For the week of October 7 thru October 13, 1998  


The Challenge begins for "Team Idaho" in Morocco

Four locals team up for Discovery Channel Eco-Challenge

They’re off!

In the north African mountains of Morocco, the 1998 Discovery Channel Eco-Challenge Expedition Competition began Tuesday, Oct. 6 and continues for 10 days.

"Team Idaho" featuring Wood River Valley residents Muffy Ritz, Dave Bingham, Pat Harper and Pat Csizmazia is one of only 12 American four-member teams that have started "expedition racing" in Morocco, from Oct. 6-16.

Another 46 foreign-based teams are in the 58-team field.

The Eco-Challenge, with $75,000 going to the top five teams, is called by organizers an "unassisted seven-to-10 day competition" in which team members travel non-stop, moving 24 hours, for 300 miles.

Disciplines are sea kayaking, canyoneering, mountain biking, mountaineering, horseback and camel riding. A new event was added over the summer. It’s called coasteering, an English event where people climb along rocky ocean coastlines and leap into the ocean.

"Oh, yeah, they just told us over the summer, here’s a new event, you have to jump into the ocean!" said Ritz, who recently was chosen by Men’s Journal magazine as this year’s Eco-Challenge competitor with the "most impressive resume."

Three-time Race Across America (RAAM) women’s runner-up Ritz and the three male members of "Team Idaho" went to Morocco knowing the Eco-Challenge was going to be a very tough challenge, both physically and mentally.

Before leaving Ketchum, Ritz said in September, "I think we’re all confident, but I know I’m getting nervous. Our whole goal is to finish the race—to finish in good shape, in a good mindset and to have fun and maintain our sense of humor.

"We look at it as being a really great adventure."

Training and preparations

All four team members have varied backgrounds in endurance racing. This summer, besides their normal training and work schedules, they did some specialized training.

In early July, they went sea kayaking in big surf off the coast of Oregon. Locally, they did a 12-hour trek covering numerous peaks and passes in the Pioneer Mountains.

They teamed up for a couple of overnight, 20-hour continuous (no sleep) expeditions of biking, hiking and kayaking in the Bellevue area and in the Sawtooths. They did a three-day trip in harsh terrain around the Iron Mountain Lookout area of Soldier Mountain—mountain biking for 50 miles and hiking for 30 miles.

Katie Breckenridge of Picabo spent a morning giving members of "Team Idaho" lessons on how to saddle and bridle horses.

Over the weekend of Sept. 19-20, they did their final training trip, climbing and biking and hiking in the City of Rocks area under the watchful eye of a television crew.

Packing posed its own problems.

"It’s like putting together a Mount Everest expedition," said Ritz. "There are seven different sports, and they all have their own gear. Each person has a 50-gallon container in which you have to cram all your gear. And there is a community box with food in it."

Team Idaho spent the weekend of Sept. 25-27 finalizing its gear, then team members flew out of Boise through New York City to Casablanca on Tuesday, Sept. 29. They arrived Sept. 30 in Marrakech, a city of 450,000 located in the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains.

Eco-Challenge competitors stayed at the Hotel Es Saadi.

Race instructions were provided during a meeting of all competitors scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 1. The next day, an intense one-day comprehensive testing procedure began.

Eco-Challenge organizers assessed the sea kayaking abilities of competitors with a wet exit test.

Competitors needed to swim and tread water wearing a pack for 10 minutes. Their rappeling ability was tested with a fixed rope test. Trekking, as well as handling and riding skills on Arabian stallions were analyzed.

Team members felt pressure in doing the tests because if one team member couldn’t pass a test, the entire team had to forego that portion of the Eco-Challenge and thereby be penalized. The exception was the navigation test. Each team picked one member for navigation. For Team Idaho, it was Pat Harper.

After the day of testing, Eco-Challenge teams spent a couple of days in camel riding lessons and doing the mandatory "service project" that is required of all entrants.

On Monday, Oct. 5, all competitors were driven to the secret starting point of the race. Ritz said, "It’s only 24 hours before the start of the race that we’re given race maps. That’s a crucial time—when we have the time to be logical—when we actually sit down together and really see how much time each section might take, and where to sleep.

"Then, on the morning of Oct. 6, we take off. We’ll probably do a lot of the dangerous rock work in the beginning, when the people are still fresh. We’ll travel to the High Atlas Mountains and go to the top of the highest peak, which is 12,000 feet. Then who knows after that?!"

Without assistance crews, relying totally on themselves, the Eco-Challenge teams try to choose the best course through a series of mandatory Passport Controls. They use navigational skills, teamwork and physical strength.

Csizmazia, 29, who works with Pat Rainey in the tree removal business, has participated in three of the previous four Eco-Challenge events—Utah in 1995; in British Columbia on the second-place team in 1996; and in Australia in 1997.

He said, "We’ll have to improvise a lot on things like the rope courses, sea kayaking and camel riding. What will be critically important are three things—mind, body and spirit. It’s like a crash course in life, a microcosm of life shoved into a week.

"There will be times when you’ll just want to put your feet up and take a bath. Really, it’s so intense, how much you want to take a bath."

Harper, 30, has never before attempted such a long endurance race. "I can’t even try to picture what it’s going to be like. It’s no use. I’m better off going with no expectations. We’re just going to have to count on each other," he said.

Bingham, 41, father of two young children, is a two-time Survival of the Fittest champ who is self-employed in the log home chinking business.

He said, "This team thing is different than anything I’ve done. It’s a big experiment for me. The way I see it, the logistical and teamwork challenges are significant."

Ritz, 40, is a Sun Valley Junior Nordic ski team coach who also sells nutritional supplements. Although she has done the RAAM coast-to-coast bike race, Ritz said she wanted to "step up, meet the next challenge and have fun doing it."

She said, "In RAAM, you have the feeling that you’re always racing. The clock is always ticking. I think it’s the same thing with Eco-Challenge. You have to hurry when you sleep. No matter what you’re doing, the clock is running."


On the web

For updated Eco-Challenge information, check the web site,

For general details, check

Local web site is:



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