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RACE ENTRANTS FACE ADVENTURE.

Byline: RONNI ROSS

Adventure racing has moved into the neighborhood.

For the first time, Eco-Challenge Lifestyles, the Los Angeles-based organization responsible for conducting 350-mile, multievent races in Utah, Maine and British Columbia during the past three years, is bringing the sport to Southern California. And a handful of local thrill seekers have accepted the challenge.

Next month, Eco-Challenge will host a 120-mile qualifying event in Point Mugu State Park.

With the start and finish of the race located at Sycamore Cove, 35 coed teams of four will run, mountain bike, climb, kayak and navigate their way through the Santa Monica Mountains and adjacent coastline.

The prize? Free entry for the top three teams into Eco-Challenge's next event - a 350-mile trek through Queensland, Australia, this August.

``The way I look at it, it's only 30 hours of grueling pain. I can certainly do that for a chance to go to Australia and a chance to do it again for nine days,'' said Mike Bryant of Granada Hills, who became interested in adventure racing after watching a broadcast of the Canadian Eco-Challenge. ``After watching it on TV, I thought, hey, that looks easy. I could do that. All the events are the same things I already do; they'll just be put together.''

At age 20, Bryant and his teammates - Ian Bagnall, 20, of Canoga Park; David Sanford, 22, of Woodland Hills, and Aimee Mann, 22, of Buffalo, N.Y. - comprise the youngest team participating in the April 12-13 race, a quality they believe will work to their advantage.

``We have more energy and are more used to pulling all-nighters studying,'' said Bryant, who attends and plays football for L.A. Valley College in Van Nuys. His teammates are also students and the local contingent all work together at a Woodland Hills coffee house.

They won't meet Mann - who they hooked up with by way of event organizers - until the day before the race. But Bryant said he has been communicating with her through the Internet and over the telephone.

``All of us have a sports background and are used to working with teams. Plus, all of us have a real good sense of humor,'' he said.

An appreciation of merriment will no doubt be beneficial on race day, because while shorter than typical, Eco-Challenges directors say it will be demanding.

``The mountain biking will be on both single- and double-track trails with steep climbs and intense descents'' said Diane Korman of Eco-Challenge. ``The kayaking will entail extreme paddling and stroke dynamics, and competitors will have to use the tide, the current and the wind as their friends. They will risk rolling (their kayaks) and wet exits.''

Korman said the race also will include fixed-rope climbs and descents, as well as a land navigation portion that will follow trails throughout the park. During the trekking leg, use of a map and compass will be essential to finding the way. To top it off, the course will remain a secret until the night before the race. Though competitors know the general area in which the race will take place, specific distances, locations and order of events will be a mystery until the prerace briefing.

The race is expected to run nonstop for 24 to 36 hours until the winners cross the finish line. Teams must stay together throughout the race and finish simultaneously in order to qualify for the event Down Under.

Though this scaled-down race is the first of its kind, Korman said it won't be the last. Due to the large number of teams that dropped out of the 1996 British Columbia race - just 14 of 70 teams finished - she said organizers decided a change in format was necessary.

``The dangers of the B.C. terrain took a toll on the competing field. We were lucky that the most serious injury was a broken ankle,'' she said.

``The statistics show that there are two different levels of adventure racers,'' she continued. ``There are several international teams and a handful of American competitors who have been doing these kinds of races since their inception in 1982, when New Zealand put on the coast-to-coast event - the grandfather of adventure racing. Then there is the second class, the new racers who have been triathletes and Ironmen and ultramarathon runners who are looking for the next level of competition but still have only been doing adventure races for two years.''

Previously, entry into an Eco-Challenge event was on a first-come, first-served basis but not any more. In order to provide a training ground for newer athletes and to select top competitors for the Australian championship race, organizers created the Eco-Challenge Adventure Racing Series, kicking it off in Southern California. They also inaugurated an adventure racing school, which is held several times a year in the same area where the qualifying event will take place.

As for Australia, organizers hand-picked 45 teams of the hundreds that applied and will accept just three more from the Point Mugu contest. Next year's plans call for at least four qualifiers nationwide and, eventually, all slots in the premier race will be filled through these events.

Are Bryant and his teammates worried about the demands that will be placed on them?

``We're not nervous, just excited. Pain is something to overcome. It's always good to push yourself,'' he said. ``We're just trying to practice each of the events on weekends. I think it will be a ton of fun. We want to go to Australia, without a doubt, and I think we have a very good chance. We'll give it our all and do our best.''

Last Lap: Other local participants in next month's Eco-Challenge series race: Larry O'Shea of Sherman Oaks, Marcelo Alvarez of Santa Monica and Brentwood's David Myles and Theresa Uhrig entered as Team Triathlete Zombies/Bristol Farms. And I will be competing on a team with my husband, Doug Wilde of Van Nuys, Bill Lovelace of West Hills and Duane McDowell of Canoga Park.

CAPTION(S):

Photo

Photo: (color) Adventurer Mike Bryant of Granada Hills practices free climbing at Stoney Point in Chatsworth.

Phil McCarten / Daily News
COPYRIGHT 1997 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 20, 1997
Words:1020
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