In 2022 Dan Rogan and I took off down the mighty Yukon in the Yukon 1000 canoe race. A trip that would typically take paddlers a month was something we were about to do in a week. We faced challenges, pain, near-death experiences, and breathtaking sights along that ancient river. The Yukon was flooded in 2022 which brought its own unique challenges like finding campsites and fast water. 
We were off after launching from Whitehorse down the Yukon and to our first obstacle, Lake Labarge. A massive 30-mile-long lake with no current proved to be a challenge in full sun exposure. We spent 4 hours crossing the lake as we watched the racers spread out with us somewhere in the middle of the pack. That first night we had to share a campsite with 2 other teams as the high water made most places inhospitable. It was the next morning however that would give us our biggest challenge in the race.
It was about 5 am and we were rounding a bend fast when the river gave out in front of us and a whirlpool took shape in our vision. It was already too late as the bow dipped into the whirlpool and flipped out of the boat all in the same moment. We were dunked into the glacier-fed water and instantly realized the danger we were in. The flooded nature of the river gave no easy escape as every good-looking exit turned into a log jam or flooded forest that would surely destroy our boat. Our best bet was to wait, floating on the edge of the Yukon, hoping and praying for an opportunity to get ashore as our body heat was being sapped away by the raging current. After a mile of floating and 20 minutes in the water, we found a grouping of flooded young trees and bush on the inside of the turn giving us the chance we needed to escape. After dragging the canoe through the flooded forest and onto land we stripped clothing and got into sleeping bags while covering ourselves with our tent for bug protection. We rested there for two and half hours regaining our strength before moving on. Once back on the water we played our cards very safe and didn’t push too hard. Surely another swim would put us out of the race.
We finished day two with an exciting run through the famous 5-finger rapids and crashed into a terrible campsite that took 30 minutes to get into because of the high banks. Along the Yukon River, there are hints of civilization. Pockets of lives lost to time. A sternwheeler crashed here and there. Cabins that were abandoned long ago and open for anyone to use. Day 3 passing through Dawson was a stark reminder of that when we saw the abandoned sternwheeler yard with multiple ships burned and trashed. After passing Dawson we had to hit it hard because we only made the cutoff by a few hours thanks to our dump the previous day.
It became a mad race to Alaska as we pushed harder and harder in hopes of catching the competition. Falling just short of Alaksa that night brought us a great campsite and the tip of an island after the previous island we had hoped for had been preoccupied by a Moose. The next morning crossing into Alaska brought us more than just a new country but also a new hope of being competitive as a team pulled up behind us at the crossing. We had passed them in the morning unknowingly and now we were back in the race! Once again we put the hammer down as we started to do 1 hour of intense paddling followed by an hour of restful paddling which seemed to keep our energy high and pace quick. We met that night with a whistling thunderstorm threatening us from above. We raced for nearly 30 minutes in thunder and lightning without the opportunity to get off the river due to vegetation and cut bank before finding a channel that protected a camp for us under the shadow of a mountain.
Day 5 began our push back into the pack as we started passing folks still in camp early in the morning. That day we passed back close to half the field and would put us close to the position we would finish in 2 days later. We had severely underestimated the Yukon Flats as having some currently only to find that to be the slowest and hardest part of the race. Just as we were coming to the end of the race the river had come to a standstill still and the distances we had been making dropped significantly. Dan navigated us well through the tricky web of rivers in the flats and got us through in a quick manner. In the flats, we passed the last couple of teams that we would get through. Once we emerged from the flats on day 7 we would enter back into the mountains for the final 20-30 mile stretch that was almost as bad as the flats. There was a current but it was slow and you could see for such a distance that it felt like we were barely moving. At that point, we ran out of food as some of it had been soaked from our dump on day 2 and Dan's back was beginning to hurt immensely. We traded paddles so that Dan could use my slightly smaller blade to ease the pain in his back as we rounded out what had to be the longest 20 miles of my life.
Once we reached the bridge it felt like days of sleep deprivation all came back to us at once. We had been so sharply focused on one goal but once it was done, our brains had given up. Getting a well-thought-out sentence was a challenge as the race director shoved beers and a camera in our faces. I haven’t seen the final video from that day but I’m not sure I want to! We were then escorted to the restaurant at the bridge to receive our large finisher burgers and a nice shower.
To travel that fast through such a great wilderness is an incredible experience. The exhaustion, pain, and sleep deprivation all took a back seat to the joys of paddling a canoe with my friend Dan through a wild and changing landscape. One day I will go back to the Yukon. I feel like we didn’t get to leave everything out there on the river. We had more to give but were slowed down by losing food and time on Day 2. I know Dan feels the same way so It’s just a matter of time before the Panic at the Rendevouz team is back at it again!
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