How do you go to the bathroom in a canoe with eight other people in it, without stopping the boat? And I am not talking number one here.
It is a question that must be contemplated by every paddler in the Yukon River Quest enroute from Whitehorse to Dawson. The answer?
“We used to have that option, but last year we started not having that option,” Noreen Schaefer of Team Women Having Outrageous Adventures (WHOA) says. “Now, you [poop] where you sit.”
This involves shouting “paddles up” to tell one or two people behind you to lift their paddles out of the water. Then you perch your behind over the side of the gunnel and go.
This technique is only an option on the large Voyageur canoes where the boat doesn’t even notice the weight of one person hanging off the side.
In kayaks and canoe doubles, a bedpan or a bailing bucket is used. I am told that the little oval pitchers used for holding the bags of milk are perfect.
Paddlers Abreast team member Claire Demarais says her team is more flexible.
“We sometimes go to shore,” she says. “It depends on the people in the boat. It depends if you are shy or not.”
They’ve also got it timed. It’s 10 hours to the end of Lake Laberge and then another 12-14 to Carmacks.
“We stop at the end of Laberge to change clothes and have a thermos of soup,” Demarais says. “It’s nice to be walking after 10-12 hours in a boat.” And going on solid ground.
Both teams are in agreement on one thing: you don’t stop paddling if you aren’t going to shore.
To the other end, what do you eat when you are paddling 715 kilometres, day and night in wet, cool weather, facing overwhelming fatigue?
“How do you maintain your energy and avoid a scratch,” asked Pat McKenna, a local foods and nutrition teacher, in a survey of paddlers.
There does not seem to be consensus on what to eat.
The real key is to have all your food in snack sized portions, strategically placed to minimize fumbling.
Tunde Fulop, one of the team WHOA members, has a little plastic set of drawers, each drawer with a different snack in it. For her it has to be real food, not the gels and bars that they sell for athletes.
“It’s harder to eat at night, when your body wants to sleep. Nothing goes down.” But you still have to eat, so she relies on Ensure and mandarin jello cups to get her through the night.
All three said variety was important – sweet, salty, some protein and lots of fat and lots of calories. The Paddlers Abreast group will even pass around their personal food buckets. “Whatever you have in your bucket might appeal to someone else, and you are likely to find something you want in someone else’s bucket,” says Demarais.
But the difficulties of the four-day voyage are nothing compared to the rewards.
Late night sunsets, Robert Service recitations, and the challenge of the quest all keep people coming back year after year to eat on the fly and poop over the side.
People from all over the world will be participating in the 15th annual Yukon River Quest, which takes place June 26 to 30. There will be approximately 67 teams participating, with paddlers from nine countries: Canada, United Kingdom, Japan, USA, Poland, Australia, Germany, Austria, and New Zealand. The teams will launch from Rotary Park in Whitehorse at 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday, June 26. The finish line is in Dawson City at the Yukon River dike between the gazebo and the historic CIBC building.