Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Kokatat Global Ambassador and SUP Paddler, Norm Hann Finishes the Iconic Yukon River Quest Race

Earlier this year I was on the phone with Kokatat Global Ambassador, Norm Hann discussing his adventure-plans for 2016. I was very excited to hear that he had a plan to stand up paddle (SUP) the Yukon River from Whitehorse to Dawson as part of the world-renowned, Yukon River Quest race.

The Yukon River Quest was created in 1998 as a complimentary summertime race to the very successful Yukon Quest. For the first time in x years, race organizers were opening up a new class and it would be SUP – experimental only. The catch: only 11 entrants and no eligibility for prize money and you had to stand up for 3 days.
Mark and I knew we were going to be up in the Yukon around the time of the race as we had business with some of our Yukon Dealers (KanoePeople and Up North Adventures) so I promptly offered our support crew services to Norm (and fellow SUP Paddler, Lina Augaitis – Werner Paddles).

On Tuesday, June 28th we met with Norm at our friend, Kalin (Pallett’s) home and hammered out the details, the race was starting the next day, June 29th at 12 noon. I was a bit nervous having never provided this level of support at an event but Norm was very reassuring and his partner, adventure-racer, Jen Segger told me if all we had waiting for him in Carmacks (the first mandatory rest stop of 7 hrs) was Brussel sprouts, he would eat them. We had a plan and our job was simple, ‘execute the plan and never let him quit. Unless he was hurt, real bad.

Photo: Mark Klein

With a 400 metre le mans - running start, Norm was greeted by Mark on the gravel bar where the competitors SUP boards were set up for launching. Racers would face one of the biggest challenges of the 735 km/400+ mile race at the 87 km/54 mile mark, the crossing of the Lake Laberge (made famous by Klondike poet, Robert Service). The SUP paddlers knew this section of the race could make or break the race for them and they had 14 hrs to reach Lower Laberge.

Photo Nikki Rekman Sales
Following the paddlers on the race tracker we “saw” that they were having unbelievably good fortune on the lake. We figured they were going at a crazy-fast pace or had a bit of a tail wind, and/or both. It turns out it was both. Favourable winds out of the south meant no heads winds and with the likes of long distance endurance racer, Bart deZwart (USA) and our very own, expedition paddler, Norm Hann in the lead the pace was high for all 49 km of the lake. They were paddling side by side the last couple hours on the lake and entered the 30 Mile section of the Yukon River in 9 hrs, 34 min.

Photo by Elise Giordano
The first mandatory rest stop was in Carmacks a mere 216.5 km away. Here we would be ready for Norm’s arrival with food, a place to sleep (tent), big hugs and encouraging words. I knew when Norm arrived he would be utterly exhausted from paddling 24.5 hours straight and as he forewarned me, “pretty quiet”. The exhausted part was true but he was more talkative then I had expected.  His first words to me, “we just paddled 300 km in 24.5 hours at race pace” followed by, “my legs are not working properly”. As per our “plan” we got Norm’s feet elevated and gave him a big Bacon Cheese burger and a double order of fries, Miss Vickie's Salt & Vinegar potato chips, some apple, banana, water and hot tea. A quick call home to his family and then it was time to get him into bed (we managed all of this in about 45 minutes, we needed to maximize his sleep/recovery time). Important to note is that Norm crushed the 35 hour time allotment with his 24.5 hour arrival time.

One tired dude eating his meal of choice after standing up and paddling for over 24 hrs. bacon cheeseburger and 2 orders of fries (with ketchup). Photo: Nikki Rekman Sales

The earliest Norm could depart Carmacks was 19:37:52 and the nice thing about his arrival time was that his departure time was not at an ungodly hour, like 3 am. Thanks for that, Norm. After an almost 5 hour sleep Norm was up and we were getting him fed and ready for the next leg. My favourite memory of our time in Carmacks was when Norm and fellow SUP racers, Jason Bennett and Lina Augaitis were sitting around and they were all kind of giddy saying, “this is just stupid” – LOL!
Saying goodbye to Norm in Carmacks was tough, support crew were not permitted at the next mandatory rest stop of 3 hours, at Coffee Creek however his last words to me were pretty funny…”Nikki, never will I be so happy to see you as I will be when I get to Dawson!” another epic 402 km non-stop.

Photo: Nikki Rekman Sales

Norm departing Carmacks right behind SUP category leader, Bart deZwart. Photo: Nikki Rekman Sales

We woke up at 3am on Saturday morning and I met up with my friends to make signs to welcome in the first three SUP paddlers in Dawson – Bart deZwart, Norm and Jason Bennett. Based on the race tracker all three SUP paddlers were paced to arrive in Dawson under the 55 hour mark (the cut off for prize money). Bart was 15 minutes ahead of Norm and Jason. I spotted them through the binoculars and it took FOREVER for them to get within yelling distance and boy, did I yell. I was so excited to see them and knowing they were do it in under 55 hours was amazing.

Photo by Elise Giordano
Feet up and Miss Vickies Potato Chips in the van shortly after finishing. So proud of this guy! Photo: Nikki Rekman Sales
Norm completed the 18th annual Yukon River Quest in 54 hours, 56 minutes and 47 seconds for a 2nd place finish making history and along with his fellow SUP paddlers proved that SUP paddlers have a legitimate place in this iconic race.

Mark and I with OUR YRQ SUP finishers. What an experience to share with them and to be a part of SUP's first year in this iconic race! Photo: Steve Knaack

Green River, UT

Green River, UT
Photo: Shawna Franklin