Yukoners give strong finishes in River Quest

Rough waters on Lake Laberge, a slow river and cold, wet weather may have prevented about a third of the 77 teams from finishing this year's Yukon River Quest, but a handful of local paddlers hung tough.

Rough waters on Lake Laberge, a slow river and cold, wet weather may have prevented about a third of the 77 teams from finishing this year’s Yukon River Quest, but a handful of local paddlers hung tough, not only finishing the race but earning podium spots in various categories.

“People were really good at knowing what’s within and outside their limits and they stopped,” said race marshal Scott Puskas. “To lose a third of the field is quite a bit.

“In our race, we always tell the volunteers and the people at the checkpoints to stop, help people, help them recover – it’s a long race. We always encourage people to do whatever they can to recover and finish the race. But that wasn’t enough this year.

“Lake Laberge – even if the lake didn’t take people out, the effects of it did.”

Racing under the name This Is Your Idea, Whitehorse’s Kam Davies and Jason Doucet paddled to second place of the mixed tandem canoe category in the 740-kilometre race from Whitehorse to Dawson City that wrapped-up Saturday. Davies and Doucet, who were also the second tandem canoe overall to reach the finish line, came in two-and-a-half hours behind a team called Yukon JAM from New York State.

The two raced the Quest together three years ago in a tandem kayak and shaved about 10 hours off their time, earning them the Most Improved Award at this year’s Quest.

“We were a lot more organized and a lot more familiar with the Yukon – so the weather and the temperatures – and we switched to a canoe,” said Davies. “Most people seem to think that (kayaking would be faster) but canoes actually go really fast, especially when you apply yourself.”

Davies and Doucet also won the inaugural Yukon 360 last year on the Teslin River.

“We do a fair amount of training on the local rivers – there’s a good local paddling community that gets out to train,” said Davies. “So it’s pretty fun getting to trip over each other on the rivers and say our hellos. It was nice to see some of those people out during the race.”

Coming second in the men’s solo kayak category was Carmacks’ Shawn Corrigan. He finished behind past champion Carter Johnson, now a three-time winner from Sausaltio, California. Johnson set a new solo kayak record in this Quest, one of two records broken this year. (The other record to fall was in the men’s solo canoe category, broken by Ontario’s Gaetan Plourde.)

In another tandem canoe, Whitehorse’s Jean-Francois Latour and teammate Terry Ramin from Prince Rupert, BC, came second in the men’s division, just 18 minutes behind a team called Experimental Curry Powder from Australia.

The two paddled together on a voyageur canoe in 2006 – another race that saw lousy weather – scratching at Little Salmon.

In the women’s tandem canoe race, Marsh Lake’s Wendy Morrison and Whitehorse’s Cynthia Friedrich outpaced the only other boat in the division – paddled by Whitehorse’s Jessie Thomson-Gladish and Tiffany Duncan – by almost a full 10 hours to win the category.

Whitehorse’s Aly Morham was the first Yukoner to reach Dawson in the women’s solo kayak category, finishing third behind a pair of Californians. Morhams previous Quest experience was in 2008, paddling on a voyageur team that finished 12th.

Whitehorse’s Paddlers Abreast team, made up from breast cancer survivors, finished first in the three-boat women’s voyager canoe category.

The top voyageur canoe in the open class with Whitehorse paddlers was the Aquaholics in fourth, featuring six local paddlers: Ted Laking, Brad Magnuson, Scott Westberg, Rodney Hulstein, Graham White and Ammon Hoefs.

Taking first in the voyageur canoe division – and first overall in the entire race – with a time of 42 hours and 48 minutes was the Texans team, winning their third Quest and second in a row.

“The race was different; the weather was different, the conditions were different,” said Texans captain Richard Ameen. “The conditions of Lake Laberge were the worst we’ve ever been in in a voyageur. In 2006, I was in a kayak, so it didn’t feel as bad.

“This is one of the strongest teams we’ve ever brought in the last four years and it was our slowest time. The water was definitely lower – although there were certain sections where we had good (finishing) times.

“The Quest is a great event for us to use as a goal to stay in shape.”

While 24 teams – including solo participants – scratched during the race, one eliminated paddler motored on, reaching Dawson almost three hours past the race deadline and causing a bit of a panic among organizers in the process.

Paddling in the men’s solo kayak category, Alberta’s Dwayne Kostura was missed by the “sweeper boat”- and later a search plane – after organizers realized he had not been seen for most of Saturday.

“With 75 boats out there, you can’t have one safety boat dedicated to one paddling team, so at the end of the race they usually go back and forth for the last four or five racers,” said Puskas. “They didn’t find him at Sixty Mile (checkpoint) – the way the river is all braided and all that. I think we missed a few people on Sixty Mile.”

Kostura left the Carmacks checkpoint right at the 6 a.m. deadline and was then just under the wire at the Kirkman checkpoint, bringing up the rear of the race field. Then, somewhere between Kirkman and Dawson, he hit bad weather and, feeling hypothermic, pulled over to the side of the river where he received aid from a family of campers before continuing on.

“He was pretty disorientated (at the Carmacks checkpoint) and they were pretty worried about him there, but he seemed to revive himself in the three hours,” said Puskas.

“I think it was at 7:30 at night that I realized we hadn’t had a confirmed sight of him since 9:30 that morning.

“That was a stressful few hours.”

Full results and team bios can be found at www.yukonriverquest.com.

Contact Tom Patrick at tomp@yukon-news.com