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Yukon paddlers win River Quest title, get engaged

Whitehorse paddlers Alex Jessup and Robert Spinks likely had a more memorable Yukon River Quest than most other teams in the 715-kilometre race from Whitehorse to Dawson City.

Whitehorse paddlers Alex Jessup and Robert Spinks likely had a more memorable Yukon River Quest than most other teams in the 715-kilometre race from Whitehorse to Dawson City.

They won the mixed tandem canoe division as boyfriend and girlfriend and drove home as fiance and fiancee.

After finishing the race, Spinks popped the question on top of the Midnight Dome in Dawson on Saturday.

“I’m pretty stoked about it,” said Jessup.

Jessup, 27, and Spinks, 28, won their division, placed fourth for tandem canoes and ninth overall at the 18th annual race that saw a record 94 teams compete.

“The race went really well; it couldn’t have gone much better,” said Jessup. “We wanted to keep above a consistent 70 (strokes per minute) the whole way and we were able to do that. So we were able to paddle as hard as we wanted to and it went very, very well.”

Last week’s race, which began Wednesday, was the newly-engaged couple’s third straight, placing third in the division last year. Despite slow currents, they posted their fastest time to date at 49 hours, 25 minutes and 42 seconds. (Forty-nine-plus hours together in a canoe is doubtless a good way for a couple to gauge their compatibility.)

“We shaved off time every time,” said Jessup. “We shaved off two hours last time and four and a half hours this year.

“From what we heard from everyone, the current was much worse and we’d have to agree. It was terrible this year … We trained quite a bit harder this year than in previous years.”

Jessup and Spinks were one of two Yukon teams to top a division this year, one fewer than last year and two fewer than in 2014.

Team CAP – named after their sponsor CAP Engineering – took first in the men’s voyageur with a time of 53:43:43.

They placed fourth for voyageur canoes and 20th overall – a big improvement from 10th for voyageurs and 34th overall last year.

“We hit our goal. We wanted to shave some hours off of last year and we shaved 14 hours,” said captain Ian Jobin.

It was a slower river this year but, “We were faster paddlers, I guess. And we were in a quicker boat than last year and not such rookies – a little better at reading the water.”

On board with Jobin was Whitehorse’s Kouciah Graham, Steven Shorty, Samantha Frost and Jimmy Enns, Carcross’ Wes Kemble and Donna Johns, and Australia’s Hayden Dyer, whom Jobin met in last year’s Quest when Dyer scratched in Carmacks.

“I said, ‘Come back next year and we’ll put you in a boat and get you to the end,’” said Jobin.

(Voyageur teams require a minimum of three females to be considered a mixed team.)

While Yukoners pinned a pair of division wins, an Ontario team took the overall trophy.

Jeff Brainard, 54, and Gaetan Plourde, 42, paddled their tandem canoe to first with a time of 46:14:56.

“Couldn’t be happier! From the first time I raced the YRQ even though I wasn’t much of a racer back then it was a goal that I knew I wanted to accomplish,” said Plourde in an email to the News. “It took years of effort to improve to the point where I could be competitive and to finally win overall and reach that goal is very satisfying.”

Brainard and Plourde, who are both past solo winners, placed second overall last year. They didn’t make any big changes in their preparation from last year to this year, just small ones that made the difference, said Plourde.

“Jeff spent a lot of time rigging the boat better, we made slight improvements to our maps, we had back up GPSs after ours failed during last year’s race,” he said. “Over the extra year we’ve paddled together we got to improve our technique and I think we both got better at knowing our capabilities and limits, which turned out to be of use during the race.”

Montana’s Dave Hutchison took second overall and first in men’s solo kayak, reaching the finish Friday evening with a time of 47:17:30. The 55-year-old won the division in 2014 and was in the overall winning boat – a tandem kayak – at last year’s Quest.

Australia’s Geeb Smith, 50, and Derek Chart, 43, notched a third place finish and a win in the men’s tandem kayak division at 48:09:09.

Whitehorse’s Lee Hawkings and Ian Weir – both 24 – finished fourth overall and second for men’s tandem canoe with a time of 48:28:02.

Quebec City’s Laurélie Harvey and Joanie Pelletier sped to first in women’s tandem canoe, 10th overall, at 50:42:22. Whitehorse’s Pauline Frost and Inuvik’s Nichole McDonald took second in the division (52:27:31) and Whitehorse’s Steph Leson and Ontario’s Rena Dehne third (65:04:05).

Ontario’s Bryan Allemang reached Dawson in 54:16:44 to take first in the men’s solo canoe division. Whitehorse’s Bradley Magnuson placed second at 61:57:26.

Brad Pennington of Houston, Texas, placed second in men’s solo kayak behind Hutchison at 48:55:5. Whitehorse’s Thomas de Jage came third (51:19:36).

An Albertan team topped the standings in the mixed voyageur division, outpacing Whitehorse’s Team Ts’alvit in second. Team Ts’alvit – Jim Boyde, Pam Boyde, Bill Parry, Melissa Carlick, Brian Groves, Midori Kirby and Peter Kirby – finished in 49:12:32.

A team from Minnesota edged out Whitehorse’s Stix Together by an hour to take first in women’s voyageur. Paddling on Stix were Lynn Rice-Rideout, Monique Levesque, Deb Bartlette, Jennifer Floyd, Cheryl Rivest, Carolyn Relf, Sandra MacDougall, Sarah Ouellette and Chantelle Rivest.

Contact Tom Patrick at