The World's longest kayak race serves as a backdrop for a book that is so much more than a book about a boat race.
If you fancy a big adventure, have dreams still dancing in your soul yet unrealized or have decided that today is the perfect time to start living your very best life, it's my hope that this book will speak to all of the above.
Thanks for coming along for the ride. I hope you enjoy Chapter 5 of the soon to release "Upside Down in the Yukon River".
I sat at the computer. The room was not of much size, doubling as both office and living room. Flat screen televisions had not yet become the norm, and the faux wood paneled TV I’d inherited from my grandfather, which I still have to this day, served as both desk and entertainment.
Adventure racing had allowed me to dip my toe into many different waters, which is the real beauty of the sport. Rappelling and ropes had appealed to my climbing side, which was where all my adventuring had begun in my late twenties. I’d travelled with my good friend Ty Dickerson to Eldorado Canyon years prior to experiencing my first rock climbing trip. In a VW van, of course. With little more than enough money for gas and freeze dried food, we fit to a T the bill of dirtbag climbers and loved every second of it. We’d climb all day and by night read books about the greats like John Long and Lynn Hill. That trip in the summer of 1990 had opened my eyes to the adventurous lifestyle and mindset. It had eventually led me to living in Colorado for a short time, where I had been introduced to all manners of adventure and adventure athletes.
Orienteering had been like learning a whole new language. I loved the idea of guiding a team through unfamiliar terrain in search of a small hand-sized tent hanging from a tree limb in the dark of night. Once found, you would use the small card punch attached to prove that you had indeed been there, and as quickly and quietly as possible, get the hell out of there so as not to alert other teams, possibly less skilled, still in search of the same checkpoint. We went so far as to come up with code, signaling one of us had found the “treasure.” Once certain we were in the vicinity of the checkpoint, we would fan out as nonchalant as possible, again not wanting to draw any attention, and wait to hear the signal. “Wow! Who farted?” someone would say. Genius, right? We figured it was unlikely anyone would be within earshot. But, if someone did hear us—voices do travel a long way in the woods—we gambled that nobody would think about heading our way after such a proclamation of stink!
We’d play it up big too. “Awww dude, that is horrible, what the hell did you eat?” Dana would chime in. “This is the last time I’m racing with you guys. That’s not funny. I’m gonna hurl!” All the while, converging on the one who supposedly had dropped the butt-bomb and the checkpoint, trying not to laugh and blow our cover.
Running and cycling had also proved to be a lot of fun, but it was paddling that I was now in love with. Our first few adventure races we bungled about. Not having practiced much, we were unsure of the best “system.” We always competed in the three-person co-ed division. Steve Giblin and Dana Kennedy rounded out the team of three. Both were fantastic athletes and, more importantly, great friends. Tough as nails, patient, with an ability to laugh when things got tough. The last attribute was the most important.
Robyn Benincasa, a professional adventure racer and world champ, spoke to us prior to an adventure race in Chicago saying, “Look around. It won’t be the super fit looking athletes who will win; it will be those who can work together and problem solve the best... and have the most fun.” Great advice, not just for adventure racing, but for life.
Our first couple races, it became obvious more paddle time was needed. We didn’t lack the horsepower as much as the know how. Steve Giblin had a canoe, and we began incorporating it into our workouts. Not long after, enjoying the paddling, I invested in a sea kayak. a fourteen footer designed to cover longer stretches of water with less resistance. The longer the kayak, the better it tracked through the water. This also made it much more responsive but also easier to tip.
Spending more and more time on the water, it didn’t take long until we dialed in our system. Steve would jump in first, with Dana and me steadying the canoe. Dana got in next, and before she’d be seated, I’d have us pushed off and underway. Steve was a horse at the front of the boat and would paddle as hard as he could on whatever side he wanted, switching whenever he wanted. Dana would match him, and I’d play off them both, keeping the boat on line to the target. Dana doubled as the grocery lady. Eventually we’d be in races where we would paddle for hours at a time. Dana would keep us all fed, breaking out Clif Bars and Gu, keeping the engines stoked. Paddling became our strongest discipline. On the water, we more than held our own. I loved the intensity of it, the pain of it, mixed with the beauty of the lakes, the wooded shorelines, at times navigating by moonlight. Certain paddling sections required beaching the boat, heading inland to find checkpoints, and returning back to the boat. It was exhilarating, real sharp end of the stick kinda stuff. I wanted more. More distance, more remote, more challenge. More, more, more.
Sitting at the makeshift TV desk in my one bedroom apartment on 42nd Street in Des Moines, Iowa, I typed the words “world’s longest kayak race” into the Mac’s search window. One should be careful what one searches for. Almost instantly, the computer answered my query: the Yukon River Quest.