August 17, 2023
Chris Buckton's account on the Yukon 1000 race:
The Yukon 1000 Race
The Yukon 1000 race is the bi-annual, longest canoe/kayak race in the world and I wanted to do it as there is nothing further and more difficult. It starts at Whitehorse, Canada, goes though Dawson and into Alaska ending at a bridge in Dalton, near Fairbanks. You have 9 1⁄2 days to complete this feat that ends up in the Arctic Circle.
You are up against the world's best paddlers and will be paddling 18 hours a day with the remaining 6 hours to eat, set up camp and try to sleep...in the light as it is also called “chasing the midnight sun” due to the sun hardly setting all day. You also have to “bear” in mind that there are grizzly (brown) and black bears all along the river that time of year, trying to eat the breeding salmon. There are also Wolverines!
Finding a Partner
I decided that the best person for the job of my kayak partner would be Mike Stroud (Sir Runulph Fiennes’ expedition partner) who was a friend who had accompanied me on a kayaking trip to Alderney. I was excited to be potentially on the cusp of another adventure again. I emailed Mike and we met at Shore Road, Swanwick to go for a paddle down the Hamble out into Southampton Water and then back to The Jolly Sailor pub in Hamble where we munched on a very tasty burger discussing the trip. It was a green light.
Delayed by the Pandemic
It is now nearly 3 years later that I continue this story! Never in a million years would anyone have thought that a worldwide viral epidemic would sweep in and basically close down the world as we know it, however, that’s what COVID 19 did!
I was well into preparations for the race and distinctly remember coming home after a long and difficult paddle and saying to Jane that I was now race ready. Soon after, COVID was announced and although it seemed a possibility that we might get away with it, the race was rightfully cancelled.
Getting Back To It:
On 30th January 2022 I received an email from the event organisers confirming that the 2022 race was going to go ahead!
The food for the trip had arrived by now and I set about spreading it on the kitchen table to see if I had calculated it correctly. We both had three 1000 kcals (Expedition Foods) dry meals a day to eat and I had bought a very wide variety to keep us interested. Granola and raspberries for breakfast one day followed by beef hotpot and curry for tea was a typical example. I was informed we may be burning up to 8000 kcals a day so that would provide a good basis to sustain us.
At the start line we collected our kayak and placed it at the back of the long line of kayaks/canoes already there. We certainly weren't there to win! Packing was difficult, trying to decide what to put and where. In the end we decided to put the freeze dried Expedition Foods packs into the extreme ends to fully use the space. I put the breakfasts in the stern and Mike put his dinners in the bow. The rest I put in the bear proof sack in the rear hatch.
To give you an idea of a race day:
Day Four. Wednesday 6th July 2022. After another 4am wake up and 5am start, we set off again and shortly after found ourselves grounded! You can’t see these hidden banks under the surface of the river and what happens is that you notice your speed dropping rapidly, soon followed by the, “dink, dink” of the rudder hitting the gravely river bed. This is extremely disconcerting as it could very easily lead to the imminent demise of the kayak by a hole developing. This is a definite game over scenario as we only carried rudimentary emergency repair kits - mainly compromising of some very sticky gaffer tape and some silicon sealant.
The routine soon became the same. Identify that you were about to ground, turn hard over to the side and hold your breath! If you were unlucky enough to stop you had to immediately get out to minimise weight on the hull. I’d then run my hand over the underside of the hull to check for damage before then walking with my paddle being used as a depth gauge to avoid suddenly disappearing off the edge of the bank.
By 9am we had reached 398 miles - 4 hours to paddle 46 miles! By that time we were so badly exhausted that we would clearly see faces in the mountains. You would look away and see them again - Aztec like figures and faces that looked like someone had carved them out of the cliffs. It did, however, provide us endless free and amusing entertainment and the funny thing was that we both saw the same shapes!
At 1017 hrs we reached 425 miles and we had reached Dawson! The mileage didn’t add up as I had expected as we had cut some corners, etc. and to measure a distance accurately along such a wide river is impossible. I was acutely aware of this and hoped that this was the case rather than underestimating it. We scoured the banks for the Race Director who had briefed us that he would be there and upon arriving he said that we were the freshest faced racers he had seen! God knows what the others looked like as I was already sporting a very patchy grey beard.
My primary concern, actually, was asking how John and Shaz were having seen them pull out due to illness. It transpires that John had potentially given Shaz COVID and she had been suffering. We soon set off in great spirits but also great trepidation as it dawned upon me that we were now committed to the rest of the race and were completely on our own for another 500 miles.
By 5.30 pm that day we had reached the 483 mile stage and were still plodding along steadily alongside the rugged cliff line. By 10pm we had hit 516 miles so we were consistently making good progress. At this point we were rapidly approaching the town of Eagle where the US border had a phone at the side of the Laundromat there that you had to confirm your entry into the US.
A while later we carried on - oh yes, we had to move our watches back another hour (from -8 to -9 hours) as we crossed the border. Finding a place to sleep was next on our agenda and as we left Eagle I saw that the kayaks that were previously tied up had gone. Before I had time to wonder where they had found to stay the night, I looked about a mile ahead and saw them on the beach on the other side of the river.
We paddled as hard as we could once again to get over to the other side. I was so relieved when we crash landed on the shoreline and felt comforted that there were others nearby again. We spent the night sleeping at a steep angle on the bank and once again were eaten alive by the ginormous mosquitoes that feasted on any exposed areas.
The final race day:
Sunday 10th July - day 8. A very uneventful day luckily, other than constantly playing cat and mouse with two other teams, one who kept stopping due to being in too much pain. Our persistence paid off as they didn’t overtake us on the last section despite being previous world class surf ski champions.
Soon after we passed under the only bridge that crossed the river in hundreds of miles to be greeted by Jon Frith, the Race Director. We shook his hand and he gave us a commemorative coin and tee-shirt that only people who complete the race get. Oh, he also gave us a beer!
We had finished 17th out of the original 40 teams that had been accepted. Actually only 28 teams had arrived at Whitehorse, with only 21 teams finishing, but 17/40 sounds better. Apparently around 3500 teams applied so to be selected was an achievement let alone actually complete it.
Despite me guessing it would take us 8 days to complete and Mike adamant that we’d be lucky to complete within the 10 days, it was a nice feeling to have a finishing time of 7 days, 12 hrs and 35 minutes to complete the race. I reminded myself of a saying that I use to describe an adventure, “It is not an adventure if things go exactly to plan”. I had indeed had an adventure! Less people have paddled past Dawson City than have climbed Everest and we had joined the elite few that had actually completed the longest kayak race in the world.
February 08, 2024
One of the great things about Expedition Foods is being able to support all the amazing people who are undertaking incredible adventures and expeditions around the globe.
One of the critical cogs in undertaking expeditions to Antarctica, are Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions who offers air transportation, logistic support, and guided experiences for those venturing to the interior of Antarctica.
January 12, 2024