The setting was Cedar Hill State Park in Dallas. The mercury was approaching triple digits, and a chain of sweaty humans seemed to be trying, with little success, to scale a 12-foot-high incline coated with vegetable shortening. No, this wasn't a scene from a Bill Murray movie, but rather the Slippery Mountain, one of 10 "special tests" that the 320 three-person teams competing in the Hi-Tec Adventure Race had to pass between stages that required mountain biking 10 miles, trail running five miles and kayaking two.
Begun in 1996 by former triathlete Michael Epstein, the Adventure Racing Series emphasizes teamwork. Contestants win by working together, which might mean linking up with bungee cords to keep pace during the run. "It's different from triathlons, because you're not suffering by yourself," says Bob Schulz, 38, of Team Balance Bar, this season's top-ranked coed squad going into the last race of the eight-race series, on Oct. 22 in New York City, "and the last thing you want to do is let your buddies down."
Derived from Navy SEAL training, Army manuals and the twisted wiring of Epstein's brain, the tests vary from race to race and can include Blindfolded Trolley's (walking on railroad ties with the eyes of two teammates covered), the Mud Pit (on your stomach, please) or the Inner Tube Exchange (from the front to rear tire of your bike). The tests can take a couple of minutes or, as one team found during orienteering in last year's New York City race, a couple of hours. Fortunately for that trio, former Playmates known as the Playboy Xtreme Team, series spokesman Adam Fell says, "People were always coming up to me asking, 'Where are the bunnies?' " Eventually they hopped past the finish line.