|Star Photo by JEFF
Whitehorse’s Don Duncan, left, and Dawson City’s Steve Geick drift into Carmacks under sunny skies Friday evening during the fourth-annual Yukon River Quest. A record-number 36 teams started the race last Thursday in Whitehorse.
The Old Guys win 2002 Yukon River
by DAN DAVIDSON DAN DAVIDSON & JEFF KORENKO
By about 4:30 p.m. Saturday, things were getting a
little slow at the Yukon River Quest finish area in Dawson City.
Earlier, there had been some excitement when a boy on a bicycle inadvertently spooked a tour wagon horse and it got hurt, but for the most part, the late afternoon was filled with comments like “any sign of anything yet?”
About then, Pam Boyd decided to play a joke on one of the eager folks who kept coming back.
Perched on a rock with binoculars in hand she yelled out that she could see something coming. Then, just as the man turned around to hear a loud “gotcha!” someone else called out, “Ya’ know — there is someone out there.”
And there was.
So, that’s how it happened that some people were still chuckling when Bob Vincent of Dorchester, Ontario, and Bob Bradford of Lapeer, Michigan paddled into the docking area, past the two flags and onto the gravel beach.
Eager hands helped the winners of the fourth-annual River Quest out of their canoe after their 742-kilometre journey from Whitehorse.
Vincent, who has some trouble moving properly when his limbs are cold, had to be supported while he walked about and the control returned to his legs after the long haul from Minto, but he was perfectly coherent and willing to talk, as was his partner, Bradford.
The two 59-year-olds called themselves “The Old Guys” and have paddled together before, but it was their first time as a team here.
Vincent did the race two years ago and invited his friend along.
“He’s much older than I am — three weeks.”
The pair made the trip in 55 hours, 22 minutes; not a record, but a good time nonetheless.
Their time was three hours, 13 minutes slower than last year’s record-breaking finish.
The high point, Vincent said, was Five Finger Rapids.
“It was a real good ride this year. He (Bradford) hasn’t been in waves like that before. We bounced him on all three of them.”
The Old Guys had a good trip, he said, and were only frustrated while chasing after a kayak that got ahead of them on Lake Laberge. They passed it later on and did not see it all day on the last leg of the trip.
“It was an excellent race for us and we had a good time.”
Bob Bradford recalled the race in much the same way.
After that, it was almost exactly one hour and one minute before the next racers arrived; a kayak team with the name Chesapeake Light Craft.
Brandon Nelson and Jim Weed from Lotus, California, set a new tandem kayak record with a finishing time of 56 hours, 23 minutes.
The rest of the racers trickled in over the next day, many hours after these initial contestants.
The race was very hard on solo kayakers this year. There were eight entered and three finished.
Rick Amschler from Spruce Grove, Alberta, was first in a time of 65 hours, 40 minutes.
The mixed canoe class team of Hank Tim — Tok, AK — and Colleen Haney — Whitehorse — were first in their category with a time of 60 hours, 59 minutes.
Finally, there was a crew boat category won by the Paddlers Abreast team from Whitehorse in 79 hours and 26 minutes.
Master of Ceremonies Paul Harris introduced the awards and prizes at the Front Street Gazebo on Canada Day afternoon.
He noted that this year the race featured a record 36 teams — of which nine scratched — including 20 tandem canoes; six tandem kayaks; eight solo kayaks and two voyageur-style boats.
There were competitors from several Canadian provinces and territories, a number of American states, Austria, Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom, Germany, and even one from Dawson City.
Harris thanked lead sponsors AcuVue and Norcan, as well as the Canadian Rangers, who worked on the checkpoints, and Up North Adventures, who booked the canoes.
Speaking to the crowd, Dawson City Mayor Glen Everitt revealed that he and Whitehorse Mayor Ernie Bourassa — whose wife Linda was in the race — had concluded that the race needed some logistical and advertising support from the two cities in order to increase the crowds at the starting and finishing lines.
Everitt half committed to entering the race next year with Bourassa as a partner.
The mayor also presented the Key to the City to Verlen Kruger, the 80-year-old canoeist who arrived just a day or so ahead of the racer with his wife, Jenny, as part of their trek to the Bering Sea.
As the race entered its second day Friday, it became apparent three boats were going to contend for the first-overall prize money.
Following the 12:15 p.m. Le Mans-style start from downtown Whitehorse, Vincent and Bradford were the second team into the first mandatory checkpoint in Carmacks Friday morning.
They followed the tandem kayak pairing of Weed and Nelson into the two-hour layover by merely two seconds.
Third into Carmacks were Fairbanks, Alaska’s Joel Buth and Caleb Richardson, in arrears by merely one hour, three minutes, 46 seconds.
By 7:06 p.m. Friday, 25 teams had come into Carmacks, the 25th being the kayak duo of Dawson City’s Steve Geick and Whitehorse’s Don Duncan.
Welcomed by their wives as they floated into the checkpoint, the pair was no worse for wear, after having already spent nearly 31 hours on the Yukon River.
“We’re doing just fine, actually,” Geick declared, moments after scrambling up onto the dock.
“(Conditions) so far haven’t been bad at all. The no-sleep thing is the biggest (obstacle).”
The team had rowed the Whitehorse-Carmacks leg of the race a couple weeks prior to Thursday’s start, to get a feel for what they would be in for.
Thus, Geick also pointed out Friday that he thought the team’s time would be a little better than what it actually turned out to be coming into Carmacks.
“Lake Laberge was like glass,” he added. “You could have water skied on it.
“We were kind of hoping that the water was going to be a little rougher, because the kayak handles rougher water better than a canoe.”
Geick and Duncan finished as the fifth double kayak entry into Dawson City.
While they were stepping out of their kayak in Carmacks Friday, Whitehorse’s Ingrid Wilcox was just awakening from a quick nap.
Wilcox, 54, became the only female solo kayaker in the race, when counterpart Linda Bourassa was forced to scratch well before her scheduled arrival in Carmacks.
Sitting at the table in her support teams’ truck camper, Wilcox spoke glowingly of how happy she was to reach Carmacks in less than 30 hours.
“The race has been excellent so far,” she praised. “There was nice wind in some places and that really pushed me along.
“When I realized I could get into Carmacks (in less than 30 hours), I really started paddling harder.”
Arriving in Dawson City at 12:44 p.m. Sunday, Wilcox was the second-fastest solo kayaker to finish the race.
She was helped along in her journey by a support team consisting of her cousin Gunter Hamburger and his wife Barbara — who are visiting the Yukon for the third time.
“I think that this race is just an incredible event,” Hamburger suggested while waiting for his cousin to awake and begin the next part of the race Friday evening.
“Especially for the ones that are doing it alone; they have to do everything for themselves.
“You have to have a lot of respect for them. They can’t sleep or rest and let (a) partner do some of the paddling.”
Four teams had reached the next checkpoint in Minto Landing by 8:30 p.m.
The Old Guys had, of course, passed Chesapeake Light Craft and came into the mandatory six-hour layover in Minto with a time of 28 hours, 41 minutes.
Nelson and Weed followed two minutes, 32 seconds behind.
In third at that point were Whitehorse’s Tim Hodgson and Toronto’s Paul Pageau, who arrived in Minto at 7:27 p.m.
Fourth in was the Whitehorse team of Marcus Waterreus and Jon Kerr, who trailed Pageau and Hodgson by merely seven minutes.
Having to take their six-hour break from the water, all four teams were sound asleep at 8:30.
“Everything has been moving along smoothly,” confirmed race coordinator Shanna O’Malley, while peering out onto the river in Minto.
Adding that she was slightly caught by surprise by the number of scratches which had taken place up to that point, O’Malley noted that the Rangers had been doing a wonderful job of setting up the checkpoints and would also be tearing them down once the paddlers had moved through.
One of the scratches was Edmonton’s Travis Holmes, who quit the race after becoming disoriented on Little Salmon Lake at about 1 p.m. Friday.
The solo kayaker was helped out by the rescue boat while clinging to some tree limbs along the shore.
He then officially scratched in Carmacks.
Grant Gould, a solo kayak entry from Tabernacle, New Jersey, also scratched in Carmacks, after flipping his vessel early Friday morning around 30 Mile.