Dispatches, February 1998
'A couple years ago, one of our racers had a tremendous bike crash and broke the fork off his frame," says Robin Judkins. "Another mate offered him his bike because he'd already run the race before. That's pretty typical for us." Who knew adventure racing could be so civil? But, then, who knows anything about the Coast to Coast, an extreme triathlon on New Zealand's South Island that has paved the way for such publicity-obsessed multisport contests as the Raid Gauloises and the Eco-Challenge — and has defined good sportsmanship in the process?
Actually, the Coast to Coast's relative obscurity suits Judkins, a 48-year-old college-dropout-turned-heli-skier, just fine. In fact, when he organized his first interdisciplinary race in 1980 — a slapdash affair in which a few willing souls helicoptered to a snowy summit and skied, ran, and kayaked back to civilization — he didn't know that he was among the first to try such a thing. Three years later, the Coast to Coast was born. Recalls Judkins: "I said to my friends, 'Why don't you bastards get off your asses and do something really outrageous?'"
For Judkins, outrageous entails an imaginative buffet of physical suffering: 18 miles of running, 89 miles of cycling, and 42 miles of kayaking. Throw in 2,500 feet of vertical gain in the Southern Alps traverse, upwards of 50 boulder-strewn river crossings, and one 250-foot-deep river gorge, and the result is grueling by any standard. (Winners finish in about 11 hours, stragglers in as many as 20.) The torturous course quickly became legend in New Zealand, luring some 600 Kiwis and a small contingent of foreigners each year.
Still, if the Coast to Coast remains something of a backwater on the international multisport circuit, it's likely because Judkins's race is, well, different. Take the Good Samaritan rule, for example, which prohibits passing a competitor in need and doesn't compensate for lost time. Also, unlike the Eco-Challenge and the Raid, most racers compete as individuals rather than as teams and follow the same course every year. A final Frank Capra-ish touch that may deter the very hard core: Judkins reserves one of the grandest trophies for the loser. "It's a difficult race and people respect it," notes Duncan Smith, a Raid veteran and head of San Francisco's Presidio Adventure Racing Academy, "but if you're going for the ultimate challenge, you're better off looking elsewhere."
So when the Coast to Coast kicks off on the sixth of this month, most big-name athletes may be absent, but so will the overbearing competitiveness. "The point is not to go until you collapse," says Judkins. "It's to have some bloody fun."