Team Hatchet Lake races against Yukon Wide Adventures at the front of the pack through Lake Laberge on Jun. 26, 2019. The 2021 race will begin on June 23. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Team Hatchet Lake races against Yukon Wide Adventures at the front of the pack through Lake Laberge on Jun. 26, 2019. The 2021 race will begin on June 23. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

River Quest introduces new race, adjusts to COVID guidelines in 2021

The Race to the Midnight Sun will begin June 23 with about 50 teams racing from Whitehorse to Dawson.

The Yukon River Quest, or the “Race to the Midnight Sun” is just shy of a month away.

The 715 kilometre (444 mile) race from Whitehorse to Dawson City will begin June 23 in Rotary Peace Park.

The River Quest will return after a year-long hiatus due to COVID-19. Despite the return, River Quest president Peter Coates said changes were made to remain compliant with pandemic rules and guidelines.

One thing people will notice is the number of paddlers. The internationally popular race draws paddlers from all over the world, however, this year’s field of 49 consists of mostly local boats.

“We have never had this many local teams,” said Coates. “It is fantastic. It is really, really good.”

Because of border restrictions, international paddlers were unable to register for the race. Teams in Canada were able to register, but were required to meet the mandatory two-week self-isolation requirements.

Although the requirement was lifted for those fully vaccinated, Coates said there still won’t be many teams from other parts of the country because they aren’t fully vaccinated and can’t meet the two-week self-isolation before doing the race.

In 2019, a record 117 paddlers began the River Quest and 86 finished. Two years prior, River Quest organizers bumped the number of eligible teams from 100 to 125 to accommodate demand.

The popular mad-dash to the boats will change. Instead, Coates said teams will leave in 15-second intervals and time differences will be made up at Carmacks.

Another difference paddlers will have to adjust to is a switch in checkpoints. The race is moving from Coffee Creek to Minto Resorts — a stop they used from 2001-2003.

In other years, paddlers would be required to spend seven hours in Carmacks and three hours at the next checkpoint. However, because Minto Resorts is close to Carmacks, teams need to take 10 hours between the two — however they decide to split it.

The River Quest is also introducing a new race this year, the Half Quest from Whitehorse to Carmacks.

“We have about a dozen teams, but that is just fine,” said Coates. “These are locals that aren’t sure they want to do the full race, but want to be involved. That’s exactly what it’s for.

“If it stays at being a little race, a taster, that’s OK, but I’m expecting it to grow. Anything that is new takes a while to take off.”

Coates suspects once more people learn about the Half Quest the numbers of those registering will grow.

“It is something with a lower impact,” said Coates. “It is something that more people can do if they aren’t confident they can do the whole race.”

Because of COVID, teams will have to rely on their support teams, or bubble, to help them out of their vessel and get their boat on the water.

The usual festivities, start and closing banquets will also have to wait until guidelines ease.

Contact John Tonin at john.tonin@yukon-news.com

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