Northern Canada: Yukon Arctic Ultra race is a ‘spiritual’ journey, says competitor

Frostbite is on everyone’s mind as competitors bundle up. A small crowd gathered in Whitehorse to see the racers off Sunday, cheering through scarves and balaclavas. (Philippe Morin/CBC)
The Yukon Arctic Ultra began Sunday to some applause muffled by mittens. A small crowd gathered in Whitehorse, northwestern Canada, to see the racers off, cheering through the scarves and balaclavas covering their faces.

Competitors headed out in –37 C weather, beginning their journey through hundreds of kilometres of Yukon wilderness.

The 82 participants in this year’s race should be well aware of the dangers posed by the frigid weather after last year’s serious injuries. Race distances range from marathon-length up to almost 700 kilometres for those travelling the entire distance between Whitehorse and Dawson City. They may travel on foot, skis, or bike.

For some competitors, the quiet on the trail will be its own reward.

“It’s a spiritual place,” said Pat Cooke-Rogers from England, who is returning for her sixth race.

Good luck is offered to a competitor before the race. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Cooke-Rogers is riding a fat-tire bike and hoping to make all 690 kilomtres to Dawson City carrying all her camping gear on the bike and in a backpack.

She is not only a competitor but describes herself as a race chaplain and says the extreme solitude provides a chance to reflect.

“I love the Yukon, I love the wilderness, the people… I also meet God here,” she said.

“It strips everything away. There’s just me, and the bike, and the trail and God. It’s a very spiritual time out here.”

And they’re off! Competitors begin their journey in Whitehorse Sunday. (Philippe Morin/CBC)
7,000 calories a day

Competitors pull their own gear along the trail — which is the same one used by sled dogs in the Yukon Quest.

Competitors trying to walk to Dawson City estimate they’ll be scarfing down at least 7,000 calories a day.

On launch day, people discussed what food they had brought. There is a lot of what would be called ‘junk food’ as competitors seek as many calories as possible in a light package.

Ahmad Junaidi from Brunei is the first competitor representing his country. He said he brought chocolate and some Cheetos. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

“I have chocolate, expedition food, I have some Cheetos as well just to mix things up,” said Ahmad Junaidi with a laugh.

Junaidi is the Yukon Arctic Ultra’s first competitor from Brunei.

He said Yukon’s cold temperatures will be a new challenge, as he is one of several competitors from a warm climate.

Sisters-in-law form A-team

The Arctic Ultra is a solitary race but two women from England are pledging to stick together.

“It’s the challenge, and also the peacefulness out there, It’s beautiful. Just being at one with nature,” said Michelle Smith, who participated in previous years. This time she’s joined by her sister-in-law Kate Laurence.

Marathon runners finished Sunday at Muktuk Kennels outside Whitehorse, while other competitors will attempt to stay on the trail for several days ending up in either Pelly Crossing or Dawson City.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Yukon Arctic Ultra competitors wary of cold-weather risks, CBC News

Finland: Younger Finns more and more attracted to winter swimming, CBC News

Norway: Swedish musher wins Finnmarksløpet, The Independent Barents Observer

United States: Iditarod adds four new board members amid criticism, Alaska Public Media

Philippe Morin, CBC News

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