Yukon, North of Ordinary magazine
Up Here magazine 2011 July/August
How do you win the Yukon River Quest?
Hint: Don’t take bathroom breaks. Just pee in a bottle and go.
If you’re up for a lung busting, arm wrenching, nausea-inducing adventure, sign up to paddle in this year’s Yukon River Quest. The 13th annual canoe and kayak race, which stretches some 740 kilometres along the Yukon River from Whitehorse to Dawson City, runs from June 29 to July 3. Whitehorse racer Tim Hodgson is an eight-time veteran and three-time champion of the race. In 2008, his six-man voyager canoe team set the all-time record of 39 hours, 32 minutes.
Check out this podcast, by Northern internet personality Jennifer Hawks, as she paddles with Hodgson. (Visit her website for other podcasts with quirky Northern characters at myyukonlife.com.)
And, if your goal is winning the race, here are Hodgson’s tips to help you out:
Find a worthy vessel: Seems obvious, but occasionally a team shows up at the start line with a dead-weight ‘Canadian Tire special.’ “It doesn’t necessarily need to be a racing boat,” says Hodgson, “but something built out of carbon or Kevlar is best.”
Train: “Sport-specific training is the best way to prepare.” This includes going out for a few 10-hour paddles before the race, but it also means working on the mechanics of your stroke. “Older guys can sometimes beat younger, stronger guys because they can paddle better.”
Never get out of the boat: In all the years Hodgson has raced, he’s never left his canoe (except for mandatory layovers). “Even if you stop for three minutes, by the time you get back out, you’re 15 minutes behind.” How do you relieve yourself? “Some people use a condom catheter. I pee into a container and throw it overboard.”
Know the river: “There used to be a hometown advantage because we knew most of the shortcuts,” says Hodgson. Though many “outside” racers now also know which channels flow fastest, there still are advantages to smart paddling. “You’ll see guys zigzagging back and forth looking for the speediest current.”
Ignore the hallucinations: The physical strain of the race, combined with the total lack of sleep, does things to your mind. “There have been times when all the rock faces looked like people’s faces and everything in the river looks like the team in front of you, even if it’s just a stump.”
Get rhythm: “When you’re tired and your stroke rate is falling and you’re cold and miserable, I sing,” says Hodgson, breaking into a Johnny Cash classic. “Hey, get rhythm when you get the blues…”