All of my winter training was geared towards the Worlds Longest Paddle Race – the Yukon River Quest and to say my race did not go to plan was a HUGE understatement.
From day one everything went wrong, flight was delayed by over 4 hours which meant me missing connections to the Yukon, therefore an extra 36 hours stuck in Vancouver. I then arrived in the Yukon at midnight the day later than anticipated and was desperate to have a short paddle on the river to gauge the flow. But with arriving so late I had so many meetings and gear check to attend that I only got a quick half an hour paddle in and that was at 10pm at night. Not perfect preparation.
On the start line all SUP boards were placed on a gravel bar which meant a run through the water first. I was not using my regular Black Project fin as I had to take my Naish One 12’6 inflatable to the race as it was impossible for me to get a 14′ carbon board to the Yukon. The Naish One is a 12’6 x 30 inflatable board with a plastic fin. Due to the weight on the back of my board I could not place the fin in before I was ready to put the board in the water. This meant whilst everyone ran to their board an immediately launched their 14′ predominantly carbon boards I had to stop and put my fin in before paddling. Which meant starting as last place SUP.
This race is a 750km unsupported wilderness race, which meant carrying everything I need on the board including safety and camping equipment. Due to there being nowhere to refill water bottles for approx 60-65 hours it meant I had to drink the river water. I had been practicing filtering and drinking the river water.
Everything was going to plan and I was feeling strong and quickly caught up and overtook 2 paddlers. This was not going to be a race that I finished in a quick time as I was losing 5-10 minutes every hour to the 14′ and carbon boards. I had gotten my head around this a few weeks earlier when I knew I was unable to obtain a more competitive board.
6 hours into my race I was sick and could not keep down any food or water and this continued for the last 3 hours crossing lake Laberge. I had to keep pushing as there was a cut off time after the first 100km, thankfully I managed to get in 2 hours before the cut off. However, I was still being sick and unable to eat or drink. I then decided to stop at the checkpoint after the lake and hopefully I could get some calorie dense food and some hot water in me as I was starting to get cold. I tried and within minutes of eating and drinking I was sick again. I took advise to wait on the next SUP paddler to come through and paddle with someone for safety into the wilderness.
I continued to paddle for another 6 hours whilst being sick and unable to keep any food or water inside me. I could tell my core temperature was dropping due to lack of food and bitterley cold weather through the night and despite how many layers I put on I could not get warm. I was starting to get unsteady on my feet and was losing all focus on the water. This was becoming dangerous as the river was flowing at 8-10kph, with crazy undercurrent and standing waves. Tony Bain who was paddling with me tried everything to get me warm and get me eating but nothing worked.
After paddling for 9.5 hours with no food or water inside me I had no option to stop at a monitor point. Once again I tried to eat and drink and was sick. I was virtually sitting on top of a camp fire to get warm and was rapidly going down hill both mentally and physically. I then had to have a conversation with the race organisers at the monitor point as to how feasible it was for me to carry on. I had advised Tony to leave me and carry on paddling which meant I was now on my own. I had a 5 hour paddle until the next monitor point and about another 15 hours before I hit the rest point. They stated it was too dangerous for me to continue and realistically I had to pull out of the race. For those that know me will know how tough this was as I never quit.
I was devastated and heart broken, six months of work all thrown away. I cried for almost 24 hours and got it into my head I was never going to compete again.
36 hours later and I was switching my focus on getting to Dawson City to cheer all the paddlers across the finish line and getting my body and mind ready to race again. I was not going to allow the Yukon River to beat me.
It took over 48 hours for me to eat anything and keep it down and even then it was only boiled rice. Since coming home it has been confirmed I contracted the Giardia parasite.
I am going to finish the Yukon River Quest and will be entering in 2017. To ensure I cross the finish line I have left my wedding ring with one of the race organisers and instructed her only to pass it back to me when I cross the finish line in Dawson.
Despite my disaster I met lots of amazing people and it was a very special moment watching the SUP paddlers cross the finish line, especially my buddy Bart De Zwart.
See you next year Yukon, I will conquer you
The silver lining to the hard work is that I raised $7,585 for my Charity of choice, Standup for the Cure. Thanks to everyone who donated