A Stillwater man spent two days and nights in a rowboat on Canada's Yukon River without going ashore in a quest to set a record.
Last month, Steven Price, 62, an associate vice president for technology development at Oklahoma State University, and his partner, professional adventurer Colin Angus, 42, rowed nonstop on a 440-mile stretch of the Yukon River from Whitehorse to Dawson City.
They made in two days what is normally a two-week trip. They took turns cooking and sleeping on the rowboat while each also took turns on the oars for two-hour shifts. Their sanitation system was “bucket and chuck it,” Price joked.
Their intent was to enter the annual race, the Yukon River Quest, but the race is only open to paddlers (canoes and kayaks). Race officials would not allow the rowboat, but the pair decided to make the run in a rowboat anyway.
On June 26, the duo launched at 2:03 a.m. — 10 hours earlier than the paddlers in the race — and completed the 440 miles in 50 hours and 50 minutes.
If recognized by race officials, it would be the fastest time posted in the Yukon River Quest in the last five years and the second fastest in history.
Angus is a Canadian author and adventurer. He traveled around the globe, powered by just his arms and legs, biking across the land and rowing across the water. He was among the first to raft the Amazon River from source to sea.
He also builds and sells rowboats and wanted to use a rowboat in the race on the Yukon River to prove the effectiveness of rowboats, Price said.
Rowboats are why the two men met. Three years ago, Price discovered Angus' rowboat business while searching for a rowboat on the Internet.
Price contacted Angus, who eventually designed and built a rowboat for him. The two men have been friends ever since.
They took a trial run around Vancouver Island in a rowboat to train for Yukon River Quest, but Price trained mostly by rowing every weekend on Lake Keystone.
“I was doing that continuously since January,” he said. “Every weekend I was on Keystone Lake, and I would row under all weather conditions, about 20 plus miles on Saturday and Sunday.”
The rowboat they used for the Yukon River was not like the racing shells manned by rowers on the Oklahoma River. It was more of a traditional rowboat, with some modifications designed specifically by Angus for the Yukon River adventure.
The rowboat was built so one person could lie down and sleep or rest while the other person rowed, Price said.
They packed for the journey as if it were a two-day backpack in the mountains. Their gear included a change of clothes, a rain jacket, a camping stove, water and food, such as freeze-dried meals, candy, trail mix and sardines.
Price said the most harrowing part of the journey occurred in the first few hours on Lake Laberge where strong headwinds and waves forced them to stop and bail water from the boat. It almost forced them to abandon the voyage.
“That was not fun,” Price said. “The water was very cold. If we had gone in, it probably would have been all over for us. Colin said if the waves had gotten an inch higher, we would have pulled the plug.”
Another spot on the river called the Five Fingers Rapids was supposed to be a hazard, but Angus, once a professional whitewater rafting guide, handled it with ease, Price said.
“He made it look like duck soup,” Price said. “I got three drops of water on my legs.”
The pair averaged 8.6 mph in the rowboat during the trek even with a slow current.
“We had read the Yukon would normally have an 8 mph current,” Price said. “The average current was 4 mph. If it had been eight, we would have killed the record.”
The two rowers didn't see another person on the river during the two-day journey. The only wildlife they viewed was one moose and a calf.
Price and Angus had to navigate a river that contained numerous channels and islands. A fast time would be determined by making the right decision on which way to go.
“Learning to read the river was the big challenge,” Price said. “My wife didn't think we would find our way out of there.”
More than 700 teams have entered the Yukon River Quest since 2001. Price and Angus made the fastest unsupported journey from Whitehorse to Dawson City (no shelter, food or water was provided along the way).
And, they are the only team to make the trip to never set foot ashore. But since they were not officially entered in the race, those records might not be recognized by anyone.
“We felt we could have done it for a month,” Price said of the rowing trek. “We felt we could do it all the way to the Bering Sea if we wanted to.”
If they can raise the money, the two men are planning to enter an ocean rowing race around Great Britain in 2015.