Sat in a kayak half full of water with waves lashing against the side of the boat, I didn’t think that i wanted to carry on the race, finish it or know that I would even make it to safety. The fear of drowning and hypothermia was real and I was scared, more scared than I had ever been.
About one or two km from shore, I didn’t think I would be able to swim to shore if chuck capsized, for a few minutes, I began thinking about bailing out of the kayak and swimming to shore, at least that way I would have been able to make sure I had a few things with me if I made it. It would have been an impossible swim through four foot waves and freezing water. I was alone; screaming and crying to myself, begging to get closer to the pebbled beach. I was cursing myself for being in a situation that I couldn’t get out of. How could I be so stupid to sign up a challenge that could leave me badly injured. I kept running through my head at how selfish this decision was to do the Yukon River Quest. I was alone, with no one to help me. Only I could get me out of this mess. I kept on thinking about Christopher McCandless, an inspiration of mine, who broke away from normality and set off on adventure, only to die alone in an old bus.
It was the hardest and most draining hour of my life trying to make it to shore, I paddled as hard as I could, but it didn’t seem to make any difference, I was still miles from safety with my boat taking more water on. But little by little the trees got bigger and I could feel myself slowly edging to shore. I was only about 4hrs into the race and I was already a wreck. By the time I landed on the side of the lake, I was cold, shivering and soaked from head to toe. It didn’t feel like a race at all at this point, more like battling for my own safety. I kept telling myself:
“Don’t give in, you can’t give in”
“Don’t tell me what you don’t have, tell me what you do”
“You can’t give in, it isn’t an option”
“you are not a quitter, do you want to quit and sit in a hotel room or hospital and imagine what might have been? No? well then paddle harder, paddle stronger and you’ll make it”
Now and again I would talk aloud to myself and repeat the words that I would imagine my friends and family would be saying to me if they were close, they may have been thousands of miles away but they felt close:
“You’re doing well, stay strong”
“Concentrate, you’ll make this and when you do, you’ll grow in strength”
“If you think of quitting, give it one more try for me”
Slowly the waves would ease off for a while and I did my best to make the most of the calmer waters, I didn’t dare go out too far from shore, when I did move out a bit too far, I’d be shouting to myself “what are you doing, get back in, remember what happened before, don’t let that happen again, you’re not good enough to be all the way out here, paddle in”. The wind would pick up and the waves would grow, my body would tense as I tried to manage the next set of waves. I was so worried about falling in, that I didn’t dare lean back and get my sunscreen, so I was getting roasted by the sun at the same time, I felt like I was getting hit from every possible direction, I was determine to not let this get to me, I needed to stay positive and upbeat. I could see a boat in the distance, so I put everything I could to paddle closer, it took an hour until I was in speaking distance of it, but it was a huge relief to have some company on the lake, because for me, company brought safety and that’s all that I cared about.
When I chatted to the guys in the canoe, they told me that my rudder was up on my kayak, I already knew this, as I had kept it up as I didn’t know how to use it, however, the guy recommended to me that I flip it down and when he did I began to see how much easier it was steering with the rudder than my paddle, sadly by this point I had already damage my left wrist battling the waves when trying to steer, but at least I knew going forward steering would be much easier.
I think I got to the 3rd check point at Goddard Point at about 11.30 at night, after 11hrs and half of paddling, I was exhausted physically and mentally but here all the same, the lake was the hardest part supposedly and I was relieved to have passed that test. I could see the fire and looked forward to putting on some warm clothes for the cold night of paddling ahead. I didn’t realize how tired I was until I got out the kayak, I tried to get out, only to fall in to the freezing water and to be washed against the shore by the waves, I was soaked and wet again. Despite everything that had happened I had to stay upbeat, getting frustrated would have only made things worse – I still remember the words from Emery in Bukavu, Congo telling me the importance of staying positive even when you hear and see the most appalling situations. Emery works for Women for Women in the Congo and helps translate for the women, despite the horrific stories he has heard from women in the Congo when they are assulted he always remains upbeat and happy, because if he let it get to him then he would never be able to help the women look ahead and beat the cruel attacks that too many women have suffered.
When I picked myself up from the water I started running around the beach trying to warm my legs and body up, I met with some other racers and did my best to stay chipper, I hoped that my upbeat attitude would help a few of the others who were looking jaded, I couldn’t dwell on the negatives. As I dried myself off, put warm clothes on, ate, and exchanged stories with others, I got chatting to Lars from Team Bonefish, another solo kayaker. He asked if I wanted to kayak with him and this turned out to be a complete blessing and changed the shape of the race for me, having someone close to you was incredibly important, I was really worried about capsizing as I got more tired and not being able to make it to shore, so kayaking with Lars helped to bring more safety to this crazy race.
I’m not sure what it would have been like if I’d just been on my own throughout, but I doubt I would have had as much fun and it’s really special to have made a friend and experienced such an amazing race with someone who knew what it was like to solo kayak the Yukon. Lars came into a league of his own with his floating pharmacy and sports nutrition centre, he was always so willing to offer whatever he had along the way. The level of composure and silent determination that Lars displayed was phenomenal, I have enormous respect for him. We both came from similar kayaking backgrounds (limited) and had a similar philosophy on the race, it was about finishing and getting there rather than beating some arbitrary time – not quite a race and not quite a river trip.
I don’t remember him complaining once or moaning, let’s face it I can be pretty annoying at times and this can only have been exacerbated by tiredness, but despite not knowing each other we never argued or had a bad word to say, even when I would get directions wrong or lost the caffeine pills, there was no cursing, only a little chuckle. At one point our rudders would get stuck together and we were floating down the river backwards trapped, it took about 5 minutes to sort it because we were laughing t the trouble we were in.
Racing through the night on the Yukon River was unbelievable and I understood why they call it the race to the midnight sun, the darkest it got was a light dusk, a surreal experience. At about one in the morning freezing fog would appear on the river, as you looked down the river, it would resemble a wide fast running channel of jet black coffee with hot steam rising from it. Truly spectacular, something I will never forget. Paddling through fog felt like you were passing a thin veiled wall that would instantly vanish as you reached it. As the hours passed the sun would crack through the mountain tops and with each stream of light you could feel the cold vanishing and the valley heating up, slowly the frost on the bow and stern of my kayak would melt telling me that a new day was beginning, time was irrelevant – the only way I knew what part of the day it was, was the temperature.
The sheer beauty of the Yukon River is something that needs to be experienced, there is so much to take in and only by looking through your own eyes will you be able to draw your own conclusions about what makes this part of the world so special. I felt privileged to be able to make this trip down the Yukon and my respect for the river grew with each stroke. To be on the Yukon River, brought many dangers, but if you can get past this then you really are rewarded, with an experience of something that is incomparable to anything else. Being here in the middle of nowhere, feeling that nothing in life mattered about from the flow of the river and the eddies in the water left me humbled by the beauty and scale of this vast territory.
The warm smell of the morning air as the flowers and trees heated up and the crisp sharp scent of the evening chill as the sun fell behind the mountains, gave the feeling that every sense was being touch by the Yukon. My eyes would be mesmerized by the infinite shapes and sizes of rocks along the river banks, broken into an impossible jigsaw puzzle that would take eternity to finish, each rock seemed to sit there in a perfectly irregular order.
Minutes seemed to pass like hours at times and the time seemed to blend into one long day as my body and mind grew tired, I was willing the next check points to come quicker, but as the energy dropped each stop seemed further and more unattainable. My mind began to wander and I began thinking about the luxury of a 7 hour stop at Carmacks. Sadly it didn’t come around as quickly as I hoped, the river was slow and the bends grew longer, my arm was really beginning to suffer. Each distance calculation I made was way out and I began to worry about missing the cut off time and being thrown out the race. I thought we’d be there by 2 in the afternoon, but it was about 9pm by the time we got to Carmacks, I think it took 30hrs of paddling to make it. As tiredness crept in, I kept catching my paddle, the propensity of mistakes grew larger (see chart 1.).
Whirlpools would emerge from nowhere and would spin the kayak round, or a tired stroke would unsettle the boat and I would panic and try and steady the ship.
My arms, legs, back and ass would hurt from being in a kayak for so long, but it was my mind that was hurting so much from concentrating and trying to make sure I didn’t tip the thing over. My brain was so sore and felt like it was cramping at times, I’d stare at the river bank and mountains and begin seeing shifting shapes across the land. It was a bit like when you look at the clouds and you can make out images, but much more vivid. I saw the strangest things – images that were like 3D holograms painted in the changing colour of petrol in water – blues, pinks, purples and greens. I’m not sure of the significance of what I saw but I remember a giant converse high top trainer chasing a spade and on the spade were lines of writing type in WingDing font (e.g subfbodfour). Behind the spade and shoe were two giant fish cheering the shoe on. Occasionally a ‘Hello Kitty’ picture would emerge on a river bank and then transform into that thing you play Kerplunk with, it would then switch back to a unrecognizable cartoon character with huge eyes, eyes like satellite dishes. I wasn’t too worried about these visions, as I assumed this was normal when you are tired, especially when you stare at things long enough, later on in the race the hallucinations were to become stranger and more worrying as I battled for focus.
It got harder to reach Carmacks and with each check point I’d pass, you’d learn of another team scratching. It might sound harsh, but knowing that others had quit and I was still strong, really gave me a boost, much more than any power bar or gel. I began to believe I could finish the Quest and that was a special feeling, because for many months I didn’t know if this would be possible.
My arm was beginning to stiffen up and I was in real agony. I was alarmed at the swelling above my left wrist, my hand had doubled in size, shooting pains were running up and down my body, telegrams of pain going straight down my spine. I vomited over the side of the kayak as the pain burned deep, I breathed deeper and tried to push it to the back of my mind, I wouldn’t tell Lars the extent of the pain, as I didn’t want to let him know what I was feeling, I didn’t want the doubt to set in my mind that an injury could end this for me, I had come to far. I was reluctant to acknowledge the degree of pain in my arm, I think the minute you do, it’ll take over and absorb your thoughts. My body was riddled with aches and tenderness. I kept telling each muscle or limb to take a ticket and get in line because I could only deal with one aspect of injury at a time. I had told my friends and family that before I had gone away, I would pull out if I was in trouble or injured, there reality was I was never going to scratch, even if I had broken something I would have taped it up and gone on, I was determined to deal with it. Lars helped greatly by knocking up a prescription to help with my arm, I would take 4 of his pills and then double up with a few of my own, it would give me some rest bite. I had told Lars I couldn’t reach my pills, as I didn’t want to worry him, by the doses I was taking.
I’m conscious that this blog is quite long, but there is a lot to cover off and will post another section of the race in a few days, I’m still trying to put everything in order in my mind and remember what happened and how I felt then and how I feel now. Being able to write about the race having finished it is a wonderful experience because I knew I went the distance.
I looked like shit when i reached Carmacks, powerbar bits in my beard, tiny squinty eyes from wearing contacts for over thirty hours, the lingering smell of piss from when i’d miss my piss bottle. Having got out my kayak and stumbled around, i didn’t really know what to do. It was such a novelty to walk around and talk to new people, different people, i found it quite hard to comprehend. I tried to figure out what i needed to do, but i just sort of stumbled round the campsite in a daze. When i’d sit down, my body felt it was still at sea and my vision was still bobbing like i was on the water, i still had sea legs and was like Bambi on ice as i tried to walk about.
I grabbed some food and sat in this old wooden hall and munch on a foul burger and fries and just began laughing to myself uncontrollably, i think part of it was happiness, the other half exhaustion. There were some children playing in hall, i remember one of them pointing at me and saying “Mommy, that man has feet like the bogey man, he’s scaring me”. I found this hilarious and pretended to growl at her, she cried and the family left the hall… I hadn’t thought about my feet during the trip, but i took a look at them and saw they were in a very bad way, all blistered, cut, swollen and red. I ran my finger across the arch of my foot and it burn to touch. I didn’t realise it at the time, but i had begun to develop trench foot, even as i write this, nearly a week later, chunks of skin continue to fall off.
Crawling into my sleeping and into the foetal position i pulled out some of the messages my friends had sent. I knew the race was going to get harder and i wanted to have the messages fresh in my mind, the long days paddling had made me feel that my mind was being erased as i was finding it hard to remember things, and if i did it’d take me about 5 minutes. As i drifted off to sleep, it felt like my body was full of helium and i was bouncing and floating round the tent, i stared at the roof of the tent and began to drool, i kept looking and then the top of the tent seemed to start spinning similar to water going down a plug hole.
I’m not too sure how i got up, but i was up, as was the sun, it was a gorgeous day. I visited a paramedic to get my arm checked out. I was told i had develop severe tendonitis in my left arm. Basically the little tubes that the tendons live it, were too small because the tendons had become swollen. As i moved my arm i could hear the crunch and grind of the tendons pulling up and down my arm. She told me i should really not be paddling with my arm as it was, but i think she realised that there was no way i’d quit, i’d come too far and some pain in my wrist wasn’t going to bring this down. My arm is still in severe pain now, i’m worried as it feels numb and i have pins and needles in my hand, i should go see a doctor rather than sit here typing. Getting tendonitis in my arm is kind of ironic as the reason i had chosen to kayak was because i had developed tendonitis in my ankle from running 13 marathons last year. A cruel and painful piece of irony.
I’d heard from many competitors that if you made it to Carmacks you would make the finish, as happy as i was to have reached Carmacks, i didn’t want to allow myself to get complacent that i had all but completed the challenge, i still had 200+ miles to do, rapids and the ramping up of fatigue. The water was quick on the way out from Carmacks, the speed was probably exacerbated by my fear of the rapids coming up – 5 finger rapids. I’d been worrying about this for months, well 3 months, it may sound silly but i don’t really like water at all, i’m scared of being dragged to the bottom and seeing the light disappearing from me as the rocks on the bottom take their grip. Getting through a grade 3 or 4 rapid, was going to be practically impossible, i was struggling to keep the boat upright on flat waters, let alone rapids. The thought of coming out the boat would have sent shivers down my back, however, it had gone numb by this point. As you got closer to the rapids, you could first hear the crashing and then slowly you’d see on the horizon the white water. I began fastening everything tightly to the boat. Strangely i was most concerned about my urination station and opted to fasten it to my belt. We’d be told when you reach the rapids, take the first three rapids on the right and then cut left for the ‘V’. Yeah it doesn’t make sense to me either, but i was hoping it’d become clear or clearer. Well i was feeling pretty sick at this point from the nerves. I hit three waves, bigger than i had faced before, i nearly came out, i tried to gather my composure, it hadn’t dawned on me that these were the first three waves, and after that i was supposed to go left, instead i paddled hard to the right, unknowing that i was heading into the roughest waters when i should have gone left. I found myself being battered by waves, water flying into my kayak, horrific. I was paddling hard, trying to head for the calmer waters, as much as i was battling, the boat was stuck just being bombarded with waves and white water. Yet again i found myself screaming words of encouragement to get me through it. Slowly Chuck began to move and the waves subsided, i was physically shaking having made it through, i could feel the adrenaline pumping through my body, the hairs on my arms felt like my nerve endings my body was alive and buzzing, i’d made it through, only just but i’d beaten the rapids on this occasion. I didn’t exactly celebrate, just let the current to take me along for while as i regained composure. That brief spell through the rapids reminded me of the awful memories i had of Lake Laberge.
Having made it through the rapids (5 fingers and Rink), this was another big challenge we’d beaten and meant that there was one less obstacle in our pursuit of Dawson City. Making Dawson now seemed like a possibility and it was just up to me to make it there. Despite having had 7 hrs kip in Carmacks, i was feeling so tired and because of this my brain started to go a little funny. When i’ve done long distance cycling trips, i’d often talk to myself. But the conversations i was having on Friday morning were pretty full on and straight out bizarre. I remember having a fairly detailed conversation with an empty bottle of powerade and a trail bar. We’d just chat, i’d ask them about their ingredients and they’d ask me about work, family, life plans etc. After a while, i’d grow board and shout MUNCH really loudly and eat the trail bar. I had also begun shouting and talking loudly to the river bank when i’d see something interesting. It was also becoming apparent that my food strategy wasn’t great, my body was growing tired of energy bars and sweet food, it was reaching the point where my mouth was full of ulcers from the level of sugar i had been consuming. Occasionally i’d crack open some pasta and rice i’d cooked before the race, but this was sickly and warm having been heated up through the day. I naively thought that as long as i had enough food then that would be all i needed, i was wrong. Variety is the spice of life, and my food had little variety. As the hours ticked over i began rejecting my food, and only nibbling at bits and pieces along the way, i wasn’t consuming anywhere near the 7,000 calories i was supposed too. Water was becoming a problem too, i had made the decision to drink from the river, this was ok at first, when the river was fresh and clean, but as we’d got further down stream, it would become dirtier and foul tasting. You could taste the smell of burning in the water from recent forest fires. As i’d drag water up the little blue platapus tubes, i’d get increasing amounts of dirt, wood and grit amongst my teeth. Like the food i grew tired of drinking water and only really took token sips of water when i noticed that my piss was bright yellow. A happy mountaineer pees clear.
Decreasing energy and hydration, meant my mind started playing more and more tricks on me. i’d would imagine i’d see bears, moose, beavers, sheep, canoes, they’d turn out to be bits of wood and rocks. But as we ventured further down or upstream i’m not sure what’s right as we were going north but down a river… Anyhow, the place was remote, and as the hours passed i was sure we’d meet a bear. I really don’t like bears. Bears were my nemesis. I had no idea what to do if i saw a bear, i’d bought bear bangers and bear pepper spray but the general consensus seemed to be that they were as useful as a chocolate teapot. You can’t reason with a bear. He wasn’t going to listen to me if i tried to tell him that if he attacked me then he’d be shot, i didn’t want this and neither did he i’d imagine. I had been told from another competitor who raced last year about a bear who had swam straight towards him and only just missed his boat by a matter of metres. I was about 15 metres from the bank and i saw something up ahead which seemed to be moving, i assumed it was another hallucination, so i carried on paddling, as i got closer i could see it moving it’s head – it was a black bear, just sitting on the river bank watching the world go by and enjoying the sun. The sight of the bear made me panic, so much so that i nearly toppled the thing. I tried to gain a bit of composure and paddle out into the river, i thought this would give some safety, but i’m sure i’d heard that bears can swim at 20mph, i’d have stood no chance.. I put my head down and paddled hard, looking occasionally at the bear, yet again adrenaline again pumping round my body. In my panic i’d forgot about Lars, i started shouting “Lars BEAR”, “it’s a BEAR”, i turned round to see Lars, casually paddling past it taking photos…
It was about 11pm and you could feel the cold creeping in as the mountains grew too high for the sun. We were still miles from the next layover stop at Kirkman Creek, where we’d have 3hrs sleep. Despite getting closer to the finish the distance we were covering seemed to be getting slower and slower. For the first time i thought i’d put some music on to help pass the time. I played a song and when i heard it, it just didn’t feel right, i don’t know, listening to music in such a cavernously beautiful place seemed also akin to dropping litter. I felt like i was disturbing the peace. It just didn’t fit, digital sound was interfering. I didn’t want some random words encroaching on my view and feelings in the Yukon, this was my time and i had my own feelings, i didn’t want music to muddle up how i was feeling. Let’s face it, if you can’t be entertained from kayaking down the Yukon, then i shouldn’t be in the bloody kayak.
As the sun fell away behind the mountain valley at about midnight it would be like someone was moving their fingers in front of a flashlight, sometimes the sun would vanish, other times you’d be hit by a column or a shard of light that would warm your body up.
Lars had mentioned that him wanted to pull over to put some warmer clothes on. I hadn’t realised he’d stopped, i looked around for him for 20 or 30 minutes and couldn’t see him, i started to panic – i instantly assumed he’d been attacked by a bear or fallen out the boat. I sat in the boat shouting his name and blowing my whistle, but the only response i got was my own echo. Eventually he popped out through a different channel. It’s moments like this where i realise i was out my depths, I didn’t know what was best to do, paddle on and tell the check point, wait or paddle or run back up stream. Waiting seemed the sensible option, it wasn’t the sort of place you wanted to be on your own.
We slowly crept towards Kirkman Creek and reached it about 2 in the morning, my body was freezing, i should have stopped to put warmer clothes on, but i was worried about the bears and thought it best to carry on paddling. The drugs had been wearing off and my arm was flaring up again. My whole body seemed damp and cold. I knew this would be a short stop, but hopefully give me a chance to build up the energy for the last push on to Dawson.. The trip from Carmacks to Kirman was arguably the hardest stretch, you’re body and brain is so tired, the initial excitement of the race has died down, you become eager to cover more miles faster, but as your body is tired it takes you longer and longer. My own irrational fear of bears made it difficult for me to relax and i stayed uptight during this stretch. But despite all this, stroke by stroke we were getting closer and hopefully we’d have one more day of paddling.
The stop at Kirkman Creek was a funny one. Staggering up the bank and I saw this old wooden cabin, fully donned with an authentic outhouse and antlers on the roof. The people were incredibly friendly and helpful, but the building had the look of a place where people would be found hanging from meat hooks. It was so remote.
I remember standing in the kitchen naked, trying to get changed, my arms were so tired it was such an effort. I shook off my clothes, and resembled the dancing baby from Ally McBeal.
We were given a sandwich and soup, without exaggeration it was the best sandwich of my life. Soft bread and tender beef with salad. Greg Wallace from Masterchef would have cried if he had ate it. It just wasn’t a power bar and that made my mouth happy.
Eating soup with the giggles is an experiment of control, something set us off and within minutes Lars and I were spitting pipping hot soup around the cabin as we laughed out loud, completely delirious.
I crawled into my sleeping bag head first, I couldn’t get my waterproof shoes off and given that they stank of rotting flesh (my feet were beginning to decompose) and piss I didn’t want to cover my new bag with that smell and liquid.
I came round 2hrs later, face burning and my head damp from sweat. As I shed the sleeping bag skin, I realised I had bedded down next to an open oven fire.
The kayaks were loaded for the last time and we departed ready to take on the final stretch, it was 5am, we had about 100miles to go, the body was already hurting and I couldn’t wake up, feeling so lethargic and sluggish, I couldn’t get my timing or groove. I thought the last day would be easy, paddling to the finish, as it were. It turned out to be anything but, with energy levels completely run down, each stroke was a battle, forcing your body to keep going.
The kayak was moving agonising slowly, paddling through treacle as my body stiffened up.
I started seeing things again, but much more vivid. I’d look at the sky and the clouds would fall vertically to the ground and then just vanish. I’d look again and they’d be back in the air.
Often I’d see a flock of birds fly by my kayak as I watched them fly past, they’d just explode in mid air, hundreds of them bursting into thousands of tiny feathers that would float to the water. I’d start seeing more and more bears in the final stretch, not real ones though, I’d see cartoon bears, bears made out of gingerbread and also people in fancy dress bear costumes. The bears would wave and I’d wave back, the bears seemed to be holding a toy box.
None of the above seemed that odd, it actually all seemed pretty straight-forward and logical. I’d just watch, laugh and then paddle waiting for the next episode. I think these bizarre moments kept me sane as it helped keep my interest and concentration along the way. Life in the kayak was a giant spot the difference, you spent most of the time wondering what was real and what wasn’t.
The final miles to Dawson were the hardest, I could feel the twisted blood in my muscle. Progress was aided by taking three of the largest herbal energy pills from a stranger. Having taken three in one go, when I should have only taken one, my heart was popping out my chest, eyes kept on blinking and blinking. I kept humming the Gummy Bears song.
Eventually the boost would die off and I’d be back to struggle against the wind. It didn’t seem fair at the time that the last miles were so hard, I kept telling myself, don’t I deserve a break, why isn’t it easier. Things don’t get easier because you want them too or feel that you deserve it, you have to work for it, you make them easier by staying upbeat and putting your head down and paddling.
As we pushed on harder to the finish we slowly clawed at the remaining miles and Dawson finally emerged in the distance, the crossing of the fast river and a giant paddle boat gunning straight at me were the last remaining obstacles of the trip.
I didn’t know what to expect when I finish, partly because I didn’t expect to finish for many months. But as I got to the line, I didn’t feel a rush of excitement or happiness, just a sense of relief and pride that I’d made it. I screamed a little and let the pain out..
What originally started out as a wild plan cooked up on a sofa in March, had unfolded into something much more challenging than I initially envisaged, and I’m glad it did.
I took an enormous step outside my comfort zone in kayaking the Yukon, and perhaps too far, but the experience I’ve gained from it is huge and I’m all the better for it. Finishing something you didn’t think you could, is a brilliant feeling. Having had all those doubts and then dispelling them, felt cathartic.
It is a cliché, but you only get one crack at life, and if you don’t push yourself and move away from your routine, you’ll never understand what you’re capable of, and for me that’s so important. I really suprised myself in completing the Yukon. Three months ago I’d never kayaked, but three months later I had completed the worlds longest kayak race in the toughest category.
It was dangerous at times, and this was made worse by my level of experience. However, as a wise person once said: if we are always ruled by reason and rationality, then all possibility of life and adventure will be destroyed. The Yukon River Quest set a spark of spirit, drive and wonderlust inside of me and when I felt it, I had to grab it, because it’s too easy to let it slip away, these opportunities don’t always crop up so you’ve got to take them while you can.
The trip gave me the opportunity to expand and continue the conversation about the DRC with a different set of people in a new region, who maybe wouldn’t have known about Congo. Being alone on the river also gave me time to think about the women I’d met in DRC and how else I can support them going forward.
In terms of completing the race I didn’t have a real sense of completion until I reached the hotel room in Dawson and if I’m honest it still hasn’t fully kicked in – I don’t really know what to expect.
But as I sat on my bed on Saturday evening I heard a couple of pings from my phone, I looked over and it was lighting up with messages from friends. I hadn’t seen any of these whilst kayaking, as I looked through them I saw how my friends had pushed me on along the way. Being so far away but knowing they were checking on the race meant so much, more than they might appreciate. When I read people saying I had done it and congratulating me for finishing, I just wept. It was at that point I realised I could stop. I was exhausted, battered, and broken but I had done it.
I had been so worried about letting friends and myself down, by scratching and not finishing, I just felt a lot of relief for getting to the end. Knowing that 20, better prepared teams had scratched, but I had finished, made it all the sweeter. I could have quit a couple of times, but I didn’t, I carried on and went the distance.
For me kayaking the Yukon was a dream, I love the wilderness and a challenge. But the Yukon was the first time I’d really stepped out my comfort zone. Because of this I had become worried that if I couldn’t finish the Yukon then everything else in life that I wanted to accomplish wouldn’t be possible, I was scared my other goals and challenges would be just pipedreams and the ramblings of some guy who thought he could do anything, but ended up doing nothing.
I wanted to know I could do more than just run, understand that I could learn new skills, face different challenges, be brave enough to keep believing in myself, and ultimately know that I still had my drive and thirst. I was scared this might have waned after the marathons.
My arm is still in agony, my fingers are numb, my back tingles and my feet are a mess (no change there at least).
But I’m happy. When I land I can hold my head up knowing I achieved what I set out to do and I’m coming back positive, stronger (mentally, not so much physically), and most important happier, happy because I did it and that I’ll see the friends that helped push me along the river.
Chris Jackson 8.7.11