Category Archives: Yukon River Quest

140km down the mighty Fraser River

I left the house at 5am yesterday and returned home just before midnight, having paddled 140km from Hope to Burnaby without exiting my kayak. Our goal was to make it all the way to Vancouver, but what we thought would be a 120km paddle turned into more, and after 13 hours on the water we found ourselves navigating under bridges, past barges and avoiding tug boats pulling log booms in complete darkness.

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Approaching the Pattullo Bridge, New Westminster

The paddle was perfect training for the Yukon, and I have to say this morning I’m in surprisingly good shape. I ate a ton, kept myself well hydrated, and paddled at a steady pace, stopping to stretch, pee, apply sunscreen, and generally ‘faff’ quite frequently throughout the day.

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On the banks of the Fraser is Hope, getting ready to set sail

I paddled alongside my friend Jason who is also going to tackle the Yukon, but he’s going to do it standing on a SUP (stand up paddle board), which makes what I’m doing look easy (except for the welts on my backside caused by my heavily protruding seat, which he won’t need to contend with).

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Seat cushion: Therm-a-Rest Z Seat

We weren’t out to set any records; the exercise was purely to test our systems, get out on a river, and spend as much time as possible on the water. Even the preparation I did the night before was invaluable, and I can now say I’m relatively dialled in when it comes to my systems in the boat, provided the boat I’m actually paddling in the Yukon can store my gear the same way as my big steady plastic boat.

Video:

Here is a list of things I still have to figure out before the race:

  • My nylon spray skirt with the convenient zipper eventually lets water through and may drive me crazy
  • I need drip rings for my paddle to stop cold water running into the sleeves of my rain jacket and chilling me to the bone when the wind picks up
  • I need to figure out a better way to mount my Go Pro, or find a new camera solution altogether
  • I may need a new seat cushion option (although the seat of the Epic 18 may be more forgiving)
  • I’m going to consider repositioning my urinal device from behind my seat to a more accessible location
  • I could barely reach my thermos in my deck bag (and after 11 hours the soup was only just warm enough to drink)
  • My rain hat performs terribly in the wind
  • I may need thicker leggings (I’m using the ones I slept in on the PCT which have more holes than actual material left).
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My hefty pile of gear

Things that are working:

  • My Think Powerwing Paddle (I can’t sing its praises enough!)
  • My inReach tracking device
  • My system for water and electrolytes (1 x 4L dromedary bag of water, 1 x 4L dromedary bag of NUUN behind my seat)
  • My deck bag (thanks to Martin a previous racer who’s lent it to me)
  • My new Stearns PFD from Canadian Tire (it has all the pockets you could ever need)
  • My female urinary device (best $5 I’ve ever spent)
  • My Garmin 62S GPS – phenomenal (lasted 13 hours on rechargeable batteries)
  • My OR sun gloves (except if it gets cold…. hmmmm)
  • My food for the first 13 hours (half a packet of Fig Newtons, gummy worms, boiled mini potatoes, three soft boiled eggs, Boost nutritional drink with extra calories, two cliff bars, a few sips of soup, stick of cheese, half a squeeze tube of baby food).
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Ziplock bag duct taped inside the open neoprene pocket of my PFD

I’ll post a full gear and food list once they’re complete, but for now, here’s a snapshot from the day (when the camera actually decided to work!)

Clocking the kilometers

I paddled over 100km this week and am feeling in good shape both physically and mentally. Last Saturday I paddled with my friends Dave and Amber on Howe Sound where we witnessed a bear and its two cubs feeding directly on the shoreline (video on my training page). Then on Monday I took out the surf ski again on English Bay and tested out the sound quality of the Go Pro I’m borrowing. The waterproof case muffles the sound completely so I’m going to have to find a better solution for videos during the race.

My friend Pam’s husband Jim came to Vancouver on Sunday and gave my friend Jason (who’s doing the race on a SUP) and me maps of the river, allowing us to copy his markings for where the fastest currents are. As the river gets closer to Dawson it widens and turns into a maze of channels weaving between islands, so having these maps combined with my GPS will be key. Jim knows every eddy and shallow sand bank to avoid, but just knowing which direction to head in is enough for me!

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Two of the fifty pages of maps for the Yukon River between Whitehorse and Dawson City

On Tuesday night I raced in Deep Cove completing the 5km time trial in 29:29.9 and placing 23rd overall. Not bad for the slower boat I was paddling, which was classed as a sea kayak although I was paddling a slower and more stable Epic V6 surf ski. Then on Thursday night we did it all again in the Big Chop race down on English Bay where I paddled Daryl’s Think Eze (the owner of Think who lent me his demo Powerwing Paddle). I wasn’t too far off the pace, even though my boat was taking on water because I’d forgotten to take out the plug so it could pump itself out!

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Heading out of Deep Cove

Then finally today Jason and I launched from Deep Cove and paddled 37km to the old power station and then back towards Port Moody before rounding a tanker and heading back towards the cove. My wrist and elbow niggled a little, but with the new Powerwing Paddle and better body rotation, I seem to be using my stronger leg and torso muscles and reducing the strain on the weaker ones.

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After 6 hours on the water today I decided to film the procedure of how I get my 27kg (59 pound) boat back onto my car. I realised half way through it was full of water before a man offered to help me and I politely refused!

Something to THINK about

Three years ago on this day I was setting up camp, and actually by this time passed out at Houser Creek on Day 1 of the PCT. 15 out of 2,663 miles behind me on my way towards Canada. I didn’t know back then that three years later I’d be in Canada reminiscing about that day whilst preparing for my next adventure on the water!

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Me, Rollup and Pac Man at Hauser Creek (Mile 15 of the PCT) – April 15, 2013

Before the trail if my feet, ankles, knees or hips so much as ached I’d begin to worry, much like now with any pain in my shoulders, elbows, wrists or hands. Both journeys require full body mobility… but the PCT required strong legs and feet like the Yukon River Quest requires strength in the upper body and arms.

On Tuesday night I raced well despite the thunder and lightning that whipped through the sky creating an eerie glow under the low hanging clouds of Deep Cove. I found the loud crack thrilling and an incentive to paddle harder while some opted to turn around and head back to shore. Luckily I was already on the leg back, trailing a guy by a boat’s length on a surf ski that was trying to stay ahead of me the whole race (and I think for the sake of his ego luckily did).

Daryl Remmler, owner of Think Kayaks kindly lent me a Think Powerwing Paddle, and it was definitely my secret weapon for keeping up with the faster high performance kayaks that evening. When I initially held the paddle in my hands it felt like a feather compared to the heavier and much larger fibreglass blade I’ve been using in my training. I took advice from some of the top paddlers and feathered the blade right 45 degrees and then hit the water to test it out.

I was gobsmacked, literally giggling to myself as it felt like there was nothing in my hands at all with the blade cutting smoothly through the water with little to no effort. I could paddle at least twice as fast and felt like I was almost cheating; though it didn’t seem to give me the same power as my larger blade. With the correct technique I’m assured I will get as much (if not more) power from the smaller blade as I do with the larger one, and it should help prevent all the wrist and elbow issues I’ve been having. For now the paddle is on loan… and thankfully Daryl said he’s in no hurry to get it back. I’m not sure if I can stretch the loan all the way to July, but that paddle is going to play a key role in helping me get all the way to Dawson City!

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Drying out the powerwing blade after my paddle on English Bay

Yesterday I tested out the paddle again down at Vanier Park through the choppy waters of English Bay. I was shocked that I didn’t fall in, but thanks to the fast boat and small blades I was able to make my 8-9km circuit in around an hour.

Tomorrow I’m off to paddle with a couple of friends around Anvil Island in Howe Sound. I’ll be back in my big heavy plastic boat with my new loaner Go Pro from my friend Dave (who has pretty much given me or lent me most of my gear) and my newly ordered boat attachment suction cap from Kayalu so I can finally capture some action shots. I’ll let you know how it goes!

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Setting up the new Kayalu Go Pro attachment

An enlightening run

Though I didn’t paddle today, I had a very enlightening training session on the running track instead. I was up later than usual last night after a friend popped by with three large bottles of beer and some leftover chocolates from Easter. First mistake! I slept around 6.5 hours, scoffed a banana and some Zeal wellness blend and off I trod with the intention of running for an hour or 10km before paddling later this afternoon.

There were the usual characters at the running track when I arrived around 9:30am. The kids doing sprint practise, the elderly men who stray between lanes as they shuffle forward, the women who do Tai Chi and then walk in one long line crossing four lanes, and the men who usually do the same but in the opposite direction (though today they were all just sunning themselves on the sideline).

After five minutes of running the pain in my right knee that has troubled me for the last couples of months flared up expectedly. I’ve found that stretching helps, and I even rubbed some good old analgesic lotion that Dr Sole gave me on the PCT around the joint. Once the knee settled and I found my rhythm I clocked an hour and figured I’d just keep going. The longest I’ve ever run is 13km, and that was about two weeks ago. I’ve never been into running because I never believed I could run. I would always get an incurable stitch after five minutes and even if I were able to get rid of it, I’d rarely make it 5km. Running simply felt like a horrible chore that only elite athletes or crazy people enjoyed. But when I decided to try running as part of my training back in February, the first time I hit the track I ran for an hour non-stop, which made me wonder if it’s just mind over matter or simply dependant on how fit I am.

By 90 minutes I was up to 16km, which made me believe I could push a little further and reach the distance of a half marathon (21km). The sun was out, I was sweating profusely, but I didn’t feel at all thirsty and stopped only for a few arbitrary sips of my water bottle, (which was sat beside the group of men on the park bench watching me run in circles). The onset of hunger came on hard but eventually disappeared, as I had nothing with me to eat. Then after 128 minutes and 54 laps of the 400m track, I’d suddenly run my first half marathon of 21.6 km.


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I drank some water, stretched, and walked home feeling a million bucks. I had some Zeal protein powder, soaked my legs in a tub of Epson salts and then went about my business. Twenty minutes later I realised I was starving. I cooked up some oats, covered them with flax, chia seeds, hemp hearts, raisins and maple syrup and began eating, but halfway through my stomach somersaulted and I started feeling terrible. I stopped eating, rested my head upon my desk and took in some slow breaths before my body took to the floor where I shot this video.

I still had wild hopes of making it down to the water to paddle but my body was having none of it. After two unpleasant trips to the bathroom I went to sleep for an hour and then slowly made my way to the shop to buy some electrolytes. The whole experience was enlightening for two main reasons. Firstly because I was able to push myself a lot further than expected while finding a comfortable zone where I felt I could have run for much longer if I had food.

And the second and more important lesson was that no matter how good I might feel, the body still requires constant care to function. I always eat and drink plenty of water on my longer 5-6 hour paddles, so I’d never experienced something like this before. I have to say I’m incredibly grateful that it happened to me now. It was a timely reminder and a wake up call so I can adapt my behaviour for my upcoming training sessions.

The next time I’ll paddle will be at the weekly Tuesday Night Race (TNR) series over at Deep Cove. I paddled the Epic 18x performance kayak last week, which is similar to what I’m hoping to paddle in the Yukon River Quest. It felt great, and I wasn’t too far off the pace of the fastest women who were paddling slightly faster surf skis. The Epic 18x feels similar to a surf ski in the way the rudder is controlled by pedals directly above the centre of the footplate. The pedals of most sea kayaks are angled to the side, which means your legs are bent at a strange angle instead of resting straight. I still need to confirm my boat rental, my paddle, the majority of my gear and my food. Pretty much everything, other than my training which continues to tick over.

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The Epic 18x

I was at the gym rowing on Saturday night, went for a long walk on Friday, have been doing Pilates once a week and the rest of the time I’ve been working and figuring out logistics, gear and food for the race. It’s a part time job on top of my other part time job so the weeks are filling up fast and time seems to be flying. By the end of this week I at least want to have my clothing sorted!

Until next time, thanks for following the journey!

Gearing up for a new challenge

I’ve really enjoyed taking a break from the online world this year. It’s helped me refocus internally, figure out my priorities, learn what makes me tick (again), and gear up for the biggest challenge I’ve ever set myself without the added pressure of talking about it.

At the end of June (29th to be precise) I will set off amongst 99 other boats in the world’s longest annual canoe and kayak race: The Yukon River Quest – 715 km (444 miles) from Whitehorse to Dawson City in the Yukon, Canada. It’s termed ‘a race to the midnight sun’, because competitors paddle day and night while the sun never sets to complete the distance in less than 74 hours (3 days).

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The route itself is not difficult, minus one class 2 rapid and the sheer size of the river; meaning tourists can rent a boat and make their way downstream in a period of around two weeks. The challenge of the Yukon River Quest however is the pace at which it’s undertaken. It’s a test of endurance both physically and mentally, which is why it captured my attention almost eight years ago when I first heard about it.

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Joel Krahn Photography/joelkrahn.com

The race includes one mandatory 7-hour layover at the halfway point in Carmacks, and another 3-hour layover around 100 km from the end. For the rest of the race you eat, pee, stretch, and change clothes etc from inside your boat. Because the river is so wide with a steady flow once you cross Lake Laberge (which some of you may recognise from Robert Service poems), valuable time is lost every time you vacate your boat. I’ve heard stories from past racers who don’t even pee until they reach Carmacks (25-35 hours in), but these people are seasoned racers with bladders of steel, and I can assure you I’m not in that category yet.

There are three cut-off points one must meet throughout the journey. The end of Lake Laberge (80 km into the race in 14 hours), the halfway point in Carmacks (358 km into the race in 35 hours), and the end in Dawson City (715 km in 84 hours – including the 10-hours of layover time). Essentially the race begins at 12:00 on Wednesday the 29th of June in Whitehorse, and ends by 23:59 on Saturday the 2nd of July in Dawson City.

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Lake Laberge

Though the race travels with the flow of the river, Lake Laberge is one the biggest challenges at the beginning of the race. It’s 50 km long, and racers have been known to experience fierce head winds and up to 3-foot waves as they cross the exposed body of water. Five Finger Rapids (the class 2) has also been known to trip up paddlers, but hypothermia is the biggest reason for people not to finish (caused by extreme exhaustion, sleep deprivation and below zero temperatures throughout the evenings).

To be quite honest it’s taken me three months of training and conditioning to convince myself that I may actually have a chance of completing it. I’ve never been so haunted by the idea of failure before, and I think it’s because I’ve never set myself a challenge that’s been so far beyond what I know I’m capable of. I was nervous about not making the summit when I hiked Mount Kilimanjaro in 2011, and I worried daily that perhaps I wouldn’t complete the Pacific Crest Trail because of injury or weather in 2013. But this new adventure has me digging deep into places I’ve never explored before to convince myself that I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew this time!

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DeAgostini/Getty Images

I officially decided I would do the race on December 30 2015, a few days after meeting with my dear friend Pam (who I worked with during the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Torch Relay, and who has completed the race on multiple occasions with her husband Jim). Like the Pacific Crest Trail, I learned about the Yukon River Quest back in 2008, and ever since then it’s casually been on my ‘to do list’, alongside learning guitar and becoming fluent in Spanish.

Originally I naively thought the race ran over seven days, and when I learned it was only three my head began spinning. I’m not sure I’ve quite come to terms with how people can paddle for three days straight with almost zero sleep, other than the fact I’ve spoken to those who’ve done it. Hallucinations are a given, and some paddlers have been known to head back upstream thinking they’ve actually crossed the finish line before ending the race. Some have been rudely awaken after capsizing in the water, and some have simply been woken by the sound of their head banging against their deck. I’ve been told around 30% of paddlers quit after reaching Carmacks, which is a feat in itself, and what amazes me is that people are able to hit the water again after paddling 25-35 hours straight and do it all over.

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Joel Krahn Photography/joelkrahn.com

The race includes solo and tandem kayaks and canoes, larger voyager canoes (6 or more people), and for the first time ever stand up paddle boards (SUPs). I’ve chosen to paddle a solo kayak, and out of the 100 boats entered in the race (maximum number of entrants reached in March), there is only one other female solo kayaker included. Paddling solo is certainly the toughest way to race, as there’s no one to keep you awake or continue paddling when you’re eating, peeing etc. Plus it can also be a very lonely race, because when the pack spreads out beyond the lake, you may seldom see another boat.

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I’m boat #50 – Team Name: Muk Muk

Though I haven’t been recording my preparations in written form, I’ve been keeping video diaries like the one below from various training sessions since January. I plan to continue posting these on my Training page, and will be updating the YRQ 2016 tab with more information on gear and food choices prior to the race. The logistics are as challenging as the physical training – but I’ll do my best to record both (in case the YRQ 2017 is on your bucket list!)