By Jorge Elage | Translation: Gisele Sweeney
Starting my adventure of going back to Brazil few months after my arrival in California to live, train, compete, and build the first phase of the Peregrino Project – a trip around the world looking for the most diverse experiences of the adventurous sports – I’ve departed from the train station of Solana Beach, north of San Diego, full of bags, equipment and a box of bicycle. The sponsorship of a Brazilian Airline take me to the journalistic cover of the Ecomotion Pro event as an athlete-reporter. My job was to broadcast the challenges and feelings faced during the longest adventurous race carried through the country, which is part of the worldwide circuit.
The adventurous races had been idealized by the Frenchman Gerard Fusil, who in 1989 launched the Raid Galouaises. But Mark Burnett was the one who made them a true worldwide phenomenon, considered the most contemporary sports of the present time. He has created Eco-Challenge, which had been disputed during 9 years till 2002 and broadcasted as reality show by Discovery Channel and USA Networks.
The multi-sporting modality, known world-wide as “Adventure Racing”, can be described in few words as a triathlon team of 4 participants in the backwoods, where the participants run, peddle, row, do vertical techniques (climbing through ropes and rappel) and especially use compass navigation to run a track marked by check points, determined by the organization of the event, through trails that go from 50 to 600 kilometers, non stop. The winner team is the first one to cross the line without assistance of forbidden equipment like GPS and other means of transportation!
In 2009 the Ecomotion Pro happened on the mountains of the South Region of Brazil during the first week of October and had the participation of 52 teams from 10 countries. For the first time, that region organized the biggest event of the year, representing not only the chance of exploring a new “playground”, but especially the experience of new thermal feelings and different levels on the tracks. It was a test, a next level of training for the Brazilian teams aiming the highest levels of performance in the worldwide scenery.
The competitive advantage of the tropical forests and the heat of the Northeast region were minimized, balancing even more the competition with the foreign teams. But the language barrier, the human heat and the rooting groups for the national teams stayed on our side, as Rafael Campos, captain of the Quasar Lontra team and champion of the 2004 edition, stated during his briefing on the race.
We started from Towers Beach, “postal card” of the State of Rio Grande do Sul. The organizers had set up 52 trails so that one athlete per team could do a rappel of 30 meters and meet the rest of the group at the sand for a race on the dunes, carrying all the equipment of the next modality – the canoeing. Later on, we peddled and rode up to the “Aparados da Serra” through a mixture of tracks that happened to be the first puzzle of the competition. In the following morning, we walked through the “Campos Gerais” to be awarded by the beauty of the local nature, where we visited the Fortaleza Canyons, Malacara and Itaimbezinho.
During the following days, we kept winning the 444 kilometers of challenge, followed by a heavy rain that insisted on falling incessantly from the second day of the race till its end. The cold weather and the conditions of the muddy roads were excellent tests to the competitors and some teams had to give up.
Through the race, the efficiency in managing extreme physical effort and the lack of sleep determined the rhythm of the teams and the general ranking. At dawn, the navigation challenges increased potentially, hiding important geographic points of reference for an accurate localization.
We have counted on support teams for this race. They had moved our equipment – food, vests, paddles, bicycles, and had given us assistance on sites determined by the organization team called Transition Areas (ATS) – points where we could recharge our batteries and get supplies of food and water – some times we could sleep.
One of the strategies imposed by the organization of this event was a mandatory break of 4 hours that should be used on 3 sites through the tracks. The top teams used only those hours to sleep during the whole competition. Other teams had to stop longer, some times in the transition areas, other times when they had problems and waited for the first signs of sunlight that could help them to solve the problems occurred during nocturnal navigation!
In 68 hours, without knowing how difficult the track with ups and downs would be, the Spanish team Buff/Nike ACG arrived in Gramado and got $35,000.00 as the winner of the event.
The second place was determined 15 kilometers from the arrival, when one of the participants of the Cross Sportswear team (Sweden) passed out and had to be taken to the hospital. He felt the symptoms of the exhaustion after his team had recovered during the race, coming from the 20th place 5 hours behind the leaders. The Swedish, after being observed for some hours, was released without major problems. The declassification of the team, however, guaranteed the second place and the prize of $10,000.00 to the Merrel/Wigwam Adventure team (New Zealand). The American athlete from San Diego – Robin Benincassa – was a member of the team.
Brazil got the third place and $5,000.00 with the OsKalunga Brazil Telecom team from Brasilia, and that during the race was extremely competitive to the first ranks. They were followed by the Clight Salomon Atenah team from São Paulo, 4th place and $3,000.00, and the only one with two men and two women.
Out of all participant teams, 29 finished the competition and other 6 finished the race with shortcuts to shorten the race time and facilitate the logistic of the event. After 136 hours of race and a lot of persistence, the Ratos de Trilha team closed the door and finished the event with glamour.
The great majority of the participants of this modality of sports, who get into the backwoods and expose themselves to the conditions of nature, don’t do that for money. The races offer the chance to overcome limits, besides improving the teamwork. They get lessons for diverse learning experiences and promote the self-knowledge offered through the experience of great challenges. My team, Espirito Livre, finished the race in 12th place – the 5th best amongst the Brazilians, and this pilgrim who writes you is back to California looking for new challenges.
* The American Team Sole, from Big Bear Lake (CA), organizes a clinic every two months for beginners that covers physical preparation techniques and training of new athletes. It’s also a good chance to meet partners and teams for new adventures.
** Jorge Elage is a journalist, sportsman and adventurous traveler.