Saturday, September 17, 2005


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The World's Newest Hardest Race:The Elf Authentic Adventure

Just Before the Action

Friday, April 16, 1999Catarman, on the island of Samar, Philippines
There's still a day to go before the start of the Elf Authentic Adventure, but just getting to this dusty city on Samar's northern coast for Saturday's 12 PM start has been an endurance test. Fifteen to twenty hours of plane flights for most of the racers was followed by a harrowing 10-hour jeep ride along the 150-kilometer coastal road from the southern city of Tacloban. One jeep load of support staff took a wrong turn after leaving Tacloban at noon Thursday. Unaware that the main highway was washed out from a recent typhoon, they pulled into Catarman at 6 a.m. today. At an early morning briefing, race organizer Gerard Fusil made big scary promises. "We have put together the best course I have ever organized in my life. It will be very, very difficult."
The Elf course heads south, crossing the densely forested interior of Samar twice and taking racers along coastal routes on the western Samar Sea and the eastern Philippine sea. All told, the racers will kayak 225 kilometers, climb, hike and cave for 213 kilometers, canoe for 30 kilometers, rollerblade for 101 kilometers and sail 103 kilometers before reaching Tacloban. It's not even noon yet and temperatures are in the high 90's with 96% humidity. All the teams are spending the rest of the day poring over maps of the route, mindful of Fusil's ominous warning at the end of this morning's meeting: "Don't get lost. It will be very difficult for us to find you."

How Authentic?
by Gina Mission, Philippines

On April 17, 1999, the townspeople of Catarman woke up to a day that they would never forget. There, scattered on the seashore of Pambuhan Beach, decked out in exotic regalia, were 22 adventure racing teams from 14 countries around the world. They were surrounded by all the brouhaha of a major international sporting event: race marshals, event organizers, members of the press, sponsors' representatives and curious spectators. This was the start of the first-ever Elf Authentic Adventure race, the newest creation of Gerard Fusil, one of the founding fathers of the "sport" of adventure racing.

But the racers and their support network weren't the only ones there: adding to the general melee prior to the start was a group of Filipino demonstrators chanting slogans of protest and carrying signs that read: "Respect our rights! No to Elf!" and "Gerard Fusil: global capitalist pirate!"

The protesters in Samar weren't the only ones who raised their voices against the event; the Elf Authentic had been created from a situation of confusion and ill will, and right from the start had been greeted with considerable skepticism.

It was hardly an auspicious start to a race that organizers had declared would be different from other major international sporting events. Intended to bring racers closer to the local residents, it included community projects as part of the race format to leave behind something of lasting value for the common people. It seemed like Gerard Fusil's latest dream had gone badly wrong.

Fusil was undoubtedly smarting after being ousted from the original event that he had created, the highly successful Raid Gauloises. His reaction was to come up with a new event - but the international adventure racing circuit was already crowded. The cost and commitment of entering a big adventure race means most teams can do one event a year at most and over the years the Raid - and the original adventure race, the Southern Traverse - had been joined by the Eco Challenge, the Mild Seven Outdoor Quest, the Beast of the East and others. Fusil needed something original to draw attention, competitors and sponsors from these other events.

The Elf Authentic AdventureFusil himself has a certain mystique about him. His philosophical outlook and French flair combine to give him a character that works well as a marketing tool to promote his ideas. Capitalizing on his name, and partly on his split with the Raid, he introduced yet another concept, one that he promised to be definitive. One that would transform the sport from its present form.

In this new incarnation, athletes would more closely resemble explorers of old, by maintaining a level of self-sufficiency during the race and have a closer interaction with the land and its people. But they would go one step further than their predecessors - who often had a highly questionable impact on the land they passed through - the competitors would be required to give something tangible back to the people in the host country. Either a gift or some kind of social program.

This new concept was introduced to the extreme adventure racing world as the Elf Authentic Adventure.

While not directly critical of other races, Fusil said that generally, "athletes just go to a country to compete and nothing else. The participants just see stadiums, circuits and hotels. Competitors pass through an area with a hello to children and that's it." In an interview with Adventure Racing World before the 1999 event, he said: "The goal of this competition is to live incredible situations, and also meet people-from the same team, other teams and the host country."

The Elf, said Fusil, would be different. Elf participants would set up a project to give something back to the community - be it artistic, cultural, scientific, medical, environmental protection or awareness-before, during, and after the race.

In addition, organizers imposed total independence by leaving the teams to organize logistics to carry them through the race. For this, and other reasons, the race was expected to be more challenging than most adventure races, and a class system was devised to keep racers from dropping out. Teams were classified into three categories, Extreme class, Adventure class, and Discovery class, based on whether or not they made it out to Checkpoint 9 within 24 hours after the leading team had passed it.

But people outside the race were skeptical of the self-sufficiency aspect and the concept of the Elf being the "authentic" race. Critics wondered if Fusil was merely trying to re-package a standard adventure race to distinguish it from the others. Certainly, like all adventure races, the course of the Elf was kept secret - all that was announced was the country: the Philippines.

* * *Sometime in 1998, the residents of Catarman, northern Samar, noticed a group of foreigners and Filipinos arrive in their homeland. At the time, it didn't seem like anything for them to be alarmed about. But months later, Catarman folks started hearing some unpleasant things about the visit. The foreigners, they now heard, were searching for minerals while taking off with the indigenous flora and fauna.

That the foreigners remained stubbornly silent about the actual purpose of the visit didn't help. It was, of course, the Elf course planners charting the course, but if communication with the locals was one of the goals of the race, the event wasn't off to a good start. By the time everyone lined up in Samar on race day, protesters were there to greet them. And the critics were having a field day.

To his credit, Fusil remained undaunted by the criticism levelled against the Elf. He assured local protesters at the opening ceremony that the Elf would increase tourism activity in the region. The race, he said, would open the eyes of the world to the "magnificent secrets of Samar and Leyte." While undoubtedly an adventure haven, the beauty of the twin islands, located at the heart of the Philippines, was relatively unknown, even to some Filipinos.

Survival of the fittestAt last, around noontime on April 17, the gun sounded to signal the start of the race. To complete the 623-km course, racers would kayak, trek, spelunk, rent and sail outrigger canoes, hike, rollerblade and finally sail traditional vessels called Subirans, which the participants had to make themselves.

But Fusil's problems were far from over. On the eighth day, when the winning teams were expected to cross the finish line, Fusil found the members of the leading team, Spie, stuck in a muddy section of the course and unable to walk. Worse, they still had 250km left to race. They weren't the only ones, though. Other teams had been disqualified after having members drop out, had abandoned the race, or had been demoted to a lower category for not making it to the checkpoint at the designated time. What was worse, a jungle foot disease was slowly infecting most racers, disabling some.

Fusil was worried that few teams, if any, would finish the race by the awards ceremony day, April 29. Even the two leading teams were having great difficulty walking. So he made the critical decision to shorten the last jungle leg. The decision, however, sparked criticism from Sabah's Asia Ability team, which was in third place to that point. Putting their local knowledge to maximum advantage, they were going fast through the jungle and taking care to keep their feet clean and dry to avoid the disease that was affecting the other teams. They felt they could have easily passed the two leading teams on this vital leg. If the race was an "authentic" event, they questioned, shouldn't those ahead of them accept the price of trying to win at all costs?

Fusil disagreed with that.

"My goal has never been to exhaust the competitors. I see sometimes here and there competitions that I don't like at all, because it seems like the goal is to show on TV people with their faces totally destroyed, begging for some water-as though the goal is to avoid being killed. That is not my spirit at all. My spirit is that the competitors need a lot of qualities, to be very comfortable in nature, to be fit, to be very clever, and because they are like that, to discover new horizons, new worlds, new people," Fusil later explained.
After 10 days, 11 hours and 45 minutes of this discovery, Team Spie completed the race, winning the first Elf Authentic Adventure. Team Pharmanex came second.

The jury deliberatesWith the race finished, unofficial post mortems began throughout the world of adventure racing. Some Elf watchers were not impressed. Clive Saffery, a Taiwan-based endurance athlete, who is an ardent follower and supporter of adventure racing, was among the critics.

"The Elf race is an interesting new development but the event last year in the Philippines proved too long and had to be shortened. Because of this I think many people have questions about the organization and indeed if the whole concept (of being so self sufficient) is just too difficult. It will be tough to retain sponsors' and racers' interest if only one or two teams are capable of finishing the race," he commented. "Then, too, there's the issue that if Elf was the 'authentic,' tough race that it claimed to be, then trimming the course certainly contradicts it," he added.

But there were plenty of competitors ready to give the event the thumbs up. "All of the major adventure races are a feat to simply complete," Cathy Sassin of the champion team Spie said. "Just navigating your way through remote and wild countries that have extremely diverse and complicated terrain, dealing with constantly and unpredictably changing elements and environments, over a week, with extreme fatigue, is a lifetime experience in itself," she added.

By having three categories, Sassin enthused, every team can have the same exciting experience, feel the same competitive spirit and do the best they can with and against a group of their peers, regardless of the level of experience they have. "I think this is a wonderful and necessary trend in the sport," she said.
But when it comes to separating the hype from real substance, perhaps the most telling area was the community projects. There was considerable skepticism about this element, especially after the demonstrations and protests that preceded the start. It's still difficult to determine whether or not they achieved their goal. To begin with, the projects were as varied as the teams themselves.

Philippine team Sanofi, for instance, tried to raise environmental awareness among locals residing around the Leyte Gulf, through its Scubasurero project, a clean up and education drive on the dangers of marine pollution. "[The local people] were so surprised to see tons of garbage they had collected on their shorelines in such a short time. I think, that really opened their eyes," said team leader Jerome Luego.

Another Philippines team, Ayala Mountaineers, held a medical mission and treated about a hundred children. That eventually led to a deworming campaign and then to the installment of a pump well in the village. Elf Aquitaine-UK's team distributed 20,000 books for schools in Samar and Leyte. Quebec Adventure Team's Clowns Sans Frontieres' (Clowns Without Borders) performance "gave children back their smile and laughter." Team Pharmanex, which worked with the Mabuhay Deseret Foundation, screened children with cleft palates for reconstructive surgeries.

Not everybody, however, lauded some teams' cultural exchange projects. Team Spie, for instance, was criticized for giving only basketballs, and Asia Ability, for distributing soccer balls.

"We gave out 20 soccer balls to villages along the course as we only had three weeks to prepare for the race and almost no money for the trip. We played soccer with the kids in the villages and Gerard [Fusil] even played with us," said one team member.

"In the end, it's not just what is given, but its long-term impact, as well as the sincerity of the racers that counts the most," said Antonio Cinco, a school teacher at the Angelicum School in Tacloban City, a recipient of a theater-inspired teaching technique project introduced by the team from Portugal. MiscommunicationIt wasn't all smooth sailing for these projects, and there was one big glitch: Cinco said that many of the initial reactions against the exchange projects were due to gaps in communication. "Teams went to a community for the exchange projects with the locals hardly knowing anything what was going on," he said.

The same thing happened during the pre-race reconnaissance. "The French organizers wanted to keep their activity a secret. While that may be the way in France, as Fusil insisted, it's definitely not the way here," he said. Local customs call for a stranger to make his or her purpose known to at least the local officials. This is especially necessary in Samar and Leyte, which have a long history of rebellion and affiliation with the rebel group New People's Army.

But this cultural misunderstanding was overcome as soon as the locals knew the real purpose of the Elf race. "What happened in the jungles was a complete reversal of the initial attitudes of the locals with the racers," said Ayala Mountaineer's Torralba. "As soon as they knew we were just racing, the attitude changed."

Even Francis Fincalero, a medical doctor and municipal councilor of Catarman, Samar, who showed up at the opening ceremony of the race to protest, admitted that the Elf did no damage to the community. According to him, this is why the protests ultimately died out.

The final verdict"Racers see the Elf as an emerging race, tougher than any other but without the cachet of the Raid or Eco. That's probably a few years down the road," said Martin Dugard, a veteran adventure race journalist. But Elf watchers are optimistic. After all, the Raid's first event attracted only French nationals, compared to Elf's 22 teams from 14 countries. The sharp increase in interest of adventure races may have influenced this number. It's still too soon to tell, but it looks as though the Elf is trying hard to be authentic, as well as being unusual. This year's race in Brazil will be watched keenly to see if the race fulfills Fusil's dream.


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Press Release April 18--Blanca Aurora, Philippines
Torrential downpours, knee deep bog, rivers blocked by fallen bamboo, and extremely difficult navigation characterized day two of The Elf Authentic Adventure. The multi-day, mixed team expedition adventure race is underway, as teams made their transitions last night from kayaking to trekking and caving, heading into an unforgiving jungle where challenging navigation is beginning to slow teams.
At press time, eight teams had made it through check point (CP) four, all within 4 _ hours of the others: 1. Team Oil Deutschland-Eurosport (Germany) 2. Team Asia Ability Renoma-Malasia 3. Team Spie(International) 4. Team Pharmanex (USA) 5. Team Vital-Fuji Film (France) 6. Team -Chaussland-(France) 7. Team CD Way (France) 8. Team Gym Salomon (France). The remaining 14 international teams plod on, all having made it through the third check point. Gerard Fusil, race director, says that the course is taking longer than he had thought.
Team Spie, anchored by United States adventure racing sensation Cathy Sassin, has recovered from an early mishap. Miscommunication between the race team and their three-member support crew left them without their mandatory caving gear. They then waited for hours at the end of kayak leg, squandering a strong paddle that had them tied for first with Spain's Red Bull. While Spie's support crew hired a pump boat to shuttle the gear, the Portuguese team I.S. Team from Lisbon (themselves without maps, and fatigued) gave Spie their gear, allowing the formidable international squad to continue. Traveling together, Spie and Pharmanex are only two hours behind the lead teams.
At last report, Team Spie was traveling together with Team Pharmanex, a U.S. based team comprised of Ike Wilson, Ian Adamson, Paul Romero and Karen Lundgren. Wilson and Adamson, very experienced adventure racers, have teamed with Romero and Lundgren, two members of last October's 8th Place Eco-Challenge team. Pharmanex is confident and moving well.
Travel in the jungle is excruciatingly slow, cumbersome, and treacherous. Summer downpours, fueled by La Nina, make virtual mud slides of trails and paths leading to and from villages, and the jungle itself is so dense, and in places so steep and slick, that nearly all teams reported traveling primarily in the river beds. Here, teams wade waist deep though boggy-bottomed rivers, with confusing side tributaries testing even the most seasoned navigators in the world. Siphons exist, strong streams that tunnel underground, so racers must take great care to avoid being sucked down„the Elf Expedition Book warns them to stay on the river banks in these places.
At CP 4, in the barangay (village) of Tarabocan del Rosario, four teams arrived within a single hour. With local residents, subsistence farmers who grow rice, corn, and cassava root, looking on in wonder, teams sheltered under the central, open-air shed-roof, cooking hot soup, coffee, and wringing out socks. At the same time, two young men took turns pounding a giant bamboo pestle into a huge stone mortar, reducing rice kernels to flour for bread.
Early in the race, already racers are showing signs of wear and minor injuries. Franck Viandier of Team Chaussland (France) displayed a deep wound on one hand, having impaled his palm on the sharp end of a cut bamboo shaft. He received treatment at CP 3.
As darkness falls here in Blanca Aurora, the going will only get tougher. Teams will continue on under headlamp, struggling through the jungle toward their next assistance point at CP 10. Buddy Levy

April 20-Samar and Biliran, Philippines
The Elf Authentic Adventure, Gerard Fusil’s expedition adventure and cultural exchange, continues on the islands of Samar, Leyte, and Biliran in the Visayas, Philippines. Using traditional methods of travel, including dug out canoes and local trimarans called “subirans” mixed teams representing 14 nations are enjoying their tour across these gorgeous, mysterious islands rife with caves, canyons, and mountains over 3000 feet.
Team Spie (International) continues to lead the race through check point (CP) 13b, having arrived at the island of Biliran at about 3:30 local time. Spie includes America’s Cathy Sassin and twenty year veteran, New Zealand’s John Howard. Just behind them is Team Pharmanex, a U.S. team which includes Ike Wilson and Ian Adamson, two very experienced racers and navigators.
Vexed by early navigational difficulties, many teams are reporting easier travel now by following the barefoot prints of the local villagers that lead from one “barangay” (village) to the next. One of Gerard Fusil’s goals was to offer adventurers a sample of the terrain and modes of travel that the inhabitants of the Philippines use, and racers report that Fusil has succeeded. Both British teams (15 and 16—Elf Exploration UK) described wonderful experiences in the villages, being taken in by local families, fed rice and fish and given warm water for soup, and much memorable interaction with the local population.
Subsistence farming is the way of life in the villages the course passes through. The houses are open air shacks on stilts, and every “barangay” has a town center, a roof-covered gathering place where villagers prepare foods, pound rice and corn to make flour. The Philippine people have been described as extremely generous and friendly, and teams toward the back of the pack are enjoying a leisurely visit through this magnificent host nation.
One surprise team is that of Team Asia Ability-Renoma, from Malaysia. Working on a very limited budget and with poor equipment and provisions, they are moving amazingly well through the jungle. They should progress well across Biliran, powered by husband wife members Gianas and Kona Salagan. Gianas is the Malaysian Mountain Bike Champion and the World Mountain Running Champion. However, assistance crew member Tas Lawrie suspects that the technical sports (roller blading, sailing) will slow them down. They are inexperienced in these sports. Teams in the middle of the pack were treated to caving today, passing through cool caverns with one-hundred foot ceilings dripping with stalactites. The caves contain river rapids and big lakes that competitors swim and walk through, culminating in leaps from four waterfalls of about twenty feet high. Through CP 9, after the caves and falls, five teams pursued the leaders. They include Team 99-Vital Fuji Films (France), captained by Eric Loizeau; Team 66-Chaussland (France), a team comprised of some of France’s best sailors, including Paul Vatine; Team 9-Gym Salomon (France), a versatile and varied team captained by Olivier Touzay; Team 4-Red Bull Rockport (Spain), a tenacious group of former Raiverd winners; and Team 44-CD Way (France), captained by the talented doctor Maryse Dupre.
Teams at the back of the pack have some pressure to make it to CP 7 by midnight. Those who don’t will become part of the “Discovery” class, and their course shortened for safety. Fusil also wishes to avoid teams being spread out over too many days. The next class up is the “Adventure Class.” Teams must be within 24 hours of the lead team at CP 13 to maintain “Extreme” status. Those who don’t proceed as the “Adventure” class.
At CP 6, teams destined for the “Discovery” class looked tired by happy, thoroughly enjoying the experience. Team 16-Elf Exploration (UK), thanked Gerard Fusil for his inspirational words. Yesterday they were extremely tired and discouraged, having been lost for some time. Fusil encouraged them to continue moving forward, slowly, and that there was no hurry. They vowed to make it to the end.
Barbara Mantelli, a student from Team 11 Renoma Team Kong (Italy) was smiling and laughing, chasing after local children and playing with them as her team refueled their water containers. Nursing a sore shoulder from the first kayak leg, Barbara looked resolute. “I am only the fourth woman to compete in an expedition adventure race, and all the others made it; I do not want to be the first to fail.”
Meanwhile, Team Spie and Pharmanex battle at the front in an extremely close race. They are currently trekking across the island of Biliran, where the must summit a mountain over 3000 feet. Their trek will take them from the north end of the island clear to its bottom at Cabucgayan, where they must enter sea kayaks again and paddle back to Samar. There, they will begin another trekking and caving section, followed by a sixty mile roller blade leg and ending with a sailing journey from Samar to Leyte in the traditional sailboat, the subiran. Buddy Levy.

April 21 Headquarters Three Canticum, Central Samar, Philippines
The Elf Authentic Adventure, Gerard Fusil’s multi-day, mixed team expedition race, continues to be hotly contested at the front of the pack, while other teams make their way in the less extreme “Discovery” and “Adventure” classes. The Elf Authentic Adventure, an expedition adventure race and cultural exchange, employs self-propelled local means of travel as part of the required disciplines. In addition to trekking, sea kayaking, caving, and roller blading, teams will enjoy paddling dug-out canoes called “bancas” and sailing the traditional trimarans called “subirans.”
Currently two teams have broken from the pack and are vying for the lead. Team Pharmanex of the United States and Team Spie (International), which includes America’s Cathy Sassin, are virtually tied for the top position. Both teams will camp tonight at check point (CP) 15 on Guintarcan island. They have been going night and day (with some dark zones—nights when travel is forbidden for safety) since 12pm April 17. The race is expected to be close to the end.
Sponsored by Elf Aquitaine, one of the world’s largest oil companies, Gerard Fusil Company’s Elf Authentic Adventure has gathered an experienced international logistics staff to organize the many Headquarters and logistics points to accommodate the roving media, medical personnel, and race volunteers. Matti Notlind, one of the logistics coordinators, has been in the Philippines since April 9th, organizing Headquarters 3, 4, and 5 and providing all the food for the 104 staff members.
Notlind said “It’s been a lot of work, but fun work. I had help by hiring 4 local carpenters who assisted building Headquarters 3 and 5, and we had to bring bamboo poles for the press and Headquarters tents all the way from Tacloban.” The press and headquarters structures are framed with sturdy bamboo poles, bamboo slats for beams, and woven palm leaves for walls. Canvas tarps stretched over the tops shelter the 40 international journalists who have come to the Philippines to cover this unique event. To ensure the safety of the competitors and staff, Elf Authentic Adventure also boasts an experienced medical personnel. Aubry Olivier (France), head of the Assistance Militaire de Sports (AMS), has come with a team of six doctors to assist him. He pointed out that as working physicians in France, they are happy to attend Fusil’s event for the “leisure and the challenge.” All members are trained in emergency medicine and mountain rescue.
Fortunately, the medical team has been relatively idle so far. Aubry expects that because of the heat, dehydration will become significant as the 7-14 day race continues. He and his staff are ready, employing roving ground doctors who are transported by helicopters, and others who move by car to the lead checkpoints and headquarters. The Elf Authentic Adventure differs from other races of its kind with the importance of the each team’s assistance crews. Teams are composed of seven members, four who contest all the disciplines, and three who are responsible for being at designated assistance areas at the proper times. At assistance points the crews cook, provide dry clothing and proper gear for the next discipline, and attend to the needs of athletes. They must also set up tents and make comfortable sleeping arrangements for the fatigued competitors.
Fusil has made the logistics of support an “authentic adventure” for the support teams. During the first kayak leg, support crews had to hire local “pump boats” to retrieve the team kayaks, because a road wash-out had made them impassable for the Jeepneys. Long drives on muddy roads are daily occurences, with teams describing hours stuck in the mud, and ten-plus hour Jeepney excursions over to Biliran and back.
Loic de Kerdour, an assistance crew for Team Chaussland (France), commented. “We feel very much a part of our team, a part of this race. We’ve had some difficulties, adventures to deal with. We changed a Jeepney clutch in the night, digging a hole out in the mud to make room to work. We were stuck in the mud for four hours. Once, we lost our keys.” Still, Team Chaussland remains in 7th place of the 22 teams from 14 nations who began the race, and they are the last remaining team in the Extreme Class.
Teams maintaining extreme class are: Team Spie (International); Team Pharmanex (USA) Team Asia Ability-Renoma (Malaysia); Team Elf Oil Deutschland Eurosport (Germany); Team Vital Fuji Films (France); Team Red Bull Rockport (Spain); and Team Chaussland (France).
Lead teams are expected to arrive here in Canticum tomorrow at about midday. They will beach their sea kayaks for the last time, then begin a multi-sports section, including jungle trekking, caving, and paddling the local bancas. Buddy Levy.

April 26. Sulangan, Eastern Samar, Philippines
In a courageous and strategic move today, Team Spie (International) broke into the lead of the Elf Authentic Adventure, arriving at CP 26, the subiran launch point, as the only team allowed to depart today from these shores to begin the final leg. 2:30 pm was the departure cut-off, and Spie made it in by approximately 1:30 pm, ate quickly, then launched their two subirans (local trimarans) before a throng of cheering local villagers, sailing slowly into Leyte Gulf in very light wind.
The Elf Authentic Adventure, Gerard Fusil’s bold new mixed-team, multi-sports expedition event and cultural exchange, has reached day ten, making it one of the longest adventure races in the world. By mid-week, most of the remaining 12 complete and half-dozen incomplete teams will sail into the finish line at Leyte Park Hotel. Those who make it will have trekked jungle, mangrove swamp, virgin rainforest; they will have spent days in two separate cave systems, have paddled local dug-out canoes and sailed the traditional subirans. All participants will have experienced some level of what Fusil envisioned when he created the event: competition, discovery, expedition, and exchange.
Team Pharmanex (USA) has fought gamely to remain within striking distance of Spie, but today’s tactical and gritty burst may have shut the door on them slightly. All teams arriving after 2:30 today must await a 5:30 am departure tomorrow, giving Spie a three hour lead over Pharmanex, which arrived at 3:15, and Team Vital Fuji Films, which is expected to arrive sometime this evening. They will be tied with Pharmex tomorrow at day break, and Fuji films possesses the amazing Eric Loizeau, a world multi-hull champion and sailor with 39 trans-ocean crossings.
Fusil answered some questions concerning his decision to alter the course just above check point (CP) 23. On Saturday night, lead teams Pharmanex and Spie, huddled together in the river bed, chose to fire their emergency flares to alert race director Fusil of a serious health situation. Nearly all members of the two leading teams were suffering extreme foot infections, making it nearly impossible for them to progress. As it turned out, Fusil reports that perhaps 90% of the entire field was suffering the same symptoms. Fusil convened with his 3-person jury to make a decision: they chose to provide banca assistance beginning the next morning from San Isidro, above CP 23, shortening the course by eliminating another 5-9 hour jungle walk in wet, muddy conditions, the same conditions which were exacerbating their foot problems.
In a press briefing this afternoon, Fusil reiterated that his decision to alter the course by providing the bancas above CP 23 at San Isidro was foremost a safety issue. Said Fusil: “I did not want to have people walking into this remote place, in the night, with such bad feet. Then, if they had really needed rescue, we would not have been able to land helicopters there. The decision we made was ultimately fair for everyone, because competitors were given the option to use the bancas or not—it was not compulsory. However, none has chosen to walk rather than ride in the bancas. Because of the conditions and the foot problems, teams welcomed the banca ride.”
Elf Authentic Adventure support teams, the 3-person logistical assistance for the racers, have really earned their keep on this last, the subiran leg. Arriving at Sulangan, assistance teams had to assemble the subirans, which were bundled as hulls, mast, and all the rigging, including sails teams brought, made to strict specifications. Spie assistant Rebecca Rusch said it was a tough challenge, but her experience with an outrigger canoe club helped her. Scout, but with he added pressure of her team’s imminent arrival. At press time, Spie had only made it about 5 nautical miles because of the light winds, and had to bivouac at the 5:30 imposed dark zone.
One logistics team suffered a catastrophe today. When Eurosport Global Adventure arrived to CP 24 at Suribao, member Franz Joachim, team captain, was suffering badly in his feet and could not walk. As assistant Dirk Jaschke carried him on his shoulders from the banca, he tripped when dodging a local child and broke his ankle. He was taken to the hospital in Tacloban. Team member Anke Molenthin, who just recently completed the Marathon des Sables, is moving better after sore legs and infected feet had slowed her. They are currently in 6th place in the Adventure class.
Pharmanex (USA) rolled into CP 26 looking hammered, and very glad to see the oasis. Said Ian Adamson: “Every race has a death march—the road that just goes on and on and on … today was this race’s death march.” Adamson also added that in all his year’s of adventure racing, his feet have never felt such sustained pain. “It was virtually unbearable,” he said. “The shooting pain was so severe that the feet would not bear weight.”
Buddy Levy.

April 16 Northern Samar, Philippines “In the spirit of expedition, competition, discovery, and adventure.”
The Elf Authentic Adventure—a 350plus mile expedition adventure race and cultural exchange, is poised to begin Saturday at high noon under skies that promise to blister the 7 member teams into submission. Created by Gerard Fusil, the father of modern adventure racing, the Elf Authentic Adventure features 22 teams representing 14 nations ll gathered with common goals—to traverse the magnificent and varied landscape of the islands of Samar and Leyte in the spirit of competition, encounter, discovery, and exchange.
An international corps of 40 journalists, 7 television cameras, 4 helicopters will document this amazing, unique expedition adventure race. Race teams will sea kayak freshwater rivers and te warm waters of the pacific ocean: they will trek through dense jungles, across rice fields and under coconut palms; they will swim and jump from waterfalls; they will spelunk and navigate deep, circuitous underground caverns; using bamboo poles, they will row locally-made dugout canoes up river; they will roller blade over 100 kilometers on remote roads; and finally, they will sail the traditional subiran (a trimaran) to the finish line, over 350 miles from where they began.
The course itself has been described variously as “magnificent, fascinating, challenging, and ingenious.” Gerard Fusil offered, to resounding applause, “I believe, and I hope you will agree, that this is absolutely the best course I have every created,” Then he added, “the course will be an experience, an encounter. Sure, it is about sport, and very difficult sport indeed. They (the athletes) must have endurance, they must have courage, but they will also discover the country.”
Ian Adamson, an experienced racer of the U.S. based Pharmanex Epinephrine, claimed, “I agree with Gerard—this is going to be very exciting, very challenging and interesting. No section is more than 40kilometers long—so it will not be monotonous.” Adamson grinned, “there will be lots of alternating of disciplines, much varied terrain. This will be without question the best course Gerard Fusil has ever devised.” Logistics promise to play a major role in this race, with a premium put on the adaptive abilities and skillfulness of the teams’ support crews. Ike Wilson, also of Pharmanex Epinephrine, said “the support will have to be very quick, and the transports difficult, to remote places on sketch roads. It’s a two part team, with the assistance crews equally important as we are.” One Philippine team, Mosart Elf Lubricants made up of a safety/search and rescue crew, was very pleased to have a home-court advantage. Said Emar Reyna, a safety officer, “We live in the Philippines, and the jungle is our office.” He’s in for some long days at the office.

The Elf Authentic AdventureApril 17-29 1999Samar, Biliran, Leyte, Philippines“Entering A Green Inferno”By Buddy LevyGerard Fusil wipes sweat from his face with a bandana, then pulls his trademark broad-billed hat down tight on his brow. He exhales hard, sighing in the dense, sauna-like air. It is the eve of his bold new adventure racing creation, The Elf Authentic Adventure, a multi-day expedition race and cultural exchange sponsored by Elf Aquitaine, of the world’s largest oil companies. The race will begin tomorrow, as seven member mixed- gender teams (four racers, three logistical support) take off at high noon from Pambuhan on the northern coast of Samar, one of the islands in the Visayas region of the Philippines. From there, teams must make their way over and across Samar, the island of Biliran, and finally landing in Leyte some 600 km away, having trekked through jungle rainforest, and mangrove, sea kayaked, swam rivers, and poled the local dug-out canoes called “bancas”. Navigating by day and night, using maps, compass, and even GPS units, teams will spend time in massive caves, will roller blade the entire east coast of Samar along the Philippine Sea (a 100 km leg), and will conclude the race by sailing in the traditional trimarans called “subirans,” across the Leyte Gulf into San Pedro Bay and the finish line at Tacloban on the island of Leyte.Fusil, a pioneer in adventure sports and the father of the modern adventure race (he created the famed Raid Gauloises in 1989, which ultimately inspired the Eco-Challenge) looks fatigued by not beaten. The pressures of putting on a race of this magnitude, coupled with the oppressive heat, and the heat the event has been getting from local non-government organizations (NGO’s) about trespassing the rain forests of Northern Samar, would wear down a lesser man, but the unflappable Fusil takes it all as part of the cost of having vision. Now he stands on a flat-bed truck with a megaphone, explaining to the local population of Catarman the details, and the truth, about his race. A few opposition groups, most notably The Northern Samar Anti Elf Alliance, have been staging marches and distributing what amounts to propaganda, claiming that the race is actually a front for petroleum exploration. Some of the literature has caused race teams and organizers alarm, the letterhead displaying a military machine gun. Speaking in English, Fusil explains the concept of his race, his background putting on such events in such far-flung places as Borneo, South Africa, and Argentina, and how he and his crew, as well as the race teams, are here in the spirit of expedition, competition, discovery, and exchange—four credos of his new concept.Gerard Fusil has the endorsement of the Philippine government in Manilla, and especially, the race is being sanctioned by the Philippine Department of Tourism. By race start Fusil will have managed to assuage the people of Northern Samar enough to commence without incident.The concept of The Elf Authentic Adventure differs in three significant ways from other adventure races: first, seven member teams (at least two of whom must be woman) are obliged to produce a cultural exchange project within thirty days of the race conclusion (see sidebar); second, in the Elf Authentic Adventure the teams’ logistical support crew of three members is a crucial aspect of the race. Fusil believes that too many of the other races (like the Raid, and Eco) have become the domain of elite athletes, and he wishes the expedition aspect of the experience to be highlighted. Therefore, he has designed a course here in the Philippines that requires transport by local Jeepneys, the hiring of pump boats and bancas to move sea kayaking equipment, and long, tactical legs in which support crews must drive as many as 10 hours in order to arrive at designated assistance points ahead of their teams. Says Fusil “sure, teams must be strong, and good athletes—they must have courage; but they must also be clever and well-organized.”Last, the race is divided into divisions or categories, including Extreme, Discovery, and Adventure. Because Fusil wishes to provide an adventure experience for as many teams as possible, and not just the elite racers, all teams begin in the “Adventure” classification. Then as the race progresses to certain checkpoints, teams will be funneled into their respective categories. All teams arriving at CP 13 after noon on April 21 will follow the Adventure route, a shortened course. Later teams will follow the Discovery route, shorter still. Fusil’s philosophy is simple—keep as many teams in the race as possible, reduce the numbers of disqualification’s, and also maintain a safer race by having teams bunched together tighter—not spread out over too many days, too many miles. The system has been welcomed, in theory, by racers and support teams, because after months and months of training, they won’t be pulled from the course or DQ’d by a whole slew of rules and cutoffs—they’ll simply be shepherded into one of the shortened course and allowed to continue.A number of interesting teams have assembled at the University of the Eastern Philippines for the opening ceremonies and mandatory gear and skills certification. Prohibitive pre-race favorites are Team Spie, an international squad of very experienced racers, including America’s Cathy Sassin and the legendary John Howard of New Zealand, winner of practically every adventure race on the globe. Joining them are two of Sassin’s teammates from Spie, which took 2nd at the 1998 Raid Gauloises in Ecuador. They are Matteo Pellin of Italy, and Jeff Robin of France.A team with high hopes is Team Pharmanex of the United States. Ike Wilson, who navigated his team Stray Dogs to a 10th place finish at the Morocco Eco-Challenge, has teamed with the extremely experienced Ian Adamson, a master navigator in his own right and current World Record Holder of the 24 hour kayak. These two hooked up with Paul Romero and Karen Lundgren of Team Epinephrine, a team which took 8th place at the Morocco Eco-Challenge.Also expected to contend is Team Red Bull (Spain), who raced as Team Cepos at the Morocco Eco-Challenge, and lead almost the entire way, until they were finally passed by Vail and Australia on the bike leg. Joining in are a number of interesting French teams, as well as teams from Portugal, Italy, and Germany.At the pre-race briefing and unveiling of the route, Fusil says of his course: “I think, and I hope that you will agree, that this is the best course I have ever designed.” Ian Adamson, who has raced Fusil’s courses since 1984, is quick to agree. “This course is masterful, because there are no legs so long as to create monotony—always the racers will be shifting disciplines—it will never get boring.”Tired of seeing race courses that sped through the landscapes of the host countries, Fusil also created, with the help of Eric Cassaigne, a course that meanders through local villages (called “barangays”), allowing racers, support crews, staff, and journalists to really experience the Philippine people, culture, and landscape. “I think these kinds of experiences should be much more than races—they should allow people to discover one another.”Leg One—Sea Kayaks/Trekking/ Caving —Pambujan to Aurora Blanca (Assistance Point Two)The raced commenced April 17 at high noon from the beach at Pambuhan on the Philippine Sea. Without warning a parachutist leaped from a helicopter whirring above, circled briefly, then landed in a skid on the beach, brandishing an Elf Authentic Adventure flag. He planted the flag firmly into the sand next to Philippine flag, a gun went off, and the Elf Authentic Adventure was on. Racers and their support crews scrambled across the tidal flats carrying the sea kayaks. Some fell, scraping themselves on the coral.They made their way to the Catubig River, then headed upstream, passing busy villages with hundreds of children clambering to watch. Quickly into the lead were Team Spie, Elf Oil Eurosport, Team Pharmanex, and Team Red Bull. Lead teams suffered logistical setbacks from the outset: Spie forgot their caving gear, and had to await assistance by pump boat; Pharmanex support crew forgot maps and GPS, but decided to strike out into the jungle anyway, which Daniel Du Lac of Team Vital Fuji Films described as “entering a green inferno.”In the first jungle trekking section teams were confused and disoriented, amazed by the difficulty of the navigation—especially at night. Torrential rains created many larger creeks and tributaries, vexing even the world’s best navigators. Some of the perceptive racers quickly figured out two tricks: asking local villagers for directions, and more important—following the bare foot prints of the villagers, who know their way from one barangay to the next. Racers also figured out that staying in the streams was much more efficient than trying to bushwack. Arriving pocked and scratched, but in the lead at Aurora Blanca, America’s Cathy Sassin of Team Spie described the jungle: “It’s really tough terrain—super slippery, biting ants and mosquitoes, thick, dense foliage.”Team Pharmanex arrived just a couple hours behind, and the race immediately began to take shape: Spie and Pharmanex pushing at the front of the pack, followed by a scrappy group of Malaysians (Team Asia Ability Renoma) with few technical skills, but clear jungle travel and navigation superiority. Said Ike Wilson of Pharmanex: “If this race was only in the jungle, they’d win for sure.” Close to the Malaysian group was an international contingent of two Germans, an Aussie, and a Finnish man—Team Elf Oil Eurosport. They are all strong paddlers, but their woman, Andrea Spitzer, has been ill from the start. This section of the race was highlighted by leaps from 30 foot waterfalls at the conclusion of the first caves, the Sulpan.Leg Two—kayaks/trekking/kayaks. Aurora Blanca to Biliran Island to Canticum (Assistance Point Three)Weather and logistical support difficulties defined this section of the race, with the feared heat giving way to La Nina’s freshwater tears—a flood of downpours that rendered jeepneys axle deep in the mud, making the difficult job for support crews even harder. They had to meet their teams across the southern Samar Sea on the island of Biliran, then drive all the way back to Canticum on Samar.Spie completed the jungle trek on Biliran in about 18 hours, was the first team in to Canticum, looking strong and determined. A quick transition and power feed and they were off trekking again, heading for the testy caving section. They looked happy to leave this CP 16, which rains had turned into a virtual mud swamp.Pharmanex, still in hot pursuit, arrived just a few hours back, focused on trying to pare Spie’s lead. Elf Oil Eurosport trailed Pharmanex by six hours. At this point, anything can still happen, with caving, a severe rainforest trek, bancas, roller blades, and subiran sailing still ahead. Now day five, the race is progressing a full 24-36 hours slower than Gerard Fusil was expecting. He attributes this to the night navigation. One team, Aventure Sante from France, was so lost it took them 32 hours to move from CP 16 to the entrance of the Lagun-Gobingag caves. The cave system has huge galleries with ceilings so high head amps don’t reach them, then long shafts that split into different directions. Inside are fixed ropes sections for teams to jumar and rappel.Leg Three—trekking/bancas—Canticum to SuribaoThe defining moment in the race came on Saturday evening, April 24, at approximately 5:30 pm. Teams Spie and Pharmanex huddled together in a creek bed between CP 22-23, a difficult trekking section through virgin rainforest, trying desperately to flag down Gerard Fusil’s helicopter as he whirled above, surveying his domain. After hours of deliberation between the them, together they made the difficult decision to risk firing flares, which brought with it the uncertainty of possible penalty or disqualification. By chance, Fusil’s pilot saw the flare, made an expedient jungle landing, and assessed the situation: both teams were suffering such badly infected and inflamed feet that they were unable to walk. Ian Adamson later described it as “the worst sustained pain I have ever experienced in my life.”Fusil’s decision had to come while his chopper idled nearby. If 8 of the world’s toughest competitors, and the race leaders, were all rendered lame from jungle foot rot (later explained as too many hours in water, small rocks rubbing epidermis off, and bacterial fungus pervading the feet), what would happen to the entire race behind them?Fusil posed an option to Spie and Pharmanex, then ran it past his three person jury: they would wait there, then take the dug-out bancas in the morning, shortening their jungle trek by 5-10 hours. Later, Fusil clarified that the decision was primarily for safety reasons—with 90% of the field suffering the foot malaise, he simply did not want to have to make difficult emergency helicopter rescues, some which would be impossible by night.Sunday morning, Pharmanex, Spie, and the French team Vital Fuji Films all arrived at CP 24 by banca, paddling the narrow dug-out canoes with one local guide in each boat. Collectively, they were one hammered group. Kiwi god John Howard used an assistance team member as a crutch, limping gingerly to the med tent, his feet a bludgeoned, pulpy mess. Inside, the med tent became a MASH unit, teams taking turns splaying out, their feet treated with betadine and wrapped in gauze. The Spie Euro-boys, Jeff Robin and Matteo Pellin, took time to shave.Leg Four—Roller blading--Suribao to SulanganIt was impressive, and a little agonizing, to watch teams stuffing their swollen feet into roller blade boots. Ian Adamson’s feet were so bad that he had to perform minor plastic surgery on his brand new Outback X, Roller Blades. The three lead teams began the 101km roller blading section within a few minutes of each other, but Spie put the hammer down, making 30kms in the first hour and a half, then bivvying at the dark zone. The next morning Spie broke loose, scorching the course as the sun scorched them, double-poling the paved stretch and separating themselves from Pharmanex and Vital Fuji Films. Spie walked the last 20km or so, the dirt and potholed section, arriving at the subirans at about 1:30 pm. Their support crew, Sandy Sandblom, Rebecca Rusch, and Camie Levy, was ready, having put together the subiran and done all the rigging, a big job. The boats themselves had to be assembled—they came as a dug-out canoe for the central hull, two outriggers made of twenty foot bamboo poles, and two bamboo poles for mast and boom.Pushing out into the dead-calm seas and air of Leyte Gulf, Spie virtually shut the door on Pharmanex and the French Vital Fuji Films by being the only team to make it onto the water before the dark zone.Pharmanex suffered during the roller blading section. About ten kilometers from Sulangan, still wearing skates, Ian and Ike looked ancient and weather beaten, picking their way with poles like old men. Hobbling into the camp at Sulangan, Ian Adamson said. “That was a death march. Every race has one—the section that just never ends, and for us that was today.” As their assistance crew attended to their destroyed feet, Pharmanex seemed slightly despondent. They looked out to the sea, knowing that Spie was out there, sailing toward the finish while they sat idle.Final Leg—Subiran--Sulangan to Leyte Park Hotel,Originally called the “sailing” leg of the race, the subiran section was ultimately a paddle for the lead teams because of slack air. On late Tuesday afternoon Spie got a burst of air, but ironically they could only enjoy it for about twenty minutes before they had to lay down for the dark zone. Still, the wind was equally poor, or even worse, for the trailing teams, and the lead Spie had earned with a that brave skate had proved the difference. As sun broke Wednesday morning April 28th , the 10th day of the race, it was clear to everyone—barring mechanical failure or some bizarre act of god, Spie would win. At just before 10am a small crowd began to gather at the little restaurant on the pier, just below the Leyte Park Hotel. Then two sails appeared in the distance behind the landing strip of the Tacloban airport, white mirages shimmering in the heat. Finally, paddling they came (Matteo Pellin later reported that they had paddled 90 of the 101kms) Cathy Sassin and John Howard in one boat, the two thoroughbred Euro-boys Matteo Pellin and Jeff Robin in the other. Fusil waded out to meet them in the water, handing Cathy Sassin an enormous bouquet of flowers. Matteo popped the champagne handed to him by his support crew, and everyone beamed. Walking up onto the beach accompanied by the marching music of the Philippine National Police Band, Howard’s feet were still a much photographed and discussed topic of conversation. Said Howard, “this race was incredibly difficult, with the toughest navigation of any race I’ve done.” He rested his decaying right foot up on the press table for all to see. The Euro-boys planned lunch—mounds of pasta and grilled fish. Cathy Sassin held court fielding questions, her arms darkened by days outside, scarred from the jungle, her eyes fierce but relieved, too.“Every race changes my life,” she said. “Normally I try to apply things from my daily life to the race, but this time I think I figured something out—to apply what I learn about myself during such an amazing experience as and expedition adventure race to my daily life. If I could do that, anything is possible.”John Howard is slated to race with some Kiwi friends at this year’s Argentina Eco-Challenge, and claims that after that, he’ll hang up the race togs and just stick to recreational leisure adventure. Already legendary, Howard leaves a legacy for younger racers to shoot for.As for Gerard Fusil and his new, longest race in the world, time will tell. He promised cultural exchange, discovery, competition, and expedition—and everyone, from staff, to press, to support crews, to racers, got large doses of all categories. Fusil’s bold vision was realized—at least in part, by everyone who experienced this ineffable time, the Elf Authentic Adventure.