Memoir of a 15-year-old river racer
Skagways Annie Dawson Brady, 15, was the youngest competitor in the seventh annual Yukon River Quest last week, paddling with her dad, Jeff, 48. They completed the race in 64 hours, 58 minutes, good enough for 40th place overall and a $100 prize for third place in the mixed canoe division. Annie kept notes during the 460-mile event from Whitehorse to Dawson City, the longest annual canoe and kayak race in the world, and compiled these memories after completing the journey.
By ANNIE DAWSON BRADY
1. Pre-Race Nerves
One side of me was nervous while the other was cocky. I was always scared. It was probably because so many people knew what we were about to do, and I did not want to disappoint anyone. I wanted to prove to others, but mostly myself, that I could complete a 460-mile race in under 80 hours. I was about to double the length of one of my familys annual canoe trips in half the time. Plus we had barely trained. We took one 14-hour overnight training run (50 miles from Tagish to Whitehorse) which was extremely helpful. But besides the one long training run, we canoed three other times, when we had planned to be in the boat five times a week for two weeks prior to the event. However the only time I got butterflies in my stomach was about around 7:30 a.m. on the morning of the race.
My other thoughts kept telling me people do this every year and succeed. I kept remembering that a girl who was 15 at the time completed it just three years ago. Also, the race did not seem very hard. There is a current constantly pulling the canoe, with the exception of the horrible Lake Laberge, and someone is usually always paddling, making the canoe go even faster. I had read so many articles on the race, I thought I knew all the ups and downs of the race, and honestly, I did.
2. Running to the River
Who would ever think racers would run in a canoe and kayak race? The race starts at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday with a quarter-mile run from Main Street in Whitehorse to the boats on the shoreline at Rotary Park. And after doing the race I can say it took more energy to run than to paddle. I even heard one person jokingly say they should have trained for the quarter-mile run instead of the river race.
The Skagway Alpine Club canoe makes a move to pass between two other canoes just after the start of the Yukon River Quest in Whitehorse on June 29. Team Brady Bunch would finish 40th. Casey Grove
3. Peeing In A Boat
I am now proud to say I am an expert at peeing in a canoe. Before the race I had never attempted the task, so I knew it was going to be interesting to see how I managed when I had to go. Sure enough, about three hours into the race I realized I really needed to pee, and I was scared. I knew I had a large yogurt container and I knew what I was supposed to do, but I did not want to. However, I only had two choices: pee all over myself or attempt to use my beloved yogurt container. Unfortunately, getting out of the boat to relieve oneself is not a choice, because getting to shore takes too much time. Anyway, I tried to pee in the boat and it did not work, but five minutes later I knew I was going to pee all over myself if I quit then. So I figured it out and still managed to pee on my shorts. Since I did not want to wear urine-smelling shorts, I took them off and rode across Lake Laberge in my underwear.
By the end of the race I finally figured out how not to pee on myself and realized I enjoyed peeing in the boat, because it meant I could take a break from paddling.
4. Laberge - Hell Takes Water Form
Lake Laberge is a 30-mile-long stretch of water every paddler must pass through to complete the race. It is two and a half to four hours away from the start of the race, and depending on how fast a team is, it takes racers five to 10 hours to cross.
Luckily, I have paddled the lake before, but it is incredibly long since there is no current. There are so many points we passed before we reached the end. And every time we thought we had reached Goddard Point, the last point of the lake, there would be another point and then another one. Plus, it is not a short distance between two points.
We had hoped to finish the lake in eight hours but managed nine instead. Our belated arrival to the lakes end could be blamed on the 45 minutes of strong head wind we had to paddle through. We were fortunate enough not to have wind during our trip down the entire lake. Lake Laberge is known for its wind, and that is part of the reason why racers are required to stay on the right side of the lake where it is safer. During the strongest head winds, there were two foot high waves rolling toward us, and we were moving at 2 m.p.h.
Finishing Lake Laberge was really nice. We got out of the boat for the first time since the start, changed into warm clothes for the long night and headed down the beautiful 30 Mile section of the river, the stretch of the race where the current starts again. But I didnt see much for the fog on the river.
5. Eating and Sleeping
Eating is extremely important during the race. Racers are supposed to consume two times the daily amount of calories, because of the calories needed to be burned while paddling all day and night. My dad and I brought plenty of food. For snacks we packed power bars and gels, tapioca pudding, dried fruit, and cookie dough; for main meals we ate enchiladas, pizza and potato goop, which was a last resort for me, but my dads favorite. My dad said we brought too much food, but I think we werent eating enough. I know I was not eating enough because I rarely ate. My stomach would ache and I did not think food would make it better when it probably was what I needed.
I only threw up once and that happened when I tried to eat a chocolate flavored power gel. During training I ate a vanilla flavored one; and although it tasted bad, I was able to keep it down. I opened the chocolate gel and tasted a tiny bit, gagged and tried some more. I felt my stomach churning, and I knew I was about to throw up, so I put my head over the side of the canoe. I puked three times but was fine. It actually did not faze me because in one of the articles I had read, a 2004 racer said throwing up is very likely on the race. Of course I think she meant puking from using the body so much, but in any case she did say people puke so I was ready for it when it came.
Sleep comes rarely during the race. There are two places racers are required to stop: Carmacks for seven hours and Kirkman Creek for three hours. Between those places racers find their own ways to sleep. The hard-core racers do not sleep but others stop and rest. My dad and I slept in the boat like many other teams do. While one person paddles, the other sleeps for a few minutes. I slept in the bow anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. My dad knocked off for 10 to 15 minutes tops in the stern.
Amazingly, I actually got bored every once in a while. Paddling 24 hours becomes old after two days but the only way to completely rid yourself of the torture is to keep paddling. Other times paddling is extremely fun. I loved listening to my IPod feeling the paddle dip into the water.
7. Wildlife Count
Eagles, gulls, kingfishers, more birds, too many to count.
One otter: My dad and I saw something moving across the water in front of our boat and thought it was a stick, but when we approached, it appeared to be swimming. Even though we could only see its head on the surface of the water, we think it was an otter. A beaver that close would have given us the flop
One moose and her two calves. We saw her from a distance on an island in the middle of the river, about 20 miles from Dawson. We later learned that a kayaker had crossed the same moose on the other side of the island, where the channel was narrow, and held his breath as he passed by quietly to avoid being stomped by the protective mom.
8. Five Finger Rapids
Five Finger Rapids is probably the most dangerous part of the race. The rapids are a couple of hours out of Carmacks, so you are refreshed when you go through them. Prior to the race, I had insisted on taking a training run through them so I knew what I was doing during the race. However, I got sick, and we were unable to practice them the weekend we needed to.
As we were approaching them on the right, where we were supposed to be, I asked my dad what the biggest rapid he had ever been through was. He said it had been on the Big Salmon River when the water was high, at flood stage. My dad has been through Five Finger many times but not when the water has been at this height, he said, so I was scared. I did not want to flip the canoe. But if we did flip there was supposed to be a safety boat watching the teams go through; plus, there are no big rocks to worry about and everyone is required to wear a life jacket.
When we were in the rapid, it was huge. The waves were four feet high and they just kept coming. We had a spray skirt on but water still came in the boat and soaked my pants, but we did not flip. Two other teams did flip but got back in their boats okay and they all finished.
9. Competition & Camaraderie
One of the main points emphasized in this race is camaraderie. People make friends and compete against them in friendly battles. I thought it was funny how even the people in the back of the race are still competitive. My dad and I had been back and forth with one team for half the race, when they got a big burst of energy and shot ahead, so we never saw them until we arrived in Dawson, just 15 minutes behind them.
For most of the last half of the race, Juneau solo kayaker Dave Sevdy stayed with us. We shared food and talked, which helps keep you awake.
IT'S FINALLY OVER! Annie and Jeff hit the shore in Dawson City after nearly 65 hours of paddling on the Yukon River. Casey Grove
The feeling of being so close to somewhere yet so far away is twice as bad when someones butt feels like it is going to fall off. When we came in to Dawson Saturday afternoon, there were people on the bank cheering and congratulating us. We decided to raft in with Dave, whom we had been paddling with us much of the way. When we crossed the finish line, a horn blew and we docked our boat. I was amazed that my legs did not feel as weird as they did when I had been out of the boat at previous stopping points.
My dad and I walked to the hotel and slept. My dad woke up five hours later to go eat and hit Diamond Tooth Gerties with Dorothy, my step-mom. I remember waking up for a minute and asking if we had to get back in the boat because my mind still kept thinking of canoeing. They brought me back a steak, but its still in the hotel fridge. When I woke up the next morning, it was 8 a.m. and I realized I had slept for 16 hours straight.
The Whole Experience
The whole experience was amazing. Obviously there were low and high points but I still had an amazing time. Although I do not plan on paddling the race again for a very long time, I would love to volunteer.
I remained fairly happy throughout the race and only got mad at my dad three times. Each was coming into a mandatory stop Carmacks, Kirkman and Dawson because it seemed like wed never get there and I wanted to hit him with the paddle. Besides a few hormone bursts, it was an awesome time to spend with my dad.
Special thanks to our support crew: John and Jason ODaniel, Dorothy and Danny Brady, and Casey Grove. And to the sponsors of the Skagway Alpine Club canoe: AP&T, Red Onion, Skagway Hardware, Skagway News, Wells Fargo, and WP&YR.
For complete race results, see www.yukonriverquest.com