Jul 5, 2016
River of Dreams: My Experiences of the Yukon River Quest
First Women finisher of the first official SUP Yukon River Quest category
11 SUPs began 9 finished and 93 paddle crafts started the race.
Spent I would guess 3/4 of the race completely on my own (no kind of boats around me)
6000km of driving from home on Vernon and back
Tav turned 6 months old during the race!
Nikki Rekman and husband Mark: The main, the best, could not have done it without you, meals, drivers, gear, love, planners
Andrew and Tav: Obviously could not have done it without you, driver, father, gear expert, supporter, and everything in between, my men, my loves,.... the best of the best
Colleen Segriff (babysitter extraordinaire)
UpNorth Adventures (Kalin Pallett and Krista, hosting us in Whitehorse)
SIC (board) 14ft X Pro. A great choice, worked like a charm. I added some gear loops and it worked like magic
Werner paddles: Grand Prix Paddle (M blade size)
Larry Allison fins and SUP Gladiator Fins
Kokatat dry pants and Kokatat jacket
Medela breast pump
Watershed dry bag
Vitargo drink (in hydration bladder)
Electrolyte was sometimes Nuun and soemtimes Skratch Lab
Before and at rest stops UB Super Whey Vanilla
Homemade energy balls (dates, choc, almond butter, coconut, seeds and nuts)
Nature's bakery Fig Bars, ClifBar organic trail mix, Clif shot blocks, Clif Protein Bar, ProBa
Banana, sliced apple
Almond butter sandwiches
Was I ready? Not really in some ways and yes in others. I was slightly stressed the few days before the start with knowing if I was bringing enough food or too much or the right food. Same thing with clothes and gear. The weather patterns really change throughout the 715km course. As I would have few chances to breastfeed Tav during the race, I figured out how to use a breast pump and paddle at the same time – bur would it work?
We had a beauty of a day to start the race off. The race starts at noon but the whole process begins earlier with a gear check in the morning and placement of boards/boats etc. Then there are introductions and talks. Noon is go time and its a Lemond start where we run/jog for about 400m to our boards. Our support crew are there holding the boards in the water. Its a funny thing starting a race that is days long. I chose to jog with Bart and Norm and some of the other SUPs. No need to sprint and get out of breath. Nikki was out there holding my board and I had a great little start. I was up there with Bart and Norm for a wee bit :) Eventually I found my place amongst the SUPs which was about 5th or 6th.
It is about 3 hrs on the river before you enter Lake Laberge. I chose to wear my Kokatat dry pants with booties, with thin ski socks and Zhik shoes as my bottoms and a thin white long sleeve top with my Ryders sunnies and SIC visor. I felt tis would provide me with the best chance of not having to change. I have to really protect my feet from cold and wet hence wearing dry booties for the entire race. I also know I get cold very quickly so dressed for that. The lake happen to be very warm and sunny but my outfit was perfect for me. We were sooo lucky on the lake with the conditions. There was a thunderstorm just over the mountains but it never moved over the lake. We had slight headwind, followed by no wind, the slight side/headwind again with some stronger gusts and then a slight downwind to finish off the 60km of lake paddling. I just paddled hard the whole time knowing that conditions could change quickly and wanted to get as far as I could with the stroke of luck we were given. I arrived at the checkpoint at around 10:15pm or so. I got off my board quickly to pee and out on some warmer clothes for the night. I didn't change my pants but I put on a merino top and made sure my jacket was handy and put on my buff and took off my visor and sunnies. I also pumped for the first time. I wanted to wait until I made the checkpoint and time cut off after the lake before pumping. I could really feel the need by then as it had been over 10 hours without any kind of release.
The next 30 miles is a beautiful part of the river, the flow is quick and the scenery beautiful. For awhile I paddled amongst other boats and eventually caught up to Andres on a SUP. Then I took a slightly different route around an island then those in front of me and potentially behind me. After this I saw no one for hours and hours. At some point I was a little worried I somehow managed to get on a different river or something. I was making sure I was still heading down river, and hoping that the race was still on and I was still on course. Luckiy before I got too crazy and worried a kayaker popped out of the woods. He was a nice man who I got to paddle with until Carmacks. He was definitely faster than me but was so nice to always keep an eye out for me and make sure I was okay. Eventually I made it to Carmacks. I got in at about 3pm on Thursday.
Carmacks is our 7 hour mandatory checkpoint. Nikki Rekman and her husband Mark were my support along with Andrew, Tav and Colleen. I got in in a surprisingly good spirits. I think I was glad to finally get off the river. I remember thinking how utterly ridiculous this whole thing was and couldn't really figure out why I was doing it?!?!? Anyways, I saw Tav and my body needed to get him on my boob. So we made it to our area and I fed him and at the same time ate a pre ordered chicken burger and fries along with cantaloupe and water. One of the most entertaining moments was when I held Tav after he had lots of milk... and likely unknown to me at the time too much milk and literally did a shower of a puke all over some of the clothes I was going to wear for the second half of the race. Haha - quick thinking and amazing support had me under an outdoor camping shower and my clothes in Carmacks getting washed. I then headed for sleep but for some reason the quiet and hotness of the racer area just didn't do it for me so I headed back to our truck and climbed in there with all the bustle around me and slept a little but to much was going through my head to really get a good sleep so I decided to feed Tav in stages rather than all in one go again to avoid some major puking. Before leaving Carmacks again, I ate some pasta, fed Tav, brushed my teeth, and got my food organized for stage 2 of the race. 350Km to Dawson. I left at 10pm and my first challenge was to get through Five Finger Rapids without getting too wet :) It was pretty hard to say goodbye to Tav and Andrew but I had to do it and it was a weird thought to think I would see them in a day and a half and I would be paddling that whole time...
Five Fingers was smaller than last time I went through due to the lower river level, but I still played it safe down on my knees. Being alone etc I just didn't want to even think I was going to fall in :) That night was cold, and lonely. It was the beginning of the the maze of islands we had to navigate through and I was starting to get annoyed that I was so alone all the time. From time to time for a few hours I saw some boats but then truly did not see anyone in front or behind me for a really really long time. So if you are wondering, I peed on my boat, easy as no one was around to see me :) I sometimes would catch myself just lilly dipping lost in clouds of thoughts and lala land.. then at some point would snap out of it and realize that if I paddled harder I would get to Dawson quicker and the pain would be over sooner :) hahaha. I didn't have anyone to follow or push me so as time went on it could tougher and tougher to really stay on top of paddling with any kind of intensity.
My moments of crazy truly began between Fort Selkirk and Coffee Creek (3hrs mandatory rest and about 180km from finish). No major hallucinations just yet the real deal unbeknown to me were on their way, this was just the preamble to the real crazy. Lots of self talk, self doubt, telling stories to myself, funny feelings of euphoria followed by feelings of dread and doubt and fear. I didn't feel like I was learning or growing as a person I was just feeling like I was beginning to go crazy and was nervous that I was going to permanently be a little woopy for the rest of my life:) I took a 5hr energy shot about 2 hours before arriving to coffee creek at the same time finally some boats popped out of nowhere and the crazies started to dwindle and eventually the coffee creek stop appeared in the nick of time.
At coffee creek, my strategy was off. I thought what I should do is just rest right away. But as I was trying to rest I was thinking of all the things I needed to do before I left and couldn't fall asleep. So instead of wasting time trying to sleep I got up and prepared myself and my board for departure. I found a new spot to rest and tried again. But... it just wasn't in my cards to sleep. Maybe I took that 5 hr energy shot too close to the rest time, dang it.. So, I decided to pump my boobs instead. I found a chair in the med tent, set up my pumping system and tried to get some shut eye whilst pumping. I pumped each boobed and then it was time for me to go.
The next significant memory is of likely the most memorable part of the race for me both in a good and slightly frightening way. It was at about 1:30am where the White River joins the Yukon River, the water turns a shade of grey/brown and the current picks it up a notch. Here I wish I was either a writer or artist and could better express what was going on within me. If you can imagine: It is the darkest part of the night so everything is a blended shade of grey, I am completely on my own, no other beings or boats around, I am standing, my GPS is not functioning which has made me quite distraught, I had just taken a 5 hour energy shot and the hallucinations were at an ultimate high. I could not decipher between what was real and was a hallucination. I knew if something was going to go wrong it would be then and it would be bad which made for a very frightening situation to be in. In my mind though I had no choice but to keep going. I was struggling fighting so hard to focus on objects to make the hallucinations go away and see what was actually in front of me so I could make choices of my route. In fact it was really hard to decipher sand banks versus water in a normal state so in my crazy state it was even harder when giant animals made out of trees were poking their heads out and giving me a wink, or the rocks and trees turned into cartoon style jungle themed protruding objects, when dead people were floating just under the water along with white faces and dead animals? I saw yellow canoes everywhere, I saw western/gold rush era style of people posing on the shore banks, random objects like white sci-fi spaceships floating out of the side of rocks and green army objects hidden in the forests. The feeling was so strange I felt like I was having a full out of body experience, not really aware of what I was doing, where I was, and why I was there yet still managing to stay standing and most of the time paddling. I so badly wanted to see somebody, anybody to know I was still in real life. THEN, I saw in the distance a voyager canoe. It was just a dark figure of a boat but there it was. So, I sprinted, I sprinted like I was doing a short course race, I sprinted as hard as I could to keep the canoe in my sights, I sprinted for about 1.5 hours before I lost them. I was so scared of being alone again, I didn't eat, I didn't drink, I didn't do anything but keep my eyes peeled on that shadow and paddle hard. When they finally disappeared I sat down and cried a bit. I thought it was over... I could not handle it anymore, alone again and still seeing things. Eventually I talked myself into standing again and paddling, I needed to get of the river and the only place I wanted to do that was in Dawson City.
When I finally reached the last manned check point. I did get off the board and talked to a voyageur canoe to keep an eye out for me when they pass me. I also talked to the lady at the checkpoint and when she told me it was 8 more hours to the end I almost lost my sh*t. I didn't know if I could do it. I figured, I must keep going, stopping would be the worst so I got back on my board and knew even if I just floated I would make it there.
So, I paddled, and fought the urges to stop, just tried to set a rhythm to it all. In the end I had pumped my boobs 7 times on each boob on the water and once at coffee creek layover on land plus when I got to breast feed Tav at Carmacks 300km into the race. I was nearing the end, could feel it, I was starting to remember things from the last time we paddled back in 2011. My brain was not totally with it and I started to paddle hard thinking Dawson was around this one bend, and when it wasn't I totally collapsed mentally and physically. I wanted off the river... hahaha... I couldn't believe I had been so wrong. Then, I saw it, the mark to show Dawson was near, just around the bend and it took everything I had to paddle and go. I was so out of it, I had no idea where to go at the end :) hahaha but I made it to a cheering crowd, to friends and family. I made it 6 months post Tav being born, the first woman to complete the race, the 5th SUP paddler overall, withe 60 hours on the river. Who would have ever guessed thinking “Yes, only 10 hours more of paddling would get me to this point which is nothing compared to the 30 hours I have already done :)”
What a journey, what an experience. I proved to myself I can do it all by myself (literally on the water), make choices decisions out in the wild on moving water. In times of desperation I could get myself to where I needed to be safely... and get myself back with family and friends. We all made it, myself, Tav, and Andrew. We survived the challenges that come with a 6month old and a mom wanting to paddle the yukon river quest. THANK YOU to Nikki Rekman Sales for supporting me through this journey, you are one hell of a support crew (I think I had the best of the best out there). THANK YOU to my sponsors especially SIC, Werner Paddles, SUPSKIN, Larry Allison Fins, Vitargo/Vynna, UB Super, Ryders Eyewear. THANK YOU to family and friends for following and supporting from afar, the notes, messages, calls meant the world to me.
Congrats to all the SUP paddlers and ALL the paddlers. It is a long, hard journey. Its one of those races where getting to the start line is the first challenge and getting to that finish line is a whole other beast that only a few will ever want to take on. Thank you to Yukon River quest for finally believing in us the Stand Up Paddlers, I look forward to watching, and cheering on the future SUPers that take on this challenge:)
What is the next challenge? That is yet to be determined but am sure there will be one. Got any ideas?!? I am game ;)
Live, Love, Laugh,..DREAM!