Smooth conditions on Lake Laberge helped pave the way to impressive times in the 14th annual Yukon River Quest, a 715-kilometre canoe and kayak race from Whitehorse to Dawson City that began last Wednesday.
Yukoners were on four winning teams, two of which arrived in Dawson in record time on Friday.
Cruising into Dawson at a record pace were Whitehorse’s Martha Taylor and Ali Morham, taking first in the women’s tandem kayak division.
“At the end of (Lake Laberge) we realized there was a chance for us to actually get the record,” said Morham, who placed third in women’s solo kayak last year. “The lake was so calm and coming across we kept thinking, ‘This is going to get better when we get into moving water.’ When we got to the end of the lake it was eight hours (into the race). We thought, ‘This is fantastic. We are going to be able to do what we thought we could do.’”
Taylor and Morham finished with a time of 47 hours, four minutes and 44 seconds, surpassing the previous record by more than four and a half hours.
“It all came together for us; it all went how we hoped it would go,” said Taylor. “We trained hard and we thought we had a chance at breaking the record – by how much we had no idea.
“The weather was great and we worked really well together. We just kept at it.”
Their team, the Fascinators, arrived in Dawson 10th overall and second for tandem kayaks behind a men’s team of an American and South African.
The other record to fall came in the women’s voyageur division. The team, Skirting Disaster, set the record with a time of 42:50:46, more than eight hours faster than the 2006 record set by False Creek Women.
On board was Whitehorse’s Kam Davies – the only Yukoner – with an Austrian, a Quebecer, a Brit and two Americans.
“We had a great team spirit and that was pretty helpful because it’s long and cold – and long,” said Davies. “We all looked after ourselves to make sure we had enough energy to get right to the finish.”
Of the two Americans, one was Veronica Wisniewski, who set the women’s tandem canoe record in 2009. The other was Mary Tipton, who last year worked as support crew for the Texans, a men’s voyageur team that won the Quest the three previous years.
In fact, the absence of the Texans from this year’s race gave Skirting Disaster a bit of an advantage.
“We capitalized on that by using their boat, because we think it’s the best and fastest boat out there,” said Davies, who came second in the solo women’s kayak last year and finished second in the mixed tandem canoe in 2010 with Whitehorse’s Jason Doucet.
Skirting Disaster was the third team into Dawson, finishing behind first-place’s Down Under Dogs from Australia and California’s Such a Blast, both men’s voyageur teams.
Haines Junction’s Mark Fletcher set out from Whitehorse with a very specific and lofty goal – to cut 10 hours off his time from last year. He did it with room to spare.
Fletcher won the men’s solo canoe division with a time of 57:41:35, almost 11 hours quicker than his first Quest last year.
“That was a personal goal, so it’s pretty neat to realize I achieved it,” said Fletcher. “Better river, better fitness, better training, and I think the big one is knowing what to expect. I shaved a lot of weight off the boat and myself… This year I managed to shave about 50 pounds off.
“You tweak the gear, you tweak the kit, you tweak what you take – it’s like tuning up a racecar to make it faster. That’s what I did.”
His improved time improved his result, taking sixth last year. So will Fletcher be back to defend his new title next year?
“My shoulder and back would tell you no, but we usually forget that,” he said. “It’s such a unique, international event, and to be so close to it in the Junction, it’s hard not to be in it. But if I’m not in it, I’d definitely be part of it as a volunteer or as support for somebody.”
The other Yukoner to win a division was Faro’s Tim Lynch with Nova Scotia’s Dave Lewis in the men’s tandem canoe category.
Lynch and Lewis completed the race with a time of 43:18:48, putting them in fourth overall, just 28 minutes behind Skirting Disaster.
The Yukon’s top team in the women’s tandem canoe was Whitehorse’s MIAPAT – Mia Lee and Pat McKenna – placing second with a time of 50:29:15. Lee and McKenna were eighth out of 23 tandem canoes. Whitehorse’s Yahndawa’ Tzun, featuring Monique Levesque and Pauline Frost, placed third in women’s tandem canoe.
The territory’s top team in the mixed tandem canoe class was Whitehorse’s Boydes of a Feather, with Jim and Pam Boyde on board. They placed second with a time of 50:05:54, about 40 minutes behind a team from Maine.
Whitehorse’s Scott Kerby, who is fast on a bicycle, was also fast in the men’s solo kayak division. Kerby placed sixth out of 15 paddlers for the Yukon’s best result. He arrived in Dawson in 54:00:01.
A total of 68 teams, comprised of 187 paddlers from 13 countries, competed in this year’s race.
“We want to thank the volunteers because they were excellent and the race wouldn’t happen without them,” said Davies. “We couldn’t have done what we did without our support crew and the race’s volunteers.”
“It was a really well organized race and the volunteers were really stunningly happy and willing to do their job,” said Morham. “Each time we got to a checkpoint, we’d get a cheerful hello from them.”
“We’d like to thank our support crew for all of their help in the race and giving us time to train beforehand,” added Taylor.
Contact Tom Patrick at email@example.com