Joachim Rintsch had a thin beard covering his once clean-cut face as he arrived in Whitehorse Thursday morning, but it was the only sign of the 34 days in the Yukon
wilderness he had just experienced.
Rintsch knows few words in english but even without the help of translator and friend Mike Simon, it was easy to understand how he felt – and what was on his mind.
"Danke, danke!” Rintsch exclaimed as he hugged Simon upon his arrival at the White Pass building in downtown Whitehorse.
Simon asked him in German how he felt, and Rintsch continued to happily chatter away in his native language.
"Wunderbar!” he said.
Rintsch had much to say, showing no signs of fatigue after leaving Braeburn Wednesday to walk the final leg of his journey. His report of the trail was similar to what many of the Yukon Quest mushers had to say three and a half weeks earlier.
He began his trip on Feb. 4, leaving his home in the Bavaria province of Germany for Fairbanks. He began his walk a day ahead of the Yukon Quest racers. He had expected it to take him 32 days, and he finished in about 34.
With Simon translating, Rintsch told the small crowd gathered to meet him about the excellent trail conditions the entire way, his only complaint being that it would have been nice if it had been about 10 degrees colder.
He also wished he could turn around and go right on back to Fairbanks.
Rintsch didn't run into too many problems on his walk. He did damage the sled he pulled behind him at one point, but being in the Canadian wilderness, he had plenty of material to do a quick fix.
"There's enough wood in Canada that he could fix it with sticks,” Simon said. Rintsch used a stick to reattach the harness that attaches the sled, called a "pulk”, to his waist.
Along the trail Rintsch had help from many people. At the 101 Mile Yukon Quest checkpoint, he was lucky enough to stumble upon a home-cooked breakfast of fried halibut, bacon and eggs – which had all been fried up by a German-speaking cook.
Besides the generous people along the way, Rintsch saw caribou, moose and elk.
He had one minor incident between the Pelly Farm and Pelly Crossing, where he had to deviate off the official Quest trail due to the softening ice on the river.
Walking along a road that rarely sees pedestrian traffic Rintsch came into the path of a semi-truck, who's driver was just as surprised to see him.
Rintsch did have a few problems with overflow. At one point he got caught up in the river water, soaking him to his knees and the contents of his sled.
He also had some trouble on the trail when the wind swept up and covered the markers.
For a few days at the very start Rintsch had to take a long break as he waited for the strong head wind to calm down.
Even with a bit of frostbite on one of his fingers, Rintsch says the trip was no problem.
At one point, he thought he was off the official Yukon Quest trail, so he called Simon, who helped re-orient him and find the trail with the help of Rintsch's Spot tracker, which was updating his location every 10 minutes or so at www.trackleaders.com.
Through Simon, Rintsch said he had "No regrets what-so-ever.”
With him, he did not have any way to protect himself besides a pocket knife. He joked that he carried with him a pair of nail clippers just in case.
In his pulk, he did have all the food he needed, which was in the form of a protein powder, a sleeping bag and a change of shoes.
When it was suggested to Rintsch that people may think he is a bit crazy, Simon's translating was not needed for the answer, in which he agreed.
Admitting that he had a lot of time to think, Rintsch said he didn't start to plan his next great adventure. He prefers to get an idea only weeks before he heads off.
This isn't Rintsch's first time in the Yukon either. He has participated in the Arctic Ultra five times, which runs half of the Yukon Quest trail on years that it leaves from Whitehorse.
He has since fallen in love with the territory, and enjoys his trips to the Canadian north. He has done walks in the deserts of Africa and across Australia, but prefers the winter wonderland of the Yukon.
During his first Ultra was where Rintsch got involved with raising funds for Vasconia Anemia, a bone marrow disease that affects children.
Due to the rarity of the disorder, many major pharmaceutical companies do not research it, but Rintsch hopes to change that.
Before leaving, a friend offered to donate one euro for every mile he walked, which means 1,000 euros (about $1,400 Canadian dollars) was raised on this trip.
Since beginning his quest to fund-raise for the disease, Rintsch has been able to raise 8,000 euro, or over $11,000 in Canadian dollars.
On his pulk, Rintsch had a tiny plush moose that did the journey with him. He joked that when he got tired he hooked the moose up to the harness to pull for awhile.
The trip was a gift to himself for his 50th birthday, Rintsch said. His wife contributed the plane ticket from Germany to Whitehorse, and he took a bus to the start.
He says there are plenty of other destinations that he could go to, but this was "the peak” for him.
Simon could not confirm, but he believes Rintsch may be the first person to ever successfully walk the Yukon Quest trail alone.
There have been reports of unsuccessful attempts.
Rintsch has a website with photos and more, in German, at www.ultra-fisse.de
When asked what he had on the agenda for the rest of the day, Rintsch said another familiar word, that needed no translation; "Coffee.”