Pre-race tally has 124 teams from 13 countries entered in “Race to the Midnight Sun”.
By YRQ MEDIA
The race roster is set for the 21st annual Yukon River Quest, which will begin on Wednesday, June 26 in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada. This year’s field, as of today’s date, will feature a record 124 teams with 290 paddlers from all over the world.
Thirteen countries are represented: Australia, Austria, Canada (9 provinces/territories), France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and the United States of America (18 states).
This year continues a trending increase in numbers over the past few years. Registrations actually topped out at the limit of 125 teams soon after registration opened last November, and a wait list was started. Even though a few teams have dropped, their spots were filled off the wait list. The YRQ will certainly break last year’s record of 103 teams that started the race in Whitehorse.
“The race filled stunningly fast this year,” said race president Peter Coates. “We were half full within an hour of opening registration, and full in less than two days. We then built up a wait list of 36 teams.”
The race is the highlight of the paddling summer in the north, keeping teams, volunteers, support crews, and spectators coming back year after year.
Except for two mandatory rest stops totaling 10 hours, adventure and marathon 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 2019 race purse will be a record $53,632 (CAD) based on the paid registration of 125 teams as of June 1. A new prize money structure awards the top three male, female and mixed teams per class as long as they beat another team in its class and finish within 25% of the top team in the class. Bonus prize money also will be given in several areas to: the top 10 teams overall; any team that breaks a record in its class; the top First Nations team; the top Yukon male, female and mixed teams; the top senior team (age 55 and over), and the top young adult team (age 19-24). Several special awards also are donated by Yukon and Alaska sponsors. A complete prize breakdown can be found in the race rules on the website.
“It is quite exciting,” Coates said. “We have never had a field this big. We have real competition in depth in almost every class. The voyageurs, C4s and C2s look very competitive, as do the SUPs. And the kayaks too. But I think the race between the top 3 voyageurs and the leaders in the C4s and C2s will be what I’ll be especially watching.”
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.
“The competitive boats are important, but we must not forget that this race is really for the middle of the pack,” Coates continued. “This race is something that families have been living for the last year, and it can be a life-changing experience for people. It is quite humbling to realize that we have something here that can be that significant in people’s lives.”
Who to Watch on the River in 2019
Solo canoe (C1): 8 teams (5 men, 3 women)– The C1 teams are no longer in an open class, so the sexes will race amongst themselves. “Gulo Gulo” with Whitehorse’s Alison Eremenko is a strong paddler, but she could see a challenge from Hawaii racer Jennifer Fratzke. Returning on the men’s side is “Mr. Bill” William Siersdorfer of Texas who won this class in 2017 and took second last year, but watch out for Ontario racer Chris Near in “Bent Shaft” who has a number of eastern races in his resume.
Solo kayak (K1): 25 teams (20 men, 5 women) – The K1 field is big again and defending class champ “Golden Retriever” Wayne Anderson of Alberta is the clear favorite – he also won K1 in 2016, and in 2017 was on the winning voyaguer team. In women’s K1, “Team Lootas” Kelley Watson of Washington will go after a second title; she won her class in 2017 and took second in 2018. But a past K2 women’s champion, Amy Byers of California, is in this field, as well as the woman with one of the best resume’s the YRQ has ever seen. Team “Arctic Solar”, Anne Quemere of France, has, are you ready: rowed the Atlantic Ocean both ways, navigated a kite boat on both the Atlantic and Pacific, kayaked the Northwest Passage solo (2014 and 2015) and again in a “solarboat” last summer. Bienvenue au YRQ, Anne!
Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP): 11 teams (9 men, 2 women) – “Starbard” Bart de Zwart from Hawaii is back as the 3-time defending SUP champion to try and beat his 2017 record, but also watch out for Manitoba’s Brad Friesen, Alberta’s Heath Spence in “AusCanSup”, and four of Britain’s finest under the team names “Soldier Up the Yukon” A, B and C. Emily Matthews of California will be back for her third race on the women’s side, competing with “MamaSaid” Shauna Magowan, a Vancouver, BC racer.
Tandem canoe (C2): 41 teams (22 men’s teams, 8 women’s, 11 mixed) – Tandem canoe remains the oldest and most popular class in the race, and should clock some fast times. The favorite has to be Saskatchewan’s “#wepaddletogether” with past champion Mike Vincent racing with friend Ivan English. This is the biggest year yet for women’s C2, and the local favorite has to be “Beating the Odds” with veteran Yukon paddlers Margo Millette and Shelley Gellatly. but they will be challenged by last year’s runner-up in this class, “Huptown Girls” with Heidi Virtanen and Brooke Ramsay from Calgary, Alberta. The mixed class should see stiff competition between the co-defending mixed champs, “The Bickersons” Bonnie Pankiw and Christopher Weber of Quebec, and Ontario’s “Golden Lake Crew” Jennifer and Sebastien Courville Also watch out for “Mix of Sun and Clouds”, with past overall champ Gaetan Plourde, who will be paddling with his wife Tracy.
Tandem kayak (K2): 17 teams (6 men’s teams, 2 women’s, 9 mixed) – Back to defend their record-setting mixed K2 performance from 2018 are the pride of New Zealand, “The Kiwis” Ian Huntsman and Wendy Riach, but there are some men’s teams from Australia and others who will be after them. Watch out for “Beast Coast” and the “All Aussie Battlers” from Down Under and “MoKan Paddlers” with Dan Voss and Terry Shortt, a couple of MR340 racers from Missouri and Kansas. The two women’s teams will be competitive. “Sportsbasement” with Elaine Baden and Marsha Arnold from California and “SuPi Sisters” Pia Montoya-Kuhl and Susie Needham of Nebraska have Lower 48 race experience.
Four-person canoe (C4): 9 teams (4 men’s teams, 2 women’s, 3 mixed) – The C4s, first added in 2017, now are a full-blown class like others in the race. There appear to be some fast ones in the bunch. In men’s watch for the Yukon-Ontario team “Alpha Super Awesome Strokes of Genius Wolf Squadron “ and the team “C4Daze” with some top USA racers. The mixed category is a toss-up, but “Trois Rivieres” has paddlers with YRQ experience. And the women’s race will be between two teams of local YRQ veterans, “Dinji Zhu” captained by Pauline Frost, and “In the Crosshairs” captained by Carmen Gustafson.
Voyageur canoe (VC): 13 teams (6 men’s teams, 5 women’s, 2 mixed) – “Yukon Wide Adventures” captained by Whitehorse’s Thomas de Jager is back to do something that has been done just once before – win three straight overall YRQ titles, albeit with a slightly different mix of paddlers each year. Certainly they are the men’s favorite, but watch out for the “Hatchet Lake Voyageurs” from Saskatchewan, returning to the YRQ after nearly a decade when they almost knocked off “The Texans” (the only 3-straight overall champion). Remember those early battles? Also watch for the British team “C6 Heave Paddlesports”. In women’s VC, “Stix Together” from the Yukon has emerged as a favorite with a win and two runner-up finishes in the past three years while raising money to fight cancer along with perennial favorite “Paddlers Abreast” and “Team Whoa”. They’ll have a challenge from across the border, “The Wild Irises” from Skagway, Alaska. The mixed field has just two teams, “Aurora Dancer” from Nova Scotia, and “Spregurken” from Germany.
Bios of all teams and any charities they support may be found under the Racers tab on the event website: www.yukonriverquest.com
Paddlers who have finished multiple YRQs also now covet entrance into the “Great River Club” which was unveiled for the 20th anniversary last year. Racers who have logged 5,000 and 10,000 kilometers are members of that club and receive special pins.
The Start & Race Route
Spectators are asked to gather in Rotary Peace Park and along the Whitehorse waterfront before noon on Wednesday, June 26 to witness the spectacular start of this year’s YRQ and cheer this outstanding international field. The racers line up for welcoming speeches at 11:30 a.m. with the historic SS Klondike looming in the background. Then the horn blows at 12 noon and the racers 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 27 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 Newmont 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 28 and Saturday, June 29 just before midnight, the official end of the race. An awards banquet will be held after the Canada Day Parade on the Dawson waterfront on Sunday, June 30.
A complete race schedule is posted online and will appear with several stories about the race in a special Whitehorse Star race supplement the week before the race.
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 check the Volunteer tab on the website to see where you could help and fill out a volunteer form.
The race is organized by the Yukon River Marathon Paddling Association, based in Whitehorse. Major logo-level sponsors on board for 2019 are: Newmont GoldCorp., Yukon 1000 Race Timing Software, Gold Trail Jewellers (Dawson City), Paddeljumper, CKRW – The Rush, Air North, Kanoe People, yukoninfo.com, Northland Beverages–Aquafina, Whitehorse Star, City of Whitehorse, Up North Adventures, Total North Communications, Superior Roofing YT , Yukon Civil Air Search & Rescue, Yukon Wide Adventures, The Coal Mine Campground (Carmacks), Fireweed Helicopters, North 60 Petro, Rock Solid Exploration, makeIT Solutions, North Star Mini Storage, and Arcrite Northern.
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:
YRQ Media Director Jeff Brady, firstname.lastname@example.org , 907-973-2354