Lina Augaitis takes on the Yukon River Quest

Words from Nikki Rekman.

As the Western Canadian Sales rep for Werner Paddles, I do many different things in my job and the thing I love most about it, is my connection to people. For the month of July, I have been working remotely in Northern Canada, in the Yukon Territory. Our dealer, Up North Adventures is located in the capital city of Whitehorse and is one of the premier, canoe, kayak and SUP retailers and outfitters in the territory. They are also passionate about paddling and Werner Paddles. When we were making plans last year to travel up here, we were encouraged by UNA buyer, Kalin Pallett to “stay awhile” and enjoy what the Yukon had to offer after our staff clinics and on water consumer demos were completed. We made the decision that after coming up here numerous times over the years to see UNA that this would be the year for us to paddle down the historic Yukon River from Whitehorse to Dawson City. The same 444 mile journey that many men and women made during the Gold Rush on sternwheelers but we would do it in a 17’ canoe. Over 2 weeks we experienced the 35+ mile crossing of Lake Laberge (made famous by the poet Robert Service in his poem, the Cremation of Sam McGee), 30 mile (a world heritage river designation - undoubtedly one of the most stunning sections of the river), early First Nations settlements, sunken Sternwheelers, Moose, Grizzly Bears, Peregrine Falcons, Fox and Five Finger Rapids. This was our longest trip in duration and distance and was our most remote. We have got the bug for the North, its people and its rivers and we are excited for the next trip, paddling down the Teslin River from Johnson’s Crossing to Carmacks.

Photo Credit: Nikki Rekman/Paddling partners, Frits and Diane paddling on Lake Laberge around 11pm.

Photo credit: Mark Klein/Nikki standing on top of the sunken S.S. Klondike Sternwheeler in the middle of the Yukon River.

Another incredible opportunity we had was to support Werner Team, Stand Up Paddler, Lina Augaitis in the iconic, Yukon River Quest race. The race follows the same route we paddled from Whitehorse to Dawson City but within a significantly shorter time period, the winner typically completes the 444 miles in around 48 hours.

Lina and her husband, Andrew Dye had paddle the route back in 2011. Lina on her SUP board and Andrew in a kayak in 5 days. Lina had hoped to enter the YRQ race officially but was told she could not. This year the 18th Annual Yukon River Quest race had a new, experimental category – stand up paddle (SUP) and they were only allowing 11 entrants. We anticipated getting a call from Lina that she was doing the race having been denied in 2011. Things were complicated by the fact that in late 2015 Lina gave birth to her first child, a son, Tavas who by the time the race rolled around would be 6 months old and still very reliant on his Mom. After what I am sure were many, many discussions with, Andrew, family and friends Lina confirmed, she was indeed one of those 11 entrants and one of only 3 women (Joanne Hamilton-Vale and Michelle Eshpeter) in the SUP category. Having sponsored Lina since the beginning of her paddling career, my husband Mark (Klein) and I offered to be her support crew and do what we could to assist Andrew and Tavas while Lina was focused on the race. This was a bigger job than we anticipated as we had also committed to be support crew for another SUP racer, Norm Hann (a Global Team member with Kokatat) but we had a plan and we were sticking with it.

Photo Credit: Nikki Rekman/Lina doing final gear check before the race start.

Photo Credit: Julianne Stanford/Lina crossing Lake Laberge

Race organizers were very skeptical about the SUP paddlers and their ability to complete the race particularly because of the race cut of times associated with crossing Lake Laberge, arriving at the first mandatory rest stop in Carmacks and arriving in Dawson City. 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) in the lead the pace was high for all 35+ miles of the lake. Lina crossed the lake with time to spare in under 7 hours. Next stop was Carmacks, a mandatory 7 hours rest stop. We would feed Lina, get her showered, clean clothes and into bed. Here should would also reconnect with Andrew and have an opportunity to feed Tavas. We were not totally sure what to expect. We knew she would be exhausted but I did not expect to be downright, giddy. She kept commenting on how “stupid the idea of paddling from WH to Dawson was” but each time with this intoxicated grin. Sleep deprivation and standing for 186 miles over 24 hours will do that to a sane person.

The earliest Lina could be back on the water was 21:54:47. We got her out of bed in enough time so that she could eat, get changed into her washed and dried race clothes, review her food and once again feed Tavas. She set off for Dawson City in good spirits albeit with some anxiety about the next 250 miles.

Photo Credit: Mark Klein/Lina headed for Dawson City from Carmacks.

We were excited and anxious for Lina’s arrival in Dawson from the race tracker we could see that she would be the 1st woman, the 5th SUP paddler and the 46th team (out of 94) to arrive in Dawson City. Seeing her come into view was an amazing feeling. She had done it and not without huge effort and sacrifice. Lina had paddle from Whitehorse to Dawson City, 444 miles in 60 hrs, 22 minutes! The winning time by a Men’s C2 was 46 hours, 15 minutes. As she got closer to shore she did her typical Lina, post-race pose with her Werner Paddles Grand Prix raised triumphantly over her head. I helped her get off her board and sitting down with her legs up and she was completely out of it. The race had taken its toll on her, she was beyond exhausted and the stories she would begin to tell were kinda crazy. Tears were rolling down my cheeks, I was so happy to see her! First place SUP paddler, Bart deZwart came over to congratulate Lina and he and I remarked later the looks in Lina’s eyes – she had gone real deep to complete the race. Congratulations Lina! Another amazing race in the books for you. Mark and I and the entire crew at Werner Paddles could not be more proud.

Photo Credit: Mark Klein/Crossing the finish line in Dawson City. 1st female SUP paddler, 5th SUP paddler and 46th team to arrive out of 94 teams.

Photo Credit: Mark Klein/Telling SUP winner, Bart deZwart, myself, husband, Andrew Dye and son, Tavas about the last 250 miles.

Photo Credit: Nikki Rekman/Post-race reunion with son, Tavas.

Lina and her official support crew for the Yukon River Quest, Western Canadian Werner Sales Rep, Nikki Rekman and her husband, Mark Klein.