Red Deer kayaker Stéphane Pilon and his Hong Kong paddling partner Mark Ma will represent many when they tackle a 715-km Yukon River race later this month.
Scrawled on their 22-foot tandem kayak will be the names of cancer survivors, current battlers and victims.
Their kayak will become a fitting tribute to the Terry Fox Foundation, the charity Pilon and Ma are paddling for in the Yukon River Quest, which runs June 28 to July 2.
Nearly 100 paddlers are signed up for the punishing race from Whitehorse to Dawson City, which draws canoeiests, kayakers and paddleboarders from as far as New Zealand and Togo.
“It’s a crazy race,” said Pilon, who has been preparing with 10-km runs and exhausting kayak workouts fighting Red Deer River’s swift spring current.
Paddlers are required to take a single seven-hour sleep break during the race’s three days, but other than that they will be paddling day and night —or least what passes for night this time of year in the Yukon.
“They call the race “Chasing the Midnight Sun,” he said.
“It doesn’t really get dark. At this point, the sun might just be hiding on the horizon but doesn’t truly disappear.
“Dusk and dawn kind of dance together.”
Pilon and Ma, his brother-in-law and a Hong Kong firefighter, must carry all of their own supplies, including food.
They know it’s going to be gruelling. “I mean you’re fighting blisters, and there can be all types of weather there.”
Paddlers compete in categories and Pilon said he’s not sure what to expect given the veterans and other hard-core paddlers he will be up against in tandem kayaks.
“For us, just because we don’t know what’s going to happen, it’s our first round at it, we just want to finish the race. So we’ll be pacing ourselves.”
Depending on how things go, they might upgrade that goal to winning.
“If we’re at the halfway mark, and we’re in good standings, we might just go for it.”
Terry Fox’s achievement remains an inspiration, he said. The race will start the same day in 1981 that Fox died after running 5,373 kilometres and becoming a national hero.
Pilon, general manager at the south-end Canadian Tire, has already raised $1,000 and will be collecting much more as race day gets closer.
Those who want to add the name of someone who has been touched by cancer can sign his kayak at the store at 2510 50th Ave. from Thursday until Tuesday. Donations can be made at the store or go to www.terryfox.ca and look for Yukon River Quest.