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Front Page » July 4, 2006 » Local News » Primal Quest: Arduous endurance race in county
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Primal Quest: Arduous endurance race in county

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This rider begins the first leg of the 400 mile race on horseback.

The rugged terrain of Emery County has been chosen again as a prime spot for an endurance race. The race began on Sunday, June 25 just east of the Cleveland/Lloyd dinosaur quarry. The competitors began the race with one horse for each team of four. They could take turns riding the horse or just leading it, but the horse would accompany the team on their first leg of the journey.

The Primal Quest is a true test of human endurance, it features co-ed teams of four, racing 24 hours-a-day, for up to 10 days, across a grueling 400 plus mile course requiring trekking, orienteering, mountaineering, horseback riding, canyoneering, mountain biking, whitewater swimming, flat-water and white-water paddling. All members of a team must finish together in order to officially complete the race, and the winning team will take home the lucrative first prize of over $100,000. Additional cash prizes will be awarded for all teams finishing in the top 10 for a total cash purse of $250,000. Any team with a member who is unable to finish for any reason is disqualified. The exact details of the Primal Quest remained secret until the pre-race briefing held the day before the start of the race.

This is the fourth iteration of the Primal Quest, and in that time it has grown to be the sport's most prestigious property. The world's top teams confirm their participation in Primal Quest, and the highly competitive field was expanded from 60 to 89 teams to accommodate the great demand, consisting of every elite team on earth, including Nike/Balance Bar, Merrill/Wigwam, Spyder, Halti and Elix/Mont-Blanc. Twenty international teams will be competing, including athletes from Australia, Spain, Guatemala, JaJapan, Ireland, Denmark, South Africa, Sweden, United Kingdom, Mexico, Canada, Brazil and France.

Responding to feedback regarding the amount of infrastructure used in the race, this year's race will take place in some of the most remote locations in the western United States. Although the field of teams has been expanded, this year's race will be completely supported, reducing the impact of individual team support groups. Always committed to the community and environment, the race will again partner with Leave No Trace and contribute to local organizations and causes.

In addition to providing world-class athletes with an overwhelming challenge, the Primal Quest will also provide the spectators an unprecedented way to watch the race. Web visitors will be able to interactively witness the race in real time with live GPS tracking of each team and video feeds from points around the course, at the race's award-winning web site,

The Emery County Sheriff's Office has been along for the arduous journey as they helped at the river crossing and were there for the rope event at Three Canyon just seven miles down from Ruby Ranch.

After days of struggling to survive triple-digit temperatures and hundreds of miles of the most unimaginably harsh terrain in Northern America, the world's top endurance athletes have passed the halfway mark of Primal Quest Utah. Not all of the competitors in Primal Quest are elite athletes, though, so while the race leaders have now traversed more than 300 miles of the roughly 450-mile course, the teams at the back of the pack are just past the 150-mile mark and face days of toil.

Three-time defending champions Team Nike/PowerBlast held the lead for much of the first day, with Team Spyder in dogged pursuit. But as the days stretched into nights, followed by more days, the lead group was dominated by one team: Merrill/Wigwam Adventure. Team captain Robyn Benincasa has never won Primal Quest - the only laurel missing from her nearly-unmatched race resume. In fact, she withdrew from Primal Quest Telluride due to a pre-race injury and withdrew from Primal Quest Tahoe when one of her teammates fell ill. In 2004, at Primal Quest San Juan Islands, her team was unable to match the pure speed of other teams in a race truncated by the tragic death of Nigel Aylott.

But this course suits Benincasa and her teammates Jeff Mitchell, Ian Edmond and Neil Jones. She likes being surrounded by well-seasoned Kiwis. They thrive on a race of epic proportions. They excel in applying strategic decisions to the critical elements of the race: how much water to carry; when to sleep; what to eat and how to travel. The accumulation of decades of experience has brought Merrill to the front of the pack - by a margin of one hour and 19 minutes. That passes for a big lead in what has been the most competitive Primal Quest to date. In their 300 miles of travel, the teams have completed a 29-mile horseback ride; a 23-mile desert trek; a 65-mile mountain bike; an 8-mile river swim; a 35-mile kayak leg; a 26-mile canyoneering leg; a 45-mile kayak leg and a 29-mile canyoneering leg. These pale statistics give lie to the difficulty inherent in finishing Primal Quest. The competitors have traversed burning sand, launched off precipitous rappels, fallen asleep while paddling and survived on paltry stores of food, water, and sleep. This is, simply, the world's toughest endurance challenge, and sometime in the next two days, it will crown a winner.

Log on to for the race to the finish, and watch for the television broadcast in the fall on ABC and ESPN2.

At the five day, five hour, and 12 minute, 45 second point in the race the Nike Power Blast Team was in first place and had reached checkpoint 37 with 37-40 yet to go and the race finish.

The final leg of the race will be coming down the Colorado River and ending up at the Red Cliffs Lodge approximately 10 miles from the town of Moab.

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