Local canoeists take on 12 days’ paddling over 1?000 km of Yukon river

2014-07-18 00:00

ONLY 12 teams have been brave enough to enter the longest canoe race in the world, the Yukon 1 000 — as in 1 000 miles (1 600 km). They include the South African Dung Beetles, Duncan Paul and Donovan Boshoff of Natal ­Canoe Club.

The event starts on ­July 21 in Whitehorse, Yukon, Alaska and concludes at the Alaska Pipeline/Dalton Highway after seven to 12 days of paddling for 18 hours a day. Clearly, it is not for the faint of heart.

As an unsupported race, the contestants have to look out for their own wellbeing and that means carrying three weeks of food supplies.

“You have to take three weeks of food with you because if you have bad weather conditions or someone gets injured there is no way you can be helped out there,” Paul said at a send-off function in Pietermaritzburg on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, he and Boshoff jetted off on their way to Canada for the start of the Yukon 1 000.

Paul previously took part in the Yukon River Quest in 2007, completing the mammoth 740 km journey with fellow Natal Canoe Club member Colin Burden in 50 hours, while taking only one seven-hour and one three-hour break along the way.

Thanks to that previous experience, Paul explained, he learnt some useful things, like the kinds of trials he and Boshoff can expect to face in the even longer Yukon 1 000.

“Sleep deprivation was the biggest one,” he said of the challenges he faced in 2007. “Obviously you have to be very fit. You start hallucinating, there is tendonitis in your wrists, sore bums from sitting down the whole time.”

Due to the nature of the race, it is entirely possible that, apart from the start, they might not see any of their fellow competitors at all along the route. The vast distance and the tough requirements of the test that lies in wait means the Dung Beetles have to use a bigger boat than usual.

“It’s a sea kayak,” Paul explained, “bigger than our kayaks because you’ve got a long list of mandatory things you have to take, like tents, sleeping bags, two stoves, three weeks of food, bear spray, flares. It has two hatches, so you are taking a lot of kit.”

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