Friday, July 9, 2010

Midnight Sun

So, I thought I sucked at running trail races.... well you should see me in a kayak race.

The Yukon River Quest is a 740 km canoe and kayak race from Whitehorse to Dawson City in the Yukon.
Bill Nightingale and I joined on a whim last October not really knowing what we were getting ourselves into.
Karen asked if I looked at the videos on You Tube about Five Finger and Rink rapids along the course, or the warnings on Lake Labarge, but told her I did not because I did not want to scare myself out of it.

When we arrived in Whitehorse three days before the race to get our gear in order and do a 20km test paddle of our rented kayak, it was mid 20's and sunny. And sunny around the clock since it was Midnight Sun in the north. I have a picture of me standing in the main intersection of town showing the time on my watch (midnight) with daylight equivalent to an afternoon here.

But on race day the temperature plummeted to +8 and rain with river temperatures about the same.

To make things interesting the start line is 400 meters away in the park with a sprint to your boat. Being gentlemen we let everyone else go ahead while we strolled down to the waters edge, and casually got into our kayak. This turned out to be a smart move because we passed people on the water who were trying to paddle and get their spray skirts on or readjust gear that they inadvertently kicked or nudged out of position.

My biggest worry was Lake Labarge because of stories I had heard.
Well the stories were tame compared to the lake.
Five foot waves coming from behind, with a wind that came from the side and a kayak that wanted to act like a submarine.
I had a death grip on the paddle and stroked like a mad man just so I could get off the section of water. Problem is that it is around 50km long.

We made it to the end of the lake and went ashore at the checkpoint. We were both soaked and frozen.
A change of clothes and some hot tea got us back into the right frame of mind.

We were told later that a large number of boats (21) had scratched by the end of the lake. Weather and water conditions took its toll on even the hard core teams.

Now with 12 hours under our belt we would paddle through the midnight sun, finding out the hard way of sleep deprivation. Oh... the things you think you see.

We took a number of short cat naps trying to keep us from falling asleep paddling and rolling the kayak over.

Around noon we decided we had to get out of the boat to stretch only to find a patch of grass that made a nice mattress.

At the second last checkpoint we were told we had 60-ish km to Carmacks and only 4 1/2 hours to do it in. But then a huge black sky rolled in over the ridge with promise of lightning and heavy rain. We may not be the sharpest knives in the drawer but we knew not to be on the river during lightning activity.
The storm was fast and furious and ate up a half hour while Bill and I sat under a ledge.

Now we are paddling our guts out to make the deadline.

Our dash to the finish with everything we have, was to a bend in the river. But turned out short by approximately 2km's. I had miss read the map!

Now we try to keep the power stroke going but as we turn the last bend to the dock in Carmacks a fellow on the dock is shacking his head.

We were 35 hours and 5 minutes. Five minutes over the cut-off time.

They apologised as they cut our race numbers off.

We are officially out of the race.

Over 340 km's we had paddled in one of the most remote river conditions in Canada and we are short by 5 freaking minutes.

Were we disappointed?
No, because we now know what to expect next year.