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After decades of exploring, where do the boldest sea kayakers, whitewater boaters and canoe trippers fantasize about paddling? That’s the question that inspired Paddling Magazine to query some of our long-time contributors and favorite nomadic aquaphiles to ask after their dream destinations, most challenging expeditions and what a life of exploration really means anyways.

In this series of profiles, these exceptional water-wanderers share their top trips, best advice and biggest blunders. And whether their ambitious journeys were taken in the name of discovery, education, environment or glory, these legends affirm what we already know: There’s far more to explore by paddle than anyone could fit in a lifetime—but don’t let that stop you from trying.


What can arduous expeditions in remote landscapes teach humans about our place in the modern world? It’s a spiritual question Jon Turk has explored through a lifetime of pushing his limits in cold and isolated areas. Fifty years ago, Turk earned a PhD in organic chemistry, wrote the first environmental science textbook in the United States and took off exploring. He’s made climbing first ascents, skiing first descents, paddled around Cape Horn and circumnavigated Canada’s Ellesmere Island. His two-year kayak passage from Japan to Alaska remains one of the most legendary sea kayaking expeditions of all time.

Paddler: Jon Turk
Location: Darby, Montana
Occupation: Author
Latest Project: Turk’s newest book, Tracking Lions, Myth and Wilderness in Samburu, was released in September 2021

 

Man on skis towing a sea kayak through the snow.
Jon Turk on route to circumnavigate Ellesmere Island by ski and kayak. | Photo: Erik Boomer

Q & A with Jon Turk

1 One paddling destination I dream of returning to is…

None. My greatest journeys were scary, sometimes terrifying. These adventures live deep inside me. I have no desire to go back to those places and to relive those moments. I am growing older; time is linear. There is no going back.

2One place I dream of paddling but haven’t been yet is…

I no longer feel justified to jump on an airplane and fly to distant, exotic paddling locations.

A desire to reduce his carbon footprint keeps Turk grounded. “I feel an imperative to contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” he says. “The best sea kayaking within a reasonable driving distance of my home is the west coast of British Columbia. Even though I have paddled many sections of that coast, that is where I will return.”

3The best paddling companions are…

people who see paddling as a lifestyle, not a vacation.

4My biggest blunder was…

trying to race a storm off Cape Horn and I learned the value of patience.

5The hardest part about making a dream trip happen is…

quitting your job—or maybe that’s the easiest.

6My best advice for young paddlers is…

quit your job.

7Happiness is…

when the polar bear that just ripped a hole in your tent decides not to eat you.

8My most challenging expedition was…

the Ellesmere circumnavigation. And it taught me when the barriers we face are too great, we can never overcome them. We must assume they don’t exist.

Turk’s 2011 expedition circumnavigating Canada’s Ellesmere Island was a ski-and-kayak odyssey traversing 1,485 miles around the world’s 10th largest landmass. Turk, 65 at the time, and expedition partner Erik Boomer, then 26, were named 2012 National Geographic Adventurers of the Year. Gale-force headwinds, unstable ice, breaching 2,000-pound walrus, and the odd polar bear were just some of the threats they faced.

9What scares me most…

Polar bears scare me. I scare polar bears. The wind scares me. I don’t scare the wind.

10

My favorite camp meal is…

half-developed seagull egg embryos with quinoa.

11The true gift of big trips is…

presence.

12One thing I will never do again is…

screw my skins on my skis backward at the beginning of a big Arctic trip.

Paddling Magazine Issue 63 | 2021 Paddling Trip Guide Cover

This article was first published in Paddling Magazine Issue 64. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions here, or download the Paddling Magazine app and browse the digital archives here.


Jon Turk on route to circumnavigate Ellesmere Island by ski and kayak. | Photo: Erik Boomer

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