GW senior to paddle 1,000 miles in world’s longest canoe race

Media Credit: Kiana Robertson | Hatchet Staff Photographer

Some students travel the globe or volunteer at nonprofits to gain new experiences before they enter the workforce, but senior Paige Norman and her childhood friend Emma Burgeson are planning to spend their summer canoeing.

The two are gearing up for the Yukon 1,000 Canoe and Kayak Race – the world’s longest canoe and kayaking race. They will paddle 1,000 miles on the Yukon River from Canada to Alaska.

This race is not for the faint of heart: Participants are expected to row 18 hours every day for seven to 12 days.

“It’s a big after graduation trip,” Norman said. “It’s going to be a great new activity that I can do.”

Norman and Burgeson will only carry dry foods, protein bars, a satellite phone and a spot device with “help” and “panic” buttons with them on their canoe. With no designated camping spots, they are on their own to find places to sleep.

Burgeson attempted the race in 2014 but had to stop halfway due to her partner’s injury. No all-female teams reached the finish line that year, and Burgeson said she hopes to make it all the way this year with Norman on her team.

Unlike Burgeson, Norman said she doesn’t have much experience canoeing.

“I’m a little bit nervous. I’ve never backcountry camped, I don’t know how to canoe – I will learn this summer,” Norman said.

Although canoeing might be new for Norman, both Norman and Burgeson are trained in rowing, hiking, diving, swimming and gymnastics. Norman rowed for GW for two years, and Burgeson hikes and teaches gymnastics for a living.

“Our combined skill set makes us really good for this kind of race,” Burgeson said.

Norman and Burgeson will spend the next few months training for the race by joining teams for outrigger canoes – canoes designed for the sea.

Norman and Burgeson registered for the race earlier this month with the team name “Minnesota Gneiss” – a pun for geology enthusiasts and a nod to their home state.

“It’s a way to break up the ‘becoming an adult’ process and make my friend’s dream come true,” Norman said.

Norman, who has interned for the Peace Corps since January, said her dream job would be anything that would let her travel and do humanitarian work. She is currently putting her geography major to use by working on her own remote sensory project about erosion in the Yukon River.

Burgeson, who graduated from Western Washington University in 2014 with a degree in environmental science, said she grew up loving outdoor adventures. In high school, she spent every summer at a wilderness camp for students in Minnesota. After her senior year, Burgeson said she went on a six week whitewater rafting trip through the camp.

“It’s a chance to get back out on really wild territories, and its peaceful,” Burgeson said. “It’s hard, but peaceful and a really cool experience.”

Burgeson said she has a passion for studying the Arctic and climate change. She spent the summer of 2012 researching a glacier in Alaska.

The two have started a GoFundMe accepting donations for equipment and have so far raised about $1,000 in two weeks. They said they plan to donate some of the proceeds to an organization that encourages girls in water sports like canoeing, rowing and kayaking.

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