BY GEORGE MARATOS
It starts with a boisterous sprint down Main Street in Whitehorse and ends with an arduous paddle to the finish in Dawson City and that is just for the lucky few that manage to not withdraw.
The Yukon River Quest is the longest canoe and kayak race in the world with participants travelling down the same path gold seekers did in the late 1800s except, instead of riches on their minds, it is physical satisfaction and bragging rights, not to mention a coveted finished pin that is being sought.
Gruelling is an understatement when describing the 742-kilometre adventure marathon race.
Aside from two mandatory rest stops, paddlers race non-stop to Dawson City, with the first teams usually stroking across the finish line Friday afternoon.
“It is a true race to the Midnight Sun and is recognized as one of the toughest adventure marathon events in the world,” describes Jeff Brady, president of the Yukon River Marathon Paddlers Association.
“This year, we have a record field of 90 teams and nearly 240 competitors.”
At one point there were actually 100 teams, a testament to how the race has grown over the 10 years it has been held.
“Some teams did withdraw before the June 1 deadline, but it’s still a record field,” says Brady. “We have paddlers from a dozen countries including Germany, France, Great Britain, Israel, Japan, Latvia and South Africa.”
Brady says in honour of the race’s 10-year anniversary, a number of special things are being planned including boat decals, shirts and the finisher pins.
The race organizer adds that a huge amount of race wear and memorabilia for fans and competitors has also been brought in.
In addition to the race gear, this year the prize pot has been upped to a record $31,000.
The increased prize money is just added incentive for the dozens of paddlers who will be racing in a variety of categories ranging from solo kayakers (21) to a record 15 teams of Voyageur canoeists, including the local fan-favourites, the Paddlers Abreast team that compete in honour and recognition of cancer victims and survivors.
Brady says while the paddlers are the inspiration when it comes to athleticism, he is quick to acknowledge the more than 100 volunteers that dedicate their time to the race calling them the real backbone of the event.
“They do everything from selling bib sponsorships to driving safety boats and staying up late hours to check boats and assist paddlers,” said Brady. “Without this kind of support from all of our volunteers, sponsors and the communities along the river, the Yukon River Quest would not be where it is today.
“After just 10 years, we can proudly call ours one of the world’s greatest paddling races.”
The 10th Annual Yukon River Quest kicks off on Wednesday, June 25, in downtown Whitehorse.
Follow the race live online at www.yukonriverquest.com.