Paddlers join for 20th anniversary event

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Team 1, Yukon Wide Adventures, men’s voyageur team were overall fastest team again in 2018, clocking in at 44 hrs 21 min 53 sec. Thoman de Jager (team captain), Gus Oliveira, Stephen Mooney, Spencer Edelman, Kendall McDonald and Brandon Johnston. © Harry Kern

A world class wilderness event, the Yukon River Quest (YRQ) celebrated its 20th anniversary this year with a record number of teams entering the race, which began June 27 in Whitehorse, Yukon. Fifteen countries were represented: Australia, Belgium, Canada (nine provinces/ territories), Estonia, France, Germany, Japan, Latvia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Russia, South Africa, United Kingdom, and the United States (17 states).

Except for two mandatory rest stops totaling 10 hours, adventure and marathon paddlers race non-stop over the 715 kilometres (444 miles) to Dawson City. Held annually in the North during the last week of June (around the summer solstice), it is a true “Race to the Midnight Sun” where many of the world’s best paddlers gather.

A record 103 teams started the race and 76 teams finished. Teams were beset with several challenges this year: another low river year, especially in the first 350 kilometres; head winds on the first half of Lake Laberge; and thunderstorms with lightning in spots from Coffee Creek to Dawson City, including powerful head winds that forced the leaders to shore at one point. As a result, most winning times in various classes were slower this year.

Yukon Wide Adventures, a men’s voyageur team with paddlers from the Yukon, NWT and British Columbia, repeated last year’s win as overall champions (with a few new paddlers switched in) this year in a time of 44 hours, 21 minutes, 53 seconds, beating the VC team Paddlesports Mongrels from the United Kingdom by about 23 minutes. A new record was set in Mixed Tandem Kayak by Team 28 The Kiwis, paddled by Ian Huntsman and Wendy Riach of Christchurch, New Zealand. They finished third overall and their time of 44:57:56 beat the 2005 K2 mixed record of 45:22:09 by Brandon and Heather Nelson of Bellingham, Washington.

Winners received a hand-made canoe pendant from Gold Trail Jewellers of Dawson City, and teams that finished under 55 hours received prize money as well.

The YRQ dominated the Canada Day parade with more than 300 paddlers, support crew members and volunteers marching behind a 20th Anniversary banner that thanked the community of Dawson City. This was the culmination of a week of events organized by the 20th Anniversary Committee that began with a grand Meet & Greet at the SS Klondike in Whitehorse, moved on to a Volunteer Party at Carmacks before racers arrived, and concluded with a huge Race Gallery Tent and the parade in Dawson. Thanks to Yukon Government Community Development Fund for helping to make this celebration happen!

At this year’s Awards Banquet, the YRQ introduced the “Great River Club” of 5,000- and 10,000-kilometre paddlers, led by Larry Seethaler of Anchorage, Alaska, and Ingrid Wilcox of Whitehorse, Yukon.

The 21st annual Yukon River Quest will be held June 26 to June 30, 2019. Registration opens November 1, 2018. Register early. Rules and more information will be posted in October on the website.

Link to the 2018 Race Tracker at www.yukonriverquest.com for complete results.

Share your YRQ stories! The Yukon River Quest is still collecting stories for possible inclusion in a 20th anniversary book. E-mail them to info@yukonriverquest.com. All stories will be posted on the website as well.