After some top finishes in last year’s Yukon River Quest, paddlers from the Lone Star State are back hoping to match or improve on their 2008 finishes. However, they may have their work cut out for them.
At first glance it would seem the team, simply called the Texans, who finished second last year in the voyageur canoe category, have the advantage with 2008’s winning crew, Team Kisseynew, not entered. Although Kisseynew is out, their boat is still in, being padded by last year’s third-place finisher, Team Dene.
“Last year (Team Dene) was with a canoe that was so-so, this year they have the Rolls Royce,” said Jean-Francois Latour, River Quest race president. “And the Texans are back with a newly designed boat that’s really fast.
“I suspect those two teams are going to challenge the course record this year.”
In addition, the majority of both teams are new to their respective crews but are experienced and ready for the challenge, say team members.
“We’re all racers from Texas and we race ultra-marathons all over the world,” said Richard Steppe, a newcomer to the Texans. “Everybody’s experienced.
“I’ve done (the Quest) before; I’ve done it in a canoe, I’ve done it in a kayak. This is my first time in a voyageur canoe.”
“They all have experience,” said Team Dene captain Charlie Tssessaze.
Perhaps in an even tougher situation is last year’s solo kayak winner, Brad Pennington from Houston, Texas. This year Pennington will be paddling against two past solo-kayak, record-setting champions, Carter Johnson, from Sausalito, California, who won and set a solo-kayak record in 2006 and David Kelly, from San Rafael, California, who won in 2004 in record time.
“It looks like they’re racing together, so it’s two against one,” said Pennington. “They’re going to be load-sharing; one will pull, one will draft. They’ll alternate to save energy, to knock me out. And I guess if they’re successful getting rid of me, they’ll set off between themselves. I’ve got to find a way to counter that.
“Hopefully I can catch a Voyageur, catch one of the fast carbon boats at the start. No one’s ever done it, but since they have to run the farthest this year—they used to run a shorter (distance from the start to the boats). Now that I’m right next to them I’ve got a shot—no guarantee.”
Aside from finishing the race, for some teams just starting was an accomplishment.
Team 15 X 0, featuring Larry Seethaler and Brenda Forsythe from Anchorage, Alaska, almost had to withdraw from the race after hitting a moose just outside of Tok on the drive to Whitehorse. The collision not only did a number on the team’s car, but left their canoe in no condition for the race.
“The (state) trooper said the canoe probably saved their lives,” said Latour. “They went back to Anchorage and sent me an e-mail in the morning saying, ‘We were on our way, we hit a moose, we’re out.’ So I phoned them and said, ‘Come on down, I’ve got a canoe for you.’
“Larry is the only person to do the two-day to Dawson race and the 10 previous River Quests. So I thought, what a shame if he breaks his streak just because of a freak accident.”
Nothing short of inspirational is the Paddlers Abreast team, competing in a voyageur canoe out of Whitehorse and featuring crewmembers who have overcome cancer.
“Every year they try to recruit women who have been through breast cancer, who have been struggling and not in control of their life because of that terrible condition,” said Latour.
“The Paddlers Abreast canoe team is a way for them to re-conquer their body and prove to themselves that they are in control and can do something pretty strenuous.”
Other notable competitors include Whitehorse’s Jane Vincent, who competed in the 1992 Olympics for cross-country running, paddling in a tandem canoe.
“She decided to team up with Tim Hodgson, who also participated in the World Paddling Championships back in 1985 as a junior,” said Latour.
Coming all the way from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, is first-time racer Routier Daniel, paddling in a tandem kayak with Jeremy Woodall from Guildford, England.
“He read an article written by a French journalist that I paddled with last year and he said, ‘Gosh that looks neat, I’m signing up,’” said Latour. “So that paid off a little bit.”
Last year’s solo canoe winner, Kevin Mellis, from Calgary Alberta, is also back this year.
On the water heading to Dawson City are 172 paddlers from eight countries, including Austria, Australia, Great Britain, Latvia, Canada, US, Netherlands and UAE.
The first boats are expected to finish the race in Dawson Friday around noon.
Contact Tom Patrick at email@example.com