Lincoln Dews knows a thing or two about tough challenges. The former world champ may have made his mark winning short course SUP races but he’s actually got a decade of experience in ultra territory.
Lincoln first tackled Molokai-2-Oahu as a 16-year-old and returned several times to that fabled, 52km channel crossing in Hawaii. He’s been part of the (in)famous Sydney to Hobart yacht race three times, one of the grandest events on the Australian sporting calendar that weighs in at 628 nautical miles (1,170km). The Sunshine Coast local has completed several adventure paddles at home ranging from 70-200km, and he’s even aiming to row across the Indian Ocean next year.
But what Lincoln has planned for Canada next month will surely be the biggest challenge of his life so far: The “Yukon Double” — competing in both the 715km Yukon River Quest and the 1,610km Yukon 1000. There’s only six days rest between each race.
The traditional Yukon River ultra-marathon, the Quest, begins 22 June and takes roughly three days to complete. The newer, longer and much crazier Yukon 1000 starts the following week (2/3 June) and offers a cut-off time of 10 days, though Lincoln should finish within 7 or 8. Combine the two events and our boy will be paddling approximately 2,325km (1,444 miles) in the span of just 17 days.
In other words, a mind-boggling adventure.
Lincoln will paddle the Yukon River Quest solo on a SUP before jumping in a two-man canoe for the 1000 along with teammate and round-the-world sailor Nick Moloney.
The Yukon 1000 is certainly the “unknown” element here. While the beloved Yukon River Quest is a maddeningly-tough assignment by itself, especially when you attempt it solo (I can speak from personal experience), the 1000 goes way beyond into a nether-world of mental purgatory. Competitors paddle up to 16 hours a day for at least a week along a waterway so remote you’ll probably go several days without seeing any sign of civilisation.
In the true spirit of adventure, the 1000 involves camping on the side of the river each night. Rules state that “teams” (only two-person teams are allowed to enter for safety reasons; two SUPs, two kayaks or a two-person canoe) must be off the water from 11pm to 5am. Every other hour of the day is generally spent with a paddle in hand. Each competitor carries all their own gear onboard. No outside assistance or refueling is allowed. Even the team’s satellite tracker/messenger is put in special zip-locked bag by the race director to ensure they can’t communicate with any support crew for vital race updates. Bears are a genuine concern and paddlers have been known to move camp after finding fresh tracks.
The catchphrase of the Yukon 1000 states “More people have climbed Everest than paddled beyond Dawson,” with Dawson being the finishing town of the Quest and also the terminus for most private canoe trips. Very few paddlers go beyond Dawson simply because there’s so little out there. After you cross the border into Alaska (oh yeah, this race starts in Canada and finishes in the U.S.) there’s nothing but a handful of tiny “outpost” villages that usually have no road access (but perhaps offer a friendly cheer as you glide by in a hallucinatory state).
Membership in the “Yukon Double” club is exclusive to say the least. I’ll have to do a final headcount, but I suspect fewer than half a dozen paddlers have attempted both races in the same year; I don’t believe anyone has ever done it in this short a timeframe.
Bart de Zwart completed the Yukon Double in 2018, winning both races along the way, however the Yukon 1000 has been brought forward a few weeks this year. Though even with the “luxury” of a 25-day break in between, Bart told me the 2018 Double was the hardest thing he’s ever done (and that’s saying something coming from him).
Bart, a true pioneer of the ultras but who will miss the Yukon for the first time this year, has been one of the many experts lending his advice to Lincoln in the leadup to this epic odyssey. Lincoln will need all the advice he can get, but at the same time nothing can really prepare you for the mind-bending prospect of paddling more than 2,000 kilometres through the middle of nowhere.
I chatted with Linc at the wet’n’wild Big Clarence last weekend and heard what he’s thinking about the mighty challenge ahead. I’ll post the full video on Saturday, but in the meantime I’ll leave you with these frightening facts:
The Yukon Double is the same distance as paddling the entire 11 City Tour course 11 times in a row; it’s the same distance as 44x crossings from Molokai 2 Oahu.
Or as we’d say in Australia, it’s a bloody long way mate…