Despite a canceled race and safety concerns, Yukon River Quest paddlers hit the river.

Kirti Pathak
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Yukon River

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They had been training for months, if not years, to compete in the epic Yukon River Quest and they weren't about to stay on dry land even if the race was canceled. "We enjoy paddling, and we've worked hard to prepare for this event," said Stephen Mooney as he prepared his canoe on the Whitehorse River on Wednesday morning.

The annual race was scheduled to begin at midday in Whitehorse, with an armada of canoes and kayaks setting off on a 715-kilometer voyage downriver to Dawson City. However, less than a day before the marathon's scheduled start, race officials canceled it due to dangerously high river levels this year.

Nonetheless, many paddlers take to the water, even if only for a short trip downriver. Some had been waiting for this event for a long time, as it had been two years since the last one. Because of the COVID-19 epidemic, the 2020 event was canceled. Mooney says he understands why the race was canceled, but it was still a great disappointment. His canoe partner had traveled up from British Columbia weeks before the event to complete Yukon's mandated self-isolation time in an RV behind Mooney's house.

They intended to travel all the way to Dawson City and were looking forward to an exciting journey. Mooney explained that the high water and its related perils just add to the challenge and adventure. Naomi Umphrey and her husband Kelly Linklater journeyed 30 hours from their home in Pukatawagan, Manitoba, to compete in this year's Yukon River Quest. They were not required to isolate themselves upon arrival because they could demonstrate that they were completely vaccinated against COVID-19.

After the race was canceled, the pair decided to join a group of race participants for an unofficial "sprint" to the outlet of Lake Laberge on Wednesday. Umphrey also stated that canceling the formal race was most likely the correct move.

Paddling even a little distance down the river with other paddlers will be enjoyable, according to Linklater, because meeting people and experiencing some wilderness scenery is a key part of the race for him.

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