Yukon River Quest recap by winner Bart de Zwart
Read here the incredible recap by Bart himself about this ultra endurance race in the Canadian wilderness. Bart de Zwart completed this epic race in Record Time of 52 Hours beating his last year’s own record when he won the inaugural sup participation in this race:
Not long ago Chris Parker (from Supracer) asked me: “Why did you do it ?” (talking about the 24 hrs record)? With races like this you have to ask yourself the same question why do we do it. The signing up part is easy, sitting on your couch with your computer, one click and you are signed up. Doing it is very different. It is hard to explain the burning muscles ache, sleep deprivation, eating and drinking non stop, being hot during the day and almost freezing during the night. But I think we do it for a another reason, the sense of adventure, the unknown, the struggle to do something very hard and come out of it changed. I will admit there are many parts during the race when you ask yourself why you are doing it. The otters side is the satisfaction of accomplishment, the deeper you go, the higher on top you come out.
This year I felt well prepared and organized until 5 hours before I was suppose to leave, my flight to White Horse was canceled, not delayed for a couple of hours, no there was no flight. I planned this year to arrive only 1 1/2 day before the race so had a big problem. Luckily, within an hour I found the last seat on the only other plane going to the Yukon.
Since this race is paddled in a very remote back country, a skippers meeting is called, a briefing and lasts more than an hour. At this meeting the tell you about the few checkpoint along the way and hazards to watch out for and they gave an extra orange garbage bag. Normally you get one bag to hang up if you are in trouble along the river and they are more able to find you. This time the extra bag was to mark the place of the missing paddler (if found) from last week.
You are also told that if needed you should be able to camp out for 2 days if you are in trouble. Only in life threatening situation a helicopter will be sent. So people know what they are getting into.
After the a good night sleep. We came to the 2nd mandatory gear check just before the start and at 12:00 we went off. A perfect day with little wind and some cloud cover.
I paddled my Starboard All Star 14 x24.5 again, wide enough for stability and still very fast. The mandatory gear though slows us down quite a lot.
The start is a running 400 meter dash to the board or canoe which are on the river bank. Boards were all pack already with all the gear, which included tent, sleeping bag, 2 extra sets of clothing, food tracker medical kit, and an extra paddle.
I had a great start, jumped on the board and got to the current quick. I like to start quicksand see how can stay with me and then we might join up for a part of the curse. With 715 km and anything between 50 and 74 hrs it is a long race. So to go off on your own means you really will be on your own for a lot of the time. You will meet the kayaker and faster 2 men canoes or kayaks because ether have greater hull speed but you could be paddling for a full day by your self. After 3 hrs of river we got to the dreaded lack, Lake Lebarge. Dreamed because if there is a lot of wind on this 45 km lake it could make life really miserable for the standup paddlers.
On the lake it was calm today, I found myself paddling by myself ahead of Jason and Peter. I expected Peter to be close and he was getting closer, drafting on one of the Voyageurs which are fast but at some point you need to eat or mix a drink and voyageurs never slow down. After a couple of hours, he had to let the voyageur go and was loosing a little of distance again. Knowing Jason Bennet being a bitter, he could be chasing me for the next 20 hrs. I decided if he gets close enough, I would wait and we can do this thing together to fight it out later in the race. Little by little Jason faded in the distance, I could just see him behind me when we came of the lake and on to the river after 8 hrs of paddling.
Getting on the river again is pure excitement, it is like first driving your small issn with 35 mph on the highway and then upgrade to the Porch and go 80 miles another. You are flying. At the same time you are always looking for the latest water. Never boring, the scenery too, a mix mountain slopes and mixed greens.
At some point I saw a mouse swimming though the river and getting on land on the other side. Joanne saw moose and a grizzly and so did Jason.
The 100 padders spread out pretty quickly in the course of this race. Sometimes you team up with a fellow paddler for a while and sometimes you will be paddling by yourself for hours. During the night I had a couple of hours were the sleepiness kicked in. You almost fall asleep, lose you focus and paddle with less intensity. The trick is to get out of it as quick as possible because you mostly lose ground. After a couple of rough nightly hours, I got to the Carmacks 7 hrs mandatory rest stop a hours ahead of last years time. Jason was 45 min behind me and Peter 1.5 behind him. Carmen Merkel just over took Joanne and arrived there when I was just about to get in on the board again.
At the break you get 7 hours, so eat drink, sleep and eat again, gear check and we are back on the water. Our support Todd Philipps was our support and helped us at the 7 hrs mandatory break. A good support is worth a lot. It means no stress and eating quickly and sleeping more. Todd was gold for us. Got about 5 hrs of sleep time which does amazing work to you body and soul. I left at 18.47 ready for another night and day of paddling. this time and met one 2-canoe and one voyageur going about the same speed. we stayed together for about 6 hours. Every time I made a quick stop to grab food or look at the map they would keep going because one epson was always paddling in that craft. I wa stifling to catch up after the third time realized I was working way to hard to keep that up and let them go. The next 8 hrs or so was paddling by myself. Again there is always a few hours were your body wants to seep but tell it to keep going. Luckily it is basically light all night long. After about 17 hours I go to Coffee Cree, the 2nd mandatory three hrs rest stop and become too. Again you eat some and sleep for a few hours. WhenI woke up I saw that Jason came about 45 min after me. I had struggled a little the last stretch to keep a good average speed, my back was sore and just didn’t want to go faster. In races this long it always happens and the only thing you can do is slow down a little but keep paddling without longer than a few minutes breaks for food or rest.
Reading the map is another very important part of this race and I almost lost last year after making wrong turn. The river is wide with sometimes multiple channels and islands. Taking the wrong channel good mean having a very good current fro the next 20 minutes or almost nothing. I have caught up with others who were far way within mounts and the other way around. This year I had studied last years routes from many paddlers since they show the trackers on the site. And this paid off, now I could use the short cuts and most of all make no mistakes. Behind Jason and I, Peter was still in third slowing down little and Joanne caught up and past Carmen.
After the 3 hr break it is about 12 to 13 hrs to Dawson, as I said before “Home stretch”. It is still a long paddle but it feels like you are almost there. By now I knew that I didn’t make and mistakes I could win and even break last years record. With renewed energy and focus I paddled strong from the first 6 hrs together with a solo kayaker, taking very good care of reading the map and the river. I recognized the mistake I made last year where I lost 30 minutes and kept at it. By the time you start to slow down, the finish line is so close that your speed goes up again. Ticking away the hours, stroke after stroke. Already think of the god food you gonna have.
I finished in 52 hrs 16 min and 6 sec. a new record by a 2 1/2 hrs. Jason got almost an hour later and showed again how good of a distance paddler he is. Joanne made good on her promise last year after she gave her wedding ring to the organizer and told her to only give it back after she finishes the race. she arrived in a great time 59 hr 28 min. The fastest woman.
I watched many racers come, this year (mainly the solo paddlers) come in filled with emotions after the cross the finish line. Many have gone to places they didn’t know existed, dug deeper than the ever did. This part of the race is nice to watch specially when you know what they have gone through. The body is so much more capable of doing things that most people think they can’t.