Whitehorse paddlers snag two Quest titles, three second place finishes

Two Whitehorse teams paddled into Dawson as champions in the Yukon River Quest, the 740-kilometre canoe and kayak race that began in Whitehorse last Wednesday.

Two Whitehorse teams paddled into Dawson as champions in the Yukon River Quest, the 740-kilometre canoe and kayak race that began in Whitehorse last Wednesday.

In two solo divisions, Whitehorse paddlers also took second-place finishes. Another local kayaker teamed up with an Aussie for second in a tandem division.

Whitehorse’s Sausages&Mussels; had the best result of any Yukon team, taking first in the mixed voyageur division and second overall with a time of 44 hours, 37 minutes. In fact, Sausages&Mussels; kept on the heels of the four-time champion Texans, who went on to finish first overall, winning the open voyager class.

“We had a great start, had the lead there for a bit, Texas caught up with us and took a little bit of a lead on the lake,” said captain Dan Girouard. “Throughout the race we tried to catch them.

“After the lake we had a team member who couldn’t paddle on one side, so we were one man short every time he was on the left side. So they gained some time on us because of that.

“Got to Carmacks, he got some treatment done on his shoulder, and we decided to keep going.”

The first-year team, which includes Justin Wallace, Verena Koenig, Philippe Mouchet, Joanie Pelletier and Cynthia Corriveau, encountered more difficulty when Girouard developed stomach problems and wasn’t able to keep food down. The race nurse in Dawson told him he was in the worst condition of anyone she saw, he said.

“You never know with a long race like this,” said Girouard. “It’s pretty hard on your body and anything can happen.

“When you’re feeling low, it’s nice to have five other people in your boat to help push you through. I’m glad I had the team members that I did.”

Whitehorse’s Paddlers Abreast defended their women’s voyageur title from last year, also coming 12th overall and fourth out of 11 voyageur canoes.

“We trained hard this year and Paddlers Abreast has been doing this for 10 years, so we have a routine down,” said captain Mia Lee. “We have our food, our water – we have everything down to a fine art.

“We definitely can’t negate that we had fantastic conditions; we had high water, no rain – for the entire race – and we had a tailwind for a good chunk of the way.

“We sang tons to stay awake and it made a world of difference.”

Though the roster changes from year to year, it was the team’s 10th-straight running of the race, setting a personal best time of 51:56.

The team, which has five breast cancer survivors on board, includes Whitehorse paddlers Lee, Terry Neis, Ingrid Wilcox, Maralyn Rogers, Michelle Wagner, Lynn Rice-Rideout, Monique Levesque, Deb Bartlette and Asa Berg from Atlin, BC.

“It is about the journey for women who have survived breast cancer, it is about women who have been through a very traumatic experience and getting their strength, their power, and their will back. And to know they can still do things like this,” said Lee. “But it’s a race and we’re in it to win it as much as we can.

“We were so shocked through the whole race about how well we did. And we were hearing from people about how shocked they were.”

Whitehorse’s Kam Davies not only came second in solo women kayak division, she was 10th overall, and fourth for solo kayaks, in a time of 50:50. It was her first time attempting the Quest solo.

“I’ve done it in tandem boats before, so it’s quite exciting to try a different class,” said Davies. “It changes the game up a little bit. You’re on your own, you have to stay awake all by yourself, and not have a partner to help you out when you get down. You don’t have a partner to jazz-up when they get down.

“There’s no one else powering the boat, it’s all under your steam.”

Last year Davies teamed up with Whitehorse’s Jason Doucet to take second in the mixed tandem canoe division of the Quest. This year Doucet, also soloing for the first time, had the Yukon’s best finish in the men’s solo kayak with eighth. Doucet finished behind a melange of nationalities, including paddlers from Austria, Finland, Sweden, US, Japan and the UK.

Finishing third in women’s solo kayak was Whitehorse’s Ali Morham.

After sitting out last year’s Quest with an injury, Whitehorse’s Tim Hodgson paddled to second in men’s solo canoe, and 13th overall, with a time of 51:59.

It was tough going in the first half of the race, as his boat took on water, first from big waves on Lake Laberge, then from what his team believed was a crack in the hull.

“I had some issues, but I managed to pull-off second, so that was good,” said Hodgson. “It made for an interesting race because I went from pretty far up the pack. I lost an hour so I watched almost the entire race go by me as I stopped to bail out my boat.”

Unable to find the crack, Hodgson’s team turned to the handyman’s secret weapon: duct-tape.

“What he did was patch any possible blemish or crack, because it wasn’t an obvious hole,” said Hodgson, a former Team Canada athlete, who paddled at the World Junior Championships. “And it worked; it stopped leaking for the second half.”

Finishing sixth in the same division was Haines Junction’s Mark Fletcher.

Another second-place result for the Yukon came from Whitehorse’s Paul Adams, taking second in the men’s tandem kayak division with Tim Binstead of Australia.

In the mixed tandem canoe division, Whitehorse’s Iain Seal and Ingabritt Scholven raced to third with a time of 59:02. Shaving about eight hours off their time from last year, the team was given the Most Improved Award of the Quest.

Two spots back from Seal and Scholven in fifth was the father/daughter team of Robert Zimmerman and Zoe Zimmerman from Whitehorse.

In the mixed tandem kayak division, Whitehorse’s Marianne Douglas took fourth with partner Paul Salathe from France.

Always a tough event, this year only 55 of the race’s 73 starting teams reached Dawson.

Contact Tom Patrick at

tomp@yukon-news.com