year. Summer holidays included canoe trips, hiking, sand-dune treks, rock climbing, and lake swimming. Learning how to overcome challenges through personal experience is one aspect that has shaped Dana’s sense of what is possible.
At age 11, Dana climbed to the top of Mount Rundle with his Dad and younger brother Jeff. At 9,672 feet, Mount Rundle is the highest mountain in the resort town of Banff, Alberta. During their descent along a narrow ridge, Dana lost his footing in the shale and began to catapult head over heels. Fortunately, Dana’s Dad had foreseen this risk. Only moments earlier, Don had advised Dana to extend his arms and legs in the event he lost balance and started rolling down the mountain side. The advice worked and likely saved Dana’s life. Dana slid to a stop less than ten feet from the ledge of a ravine that dropped a few thousand feet to the rocks below. The next summer, Dana’s father used the lure of milkshakes from the Mount Rushmore concession stand to help Dana overcome his newly acquired fear of climbing. While his father waited at the top of a small mountain that faced the monument, Dana made three round-trips for chocolate shakes and by the end of the day, his self-confidence and enthusiasm for climbing were restored.
Each summer the Starkell’s would take canoe trips on the remote lakes of Northern Manitoba and Southern Ontario. As a preliminary to their voyage to South America, they completed a summer holiday trip that lasted a month and covered 1000 miles of rivers and lakes. This trip also helped confirm the food carrying capacity of their canoe, their physical endurance, and self-sufficiency for thirty plus days.
A year after completing high school, Dana undertook the two-year canoe trip his father had been planning since Dana was 9 years old. Altogether, they paddled through 13 countries from Winnipeg to Belem, Brazil and were awarded the Guinness world record for the longest canoe trip in history. In the course of the journey, Dana cured his asthma and honed his skills as a classical guitarist. The true story about their adventure became an international best-selling book, “Paddle to the Amazon”.
More recently Dana completed two separate canoe adventures with his Dad. The first was along the Mississippi and Gulf Coast from Princeton, Iowa, to Key West, Florida. The second, in 2003, followed the Intracoastal Waterway and open Atlantic coast from New York city harbor to Key Largo, Florida. The later trip was a significant challenge due to constant inspections by coastal officials following the 9/11 attacks.
Dana now lives in the Quad Cities, Iowa with his wife Stacey and son Davey. Dana’s next adventure will be a reunion with Gabriel Delgado and friends for a 40-day canoe trip down the Mississippi River from Davenport, IA to New Orleans, LA. Departure is set for June 1, 2017.