Gulfport man sets out to break kayaking world record at 80 years old

Gulfport resident Stan Stark will turn 81 next month, not even halfway through his journey to...
Gulfport resident Stan Stark will turn 81 next month, not even halfway through his journey to kayak the length of the Mississippi River that will make him the oldest person to do it. At the same time, he's raising money to help a homeless veterans shelter in his childhood home of Forks, Wash.(Janet RithNajarian)
Updated: Jul. 18, 2020 at 9:28 PM CDT
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GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - Gulfport resident Stan Stark is just now beginning a 90-day solo kayaking journey down the Mississippi River - from Source to Sea, and he’ll be celebrating his 81st birthday next month there.

Right now, his daughter, Linda Baker, doesn’t know exactly where he is.

“Well, no. I can’t exactly ... he is out in the middle of the wilderness,” she said.

Stark, who has been kayaking for about 20 years, launched his kayak about four days ago at the source of the Mississippi River in Minnesota, and there already have been a few snags along the way.

“He’s run into a bunch of vegetation and portages and things that ... I don’t think he knew were there,” she said.

It hasn’t been an easy journey for his daughter either.

“I’m terrified, I’m horrified, and part of me is like, ‘Are you out of your mind?’ I worry about him, I won’t lie, but I know he’s safe and he’s smart and he’s experienced, and he doesn’t take stupid risks,” she said.

Stark is getting help from the Mississippi River Angels, a group of people who provide assistance to river paddlers along the Mississippi.

Even then, Baker said it’s a bit like dealing with a rambunctious teenager.

“I told my sister-in-law who has five, plus two children, that if she thought raising children were hard, try raising your dad who just will not stop,” she said.

Stark’s goal is to paddle down the 2,400-mile-long river; become the oldest person to do it; and raise money for Sarge’s Place, a homeless veterans’ shelter located in his childhood home of Forks, Washington.

“This has been a goal of his for a long time,” Baker said. “And it’s just the right time for him to do it.”

Stark is a retired Seabee and Vietnam veteran, and his daughter has no doubt he will see it all the way to the end of the journey, which should be sometime in mid-October.

“Anybody that knows my dad knows he is relentless when he sets his mind to something,” she said. “I mean there’s just no stopping him.”

But, if she has anything to say about it, he will stop - at least for a little while.

“Next, is he’s going to get on that back porch in a rocking chair and sit there for a while,” she said with a laugh. “OK? Because we just need him to settle down.”

To find out how to follow his journey, just check out his website:

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