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ORANGE COUNTY ON THE GO

Island FEVER

Adventure: Huntington Beach couple prepares for trek across Borneo in August.

May 25, 2000|DIANE PUCIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The temperature was climbing past 100 degrees at the Castaic Lake Recreation area. The sun was relentless and the breeze was absent. Josh and Veronica Williams, Huntington Beach husband and wife, and their teammate John Simko, had been running, kayaking, biking, hoisting, climbing, crawling, for more than three hours when they came to the boulders. Big boulders.

The three might have been mad enough to spit when they saw the boulders, but it is hard to spit when your sweat is gathering in your shoes. "I hated to see those boulders," Josh Williams would say later. "Those boulders were ridiculous," Veronica Williams agreed.

But the boulders needed to be pushed in a circle and back to their start positions before they could run up to a big wall where loudmouthed Marines yelled and screamed while the trio huffed, puffed and climbed over.

Finally, they ran to the finish line. The trio--they call themselves Team www.ecoteam2000.com--crossed together, holding hands, raising their arms high. They had just finished 16th in the coed division of the Hi-Tec Adventure Race, an improvement of 15 spots from a year ago and in a time of 3 hours 8 minutes, which was 32 minutes faster than a year ago.

They had hoped to finish in the top 10, but the husband and wife had done most of their rowing in graceful ocean kayaks in the Pacific off Huntington Beach, and not in an awkward rubber raft on a lake.

"We pretty much stunk in the kayak," Josh Williams said. "But Veronica kicked some butt on the bike this year."

Josh and Veronica Williams are adventure racers. Nearly 1,000 adventure racers competed Sunday for nothing more then satisfaction. Veronica, 28, and Josh, 27, used the race for more than a chance to get wet, sweaty, muddy and exhausted. They used the Hi-Tec competition as preparation for something much more formidable, the 2000 Eco-Challenge.

The Eco-Challenge is the ultimate adventure race, a week-long, $10-million transversal of wild Borneo. The competitors are made up of four-person teams, which must have at least one person of the opposite sex and who must pay a $12,500 entry fee and their own expenses, which are estimated to be $30,000. Teams must row canoes in the South Pacific, run through stifling rain forests, rappel waterfalls, scuba dive among coral reefs and many other tricks that competitors won't even know about until they arrive in Borneo.

Adventure racing was introduced to the world in 1989 by a Frenchman named Gerard Fusil. Fusil's creation was the Raid Gauloises. Fusil's adventures have been held in rugged places such as Madagascar and Patagonia.

A Santa Monica-based promoter named Mark Burnett created the Eco-Challenge in 1995 as a counterpart to the Raid Gauloises. Burnett has been criticized for making the Eco-Challenge "too Hollywood and too unreal," Josh Williams said, "but for adventure racers, it's still the best thing going."

In fact, the August Borneo event will be made into a television production by USA Network for airing sometime next year. Last year's Eco-Challenge, from Patagonia, is shown periodically on the Discovery Channel.

In the last five years, the number of adventure racers in the U.S. has gone from fewer than 10 to over 10,000. The Hi-Tec Racing Series also will have stops in Miami, Atlanta, Dallas, Sacramento, Hartford, Pittsburgh and New York between now and Oct. 22.

The Castaic competition included separate trail runs of 5.4 and 2.6 miles; a kayak portion across Lake Castaic; a 10-mile mountain bike and 13 "special tests."

The "special tests" are all surprises until the morning of the race, and included a belly crawl through a tunnel; swimming out into the lake to retrieve paddles; raising one member of the team up to a 10-foot beam by means of a pulley; rolling the atlas stones; climbing the wall at the end.

Thirty minutes after they had finished the race, the Williamses and Simko talked of the thrill of the competition. They all talked at once, gesturing and jumping up to demonstrate how they rolled the rock or climbed the wall. They were still full of energy. "Hard to believe, huh," Josh Williams said. "But this isn't such a tough one."

The couple met when they were working in a San Diego restaurant. Both had been runners in high school and college and both had competed in triathlons. They began training together, began tiring of triathlons together, became intrigued by adventure racing together. They've been married two years. He works in finance in Los Angeles and she is a computer programmer in Irvine.

They train together in the morning and at night and separately at lunchtime. They race together always.

"Sometimes we will yell at each other during races," Josh Williams said, "but I think it's good. We can say anything to each other during the race and it's not personal."

Borneo will be the first Eco-Challenge for the couple. They will be teaming with two adventure racers from Boise, Idaho, who have more experience in things like climbing sheer rock walls, an area the Williamses still need work on.

While there is not much money to be made in adventure racing, some teams are sponsored, getting their equipment for free, getting their entry fees and transportation paid for. The couple has no sponsor yet. They'd like one. They've created their own Web site to help.

The couple plans to spend a month in Borneo, arriving a week or so early to scout out the terrain, the forest, the water, the rocks and waterfalls. And they're going to stay afterward to do a little surfing.

No, the running, swimming, rowing, diving, climbing, and biking 18 hours a day for seven days, that won't be enough. There must be surfing too.

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