BONNERS FERRY — During June 26-29, local residents Josh Friedman, retired U.S. Navy Seal, and Julie Kirk, owner of Mountain Mike’s Health Food store, participated in the Yukon River Quest race for the sixth year in a row.
The Yukon River Quest, also known as “The Race to the Midnight Sun,” is the world’s longest annual paddling race, stretching 444 miles, from Whitehorse to Dawson City, Yukon.
The race is named after the midnight sun phenomena, which takes place north of the Arctic Circle, and south of the Antarctic Circle during the summer months, where the sun is visible at the local midnight.
The race takes place during the warmer months, but even then, sometimes it rains, or gets cold, while other times it may be hot, adding another element of difficulty.
“Temperatures on the first night were much colder than previous years,” Friedman said.
Storms are another wild card that can present itself to the racers.
“In the beginning of the race, we faced a storm on the lake with wind gusts and 3- to 4-foot waves,” Friedman said. “This really slowed us down quite a bit from the start of the race.”
In the middle of the race, they battled many hours of fierce headwinds going past Fort Selkirk onto Coffee Creek.”
Other than the weather, everything went according to plan, but it turned out to be the toughest one for the team to finish yet.
“In the back of our minds, we always knew that at some point we would have to get through some tough times,” Friedman said. “Some years are worse than others, this year was worse weather-wise.”
With each year bringing a different adventure, the duo practices in all forms of weather on the Kootenai River to prepare.
“Every year we learn something new,” Kirk said. “This year we learned to paddle within ourselves and not over-extend our energies. This really helped to keep us going in an extra tough race this year. We also learned how to read the current in the river better and stay in the current better. This also helped us to extend our range and save our energies.”
Kirk has more than 25 years experience paddling on rivers, Friedman has about seven, but together the team is moving up the ranks in this annual race. This year, they placed third in tandem, fourth in overall kayaks, and they placed 37th out of what was originally 119 teams, some of which had to drop out for various reasons.
“Although this was our toughest race to finish and not our fastest time to finish, it was our best race to finish because the conditions were the harshest we’ve faced,” Friedman said. “Our finishing place of third in our category is extra sweet because we were also the oldest team racing out there in mixed tandem kayak. This race also helps us set the stage for our next challenge the Yukon 1000 in 2020.”
“We feel very blessed to have been a part of the ‘Spirit of America’ journey this year,” said Wayne Wilkerson of he and his wife, who assisted the team during the competition. “Josh and Julie are truly inspirational, committed and dedicated to their passions.”
The Wilkersons were asked to join the adventure by providing them with ground support during the race while traveling through the Yukon.
“We met some amazing people and even got to help in a very small way, the winning (returning champions) mixed K2 (two-person Kayak) team from New Zealand, Ian Huntsman and Wendy Riach,” Wilkerson said. “We can’t thank Josh and Julie enough for letting us share this amazing experience with them.”
The full results can be found at www.yukonriverquest.com, or on Facebook under Yukon River Quest. For more information about the team, visit their Facebook page: Spirit of America, Yukon River Quest 2019.