There are fewer paddlers on the Yukon River than there were a day ago.
As of Friday morning, 22 of the Yukon River Quest’s 77 teams had scratched from the race.
The wet, chilly start of the 740-kilometre race from Whitehorse to Dawson City on Wednesday is the obvious culprit.
“The weather is the story today,” said race organizer Jeff Brady. “Farther north, it’s looking better. So if everyone can get through today safe and sound, we should be fine getting to Carmacks. Actually, for Friday and Saturday, Dawson is looking nice.
“We’ll be on our toes tonight, out with our safety crews and out on the lake.”
Last time the event saw such a dismal beginning was in 2006, a race that saw 13 scratches before the fourth checkpoint at Little Salmon, just 260-kilometres downriver.
This year, the Running Wilds team from Coral Springs, Florida, was the first to scratch, withdrawing from the race after just 65 kilometres.
However, according to one race veteran, Ingrid Wilcox, 62, racing in her 10th Quest in the women’s solo kayak division – going for her eighth title – the rain is mostly a bother when waiting to get on the water.
“It’s not bad once you are on the water because we’re all covered up, it’s the waiting and getting in, because everything gets wet,” said Wilcox. “But once you’re on there, you just go. You have your spray skirt on, your raincoat, hat and all that. It’ll be colder, that’s for sure, but maybe it’ll make you paddle faster.
“My strategy is what it was before: paddle, paddle and continue to paddle,” she added. “Hopefully there’s not too much headwind.”
As of Friday morning, only two teams – both defending division champs – had left the Kirkman Creek checkpoint at kilometre 580, both leaving at 8:18 a.m.
In the open voyageur canoe class, the Texans, who are going for their third title, are head to head with California’s Carter Johnson, also going for a third title, in a solo kayak.
The leading Yukon-based team is the This Is Your Idea team from Whitehorse featuring Jason Doucet and Kam Davies in the mixed tandem canoe division.
Entering checkpoint six at Fort Selkirk, Doucet and Davies were 21 minutes behind fifth-place team Yukon JAM from New York, who are leading the tandem canoe division. Doucet and Davies were also an hour and 15 minutes behind fourth-place team the Dung Beetles from South Africa, in a tandem kayak.
Last year’s mixed tandem canoe champions, Tim Hodgson and Jane Vincent from Whitehorse, who were the fastest out of all solo, men’s, women’s and mixed canoes, decided not to compete this year.
“I pinched a nerve in my neck, which has caused shoulder and arm issues,” said Hodgson. “It created complete numbness and so I have no power in my left arm.
“A few years ago I might have been dumb enough to start a race like this, but as you get older you have to get smarter.”
Although the race has 12 fewer teams than it did two years ago when it had its largest field ever, it nonetheless has an impressive contingent of outsiders. This year’s race features paddlers from seven countries – with teams from as far away as Australia – eight US states and six provinces or territories (including the Yukon).
“This year we have a paddler from Finland, so that’s a new country for us,” said Brady.
“The solo kayak and the tandem divisions are wide open – most of the teams are from Outside, so we just don’t know that much about them.”
Team Kisseynew, who set the course record in 2008 in a voyageur canoe, featuring an American and an Australian as well as Canadians – including Hodgson – is not competing this year.
Next year’s Quest may see an explosion of German paddlers due to coverage this season by documentary filmmakers from the country’s ARD television station.
“That would be nice,” said Brady. “That happened after the BBC aired us. All of a sudden we had six to 10 teams and we’ve had teams from Great Britain ever since.”
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