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Dragon Healers

Getting Lost on the Yukon River
By Lawrence Pang

Life is like a river.  Its beginning could be an insignificant trickle, its end a grand and vast ocean.  And sometimes the sandbars are hidden beneath the surface, where they can be neither be seen, nor planned for. 

My journey down the Yukon River began in March, with Sunday trainings with the Dragon Healers where, with the aid of volunteer paddlers, those of us going to the Yukon would haul a dragon boat, understaffed, for countless trips around our own Lake Merced—a body of water which has truly become to feel like my own backyard, both in familiarity and in it’s insignificance (in size, not importance). 

It continued on until the week of the race to include people whom I barely knew and people whom I had yet to meet until I was, in true Healer fashion, a member of the most diverse team in the Yukon River Quest.  Two teachers, a massage therapist, a physical therapist, a nurse, and a man who mysteriously “makes a rich man richer” made up the crew of the Yukon’s Dragon Healers. 

The trip itself was filled with plenty of challenges.  Too-long stretches of paddling (23 hours, that first day), too-short breaks (10 hours, 3 of which were probably spent getting ready to rest) spread out over 3 days, and food and digestive problems easily made this the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.  Paddling over 3-foot swells in the endless lake (31 miles across) that just may have shed a single Lake-Merced-shaped tear in ancient times to provide us with a place to hold dragon boat practices really put my own insignificance into perspective. 

A constant theme of the race was to lend a helping hand to one’s neighbor.  Teammates told jokes or sang obnoxious songs to keep each other awake, provided encouragement, paddled harder to provide another with a break when needed.  Volunteers at every stop helped to unload the boat, gently guided weary and nearly-asleep paddlers to where we needed to go and what we needed to do (at this point, even figuring out the location of the nearest bathroom or outhouse was a serious challenge).  Along the race, residents and support teams cheered on every participant.   One 82-year-old local woman even provided passing racers with hot tea.  A team that had stopped to help another team that spilled into the water was awarded the “Spirit of the Yukon” award.  At our own completion, complete strangers helped to walk some of our gear and bags 4 blocks to our hotel. 

At the end of 52 hours and 53 minutes of hard paddling, my feelings of satisfaction were at an reached-before high, but it was completely different than what I’d expected.  I’d originally signed up to participate in the Yukon River Quest to prove to myself that I could conquer the challenge, that I’d had what it takes.  But in the end, I was mostly amazed and impressed with power of that “Spirit of the Yukon”.  None of MY accomplishments in this race could have happened without the help of hundreds of people, Healers and otherwise, and even the solo kayaker who set a new record depended on the first-place voyager crew to help him along the way.  What began as a journey to boost my confidence of my individual prowess ended as a humbling lesson on interdependence.  My final destination was not the same as the one intended.  In order to truly find myself on this trip, I had to get lost on the Yukon River. 

I’ve paddled really far, and haven’t yet found the end to my water, but I have found MANY who are my friends.  Thank you to you all for making this happen.