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Steve and Natasia Varieur practicing in their canoe
Jungmin Ham | Rocky Mountain Outlook

Canmore Father and Daughter Team Tackle the World’s Longest Canoe Race

With a custom-made canoe and high spirits, the Varieurs embark on a 715-kilometre journey on the Yukon River

Steve and Natasia Varieur are about to embark on the world’s longest canoe race, the epic 715-kilometre Yukon River Quest

The race, which will take place on the Yukon River, is a gruelling four-day race from Whitehorse to Dawson City, starting June 26.

The race is an endurance test. Paddling is nonstop except for one mandatory 10-hour layover at about the halfway point.

Teams must complete the route in under 81 hours or be disqualified. The fastest teams make the trip in under 40 hours, and the first teams are expected to arrive in Dawson by 4 PM on June 28. Most teams take 50 to 70 hours.

This year, 76 teams with 178 paddlers from 12 countries are registered.

When asked what they would talk about with so much time on the water, Natashia laughed and said, “I talk a lot, and he kind of grunts and responds randomly. You really run out of things to say; there’s lots of observing. I think that’s where we differ.”

The pair have different preferences for the race conditions—Natasia hopes for mild weather, while Steve prays it won’t be too hot (the current forecast is 24 degrees). 

Steve is also concerned about managing his sciatica from prolonged sitting, while Natasia anticipates the psychological challenge of the marathon race.

“It’s tough when you get 12 hours into a race, and you know you’re not even halfway done yet,” she noted.

The start line of the Yukon River Quest in Whitehorse
The start line of the Yukon River Quest in Whitehorse | Darwin Wiggett | oopoomoo

Celebrating Milestones with Adventure

Canoeing has been a shared activity for the Varieurs since Natasia was a child. 

Now, as a university graduate, she is celebrating her achievement by joining her father in this epic race. 

Top competitors aim for a quick departure from the starting line | Mark Kelly Photography

Steve, a veteran of the inaugural Yukon River Quest in 1999, introduced Natasia to canoeing when she was just two years old.

“I’ve been hearing his stories of the Yukon River Quest and for as long as I can remember, I wanted to do it,” Natasia said.

“We’ve both done whitewater kind of separately, but this is the big one.”

The Yukon River Quest, known as the Race to the Midnight Sun, tests participants’ mental and physical endurance in the untamed Yukon landscape.

Paddling without sleep does strange things to the mind, with many people reporting hallucinations from singing chipmunks in kayaks to plunging waterfalls that don’t exist.

Serious contenders even do potty training as part of preparations.

“During the race, we use a potty and avoid the time that would be lost if we had to go on shore,” Bob Vincent, the top finisher in 2002, explained. “When I coach marathon canoeists, I put a potty under the canoe seat and replace the canoe seat with a toilet seat.”

“These are the transformative experiences where you kind of learn what you’re capable of,” Natasia said. “In the race, in the middle of it, it feels really daunting, and just knowing you can go through that and come out of the other side of it I think makes you a better person.”

The start of the Yukon River Quest runs through Whitehorse
The start of the Yukon River Quest runs through Whitehorse | Mark Kelly Photography

Preparations and Challenges

Training for the race involved paddling in the Bow Valley and Muskoka, Ontario, where the Varieurs live part-time. 

Their $6,000 lightweight carbon fibre canoe, customized by Steve, includes features like a spray deck, inline water filter, bike lights for night paddling, and quick access storage for emergency provisions and camping gear.

The challenges of the Yukon River are many. 

The racers must navigate changing elements, rapids, and long periods of isolation. They also risk tipping over, exposure to the elements, and encountering wildlife.

Steve and Natasia will carry a survival kit, which includes bear bangers, a signalling device, a knife, and a whistle.

They never mentioned anything about a potty in the canoe. 

They will wear expedition life jackets designed for comfort and maneuverability, and their lightweight custom-made paddles cost around $250 each.

The mighty Yukon River at the famous Five Finger Rapids north of Carmacks
The mighty Yukon River at the famous Five Finger Rapids north of Carmacks | Yukon River Quest

The Spirit of the Race

Despite the intense nature of the race, the Varieurs maintain a practical and determined outlook.

“We’re going to go as fast as we can, but we’re not Olympic athletes trying to break world records or anything,” Steve said. “The goal is to finish; we’ll be happy to do that.”

This adventure is more about the journey and the bond between a father and daughter. 

The most rewarding part for Steve is racing with Natasia, creating memories that will last a lifetime.

As they embark on this adventure, the Varieurs are ready to face the challenges and embrace the beauty and ruggedness of the Yukon, one paddle stroke at a time.

Happy paddling, and see you at the finish line.

The coveted finish line in Dawson City | explorenorthblog

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