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ADVENTURERS SET TO BEGIN RACE

Early Tuesday, participants ranging in age from 17 to 72, from policemen to homemakers to a transient/mountain biker, will be introduced to Utah in a most labor-intensive way. They'll run, walk, paddle, pedal, climb, ride and raft through some of the state's most arid, most rugged country.

At 6:30 a.m., 250 people will begin the 300-mile Eco-Challenge '95.The start, kept secret until late Sunday when competitors were first told, is near Huntington. The finish, also kept secret, will be at Bullfrog Marina.

Fifty teams of five members each will race. Team members must start together and finish together. The winning team is expected to take eight days to com-plete the course. All must finish in 111/2 days or accept help. None wants help, but race founder Mark Burnett believes a lot will need it.

"This is a difficult course. Southern Utah is incredibly beautiful but harsh. This is going to be a very long and difficult challenge. We may finish with only 50 competitors. At this point, I just don't know," he said Sunday during a press conference at the Cliff Lodge at Snowbird.

The course is almost as difficult as the one Burnett had to take to get to the starting line. From the day the event was announced, Burnett has faced opposition from a group that argued the race would damage the environment.

The group attempted to get the BLM to revoke the permit. When that failed, the environmentalists sought the help of sponsors. In a meeting Sunday, organized by one of the sponsors, the group asked that the course be altered.

"Three months ago, yes, we would have listened. Three months ago we tried to get them involved. They refused to even talk with us. Now, when everything else has failed, they want to talk. They want us to change the course the day before the race. We can't do that without an Environmental Impact Study. They know that," he said.

The first challenge facing competitors involves horses. From a mass start, each team will saddle three horses, then set out on a 26-mile leg. Three team members can ride, two must run. Those running cannot load their packs on the horse, but must carry them.

From horses, they will move out on foot for a 25-mile canyoneering leg and a 70-mile desert hike. This is expected to take from two to three days. They will hike to the San Rafael River, which will then lead them into what is considered some of the best canyoneering country in the United States.

The next leg is 40 miles of mountain biking and mountaineering, finishing at Mineral Bottom on the Green River. The next leg involves river rafting on the Green and onto the Colorado where they will run Cataract Canyon. Professional river guides will accompany each team through this section.

This will be one of the "dark zones," or areas closed to night racing. In these zones, competitors must stop for the night.

After the rapids, they will pull off the river for more mountaineering and canyoneering. Part of this will involve climbing up from the river, 1,250 feet, to the plateau and into White Canyon. From there they will travel about 15 miles, down through what is called the "Black Hole," and to the upper reaches of Lake Powell.

The final leg of the journey will be canoeing 50 miles to Bullfrog.

Teams will have access at various points to a two-person support team. Each person must also follow a rigid set of rules along the course. These include staying on trails and adhering to strict low-impact rules; carrying out all waste, including solid human waste; and keeping campsites 300 feet from isolated water sources.

This is not, as Burnett points out, "A spectator event. In fact, we discourage spectators. There's really nothing to see." The event will be filmed in its entirety and shown later.

"I think you're going to see this become a very popular sport like triathlons were 10 years ago. We had overwhelming interest. We turned away a lot of people. In the future I believe there will be 10 of these adventure races a year.

"This is more than a race. It's a team event where people will need to make decisions all along the way . . . And they'll encounter all conditions - freezing nights, hot days, a lack of water. It's not going to be easy."

Going into the race, competitors are only sure of the first leg. The rest of the course remains a mystery. They'll be told what's next at specified check points.

"We've done our homework on this race. It's going to set a precedent for other races in the future. Other race organizers will find that if we can do it, they'll be able to do it as well," Burnett said.