Quest racers paddle through pain — for fun

When Yukon River Quest paddlers arrive at his village’s Coal Mine Campground, they don’t look good.

When Yukon River Quest paddlers arrive at his village’s Coal Mine Campground, they don’t

look good.

The mandatory seven-hour layover is a chance to stretch, eat some decent food and rest for the second half of the race.

But before they can do that, they need to get out of their boats.

After more than 20 hours on the river, some paddlers need help to hobble off the dock to their campsites — fit athletes shuffle along like decrepit

old men.

“After 20 hours, the old hips feel like they’re grinding through the fibreglass,” said Australian solo kayaker Tom Simmat.

With help from his wife and son, Simmat was making some modifications to his boat before heading off for Dawson.

“That’s pure Australian dead sheep,” he said, pointing to the fluffy, white seat cover being glued on by his son. “To help me old bum.”

The weather seems to be the story of the first half of the race, which Simmat described as shocking.

“Rain, hail — Laberge was fun,” he said. “With the wind and waves, I was doing runs of 300 to 400 metres without paddling. Just balance and go.”

The sun finally appeared

yesterday afternoon, but not before the wet conditions claimed more victims; several teams scratched on the 30-Mile section of the river, quite a few of those paddlers showed signs of hypothermia.

“The number of scratches isn’t higher than usual,” said race organizer Jeff Brady. “It’s just that the reasons are different.”

The unrelenting rain and cold forced many teams to pull out, he said.

Two teams from Alberta had to be rescued after getting caught in a log-jam near 5 Mile Bend.

Because of all the rain, the river is quite high, Brady added.

“Normally, they’ll close the dam up a little for us at the start, but I saw the water rising and we had to move all the boats back before they floated away. They just couldn’t keep it closed.”

“We were drenched the whole time,” said Lynn Rice-Ridout, of the Paddlers Abreast team. “If you stop paddling to change spots or eat, you get cold fast.”

Carmacks gave teams a chance to dry their soggy gear and refuel.

But they didn’t sound happy about heading back out for another 20 hours.

“Why, why, why?” said Richie Astridge, one of the British army paddlers, as he eased himself into his boat.

“What are we doing? The next time the BBC shows something like this, ignore it, yeah?”