How I completed the Yukon River Quest

Registrations for the 2017 Yukon River Quest open tomorrow – Nov 1, 2016. Though I am not planning to paddle in the race next year, mainly because of work commitments (yes I got a new job), I do know people who are planning to take on the epic adventure (in a kayak and on a SUP). To celebrate their decision I have put together a quick breakdown of what I believe contributed to my success in crossing the finish line in under 63 hours in a solo kayak (despite my broken rudder and foot pedal).

Training:

I suggest scheduling your training sessions in your calendar each week. If you can maintain a routine that’s the best, but if you have to go week by week, ensure you’ve locked down a rough plan the week before. Ensure you allow sufficient time for recovery. My friend Jerome could never stress this enough!

This was my rough training schedule:

  • Gym sessions: 30-60 minutes on the rowing machine (twice a week)
  • Swimming: 1.25km in an indoor pool (twice a week)
  • Running: 5-10km (1-2 times a week)
  • Cycling: 8 – 10km (daily commuting)
  • Paddling: 2 x shorter paddles (1-2 hours) & 1 x longer paddle (2-6 hours) each week
  • 2-3 very long paddles up to 12 hours to test all systems (one in May and one early June)

You can review my training videos here.

Preparation:

  • Read the rules and preparation page on the website (at least twice): https://www.yukonriverquest.com/information-for-racers-support-crews/ (There’s a heap of great advice and information you will need to know.)
  • Talk to people who have completed the race. Everyone has his or her own systems and opinions, but theirs will give you a good place to start.
  • Train with all the gear you will use that isn’t stored in your hatches (if kayaking). You want to test your gear and systems as much as possible. Hopefully what’s in your hatch you won’t need.
  • Train in the clothing you plan to wear. Use the cold winter training sessions to prepare for those cold nights.
  • Test out the food you plan to eat, especially on your longer paddles to make sure it’s digestible. Store the food as you would on the race so you know how to access it.
  • Keep track of all your gear by keeping a list of what you still need and what you’re using. Keep this list updated so when it’s time to head to Whitehorse you know exactly what to pack. Don’t leave anything off this list no matter how small (e.g. ear plugs for Carmacks, dental floss, etc).
  • Make a detailed list of what you want your support crew to do at Carmacks and figure out what you plan to eat there so they’re prepared (see my Carmacks TO DO list for Morgan).
  • Purchase the maps early (Mike Rourke), colour them in to distinguish the river from the islands and banks and write distances and notes on them before laminating.
  • Practise peeing whilst in your boat – many times. I used a female urinal which I attached to the deck behind me.
  • Find someone to train with (if possible). It will help you push your limits and provide additional motivation through the rainy months.
  • Create a playlist of motivating songs that will keep you awake and inspired when the caffeine pills just aren’t enough.
  • Heard the expression ‘beating a dead horse’? If something isn’t working, change it!
  • Get plenty of rest before the race. I was told to take three weeks off but I only took about two. Bank lots of sleep, you’ll need it!
  • Get to Whitehorse early so you can do at least one or preferably two practise paddles, especially if you’re renting your boat and have never paddled it before. I did one from the start point to Burma Rd on the Saturday before the race and another from Burma Rd to Lake Laberge and back to Policeman’s Point on the Sunday. Be aware! The road into Policeman’s Point is seriously rough. Don’t go down without an AWD or 4WD.
  • Plan if you’re going to stop at the end of Lake Laberge or not. I wasn’t planning on it until my rudder broke. It’s up to you, but if you’re going for time then I suggest doing what you need to do in the current of the river after you’ve made it across the lake.
  • Start eating healthy well before the race. I consulted my friend Justin who is a nutritionist and came up with a basic meal plan to ensure I was eating the right foods 80% of the time at least 6 months out.
  • Start taking Glucosamine tablets 2-3 months out for your joints. I recommend reading about it and making your own decision. Turmeric is also good but whether it was mental or not, Glucosamine worked for me.
  • Get your SPOT device or inReach working early. It will stop you getting grief from Peter Coats prior to the race.
  • Be diligent about your first aid kit and prepare it early. Make it easy for the race organisers and label each zip lock bag with the contents so they don’t have to fish through and count everything. The requirements can be found here: https://www.yukonriverquest.com/first-aid-kit/
  • Purchase travel insurance if you’re not from the Yukon.

Gear:

  • See my full list of gear and clothing
  • I found a GPS was a must during training and the race to check distance and time. I used a Garmin 62S (version before the 64S). With lithium batteries it lasted all the way to Carmacks (easily) but my support crew Morgan changed the batteries just in case.
  • I used the Seals Sneak spray skirt with a zip down the front so I could access inside my cockpit more easily. My spray skirt leaked like crazy (I should have known this from training). Make sure your spray skirt is water tight. I spent 63 hours soaking wet and cold. Not fun.
  • I used a Therm-a-Rest Z-seat to sit on and an MEC blow up seat cushion as a backrest and my butt and back were comfortable the entire race.
  • Tape a piece of foam under your heels; they will love you for it.
  • Have a light that you can attach to the front of your boat (headlamp is fine or I also used bike lights). You don’t want to wear a headlamp on your head for the sake of comfort and it will destroy your night vision.
  • I used my dry bag with extra clothes as a thigh cushion. Martin who did the race the year before me swears by using a thigh cushion but I found the dry bag was a good alternative.
  • I used a deck net to hold down items I needed quick access to behind me (urinal, water bottles to refill, rain gear). The suction cups were a little inconsistent but I never lost anything (thankfully).

Clothing:

  • Again, see my full list of gear and clothing
  • No neoprene
  • I loved my Gortex rain hat. It didn’t cut my vision or hearing like a hood does. Get one big enough so you can wear a toque/beanie underneath when it’s cold.
  • Have a jacket big enough that you can throw it over your PFD or be smart like my friends Pam and Jim and just use the arms with a thin piece of fabric that connects them (they just bought second hands jackets and butchered them with scissors.) Your PFD will keep your core warm so you only need to worry about your arms, head and hands.

Food & Hydration:

  • See my full list of food
  • Chewable Mentos were awesome for a quick breath refreshment and edible teeth clean. Don’t take chewing gum or you’ll have to dispose of it.
  • Take ginger Gravol chewable tablets or something to settle your stomach. You will likely feel sick and chewing something will keep you awake.
  • I carried a lot of extra weight in water. You definitely don’t need to carry much until the White River comes in and you can’t drink from it anymore. I had a 4L bladder full of fresh water and a 4L bladder with NUUN electrolyte tablets and additional calorie tablets stored behind my seat.
  • Flat Coca-Cola was lifesaving at the end of the race to keep me awake. I also couldn’t get enough of corn chips because of the salt.

Other Random Tips:

  • If you’re feeling cold pee. You waste so much energy heating all that urine you’re storing.
  • I took a sleeping pill and a magnesium tablet the night before the race and at Carmacks and slept like a baby. Test them out first!
  • I took Tylenol every few hours during the race with plenty of water. I can’t imagine the race without it but some people battle through.
  • Have an old piece of carpet or bubble wrap (like Morgan and I did) to slide your boat off at the start of the race. It’s fully loaded and will be heavy and you don’t want wet feet from the get-go.
  • Pick your line early. You don’t want to battle the current so know which side of the islands you want to go and get into position as early as possible. Also pay attention to your maps. It’s very easy to lose where you are (which is when your GPS distance will help).
  • Don’t forget to pack a change of clothes for Coffee Creek.
  • I super glued Velcro to my spray skirt and wrapped Velcro around my paddle shaft so that when I stopped paddling, my paddle would stick to my spray skirt and not slide off into the river.
  • I used a cream called Sore No More on my muscles before and during the race and LOVED it. It’s all natural ingredients and heats up the muscles a bit like Tiger Balm. I highly recommend it. http://www.sorenomore.com/ (and no they don’t sponsor me, but I wish they did!)

And lastly feel free to flip through my blog entries in preparation of the race and afterwards. You can also watch my newly edited version of my race video FLOW. It’s only 18:23 minutes instead of 30:00. And if you want more, the full-length version of all the videos I took during the race can be found here (just don’t get too discouraged – it’s a good reminder to test your boat well ahead of the race if you can!)

Best of luck, but more importantly, enjoy the journey!

Photo taken by Harry Kern
Photo taken by Harry Kern (www.harrykern.com)

6 thoughts on “How I completed the Yukon River Quest”

  1. Hi Muk,

    This is truely a treasure trove of information for anyone planning a quest of their own ! On the Yukon or elsewhere.

    You sure did it again….by compiling such a vast amount of “need to know” tid bits , in a very user friendly fashion, many would be Quester’s now have some really great reference material. I know this will be used by countless adventure seekers and readers for a long time to come.

    Big time congratulations on landing your new job. I look forward to hearing more, if and when you choose to elaborate. Riddle me this though…does it require a pencil skirt and heels ?
    👗
    👠

    Remember to live today your way and smile as often as possible !

    Lot’s O Love
    From Alaska
    Lyndella

    1. Great to hear from you Lyndella! You always bring a huge smile to my face! No pencil skirt and heels for this gal (that was just for the interview). I’ve found my in between I believe, at least for now! Sending much love to the north!

  2. I could really want to do what you did, Suzanne, …. If I read all your preparation, I would be jealous ’cause I can’t do it….giggle….lots of work, huh!!!!~~~~~~~~~~~but, you are my incredible adventurer….bet, I would have done that PCT if I had known it was possible…but, having to care for my 2 sons and 2 daughters kinda took tons of care…but, I did do some short backpacking jaunts with my best friend and my youngest son who was about 9 years old….was so much fun…But, really, we surfed and surfed and surfed…all four kids and me….so fun…and they really loved it and can still surf…..

    I have read three books of girls doing the PCT….I loved them…I felt just like I was there with them…..I could hardly put the books down….smiling…great fun….

    I’m waiting for your book….but, I know you are super busy…maybe someday….and, you know what..I would love to a CD with all your videos…..so I can walk and canoe with you….smiling, again….

    Consider yourself hugged!!!~~~~~~~~~~~~~~always love your blogs….From your old friend from Northern California….Barbie

    1. Your life has been an adventure Barbie, I’m sure you hiked those miles and experienced fatigue like on the Yukon just looking after your four beautiful children. Every time you talk about surfing I just want to get out there and go!! Thank you for your kind words and motivation. Let’s see what 2017 brings!! 🙂

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