World’s longest paddle race – the “Yukon 1000” – is being postponed til 2021 due to the spread of the coronavirus

 

Bart de Zwart and Ike Frans (and a lot of gear) during the 2018 Yukon 1000

The world’s longest paddle race, the mind-boggling Yukon 1000, which was set to take place across eight or nine days in July, has been postponed until 2021 due to fears about spreading the coronavirus in the remote Yukon communities and the health & safety of race participants. The strict measures imposed by the Canadian government and worldwide travel restrictions would have also made the event extremely difficult to run.

The “big brother” of the famous Yukon River Quest, the Yukon 1000 stretches more than twice as far as the Quest to cover 1,610 kilometres (1000 miles) from Canada’s Yukon Territory across the border into the remote U.S. state of Alaska, all the while flowing down the infamous Yukon River (yes, that river). The biennial event was going to begin on 22 July this year, just a few weeks after the 715km (444-mile) River Quest, but it’s now been pushed back 12 months to July 2021 (exact dates to follow shortly).

While many events in the United States and Europe are scrambling to find race dates later in the year, events on the wild frontier of the Yukon have few alternatives to run considering the region is covered in snow and ice for much of the year.

Held every two years, the Yukon 1000 holds the title of world’s longest paddle race and takes as many as 10 days to complete. Teams are allowed to paddle a maximum of 18 hours per day – strictly controlled by GPS tracking – while outside communication and re-supplying are forbidden. You’re on your own out there, which is another reason organisers erred on the side of caution in cancelling this year’s adventure.

Traditionally a canoe race, the Yukon 1000 was pioneered on SUP by Chattajack founders Ben Friberg and Kimberley Sutton in 2014. Three “teams” of stand up paddlers (solo paddlers have to race in pairs for safety reasons) entered the last time it was held, 2018, with Bart de Zwart and Ike Franz from Holland the “winners” in an incomprehensible time of 8 days, 1 hour and 42 minutes. The other two SUP teams – Scott Baste & Chip Walter and Alex de Saint & Tony Bain – also completed the epic course that year.

(see more: “The hardest paddle I’ve ever done” – Bart de Zwart’s Yukon 1000 recap)

Incredibly, as many as 50 stand up paddlers signed on for this year’s odyssey, though many were put on the waiting list. Paddlers now have the option of deferring their entry to an automatic slot in 2021 or asking for a refund and going back in the queue if they change their mind.

The Yukon River Quest is still tentatively scheduled to run in the last of June, but that could change as the coronavirus situation escalates. Fingers crossed we can still get up to the Yukon this summer — it’s an incredibly beautiful part of the world and these races provide some of the most incredible adventures a paddler could wish for.

It’s a real shame to see a race as epic as the Yukon 1000 being cancelled (though I daresay a few entrants are quietly relieved!), but this was inevitably the right call. There’s probably no safer place during a zombie apocalypse than the wide-open expanse of the Yukon, and that’s exactly why the locals wouldn’t want hundreds of people flying in from all around the world during a global pandemic. Several communities in the remote Yukon are “isolated” to say the least, and the region’s health resources would presumably be stretched very thin if the coronavirus spread rapidly through the Territory.

And at the end of the day it’s just a race — as the organisers said in their message today: “The Yukon River will still be there when this is over.”

Here’s the official call that went out to participants:

Racers,

We have been watching the news closely and continually assessing the viability of the upcoming 2020 race. We regret to announce that we will not be running the 2020 race.

We have made this decision for the following reasons:

– The race runs through isolated communities. Without outside intervention, these communities might be lucky enough to escape COVID-19. I have a responsibility as a Race Director and passionate expedition leader to protect and preserve the local Yukon environment.

– Racer health and safety. Again, the remote nature of the race means that emergency support might take some time to reach a racer who may become unwell. During race conditions, racers will have suppressed immunity and therefore pose a risk of becoming seriously unwell in a remote location.

– Government guidance is rapidly changing, and we have seen US policies are being implemented without notice. This poses a risk given to racers being able to cross the border and return home from the race.

What next?

You have two options. Please reply to this email when you are clear with which option you wish to choose.

1. Defer your position to the 2021 race (new dates to be confirmed ASAP)

2. A refund of race fees (less an administration fee). You will forfeit your position on the Yukon 1000 2021 race.We understand that you all have invested in race preparation and logistics (as have we) and we will be in contact with local providers to make sure satisfactory terms are met in these extraordinary circumstances.

The Yukon River will still be there when this is over, please look after yourselves and your families. Thank you for your continued support – we hope to see you all in 2021.

Jon