Enduring the Yukon

2014-09-16 00:00

JUST 12 teams entered the 2014 Yukon 1000, an unsupported ­biannual canoe and kayak expedition race credited with being the world’s longest at 1 000 miles (1 600 kilometres).

Among the entrants were Natal Canoe Club’s Duncan Paul and Donovan Boshoff, who finished fourth.

Over eight days, in a boat carrying 100 kg of supplies, they paddled up to an 243 km in a single day in the stunningly beautiful and remote Yukon scenery where seeing any other competitors during the event is far from guaranteed.

The race began in the Yukon capital, Whitehorse, and concluded at the Alaskan Pipeline/Dalton Highway, U.S.

Paul has attempted plenty of endurance challenges including the Yukon River Quest that covered 740 km.

He has climbed the 6 300-metre Mera Peak in Nepal; ascended Kilimanjaro three times; paddled the length of Lake Kariba and skiied to the South Pole.

Reflecting on his recent Alaskan adventure, Paul said: “The Yukon 1 000 was one of the hardest things I have done. The South Pole was incredibly cold (up to minus 50°C). Physically, it was long hours on skis, but at a slow pace and you had to manage the cold. On the Yukon 1 000, you are paddling at a pace. The whole time we were concentrating on the GPS or Garmin, checking our pace, where we were going; checking the current. We paddled up to 17 hours per day, often in temperatures below zero in driving, freezing rain and wind.

“It was relentless. One day we burnt 23 000 calories.”

Boshoff said Paul’s endurance experiences pulled them through some challenging times. “I think his stories definitely got us through the race, and his experience. You need something like that. You need stories to divert your mind. To have that entertainment was a big part of it for me. You can see his experience coming through.

“He is a tough guy and you know regardless of what the situation is, he is going to maintain his form and his thinking is going to be straight.”

With the sun going down only very late in the day in Alaska, and with only a short compulsory stop of six hours each day, many long hours were spent in the boat. The accumulated lack of sleep of only three to four hours per night and the work they put in each day required some unusual measures to keep the pair going.

Adding to the challenge were the physical ailments the Pietermaritzburg pair had to deal with.

“I had bad feet. Water got into my boots on two days in a row. My feet went white and swollen and it was incredibly painful.

“It’s called trench foot. You can’t walk. On the last day, I realised what was going wrong, but the damage was done. My feet were sore for 10 days afterwards and still peeling a month later,” Paul said.

Boshoff developed acute tendinitis in both his wrists. Being in such a remote place, with doctors not accessible, that was particularly challenging.

“The goal becomes finishing the race,” he explained. “At times, you’re racing, but often you’re doing what you have to do to make sure you can get through.”

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