The way the river flows

Life has a way of throwing us the unexpected, and sometimes I feel I’m dealt that hand more frequently than some. When I took on the challenge of the Yukon River Quest, the longest annual canoe and kayak race in the world, I wasn’t 100% certain I had what it takes to paddle 715km non-stop down a river for three days. I figured to do this you needed to be a super human… like those who run ultra marathons before breakfast and climb mountains in their sleep.

My goal since the beginning of the year was to become this super human, to train and prepare my body for a gruelling exercise and to research and test every system and piece of gear imaginable to increase my chances of success.

In January I’d paddled no more than 25 uninterrupted kilometres in my life, but by May I’d increased that to 140 by putting in close to 1000 training kilometres throughout the winter months. By the time I reached Whitehorse in June, I’d eaten all the right foods, taken all the advised supplements, ticked all the boxes on gear, and ensured sufficient rest time before the big day.

When my boat finally launched from the banks of the Yukon River at 12:00 noon on June 29, 2016, I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face. I was doing what I’d been dreaming about every waking minute since the beginning of the year. My body felt strong, my systems were dialled, and my mind was ultimately focussed.

Photo taken by Harry Kern

When I reached the 50km stretch across Lake Laberge just 3 hours in, I moved across it effortlessly. There was barely a breeze, the water was calm, and there was even time for candid conversations with fellow paddlers as I casually cruised by. I passed my friend Jason who was racing on a stand up paddleboard around the 60km mark. It was the first year the race organisers had agreed to include this experimental class, and because Jason and I had shared many a training session together in Vancouver, it was a special moment seeing him out on the water.

“You’re killing it,” he cried, and I replied the same to him.

The slight headwind that had rolled in kept our interaction brief, but I was certain at some point our paths would cross again.

Then 30 minutes later when I was half way across the lake, a mere 65kms and 7 hours into the race, my right foot pedal began to come loose. Not only does the pedal control steering, it allows one to use the stronger muscles in their legs and torso to power each stroke, alleviating the weaker muscles in the shoulders and wrists. I held my breath as it wobbled unsteadily beneath my foot, moving in a way a fixed object in a boat never should. The next thing I heard was an audible clunk, and suddenly the foot pedal was gone.

I was struck by a shockwave of disbelief. I didn’t know what was happening, other than my boat was starting to turn sideways. I stretched out my foot to feel the plastic pedal dangling along the rudder cable within an inch of my toe. I nudged it gently and the boat veered right, but the minute force caused the pedal to disappear altogether, along with my ability to steer.

My eyes widened with alarm. I stopped blinking. Thoughts littered my mind as I paddled towards the rocky shore on one side, praying for some kind of reasonable explanation as to what was happening. A family who was setting up camp watched me zigzag towards them, and a young girl and her mother held onto the end of my boat as I clumsily extracted myself from it, knee-deep in water perpendicular to the shore. Their faces expressed intrigue and a hint of bewilderment as I tried to force a smile to match theirs. But my world was being swallowed like liquid down a plughole, and my attention fell immediately on the task at hand.

I bent my head into the cockpit to assess the damage, extracting a sheared piece of plastic that had once bound the foot pedal to the side of my kayak. The balloon of hope inside me deflated, and a flood of tears came rising to the surface.

“My foot pedal’s broken,” I croaked breathlessly, gasping for air through my trembling lips.

The woman’s expression shifted dramatically, but the young girl seemed to be clinging to hope.

“My dad’s pretty handy,” she offered sweetly, her bright eyes aglow with the strength of possibility.

Though her words resonated above the cacophony of panic plaguing me, I stared blankly towards the shoreline, motionless in my inability to comprehend.

“Why don’t you come out of the water?” her mother coaxed gently, her concern beginning to mirror my own.

I lumbered out of the water with my clipboard and maps dangling heavily from the bottom of my spray skirt, attached cleverly with the industrial velcro I’d adhered only a few nights before (another ingenious system that had taken me months to concoct).

While the woman’s husband began his examination of the boat, I wandered up the beach out of view, squatting behind a log as I watched the other racers passing by.

‘Could they see me stranded? Had anyone spotted my boat and wondered what was happening?’ I wondered while my chest felt heavy and my senses went numb. I’d transformed into a spectator. Sidelined. Forcibly extracted from the race I was moments before participating in.

All the training sessions, the months of testing food, the gear I’d purchased, and re-purchased, and changed and purchased again. Nothing seemed to matter now. It was all drifting away like the boats on the lake floating past me.

As I walked back towards the boat I listened for hope amongst the man’s grunts and heavy sighs. He’d had his head inside the cockpit for 20 minutes, and when his face reappeared he looked defeated and forlorn.

“Unfortunately there’s not much I can do,” he said shaking his head apologetically.

My tears resumed their steady stream, and my audible sobs told the story of my utter disappointment.

“Do you think you can still paddle?” questioned the young girl with quiet curiosity.

I wiped my eyes on my damp sleeve in an attempt to recompose.

“I guess I can try,” I whispered hoarsely, resolved to the fact I had no other choice.

I lifted the rudder out of the water and climbed back into the boat as the three of them held onto the bow.

“You’re still a hero to me,” the young girl smiled courageously, her persistent enthusiasm clinging to me as her dad pushed me from the shore.

It was shortly after this moment I turned on my camera for the first time, capturing the thoughts, moods and emotions I fluctuated between throughout the course of the race. Over the last few weeks I’ve been stringing together these clips to tell my story, and while I leave you to watch my 30-minute video (I’ve actually edited it down to 18:23), I wanted to thank everyone who was cheering me on from the virtual sidelines, and to those who supported me while taking on this challenge (THINK Kayak, Zeal for Life, MEC & Deep Cove Kayak). I’m truly grateful for everything I experienced.

35 thoughts on “The way the river flows”

  1. Greetings from Greece and congrats for finishing the race! You’re a hero and big inspiration! Good luck for your next endeavors whatever that may be. Cheers!

  2. After hearing your retelling of the journey the video really brings the effort and drama to life. A great piece of story telling but of course it is dwarfed by the struggle and achievement of your completing the race. I wonder if you will be back again next year with a better boat?
    Go Muk Muk – you’re a star.

    1. Thanks Rex!! A lot of people have asked me that. I don’t know the answer yet, but I do know that with a working boat the race would be a very different experience. What happened was as much a blessing as a curse looking back.

  3. Way to go girl, well done! What an inspiration you are.
    btw I finished the Camino del Norte in 31 days. Thanks for your words of encouragement.

    1. Thank you so much and congratulations on your achievement! You must have been putting in some miles! I hope you were able to stop in Güemes and enjoyed each step of the experience.

  4. Hi Rosanne, what can I say, where do I start? Having done a lot of canoe and kayak travel I can truly appreciate what you have been through with the loss of steering and not having the rudder bar to press your foot against – as you said, it weakens your ability to stroke! Being unable to pick the correct line and beaching is just so demoralising! In the boat- out of the boat in order to drag it across the sand bars – depressing!
    And there’s Ros, showing us she’s human, with tears of frustration, and just talking us through it as if it’s not really a problem, only a mere inconvenience. (Kinda like talking to the camera, while a mountain lion decides on whether you’re going to be a midnight snack or not!)
    But then, you’re an Aussie and Aussies are tough! You just happen to be tougher than most and an amazing person with a love of life and adventure!
    I look forward to your next adventure. Congratulations and well done!
    Best wishes
    Gary / Perth WA

    1. What a lovely note Gary! There must be something in the Aussie blood as you know from your own experiences. Thank you for following along and also for your understanding of boat mechanics. When I said ‘this sucks’, I sure meant it! 🙂

      1. Hi Rosanne, came across this on my fb feed.
        Look the site up- I cannot believe the trip she has done. Like I said , Aussies are tough! Hope you are well. Regards Gary

  5. That was so amazing! I have enjoyed following your journeys since I met you on Mt Hood. You are an amazing person and so inspiring! I am so in awe of your willingness to share all of your experiences and emotions, good and bad. You have done things that most of us will never have the chance to do, so it is so neat to follow you in such detail. We really get to live it a little through you. I am still sectioning the PCT, and occasionally remember something from one of your blogs. Rest up, you certainly deserve it! I can’t wait to hear what your next adventure might be.

    1. Oh I remember meeting you that day!! You ladies filled me with such great energy that I was in desperate need of! Thank you for your lovely words and for continuing to follow my journey. I’m so glad you’re still walking parts of the trail!

  6. Great video Rosanne, really brings the race to life. Big congrats on finishing the race! It would have been a serious achievement even without the rudder failure, but to complete it when it throws you such an unexpected challenge shows real inner strength and tenacity. Without a rudder those style of kayaks are extremely hard to steer in swirling currents and cross winds and puts huge extra stress on the upper body with the change in paddling style. Can feel the pain. Just think, if you do it next year with a rudder that works it will feel like a breeze 🙂

  7. Thanks for sharing your profound and personal experience. I was impressed to see that you took the time to take in the beauty of your surroundings on your last day. The pressure to win/not to fail are considerable. But in these sorts of endeavours, are we not really competing agains ourselves, both mentally and physically?
    Am I accurate in thinking that this was a much richer experience due to the unexpected adversity you encountered?
    Your video is an excellent primer for anyone thinking about taking up the challenge of an expeditionary experience. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and accept the valuable lessons of failure.

    1. I agree Robert, when I look back at what happened I realise it was more of a blessing than a curse. The race is more of a personal challenge than actually racing the boats around you. Your ‘competitors’ become your personal cheerleaders and salvation when you finally come across someone to speak to (other than a camera). I’m grateful I was forced to take the time to appreciate the true beauty of that river!

  8. Hi Sweetie….I have been thinking of you so much, I knew it was getting to that time we would hear about your adventure…..Well, all I can say is, WOW, girl….you are an amazing soul….you give me strength just listening to your story and seeing you go on and on and on with your great adventure…..You are something, girlio and that something is wonder-filled… from your old friend, Barbie….

    1. Thanks Barbie it’s wonderful to hear from you! Your words of support are always so touching. Sending much love and hope you are well!

      1. Thank you for your words…..You know, I have been thinking about your incredible ability to write….you keep us….we don’t wander away from your script… capture us with your vivid word pictures and expressions of heart and soul and mind…..I have two desires about this….first, I would love to talk would love that….AND, PLEASE, PLEASE don’t forget your gift of writing….You would be a huge success….just your blogs would be a best seller if they were all in order of the events and adventures you have been on…..For instance….your blogs and pictures of your PCT adventure, put together, would capture many a soul….though I went with you on that adventure and have kept all those blogs, I would be incredibly blessed to have a book in my hand with them….

        And, come to think of it, maybe you could write, be blessed with making your living at it and go on many more adventures to blog about it….just thinking about it gives me shivers of joy….maybe an idea, maybe???.

        SMILING…..Love to you, Sweetie Girl…from your old, and wise?…friend…

      2. Oh Barbie what a flattering comment. My goodness I’m stumped! There’s been big gaps in my blogs for some time but I promise you I’m still writing, and when I’m ready to share those writings you and those who follow my blog will be the first to know. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to those who follow and read and comment or don’t comment. It fills me with joy just to have a platform to share thoughts, ideas and experiences. Receiving feedback is simply a bonus! Thank you for your constant support and inspiration Barbie, it means so much!

  9. Congrats and well done; your video is excellent. I have been following your journeys with much interest and have thoroughly enjoyed reading your excellent blogs. For someone so young to have accomplished so much is truly remarkable and at the same time so inspiring. I look forward to hearing about your future adventures.

    1. I’m so grateful that you’ve continued to follow me post PCT and have taken the time to share such kind words! Thank you!

  10. Finally got around to watching the full video. My favorite thing about you Roz is that no matter the situation, you never quit. Ever. You break down, but you always seem to come out of it and keep going. A lot of people can’t do that and it’s really impressive and inspiring. I hope when I attempt the PCT in 2019 or 2020 I can channel some of that attitude when the going gets tough, as I know it will. Can’t wait for your next writing.

    Take care.

    1. Thanks so much Ian! When you work so hard for something it fuels the desire to complete it, no matter what obstacles are thrown at you. You will certainly experience this on the PCT, especially after dreaming about it for so long. I can’t wait to hear about your preparations when they begin!!

  11. Greetings from Alaska,

    Well, now that the stars have aligned and the earths axis has settled…I finally got enough good internet signal to watch your film in full !
    (no buffering even 😊 )

    After which, I read all the comments and your replies to them.
    What more can I add that has not already been shared ?

    Not much I am afraid.

    But I can join in the voices and sentiments spoken of,
    ALL of which I agree.

    You ARE SuperWoman !
    Hands down, no doubt !

    Back in January, your blog post titled “Let It Be” seemed to have found you staring at a blank page. At least as far as being ready to write/share about what you had in mind for this summer. Looking back, I see why you wanted some time under your belt.

    Planning, training and dreaming of something this big takes so much heart and soul…you began sharing your plan…when you were ready to do so. Once we were invited to the party, we have each enjoyed the journey with you. Through tears and fears and joy and giggles.

    This is just one more thing about you that I admire so much. Many people are too quick to shout out their ideas. But, true to form, you held steadfast and true to yourself !

    Kudos for the way you handled this from day #1

    When I look back to January and the words you wrote at the time…inspiring my original song called BLANK PAGE, I realize how the story has unfolded exactly the way it was supposed to.


    The song goes on, but I just had to thank you for filling in the blanks for us !

    The EMPTINESS has been filled
    The NOTHINGNESS has turned out to be nothing less than I/we have come to expect from you !

    Your courage and strength reminds me of all the finest athletes, from around the world, participating in and fullfilling their own dreams at the Olympics.
    What you choose to do does not come easy. And we tip our hats to each of you !

    I will close on that note, except to add, my continued enthusiasm for following you on your amazing adventures.
    You could make a trip to the grocery store exciting !

    Till another day
    Your friend from the north

    1. Lyndella, your words dig so deep and express so much that it’s hard to find words to respond to them. I’m always flat out blown away by your encouragement, enthusiasm and flattery, and it’s reading words like this that keep me dreaming big and fuel my confidence to dream even bigger. I wish everyone had their own personal cheerleaders as I do through you and all who read and comment on my adventures. What a gift it is to receive such support! Thank you for your patience and understanding through my quiet periods, and for maintaining the belief that there is always more to come, as there most often is! I hope you’ve enjoyed a magical summer on your own adventures and I’m so grateful to hear from you again! With love, Muk

  12. Congratulations Rozanne!! You’re a bloody legend/inspiration!! Steve and I have just finished watching your awesome video after our regular Sunday night viewing – Australian Survivor. Something tells me you’d do pretty well on that show!! Hope life in BC is treating you well. What adventure have you got lined up next?? love, Alex xxx : )

    1. Alex so good to hear from you!! Thanks so much for the note and for watching the video too! Haha Survivor… Never say never! Hope you guys are doing fab. Miss you heaps!! Xxx

      1. What’s that ?…
        Never say never !?!
        We can only dare to dream from here

        Lots of hope for any future endevours

  13. Muk Muk,

    I enjoy the emotional journeys of these blogs and video logs. Reminds me of thru-hiking and that emotional roller coaster that you ride. Thanks for taking us along. It helps pass the time until our next adventure.

    1. Hey Derrick thanks for coming along for the journey! It’s a gift to be able to share it with you. I hope to hear more about your next upcoming adventure!

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