The Yukon River Quest, the longest canoe and kayak race in the world, begins today in Whitehorse, Canada. This year’s field will feature 79 teams with 172 paddlers from all over the world – including several past champions – in what should be a competitive event.
Eight countries will be represented this year. Coming from outside North America are paddlers from Australia, Austria, Great Britain, Japan, Latvia, the Netherlands, and the United Arab Emirates. The USA will be represented with paddlers from Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Montana, Oregon, Texas, and Washington. Finally, Canada will have team members from Alberta, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Northwest Territories, Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, and the host Yukon Territory, which has 28 paddlers in the race.
The 2009 YRQ will have stiff competition in most categories:
• Solo canoe: 3 teams including 2008 champion Kevin Mellis of Calgary.
• Solo kayak: 16 men, 4 women – including 2008 champion and record holder Brad Pennington of Texas (featured in NBC program), and past champions and record holders Carter Johnson and David Kelly of California, as well as multi-year women’s champion Ingrid Wilcox of Whitehorse.
• Tandem kayak: 11 men’s teams, 3 mixed teams, 4 women’s teams. There are no past champions, but a highly international mix should make the K2 class fun to watch. Watch out for Dawson City’s Steve Geick and Janice Rose, and the veteran Alaskan team of Jan Nyboer and Greg Tibbetts.
• Tandem canoe: 16 men’s teams, 9 mixed, 4 women’s. Watch out for the mixed team of Tim Hodgson (from the course record setting 2008 Kisseynew voyageur team) and overall canoe runner-up and former Canadian Olympic cross-country skier Jane Vincent of Whitehorse.
And then there’s the race’s perennial threat, Larry Seethaler of Anchorage, Alaska, back for the 13th time (all 11 YRQs and both Dyea to Dawson races) paddling with partner Brenda Forsythe.
The women’s field features some stellar teams: past champions Veronica Wisniewski of Washington and Elizabeth Bosely of Whitehorse paddling together for the first time; record holder Pauline Frost-Hanberg of Whitehorse paddling with Laragh Taylor from Marsh Lake, Yukon; and the up-and-coming Yukon team of Joanie Pelletier and Kari Johnston. The men’s canoe race could be wide open, but watch for the YRQ-savvy team of Terry Ramin and Derek Crook from BC.
• Voyageur canoe: 6 in the open class (including 1 mixed team that switched to open), and 3 women’s teams. The Texans (2007 champs) are back to try to reclaim the overall crown which they lost last year to the combined Canadian Team Kisseynew. The Texans are stacked with Texas Water Safaris veterans and are bringing a new boat, but they should face a stiff challenge from last year’s third place Team Dene from Hatchet Lake, Sask., which has added past tandem canoe champions Norbert Wolverine and Lionel
Campbell and will be in last year’s winning boat. A British team of paddlers with experience in the prestigious Devizes to Westminister Marathon on the Thames also could be in the running, as well as an Alaskan team. Three veteran women’s teams are back: Paddlers Abreast from Whitehorse, and multi-provincial Canadian teams Whoa and Yukon Yahoo.
“Combined with the predicted high water levels of the river, we can anticipate a challenge to the course record of 39 hours, 32 minutes and 43 seconds,” Latour said, adding that the start has moved off Main Street this year, making it a shorter run for paddlers.
“We invite spectators to gather in Rotary Peace Park this year as early as 11 a.m. on Wednesday June 24 to witness the very spectacular start of this race when participants will cover a short distance running to their boats before paddling the 740 km that will take them to Dawson City sometime between Friday afternoon on June 26 and Saturday evening at midnight on June 27, official finish time for the race.”
Complete team bios are online at www.yukonriverquest.com and will appear in a special Whitehorse Star race supplement on June 22.
In addition to the Star, major logo sponsors of the event are: Yukon Emergency Measures Organization – Whitehorse, Faro and Carmacks SAR, , Kanoe People/Clipper Canoes, Air North, yukoninfo.com, Northland Beverages, Norcan/ Klondike Motors, Up North Adventures/Spirit of the North, and the Klondike Visitors Association.
Businesses small and large are welcome to sponsor a bib on one or more of the nearly 180 paddlers in the event for $200. This is the event’s major fund-raiser. Bib sponsors receive a name on the bib, photo certificate of your paddler, and recognition at the start, in than-you ads, and on the race’s poplular website. Bib forms can be downloaded from the site, or call the race phone at 867-333-5628. Deadline is June 1. A recent Yukon Government study found that the YRQ brought in nearly a quarter million dollars to the territory.
Of course, the backbone of the Yukon River Quest are the more than 100 volunteers, 8-10 safety boat teams, and various support crews at its eight checkpoints. If you would like to help and join the fun of a truly great Yukon event that is the envy of the paddling world, click on the Volunteer link on the website and check out the list of tasks and locations where help is needed, or call 867-333-5628.
Those interested in seeing some of this year’s Yukon and Alaskan teams can watch the 28-km. Icebreaker Race on Sunday May 31st from Marsh Lake dam to Schwatka Lake. Teams should be going through Miles Canyon between 2:30 and 3:30 p.m.
RACE SCHEDULE, RESULTS & MORE INFO: www.yukonriverquest.com