They made it!

At 10:51 local time, the spotter shouts out the news I have been waiting for, “Yukon do it and Yukon beat em are in view”. Another few mins and they are across the line… together.

The teams exit the boats, the emotions are running high, and I suspect a number of the team are having to fight back the tears. Lots of hugs (yes hugs)  – we are passed the normal British handshake… I think it’s starting to sink in what the boys have just achieved.

So now they are all safely back on dry land, let me tell you all the real story of the trip – I heard a number of times, the river flow will take you to the end in a few days so it should be easy, nothing could be further from the truth.

The team left on Weds in good spirit, this much is true, and then three hours in they hit Lake Laberge (to contextualise the size of this lake, it took me 20 mins to cover the width of this lake in a speedboat going flat out… the teams had nearly 10hrs of paddling just to cross it!)

27 hours in they reach Carmacks which is a mandatory stop and is about 40% of the way to Dawson City. Upon arrival most of the team couldn’t stand without assistance, one of team had to be taken to the RV as he was suffering with hypothermia (this was serious) – unsteady, shaking and couldn’t string a sentence together. Whilst Ben was dealing with that, another crew member started to feel unwell, he couldn’t tell me his name and he couldn’t walk – I had to physically place him in the medical tent so we could get him looked at… urgently. The rest of the crew couldn’t follow the simplest of instructions. At this point both teams were at real risk of being medically scratched from the event and a number of the crew shared with me privately that they didn’t think they could continue. I reckon that we came within 30 mins of having to medically evacuate at least one if not two of the crew.

Seven hours later all of the crew were back on their feet. Despite what they were saying, they were hurting and hurting bad, but none of them wanted to quit… they didn’t want to let their teams down.

The captains Tim and Mark pulled everyone together before the restart. The tone of the crews had changed, it was now not one of which boat was the faster, this was about survival and finishing. The teams agreed from here on in they would stick together, look after each other and get to the end together and that is exactly what they did.

Along the way the team went without sleep, little food, they all talk of hallucinations, feeling cold and muscle aches (and these were the lucky ones). So I ask you this, when you see your husband / boyfriend / work colleague, take a moment to congratulate them. The stories that they share with you will not even come close to adequately conveying the pain (both physical and mental) that they have put themselves through over the last 60 hours. These boys were incredibly fit and it nearly broke them and in fact, a few of them it did.

The courage shown by all to keep going, to not quit was phenomenal. I doubt I will ever come across a group of people with such courage again.

So in signing off this extraordinary trip, I would like you each to remember, this was no jolly, no walk in the park, this was, one of the toughest endurance races on the planet…..

They stayed safe

Spencer

Carmacks – part two

The team are back awake after about 5/6hours sleep – some in better shape than others but all still up for the next leg of this amazing adventure.

Whilst the teams have been asleep Ben & I have been hard at work making sure everything is ready for them. We strip the boats, clean everything and put It all back – Yukon Beat em had beached during the race and the team had to get out into the river to get it going again, the boat  had about 4 inches of water in it and it took us a couple of hours to get this all out.

Boats cleaned, 80 litres of water per boat restocked, individual water bottles full, the boats are back in good shape, job done. One of the team had arrived at Carmacks in a particularly bad way and Ben had decided that he should sleep in the RV so we could keep an eye on him and to make sure he kept warm and got a good few hours rest, Ben and I take turns on checking the teams to make sure they are Ok. All seems well.

At about 19:30 I head back to the RV to start cooking for the team, we have lined up tortellini in a tomato and basil sauce, with salad followed by berries and ice cream, you could physically see the spirits lift as they started tucking in. 9:30 comes around and another mandatory kit check comes and goes and all that’s left is a team huddle, a few words from the captains and the teams are in the boats. Ben and I untie the two boats and push them off all we can hear is the sound of Rule Britannia echoing out around the wilderness as they paddle away.

Finally Ben and I can put are feet up… well not quite. We clear the camp site (seven tents taken down, rubbish away). To give a bit of context to the day, the campsite is roughly the size of the front car park at RLS office, Ben and I walked over 20 miles between us during the day. Anyway, the RV is packed, quick run to fill up with fuel and at 23:00 we hit the road heading for the five finger rapids. The boys should get there just after 12:30am.

Upon arrival at the checkpoint we have a 2km walk through dense Forrest to get to the rapids. We are acutely aware that Yogi and his pals along with Little red riding hoods wolf friends roam the area, so with a little nervousness, we find a couple of large tree branches and push on (yes, I know what you are thinking a couple of sticks vs yogi and his pals.. well fear not, we have secret weapon). The locals have been telling us that neither animal likes noise, so if they hear you coming they will stay out of your way, so Ben with his soft spot for Justin Bieber fires up the music, I take the lead (as to be quite honest getting attacked by bear seems the lesser of two evils when confronted by JB for 2km) and 20 mins later we arrived at the viewing platform, the boys get there not long after us and thankfully safe passage is achieved by both. Back to the RV again with Justin blaring out, up the 20 million steps to the top and we are back in the RV. It’s now just gone 1am, still light so we decide to push on to Dawson, another 4 hour drive And nearly 500kms to go. I take first stint while Ben has a nap, we drive for miles and see no one, we have climbed to over 800 mtrs above sea level and we are driving through cloud, we can’t see a thing, the roads are so bumpy the only way I can describe them is its like being thrown about on a cross channel ferry in high winds. 4:00am comes  around and I am starting to feel tired, so we swap, we have about 130km left to Dawson. A few mins in we come across a couple in a broken down car, they have been stuck on this road for over 9 hours, yes 9 hours! We get them in the van and drive them to Dawson with us so that they can get sorted out.

Finally we arrived at about 6:30am we say farewell to our companions and we head straight to bed.  Let’s see what tomorrow brings.

Stay Safe
Ben & Spencer

Carmacks – the first checkpoint

Great news, the teams have reached Carmacks – that’s nearly half way! They have put in a tremendous effort having paddled for 27 hours since leaving the start line at Whitehorse.

Most of the team are in good spirits (with a couple needing a bit of a helping hand) but after some hot chocolate and a bite of warm food, we have packed them all off for much needed sleep.

Wake up call is at 20:30 for a 21:30 start back on the water.

Hopefully they all feel fit and well enough to continue.

Stay safe,
Ben and Spencer

Houston, we (may) have a problem

It’s 2:25am local time, Yukon Do It’s spot device (GPS tracker to the unaffiliated)  hasn’t sent a tracking signal since 1:59am. We initiate our emergency plan after 30 mins of no (GPS) signal, so I wake Ben but unfortunately race control hasn’t arrived yet so we have to sit it out for a few hours. we try to contact both boats by the satellite phones, both are off – this is a bit of good news as our emergency plan stipulates that the sat phones remaining off in the boats unless of an emergency.

We have to wait… the camp is set up, Ben will stay at camp to receive Yukon Beat Em and I am ready to dispatch to wherever the crew may be in the event that I am needed. A few more hours pass, we make contact with Sally back in the UK to advise of their position. More waiting… we can be ready but can’t initiate the emergency plan until we know for certain where the teams are. This wildernesses is so vast, without an exact location we have no chance.

Then, just before 9am we get the good news, the spot device has sent an update and all appears well.

Stay safe
Ben & Spencer

And They’re Off!

So, it’s finally arrived, it’s race day. The boats were in position at 6am this morning and we have spent the last few hours making final checks to ensure we are set for a great start. The race starts with Mayor of Whitehorse thanking everyone for their efforts and wishing everyone well, after a cheer for everyone of the 96 teams taking part, the siren sounds, which starts the 400 metre sprint to the boats. Ben and I launch the boats and we even manage to rescue a stray flip flop from the team & reunite it with its owner. That’s it they are off, the start is bedlam, multiple boats trying to fight for the best position, fortunately our boats made it through without any issue and they quickly disappeared out of sight. So, to the RV, we need to hit the road, we need to keep up with the boats in case of emergencies, but we also need to track ahead to ensure we get the camp set up for the teams.We get to the first checkpoint following a drive down one of the most tricky roads we have ever driven,  we manage to get there just as the teams go past, they are neck and neck, both paddling well and they even take time to give us a wave.

We managed to get talking to some local newspaper workers covering the race and they tell us of a media boat a few miles down the road, unfortunately the boat was full when we arrived but a lovely local couple offered to take us out on their boat to see the team, after two hours sailing across the lake, we see the teams, still smiling, still doing well.

Now the mad dash, we have a few hundred miles to do to get to the campsite, after more interesting roads and a lot of screaming as holes appear in the road from nowhere, (we still haven’t figured out that our 8 sleeper RV doesn’t handle like our own cars) we arrive at Carmacks campsite, now for making camp, 7 tents to pitch, tarpaulin to hang from trees and we have just about made camp. Now for the long night, we will take it in turns to sleep for an hour at a time, we need to be ready for when the boats arrive to get the teams out do the water, fed, cleaned up and to sleep for a few hours, whilst they sleep we will be down in the river, setting the boat back up for the next leg of the journey.

Let’s hope it all goes to plan …..

Stay safe, Ben & Spencer

Goodbye UK, hello Yukon

Ground crew member Ben Kennedy reflects on the first two days on Canadian soil

Following a successful trip from the UK to Canada and then a short hop up to the Yukon state we have finally made it to our race start point in Whitehorse.

The remote picturesque location of Whitehorse will be our home for the next 4 days until the race. After settling into the hotel and freshening up from 12 hours of flying the time came to see what we came here to take on… the Yukon River (pictured below). The enormity of the challenge is starting to sink in for the teams – reaching the finish point 444 miles away in Dawson, with the fast flow of the river and overall remoteness of the location likely proving to be big factors.

Where it all begins

After spending time around the river eyeing up the opposition our minds quickly turned to food and drink. With a choice of bars and grills on offer we settled in very quickly to a grill and pizza restaurant with a great atmosphere and event better food – the teams need to take advantage of this while they can as there’ll be no steak or pizza on the boat!

The first full day started with a relaxed team breakfast at a local cafe and then straight into preparing the boats (in particular, padding the seats – it’s a long time to be sat on one’s backside!). After applying our sponsor logos (pictured below looking great) and ensuring the relevant equipment was present and correct the teams were ready for the first ‘on the water’ test.

Team Yukon prepping boat

Thank you to our sponsors

After lunch it was time for the teams to get time on the water – a short 20km paddle down to an area called Takhini. This would be a leisurely couple of hours on the water to blow away any cobwebs and work on the skills required to take on the challenge ahead.

The team behind the team

We caught up with the ground crew – Spencer Brown and Ben Kennedy to get their view on the challenge ahead.

SB: We have the overarching responsibility of ensuring safe passage of the teams and their health and wellbeing. These people have been training for over a year in readiness for this event and we as ground crew have to ensure and make judgement calls on whether they are well enough to continue with the race after the checkpoints. The teams are dedicated to the cause, they’ll be tired and they’ll want to keep going no matter what and we will have to manage those emotions for the good of their health.

BK: As Spencer said, ensuring the teams safety is the biggest priority. Another challenge will be controlling the logistics having two teams on the water that could potentially be apart by hours at the checkpoints and the finish.

SB: Timing and driving strategy is also key for the ground crew. We will be covering about 2500-3000km in all and, as we are travelling the the backwaters of Canada, there a very few fuel stations. We will need to conserve as much fuel as possible through the way we drive and pack as light as we can… even carrying additional water could impact on whether we arrive where we need to when we need to!

SB: There is also the human aspect for Ben and I as well – we will be splitting the driving into two hour shifts. It’s all very well arriving at the checkpoint and the finish on time but if we are too tired to be of any use to the teams we will have failed.

BK: I agree, the physical challenge of the event is going to be difficult for us as well as the teams… for very different reasons obviously but myself and Spencer will have to manage that so we can be on hand to assist wherever we can.

BK: I’d also like to add that, for me, taking part in the Yukon River Quest as a member of the ground crew is a privilege and I feel honoured to be going out to support the teams.

One Million Down

Tim Smith reflects on his training so far

One million metres down, 444 miles to go…

Sunday 28th February 2016

Sat in a coffee shop on Sunday morning in Leeds waiting for my son to finish his cricket coaching session, I have time to update my training log and realise that I have just passed 1 million metres rowed so far in preparation for YRQ 2016.

This minor milestone prompts me to consider how prepared I feel for the race with 17 weeks and 3 days to go (thanks for the constant reminder Dan!) and to start to think through how prepared we are as a squad?

On a personal front, I am regretting every missed morning, every stuck in traffic moment, every excuse deployed to avoid pulling on training kit and hitting the rower. This is despite having looked back at previous training plans and realising that I have done a similar amount of work as the last two times I took on the mighty Yukon River.

I draw two conclusions from these thoughts, first the YRQ is a real challenge so feeling apprehensive and under prepared is fine at this stage and secondly, no more room for excuses from now on… JFDI!

As for the squad, well until we all get up to Ardeonaig in April and get cold wet and tired, I won’t really be able to judge just how much work we need to put in to get two fully functioning Voyageur teams out of what is essentially a group of strangers.

What I can reflect on however, is the growing sense of excitement and “togetherness” that is being displayed in conversations and email traffic that is starting to flow between squad members. What I’ve observed fills me with a real sense of optimism that we have a group who will gel quickly and start to form the two teams that will eventually hit the water in 17 weeks.

And that thought brings me full circle, the number of metres rowed will not get us to the finish line in Dawson, only teamwork can do that… and it feels great when you finally get there!

Yukon Fitness test – the results

Thank you for making this a fantastic event, the determination and focus by all who took part was evident and the distances recorded bode very well for the race in June.

As with any team qualification process, the fastest 16 are currently in the team – these people are, in no particular order: Ben Castle, Dylan Lupton, Craig Batchelor, Rod Connors, Seb Fleet, Matt Butler, Ben Hughes, Mark Stanton, Paul Butterworth, Sean McConnon, Nigel Strickland, Robbie Williams, Gary Postle (from Saint Gobain), Richard Trevaskis (from George Fischer), Tim Smith and myself.

With 6 more making reserve places, in no particular order: Mike Hawkes, Andy Wighton, Phil Ponsford, Calum Hynes, Chris Deverdie and Brian Gillett.

Thank you again for your commitment and enthusiasm and well done to all of you for taking part.

Keith Dorling

Managing Director – Infrastructure

Beat the MD

As a little incentive during your training, we challenge you to try and beat the MD!

Keith Dorling (Managing Director for the infrastructure brands) has laid down the gauntlet…

How far can you go on a Concept 2 skierg machine in one hour?  In order to verify your achievement we would like to to send us a photo of your result (as below).

There is no reward other than the satisfaction and bragging rights of beating a highly competitive, two-time Yukon River Quest competitor.

Keith’s Latest distance to beat is 13832m in one hour!

See keith’s training video here