A bit of reminiscing with my paddling partner this morning has made me sentimental once again about the 2014 Yukon River Quest. I think for a long, long time this will be one of the toughest and challenging adventures of my life. Although my friends would call me regimented, focused, competitive and determined I think I still entered into the race a bit naïve. But if you had told me ahead of time that I would not only complete the race but would finish it in 52:16:37 hours I don’t think I ever would have believed it. The race was more than I could have ever imagined and it was my partner and I and a whole crew of supporters that made it a success. I don’t want to claim this as a race of a lifetime as I definitely want to race the Yukon River Quest again!
I remember at one point in the race (early one morning) Brandon and I tried to remember and chat about each part of the race, section by section, it is funny what you remember and don’t remember and I am forever grateful that we took the time to soak in those moments. These are things I never want to forget;
I remember trying so hard to be calm and not get too flustered in front of Brandon. He had put up with a lot of my OCD and over-planning as we worked up to the race and I didn’t think he needed another dose of this on race day. My mom said it best when I noted that I just wanted to get into the boat and get going and she reminded me that the support team just wanted to get things underway too. This had taken months of planning and we just need to get moving! Brandon and I had talked about a goal of 55 hours or faster but the only other person I had mentioned this to was my mom. I secretly had a list of checkpoint times in my life jacket, the same way I used to carry a list of curling times in jacket but of course during canoe racing there is no time to actually look at things.
And We Are Off…
We had a great start and this is my only regret of the race; I wish we had gone faster to get onto Lake Labarge. I heard people say that the standing don’t change much after that first big push and I believe that now. We did pretty good and passed a lot of boats on that early stage but we could have pushed a bit harder. We were both a bit concerned about how many boats we were passing out of the gate but looking back we were one of the faster boats. A kayaker was following behind us at one point and noted that we must have paddled together a long, long as we looked strong together! We took the compliment with a bit of a giggle!
Whitecaps on Lake Labarge
The weather conditions on Lake Labarge sure tested my nerves. All I could think about was the fact that Brandon is from Cape Breton and I decided he was used to being on windy waters! We got soaked a couple times from the waves but 10 boats capsized and I consider us fortunate on this part of the race. We pushed hard and didn’t let up, with my convincing we got out at the checkpoint at the end of the lake. Took our time changing into dry gear, drinking a Coke and eating some food, then asked a volunteer what place we were in. He told us 13th place and we looked at each other with bugged out eyes… we were back into the canoe in a split second, shocked that we were in the lead pack and determined to keep up the pace. Getting onto the river after the lake makes you feels like you are moving at 100 mile per hour and gave new life to us.
Long, Slow Grind to Carmacks (25 hours to rest stop)
There were a few funny moments after we got onto the Yukon River. I saw my first bare bum of the trip when another race scooched up to go to the bathroom, I knew right then that I was racing with the boys and there wasn’t going to be time for being emotional or sucky. I wanted to race like a girl and be proud and strong about this! Brandon commented too about being proud to be on a mixed team as we passed men’s teams in much worse shape than us!
To my surprise I had moments of hallucinations. I thought this was legends of the race and never did believe it until it actually happened. We had a good laugh when I thought there was a railroad on the side of the river and I learned to keep my visions to myself! Man oh man, they can drive you crazy. Some were filled with weirdness (the Walmart happy face) but others visions such as seeing Ganesha the elephant over and over again will always remain in my mind.
Brandon and I never did fight, argue, disagree or hit each other with a paddle during this long stretch and I am forever grateful for this. We were strong teammates, especially in this toughest stretch.
What a relief to get to Carmacks in 25 hours and just as planned; exhausted but not horribly so. Our support crew was elated to see us and I still wonder what it is like to just have to watch your loved ones via GPS, not knowing the physical or emotional state we were in. They fed us pizza, got us into the showers and into bed. After Brandon nearly freaked out at another racer/support crew, I think he was forced to get to bed ASAP! When I woke up in Carmacks, my first thought was how I was even going to get out of bed, let alone finish the rest of the race. Your muscles just seize up into one big tight ball. My mom woke me up and I will never forget that, I am sure she didn’t know what she was going to open the tent up too. But they packed us back into the boat; my brother on the dock with us and we somehow (with the will of many) got ourselves back into the swing of things.
Into Kirkman Creek
Heading into Kirkman Creek rest point was one of downer moments for me. There are many signs for this check point but it seemed like it just never came to us. Around every bend you thought Kirkman Creek would appear and bend after bend it never did. It also seemed like no matter which way we turned we were always heading into a head wind. This tested my patients for sure. This was a checkpoint with no support crew and Brandon and I sure leaned on each other as we were both pretty spent. One of my clearest memories of Kirkman Creek was the disgusting cake and seeing Brandon inhaling the cake piece after piece! I think Brandon’s memory would be waking me up and me asking who he was and not having a clue where I was! Scary moments. But out of Kirkman Creek we went with more energy than we had all race. I knew we had two choices, to take our time to the finish line or to motor our way through. The faster we went the less time we would be stuck in the boat and boy did we ever sprint!
Lowest Point of the Race
They talk about this in the pre-race meeting; you will see the Moosehide Landslide of Dawson WAAAAAAY before you get to Dawson. Brandon and I had pushed ourselves hard out of Kirkman Creek and when I thought we had a couple hours to go Brandon informed me that it was 5 or 6 hours to go. Knowing that we had little left in the tank, plus the mental strain of thinking you are close to finishing and then realizing we weren’t was the worst feeling ever. There was even a point where I couldnt switch my paddle over to the right side anymore. I remember Brandon telling me to just take a couple extra seconds with my switch as my old body was not cooperating! But somehow your body and mind start firing together again, the paddling continues and we eventually turned the last/final bend into the finish line. I heard Fred Koe right away and then saw Kendall McDonald and his long legs sprinting along the river bank. I knew we were finally there.
The steamship horn goes off as you cross the finish line but there is still a ways to go before you get to the landing point. Everyone was cheering and yelling at us and I remember just bending over and starting to cry. Brandon said this is where he thought he lost me to emotion. Getting to the shore was a daze as you can’t get yourself out of the canoe on your own and I knew both Brandon and I were in bad shape. His goal was to have nothing left at the finish line and we didn’t have an ounce of energy left in us. Our support crew was there and everyone was over joyed. I remember asking about placing and time as we were signing the paper work. 52:16:37 hours and good enough for 1st place mixed tandem, 3rd place tandem and 10th place overall. This was more than I could have ever dreamed.
I wish we had celebrated more at the finish line but on the other hand I had nothing left in me. Our support crew got us back to the hotel; Kendall and Brandon cracked a beer to celebrate and Marci and Tim helped me change and shower. I remember getting into the bathroom and then not even being able to turn the taps on. Once showered and laying down in bed was an amazing feeling and think I was sawing logs before I knew it. I remember the first time turning on my phone and social media. The messages were amazing and it was crazy to see the support we had along the way. It was great to get message from Evan (Brandon’s friend and 2013 partner), getting a call from the whole Koe clan in Yellowknife and then seeing everyone in Inuvik so happy for us.
The race took everything out of me and it took a long time to recuperate. I won’t go into the details but one of the weirdest things was when other racers kept telling me to just keep working out after the race. This is when I didn’t even want to walk down the street! Finally, one day I decided to go for a run, well 5K later I forced myself to stop as it felt so easy to run, then checked my watch and it is the fastest 5K I have ever ran. To this day, time means nothing to me; I can ski for hours, waits for planes for hours and it feels like you can just shut off your mind and go somewhere else, probably the same place my mind went for 52 hours during the 2014 Yukon River Quest.