Do i really want to do this. I’ve been looking through the internet to find an insight into the Yukon River Quest and today i found one and it has left me with nothing more than dread. The paragraphs below are from Team Bugman who finished the race in about 55hrs last year. It is even more unnerving that i’m approach the race in the same way as them..
The race was one for the books. We showed up having never attempted anything as insane as ‘The Longest Canoe and Kayak Race in the World’, so we had no idea what to expect from the race or how we would react in this type of situation. All we knew was that we wanted to paddle the Yukon River and doing it with some of the worlds best paddlers sounded inspiring…there were also a few beer involved in the early decision stages…
As the race got going we were all feeling pretty good. We weren’t getting caught trying to keep up with the front runners but remaining around what we had thought to be mid pack. The first portion of the race took us across Lake Lebarge, it’s a crazy long lake that can be an early end to most racers adventure. We were lucky this year as the weather on the lake was perfect. We also all enjoyed the chance to get to paddle beside people from all over the world and hear their stories of why they were here on the river. Some were there to win or better their time from previous years but quite a few were there for the same reason as us, just to see what it feels like to push our bodies and minds to the edge.
We got that chance as we put the lake behind us and re-entered the river portion. At this point we had been paddling around 12h straight…still a long way off from the first mandatory rest point. Peter and I soon started to realize the advantage having a tandem boat as opposed to Jamie being by himself in a single. Tandems are fair bit wider and more stable. This does require more effort to push though the water but with two paddlers, speed is comparable. There’s also ‘built in conversation’…depending on the company that can work for or against…it was a positive thing for us for sure.
As it was the summer solstice, the sun never totally left us. Sleep was also forcing itself upon us during this stage. It’s a scary, and oddly quite a neat thing, to wake up and realize you are still paddling. No lie…we all fell asleep at some point while paddling for a second or two and muscle memory kept our arms moving. This was fairly dangerous in a 26” wide tandem, but it’s nowhere near as worrisome when it happens in a 21” single kayak. Jamie recalls paddling close to shore and wrapping his arms around trees for stability as he tried to get 10-15m of shut eye before having to push on. It was just dusk enough to add to the hallucinations that didn’t take long setting in. The driftwood people would come alive around 4:00am and drift back to wood around 7:00am.
Carmacks was the first mandatory rest stop and boy was it a welcome site. We had 7h to eat get our gear straightened out for the next leg and get some sleep. Jamie was struggling through some stomach issues and ended up scratching because of the severity. Peter and I were lucky enough to not have as intense an issue with that so we were able to push on.
After leaving Carmacks we were greeted 2h down river by the Five Finger Rapids. They are a short Class 2.5 – 3 standing wave or ‘haystack’ rapid. It was fun to run them especially when sleep deprived…Peter received the brunt of the waves being front and centre. We followed a Voyager Canoe with about 8 people in it through the rapids and sadly watched as they sank into the freezing water. They amazingly got to shore, dried off and went on to finish the race.
We were actually feeling really good that leg and were making up serious time that we had lost when we were talking to the driftwood people the night before.
We past quite a few people before getting to the final mandatory rest stop of the race. It was a 3h break in a place called Kirkmin Creek. It consisted of a quick snack, tidy up the boat and talk with the other boaters that were laid over as well. Everyone was in zombie mode as we were all mentally and physically exhausted and dealing with severe aches n‘ pains. It’s, in a way, nice to get out and stretch when you have been a boat for 44+h but it can also give you a chance to realize just how much pain your body is actually feeling.
The last leg had some of the most amazing views that the river offered, although the whole river is spectacular. The river snakes through towering mountains some as high as 3500+ feet, that mixed with the complete wilderness that surrounded us the whole time as far as the eye could see made for some great moments of pause. Although the last leg was the shortest, completing it in about 10h, we found it to be mentally the most challenging. There were long periods where we could see 20+ mi in front of us and it took forever to get there. When we finally did we had the same view greeting us around the next bend…
It was all worth it when we arrived at the finish line in Dawson City at around 5:00am to unprecedented fanfare consisting of a quick toot of an airhorn and `way to go’s’ from a few volunteers…not too worry, the crowd gathered for others as the day woke up. After 740kms and 70,000 paddle strokes, we completed the Quest in a total of 55h 16m putting us 3rd in men`s tandem kayak division and 20th overall. Next year we are going for gold…nuggets!