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Run through the jungle: a lesbian couple hikes, bikes, and rafts as half of an all-gay team for the Eco-Challenge Fiji adventure race. (television).

Pamela Fletcher and Susan Murphy don't take their vacations like most other couples do. When they leave their home in Southern California, it is likely that they will soon be climbing icy mountains in Colorado or slogging through the mud of a South Pacific jungle.

Fletcher, who works for a licensing company, and Murphy, a consultant, aren't like most people. Seasoned athletes with a love for the outdoors, they've long been addicted to adventure. Earlier in their 21-year relationship they fulfilled that desire with outrigger-canoe racing, skydiving, and a cross-country bike tour. But none of that compares to the rush they get from expedition racing, in which teams of four compete against time and each other, traversing 300-plus-mile courses through the world's most challenging terrains.

In October, Fletcher and Murphy got their first shot at what they call "the ultimate race": Eco-Challenge, a hard-core test of endurance and teamwork dreamed up by producer Mark Burnett, best known as the brains behind TV's Survivor. "Even though there are other expedition-length races, this is the Olympics of adventure racing," says Fletcher. "From the beginning Susan and I both wanted to do Eco."

Their chance came a year ago, when they got a call from East Coast racer Rodger McFarlane. A veteran of Eco-Challenge Morocco in 1998, McFarlane was looking for a few good lesbians. "Eco-Challenge called and asked me if I was interested in racing again, and if I was, could I pull together an all-gay team?" he says. As captain, McFarlane had already recruited fellow New Yorker Ilana Lobet, who raced alongside him in Morocco; Fletcher and Murphy completed the team. Together, the quartet of queer middle-aged professionals headed for Fiji with corporate sponsorship as Team Eco-Subaru.

To successfully cross the finish line in expedition racing, the entire team must complete every leg of the journey together. During the first day, Team Eco-Subaru successfully completed jungle trekking and canyoneering, then constructed a bilibili, or bamboo raft, and navigated a 25-mile river. But hopes of finishing the race evaporated the second morning, when multiple fractures forced McFarlane to withdraw. As a result, the team won't be seen when Eco-Challenge Fiji is televised May 5-8 on USA Network, since the show focuses on the professional teams battling for first place and the teams with celebrities, like former Survivor contestants.

"I snapped like a twig," says McFarlane. "Ilana, Pamela, and Susan were fierce to the bloody end."

Undeterred by the loss of their only male teammate, the three women continued as an unranked team. Over the next five days, they navigated their way through deep interior jungles, hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, and wading across more than 100 rivers.

Expedition athletes typically keep moving night and day, but the three women allowed themselves longer rest periods to enjoy the hospitality of the Fijians who spoke English. "We spent parts of several nights sleeping in villagers' homes," Murphy says. "We slept too much for being in an expedition race; we probably got about three hours of sleep just about every night, which is quite a lot."

They kept going through the seventh day, when they and about 20 other teams reached an impassable waterfall; continual rain had swollen the rivers and falls to dangerous levels. They were all helicoptered out and spent their last few days near the finish line, cheering on the teams who made it to the end.

"We were really happy to make it seven days," Murphy says. "We felt really good about how far we got, even though we were unranked." They'd do it again "in a New York minute," she adds without hesitation.

Fletcher, 47, and Murphy, 44--both Virgos, they note with a laugh, with a knack for organization that helps in racing--find their closeness makes them a better team. "There are couples who don't race well together," Murphy notes. "But we have a great time together. We watch out for each other; we read each other's minds. It's amazing."

Behrens also writes for the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Free Press.
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Article Details
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Author:Behrens, Web
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:8FIJI
Date:May 13, 2003
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