By MICHAEL ONESI
A world champion canoeist. A Yukon Quest and Iditarod musher. An ex-U.S. infantry man raising money for Leukemia.
Those are a few of the people to sign up for the inaugural Yukon River Quest, a 700-kilometre canoe race from Whitehorse to Dawson beginning June 9.
About 15 teams have entered the race, according to Dee Balsam, the executive director of the Yukon Quest.
Thirteen teams have paid the $400 US (600 Canadian) entry fee before the May 1st deadline. Balsam has been told there are two more entries coming in the mail.
The top team in the race and the heavy favorites to win is Soloman Carrier of Saskatchewan and Jim Lokken of Fairbanks.
Carrier and former partner Steven Landick won the 1998 Dyea to Dawson Centennial Race to the Klondike. They were the fastest to hike the Chilkoot Trail and canoe from Lake Bennett to Dawson City. Because Chilkoot officials worried about damage done to the trail, the Dyea race no longer runs.
For the new Yukon River Quest, Carrier (a world champion canoeist) has partnered with Lokken, a co-winner of the 1997 Dyea to Dawson.
Despite being the team to beat, Lokken, a 39-year-old science teacher, isn't going to spend the $2,000 US first-place prize money just yet.
"In a race that is this long, there is a lot that can go wrong. You
can get sick, have shoulder problems, start throwing up. There's a lot that
can happen. So you are never confident. You just do your best to prepare,"
Lokken said during a phone interview Tuesday evening.
After two Dyea to Dawson races, why would Lokken want to go through the pain of another marathon race down the Yukon River?
"The chance to paddle with Soloman," he replied.
"He's one of the best paddlers in the world. That's a chance I couldn't turn down."
William Kleedehn is the only person in the race to trade in his Yukon Quest dog sled for a canoe. Kleedehn, who mushed in the 1998, 1993, 1990 Yukon Quests, will be canoeing with Joern Braukmann, a friend visiting from Germany.
Kleedehn won't be the only dog musher in the River Quest. Alaskan Greg Tibetts, an Iditarod racer, will be racing with Dyea to Dawson competitor Larry Seethaler.
Ex-U.S. infantryman Tom Frey will be paddling down the Yukon River with Tom Engle.
Both men are from Pennsylvanian entered the race to raise money for Leukemia. According to their entry form, so far the duo have collected $5,000.
There are several Klondike teams that will be racing to the home of the Klondike Gold Rush.
The Whitehorse Star has thrown its support behind the Yukon River Quest by handing sports editor Michael Onesi a paddle and entering him in the race, along with his partner Jason Murphy.
Other local teams are: Herb Balsam & his brother-in-law Dirk Millar (ex-Yukoner now living in Penticton, B.C.); Ione Christensen & Michelle Toews; Yvonne Harris & Lynn Meahan; and Laura Cabott & Danusia Kanachowski.
Dyea to Dawson Race co-founder Jeff Brady of Skagway and his wife Dorothy are also in the River Quest.