We just received at Starboard HQ this complete Recap by Bart de Zwart after his incredible win in the first ever SUP participation in the Yukon River Quest, an ultra resistance race through the Canadian wilderness. Enjoy:
„Just got back to internet country last night. Now flying back to Maui, so no early race update.
After I wrote 6 longest races article on Supracer but specially after Chris pushed in on his site you could feel there was a lot of interested in this race, probably because it is something new and longer than anything else so far. So also for me something new and unknown and exciting.
Yukon River Quest recap
Coming into this race there were many unknowns. I didn’t know many of the racers but I knew some had trained hard and long for this one. This was new territory, remote country , river water and many hundreds of kilometers of water between the start and finish. Then there was the coldness of the water, the 55 km lake with maybe headwinds, weather, sleep deprivation in short a race like no other races.
I came a few days early to acclimate, get my gear ready and set up my board. I used the 2016 All Star 14′ x 25” it is versatile and amazing fast in almost all conditions.
Coming into this race, we were considered an experimental class because most of the organisation wasn’t sure if we could make this race.
After the mandatory gear check, which was very precise we met the other paddlers and were greeted with a mix of respect and disbelief for the fact we were willing to try this.
I had set a plan for this race. Sprint hard, but not too hard at the beginning, this for 2 reasons: first it is a long race so you have to use your energy wisely and so that only 1 or 2 other sup racers could follow and we could form a lead group. I wanted to form lead group because of the duration of the race a 55 hrs race is better spend together for a big part of the time specially if the course, landscape and water is new to you.
We started at 12:00 after another gear check, on a beautiful day. we ran for about 400 meter to our board, canoes and kayaks on the river banks and off we went. I picked up a nice current right away and had a good start and was the first SUP with Norm Hann and Jason Bennett, close behind. After 10 minutes Norm and I formed a group and later Jason joined us as well. After 3 hrs we hit the lake and we were greeted by a slight headwind. We paddled about 8 hrs on the lake before we finally got on the river again. I was glad to leave the lake, it had strange fall winds with nice current, it felt like we were flying. Night was starting, but it was still full day light. Although the sun sets at 11:30 at night there is still good light until the sun comes up again at 3.30.
We paddled strong until the morning, we had 2 hours, were we were tired and is was hard to focus, with the speed doing little. On the river you have to actively find the best place on the river to use the current as much as possible. Us Stand up paddlers had an advantage over the canoes and kayaks because we were higher up we can read the water a lot better than them. After 24 hrs of paddling we were almost at Carmacks where we had a compulsory rest stop of 7 hrs. The last hours the weather had been changing and it got a little rainy and colder. Along the lake we had lost Jason who couldn’t follow our speed with the head winds but in the night we got company from Steven. I arrived first with Norm and Stephen Waterreus only a little later. At the rest stop my support crew helped me very quick with food and my gear and an hour later I was resting/sleeping. An hour before the start, I ate again sorted my gear and food for the rest of the race and off we went.
In Carmacks we also found out who the other SUPaddlers teamed up with, but Joanne (of steel) had to retire. After 16hrs and battling dehydration because of throwing up everything she ate or drink. She had a very hard time to give up and needed time to process. Lina was going strong and although almost last Michelle impressed me the most, I had misjudged her, she was going very well.
Although we were already 25hrs on our way we were not even half way. Next up was Five finger rapids the half way point and the biggest rapids in this race.We came through the rapids dry and were able to maintain good speed throughout the night. We had seen Jason at lurking distance for half the night and decided it was be nicer for him to join us than fight the time alone. This part of the course was even more beautiful with amazing rock formations and gorges. I did start to feel the paddle miles in the muscles of my back and was looking forward to the finish. We were paddling for the second night now and it was a lot colder. I hadn’t decided on strategy for the last part of the race. My goal was to win and Norm and in lesser form Jason shared that goal with me. My secondary goal was to do it under 55hrs. This is the time limit to the top racer to be able to get price money. Not all class winners reached this goal. The first C1 (one man) canoe last year came in at 62 hrs, first but no prize money.
After some cold hours in the initial morning the fog gave away and it became a beautiful day. Around midday we arrived at the 2nd and last 3hr rest stop. Here we got some food and laid in the shade of the trees to get some sleep. I got about 1.5 hrs of sleep but I felt like new after this. Norm who had been paddling very strong the last 2 days had struggled a little the last 2 hrs to the stop, which was a sign for me to make a move after the stop and try to go under 55 hrs.
After paddling for almost 2 days together I did something mostly never happens in a race I told Jason and Norm that I wanted to go and beat the 55 hrs. I raised my board speed to a comfortable, but good strong pace and slowly paddled away from them. Only to almost lose my margin after I made a mistake at one of the go left or right options. The last half of the race became increasingly more difficult because of many small islands on the river. Every time you have to make a left or right choice to get the fast current, there are big, big differences. Meaning someone who was 400 meters behind could be suddenly ahead of you 2 kms later. So I had realised that I had to paddle hard and build in as much margin as possible to create a buffer for any future mistakes.
I paddled hard, read the maps to compare the surroundings, eat, drink, ate and drank for the next 12 hrs with only a few minutes to fill up my water from the river and mix a sports’ drink. This was intense and I started to feel the pain. My back felt as one big muscle under a lot of tension. 3 hrs before my finish I made a big error, it was in the middle of the night with just enough light and I made the wrong choice and ended up where there was no current and a long alternative route to get back to the main part of the river.
Later i figured this cost me about 25 minutes. At that moment I hoped I had build enough margin to still be ahead. When the routes joined again I was sure until the last minute they would show up right next to me again. Race stress after 43 hrs of racing. It made me paddle even harder to get to the finish line. On top we started to get more and more head wind. This was truly by far the hardest race I have ever done.
When I got close to the finish line, I almost got emotional. I crossed the line after 54hrs and 40 min. And I did it, first winner of the Yukon River Quest. Most will never realise what kind a effort you have to give to paddle a race like this. When I spoke to most other paddles after the race you could see in their eyes they truly had a hard time.
Norm came in second and Jason directly after him, just under 55hrs. Jason got to the line and fainted for a moment, he clearly left nothing on the river.
When you arrive you get the sharp contrast, the race is over and you can sit down, eat, talk even recuperate and after that I had a 2 hrs of sleep. About 6 hours later Lina came in also visibly rocked by her race. Later she tells she had many hallucinations which had clearly frightened her.
The Hardest race, I or any of us, ever did. Once you finish, for sure it is all worth it.
1st: Bart de Zwart (54 hours 41 minutes 14 seconds)
2nd: Norm Hann (54:56:47)
3rd: Jason Bennett (54:56:58)
4th: Stephen Waterreus (55:36:55)
5th: Lina Augaitis (60:22:08) * Women’s champion
6th: Andre Le Geyt (62:59:12)
7th: Michelle Eshpeter (69:13:39)
8th: Stuart Knaack (69:15:04)
9th: Glen Pearson (69:29:06)“