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Kirk, Friedman leaving soon to tackle Super Bowl of endurance paddling

June 13, 2022

By Mike Weland

After 14 years of training and competing in some very tough endurance races, at 7 a.m. Sunday, July 3, Julie Kirk and Josh Friedman will put their kayak, the Spirit of America, into the Yukon River at Whitehorse. They've rowed the river six times before, but never before have they faced a challenge as daunting at this, the Yukon 1000. It's not just an endurance race. At 1,000 miles through some of the deepest wilderness anywhere, it's billed "the worlds toughest survival and endurance race."

In 2020, over 3,000 teams applied for 40 available slots, but COVID cancelled that year's run. Josh and Julie made the cut and the race was pushed to 2022. Since then, 12 teams have dropped out, leaving 28, the most elite teams in the world, to take to the water in kayaks, canoes and on standup paddle boards.

They come from the United States, Canada, New Zealand, South America, the United Kingdom and France.

They have 10 days to finish. Alone. They have no support staff. They must set out with all the supplies and provisions they will need reach the finish line.

Josh and Julie, who train year around on the Kootenai River, aren't strangers to the Yukon River, having finished the Yukon River Quest six times since 2014. It, too, starts in Whitehorse, but it ends 444 miles away in Dawson City.

This time, they will push on for another 556 miles.

They finished the Alabama 650 in 2020, and every race, every minute on the water and in the gym since they first entered the world of endurance paddling eight years ago, Josh said, has been in preparation for this year's Yukon 1000.

"We're ready," Josh said. "We learned a lot in the Alabama 650, living nine days on the water. We learned a lot in each Yukon River Quest, which is a really fast race of about 55 hours. We've seen how much the river changes. We've been building each year. It's a long process, sometimes painful, but getting the opportunity to compete in this race is rewarding. This is the Super Bowl of endurance paddling."

"More people have been up Everest than have been beyond Dawson City," the Yukon 1000 website reads.

Paddling 18 hours a day or more, at least 100 miles daily to make the deadline, and sleeping in the dirt when they do stop, it's total exhaustion, pure isolation. Whitewater, fallen trees, braided and poorly mapped channels are just some of the challenges they'll face.

One wrong turn and they have to backtrack up river in the most isolated grizzly and black bear territory in the world. Unless their lives are in danger, there's no help.

The teams in the Yukon 1000 are totally unsupported. Once racers start, the only time they can seek assistance is for rescue or vessel repair.

They are not allowed communication with any supporters for the duration of the race. All communication devices are turned off before the race begins, placed into a tamperproof bag and given back to the team.

At the finish line, devices are inspected. Any indication that communication has been made other than emergency, and the team is disqualified, not even logged as having attended the race, and never allowed entrance into another Yukon 1000.

They must rely on each other to make it past Dawson City, on across the Arctic Circle and into Alaska to finally reach the finish line, the Dalton Highway Bridge.

Josh and Julie, who own Mountain Mike's, 6486 Main Street, Bonners Ferry, are both grateful for all the support they've received over the years, both from customers and the community. "It carries us through the rough times," they said.

While they won't be able to update during the race, you can learn more about their adventures, as well as their preparations for the one upcoming, on their Ultra Distance Adventure Paddling, Yukon 1000 2022, AL650 2020 Facebook page.

Once the race begins, you can follow their progress at www.yukon1000.org.

Questions or Comments? Send us an email!

Mike Weland, Publisher

6931 Main St.
P.O. Box 1625
Bonners Ferry, ID 83805
(208) 295-1016

A 9B Media LLC publication
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