Text: Anna Kowalczyk, member of Independent Poland support team, runner, translator in English
The most prestigious and longest race through North Canada and Alaska
This story can motivate even the most pessimistic people. Marcin Gienieczko has recently revealed in social media that steadfastness still exists and winning with fate is possible. As the saying goes, fate and destiny are given in the cradle.
Marcin Gienieczko professional athlete, explorer, sailor, reporter and father of two adorable young boys has won the 2nd place in the longest canoe race YUKON 1000-covering 1600 km through the isolated and most dangerous regions of Canada and Alaska. He achieved it in the regatta canoe as the captain of the Independent Poland squad, name given as a tribute to the 100 years anniversary of Polish Independence.
What was this road to success like?
In 2015 Gienieczko achieves the impossible, traversing solo through the South America, initiating by 700 km by bike through Andes pedaling uphill to 4700m height, than descending to the jungle, he covers the distance of 5980 km in a canoe( including 400km together with his partner Gadiel Sanchez Rivera), following 80 km run with a Polish and Olympics flag straight to the bay, in which the Amazon river spreads. 6 month later Gienieczko receives the world Guinness record. More of the story in link to follow: http://www.soloamazon.info/blog/
After 7 months a difficult situation occurs. The person who has been supporting and motivating Marcin becomes his fierce enemy. Gienieczko notices some improprieties in rewarding the contestants during the Tourist Festival in Gdynia. He makes a decision not to accept distinction awarded by the Jury, among which Piotr Chmeliński is one of the members. More in the link to follow https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVqACeyTGj0
Marcin applies to co organizers of the Festival for explanations. He does not receive unambiguous answer. This quest of truth goes down really bad with with Jury member Piotr Chmieliński, and due to which he becomes a great opponent of Marcin, questioning his merits of Amazone passage. Friendly newspaper, in which he is a correspondent, also questions Gienieczko’s success basing it on assumption and incorrect analysis as well as ironical thesis that it is impossible to cover the distance of 100km daily in a canoe. This was the greatest absurd issued by the opponents.
It’s worth mentioning that Gienieczko in 2013 achieved another successful accomplishment-he paddles 100km through the Baltic Sea in an open canoe in 27 hours and 30min. The achievement is witnessed by famous sailor ArkadiuszPawełek, who as the second man in the world in 1998 crossed the Atlantic in a floating boat, following the footsteps of French sailor Alain Bombard from 1952 .
Polish Olympic Committee, the highest sport organization fighting with sport doping, stood in Marcin’s defense. Polish Olympic Committee did not agree with the harmful opinion about Gienieczko.
The explorer concentrates on his mission. He is aware that in expedition there is no place for explications, as they are typical attributes of the guilt. In sport exploration there is only space for pushing against-making new projects which reveal the inner passion, determination and fight for success. Gienieczko starts his new project in 2016 double traverse on skis of the Hardenvde-the Norvegian plateau, where Amundsen used to practice before his great expedition to the South Pole. Also in the same year Gienieczko starts the solitary traverse (with no help or assistance) of the McKenzie mountains- 1000km in 45 days through the most solitary regions of North Canada. More in link to follow:
He receives the acknowledgment letter from the Polish Olympic Committee Chairmen, Andrzej Krasicki. Gienieczko replies to PKOL that he will return a favor with his following sport success. He informs the Board of PKOL that he will take part in the most prestigious canoe competitions in the world to ultimately shut the propaganda to previous issues.
After return from the McKenzie mountains he starts talks with his friends from Whitehorse, owners of Kanoe People company, Scott McDougall, whom he had met in 2003 crossing the Jukon river from Carcross to The Bering Sea. He was 24 then and it took him 76 days to cover the 3000km of Jukon. After returning he wrote a book “Pokonaćsiebie” (Overcoming Self). Scott asked Marcin a question whether he would return here with his canoe one day and take part in Yukon River Quest or Yukon 1000 canoe race.
Gienieczko returns to Poland. On his next sailor contract he earns money for living, he works on two massive barges, he gets through with his dangerous and risky but well paid work on tank ships. He decides to race in Yukon River Quest. But this single race is not enough for him therefore he chooses to go to Canada for 2 months and stay for the world longest canoe race – YUKON 1000. Each sportsman needs a strong motivation to his actions, having a drive which will lead him to desired goal. Physical pain, so common in sport and natural human retaliation become his inner strength to compete. He takes a 6months interval in his project “A road to a Pole”
For Marcin, this longest race was the highest stake. A challenge for recognition, prestige but also tribute to values which he was raised upon; faith, love, hope, steadfastness, truth. Arranging two projects he trains relentlessly. He communicates with his ship captain about sailing between Rotterdam, and Antwerp. After finishing each contract he visits his mentor and best in Europe canoeist Francis Soenen, Belgian who teaches him to sail in a canoe See1. This boat is approved in solo YRQ class. However Gienieczko is not convinced about the canoe with rudder. According to him its is rather kayak than canoe. The boat and Gienieczko do not get along very well, even thought he is trying earnestly his best. However there is no other option as everyone racing solo in the YRQ in this class uses this boat model. Why? It is quicker and gives greater chance to win the podium. During the preparations Marcin makes the decision to take part in YUKON 1000 race. He invites a friend from his hometown to become his partner, but the man does not have a “feel” in a canoe paddling. Eventually he pulls back right before the competitions, just two weeks before the departure. As a partner, he abandons Marcin on the battlefield without much explanation. Gienieczko is devastated. He looks for solution. The YRQ organizers know him well from his previous achievements on Yukon. Polish Radio publishes a link on their websites that Gienieczko strives to take part in both races:
This link is also published by Yukon River Quest organizers on their Facebook site with an information that Marcin is seeking a partner to compete with him in second race on 1600km distance. Lots of people reply to Gienieczko’sinvitation, however his final choice is Ben Schmidt, who completed the Yukon 1000 race in 2009 placing on 3rd position.
Gienieczko informs his partner at the very beginning that he is only interested in winning. “Are you ready for this?” Schmidt after agreement with his wife and analysis of all the pros and cons accepts Marcins offer. Gienieczko becomes the captain of the Independent Poland squad. Marcin covers all the costs from his private budget. He does not look for the sponsors. There is no time for that. He continues his work on a ship. While Schmidt starts his practice Gienieczko concentrates on the YRQ race. He arrives in Yukon on the 10th of June. Meets Peter Coates -the founder of YUKON 1000 and inventor of the best track in the world.
Peter presents Marcin each boat, its course and speed eventually Marcin rents a See1 canoe from Peter and begins his practice. However after 20minutes he flips over on Jukonriver. He dries out and tries to move on. He covers 20km of Takhini River. After return he talks with the owner of the Kanoe People company and tells him that he does not feel the boat. He asks Scott if he has anything else to offer. Scott suggests him racing in regatta canoe Clipper Jensen 18. However this is a two person canoe. All other competitors tandem race in this canoe in YRQ race. Gienieczko spends a night in a hostel deliberating what decision he should make. Before the dawn he decides to take Clipper Jansen 18 in the Yukon 1000 and take part in the challenge race. Organizers and his competitors do not give him more than 40 percent chance to reach the finish line. So far no-one has done this solo race in a tandem canoe. What’s more Gienieczko has to take on board a 70 liters tank as a ballast placed on the canoe bow, to keep the course straight and make the boat’s bow wind resistant. Chances are small but Marcin is eager to take up this challenge. One of the greatest challenges, because of its wide spread and slow pace, is the Lake Laberge. Gienieczko crosses it as a practice before the race in this canoe model. It takes him 4 days starting from the Whitehorse. Marcin realizes that it’s not going to be an easy challenge, and he has no chances to win but he wants to present others that in two person canoe he is able to cover not only 100km a day but 320km during 32 hours, including the slower pace of 50km long – Lake Laberge. This very boat gives him a chance to practice before the YUKON 1000 race. He had already decided to take a bit faster canoe to a second race, Jensen’s Whitewater II. Those boats are similar.
Gienieczko sets off in YRQ and achieves his goal, covering 320km in 32 hours. He passes quite a number of boats which raced in tandems. He was paddling 5km per hour, sometimes even 6km/hr, through the Lake Laberge . In 67 hours, 55 minutes and 27 seconds he covers the distance of 715 km taking 6th place in Solo Canoe Class: https://yukonriverquest.ca/yrq/app/entry8/tracker_results.php?race=18yrq
He gains respect among the most experienced canoe and kayak competitors. So far no one has ever done such challenge or crossed the river solo in a tandem canoe- summarize the owners of the largest canoe company in Yukon, Kanoe People.
Gienieczko feels fulfilled. It wasn’t so much about the podium. The explorer stays in Dawson City at Andrzej and Aleksandra Kuczyński’s place, the owners of jewelery shops. He takes any works possible-painting the house or helping the owners with different works he earns money for the next entry fee for the regatta canoe. The owner of the Satfilmcompany Robert Kowalczyk comes with support. He sees Gienieczko’s determination and pays for his return ticket to Poland. Andrzej Kuczyński buys additional paddles for Yukon 1000 race. Marcin lives in the shed and tries to focus on the upcoming race. There is a lot of pressure upon his shoulders. He is in constant communication with Ben Schmidt, who offers him cooperative practice in Alaska., but Marcin can’t afford it. He has to earn money to pay for the canoe, which costs 1100 USD. He meets Ben in Whitehorse, only 4 days before the Yukon race. Gienieczko informs Ben that he is physically very well trained and capable of paddling like a fast machine in a canoe-very strong, long strokes, paddling fast and relentlessly. The idea of the race is to paddle constantly for 18 hours every day with a mandatory night stop required by organizers between 11pm and 5 am. Ben accepts this fact with understanding.
They perform a practice 20km down the Jukonriver, accompanied by the priest SławekSzwagrzyk in the second canoe. The priest had blessed their boat before the race and also provided both competitors with food and shelter. Ben and Marcin stay at the priests place for a few days. He is an eager adventurer himself, therefore he understands Marcin’s ambitions and offers them not only asylum for the night but meals as well. The explorers prepare mentally for the race. Their families support them devotedly. They both share the same life values, both tremendously love their children.
YUKON 1000- THE LAST LARGEST RACE
On the 22nd of July the race starts, Polish-American duet pulls forward to high position. In the canoe class they take 3rd place but coming to the Lake Laberge they loose their advantage and drop to 5th place. Initially two different paddling styles do not get along. Ben prefers short strokes. Gienieczko applies strong, long ones. Ben is not in the best shape for the first days of the race. He looses his strength and motivation, especially when noticing others passing them. Gienieczko pays no attention to this, he is aware that the first phase of the race-the Lake is he hardest. What’s more, the canoe is overloaded with 20 liters of water. The team did not take the water filters as other contestants or special sanitizing pills. The initial plan was to collect water from little creaks.
Their primary speed is 7km per hour. Gienieczko calculates it and says it’s not enough. Ben declares fatigue, he says he is not gonna make it. This irritates Gienieczko within but he motivates and encourages Ben. He is aware of not putting too much pressure on him so as not to get him stuck. Gienieczko is aware that as a team captain he is responsible to bear all the costs and Ben may simply lack the motivation. He is trying to regain his drive. In total they lose 2 hours on the lake. Before the race they had assumption of covering 96km in 9 hours but it is not the real for them any more.
As soon as they reach the Jukonriver they regain speed. Marcin notices that Ben gets more active as he finds another canoe in this eye range. It becomes obvious that Ben needs a clear goal-a rival ahead to make him a fierce paddler, he feels motivated to press on than.
Gienieczko does not require such stimulator. The same day they pass two canoe boats. On the next day they gain 2nd position in their category. They paddle relentlessly being only 2 hours behind the leader. One of the kayaks they pass shares the information that they are only 1,5 or 2 hours behind the front team, which is about 15km . This is the main thought of all the competitors, “where exactly is our location and how far behind the leader we are”. The race is on. On the second day Gienieczko feels a bit numb, he feels a painful discomfort around his heart. He finds it hard to adjust. Merely 3 hours for the rest and recovery is barely enough. The hardest hours are 5 and 7 am are when the body fights against awaking. Marcin consumes 8 coffee candies, he also has 2 energizers but has to divide them to small portions to last for the whole day. Ben does not face such difficulty but gets apathetic around 2pm and becomes fatigued and does not produce the required speed. It is quite irritating to Gienieczko, who has to paddle for the two of them. Ben suggests taking hot, strong coffee to their thermoses for the beginning of the day and this idea occurs very helpful. On the third day Gienieczko is in his best shape. He paddles like a machine, the canoe speeds up. They pass the Korkorua team from New Zeland, another kayak which was always faster than canoe. This fact activates Ben and he starts paddling stronger and faster.This irritates Marcin, he puts the paddle aside and declares “if you paddle like this I am not going any further, you have to provide us with 4km/hour not 2km per hour” but the irritation lasts less than 2 minutes. In sport exploration there is no such thing as prolonged fuss as there is no time to lose.
During the strong paddling Marcin tries to encourage and motivate Ben that he is doing it for the children and 7 thousands fans are observing him on Marcin’s Fb profile. He points out that this race opens doors to new opportunities and challenges. ‚You can’t give up right now’-Gienieczko says. There is various tension between the competitors in thoughts and words. Each of them struggles to break through, win their own battlefield of the mind, provide their best. He apologizes him the following day. They both regain their motivation. Nearby Dawson City their canoe reaches 20km/hour. Ben gets excited to reach the Alaska territory the very same day- his motherland. He contemplates and talks about it. They mostly talk about their children and family as this is their common subject.
Right behind Dawson the river practically does not spread but flows in one riverbed. Gienieczko notices the sight of large smoke. The fire starts and they are soon surrounded by the smoke. Ben estimates the fire to be 7km away. Its all hard for Marcin to believe. They stop at the island for 10 minutes and analyze the situation. The large fire they had noticed approximately 6km away is getting bigger. The smoke becomes so enormous it covers the whole valley. They are taking up the risk of moving forward. Gienieczko trusts Ben as he has lived in Alaska for his whole life. But after few meters Ben recommends returning to the island. ‚We will not get through this smoke’-he declares. Gienieczko doesn’t know what to do, he feels frightened but Ben calms him down.
When they set off in the race they were on high 3rd place, later they dropped to the 5th. On the Lake Laberge they lost 2 hours because of they didn’t have much chance to practice before the race.
Fast Jukonriver helped them to regain their loss and move ahead many squads (including kayaks lighter that canoe) but something unexpected happened, which stroke the Independent Poland Team-they encountered fire on their road. Both river banks were on fire and the smoke was descending into the water and blocking their way to pass through. It was a life threatening situation for all the squads as carbon monoxide poisoning was very real.
The leader – Kiwis, the kayak team from NewZeland who won the whole race- was the only one which passed through before the fire started
Ian Huntsman sent the text message from his satellite phone to the organizers, as he informed us later after the race, with information that he does not need any assistance.
The Hobo Squad team from Hawaii, the winner of the race in canoe class got stuck right behind the fire. They managed to pass through though. ‚We have faced the biggest misfortune’ Gienieczko says. At 8.41 pm he tries to contact the organizers but they are out of reach, so he makes a decision to get in touch with his father, who writes an email to the organizers and eventually one of them, Henry St Clair, contacts Marcin via his satellite phone. Ben picks up and explains the situation. ‚We called the organizers to inform them about the case and with request of how we should proceed it’-Gienieczko explains. The chopper was already above our heads searching for fire source. It noticed our position. At 10.30 pm all the vessels stopped for the mandatory 6 hrs sleep stop between 11pm and 5am. Right before the dawn we set off to Eagle Village to check in at the USA Boarder Guards. Checking in we found out that our distance to a leader decreased to only 8km away but the fire stood on our road again and burned our efforts, due to which we had to chase the leaders one more time. This constant chase reminded me of the “Smokey and the Bandid“ movie from 1977
Ben sitting in front of the canoe was paddling by himself for 20 minutes as Marcin got fatigued and had to take an energy nap for 10 minutes. Ben was controlling the course. The competitors entered the large backwaters of Jukon. The track prepared by Marcins friend, a cartographer was very precise yet navigating occurred much harder that on Amazon river, why?
This part of Jukon remind intestines, thousands of channel packed with islands. On the Amazon, if you take a look from space, both channels and islands are very massive. It’s hard to make a mistake navigating when you follow precise track in your GPS. Simply everything is bigger and much more visible. Here in Jukon getting into a small, wrong channel may end up in being blocked and returning to appropriate one becomes extremely difficult. Oftentimes in such situations you have to go 100m against the strong current, which leaves you with 15 minutes loss. At the beginning the team was following the track but Ben requested to trust him, he knew and felt the river very well. Jukon does not give up her miles easily, she can change her pace and even current sometimes, the water becomes murky. A natural instinct is required to advantage the rivals. Ben had crossed this part of Jukon twice, so eventually the decision was made to concentrate on all aspects-track, instinct and sense of direction simultaneously.
Marcin admited making a mistake of trusting the GPS only, which was leading them correctly but eventually prolonged their road of 3km, and in this very project the time was gold. Ben was getting irritated by this fact and reminded Marcin that the “reading the river”, paying attention to it’s current is crucial.
The following day was perfect in paddling, they passed another kayak squad 10thLifeKayaking from the USA, which faced huge navigation difficulties. This gave them the advantage. It’s worth mentioning that at the beginning of the race they were on the 2nd position and for the majority of the distance they were side by side with the canoe leader.
Independent Poland jumped into the 4th position, Ben and Marcin were counting every minute of the race. They had one single 2 minutes stop at the river bank for physiological needs. Gienieczko began getting weak as he put a lot of effort in the primary Canadian distance, what is more he was having some stomach problems. A fermented beverage caused nausea. To top it all, the 27C heat from the very start of the race and not a drop of rain were not helpful at all. Noon time was the most difficult to bear as the sun was burning their faces unmercifully. The hot chicken soup helped to regain the energy. Ben was struggling with the shoulder pain. Marcin gave him the warming up ointment. They were both sleep deprived as they only had 3hrs of rest each day. Setting up the camp and preparing a meal took them usually 50 min in the morning and 50 min in the evening. Right ahead of Beaver Indian village Ben impresses Marcin. He sits on his knees and starts to paddle long and strong strokes as he would be finishing.
Right at that moment we were paddling against strong wind and 1 meter high waves. “Ben keep paddling like this for 15 minutes” Marcin speaks to himself. “if you had paddled this way from the very beginning we would have finished the race at 1st place. Or maybe I shouldn’t complain,’ Gienieczko is wondering.
After crossing 1600 km in 7 days, 7 hours and 30 minutes the Independent Poland Team reaches the finish line. They are placed on 2nd position in a canoe class and 4th in the overall race:
Official Yukon1000 site with results :https://yukon1000.com/18y1k/results_print.php
Passing 10 squads, they beat the winner of Yukon River Quest Bart de Zwart as well as English team Mathew Sidney Bennett and Oliver Bailey who crossed the Atlantic last year from Portugal to Venezuela. After the analysis of the race the organizers added time penalties (2 hours) to many teams, including the Independent Poland as Marcin was contacting the organizers via satellite phone during the fire and asking whether crossing the fire was life threatening. The satellite phone contact was forbidden unless the emergency occurred. However the penalty, had no effect on their strong position as they had enough advantage time over other squads. Eventually the organizers congratulated the team their fight engagement and good results.
It was a meaningful success in canoeing due to the fact that within a month I completed 2 races in a two persons canoe, both solo and in tandem.
As the captain of the Independent Poland squad I felt tremendous joy. It was a capstone for me. Thereby I have finally completed the official canoeing. If I ever return to canoeing it will only be recreational, paddling from Whitehorse to Dawson with my sons. This was the fist time success achieved by the man in the history of both Polish and European canoeing. At the same time with this race I defended everything that was alleged. I may still encounter people who will interpret it differently but we have no influence upon others opinion. I am personally assured about my capabilities, achievements and involvement- declares Marcin
I will return to the project „A road to a Pole”, and my goal is to traverse Antarctica through the South Pole- solo. But before I set off I need to perform a double traverse of Greenland next year. Will it happen? It’s all up to my wife. If she allows for that. The family is most important, I do not want my manhood sport ambitions take priority.
Biography of Marcin Gienieczko:
-in 2003 Gienieczko crosses the Jukon river in an inflating boat Zodiac at the distance of 3000 km. It takes him only 76 days. After the expedition he writes a book “Pokonaćsiebie” (Overcoming Self).
-in 2005 Gienieczko crosses river systems of Mackenzie from Jasper to Toktuyaktuk at the distance of 4000 km. After the expedition a documentary with Canadian canoe experts opinion is filmed : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKaS2UqsiFg
– in 2007 winter expedition takes place -the crossing of the Mackenzie mountains. In the link to a documentary below, the experts opinion from Yukon.Gienieczko fails to cross the Mackenzie mountains in winter as temperature drops below -40C :https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctuJPZJZIQE
-in 2009- crossing 3500km through winter Syberia, starting from Magadan to Ayon -Island in Chukotka
-in 2010 he traverses 4300km of Australia from North to South by bike from Darwin, Newman, Gibson Dessert (by car), Warburton, Uluru, Adelaide
-in 2011 Gienieczko crosses the rivers of Yukon. He becomes the Yukon river tour guide, conducting many polish groups from different companies.
-in 2012 he performs a solo crossing of the longest Siberian river Lena in a canoe.
– in 2013 he takes part in YRQ race, but unfortunately due to nephrolithiasis he is not able to accomplish the race. The same year he crosses the Baltic Sea from Denmark to Poland.
– in 2014 he crosses the tributary of Amazon river-Rio Napo 800 km, with a partner
– in 2015 as a first man in history crosses the 5980 km of Amazon river in a canoe
Marcin: I would like to express my gratitude to everyone who contributed to my success. After the race I regained my faith in meeting the right people on my road of life, who are not only driven by revenge or profitability but willing to cooperate and support
in best regards to Independent Team Poland
It was plan to win! :Race Yukon 1000- chart
Day No 1 stage Whiethorse-Big Salomon River 22 July
Start 22 July at 7.00. After 96 km, at 4.00 pm I was reaching Lower Laberge. We leave our canoe for 6 minutes .
– At 7.30 pm having covered 145 km we reach Hotolinki. From Hotolinki we are canoeing
– After 3 h of canoeing and covering 201 km we reach the first bed place Big Salomin River. At 10.30 pm SLEEPOVER No 1. Number of hours in the canoe = 15 h and 30 minutes of rowing.
At 10.30 pm till 4.30 stopover.
Day No 2 stage Big Salomon River, 201 km from the start – sleepover past Fort Serlik ,23 July
At 4.30 start – the beginning of canoeing, day No 2
Start Big Salomon River-Carmaks-120 km I arrive at Carmaks, right side, at 12.00 -7,5 h of rowing.
– We reach Minto, half of the route. To Dawson we arrive at 5.30 pm. To Fort Serlki we arrive at 08.00 pm.
– The sleepover is assumed to take place past Fort Serlki at 10.15 pm. The distance covered from the start is 489 km. Daily distance = 288 km.
The Schedule stopover is between 10.15 pm. and 10.30 pm. Number of hours in the canoe = 18 hours of rowing and 288 km in the canoe.
Sleepover No 2 past Fort Serlik. Start 4.30 or 4.15.
Day No 3 past Fort Serlik island recommended start 4.15 ,24 July
Distance the island past Fort Serlik, from start 489 km. I reach Dawson City 19.00 740 km behindAt the section 770 km at 10.15 pm I have the third sleepover . A small river flows here. At 4.15 we leave again.
Day 4, 25 July. I leave the Island past the Dawson City at 4.15. At 02.00 pm we reach Eagel at Alasca. There we will have 30 minute stopover. Passports and at this time we eat lunch. Eagel from the starting point is placed 904 km away. Sleepover No 4 is located at the section 980 km Cabin Nation left side. 09.30 pm.
Day 5 ,26 July 3.30 start. Around 01.00 pm we go past Circle 1150 km covered. We get into Yukon Backwaters. 5 sleepover on the right side of the river 1225 km. Hour 10.00 pm or 10.15 pm.
Day 6 27 July start 4.15 in the morning leaving. About 8.15 in the morning we are near the Fort Yukon 1275 km. We go past. At 08.00 we go past the settlement Beaver . The route covered equals 1400 km. We still go canoeing 20 km down. Sleepover 6, 1420 km of the covered River. Camping at 10.15 pm
Day 7 28 July, start 4.15. At the section 1545 km, at 04.15 we o past the settlement Stevens Village. The remaining distance to the finish is 55 km. Finish is scheduled at 10.15 pm when we go past the bridge. There we havesleepover 7. THE END!!!!