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Reversal of FORTUNE
Chris Ballard
August 05, 2002
The inaugural Primal Quest adventure race featured the usual blackouts and sleep deprivation, but for its competitors, long accustomed to suffering unrewarded, there was this blessed balm: serious cash
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August 05, 2002

Reversal Of Fortune

The inaugural Primal Quest adventure race featured the usual blackouts and sleep deprivation, but for its competitors, long accustomed to suffering unrewarded, there was this blessed balm: serious cash

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Another issue is spectators. While adventure racing is exceedingly dramatic on television—full of rugged terrain and quick cutaways—in person it is like watching a three-day Easter egg hunt. At the Primal Quest, media and supporters loaded into cars and floored it from one checkpoint to the next, arriving in time to see four brain-stoned racers run in, sign a logbook and then sprint off. At the transition areas, where teams change gear, it wasn't much better. Racers sat in chairs, stuffing cheese sandwiches in their mouths while support-team members, usually friends and family, attended to them like a pit crew at a NASCAR race, changing their socks and slathering sunblock on their faces in great white swaths. Not exactly scintillating stuff.

That is a concern for down the road, though. For now the sport is still feeding off its newfound economic viability, further boosted when Ford signed on to become the title sponsor at the Gorge Games in Oregon in mid-July. For the first time there is a feel of professionalism, and about a half-dozen teams are racing full time. But as Montrail's Rusch, who lives out of her 1975 Ford Bronco when not training, says, "We're not exactly living large. When we win, it's, 'Oh, now we can pay off our credit-card bills.' "

If there was a test of the sport's nascent corporate culture, it came on Day 4 in Telluride, when team Subaru and team Schick Extreme Ill/Salomon came into the final leg vying for seventh place and the $8,500 prize. As the afternoon sun illuminated the last downhill in giant streaks of orange, race p.r. director Gordon Wright grabbed the microphone and urged the 200-odd fans to prepare for a photo finish, a rarity in the sport. "Let's see if one team tries to make a break for it!" he shouted. Then, sensing another possibility, Wright, ever the good flack, altered his spin. "Or maybe," he continued, "in the great tradition of adventure racing they're going to cross the line together."

Dirty, dizzy and dehydrated from some 100 hours in the backcountry, the eight racers approached the finish and hesitated for a moment. Then, like a football team spreading into kickoff formation, they fanned out and crossed over as one, arm in arm.

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