SWEAT pours down their faces. The blisters on their feet worsen with every step. They haven’t slept more than a few hours in three days. They’ve hiked, biked and kayaked hundreds of kilometers, but still have more than 100 to go. All they have is a map and three other people who won’t let them out of their sight and who are really starting to wear on their nerves. They’re enjoying every second of it.
Welcome to the Coast to Coast Challenge, put on annually by Coast to Coast Adventures. Now in its fourth year, the challenge pits teams of four competitors against each other in an all-out test of mind and body as they race from Limón on the Caribbean coast to Dominical on the Pacific.
Organizers wouldn’t give the exact details of the race, but the 400-km course includes sea kayaking, whitewater kayaking, mountain biking, trekking, rappelling and orienteering.
“It’s much more mental than physical,” says race director Mike Lapcevic. “For the competitors, it’s about seeing how far they can go.”
For those unfamiliar with adventure racing, the sport emerged from New Zealand in the early 1980s. After a slow start, it began to gain popularity during the following decade. In 1991, Costa Rica hosted its first race, 10 days from the east to west coast, not related to Coast to Coast Adventures.
FOR several years, Coast to Coast Adventures had been putting together adventure tours, including a two-week trip where participants journeyed cross country without any motorized vehicles. In 2001, they decided to hold a formal competition.
Every year since, the tour has evolved, growing in distance as well as in the number of days for competition. Each time, race organizers learn new ways to improve safety, preparation, the course route and volunteer coordination.
“We’re learning every year, which is good,” says Lapcevic. “That way, when it’s an international event with 30 or 40 teams, we’ll be prepared to deal with it.”
Competitors are given a map and a direction and set out into the Costa Rica wilderness, where they will encounter sleep deprivation, blisters, sun and occasional disputes amongst themselves. Team members must remain within 100 meters of each other at all times and can receive no outside assistance.
First prize is cash and qualification, along with paid entrance fee, to an adventure race in Brazil, altogether worth ¢1 million ($2,370.)
“I think adventure racing is for people who have done hiking, rafting and mountain biking, but want something more,” says race coordinator Carol Ann Riley.
THIS week, eight teams of competitors from the Americas and Europe will take part in the five-day race.
The field is smaller than in past years, something Lapcevic attributes to the fact that several other adventure races are taking place at the same time; some Costa Rican teams from past years are competing in those races instead.
Each team has four members, at least one of whom must be of the opposite sex. Competitors have ranged in age from 18 to 55, with the majority of racers in their 30s and 40s. Racers train for months to be in top physical condition for the challenge.
In the past, Costa Rican teams have dominated the competition, winning every year. Last year, out of 13 teams, seven (all from Costa Rica) finished, with the winners finishing the course in three and a half days. This year four teams that completed the race last year are returning.
Eric Cano is on one of those teams – Team Dole. An adventure guide in Costa Rica, Cano trains everyday through his job. Being employed in the adventure tourism sector is common among racers, Lapcevic says, as they are already participating in outdoor activities.
“The truth is, I’ve always liked adventure,” Cano says, when asked why he competes. “I enjoy mountain biking, rock climbing, kayaking, hiking – this gives me a chance to do it all instead of just one sport.”
ACCORDING to Lapcevic, racers tend to fall into two categories: serious competitors, such as Antonio De La Rosa, a member of the elite international team sponsored by Red Bull energy drink, and participants who are there to push themselves, such as those on Team Fred, who are credited for introducing more than 60 people to the sport. In each race Team Fred has one member who has never raced before, promoting the idea that “anyone can do this.”
“It’s really important to see everyone finish,” says Riley. “That’s what we want to see – not people getting disqualified or dropping out.”
This year’s race runs March 8–11. For more info on Coast to Coast Adventures, see www.ctocadventures.com or call 280-8054. For info on the Coast to Coast Challenge, see adventureracingcostarica.com.