This year, two Skagway teams joined 91 other teams as they paddled 444 miles from Whitehorse to Dawson City during the 18th annual Yukon River Quest, the longest annual canoe and kayak race in the world.
Skagway mixed voyageur team Maggio’s Magic was comprised of team captain A.J. Conley, Kent Fielding, Dirk Foss, Katie Foss Meemkin, Curt Burns and Shane Yarborough. Maggio’s Magic came in 9th place in the voyageur class with a time of 55:53:36 and in 37th overall.
Jeff Brady and son Danny Brady competed in a tandem canoe, as team Brady Boys. They placed 23rd in their class with a time of 66:07:16 and 67th overall.
When you’re out on the river for four days with only a minimum rest time of 10 hours, it’s not the miles that you count, it’s the minutes, Maggio’s Magic team captain Conley said.
“You don’t really even think about it,” Conley said. “For most of the time I was calling out switches, where we switch sides on the boat, so I was really focused on counting every four to six minutes, depending on how long on each side we were paddling on. And it’s interesting because while those four to six minutes might feel like a long time, all of the sudden an hour has passed.”
After being out on the water for an extended period of time, it’s easy to lose track of time all together.
“We all get to that point where we say, what day is it? ‘Okay it’s Friday.’ Is it morning or night? Being in the boat, and having the scenery always changing, but your setting right around you isn’t really, so it’s really easy to lose track of things,” Conley said. “It all kind of blends together, to be honest.”
The days leading up to the race, Maggio’s Magic was excited and ready to get on the water.
“There’s a good mix of nerves and anticipation that goes into it, so that when we did finally hit the river, it was kind of a relief after all of the build up,” Conley said.
First-time paddler Danny Brady of the Brady Boys tandem canoe team was excited to finally compete in the race.
“This is really happening,” Danny Brady thought to himself that morning. “I’m really doing to the Yukon River Quest, which I’ve been a part of since I was five, and now I’m actually doing it.”
For the Bradys, participating in the race is a family tradition that dates back to late nineties when Jeff Brady helped co-found the race.
At the starting line in Whitehorse, when the two Skagway teams lined up next to each other alongside more than 200 other paddlers to race to their boats on the shoreline, Danny said the nerves started to kick in.
Danny and voyageur team member Shane Yarborough decided to race each other to the shoreline to take the edge off.
“He says that he won, but I don’t know about that,” Danny said. “I at least beat the rest of the voyageur team.”
The first hour of the race went by exactly as planned for the voyageur team, with a plan to pace themselves, even if it meant falling a bit behind the pack.
“We all kind of had a general plan of being really steady with our pacing from the start so that we didn’t burn out,” Conley said. “It’s really easy to want to try to pass everybody right when you get out there because you see all of these boats around you, and there’s this huge traffic jam at the beginning, so I think everybody did a really good job of being really steady.”
By the time most paddlers had reached the middle of Lake Laberge, dark brooding storm clouds had begun to roll in over the mountains.
But they didn’t rain on Maggio’s Magic’s parade.
“Those big clouds over the lake definitely encouraged us to keep paddling. We kept seeing them, and at one point we heard really loud thunder, so we kept looking back and saying how glad we were that we weren’t under those clouds right now.”
The Brady Boys staved off fatigue, threat of rain and winds from every direction on Lake Laberge.
Shortly after making their way through the 30-mile long stretch of the lake, Jeff Brady recalls that he started hallucinating.
“I kept seeing the voyageur team members in the trees. Just their different faces, and they were rather large and they were dancing,” Jeff Brady said. “They looked like big masks, kind of like Mardi Gras.”
The voyageur team powered through the first portion of the course without getting out of the boat or taking a single rest stop until they got to the first mandatory rest point at the Coal Mine Campground in Carmacks, Yukon.
“By the time we got to Carmacks, it was just so nice to get out of the boat,” Conley said. “So when we got out of the boat it was the first time we had been able to stand since the race began, so it’s wonderful to get out of the boat and be reminded that your legs still work.”
Conley was pulled out of the canoe by fellow teammate Shane Yarborough.
“I almost went down when I got out of the boat. At that point you’re just so tired, it’s kind of like you have a moment where you can feel that tiredness. It can be a bit overwhelming.”
When Maggio’s Magic arrived in Dawson City ON Saturday at 5:52 a.m. after nearly three straight days on the river, Conley said she felt extremely grateful for the team’s strong dynamic that carried them through the more than 400-mile course.
“I’m so impressed and I’m so amazed, and I feel so lucky that I was able to do this with such a great group of people,” Conley said. “They all did a really good job of supporting each other and supporting me, and I would have to say that without them there, it would’ve been a much more difficult experience.”
This was Conley’s second year competing in the race, and it won’t be her last.
“It was so much fun and was such a great experience. Now that I’ve been out of the boat for a few days, I’m ready to do it again,” Conley said. “Probably not next year, but maybe the year after that.”
Participating in the race provides paddlers with the unique experience of seeing a large portion of the river up close and personal for an extended period of time, Conley said.
“It’s all so gorgeous. I really like anytime we go past places and you see people cheering for us, and you’ll see that all along the river,” Conley said. “The whole river is just so beautiful that it’s hard to pick a favorite.”
By the time the Brady Boys made it into Dawson City around 4:07 p.m., Danny Brady felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment.
“It’s something that not everybody could do and it tests the limits of your body and your mind,” Danny Brady said. “You have to prepare for that, but the only thing that can really prepare you for the Yukon River Quest is the Yukon River Quest.”
Jeff and Danny Brady both said they’re already looking forward to competing in the race sometime again in the next few years, perhaps on a voyageur team with their family.
Tandem men’s canoe team Perfect Storm of Jeff Brainard and Gaetan Plourde were the first to cross the finish line in Dawson City at 46:14:56.
Second place went to solo kayaker Dave Hutchison, who arrived after 47:17:30 on the Yukon River.
Kayakers Geeb Smith and Derek Chart of the Team Jester earned third place after paddling for 48:09:09.
The first stand-up paddle boarder to complete the race, Bart de Zwart, clocked in at time of 54:41:14.
Brady said the success of the experimental stand-up paddleboard class this year makes it seem like the class will be here to stay going forward.
“They did great,” Brady said. “We’ll make that decision at a future board meeting.”