Terry Wescott laughs when he recalls the moment he pulled across the finish line with his canoeing partner, Brad Krog. Until then the Mainers didn’t realize they would win the Yukon 1000 – the world’s longest endurance paddling race.

Wescott, 67, and Krog, 63, became the first canoe team to win the wilderness canoe and kayak race on the Yukon River, held for the sixth time since 2009. They also became the oldest team to finish the 1,000-mile unsupported journey across the Yukon Territory in Canada, and Alaska.

“The two faster boats beat us in the first 28 miles but they were sprinting too hard. We just paddled at a pace that we could sustain for 18 hours a day,” said Wescott, who lives in Thorndike. “We passed two small towns and three Indian villages. That’s all there is out there. There’s not even a road into the Indian villages. They are accessed only by plane or boat.”

Exactly 7 days, 4 hours and 35 minutes after leaving Whitehorse, Yukon, Krog and Wescott finished the race at the Dalton Highway Bridge, just north of Fairbanks, Alaska, on July 25.

On their best day they covered 156 miles; on their worst, in pounding rain and strong winds, they paddled 60 miles in 12 hours. They carried their food and tent, slept sometimes only a few hours a night and were responsible for their safe passage.

In the end they beat six other teams, including one from the British Special Forces and another that set the record for the fastest trans-Atlantic passage in a canoe.


“We were hoping we were doing well but we couldn’t be sure,” Krog said. “You start questioning yourself, your speed. Can we maintain this? We met lots of obstacles. The wind blew and it rained for five days. Winning was more than we expected.

Peter Coates, the race founder and director, said the event was created to provide an alternative to the Yukon 460, also run on the Yukon River.

“The Yukon River Quest race was dominated by kayaks. And I rather foolishly said if it was twice as long the canoe would win because nobody can fit in a kayak for that long,” Coates said. “So I put together a race twice as long and guess what? Until this year the bloody kayak was winning it anyway just to prove me wrong. I obviously underestimated the ability of people to dominate pain.”

The website for the 1,000-mile race cautions: “The Yukon River has very few road access points and very few people live along its banks. Teams should be equipped so they are self-sufficient for at least two weeks, preferably three.”

A satellite device is attached to each boat so Coates can track them. Every team is required to have a first-aid kit, water purifier, two weeks worth of food and pepper spray to ward off grizzly bears. Teams must sign liability waivers and agree to be self-sufficient.

“This race is appealing to a certain sort of crazy,” Coates said.


On top of that, there’s little prize money. The entry fee of $250 per person helps pay for Coates’ expense of transporting the racers and boats to the start line and from the finish line. What’s left is divvied up among the top finishers. It can cost several thousands dollars in travel expenses for teams from as far away as New Zealand, Australia and Germany, Coates said.

But for the type of athlete looking to excel in a challenging backcountry race, or to simply finish, the cost is secondary to the experience.

“It sounds like a lot of money, but races like this dominate your life the year before. They are seminal events,” Coates said. “You don’t come out of this race unchanged. Any time you spend that much time focused and in the wilderness, you’re changed by it.”

That was precisely why Brad Krog wanted to do the race.

“We couldn’t have raced against finer people. They were tremendous athletes. And we all suffered for several days. My takeaway in the end was as much about the people,” said Krog, who lives in Bowdoin. “They were paddling for unselfish reasons. Many teams were raising money for charities. The Kenyan team was raising money for conservation to help elephants.”

Krog had raced in long-distance canoe races with his wife, Dawn. But after the Krogs competed in the Yukon 460, Brad Krog wanted a stiffer challenge.


Having raced with Wescott 20 years ago, he asked the veteran paddler, who competed in the Yukon 1000 before, to join him.

“It’s one of those events you have to have full trust in your partner. He had a level head. He could keep calm under pressure. To finish the race, that was going to be important,” Krog said. “Initially, finishing somewhere in the middle of the pack seemed reasonable.”

But Wescott has been paddling for 46 years and has competed in more than 700 races. In 2011 he raced the Yukon 1000 with Sandra Mitchell of Saco, finishing last among four teams in 7 days, 10 hours, and 46 minutes.

“When we got there I sized up the competition and there were only two boats that were faster, and one was a kayak. So I figured we had a good chance at least at third place,” Wescott said of the other six teams.

He knew the key to doing well was to never slack off the pace and to use a “voyager” stroke they could sustain. They trailed the first 28 miles. Then after taking the lead, they never saw another boat.

But at the halfway point where the Yukon River splits into different channels, Wescott said they couldn’t be certain they still led.


“We were completely alone. You have to read the maps when you get into the Yukon flats so you don’t get off course. Then the GPS went out,” Wescott said.

Krog said they paddled 950 of the 1,000 miles alone, and the second half of the race reading the river without the GPS.

In the end, Krog said what the wilderness adventure showed was experience can’t be underestimated, even in an aging paddler.

“What it brought to light was that I don’t think any of us know our limits unless we go and try,” Krog said. “We were very detailed-oriented in how we set up the boat, how we could get the most out of the boat. We had to read the river, the current. We made some good calls. Our better years are probably behind us but as it turned out, we were better than we thought.”


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