Whitehorse Daily Star

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STARTING POINT – RoseAnna Schick, left and her niece Brittani Schick pose for a photo by the Yukon River near Canoe People in Whitehorse before the start of their journey to Dawson City on Aug. 20.

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CANOEING CAMARADERIE – Brittani Schick, left, and her aunt RoseAnna Schick relax in their tent on Aug. 28 during their epic journey.

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ONWARD THROUGH THE FOG – Brittani Schick, left, and her aunt RoseAnna Schick pose for a photo on the Yukon River on Aug. 24 during their canoe trip to Dawson City.

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SPA DAY – RoseAnna Schick, left and her niece Brittani Schick enjoyed a spa day on the Yukon River during their sojourn to Dawson City.

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RELAXING ON THE RIVER – Brittani Schick is seen taking a moment to relax on the Yukon River during a journey with her aunt RoseAnna Schick from Whitehorse to Dawson in late August.

Strong relationship powers adventurer, niece from Whitehorse to Dawson City

An adventurer and her niece went on an epic canoe trip from Whitehorse to Dawson City recently.

By Morris Prokop on September 14, 2023

An adventurer and her niece went on an epic canoe trip from Whitehorse to Dawson City recently.

RoseAnna Schick and her niece Brittani Schick's journey started Aug. 20 and took 10 days to complete.

Their good humour and close relationship powered them through.

RoseAnna, 55, from Winnipeg, explained how she got involved in the adventure.

"Britt brought up the idea to me last fall of paddling the Yukon River with her. At first I thought it was kind of a crazy idea. And I thought, 'No way, it might be really scary and hard.' And then the more I thought about it, I thought, 'Why not try, I'd like to see if I'm still able to do a wilderness trip. It's been many years since I've been out for a multi-day trip on the river.’ So I did it personally for the challenge and I did it to be able to spend time with Brittani. I think it was really cool that she asked me to do this trip with her when she has a lot of cool, outdoorsy friends who she could have chose but she chose her auntie and I was really honoured and flattered by that."

Brittani, 28, from Whistler, B.C., added, "A few years ago, I was asking my auntie if she wanted to go and do a paddle in the Northwest Territories, but that river seemed a little more extreme and needed to be guided and I'm not a super huge fan of guiding. I like to just get it done myself.

"And then I thought this river could be done. I came to visit Dawson City maybe six years ago and knew that you can paddle the river up from Whitehorse as well. And so I think that's kind of where that was sparked, and I knew that we could do this one ourselves."

RoseAnna added, "And then she talked me into it a little bit."

"I don't even know if I gave her the option, really," said Brittani.

"There was one point where Auntie Rosie asked me if I was gonna prefer booking flights and I was like, 'I think I already booked mine.'"

RoseAnna had previously done Quest for the Bay, an epic 61-day journey which went from Winnipeg to a fur factory near Hudson Bay in 2001.

Of that journey, Brittani said, "I think that experience of hers, it was huge for her own paddling career and she's saying that I have a lot of outdoorsy friends and I do but more so mountain friends and I don't think I could think of one other person that could have steered us and paddled us as well through the river. So, having that experience for her was, I guess, it's kind of like she said, a full circle moment."

Their canoe was an Old Town 16.9 footer from the Canoe People.

"It was number 15, which is actually Brittani's hockey jersey number, so that felt like a lucky number to us, and during the trip we christened it," recalled RoseAnna. "We called it ‘Sam McGee’, because we tried to conjure up the spirit of Sam McGee out on Lake LaBerge to keep us safe along the way and we would do shots of Fireball whiskey when we'd have a big day and we'd give ‘Sam McGhee’ a little shot as well in the river."

There were a couple mishaps with the canoe along the way, with Brittani breaking her seat – twice.

"Her seat broke, but she MacGyvered it," related RoseAnna. "She fixed it herself along the way and it held out for the rest of the trip."

"My butt just broke it," joked Brittani.

The two ladies described their journey.

"It's a beautiful river," said RoseAnna. "The landscape was incredible. So there was always something amazing to look at. But it was hard. It was physically hard. We had some long days where we put in many more kilometres than we had originally planned, because once we realized we could do it, we wanted to get it done as quick as we could.

"It was a little bit scary at times with some swirling water that we didn't anticipate early on in the river. I've been through a lot of rapids in my life, but I've never been the stern person. A lot of thought and worry went into the two sets of rapids before we got there but we did them both on the same day and they went really smoothly. So yeah, I guess for me it was a little bit of uncertainty but some confidence building as well, and my own skills along the way."

"Beautiful and scary and magical and tough," added Brittani. "Positive, negative, positive, negative, character building.

"We saw a lot of wildlife, which was one of my favourite parts. We saw six moose, two of them being a mom and a calf, and five bears. We watched one of the moose swim right across the river, which was really neat. One of the bear sets was a mom and cub. We saw a few beavers, some otters. My personal favourite was the wolverine that we were able to see, which was pretty cool.

"Luckily, we were in the river in our canoe at the time and it was on the bank, so I felt pretty fine with where we were at. That was really special. I'd never really figured I'd see a wolverine in real life. And then tons of eagles."

"Britt is really great at spotting wildlife," said RoseAnna. "We had a small pair of binoculars with us so she would see a dot out in the distance and we'd stop paddling and she'd pull out the binoculars and she would identify what it was."

Brittani added, "We'd come in to shore to set up camp and there was one time we didn't wanna set up camp there because we saw it was a moose highway mixed with bear prints and another print that we couldn't tell what it was. So we just made a decision that that probably wasn't the best spot for us. So we left that area."

Brittani said she wasn't too nervous about the wildlife, especially during the day, although the nights were a little bit different.

"I didn't feel too much at risk at all. There was one night where we were camped out on an island and we heard a big splash, almost like somebody dropped a huge rock. We joked that it was a Sasquatch doing a cannonball but it was most likely a beaver giving its tail a slap. But it was pretty close to us. And that got us a little bit nervous, for sure."

RoseAnna interjected, "After that, we decided we'd camp on islands for the rest of the trip. It was a little scary on the mainland at night."

Brittani added, "That was just after we passed a camp that had Caution and Bear signs."

Auntie and niece described some of the other memorable moments they experienced.

RoseAnna said, "One night we landed on an island, a shoal, and we made a little spa day. We put some Yukon mud on our face and we had a nice area to swim."

"And then that night we were sitting at our campsite and Brittani said, 'Oh my God, look at the sky' and we looked at the sky and this beautiful pink and red sunset started creeping over from the mountains and then it enveloped the whole sky. And we just watched it for half an hour going 'Wow'. It just kept getting better and better and better. That was pretty incredible."

The Schicks also ran into a "huge" lightning storm on an exposed sand bar with no shelter around them on their last night on the river.

"That happened to be our worst weather night," related Brittani. "We were really exposed and I was counting the lightning, kind of an hour and a half to two hours it was going on … that was pretty nerve racking. There was no sleep for those hours. We were in the middle of the sand in a tent with the metal poles surrounding us, almost asking to be electrocuted.

"I was just really happy when we heard the last of the lightning and thunder, and we made it out," she recalled.

When asked if there were any moments they'd like to forget, Brittani replied, "No. I want to remember everything."

Upon further reflection, she answered, "Maybe the pain in my arms."

The pair of paddlers averaged about 70 kilometres a day.

"We had a couple of days where we went 100-plus kilometres," said Brittani.

The last day was one of those.

"After that lightning storm we woke up and we were like, 'Let's get to Dawson City', like, no joking around, " said Brittani. "And we had 107 kilometres to get there."

The two did face other challenges.

"Lake Laberge was a bit of a slog," remarked RoseAnna. "It's a very big lake and there's very little flow. It was a little challenging to recognize where we were on the map because it was such a large landscape we were traveling and the map didn't always feel like it was to scale."

They spent a day and a half crossing the lake, dealing with some headwind along the way.

"Near the end – this might be too much information, but I was telling my Auntie Rosie I'd be down for 10 Brazilians in order to have this lake done," recalled Brittani. "I was tired of that lake!"

RoseAnna said, "When we got off the lake, we were so happy to get back into the flow of the Yukon River and then we were met with whitecaps and swirly water that we didn't anticipate and that part of the river was like this horseshoe bend, really sharp horseshoes, and we had to dodge a lot of whitewater going through there and I think that first day on the river after the lake it was like, 'Holy s---, like if the whole river is like this, this is gonna be really stressful.'

"It calmed down a little bit after that. And then we got into a good flow with it and a good rhythm with our paddling and then yeah, we did it."

RoseAnna was asked how this adventure compared to Quest for the Bay.

"Sometimes I think about Quest For the Bay and I think, 'How the hell did I even do that?' Like, 61 days with literally nothing.

"On a trip like this, yeah, it can be hard. It can be challenging, but I have a tent at night and I have a sleeping bag and I have food. I had three air mattresses on the ground.

"I think it compares, some of the physical challenge. But Quest For the Bay was just hugely mentally challenging and in many different ways.

"It was super intense. We were out for 10 days this trip and it felt like a long time but I don't know how I survived 61. I really don't."

RoseAnna said she found this trip "more relaxing, more fun, just paddling with someone that I love and care about. It was just a nice trip to be able to do with Brittani."

Both paddlers leaned on their sense of humour during the journey.

"We laughed our asses off at so many things," recalled RoseAnna.

Brittani added, "There was hours where your mind is blank and you're staring at a river and the mountains, and one person says one stupid thing and we're belly laughing.

“We kept ourselves busy and laughing. We would do apple core races.

"We tried carrot-top races but carrots don't float," continued Brittani.

"It sounds stupid but it's those little stupid things that make you laugh and get you through."

It's obvious that aunt and niece have a great relationship.

RoseAnna said it's "even better now. I think we've been very close our whole life but now more so."

Brittani said, "You can't really do 10 days in the wilderness with somebody – you'll probably come out either hating them more or liking them more. This one was a success story."

RoseAnna explained their background.

"Brittani's dad is my brother, who's two years older than me, so me and her dad grew up very close. So yeah, Brittani's always been a big part of my life.

"This to me is the adventure of a lifetime. I've been on lots of cool adventures in my life but this one is the icing on the cake."

Brittani said, "She's definitely my most adventurous aunt and the one that I love spending all my time with in the wilderness, for sure.

"When people were asking me about this canoe trip that I was doing, the first thing I'm telling them is ‘I'm going with my auntie’ and then I go immediately into the story how she was the only female chosen for this York boat trip she did to Churchill. And I'm showing them on a map where she's been and how badass she is and to do it with somebody like that, it's super inspirational and really cool to be walking in her footsteps with a big canoe trip like this one."

As for their future adventure plans, Brittani said, "If I could convince her to do that North West Territories trip without a guide....

"We also found out that the river just kind of keeps going … we still had the canoe rental for four more days and we probably could have got to Circle, Alaska. But that might have to be completed next summer cuz we want to probably finish that, for sure.

"Haven't seen a map … the rest of the way would depend on the rapids. I'm not against the idea."

RoseAnna added, "One of the selling points of this river for me was the fact that there isn't a lot of whitewater, so with more whitewater, I would feel more confident having a guide or more experienced whitewater paddler but we were able to navigate ourselves on this one. So it went okay."

They've been talking about doing some paddling in Manitoba as well.

When asked about competing in the Yukon Quest, Brittani replied, "I won't say no to anything."

RoseAnna said Brittani does adventure races right now. But there might be one thing holding her back from competing in the Yukon Quest – Lake Laberge.

"I do some adventure racing," agreed Brittani. "So it's not totally out of the realm of possibilities. But I need to get that lake some distance between it and I before I get back on it."

RoseAnna said, "I wouldn't ever want to do it. But I do enjoy this speed of paddling that we did and I'd be game for another trip another time. Now that I know I can still do it. I still got it."

RoseAnna is planning on writing about their journey.

"I write a travel column in Winnipeg every two weeks. So I'm gonna do a story about the river journey and then I'll do a separate story about Whitehorse and a separate story about Dawson City."

Brittani added, "Maybe we could warn people about filling up their water before the White River comes in. After that, it's just a muck of a river and you don't want to drink anything from it. We didn't find that information out anywhere."

RoseAnna added, "it was just a really wonderful, incredible experience. And we saw a lot of wilderness that a lot of people don't get to see and I just feel very fortunate that we were able to do it and to see the things that we saw and to experience it together."

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