Eco-Challenge was one of the two major adventure race series staged in the 1990s (with the Raid Gauloises). The inaugural Eco-Challenge took place in Utah in 1995 and this was followed by events in Maine (part of the ESPN Extreme Games 1995), in British Columbia in Canada in 1996, Australia in 1997, Morocco 1998, Patagonia in Argentina in 1999 and then finally in Borneo (in 2000). Eco-Challenge was for mixed teams of initially five, then four people and races lasted non-stop between six and eight days. Sports varied according to the countries in which races were staged and as well as the regular hiking, mountain biking, paddling and rope-work they included camel-riding, scuba diving and paddling local canoes . Read more about Eco-Challenge below or for stories about the individual events, check the photo links.
Eco-Challenge 1998 took place in southern Morocco. The race began with camel-riding in Essaouira on the Atlantic coast and the 300 plus mile course proceeded inland on foot and on horseback before a final 180km mountain bike ride to the crenelated walls of Marrakesh. Read more...
A cyclist grinds out a remorseless ascent into the Lilloet mountains in British Columbia on Eco-Challenge 1996. The team has just finished the canoeing leg so he is obliged to carry his paddles in his rucksack. Read more about Eco-Challenge 1996 in British Columbia...
More about Eco-Challenge
And Eco-Challenge became interesting, as it does for the longer adventure races today, after two or three days, once the initial energy and enthusiasm was passed. Successful teams moved into a routine in which they managed themselves in every aspect, keeping at the job and not wasting time. They kept themselves hydrated, kept up the food intake (carbohydrates of course, but also salty foods, which taste better after this time) and helped one another - if the navigator was particularly stretched on one section then he or she would be allowed to take it easy on the next leg. Sleep deprivation became an issue too. Competitors have fallen asleep on their feet and on bicycles and fallen out of canoes (though you wake up again pretty quickly) and effectiveness eventually goes down., so this had to be managed as well. Additionall, it was vital to be well trained across all the sports. Consider that if you are five percent less efficient (at paddling, for instance) than another team, then you will fall behind a kilometre every 20, or be forced to exhaust yourselves keeping up with them.
And finally, life’s random events came to test you. A difficult horse, or an unlucky breakage on a bike. The team had to cope, work out what to do, and quickly, living on their wits. And that’s the secret of adventure racing in many ways, when all the ease and cushioning of life’s systems are withdrawn. The best teams are able to live on their wits, to be flexible and adaptable, make the right decisions in a state of exhaustion, and whatever was thrown at them they were still determined to make it through.
It was quite an event while it lasted, but as with all adventure races they were expensive to stage. It looked as though there was a future when Discovery Channel backed the event, but turning a race such as Eco-Challenge into mainstream television proved too hard.
Read an article about Eco-Challenge published in the Financial Times' the business magazine, asking if Eco-Challenge was the toughest race in the world. It certainly leads to some of the oddest experiences you can imagine. Read an excerpt from an article in High Life by A Life of Adventure's James Henderson.