From The Yukon News , May 28th, 1999

Calling all canoeheads
by John McHutchion
News reporter

The start of the world's longest canoe marathon race now is less than two weeks away.

The inaugural Yukon River Quest begins at noon on June 9 with a LeMans-style start.

Competitors on the 15 teams of two paddlers will run from Main Street to their waiting boats on the gravel bar beside Rotary Peace Park.

The teams will then thrash 700 kilometres down the Yukon River to the finish in Dawson City.

Along the way, the 30 competitors will have to contend with wind, rapids, and the twisting, braided river, full of rewarding short-cuts and frustrating dead-ends.

The racers will have to be self-sufficient and cannot receive any outside assistance until they reach Minto. Once there, every team must take an eight-hour layover.

About 395 kilometres downstream from the start, Minto will be the only place where support crews can help the racers restock supplies and make boat repairs.

The territory's newest endurance race was born out of the demise of the popular Dyea-to-Dawson Race that recreated the century-old stampede to the Klondike goldfields.

Starting in the ghost town of Dyea, participants raced over the Chilkoot Trail, then paddled canoes through Bennett Lake, Marsh Lake and on down the Yukon River to Dawson.

After races in 1997 and 1998, Dyea-to-Dawson halted when Canadian and US park officials said the fragile Chilkoot Trail couldn't withstand the pounding from the competitors.

Despite the demise of Dyea-to-Dawson, several champions from that race are in the first Yukon River Quest.

Solomon Carriere, one half of last year's winning team, is back again.

This time, the native of Cumberland House, Saskatchewan, has teamed up with Jim Lokken of Fairbanks, Alaska.

Lokken is no stranger to paddling on the Yukon River. His team finished second behind Carriere last year and won the first Dyea-to-Dawson in 1997.

The two past champions appear to be the team to beat in the River Quest. Carriere and Lokken figure they'll finish the race in about two days.

The man who helped organize Dyea-to-Dawson had traded his stopwatch for a paddle this year.

Jeff Brady of Skagway, Alaska, is racing with his wife, Dorothy.

Relieved of the pressures of putting on his old race, Brady said he's glad to see the River Quest get off the ground.

Last year, Carriere and his partner set a furious pace on the water, taking up to 60 paddle strokes per minute.

Brady knows his team isn't going to be able to keep up with the favorites.

"We've studied the video of Solomon and those guys. Dorothy and I tried to keep up their pace and it lasted all of the 30 seconds," laughed the laidback native of North Carolina.

"We hope to be in the money for the mixed title, which means we have to finish."

Trying to paddle the Yukon River can be trying at the best of times.

But doing it non-stop without sleep has proven disastrous in the past. Some teams in the Dyea-to-Dawson even quit talking to each other during the race.

The Bradys hope to avoid any traumatic situations like that.

"We did our honeymoon on the Teslin River, so I think we've worked all those bugs out," said Jeff.

The comparatively late arrival of spring and recent poor weather has hampered the ability of many teams to get out on the water to train.

But ice and snow hasn't stopped the team of Ione Christensen and her daughter-in-law, Michelle Toews, from preparing. Every day since January, they have gone to the gym to work out.

For Christensen, the River Quest will be like a trip through her own backyard. She made her first trip on the Yukon in 1934 when she was just a year old.

She also spent the first 15 years of her life at Fort Selkirk, where the river was the only transportation route.

However, the River Quest will be Christensen's first trip from Whitehorse to Dawson by paddle-power.

She's counting on her knowledge of the river's twists and turns to help get her boat to Dawson within three days.

"I think it could be (an advantage), although every time you go down the river the channels are changing," she said.

While they're paddling, Toews and Christensen will also be doing a good deed.

They are using the race to help raise money for Whitehorse General Hospital's mammography unit.

Laura Cabott of Whitehorse knows she got a late start on training with her boatmate Danusia Kanachowski.

But Cabott is counting on her background in sports - she's run two marathons - to help her finish in four days.

"If you've been involved in any sports or activities, I think that you can transfer some of the knowledge and experience from one sport to another one," said Cabott.

While they haven't been making trips to the gym, the team has trained by paddling upstream against the current from Schwatka Lake to Mile Canyon.

Getting from Whitehorse to Dawson safely will depend on more than just brute strength, noted Cabott.

Mental toughness and knowledge of the river will also come into play, she said.

The question on most competitors' minds seems to be the condition of Lake Laberge.

The 30-kilometre stretch of open, and often windy, water is notorious for its winds and waves.

But this year a different obstacle is posing a problem. At last report, the lake was still still chocked with ice.

Race organizers hope warmer temperatures will arrive soon to help break up the ice and get it moving downstream.

But that, too, presents a problem. Ice from the lake could jam up downriver, said Dee Balsam.

In the event the lake is still frozen over or an ice-jam blocks the competitors' path, organizers will have a contingency plan in place.

However, details of that plan are still being worked out, said Balsam, who is the executive director of the River Quest's parent organization, the Yukon Quest dog sled race.

Teams signed up so far for the inaugural Yukon River Quest are:

Yukon Teams

1) Yvonne Harris, Whitehorse

Lynn Meehan, Whitehorse

2) Ione Christensen, Whitehorse

Michelle Toews, Whitehorse

3) Wiliam Kleedehn, Carcross

Joern Braukmann, Germany

4) Michael Onesi, Whitehorse

Jason Murphy, Whitehorse

5) Herb Balsam, Whitehorse

Dirk Millar, Penticton, B.C.

6) Tony Arcand, Whitehorse

Jean-Francois Nantel, Whitehorse

7) Laura Cabott, Whitehorse

Danusia Kanachowski, Whitehorse

8) Pauline Frost, Dawson

Roger Hanberg, Dawson

Alaska/Outside teams

1) Tom Engle, Media, Pennsylvania

Thomas Frey, Quakertown, Pa

2) Larry Sethaler, Anchorage

Greg Tibbetts, Anchorage

3) Jeff Brady, Skagway

Dorothy Brady, Skagway

4) Jim Lokken, Fairbanks

Solomon Carriere, Cumberland House, Sask.

5) Daniel Solie, Fairbanks

Frank Thompson, Ishpeming, Michigan

6) Mark Bayard, Langley, B.C.


7) David Innes, Mill Valley, California