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Original Issue

The Best Of The Rest The Eco may be on ice, but for expedition racers, from hard-core pros to weekend warriors, there's a whole wide world of extreme challenges from which to choose

The Eco-Challenge, on hiatus until at least 2004, and maybe
forever, always was two races in one. Out front you had your
elite teams: squads of scowling cyborgs with sponsorship deals
and resting heart rates in the 30s. Behind them--days
behind--came Mark Burnett's handpicked human-interest stories,
ranging from police officers to Playboy Playmates to plodding
weekend warriors who inevitably screwed up the navigation, ran
out of food, then turned on each other. It was ugly, it was
painful, it was damn good television. In eight years the Eco did
more than any other event to tow adventure racing to the banks of
the mainstream.

The sport's new big dog is the Subaru Primal Quest
(, which offers a total purse that, at
$250,000, is by far the richest in the sport. When online
registration opened for this year's SPQ, a 400-mile ordeal on and
around Lake Tahoe in September, the 75 team slots reserved for
nonelite athletes (entry fee: $6,500) were filled in less than
two minutes.

You don't need to take two weeks off work to do an adventure
race. You needn't book passage to Kyrgyzstan for this year's Raid
Gauloises (, or subject yourself to the
trials devised by Don (the Sweet Satan) Mann, the former Navy
SEAL who presides over the gnarly Beast of the East
(, to be held this year in North Carolina.
If you find the idea of entering the 250-mile Appalachian Extreme
(, held in Maine and New Hampshire, too
daunting, try the Appalachian Not So Extreme
(, a 12-hour race in New
Hampshire. Adventure racing is thriving at the lower end of the
competitive spectrum; there are a number of entry-level events
from which to choose. Chief among them is the eight-city Balance
Bar Series ( Originally known as the
Hi-Tec Series, these races can be finished in roughly the same
amount of time one spends on a leisurely brunch.

Those prepared for more-sustained suffering have plenty of
options. From the enormously popular Cal-Eco Adventure Series
( in California to REI's four-event California
Adventure Classic Series (, 12- to 24-hour
races abound. One that got good buzz was Balance Bar's 24-hour
race around Manhattan last October (,
during which competitors rappelled down the side of the aircraft
carrier Intrepid. Halfway down, by design, they ran out of rope,
necessitating a nocturnal splashdown in the Hudson. "Very cool,"
says Colorado racer Adam Chase, whose team finished sixth.

Three race organizers who got in on the ground floor of the urban
adventure trend were Will Burkhart, John Hamill and John
O'Connor, who in 2000 founded the Wild Onion
( in Chicago. On June 13-14, a Wild
Onion will take root in New York City, and Team EarthLink's Robyn
Benincasa is stoked. "We're gonna climb some big-ass buildings,
crawl around in some friggin' sewers, Rollerblade, kayak--it's
gonna be a blast." (Don't forget your Razor, Robyn. There's also
a 20-mile scooter leg.)

Benincasa was a key member of the team that won the Borneo
Eco-Challenge in 2000. Her reward for that effort was to be
dumped from the squad several weeks before the '01 Eco--by a
teammate who was also her business partner. Adventure racing has
a tradition, perhaps expired, of encouraging racers and teams to
help one another. Without this "spirit of adventure racing," I
was taught at the Presidio AR Academy several years ago, we are
no better than...triathletes.

The reality is, elite adventure racers can be stunningly
cutthroat. Then again, this is part of what makes expedition
racing, as Burnett prefers to call it, so captivating. It's not
just the cool gear (check out the new Puppy Pile tent on houses four people and weighs less than two
pounds) or the exotic afflictions (flesh-eating fungi, leeches,
infections resulting from contact with bat guano). It's more than
the 400-foot rappels, the whitewater and the single-track. It is
the friction that arises between teams and teammates as the
suffering is ratcheted up. It is how people either resolve
conflict or succumb to it. It is the human interest. Burnett got
that from the start. --Austin Murphy

COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY ON THE GROW From Beastly biking (top) to Hi-Tec trials, adventureracing's booming.

COLOR PHOTO: NATHAN BILOW [See caption above]

COLOR PHOTO: NATHAN BILOW/AP [See caption above]