Yukon River Quest’s solo canoeists get super competitive

By Peter Coates Special to the News The Yukon River Quest canoe and kayak race is only a month away.

By Peter Coates

Special to the News

The Yukon River Quest canoe and kayak race is only a month away.

It will be bigger than ever this year with 98 entries.

The solo canoe class looks to be a really interesting race within a race.

This year, there are only three teams in this class, but that is an improvement over last year’s total of one.

At one point the category was at its maximum of five, before some entrants dropped out.

Last year, the category was won by Joe Evans, who also “won” the red lantern.

But this does not reflect either on the class or on Joe.

He damaged his elbow on Lake Laberge — that he finished at all, given his injury, reflects well on him.

And, as for the red lantern — he was trying for that.

What makes the solo canoe class so interesting? Well for one thing, this class is perhaps the closest to the original intent of the race.

Originally the race was set up for expedition boats. The kayak classes were defined for boats that were rather faster than the canoe classes, and the canoe class was opened up a little last year to rebalance the race — that was easier than tightening up the specifications for the kayaks.

But the solo canoe class is tightly specified to only allow what are really fine expedition boats, the Clipper Sea-1 and the Kruger Sea Wind.

The Kruger is the type of boat that Steve Landick (multiple winner of the Yukon River Quest) used for his three-year paddle around the continent (including a paddle up the Yukon from Fort Yukon to Bennett).

The Sea-1 was used by another Yukon River Quest veteran, Joe O’Blenis, on a solo trip across Canada a few years back.

I will be using his Sea-1 in August on a trip down the Eagle, Bell, Porcupine and Yukon Rivers from the Dempster Highway to the Dalton Highway.

The solo canoe class is wide open — the four entrants are all veterans of the river quest:

I finished 8th in the canoe division in the 2001 river quest with my then 16-year-old son, in 54 hours, 12 minutes, and served as race marshal for last year.

Eric Jayne finished 13th canoe in 2002 with his 14-year-old daughter in 69:48, and 6th canoe in 55:12 in 2005 with his 21-year-old son.

Kevin Mellis has been in the River Quest every year since 2003 paddling with Tony Arcand.

They’ve placed from 4th to 11th canoe in times between 52:15 and 55:59. Last year they were 4th.

All four competitors have been out practising hard.

I’ve been out on the river several times a week as soon as there was any open water here in the Yukon, which was up by Marsh Lake dam back on 24th March.

I spent the May long weekend paddling from Minto to Dawson, both as a practice run and to see how the “fast secret channels” may have changed this year.

Joe lives south of the 49th in Oregon, and so has had open water all winter.

Kevin, being in Calgary, has had more difficulties getting out in a canoe.

The Bow River that flows through Calgary is very shallow this time of year.

Instead, he has been concentrating on cross training and cardio fitness, with occasional hand-bike runs or trips out to the Glenmore Reservoir, which is comparable to our Lake Schwatka.

This year, all the solo canoe competitors will be carrying Spot devices.

Spot devices are GPS/satellite phone messengers that allow the competitors to send e-mail messages giving their location.

This means that their progress down the river can be followed on the web using software developed for the Yukon 1000 race that will be held next year.

This will be a full-dress rehearsal for that software.

We know that there will be at least eight teams with spot devices in the race this year, but what is special about solo canoes is that the whole class can be watched on the web with position updates about once an hour.

This will turn that race within a race into a real spectator sport.

Check out the Yukon River Quest web pages at yukonriverquest.com. The unofficial Spot data will be visible at http://yukon1000.com/results/results.html.