Nine ladies in a voyageur canoe whose ages range from 23 to 62; 715 kilometres; paddling for Yukon Cancer Care Fund. Stix Together is a team of Whitehorse women participating in the 18th Annual Yukon River Quest. The race begins with a mass start at noon on Wednesday, June 29. Participants gather at the gazebo at Rotary Peace Park in Whitehorse and dash the 300 metres to awaiting canoes and kayaks. The final destination is Dawson City. The arrival date is July 3.

“5, 4, 3, 2, 1! To the middle! To the side! 5, 4, 3, 2, 1!” Monique Levesque shouts out seat switches at five-minute intervals from the front of the canoe.

I was invited to ride along. A beautiful evening, we pushed off about 6 p.m. from the launch at Rotary Peace Park. One hour and 47 minutes later we passed the Takhini River Bridge along the North Klondike Highway. We pulled out at Burma Road. Eagles, a beaver, a deer along the shore, the panoramic vista – it couldn’t have been a better evening for a paddle.

Stix Together practices three times a week: two paddles during the week and a longer ride on the weekend. Most of the team members are active year-round. However, serious training began in January, with emphasis on cardio, core and upper body. Deb Bartlette has raced the quest before. She has a tattoo  with her 2011 race time. She loves being strong; 50 push ups are easy at this point in her training.

Everyone on the team comes from different professions. There is a geologist, a teacher, a day care worker and a college administrator, to name a few. Four have paddled this race before; five are rookies. They range in age from 23 to 62 – and there’s a mother and daughter on the team.

Everyone has a different reason for participating. It’s Cheryl Rivest’s third quest. She wants to have fun, finish in 50 hours and enjoy the lovely scenery. Sarah Ouellette, a rookie, wants to “get to know and learn from the other amazing women on the team.” She wants to arrive in Dawson with a smile on her face. Carolyn Relf, another rookie, loves the outdoors, and has sailboat racing experience.

This race attracts teams from around the world. People come from Belgium, England, the United States and different parts of Canada. As of June 9, there were 95 teams registered.

The categories are solo, tandem, or voyageur canoe. There are women’s, men’s, and open (which means mixed) teams.

There are a number of checkpoints along the route, with mandatory rests at Carmacks, and, closer to Dawson City, the Coffee Creek Kaminak Camp.

It is a race through the wilderness. There is little road access, and few people live along the river. In the spirit of fair play and safety there is a requirement for mandatory team and personal gear. Teams must be equipped to be self-sufficient for a couple of days if necessary. Food is a personal choice, but experienced paddlers suggest low fat, complex carbohydrates and moderate protein. Water with electrolyte replacement is essential.

Cancer has touched each member of Stix Together, either directly or through family and friends. The cancer journey is multi-faceted, scary and overwhelming for everyone. Yukon Cancer Care Fund, established in 2013, provides support for cancer patients and their families. Stix Together fundraises for Yukon Cancer Care.

Stix Together’s community sponsors include HVACTech Systems Inc., Up North Adventures, Shoppers Drug Mart and Independent Grocers.

Nine ladies in a voyageur canoe. Laughter, all-encompassing conversation, and quiet times when the only sound is paddles slipping in and out of the water. Good luck on the river, Stix Together.