Salt Spring paddler part of winning Yukon Quest team

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A local paddler is celebrating his team’s success in the Yukon River Quest paddling race.

Gus OIiveira was part of the six-person Yukon Wide Adventures voyageur-class team that crossed the line first in their category on June 29. It took them 44 hours and 21 minutes to traverse the 715-kilometre course from Whitehorse to Dawson City. This was Oliveira’s sixth time competing in the race and second time as part of the voyageur canoe team. Oliveira started competing in the race in 2010.

The race begins in downtown Whitehorse. Racers navigate the Yukon River north to Lake Laberge. After crossing the 50-km lake, they enter the river system again, moving until they reach the first mandatory rest stop at the village of Carmacks. After seven hours of resting, they continue on their way, passing through two sets of rapids before stopping once more for three hours at an old mining camp. This is the racers’ last chance to rest before the final push into Dawson.

Though Oliveira has placed well in the race for the last few years, and his Yukon Wide Adventures team also won the voyageur class last year, he has spent more time as a solo racer than as a part of a team. He was approached by a friend in 2016 about being part of a bigger team made up of former podium winners in the solo category. The team uses a canoe that is specially designed for this race. Oliveira took the chance to race in the bigger boat, even though his expertise was as a kayaker.

“I’ve only ever kayaked, I’ve never canoed. For me it was switching over, putting the double blade down and switching to the single blade,” he said. “It’s a whole new stroke to learn, new body mechanics. But being a coach myself it came pretty easy.”

Although people are drawn to the Yukon Quest for the seclusion and nature, one of the biggest challenges for Oliveira is not the distance and time but the lack of sleep.

“The sleep deprivation is the big one. You are paddling through the night,” he said. The race takes place near the summer solstice, so the sun does not set. “When you’re looking through the trees, things are kind of out of focus a bit, but that’s about it. The night monsters do creep in on you.”

To keep in shape for his races, Oliveira trains year round on St. Mary Lake. He will be competing again in the Canadian Downwind Championships on July 14 in Squamish, and again in Washington state a few weeks later.

For more on this story, see the July 11, 2018 issue of the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper, or subscribe online.

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