The race is on!

IMGP7201We start to race in 14 hours time. We start at 12 midday, and in-between then and now we will be getting the kit down to the start line, having a kit inspection, and doing final fiddling.

Today we have cooked food for three days and nights of paddling. It’s all in bags in the fridge, we’ve done the initial kit check and had the river briefing. The day before we did a 2nd and final training run, and food shopped.

Race tracker linky!

The race tracker is how you’ll be able to see our progress along the way, it gets updated from a GPS device we carry for our safety and your enjoyment.

We are team 24. Mixed tandem canoe.

We’ll be paddling as fast as we can. We’ll be satisfied to get as far a we can in the low waters, but hope to see the race out in Dawson.


First Training Run: Whitehorse to Burma Road

IMGP7153Doing the 30km training run was our first chance to spent time in our race canoe. The course was from Whitehorse to Burma Road (close to the start of Lake Laberge).  Importantly, we wanted to see if we could hit the times that we need to stay in the race. We must be paddling at 6 mph on the section before the lake and at least 3.1 mph over the lake.

It was our first time in the Clipper Jensen canoe. We wanted to play a little. We started off by travelling across the river without going downstream –  balancing our power against the river. It paddled beautifully! Feeling confident with the boat we pointed the boat downstream and headed off.


The river started off fast – we went at 10 mph at one point but it soon slowed down. We reached a wide marsh section where the river had slowed with almost no flow, a bit worrying for the 6 mph average that we will need.  We did take a minute to listen to the birds and animals – it’s not something we’ll have time for in the race.

We also had another few stops watch the plentiful bald eagles. We were lucky enough to come across 3 juveniles and parents with their latest kill. Dan spotted a beaver swimming up the edge of the river, happily minding his own business (the beaver, not Dan).

Though the wildlife fascinated us we had to focus on the training. We tested out the maps we will be using. They are nothing like an os map. Mike O’Rouke’s pictorial guide to the river is more of a story than a map. In conjunction with page-turn alerts set on the GPs it worked well at keeping us aware of where we were.


It’s made it obvious that the river is very low and very slow so it will be a struggle to hit the required timings. All of the feeder rivers are showing as extremely low on the government measuting site as well, so chances of going super fast after the lake are looking slim.

After paddling Dan researched how to deal with bears and we will be adopting the same approach that we use for swans on the Thames. Don’t get between them, talk to them and if they are attacking you fight back.


Race planning 4: Feeding the team


To paddle the canoe for 3 days and nights we need a lot of fuel. People suggest eating real food as much as possible, but laying out three courses is a little hard in a canoe, so all through the training we’ve been trying different options.

We started off trying some foods that we thought we’d really like whilst paddling. Meatballs and pasta was good, paella was bad. Sausage rolls got the vote, so did Spanish omelette. Roasted Mediterranean veg sort of worked, but not with rice. gnocchi just didn’t work. We read up on some sporting fitness websites and found that chicken, avocado and cashew wraps made the grade.

Sarah’s done the race before and tells that on the final day you don’t want to eat. We thought cooking something fresh might be good. On a few trips we tried cooking dried tortellini and frankfurters, which went down very nicely but worried us that would also have called all the bears to the yard if we tried it in their territory.

We’ve also looked at keeping energy and warmth as we stop wanting to eat. We have instant porridge, and cafe latte protein drinks as fallbacks. We,of course, have a huge bag of cereal bars.

Looking at sweet stuff. My brownies just didn’t work, they were just boring, flat cake. But maple syrup flapjacks made everyone happy and they will be even better when I cook them right. Our back up is oatmeal cookies. I know the USA does them better than the UK, and I’m hoping Canada is the same.

Meal planning

using 1 meal bag every three hours – minimum 300 kcal per meal

Start to Carmacks

Meals before Carmacks: 8 meals (plus snacks: bananas + brownies)

  1. Avo wraps
  2. tortilla
  3. tortilla
  4. pasta meatballs
  5. pasta meatballs
  6. Steamed broccoli and mange tout + eggs
  7. sausage rolls

Backup food: Tortellini and frankfurters

Carmacks break

We meet support crew with supplies (in cool-bag with ice blocks)

burgers and drinks on site to buy

Carmacks to Kirkman’s Creek

Meals before Kirkman’s Creek: 6 meals (plus snacks: Flapjacks + apples)

  1. Roasted carrots and sweet pots and eggs
  2. Sausage rolls
  3. Tuna + roast med veg + pots
  4. Quiche
  5. Meatballs + pasta
  6. Baked goods

Kirkman’s Creek break

soup and sandwich provided for break

Bring food to do food prep + use small bakery on site

Kirkman’s Creek to Dawson

Meals before end: 5 meals (plus snacks: biscuits and snickers + sweets)

  1. fresh baked goods
  2. Tortellini and frankfurters
  3. Tortellini and frankfurters
  4. sandwiches (tinned pate)
  5. sandwiches (peanut butter)
  6. carrots washed and dried
  7. shakes / supplements

Race planning 3: Trying the boat out for size


Yesterday evening we headed out to the London Regatta Centre at Royal Albert Dock to get a final paddle in.

Some lovely people on Song of the Paddle had helped us get in contact with a Londoner who had a Jensen 18 – a boat very much like the one we’ll paddle in the race. We wanted to have a sit in it, to see how it paddled. And more importantly we wanted to see how fast we would go in it – to get confidence that the can hit the right times in the race.


It’s an interesting piece of water – long and straight – which means the wind can get up. It’s also the location for London City Airport so communication was a bit a challenge as we tried out first run into the wind. First run was a short there and back. Ironing out the wobbles and getting the steering working. We took a longer second run. A  mile into the wind and a mile back with the wind behind us. How did we do?

upwind: 3.8 mph

downwind: 5 mph

This isn’t bad – and suggests that we can be hitting a speed of 3.3 on the lake, even with some wind. getting a paddling speed of 4 mph (plus 2 mph from the flow) down the river before the lake still could be a challenge, but that’s the point of a race, right? Loads of thanks to Peter from Stylo Sports for letting us borrow the boat.  Thanks to Lennart, and Greg for getting us in contact.

Why we are doing this…

Sarah and Dan are training to paddle in the Yukon River Quest – that’s 440 miles, non-stop in a canoe. We are doing this to learn how we can make it work, and to raise a little money on the way.

We are proud to be raising money for Shadwell Basin Outdoor Activity Centre. The basin uses adventurous activities to grow confidence, teamwork, leadership and learning. Working in one most deprived areas of the UK, this work is essential, and their aim is to offer activities to the whole of the local community. They are a front-line charity and all money raised will be going to directly help the centre.

Don’t sponsor us to be strong, sponsor us to stay the journey. To learn to spend four days and nights moving an 18ft boat through lakes, river and rapids, errors and complications without wanting to kill each other.

Do please sponsor us, you might get a postcard from the finish line! If you have already, we may be in contact soon for a postal address

Race planning part 2: Can we make the critical checkpoints in time?


Beyond the journey plan, we wanted to take a closer look at our timings to find out how realistic they were. There’s two reasons for this.

There are 3 critical checkpoints that if we don’t make we don’t get to continue the race. Also our food and clothes change stops rely on us running to the clock. if we deviate too much we’ll need to adjust what we do where to be sure we don’t get unexpectedly cold and exhausted.

Turns out that it’s much harder to hit this first checkpoint than we expected. Based on our current timings we won’t make it in time. This is bad news. Let me tell you how we worked it out and what we are going to do about it

How fast do we paddle?

Using a GPS device has been a revelation. I bought it so I could avoid getting lost once we are in the race – turns out it’s much more useful.Whilst paddling I can get live feedback on the speed we are going, when I get back home I can look at the same data in larger chunks – to see our average speed for different sections of a trip.

This has allowed me to work out what speeds we do with different conditions and with different paddles and postures. Such as paddling the broads against the tide and on flat water and returning to wooden paddles.

How fast is the water?

From our training we’ve got an idea of how fast we can go. We are paddling on a fast flowing river for big sections of the race – so we can add that together. But how fast?

We got some potential river speeds from a number of sources. I found some on-line and I used previous racer times to verify those – subtracting time on the lake from the other sections.

We can see that the river starts slow before the lake, and afterwards speeds on up quite a bit. We used two different river speeds in the model.

Pulling it together – and getting the bad news

race time map Once we had the river speed, our paddling speeds, I could combine it all. ‘Course, I have no data for what we’ll do in a sustained race, so I did some modelling to see what the window of success looks like.

The data suggested that we weren’t far off but at our current speeds (3.5 flat, 3.0 against wind) we’d miss the first check-point. We can see that on the run up to the lake we’d need to paddle a solid 4 mph, and on the lake make 3.3 mph no matter the conditions.

We suspect that our beloved PakBoat has a top speed much lower than the 18 ft racing canoe we are going to be in. We’ve asked around and people agree that we should be able to get it up to 4-5 mph easy. Though the lovely Song Of The Paddle and canoeing networks, we’ve found someone local who has a 18ft Jensen. Next week we can give it a go and see what speeds we can hit!

Race planning part 1: What happens where and when?

The race is getting close now, we’ve finished our last training paddle (blogs to come), but we need to put all that experimenting into perspective and look at the race and how we’ll get to the end.

Though Sarah takes the pragmatic view – dealing with things as they come, I take more of a long view.

Building the big picture

A few weeks ago, we sat down with the Yukon River Quest presentation, I put the GPS co-ords they provide on to google maps and we wrote down all the points. Each place where there will a checkpoint or a monitoring point. We added in the most interesting points on the river: rapids and big rivers joining, and highlighted the the three points where we get time-checked and the place we’ll meet our support crew for new supplies.

From the mileages on the GPS points, Sarah worked out rough timings when we thought we’d be at each one and we laid all this out in the front room.

yukon plan

From this we could work out how much food we’d need and when. We also worked out what points we’ll want to change into day and night gear. The race people say most people drop out of the race out due to hyperthermia, fuel and the right clothing will help us to avoid this.

This has allowed us to look at the food we’ve tried out over the training races and build up a list of what supplies we’ll need – we’ll be blogging about this next. More importantly we now have a shared view of the race and what should happen when.

Sarah: An easy day north of Oxford?


We are planning and sustaining our training and using each paddle to learn new things. Dan is concentrating on his posture to stop everything hurting. We also want to try out new foods and to get used to the GPS we have bought. We also learnt some new rescue techniques we didn’t expect.

At Pool Meadow, north of Oxford there is a good car park and it’s easy to get onto the water. It doesn’t take a lot of planning so we were on the water around 9.30am having reconstructed Dan’s footrest.


I hadn’t realised, until now that north of Kings Lock, all of the locks on the Thames are hand wind. The lockies are all very friendly, and where there were away the locks were surprisingly easy to operate. With egg and salad cream batches and Dan’s brownies all cut up into chunks the short waits weren’t a problem.

Dan had placed some markers into the GPS so we can see how that works. It, the GPS, not Dan, makes a funny tweeting bird noise when you reach an area you have set an alarm for. I could hear just about every other bird song being sung that day but with the GPS in Dan’s buoyancy aid pocket I could not hear it.

We were paddling hard against the wind, all ears open for a tweeting GPS. When I heard the distinctive cry of distressed sheep coming from a hawthorn bush over the water. Here was a tired lamb in the water, getting more and more caught up in branches. Lamb rescue begins. I paddle Dan into the hawthorn bush with instructions to pick up the lamb. I have a little experience with sheep, having helped to show some Portlands. Dan asks how to pick it up and I answer like a rabbit. This is not helpful for someone who has never spent a lot of time with rabbits. In the end we reverse, I turn round and Dan paddles me in after the lamb. After some encouragement it comes within grabbing distance and I grab it and heft it into the boat. I now have a lamb and a large puddle at my end of the boat. I am concerned by this one as he is not baa-ing. Dan takes him to reintroduce him to his family. I think he is just taking it slowly, no, Dan is now lying on the edge of the field, holding onto another lamb in the Thames.


Lamb rescue no 2 is in progress. After I finally realise what is going on, I paddle down to where Dan is holding the lamb above water and help to heft this one onto the bank. This one is a lot livelier and goes trotting round, then finds a ewe he seems to think is mum.

No 1 is still looking abandoned so I head over to it to give it a warming rub. There was no farmhouse close so I am hoping that he warmed up and found mum.


This was a surprisingly tiring process, bending and lifting in unexpected ways and an unexpected injection of adrenaline. However with all lambs now out of the water we set off again.

The river as we travel up river is a lot narrower and a lot quieter than the stretch below. We were getting quite blown about but with the river being so quiet we could work with the wind and let it decide where on the river we were going to be, saving energy.

With the wind and delays we didn’t quite get as far up the river as we wanted to but we were not far off. Be hit our time limits and it was time to turn around.

On the way back we came across yet another lamb in the river so rescue no 3 was commenced. This was much quicker as we were practised and this time the lamb simply shook itself off and continued as it had before.

Is it wrong to spend the day rescuing lambs from the river and then have lamb with dinner? I think not. I can’t paddle by while a living thing drowns and while I enjoy my meat, I want it to have been looked after humanely and had a happy life. My mums friends have smallholdings and value the animal’s well being (even letting them out for a walk: Colin the Ostrich is one of theirs). I am glad now that they let me handle them.

We enjoyed our paddle and worked well together, having fun. The team were tired by the end but a good tired. If only all paddles could be like this, without the sheep.


Dan: Wye weekend


After 3 weeks giving my arm rest, we planned to ease back into boating gently. We picked the Wye. A well flowing river with no locks or portages wouldn’t put undue pressure on my injury. We know it well so any ‘epic’ day are unlikely.  We also knew our chosen put-on would give us space to build a footrest allowing me to change my paddling style and not injure myself.

A Saturday of no water whatsoever

Building the footrest was easier than expected. The river seemed rather further away than usual giving us lots of space to work. This was due to there being rather a lack of water in it. Once on It proved to be a challenge to get down the river without getting caught on rocks and gravel.

Our boat really doesn’t like gravel. In solid plastic boats – you can give it a little push and scrape and you’ll be over it in no time. Our soft folder likes to stick, and dragging risks putting cuts and wear in the thin layer that keeps us floating.

This new river condition meant looking forward and reacting quickly – well it should have done. Instead it meant lots of bad communications and misunderstandings, so we had to stop and talk about what was and wasn’t working. We were both were tired and making mistakes from hard week and a very long drive and late arrival. We were probably low on fuel and helped each other by ensuring we ate and drank lots.


As we got further down the river we found it was much fuller in places giving us some time to relax, drink and snack.

Even though there wasn’t water in the river, there was in the air. We got to test out our new rain coats out all day. Good news:  they were great, keeping the rain off without getting damp and sweaty inside.

Sunny Sunday

Sunday was big contrast. Short sleeves all day through, and we were so much better in terms of communication


With so little water we planning a slower speed and less distance to protect my shoulder and arm injury. We had a great day getting everything about right. I was still achey at the end of it, but paddling without painkiller. My achy gluteus maximus the next day an indication that I was starting to get my legs to be working in my paddling – the footrest was working.

Dan: dealing with paddling pain and injury


The Yukon River Quest is going to be longest I’ve ever paddled. Our training paddles are to get us ready and to learn what we need to do. An injured arm from our biggest paddle was feedback that I’m not getting it right. I’ve been working on finding how to get better so I can do the race.

I’ve been having a few weeks off paddling – giving my arm time to recover. A physio probed and ultra-sounded and luckily couldn’t find any lasting damage. They did see a whole bucket of postural fails that likely cause the paddling pain and the arm injury. I’ve got plenty of exercises to help me grow strength and awareness – stop using the arms and the shoulder and use my core.

We also worked to build me a footrest that will fit in the boat. One that we can rebuild in the boat we will do the race in.

For those not in the know, if you want to paddle far or fast you need to be using not just your core muscles in your tummy and your back, you also need to find ways to use your whole body, getting your legs and bum also doing the work. For that to happen I need something for my feet to push against.


Our first opportunity was at the start of training paddle on the Wye. Sarah had got some closed cell foam and I found some cardboard tubing and brought some some tools. The foam is what I’ll push against with my feel; the cardboard will support and keep the foam in place.


Building went quite easily. The foam was cut with a bread knife, the cardboard with my folding wood saw. Building a joint was an experiment that seemed to work well.

Of course the cardboard tube isn’t ideal – its a prototype at best – but it seems to keep on working, until it rains anyway. Next step will be to replace it with PVC drain pipe and see If that is a more waterproof solution – I’ll have to make sure the Pipe edges don’t cut through the foam, or the boat though!


It worked really well in our last 2 paddles, power transfer is super. I need to learn another paddling technique and to get my posture right when driving from my feet, but its been great.