Two novice kayakers completed the Yukon River Quest last weekend.
Molly and Mike Brazier had planned on racing in two separate tandem kayak entries for the Yukon Quest – one, a father and daughter team and the other, a son and son-in-law team. Last minute work demands pulled the son-in-law out of the race, so Mike and Molly’s father stepped aside to create a brother sister team. Their dad, Bob Brazier, would run support. Molly (31) lives in Missoula, Montana and Mike (28) is in California; Bob lives in Ohio.
When the warnings about hazardous river conditions began to accumulate ahead of this years’ race, they thought they were still good — even though neither had been in tandem kayak before, and they had never paddled together. They had spent some time paddling on rivers. Mike was pretty fit and had once run a marathon, and Molly had the determination and fortitude developed as an endurance adventure racer and as a mountaineer. Both signed up to finish.
They had checked out YouTube videos of the race, especially of one paddleboarder who talked about the need for sunscreen and raving about the calm waters in the 2019 YRQ.
This year wasn’t like that. “We’re getting all these warnings about it being dangerous, but we’d put so much money into it – in terms of purchasing gear and plane tickets and everything. We thought we should at least get there and see how the conditions are, and get an idea of what we’re dealing with,” Mike told the News June 26.
They met up in south eastern Alaska. “Molly and I took a nice road trip from Haines into Whitehorse. And we never been in the area before. And we were just amazed at how beautiful it was,” he said.
“Before we got to Whitehorse we had no team experience or anything, but we rented a boat.”
The novice team spent four hours over two days using the rentals before the start of the race. They met Stephen Mooney, co-race marshal, who said he offered them tips and pointers despite being inwardly cautious about their chances of finishing and their safety on the river.
The pair had only a total of four hours on the water together before the race started.
“We kind of got to understand the foot pedals. We started understanding our synchronization, how to work as a team to navigate and everything – we got our bearings.
“But to be honest, it wasn’t until we had half completed the race in Carmacks that we actually had it dialed in.”
The pair made it into Policeman’s Point just five minutes before the disqualification time, they missed the storm cells during their trek across Laberge, and made the next checkpoint 10 minutes before the cut off. They stopped at Big Salmon and made it to Carmacks and slept.
Five minutes before they left Carmacks to face Five Finger Rapids, veteran racer Jim Boyd, now a race volunteer, gave them instructions on how to approach the rapids.
“Using a stick and the dirt, Jim drew out a map of the rapid, making marks indicating the entrance’s dangerous eddy line, the V, the main rapid, the lateral wave train at the exit, future boat-tipping rapids further downstream, and most importantly our path to safety.”
Mike said that it was in that stretch of river “before Five Fingers we actually started really paddling like a team properly. We got our commands down on how to keep a straight line.”
The waves at Five Fingers were far higher than they expected, Mike told the News. He lifted his hand well above his head to indicate just how high. Molly nodded.
“At that point, you have to commit that you’re going through it — you don’t have another choice. And we just straight shot it. And somehow, we made it through,” Mike said.
This year, one in seven boats spilled in Five Finger Rapids, including many experienced teams.
Molly talked about her rationalization. “I think I was just constantly thinking of a contingency plan. I understood that if we flipped there were the safety boats there and a fire nearby. So, I was always just looking for the bottom line — can we stay alive through this? And you know, I felt that we could.”
The pair is coming back next year. They feel they owe a debt to the organizers, the volunteers and all the people who helped get them through.
“We’re in debt. Because this race; we didn’t know what we were getting into,” Mike said. “There was some concern about our well-being.”
Race marshal Stephen Mooney said that although he was concerned at first, he saw something in them — a determination and steadiness — that made him believe they would be okay. The pair finished the race in 62 hours, 28 minutes. They arrived 58th overall, 6th in the tandem kayak and 2nd in the mixed tandem kayak, but both said they are not going to brag about what they did.
“We realized that we may have, you know, taken the wrong choice in ignoring the warnings. And we’re glad to have made it here. And we’re happy to be well received and regarded in a certain respect. But, you know, we’re humbled,” Mike said.
Three times, Mike and Molly reinforced how much they owe the directors, the organization, and the community that volunteers.
“We owe them for making it here,” Mike said.
“We’re humbled by having seen the rapids and the quality of the racers around us — we are not at the caliber of the majority of these racers.
“So we’re in debt, but I think we’ve collectively fallen in love with everybody here, this whole community, the geographic area, it’s absolutely beautiful. The river is amazing. We absolutely love it.”
Contact Lawrie Crawford at firstname.lastname@example.org