Thursday, June 24, 2010

Unleash the Yukon....

Just days after the jetlag wore off and the Euros were converted back into USD’s, I find myself sitting again at Denver International airport again waiting for my flight bound for Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. I’m heading to the Yukon to crew/pace for prolific American paddler Andy Corra’s solo attempt on the Guinness 24 Hour Distance Record of 264.2 miles held by my fellow Coloradan and adventure racing legend Ian Adamson. The Yukon River has some attractive qualities that are no secret to the record setter, specifically, its massive flows nearing 110,000 cfs (cubic feet/second) through near arctic northern latitudes which provide 22 hours of daylight during summer solstice and virtually untamed undammed river flows. The river is deep enough that its massive flow produces little turbulence above class 2 rapids compared to what Andy and I are used to in the sport of wildwater racing. In contrast, its massive lower elevation river braids one half mile wide create significant navigational challenges to find the deepest current or simply not run aground in a backwater channel.

The 4 key ingredients in challenging this record are lucid: 1) having the fastest flows/snowpack runoff 2) having favorable winds/weather 3) being the technically best paddler 4) body management i.e. tolerating sitting, eating, urinating, etc in a kayak for 24 hours straight, and finally 5) having solid logistical planning (in order of importance). Flows when the record was reset in 2004 on this same river were 107,000 cfs. This week's flows are 70,000 cfs. Andy and I have no illusion about the challenges this presents and we are staying focused on laying down as many miles as the final 4 of 5 ingredients allow. Many paddlers look at this record and simply salivate on the simple premise it’s simply paddling more efficiently and faster than the next great paddler. In contrast, it’s a chess game of skill, luck, and wit to out jockey those things fitness and paddling skill cannot control.

We have 2 days of logistical jockeying on the ground evaluating flow gauges, weather, and mundane things as simple as battery life of tracking, signaling, and communication devices. Up North Adventures is our local guiding outfit and will provide motorboat support for Andy’s effort as well as assist me finding the fastest current ahead of Andy using stealthy techniques such as steering away from the bears in shallow water.

As I near the age of 35, I’m still not sure how I am magnetically drawn into these outings (no pun intended) nor why my girlfriend Heather still supports these misadventures far from home but, lucky for me, she still does enthusiastically; especially if she’s not the one in the front of our 2 person whitewater kayak otherwise known as the Jackson Dynamic Duo. This trip guarantees an experience of a lifetime with hopeful DISTANT grizzly sightings, endless UP CLOSE mosquitoes, and all the usual “I can’t believe that happened” ingredients that make one appreciate the simpler things in life.

Every adventure locale has its indigenous social, wildlife, and environmental hazards. Patagonia’s poison was instantaneous gale force windstorms and arctic water temperatures (pictured above circa 2005). New Zealand had endless glacial azure rivers, alpine rock fall from the mountain ledges above combined with the prickliest Spanish grass my butt has ever come to know. Nepal had its ruthless leeches in all the wrong places and Maoist extremists lurking in the trees just waiting to take my Nutter Butters. France brought weird accents who spoke at us Americans as if always mad and I’ll never forget the endless shocking by electric fences for cows that could jump houses. Spain introduced amazing rivers and how not to serve dinner until 10pm. My home state of Oklahoma yields tornados and bull riding cowboys. The Yukon Territory brings _________________________ to my Hybrid KEEN life.

Beginning this Saturday or Sunday, I’ll be sending several of you position updates by email via my satellite beacon transmitter so look for the start as the first one, a few updates signals, and 3 in immediate sequence as the end of the 24 hour mark.

My favorite adventure quote resurfaces for this occasion....
"Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success." Sir Ernest Shackleton, Endurance Antarctic Expedition circa 1908 London News classifieds