In 2002, 17 years ago, the last Eco-Challenge was held in Fiji, the last of a string of nine such events that helped to usher in adventure racing as a popular pursuit for weekend warriors looking for a new challenge. Now, Amazon Prime Video is going old school and bringing the Eco-Challenge back to TV, this time with well-known host Bear Grylls. And, it looks good. Could this mean it's time for another adventure racing boom?
Last night, 66 teams returned to the site of the last Eco-Challenge in Fiji, some competed in the competition 17 years ago, some fresh adventure racing faces, and some with compelling stories perfect for reality-TV. The competition stretches for 11 days and runs 24 hours a day as teams make their way 671 kilometres of mountains, jungles, ravines and oceans in and around Fiji.
The 10-episode adventure series is hosted by Bear Grylls and produced by Mark Burnett of Survivor fame.
Among the many teams are four from Canada including Team Peak Pursuit, Team True North, Team Canada Adventure as well as Team Atlas (pictured above), which includes Alexandre Provost (TC), Karine Corbell, Lars Bukkehave, Mark Sky, and Tessa Jennison (TAC) (pictured above right).
Jennison, support for the team, had the unenviable and daunting task of taking care of Team Atlas during the competition and doing so almost exclusively in the pouring rain. A veteran adventurer racer herself, Jennison said the race was so, ahem, challenging, that even her support role was more difficult than the toughest expedition race in which she has participated.
But it did provide her with an ideal vantage point for observing the race. So did it live up to the hype of being the world’s toughest race?
“Well, first of all, there aren’t really any other races that are 11 days long. So, you know, it was a very long event in terms of its duration,” Jennison says. “I did Raid The North extreme in 2011. That was the longest expedition that I had done. It was a six-day 500km race in British Columbia. And it's probably the most challenging event that I have ever done. And being the TAC for an elite-level team at Eco-Challenge was harder than actually participating in Raid The North Extreme. The weather was a huge factor, as you'll see in the show. For the teams that were at the front of the pack who have tons of ARWS (Adventure Racing World Series) experience who have raced all over the world in all these different environments, I think the difficulty is relative.”
But many of the teams in the Eco-Challenge were not professional adventurer racers.
“For them, the difficulty level was astronomical,” Jennison says.
Team Atlas (pictured below) includes athletes from British Columbia, Quebec, and Norway along with Jennison who is based in Ontario.
“Alex Provost is the team captain,” Jennison explains. “His partner, Karine Corbell, is on the team along with Lars Bukkehave and Mark Sky. Alex and Lars both have 15 years of adventure racing experience with many Adventure Racing World Series events.”
In 2018, Provost and Bukkehave won the Patagonian Expedition Race — a semi-annual endurance event held in the deep wilds near the tip of South America in Chile — as members of Team Bend Racing/YogaSlackers. But for the Eco-Challenge the team split up.
Team Bend Racing is one of the teams featured in the first episode. But not in a good way. ‘Nuff said.
Corbell comes from a downhill mountain biking background but has been doing adventure racing the last few years. Sky lives in Squamish, BC, an adventurers mecca tucked between Vancouver and Whistler where the ocean meets the Coastal Mountains.
“So the four of them are highly experienced, wilderness athletes,” Jennison explains. “Very, very capable. I learned a lot, just, you know, being in the TAC role by watching how they organized, how they prepare for the race, moving through the course and such.”
Of course, most of the race was in the rain, there were torrential downpours, flash floods, washed-out roads, a plane circles the race constantly just in case things go south quickly. And, they always go south. Everything you’d expect from a good Eco-Challenge.
Although she doesn’t give away any hints regarding the end result of the Eco-Challenge, Jennison says she thinks the race is so compelling it will propel expedition adventure racing back into the spotlight.
“It will introduce an entirely new generation of people to adventure racing, and hopefully inspire people to take on big challenges in their own lives,” she says. "It's such an empowering experience. And I think the more the more encouragement people can have to challenge themselves, the stronger and more resilient they become."