The Yukon 1000 Canoe, Kayak, and NOW SUP race got underway on Monday at 2pm.
When Kim Sutton and Ben Friberg left the riverbanks in Whitehorse, there was a lot of skepticism from other paddlers: you’re doing THIS ON THAT? Why would you want to STAND UP? WHAT ABOUT ALL OF YOUR GEAR?
The race director called them “Nuts, but good nuts.”
I didn’t hear from them for the first couple of days. I figured I might hear some when the weather got bad, but they’ve been lucky to have good weather so far. (I think there’s rain today.)
I was sitting on my couch working on Wednesday morning when this weird number came across my screen.
It looked somewhat like this: 8398237390508930958945873
“OH MY GOSH. THAT IS KIM. DON’T EFF UP ANSWERING THE PHONE KATIE!!!!!”
She sounded so happy. She sounded happier than she’s sounded in a long time.
“Katie, yes, we’re having fun! We saw two bald eagles. Lake Laberge kicked our butts. Today we go through the rapids and I’m nervous.”
We chatted a little bit more and hung up. And I smiled all day long.
The next morning her tracker wasn’t working and so all of you (AND I LOVE ALL OF YOU BY THE WAY) started texting and emailing and calling me. Her tracker sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. You can always watch Ben’s.
Above are the Five Fingers rapids. They must have gotten through without a hitch because they didn’t say anything about them when they called this morning.
A Yukon Thaw
This morning they called again! I talked to Kim first.
“We saw a MOOSE swimming across the river yesterday!” she said. I gave her the weather report and Ben grabbed the phone.
“Hey Ben, whatcha doin?”
“We’re trying to put on clothes and cover up blisters. It hurts when you stop at night but once you start paddling it feels good. You’re kind of in shock every hour. Our minds are completely blown by the scenery where we are. We’re pretty sore.”
I filled him in on their location in relation to the other teams. “The Paddling Madelines are having a rough go,” I said. “If you see them, give them some encouragement.”
“Where are the others?”
I told him that the leaders are in Alaska, but said ‘You guys are holding your own and everyone is really proud of you!”
He said “I think we’ve converted some people. When we first started, everyone was like ‘How are you going to do that?’ Now when we pass them, they’re like ‘We’re believers! You guys are doing great!'”
“The whole SUP community is watching you!” I said. “They’re all pulling for you!”
He said that all of the other teams have seen bears but they have not. “Where we camped last night, though, we saw signs. It was pretty crazy.”
The river has been wide and meandering where they are now. “We’ve ‘banked’ 26 miles,” he said. (Over their goal of 100 miles per day.) “Last night we camped on a gravel bar. There are lots of gravel bars in this section coming up so we really have to focus. You can’t hit one with your fin. We think the speed will pick up past Dawson.”
They’ve seen a lot of locals on the river. “When they ask us where we’re headed and we say ‘Fairbanks!’ they all say ‘WHOA!’ Most people don’t go past Dawson.”
Yesterday they stopped at a little shop and cafe on the river. “It’s the only place right on the river like that. The person who runs it is named Linda. She’s known by everyone here as been pretty short, and no-nonsense,” said Kim. I talked to Ben, who likes to meet people. He said “I went in and sat down and said ‘You must have a million stories,’ and she said ‘And if you want your food, you won’t ask about them.’ When she came out with our meals I said ‘You should write a book.’ and she said ‘My life’s private and that’s that.’ I thought ‘I won’t ask anymore questions.'”
Bless his heart, Ben can’t help but make friends with everyone.
While she was making their food, he said “You’ve seen a million canoes and a million kayaks, I bet you’ve never seen someone standing up on the water.” He said “She brought us her food, came out and talked to us then. We were friends by the end of lunch. She brought her four wheeler out and watched us leave and everyone’s mouths were hanging open that we actually got her to thaw out.”
This Ain’t No Float Trip
They still have a lot of miles ahead of them. They’re about 50% through the distance. And while they are experienced and have iron wills, both of them, there is at least one team that is struggling. So, Mullet Nation, while you keep Kim and Ben in your thoughts, also please keep the Paddlin Madelines in your thoughts as well.