One thing Jen Courville definitely didn’t want to do after winning the Yukon River Quest was sit down. She’d been doing that for more than 46 hours when she and her husband, Seb, crossed the finish line in Dawson City on the evening of July 6 just after 5 p.m.
The team from Golden Lake, Ont., won this year’s Quest in a tandem canoe with a time of 46:17:12. Both are veterans of paddling the race. Seb has done it four times and Jen has done it three times. They have also both been on winning teams at the end of past Quests.
In 2022, Seb was part of a four-man canoe that set an overall race record. One of his fellow paddlers that year, Mike De Abreu, also placed well this year, finishing second overall in a mixed tandem canoe with Sophie Coupal. High, fast water led to records in nine categories that year. Seb said this year was a lot harder.
“We were coming in on fumes,” he said.
Jen had stomach issues after Lake Laberge, early on the first day of the 715-kilometre paddle from Whitehorse to Dawson. On top of that, intense heat and slow water made for rough going.
“There was no current in this river,” Jen said, standing on the finish line, beer in hand as she peeled tape from four blistered fingers. They were hoping for a better time, but she said there was no speed coming out of the White River, which usually gives paddlers a boost. “We couldn’t believe [it…] at that point, we knew that we were going to be hours later coming in.”
Stephen Mooney, longtime race marshall for the Quest, said though there were no speed records broken this year, the race did set one record — not one boat spilled at Five Finger Rapids.
“In my time [with the race], 17-plus years, we’ve always had people spill,” he said. The rapids lost a “finger” this year when one of the islands eroded into the Yukon River completely. Mooney said paddlers who’ve run the river before told him the missing island actually increased turbulence.
He also said there was also a very low drop-out rate this year. Typically 30 per cent of paddlers drop at Carmacks. This year, he said there was one scratch at the lake, six at Carmacks and one at Minto.
One of those who scratched at Carmacks was Hugo Vernhout.
Vernhout came from the Netherlands to run the race. He said he heard about it years ago from Bart de Zwart, a famous stand-up paddle board (SUP) rider who held the Quest record for the SUP until it was bested last year.
“I’m 62,” Vernhout said, laughing. “Every year later I wait is perhaps too late.”
A veteran of the SUP 11 City Tour, a five-day stage race in the Netherlands, Vernhout trained physically for the race, but he also trained mentally. He wanted to get to know the Yukon, a place he’d never been before the race, and the people who live here.
“Eight months ago, I started listening to the Yukon, North of Ordinary podcast,” he said in Dawson on July 6. “So, I know about [Yukon band] Cows Go Moo and I know about the guy who lives in a cave across the river.”
He gestured toward the west bank, where Bill Donaldson has famously lived in a West Dawson cave for years.
“[The podcast] helped me, but I think it helped my wife more than me. ‘Look,’ I said. ‘Listen to this podcast. It says the bear spray works!’”
Bears were her main concern. Vernhout’s was crossing Lake Laberge. The lake is tough for all boats, but doubly so for a SUP. However, he said he felt great crossing the lake. It was only after that that he started having leg pain, due to existing arterial issues in his left leg. When that leg started shaking, he overcompensated with his right. For the 150 kilometres leading into Carmacks, he paddled exclusively from his knees. He scratched at the checkpoint.
Still, he followed the race to Dawson rather than fly home early. He wanted to see more of the territory, and help crew and support another SUP rider he’d paddled the lake with, Goran Gustavsson, who ended up placing first in the SUP category.
Vernhout said he would return to run the river as a more leisurely trip, but he won’t likely attempt the race again. He’s an outdoorsy person, but he’s never spent a night alone in land like what he’s seen in the Yukon. Having been able to do that, he said he’s going home satisfied.
Podium finishes as of press time follow below.
Mens solo canoe
Matt@newwestdesign.ca: Matthew Smith (54:13:16)
Womens solo canoe
Shut up and Paddle: Tania Halik (65:20:31)
Mixed tandem canoe
Golden Lake Crew: Seb & Jen Courville (46:17:12)
Planned Grit: Mike De Abreu & Sophie Coupal (47:00:05)
Broderson: Chris & Emily Broderson (48:53:04)
Mens tandem canoe
Free Animal: Ragnar Robinson, Scott Fraser (48:15:12)
Pangal Norte: John & Josh Apostol (49:02:33)
Watch our Wake: Brian Groves, Shane Ringham (49:53:49)
Mens four-person canoe
Spirit of the Yukon: Soenen Francis, Peter van den Berg, Helen-Holly Crouch, Danny Veys (49:09:00) (This year there weren’t enough mixed four-person canoes to make a category, so Spirit of the Yukon was moved to the mens division)
Usain Boat: Adam Strand, Michael Johnson, Giovanni Allevato, Douglas Endrizzi (54:51:01)
Mix Match: Martin Like, Anthony Ellis, Shawn Warren, Jerome Libecki III (56:59:14)
Mens solo kayak
Vini Vidi Vici: Thomas de Jager (51:53:46)
The Waterman: Robert Gill (52:00:05)
CaCoCa: Jake VanLue (57:07:48)
Womens solo kayak
Team Lootas: Kelley Watson (54:09:20)
Rough Cut Diamond: Patricia Jones (57:00:41)
Stroke of Serendipity: Kimberly Dodds (59:36:06)
Mixed tandem kayak
Spirit of America: Josh Friedman, Julie Kirk (51:43:27)
Power Couple: Madison Power, Jeremy de Kroon (66:15:00)
Mens tandem kayak
Yukiwis: Graham Sutherland, Greg Lloyd (51:20:08)
The Revenant: Ben Lott, Scott Worthington (51:35:26)
Team Yster Sweden: Goran Gustavsson (57:04:04)
Airboard: Thomas Schillig (57:32:28)
RGP: Christoph Weber (59:20:16)
Team 3-2-1-Go 2023: Tina Hoeben, Kathy Jensen, Cindy Lee, Margaret Caudle, Andrew Lane, Cheance Adair (47:36:03)
TS’ALVIT: James Boyde, Pam Boyde, Midori Kirby, Peter Kirby, Marina McCready, Marianne Douglas (49:56:02)
Cap Warriors: Donna Johns, Bruce Jobin, Wes Kemble, Presley Jobin, Dominic Johns, Marie Boss, Ethan Boucher, Barb Dawson (52:51:31)
Stix Together: Cheryl Rivest, Carolyn Relf, Kirsti de Vries, Susan Hamilton, Anna Peacock, Natalie Haltrich, Kathy Burden, Jennifer King (49:57:34)
Team Whoa: Tunde Fulop, Lisa Robertson, Patricia Clune, Noreen Schaefer, Danielle Boisvert, Tracey Hutton (52:00:00)
Good Company: Charlie Bodkin, Sam Horsley, James Samuels, Louis Hugh-Jones, Piers Haskard, Harry Horsley (53:57:51)
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