Wednesday, January 28, 2015

"Kabloona in the Yellow Kayak" - a book review

I recently read Don Starkell's book "Paddle to the Arctic".  He was accompanied by Victoria Jason ( 2 years; 1991 and 1992) and Fred Reffler (1 year; 1991) for part of the journey.  Victoria had to leave the expedition in the second year due to edema.  Don carried on alone almost making it to Tuktoyuktok before winter set in.  He lost most of his fingers and toes due to severe frostbite.

Don subsequently passed away.  It limits my assessment of this part of Victoria's Arctic experience as a toxic experience for her.  I'll leave it at that.

Through that book, I discovered Victoria also wrote a book about her experience of paddling through the entire Northwest Passage which she completed, solo, in the years 1993 and 1994. In 1993 she paddled down the MacKenzie River from Fort Providence and across the Arctic Coast to Paulatuk.  In 1994 she completed the passage by paddling from Paulatok to Gjoa Haven.

Victoria's book also recounts her 1991 and 1992 trip with Don and Fred.  I knew the plot from reading Don's book but I wanted to get her side of the story.  My take away from those chapters was a feeling of sadness, sadness that a trip of discovery should be spoiled by sour group dynamics, none of it her doing.  The lesson is be careful to pick easy going companions with common goals.

I looked forward to the logbook style details of the solo part of her crossing.  Her true spirit sprang from the pages.  She met numerous people along the journey, welcomed everywhere and establishing rewarding relationships at every meeting.  She writes of challenging passages and crossing, interactions with wildlife such as grizzly bears, foxes and seals to name a few.

The logbook style doesn't make for long reading sessions.  I found I had to put the book down from time to time.  The style however makes it easy to pick the story up and maps accompany so the reader can follow the progress of the trip.  There are numerous high quality colour photos to add context to the text.

I found it an incredible, inspirational journey that took great courage to make solo.  It made my week long journeys make me feel "I am not worthy".  I rejoiced with her on her journey of discovery, both the physical landscape and personal, maybe as compensation for her earlier difficulties.  Through it all she developed a deep attachment to the environment which was easy to feel.

Its a must read for not only kayakers but all adventurers.  I felt like I would have enjoyed paddling with her but sadly that will never happen.  Victoria Jason passed away in May 2000 due to a brain tumour at 55 years of age.  A life cut short too soon but a life with goals reached.

Thank you Victoria Jason.


  1. Hi Tony,
    Thanks for your book review!
    I was very inspired and awed by Victoria's jouney and journal. I just wanted to add that another great thng she did was to return to and bring kayaks to give the native children lessons and a chance to rekindle their ancestral way of life. I also as very disappointed in the group dynamics. but it makes you really appreciate when you find awesome paddle buddies. I have paddled 4 years alone, which has its great moments!...but I am so thrilled to have met you and so many new great paddle buddies and friends! So many adventures await! :).... hopefully sans bears and walruses!!

    1. Good point on her trying to reintroduce kayaking to the kids.