Pre-race tally has 115 teams from 15 countries entered in “Race to the Midnight Sun”
20th anniversary events celebrate race heritage; who to watch on the river.
By YRQ MEDIA
The race roster is set for the 20th annual Yukon River Quest, which will begin on Wednesday, June 27 in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada. This year’s field, as of today’s date, will feature a record 115 teams with 263 paddlers from all over the world.
Fifteen countries are represented: Australia, Belgium, Canada (9 provinces/territories), Estonia, France, Germany, Japan, Latvia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Russia, South Africa, United Kingdom, and the United States (17 states).
This year continues a trending increase in numbers over the past few years. Registrations actually topped out at the new limit of 125 teams earlier this year. A few teams dropped before the final registration deadline of June 1 (and one since), leaving 115 teams as the official pre-start figure. That’s the highest since the race began in 1999, and we will no doubt see the record shattered for the number of teams actually starting the race (93 in 2016).
A big reason for this is the 20th Anniversary. Thanks to a grant from the Yukon Government’s Community Development Fund, the YRQ has organized some great festivities around the race, beginning with a huge Whitehorse Meet & Greet on Monday, June 25 on the grounds of the SS Klondike historic site. Many paddlers and volunteers dating back to the race’s beginnings with the Dyea to Dawson centennial races of 1997-98 and the first River Quest in 1999 have been invited to attend. There will be more events happening at the start this year, at Carmacks for volunteers, and as the race finishes in Dawson City on Canada Day, July 1. See more about the 20th Anniversary at https://www.yukonriverquest.com/20th-anniversary/
Of course, the race itself is the draw that keeps 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 2018 race purse will be a record $48,720 (CAD) based on the paid registration of 116 teams as of June 1. There are overall cash prizes for each class –solo canoe, solo kayak, SUP, tandem canoe, tandem kayak, C4 canoe, and voyageur canoe – 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.
During this year’s special events, the YRQ will also unveil paddlers in its 5,000-kilometer and 10,000 kilometer “Great River” clubs over the past two decades. The race organization has been collecting stories from paddlers and media over the past 20 years. You can view them at https://www.yukonriverquest.com/20th-anniversary/stories
“Many participants including myself see the race as a life-changing experience,” said current race president and veteran race marshal Roger Hanberg. “That’s why I come back year after year to help organize it. We are fortunate to have many volunteers that feel the same way. I think it’s a great showcase of our territory and it’s ancient highway.”
Who to Watch on the River in 2018
- Solo canoe (C1): 11 teams, open class– Look for some stiff competition in this class with the largest contingent ever in C1. “Half Crazy” Steve Landick of Michigan, a past overall YRQ and Dyea to Dawson champion in C2, is in the field along with past solo class winners “Sika Adventure” Bryan Allemang of Whitehorse and “Mr. Bill” William Siersdorfer of Texas. California outrigger racer Jeff Kay joins this group, and all the way from Europe comes “Amazon Poland” Gienieczko Marcin. “Gulo Gulo” Alison Eremenko of Whitehorse is a strong paddler among the women.
- Solo kayak (K1): 24 teams (17 men, 7 women) – We have another big K1 field that should be led by past champion “Akita” Wayne Anderson of Alberta, who will get a challenge from Yukon 1000 solo champ “After the Gold Rush” Rob Colliver of the United Kingdom. In women’s K1, “Lootas” Kelly Watson of Washington returns to defend her title, and watch out for veteran Yukon paddler Ingrid Wilcox, going solo this year in “One More Time”.
- Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP): 8 teams, open class – “Starbard” Bart de Zwart from Hawaii will be aiming to best his record set in the 2017 race, as SUP makes its second official appearance. Whitehorse’s Stuart Knaack of “Stand Up Paddle Yukon” is also a threat, and watch out for Dutch paddler Alex de Sain, one of only two paddlers to complete a non-stop paddle tour event in the Netherlands over 5 days. Alison Wood of BC has race experience among the women, and Emily Matthews of California will be back to improve her time. Finally, and the YRQ is very proud of this, there will be a blind-assisted paddler in this class from France. The YRQ is allowing team “Handi Vision Sport Evenement” Sebastian le Meaux, who will be assisted by Stephane Leblond, a four-time French champion.
- Tandem canoe (C2): 35 teams (24 men’s teams, 4 women’s, 7 mixed) – Tandem canoe remains the oldest and most popular class in the race, and should clock some of the fastest times. The favorite has to be “Perfect Storm” Jeff Brainard and Gaetan Plourde of Ontario, who won the overall title in 2016 and almost set a new C2 record. Fellow Ontario team “Crosswinds” Ian Mockett and Tim Gordon could challenge them along with “Texas 2 Man” Tim Anglin and Mike Joiner. Anglin was on the Texans voyageur team that won the YRQ twice and his partner is a Texas Water Safari veteran. Latvia always sends good teams to the YRQ and will have “Latvian Long Oars” Yevgeniys Blazevics and Yuriys Seleznovs this year. And the Yukon will be well represented by “Mapping the Way” Pauline Frost and Alice Frost, and “Team Alpha Super Awesome Cool Dynamite Wolf Squadron” Robert Spinks and Jake Paleczny. The mixed class has lots of colourful names as well from near and far.
- Tandem kayak (K2): 21 teams (13 men’s teams, 1 women’s, 7 mixed) – This class again has the largest international field, including four teams from Estonia which figure to be in the running for the men’s class title along with “Dusi Rats” Stephen Butler of Australia and Brian Whiteford of South Africa. For the first time, there’s also a team from Russia, “The Russkies” Evgeny Pochaev and Boris Batin. In mixed watch out for “Spirit of America” Josh Friedman and Julie Kirk of Idaho, who were in the money last year, and the lone women’s team of race veterans “The Susans” Dusmore and Sommer of Alaska.
- Four-person canoe (C4): 3 teams, open class – Now in its own class after racing with the voyageurs last year, the C4s should be moving right along again. It’s a toss-up as to who wins. You have a group of veteran outrigger racers from California, “The More the Merrier,” going up against four members of the veteran Canadian voyageur “Team WHOA”, and a bunch of Dawson City paddlers under the guise of team “Louisiana Lionheart.” Their cover is now broken.
- Voyageur canoe (VC): 13 teams (6 men’s teams, 3 women’s, 4 mixed) –The overall favorite in the race would have to be the defending champs, “Yukon Wide Adventures” captained by Whitehorse’s Thomas de Jager in the men’s division, but they’ve lost a couple of past K1 champs off that team from last year and could be a little vulnerable. Coming over the pass from Alaska is “Dyea Devils Club” captained by race co-founder Jeff Brady who threatens to break the “Skagway record” and get under 50 hours. Also watch for “Paddlesports Mongrels” captained by UK champ Richard Parrot. In mixed, Yukon captain Jim Boyde’s “Team Ts’alvit” is always a favorite, but “Team CAP” captained by Wes Kemble of Carcross has been improving every year. In women’s, the fun on the river abounds with those “Horny Women of the Yukon” captained by Tunde Fulop of Whitehorse, but the prize is more about raising awareness for Yukon teams “Paddlers Abreast” and “Stix Together,” who collect donations to fight cancer. They embody the spirit of the race and have a good time.
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 27 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 28 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 29 and Saturday, June 30 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, July 1.
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 download a volunteer form.
The race is organized by the Yukon River Marathon Paddling Association, based in Whitehorse. Major logo-level sponsors on board for 2018 are: Yukon Government CDF, GoldCorp., Yukon 1000 Race Timing Software, Gold Trail Jewellers (Dawson City), Paddeljumper, Kanoe People, Air North, yukoninfo.com, Northland Beverages–Aquafina, Save On Foods, Whitehorse Star, Holland America Line, City of Whitehorse, Up North Adventures, CKRW – The Rush, Total North Communications, Superior Roofing YT , Yukon Civil Air Search & Rescue, Yukon Wide Adventures, The Coal Mine Campground (Carmacks), Fireweed Helicopters, and North 60 Petro.
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.