March 20, 2020
by Christopher Parker (@wheresbossman)

Okay virus, now it’s personal – the ‘Yukon River Quest’ just got cancelled…

The Yukon River Quest has been cancelled (photo: @perfectnegatives/@paddleleague)

Ok, virus, now it’s personal 😑

Canada’s Yukon River Quest, one of the grandest adventures in the world and an event so close to my heart I spent three days paddling it and another three months making a movie about it, has been cancelled due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). ⁣The mind-boggling, 715km-long race, where finishing times range from 40-70 hours, sleep is rare and wild hallucinations common, was originally scheduled for the final week of June.

This is a race so epic, so (in)famous, so downright draining that relieved paddlers will happily drink a shot of whiskey with a mummified human toe in it after they complete the odyssey. But the famous “Sourtoe Cocktails” in the remote, Gold Rush-era finishing town of Dawson will have to be put on hold til the summer ‘of 21.

Event organisers met today and concluded there was no safe or practical way to plan for and host the event given the restrictions and uncertainty both in Canada and around the world. The Yukon Territory is as remote as it gets, which sounds like the perfect place to be right now. But apart from the restrictions on society that would make organisation nearly impossible, this race also draws in a lot of people from across the globe — an obvious problem for a remote territory during a global pandemic.

Paddlers were emailed the unfortunate news this evening, while it was also posted publicly on the official Yukon River Quest Facebook page.

This follows yesterday’s news about the biennial Yukon 1000 being postponed ’til 2021 (the 1000 is the “big brother” of the Quest — both races start in the town of Whitehorse but the ‘1000’ travels more than twice the distance). The two Yukon “ultras” – traditional canoe races that have welcomed stand up in recent years – join virtually every other pre-August race around the world in being cancelled or postponed (follow SUP Racer’s complete coverage of the coronavirus’ impact on stand up paddling).

Organisers have said they will attempt to run a smaller, informal version of the race for the local paddlers if the situation allows for it in June (send us a postcard! 🙋‍♂️) while also expressing deep disappointment about having to make this decision.

“We are very disappointed that the 2020 YRQ will not go ahead. This is an amazing event that changes the lives of everyone who participates, whether as a racer, supporter or volunteer.”

The decision was seemingly inevitable and is obviously very understandable in these crazy times, but it’s still a huge bummer for the 125 teams from around the world that had been preparing for this incredible voyage (though I suspect a few might be quietly relieved, hah). That includes our own “Team Quickblade” that was going to be led by Molokai hero Travis Grant. We were excited to attempt the journey in a homemade, four-man indian canoe this year but we’ll just have to be patient and prep for June 2021 …maybe that’ll actually be enough time for me to train? 🤔😅 ⁣

I also feel for the locals, the organisers and volunteers that seem to genuinely love welcoming paddlers to the beautiful Canadian wilderness and sharing their special part of the world.

But perhaps this coronavirus saga is a chance for all of us to hit pause and reflect. To appreciate those times we can freely get on the water and paddle that so many of us previously took for granted. And either way, I’m sure the Yukon River Quest will come back bigger and stronger in the summer of ’21. As the ‘1000’ crew said yesterday: “The Yukon River will still be there when this is all over.”

We’ll see you next year, Canada ✌️ ⁣⁣

…in the meantime, if you want a taste of what this special adventure is all about, you can watch our documentary from last year’s edition of the Yukon River Quest. “Chased by the Midnight Sun” is now streaming: