Solo kayaker takes on Mackenzie River

Paul Bickford/NNSL photo
David Yanowski, a kayaker from Chicago, left Hay River on June 15 for a solo journey on the Mackenzie River to Tuktoyaktuk.

A man from Chicago left Hay River on June 15 for a solo kayaking adventure on the Mackenzie River.

David Yanowski hopes to make it all the way to Tuktoyaktuk in about seven weeks.

“Since I’ve been about 12, I’ve been doing canoe trips and adventures,” said the 61-year-old. “And in the last three years before I get way too old to do this and not physically able, I’ve been doing bigger trips.”

However, Yanowski is probably in much better physical condition than a typical 61-year-old since he operates a karate school teaching martial arts to inner-city young people in Chicago and has a fifth-degree black belt.

In 2015, he and a friend kayaked around an island archipelago in Greenland, and last year they canoed the Yukon River from Whitehorse to the Bering Sea.

“I’ve always thought I want to try one major solo trip,” said Yanowski. “After seeing the Yukon and seeing what it’s like, I thought that’s something that’s within my capabilities, not too much outside my range of capabilities.”
That’s when he focused on the Mackenzie River.

“I thought that this would be a pretty safe place to do an extended solo trip for six or seven weeks,” he said.

As an experienced kayaker and canoeist, Yanowski is aware of the hazards of a solo journey.

“You definitely increase the risk,” he said. “I’ve done some solo trips before and I find that I am much more cautious, because you’re so much more aware of the consequences.”

As a result, he has prepared with everything he needs, including communications equipment.

Yanowski said the Mackenzie, like the Yukon River, is an historic river.

“What I like about these rivers, both of them, is they have great stories and a lot of the point of the trip is to learn the stories and to stop in the communities and meet the people and hear their stories,” he said, adding that, by the time he finishes the river, he hopes to learn its whole story.

Yanowski, who is originally from Toronto, has been living in the United States for almost 30 years and holds dual American and Canadian citizenship.