The Big Empty. That is what Peter Coates calls the 1,000-mile expanse of river that competitors traverse in the Yukon 1000 – the longest canoe and kayak race in the world. Visitors to Whitehorse can get a front-row view of the Yukon canoe race starting at Rotary Peace Park, just a short drive from the Westmark Whitehorse Hotel & Conference Center. The race begins at 11 a.m. on July 16. If you aren’t already planning a stay in Whitehorse, witnessing the start of this epic race from Canada to Alaska might just be reason enough to plan a trip.
The Yukon 1,000 Race is the brainchild of Coates, a long time Yukon River Quest competitor and organizer. The Yukon River Quest is a 460-mile canoe and kayak race from Whitehorse to Dawson City. Coates says he wanted to create an even more challenging race, one that didn’t depend on volunteers and without any of the grandeur. He wanted to create a race that was based on what he calls “vintage survival.”
The Yukon kayak race starts in Whitehorse and continues downriver all the way to the Yukon River Bridge on the Dalton Highway. While Coates and his team provide the framework for the race, they encourage all registering teams to prepare to be completely self-sufficient throughout the race. The Yukon winds through some of the emptiest land on the continent and participants are expected to carry enough gear and supplies to last for at least two weeks on the water. Running out of food is considered breaking the rules according to race organizers.
Participants in the race use personal locator beacons for tracking and emergencies. These are small boxes with GPS receivers that allow each team to be tracked by satellite. A panic button alerts race organizers in case something goes wrong while a team is on the water.
Generally, race leaders complete the race within six to eight days, depending on weather conditions and factors such as headwinds. The Yukon 1000 is about stamina and endurance not about short sprints. To prevent racers from paddling nonstop and running themselves down, each team is required to check in each evening before 11:15 p.m. and stay a minimum of six hours.
The race is open to tandem canoes and kayaks, voyageur canoes and pairs of solo canoes and kayaks. According to Coates, the river is too big and the race too lonely to allow solo competitors.
From this year forward, the race will take place every other year with the next race occurring in 2014. To follow the race through its entirety, visit the results page for instructions on how to see daily updates on participants’ progress.