Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Marissa Tiel

SPRINT TO FINISH – K-2 team 2 Numbnuts (right) edges C-2 team Gorge Downwind Champs by five seconds at the finish of the 715-kilometre long Yukon River Quest. 2 Numbnuts beat the C-2 by five seconds to take second place overall in the race.

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Photo by Marissa Tiel

FRIENDS AT THE END – Shaun Thrower (left) is embraced by Carter Johnson as Dave Jensen looks on at the finish of the Yukon River Quest. The two teams 2 Numbnuts and Gorge Downwind Champs battled to a sprint finish with Thrower’s team inching ahead.

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Photo by Marissa Tiel

EMOTIONAL FINISH – Team Sisu’s Kelly Reid drops her head into her hand at the finish of the Yukon River Quest.

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Photo by Marissa Tiel

HERO’S WELCOME – SUP Emily Matthews is greeted onshore by a massive crowd as the last paddler to finish the 2017 Yukon River Quest.

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Photo by Marissa Tiel

BATTERED – Pater Hanzely exits the water at Carmacks.

Tandem canoe and tandem kayak sprint to finish of 715K paddling race

The race was for second place.

By Marissa Tiel on July 5, 2017

The race was for second place.

After more than 44 hours on the river, the remaining spots in the Yukon River Quest top three would be decided by a sprint.

“You start with a sprint; 444 miles; and you finish with a sprint,” said tandem kayak team 2 Numbnuts’ Shaun Thrower, who along with teammate Steve King, edged ahead of tandem canoe team Gorge Downwind Champs’ Carter Johnson and Dave Jensen to secure second place in 44 hours, 38 minutes and 51 seconds.

The canoe crossed the line five seconds later.

When they’d started out in Coffee Creek about 12 hours earlier, Jensen and Johnson weren’t even sure they’d be able to catch the K-2 team, who were Yukon River Quest champions in 2014.

“We were pretty ecstatic when we saw them,” said Jensen. “Then after we saw them it took another hour and a half to catch them.”

They first spotted the K-2 after the White River joins the Yukon River.

“It changes a lot,” said Jensen of the river. “The water changes from pretty clear to pretty silty and it gets to be super wide with channels all over the place.”

The section of river they were entering, which 2 Numbnuts calls, the Braids, has many channels.

It’s a choose your own adventure with the knowledge that if you choose wrong, well, you could be in for a world of hurt catching someone who chose right.

“We didn’t actually wait for them, but we did think of waiting for them because when you get down to the braids, if they’d passed us in the braids, we might not have known they’d gone past us,” said Thrower.

As the river split, each team chose their own way and Gorge Downwind Champs came out 500 metres ahead. It wasn’t the ideal situation, because now the K-2 could see their navigation choices, but it was a start. At least they were ahead.

“A few times Carter and I tried to take off on them, but we couldn’t,” said Jensen.

“They were always behind us. If we’d stop, they’d stop.”

Jensen, an experienced canoeist, had teamed up with Johnson, an accomplished kayaker – he owns the men’s solo kayak record for this race, 42 hours and 49 minutes, set in 2010.

Jensen steered the boat while Johnson set the pace.

“Our preference would’ve been to get rid of them before the finish, which we weren’t able to do.”

The decision to stick with the C-2 had been a conscious one, something the paddlers had already talked about.

“We were after no times, we were just after the best position we could get,” said Thrower. “When they caught us, it didn’t bother us.

“It’s a lot harder for them to sprint in a canoe than a kayak.”

So with the two boats together, they let off the pace for about an hour and a half before the final long punishing sprint into Dawson City.

The sprint lasted for about 10 minutes with each team trying to get into the faster water on the river left side of the Yukon, close to West Dawson.

As they came around the bend upstream of the Klondike River, it was impossible to tell who was in front.

Support for both teams clustered around the finish line, an orange pylon sticking up from the bank on the river right side.

As they got closer, it became apparent that the K-2 had about a boat-length on the C-2.

With a better top boat speed, they pulled ahead, crossing the finish line five seconds before the C-2.

“Blow the whistle for God’s sake,” shouted a supporter from the bank.

And it blew.

The teams cruised into the take-out.

There, they embraced, smiles abound as two teams – friends – appreciated the final sprint.

“That’s racing,” said Thrower with a smile.

With gear checks complete, he began to look forward to the fulfilling of traditions, namely King treating him to a triple-scoop of ice cream. Not vanilla or licorice, but perhaps strawberry.

As thoughts of ice cream formed for the 2 Numbnuts, the Gorge Downwind Champs were looking forward to a meal of fish, rice and veggies cooked on the Volkswagen stovetop by Jensen’s wife Judy and the promised sleep ahead.

Top Finishers

  1. Yukon Wide Adventures Voyageur 42:47:08
  2. 2 Numbnuts K-2 44:38:51
  3. Gorge Downwind Champs C-2 44:38:56
  4. Saranac 4 Voyageur 45:48:16
  5. Team 3-2-1-Go Voyageur 45:56:02
  6. Team Ts’alvit Voyageur 46:21:11
  7. Arm Wiggler K-1 46:33:04
  8. CAP#1 Voyageur 46:37:41
  9. Strokes of Genius C-2 46:40:34
    ­­­10. That’s a Paddlin’ C-2 46:50:03
  10. Bart de Zwart SUP 52:16:06

Special Awards

Youngest paddler Amelie Latour
Top Yukoners Yukon Wide Adventures, Team Ts’alvit
Fastest Senior Team The Bickersons
Spirit of the Yukon Duck Juice
Red Stove Team Blondie Girls Who Yak

SUPs stake claim in world’s longest annual paddling race

There weren’t many surprises in the first official year of the standup paddleboards (SUPs) in this year’s Yukon River Quest.

Bart de Zwart, who won last year’s experimental race, crossed the finish first again, shaving a handful of hours off his previous time to set a new SUP record of 52:16:06.

“I know I’m strong in the beginning. But in a race like this, you can’t keep it up,” said de Zwart a few hours after finishing.

“A race like this you should do in your own pace.”

De Zwart, freshly showered and napped after eating a bag of Old Dutch ketchup chips and a tea in hand, reflected on his race as fellow SUPer Joanne Hamilton-Vale arrived onshore.

“With standup, it’s not easy because it’s not a fast craft compared to the rest.

But de Zwart finished well under 55 hours again to earn $864 as the first SUP. Jason Bennett, who finished second in 53:12:54 won $384.

Of the eight SUPs that started, six finished.

It was almost five.

Emily Matthews, who’d celebrated the five-year anniversary of the first time she stepped on a paddleboard at the race’s start on June 28, had heard rumours that the cutoff time for the Carmacks checkpoint was 6 p.m. At her current pace, she wasn’t going to make it. So she stepped off the board and pulled it ashore at Little Salmon, calling for a ride and withdrawing from the race.

Fellow SUP, Stuart Knaack, who’d withdrawn from the race the previous day due to heat exhaustion, heard and raced in his truck from Carmacks upstream to find out what was going on.

“All of a sudden his truck comes blasting up this road, gravel flying, dust aflying,” said Matthews. She’d only woken 15 minutes prior.

She chucked her gear in the back of his pickup, sat down in the cab and said she was done.

Piece by piece they puzzled the story together and upon discovering that the checkpoint didn’t close at six, but hours later Matthews got back on the water.

“She was like, well f--- this, and gotout of the truck and grabbed all her stuff and threw it down on the board and swore up a storm and was not in a good mood,” said Knaack. “[She] got on the paddleboard and took off.”

Matthews arrived in Carmacks a handful of hours later, plenty of time to spare before the cutoff and took her mandatory rest.

At 7:45 p.m. Saturday, she arrived in Dawson City to a hero’s welcome, the last craft left on the river.

“I was utterly flabbergasted. I thought my friends might be here to say yeah,” she said at the finish, holding a bouquet of flowers that had been presented to her by many members of the crowd.

“It was a good adventure.”

Team Ts’alvit looks to youth

As Team Ts’alvit exited the water after their finish, there were many hugs and many tears.

The voyageur team, comprised of Jim Boyde, Pam Boyde, Crystal Shimoon, Bryan Allemang, Midori Kirby and Peter Kirby, pulled into Dawson in 46 hours, 41 minutes and 11 seconds. They were sixth overall and the first fully-Yukon team to make it to the finish.

“It’s always an honour to be the fast Yukon team,” said captain Jim Boyde. “And it’s always a challenge.”

The team was paddling a sleek voyageur canoe, which had been paddled by the course record-setting team Kissynew back in 2008.

For Boyde, the journey is not just about the race.

“I tend to do the Quest not just for the paddling,” he said. “But for the country we go through and the animals that we see and the spirit of this place.”

Among the wildlife they spotted were bears, moose and a peregrine falcon.

After his 13th time competing in the Yukon River Quest, Boyde said he’d next like to see some younger paddlers, like the North American Indigenous Games paddlers take a seat in the boat.

C-4s relish opportunity to race in Yukon

After writing a long “pleading” letter to the Yukon River Quest board of directors last summer to try and get C-4 added to the race, John Vermilyea was pleased to finally be on the river in that boat.

His team, Saranac 4, was the first C-4 (four-person canoe) to cross the finish line, clocking a time of 45 hours, 48 minutes and 16 seconds.

They were fourth overall and the second voyageur to reach the finish after first-place team Yukon Wide Adventures.

“I knew this boat would do very well on this river,” said Vermilyea of the C-4.

His team was comprised of paddlers from New York and Pennsylvania, where the boat type is popular in marathon races.

Teresa Stout, Ashley Cary and Ben Schlimmer also paddled the craft down the Yukon.

“These guys were awesome,” said Vermilyea. “That was the smoothest run down the river I’ve ever had.”

In their inaugural race, four C-4s paddled in the River Quest. They were included in the voyageur class.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears was third in the class, while It’s Just Around the Bend was seventh and Yukon 4.1 was eighth. Saranac 4 was second in the voyageur class.

While the voyageur – minimum six paddlers in a canoe – class included the C-4s this year, Vermilyea doesn’t see the boats as comparable.

“I think they’re apples and oranges,” he said.

But since they were included in the money this year, he wasn’t about to press the point.

“I’m thrilled to be here,” he said.

With three of the four finishing in under 50 hours (Yukon 4.1 finished in 50:07, the C-4 proved to be a fast way down the Yukon River.

And Vermilyea said he’s sure there will be more that enter in the future.

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