Pre-race tally has 96 teams from 13 countries entered in “Race to the Midnight Sun”
The race roster is set for the 19th annual Yukon River Quest, which will begin on Wednesday, June 28 in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada. This year’s field, as of today’s date, will feature 96 teams with 234 paddlers from all over the world.
Thirteen countries are represented: Australia, Belgium, Canada (8 provinces/territories), France, Germany, Guernsey, Hong Kong, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States (16 states), and Togo.
This year there has been a significant increase in numbers. Registrations actually topped out at the limit of 100 teams back in late November. A few teams dropped before the end of the early registration period on May 15 and were filled from the wait list. A few more dropped in early June before the final registration deadline of June 15, leaving 96 teams as the official start figure. That’s the highest since the race began in 1999. The previous record was 94 registered teams set last year (93 started and a record 77 finished).
Race numbers for the past two years have been boosted by the addition of Stand Up Paddleboards. They were an experimental class in 2016, and proved their mettle, with 9 of 11 teams finishing. This year, SUPs will be an official class in the solo division, with 10 teams competing. Also new to the YRQ this year are 4-person canoes (C4). Four of those teams will compete in the voyageur class.
Except for two mandatory rest stops totaling 10 hours, paddlers race non-stop over the 715 kilometers (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.
Following the race is a lot of fun, whether you are watching from alongside the river or sitting at home. All teams are required to have activated SPOT or InReach tracking devices, which greatly aid those following the race on their computers or mobile devices. Just follow the Race Tracker link at www.yukonriverquest.com and also watch for updates and photos on the race’s Facebook and Instagram pages. You can even replay the race when it’s all over.
The total possible 2017 race purse will be $37,632 (CAD) based on the paid registration of 96 teams as of this week. There are overall cash prizes for each class – tandem canoe, tandem kayak, solos, and voyageur canoes – as well as prizes for the top three in each division. There also are cash prizes for the top all-Yukon canoe and kayak teams, and the top First Nations team. Several special awards also are donated by Yukon and Alaska sponsors. But most of the paddlers are just aiming to get to Dawson and be awarded a coveted YRQ Finisher Pin and have some stories to share.
Speaking of river stories, next year will the 20th running of the Yukon River Quest, and the race organization is hoping to assemble many of those great stories on its website or in a book. Paddlers who have some great stories from their race experience should email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who to Watch on the River in 2017
- Solo canoe (C1): 6 teams – This class could be one of the most competitive in years with two past champions heading the pack. Gaetan Plourde of Ontario was in the tandem canoe that won it all last year, but this year will be back paddling solo in “Half a Perfect Storm”. He is a two-time C1 champion and holds the class record. Chasing him will be Steven Landick of Michigan, who like Plourde, is also a past overall YRQ champion and was in the record C2 boat back in 2005. Landick was going to go tandem this year, but lost his partner and switched to solo canoe under the team name “Half Crazy”. For the first time, a woman will be in this field, Esther Wheeler of Sydney, Australia in “Yukoned Me Into It”. She is a past finisher in tandem and voyageur canoes.
- Solo kayak (K1): 18 teams (16 men, 2 women) – The easy bet in this field is on Dave Hutchison of Montana’s “Time to Go”, who has won this class two of the last three years, and in the off year won the overall title in a tandem kayak. However, at press time, he was planning on jumping into a voyageur, which would make this class wide open. “Arm Wiggler” Graham Henry of Toronto certainly has the most kilometers in the field, having paddled from Brazil to Florida, and in last year’s inaugural Race to Alaska from Bellingham, WA to Ketchikan, AK. The women’s favorite “Lootas” will be Kelley J. Watson from Washington, who won her class in 2014; her competition is “WTF (Where’s The Finish) Marieke Kietselaer from the Netherlands, who raced in 2015 on a tandem team.
- Solo stand-up paddleboard (SUP): Bart de Zwart of Hawaii “won” the experimental class last year, and aims to defend his title and earn prize money this year, but hot on his tail will be Jason Bennett of British Columbia, who finished just 15 minutes behind de Zwart last year. British national champion Joanne Hamilton-Vale has some unfinished business after last year’s race, which she could not finish due to illness. But all eyes will be on “Team Ecochallenge Hiro” from Japan. Veteran Hiromune Imai, the happiest racer on the planet, will aim to finish in an SUP this year.
- Tandem canoe (C2): 33 teams (19 men’s teams, 5 women’s, 9 mixed) – Tandem canoe remains the most popular class in the race. The men’s division will feature a pair of experienced solo kayak racers, Carter Johnson and Dave Jensen of California in “Gorge Downwind Champs”. Johnson still holds the K1 record from 2010 but his goal this year is a date with the famous Sourtoe Cocktail in Dawson City. Also watch out for the impressive mixed team “Mapping the Way” paddled by Yukon veterans Pauline Frost-Hanberg and Jake Paleczny. The women’s teams could be led by “Two of Hearts” Katie Stein Sather of BC, who you usually see in a voyageur, and Shona Barbour of Inuvik, NWT, a member of the 2014 mixed C2 winning boat.
- Tandem kayak (K2): 12 teams (6 men’s teams, 2 women’s, 4 mixed) – This class usually has the largest international field, and they will be led by 2014 overall champions “Two Numbnuts” Shaun Thrower and Steve King of the United Kingdom. Also back are the 2014 mixed K2 winners “Spirit of America”, Josh Friedman and Julie Kirk of Idaho. Amy Byers, a former women’s K2 record holder from the early YRQ days, is back for another run in “Paddle Like A Girl” with fellow California girl Elaine Baden.
- Voyageur canoe (VC): 17 teams (2 men’s teams, 5 women’s, 10 mixed) – There will be another huge field in the big boat class this year, especially with the addition of C4s into the mix. The overall favorite is a boatload of various class champs and award haulers, “Yukon Wide Adventures” captained by Whitehorse’s Thomas de Jager in the men’s division (this is the team Hutchison is planning to join, along with former K1 champ Stephen Mooney). But they better watch out for that fleet team of women from all over Canada-USA, “Team 3-2-1 Go” captained by BC’s Tina Hoeben., which won the overall voyageur class in 2015. The veteran Yukon team Ts’alvit captained by Jim Boyde will be strong in the crowded mixed division, but C4 entries “Couples Therapy” with race veterans Paul and Susan Adams of Ontario and Steve and Karla Ramsay of Alberta, and “It’s Just Around the Bend” captained by Yukoner Mia Lee, look strong.
A number of teams paddle for charitable causes, led by voyageur teams “Paddlers Abreast” and “Stix Together” from the Yukon who raise money to fight cancer. Bios of all teams and any charities they support may be found under the Racers tab on the event website: www.yukonriverquest.com
The Start & Race Route
Spectators are asked to gather in Rotary Peace Park and along the Whitehorse waterfront before noon on Wednesday, June 28 to witness the spectacular start and cheer this outstanding international field. The racers line up for introductions at 11:15 a.m. with the historic SS Klondike looming in the background. Then the horn blows at 12 noon and the participants run a short distance to their boats. Watching all the colourful boats leaving Whitehorse is truly one of the most spectacular sights in the North. Those from afar will be able to watch via a Facebook Live link to CKRW-The Rush. Then it’s a long paddle on Lake Laberge, through the waning light of the midnight sun on the Thirtymile heritage section, and then on to Carmacks and the first rest stop of 7 hours on Thursday, June 29 at Coal Mine Campground. After some sleep, the paddlers head down Five Finger Rapid, past historic Fort Selkirk, and on to the final rest stop at GoldCorp’s Coffee Creek camp for 3 hours. That gives them energy for the last 170 kms. (106 miles) to Dawson City. Teams will finish sometime between the afternoon of Friday, June 30 and Saturday, July 1 just before midnight, the official end of the race. An awards banquet will be held at Robert Service School on Sunday, July 2.
A complete race schedule is posted online and will appear with several stories about the race in a special Whitehorse Star race supplement on June 23.
More Volunteers, Sponsors Welcome
Like many great Yukon events, the River Quest could not happen without a tremendous volunteer effort from those in our river communities. Volunteers are needed to help in Whitehorse, Carmacks, and Dawson and a few remote checkpoints along the river. There are still spots available, so if you are interested in volunteering, please call the race office at 867-333-5628 or email email@example.com. Check the Volunteer tab on the website to see where you could help.
The race is organized by the Yukon River Marathon Paddling Association, based in Whitehorse. Major logo-level sponsors on board for 2017 are: GoldCorp., Yukon 1000 Race Timing Software, Gold Trail Jewellers (Dawson City), Kanoe People, Air North, yukoninfo.com, Northland Beverages–Aquafina, Whitehorse Star, City of Whitehorse, Up North Adventures, CKRW – The Rush, Total North Communications, Superior Roofing and Renovation, , Yukon Civil Air Search & Rescue, Yukon Wide Adventures, The Coal Mine Campground (Carmacks), Fireweed Helicopters, and Yukon Apparel.
Many small businesses also support the race by sponsoring bibs worn by paddlers. A complete sponsor list appears on the race website along with a link to a sponsor package.
NEED MORE INFO:
RACE CONTACT: YRMPA President Roger Hanberg: firstname.lastname@example.org
MEDIA PASSES/INFO: YRQ Media Director Jeff Brady: email@example.com , 907-973-2354