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Faux explorers have made their way to Colorado

Rhonda Claridge

At a potluck dinner, I listened to my friends complain about an “adventure race” that was slated to take place on the public lands around us — the San Juan Mountains of Southwest Colorado. Seventy co-ed teams of four would compete against each other, running, mountain biking, rappelling and kayaking non-stop for up to 10 days on a 300-mile course somewhere in these mountains.

Teams have paid thousands to enter the “Primal Quest” race, which offered a $250,000 prize, making it “the richest expedition race in history.”

Indeed, the purse was so big that competitors would be drug-tested.

The event comes with “commensurate media coverage,” meaning that besides the 280 competitors and their support crews – some driving Subarus from the sponsor – we can count on a barrage of cameramen, assistants, reporters and others hovering overhead by helicopter or four-wheeling after the racers.

So that no team had an advantage, the course wouldn’t be disclosed until 24 hours before the race. From what little information was offered, we gleaned that some of the race would be off-trail and through high-altitude national forest. Another friend protested that racers and their retinues would trample the sensitive, high-basin tundras and that it isn’t likely they would take the time to pick up their power-gel wrappers or dig an eight-inch hole to bury their bodily wastes.

“They call it an “eco-challenge,’ but there’s nothing “eco’ about it,” she said. “I call it an ego-challenge.”

“Primal Quest” offers a flash trailer on its Web site, a simulated race set to hip, digital music that begins with the questions, “Who can survive? Who will conquer?” If you click onto Subaru’s corporate profile, under “Commitment to the Outdoors,” you’ll find that “Subaru is the official vehicle of the outdoors” and that “The beauty of all-wheel drive” complements active lifestyles.

What really had people riled is that the Forest Service only recently placed a brief notice in newspapers about the event, allowing the public 12 days in which to comment. From California, Dan Barger, CEO of Primal Quest LLC, told our local press that this year’s race is already organized, a done deal. So much for public involvement and an environmental assessment.

Television time and advertising are really what these events are about, and the race’s local host, The Telluride Foundation, boasts about this fact. The Outdoor Life Network planned to broadcast four hours of programming on the adventure race, along with other mountain sports events scheduled to take place simultaneously, to over 45 million homes, according to the foundation’s press release.

We worry that another aim is selling real estate. The Telluride Foundation is not based in the town of Telluride. It’s in Mountain Village, a pro-development, resort-lodging and second- or even third-home town located above Telluride.

Native Americans ritually tested the endurance of their people. In Ute tradition, when a woman gave birth, the father would run up and down hills alone for days, proving his strength to provide for the newborn. The Northern Utes once trekked to the Telluride valley each summer to hunt. Then white settlers had the government remove them to the Fort Duchesne reservation in Utah.

A few years ago, some Telluride residents initiated an annual food drive for the Northern Utes, and to show their gratitude, two dozen Indians came to Telluride and performed their spring dances.

One elder said it was hard to come to this place, once the home of her ancestors, but whose present name she could not pronounce and from which her people’s ties had been severed. When she blessed the valley, her native tongue, sounding as soft as a trickling creek, was suddenly drowned out by the running engine of a Federal Express truck parked nearby.

In typical American style, race organizers tell us that adventure racing traces its roots to early explorers such as Cortez, a man famous for his perseverance and notorious for his contempt for the people and the land he encountered. We can only hope that these new explorers will be more considerate of the natives.


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