Yukon River Quest kicks off in Whitehorse

The Yukon River Quest started Wednesday in downtown Whitehorse. The 715-kilometre race to Dawson City is the world's longest annual canoe, kayak and stand up paddleboard race.

715-kilometre race is world's longest annual canoe, kayak, and stand up paddleboard race

Paddlers set off from Whitehorse at noon on Wednesday. 96 teams were entered this year, but only 89 actually began the race. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

And they're off!

Hundreds of paddlers set off on the Yukon River Quest on Wednesday afternoon. The 715-kilometre race from Whitehorse to Dawson City is the world's longest annual canoe, kayak and stand up paddleboard race.

Ninety-six teams and 234 paddlers, representing 13 different countries, were registered to compete this year, but some dropped out before the race began. Eighty-nine teams ended up hitting the water on Wednesday.

Kelly Watson is one of those racers. She'll be completing the Quest solo, in a kayak; it's her second time in the race.

Jason Bennett with his stand up paddleboard. He will carry supplies by attaching dry bags of gear to the front and back of the board. (Meagan Deuling/CBC)

Watson says she tries to meet friends on the river; for her, the biggest challenge of the race is staying awake the entire time. Company keeps her alert.

"I think once we get on the river, it's really just a long paddle," she said, while doing some last-minute preparations.

The quickest racers reach Dawson in about 40 hours, while others are on the water for up to three days.

The race is bittersweet for Londoner Tim Hellier, who has been planning this trip with a good friend for almost two years.

But his friend's father became gravely ill just days before the race, so Hellier came on his own.

All teams had their boats and gear inspected by volunteers on Tuesday. Over 150 volunteers are required for the event, including Gilles Archambault, who will be at the Carmacks checkpoint, a mandatory stop.

"It's going to be tough on people," he says, adding that he doesn't think everyone knows what they're getting into.

Paddlers await the official start in Whitehorse on Wednesday. For some participants, anticipation is the hardest part of the race. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

This year marks the first iteration of the quest in which stand up paddleboarders will officially compete in the race. Last year, paddleboarders competed in an experimental category.

"After a long long time your legs start to feel like wood, basically," said Jason Bennett, describing the feeling of a drawn-out paddleboard trip, adding he'd rather be standing than sitting for an extended length of time.

For Bennett, the worst part was the anticipation. "It's horrible leading up to it," he said before the race, "just all the stress and double questioning yourself."

Kelly Watson is competing solo in a kayak, and has some unique plans for meals on the water: she plans to order a pizza for the start and bring it with her on the river. (Meagan Deuling/CBC)


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