Ben Friberg’s record-setting ride

Ben Friberg can look you in the eye and honestly tell you that he has lived his dreams.  

Last month, Ben traveled to the Yukon Territory of Canada and set a new 24 hour stand-up paddleboarding distance world record. Ben’s fitness, combined with the power of the mighty Yukon River, propelled him 238 miles through the subarctic Northland and into the history books.  

This feat is significant for many reasons, and in no small part because it puts river paddleboarding on the map. Traditionally a flatwater pastime, paddleboarding has been embraced by river adventurists, who have redefined what is possible with a board and a paddle. While Ben’s attempt was fantastically successful, it was not without its challenges. Here are Ben’s thoughts during pivotal parts of the expedition: 

I don’t know if I can keep this up. I did not expect this headwind and storm. As cold rain soaks my face and clothes, the support team in the boat layer up, huddle under the canopy, and sip chicken broth. At 10 miles per hour, I am making good progress, but the river is still very channelized. I know that it will slow as I get further downstream and the river braids out. I need to gain every inch possible now to have any chance at breaking the record. It is imperative that I keep my momentum.

In spite of the outside conditions, my body is a metronome: heart rate, breath, paddle stroke. I have prepared for this for months, and I know what to do. Barely visible through the low-hanging rain clouds are the flanks of spectacular mountains all around. The trees are getting noticeably smaller as the river winds its way toward the desolate tundra. My vision settles just in front of the board, and in spite of the occasional words from my friends on the boat, I am alone with my thoughts and this chilling wind.

I am losing precious distance every minute, with a large percentage of my output being negated by a force that seems hell-bent on pushing me backwards.

“How long has it been?” I ask the support crew.

“Six hours. Keep it up man, you’re doing great!”

Six hours. That means I have been battling this wind for over five hours, and it is showing no sign of relenting. It’s almost midnight, but the Northland never gets completely dark in the summertime. The sun simply rotates below the horizon slightly, and rises again a few hours later. This 24-hour daylight and the power of the 100,000-cubic-feet-per-second Yukon River are two major factors that have made this attempt possible. I will never forgive myself if I allow this opportunity to slip away.

As quickly as the wind and rain started, it suddenly ebbs. I clear my eyes, release my face from a squint that I have been holding, and look around. The river is rounding a sweeping left corner, and I see an ethereal alpenglow over the top of the mountains. My body’s metronome continues.

As I cross out of the shadow of the mountain, a deep red sunset explodes into view, framed by the landscape of one of the most remote and dramatic areas on the planet. The river is smooth as glass, and it reflects a perfect mirror image of the crimson sky. My board slices through the red hue silently, and I realize that this moment is why I traveled 4,000 miles from home. There is no one else within a hundred miles of us, and I am chasing the sun on my board.

There are certain beauties to be found in this world that render us speechless. No words can describe what we are seeing, so no one says anything. Mesmerized by the sunset, I don’t look at the support boat behind me for a long time. When I do, I notice the rainstorm behind me that I had battled for so long. In front of it is a perfect horizon-to-horizon rainbow.

As the sun slowly sets and my paddle continues its rhythm, I think of everything that has gotten me to this point. I think of the first time I got on a friend’s standup board a few years ago. So much has happened since then. I think of countless hours spent on the Tennessee River near my house training, and I think of the logistical time and uncertainties that came with planning a mission of this complexity.

Even though I am only a third of the way into the journey, I know that it will be successful. The river has created these conditions just for me today, and it is my job to do it justice by doing my part and pushing my body to its limits. The sun finally disappears and the hypnosis ends. As the guys in the boat pull up next to me, I can tell that they now believe too.

With spirits revived, I continue paddling North.

The Moment is a monthly page where we venture into the minds of inspiring outdoor enthusiasts and athletes. Submit your most powerful outdoor experiences to will@blueridgeoutdoors.com.