The most spectacular paddling marathon in the world, the Yukon River Quest, starts in Whitehorse and ends in Dawson City. 740 km/460 miles long, this world-class wilderness event takes place between 29th June and 3rd July and is a must for all competitive kayakers at least once in their lives! As you will see from the following video, some people come back again and again…
73 teams from 10 countries have signed in for this, the 13th edition, of the race. This is the longest canoe and kayak race in the world and it has the shortest cut-off time which means that kayakers will get very little sleep along the way.
It is, by necessity, a self-sufficient race. Each canoe or kayak needs to be equipped adequately to be self-sufficient for at least 2 days as they may spend many hours at a time out of sight of any other boat or living person. Participants need to be aware that however good they are at paddling, things can and do go wrong: damaged shoulders, wrists, hands, exhaustion, hypothermia, or just getting cold and tired.
The race, which has teams in solo vessels, two-member tandem and Voyageur vessels which carry six to nine paddlers, has to be completed in 80 hours – this is a route that normally takes 2 weeks. There will be two chances to rest: a seven-hour break at Carmacks, the halfway mark; and then a 3-hour cat-nap in a field about 200 kilometres from the finish line. That 7-hr sleep sounds like heaven, but it’s not necessarily reality. The melee of racers constantly arriving and taking off again is hardly a sleep-inducing atmosphere, and the urge to keep going, catch up, keep ahead of or overtake others is hard to resist. Having said that, it is at Carmack that most people “scratch,” or quit – if they are going to.
“By the third and final day, sleep-deprived paddlers will report seeing giant cans of tomato soup on shore and Renoir paintings in the trees. One in four typically quits early, forced out by hypothermia, exhaustion, blisters the size of grapes.”
In 2010 one of the team members of The Steelbacks, a British team made up of soldiers looking for adventure, swore, in his dehydrated delirium, that he’d seen a giant hampster in the woods!
This race was initially dreamt up as a fund raiser for its better known cousin, the Yukon Quest Sled Dog race which runs between Whitehorse and Fairbanks, Alaska. In its first year of the River Quest, 13 years ago, 16 two-member teams made the running start sped on by a steam boat’s whistle – the Yukon version of a starter’s pistol. But word spread and the race has earned itself a special place among the growing list of ultra-endurance paddling events attracting people from all walks of life and ranging in age between 20 and 70.
“After you do something like this, and you go back to work, and some manager is like, ‘Where are your TPS reports?’ It just doesn’t matter,” says Carter Johnson, a 32-year-old Californian.
And it’s not as if the contestants do it for the prize money. The purse is only $35,000 to be split amongst the winners. Many professional paddlers prefer to enter shorter races with bigger purses, but the Yukon River Quest attracts those who are drawn by a desire to face a mental and physical challenge unlike anything they must confront in daily life whether they be former Olympians or recreational athletes. As 62-yr old Ingrid Wilcox, a gardening expert, said last year “This is my 10th Yukon River Quest. … I can be stubborn and determined and I don’t give up.”
Carter Johnson created a new men’s solo kayak record in 2010 with his time of 42 hours and 49 minutes – 95 minutes faster than the old mark and almost eight hours ahead of the next solo finisher. Ingrid Wilcox came in with a time of 61 hours and 34 minutes which put her in 35th place overall, and fourth among the six solo female kayakers. She was the oldest by two decades. She also created a new record – the first female solo kayaker to complete the race 10 times. Having announced that this would be the last time she took part in the Quest she was soon heard to say, “maybe I will be back. In something easier, like a tandem kayak”.
And sure enough… she’s back. 63 now and a team member of Paddler’s Abreast, in a Voyageur canoe and one of the 9 crew. Her aim? “To enjoy the event with a group of people.” Her team are bound to benefit from her previous experience and intimate knowledge of the route…
Good luck to you all!
feature photo courtesy of PilotGirl