Adventure-Race Boss Defends Environmental Record

October 3, 2002

When Survivor creator Mark Burnett brought a 360-mile, ten-day multisport race to Utah's Canyonlands in 1995, he effectively introduced adventure racing, a sport that had flourished overseas six years' prior, onto the American scene.

Burnett's "Eco-Challenge" also disrupted sensitive lands and archaeological sites, and garnered so much ire from environmentalists, neither he nor anyone else has held a similar race in the U.S. since.

Smaller-scale domestic adventure races skyrocketed after Burnett's departure. According to Troy Farrar, director of the United States Adventure Racing Association, 300 adventure races were held in the U.S. in 2002—up from 50 races just three years ago. But none compare to the sport's Big Three—The Southern Traverse, Raid Gauloises, and Burnett's own Eco-Challenge—all of which are held in overseas locales like Fiji or Vietnam, where international teams absorb exorbitant entrance costs to climb, kayak, bike, and trek hundred-plus-mile courses over an exhaustive couple of weeks.

But this July, for the first time in seven years, longtime race planner and champion athlete Dan Barger brought an expedition-style, international adventure race back to the United States. (See "Primal Heat" in the October issue of National Geographic Adventure).

A number of local environmental groups and citizens were upset by Barger's choice of venue, Colorado's San Juan Mountains, for his inaugural Primal Quest race. Complaints of the damage it would do to the Uncompahgre National Forest, and the damage it left, plagued the 36-year-old San Jose native from start to finish. Now, just weeks before he announces the site of his second Primal Quest race, Barger recounts his trial run.

Why put on an adventure race?

I think that the people involved in adventure racing are a phenomenal group. And one of the things I've been able to view in the 22 adventure races I've put on, was that these people (and I like to think that I'm in this category as well) learned principles like adapting to change and taking manageable risks that they would bring back to their job and to their personal life. I thought that was unique and I enjoyed creating a venue in which they can experience those things.

I think one of my qualifications as a planner is that I've raced in over 230 ultramarathons and competed in lots of mountain biking, equestrian, and adventure races over the past 20 years. So I go out and I try to set up a race course based on what I know I would like as a racer.

What gave you the idea for Primal Quest?

I was talking with friends about what a shame it was that there was no expedition-style adventure race that gave U.S. teams a fair chance to compete. Everybody had to travel abroad. So one of our missions was to allow racers to do what we felt would be a quality, affordable adventure race in the U.S.—instead of Fiji [where the Eco-Challenge is taking place this year]. The Eco-Challenge costs $14,500 U.S. just for the entry, plus another $5,000 for equipment, $5,000 in airfare, plus food. Before you know it, you're $25,000, $30,000 in debt.

Our entry fee was $4,000. We wanted homegrown teams to be able to do the race for a couple of grand a piece for a two-week, phenomenal vacation.

Continued on Next Page >>


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