It was 3am Tuesday. I’d been staring at the remote Canadian wilderness for 16 hours straight. I hadn’t slept much, and I was seriously questioning why I was doing it all in the first place. This was the Yukon River Quest, which at 715km is the longest annual paddle race on the planet. It’s a mind-bending experience that pushes the body to its limits and the mind well beyond.
But on that early Tuesday morning, I wasn’t looking at the Yukon up close: I was watching it over and over again on a computer screen. Because for the past three weeks I’ve been doing nothing but working on a documentary about one of the grandest adventures in the world of paddling.
Chased by the Midnight Sun is an hour-long tribute to the splendid beauty and sheer absurdity of the Yukon River Quest. It explores what happens to your body and mind when you paddle three days down a very long, cold and lonely river with little sleep and even less of an idea why you’re doing it to begin with.
Featuring Bart de Zwart, myself and half a dozen very bold stand up paddlers who attempted this crazy mission, the film is now finally complete. And I’d love to share it with you at the online streaming premiere on Saturday 14 March.
Ironically, telling the story of this race by making Chased by the Midnight Sun, which I decided to edit myself despite having very little idea about making movies, became even more torturous than the paddle itself.
I didn’t train for the 2019 Yukon River Quest. I went into the race over-confident and under-prepared, and my finishing time of 70 hours, 39 minutes reflected that. I was similarly over-confident and behind-schedule in creating the Yukon film. I released a trailer for Midnight Sun way back in November before I even started the editing process. I thought it would only take a few days to wrap up production — it would take three months.
In creating Chased by the Midnight Sun, we’ve attempted to recreate the feeling this odyssey conjures within. It’s equal parts endurance race, wilderness adventure and mental journey. The Yukon River Quest offers some of the most remote waters, breathtaking scenery and hallucination-inducing conditions that you’re ever likely to experience as a paddler. So while the official title of the film is “Chased by the Midnight Sun – The Story of the Yukon River Quest,” something along the lines of ‘Descent Into Madness’ would have been just as appropriate.
Ten stand up paddlers tackled the 2019 Quest alongside more than a hundred canoes and kayaks. Seven of them finished, and this documentary is a homage to all of them. The 59-minute clip includes epic drone shots, lonely GoPro monologues and interviews with the paddlers to understand why they did it.
Like all of the “ultras,” the Yukon River Quest is a very special event, and I’m very excited to share this film with you. I hope it doesn’t scare you off doing the race in the future — the Yukon is the ultimate bucket list adventure.
Chased by the Midnight Sun will be streaming on SUP Racer starting Saturday 14 March.
If you’re in Australia and want to see it sooner, the premiere is happening during the 12 Towers Ocean Festival on Friday 6 March, while there’s a special preview screening at the ONE Ocean Sports/SUP Racer studio in Currumbin on Thursday the 5th.