By ALYSSA DE ANGELUS
Awards for the 2018 Yukon River Quest were distributed at a banquet on the eve of Sunday, July 1, with Tony Thole wrangling the Spirit of the Yukon Award for rescuing a literal boatload of valuables from the currents of the Yukon River.
Volunteer and support crew member and Minnesota native Tony Thole is the father of Dyea Devils Club competitor Cory Thole. His long and cumbersome journey to recover an unattended boat full of expensive camera equipment made it hard for him to watch the Skagway team push toward the finish line, but like all great heroes, he managed to find the time to save the day and catch up with his son by dinnertime.
According to Tony Thole, the lost boat was about 50 to 75 yards downstream from the docks, where it had likely been tied up to a log near the Carmacks campground. The boat belonged to a Whitehorse volunteer and debris had been drifting to the left and right of boats all day. A huge log had drifted by and knocked out the stump the boat was tied to. That paired with a strong current led Tony Thole to believe that the rope had broken loose. Skirting alongside the boat was a man in his twenties, paddling alone in a canoe with his dog. The head coordinator of the docks was relieved to catch this paddler’s attention, requesting that he tie up the runaway boat if he caught up to it, but Tony Thole realized that the job would be fairly difficult for just one person to handle.
Tony Thole waved down the recreational canoer and asked for a spare paddle so he could help with the affair. He was given a kayak paddle and away the two sailed, with Tony Thole sitting in the front of the canoe, prepared to creep up and snatch the tail end of the runaway camera boat.
“We were having a little trouble paddling and I am a pretty good sized guy so that was a lot of weight in the canoe which makes it hard to steer and stuff,” Tony Thole said. “But once we got our steering skills down and we caught up with the boat, and then I got out of the boat and I held on, he held on tight and I said, ‘I am going to get in.’”
The key was still in the ignition, and Tony Thole got in the boat and started to plow down the river.
The adventure wasn’t over yet, however.
“We were just half way, we were just past the Carmack Bridge and then I got it running and probably got two-thirds, three-quarters of the way back to the docks and it ran out of gas,” Tony Thole said. “I started floating down the river again and then I couldn’t get it running.
“It had multiple gas tanks on it and I had never been in the boat before, I didn’t really know what was going on so I went and got close enough to a sandbar island where I could get out and drag it close to shore and tie it off and stuff.”
The clock was ticking on meeting the Dyea Devils Club team at its next race takeoff, which was 7 o’clock. It was a little after 6 p.m. when Tony Thole began to fiddle with the multiple tanks and eventually figured out the gas situation.
“This time it worked. I got back in time,” Tony Thole said. “They [Dyea Devils Club] must have followed the Canadian police because they pulled up beside me and gave me a thumbs up and I gave them a thumbs up and then I got to shore. I got back in time to help my team get back into the river.”
Tony Thole says that he has been a volunteer at the Yukon River Quest for a couple of years now, but this experience was truly unforgettable.
“Oh this is number one, I’d say,” Tony Thole said, laughing. “Yeah you know, you just don’t expect something like that but it all worked out well and we got it back in.”
Later, while standing in the foodline at the banquet with his son, Tony Thole was shocked to hear Jeff Brady on stage, explaining the whole story to the audience before presenting Tony Thole with the Spirit of the Yukon award.
Tony Thole says the alternate name for the award, “The Indiana Jones Award,” was originated by Brady who had been describing the incident like an adventure fit for the big screens in Hollywood.
In addition to Tony Thole’s specialty award, Yukon Wide Adventures became a returning champion for the overall race. The team finished on Friday, June 29 under leadership of Thomas de Jager in 44 hours, 21 minutes and 53 seconds. Other members were Gus Oliveira, Stephen Mooney, Spencer Edelman, Kendall McDonald and Brandon Johnston.
Skagway’s team, the Dyea Devils Club, earned the third place spot for the open voyageur teams. Although the men did not meet their 50-hour goal, Skagway’s team finished in 51 hours, 50 minutes and 46 seconds and walked away with a cash prize of $551. Other awards include Team Stix Together from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada, who took the overall title for a women’s voyageur team in 51 hours, 34 minutes and 15 seconds and Voyageur VII Mission, a team that represented competitors all across the United States took the Mixed Voyageur overall title with a time of 47 hours, 20 minutes and 49 seconds.
First Kayak award winner belonged to The Kiwis, a New Zealand team that set a new record for the mixed K2 and finished third overall in the whole race. The Overall Canoe award belonged to Team Alpha Super Awesome Cool Dynamite Wolf Squadron of Whitehorse, Canada, who cleared the river in just above 45 hours. Wayne Anderson from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, won the overall solo category for team Akita [49:58:39].
In addition to wandering photography boats, this year challenges for the River Quest included heavy winds, thunder and lighting in areas and low waters. For more information on race results visit www.yukonriverquest.com.