The festive villagers who sent off the Raid Gauloises' 51
five-person teams on the morning of April 28 were quickly
replaced by a more familiar northern Vietnamese tableau: jungle,
caves and rice fields, through which a treacherous adventure
racing course--roughly 620 miles long and often barely
discernible--had been carved. Daytime temperatures reached 100? in
the shade and were followed by sleepless nights in which teams
battled everything from monsoonlike downpours to...more heat.
"One night we just decided to go naked," says U.S. racer Rebecca
Rusch (SI, March 18) of team Parallax, which finished fourth. "We
were going crazy in the heat."
Fueled by Red Bulls and Cheetos, the racers found sustenance fromCOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY COREY RICH HELTER SWELTER Competitors and rice field workers alike labored under an unsparing sun that generated temperatures in the triple digits and steadily shrank the Raid field throughout the weeklong eventCOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY COREY RICH ROAD TO NOWHERE At the start the 51 teams were serenaded by the entire village of Bac Ha, but the trail would soon grow remote and lonely.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY COREY RICH MIDNIGHT RIDERS Darkness offered little refuge from the heat or the bike-crippling hazards.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY COREY RICH RIVER VIEW Bamboo rafts were just one of the half-dozen modes of travel.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY COREY RICH FIELD OF SCREAMS World orienteering champion Belen Sanchez of Spain (second from right) found her body worn down by the endless treks. Her cries of pain frequently filled the thick, sticky air; still, her Team Buff endured to finish sixth.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY COREY RICH AGONY OF THE FEET The initial 74-mile trek brought even perennial powerhouse team Nokia Adventure to its knees.COLOR PHOTO: ADAM PRETTYTHE VILLAGE PEOPLE The course was dotted with friendly onlookers from among the region's 53 ethnic minorities.COLOR PHOTO: ADAM PRETTYAT LONG LAST The race's final leg, across the Ha Long Bay in a kayak, was one of the event's most beautiful--and, thankfully, least grueling for Rusch (front) & Co.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY COREY RICH HIGH DRAMA A member of U.S.-based team Terraforce captivated a small audience as he ziplined high above the Song Nang River.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY COREY RICH FRENCH TOAST Though team VSD-Eider of France wore a defeated look during an early rest stop, it rebounded to win the Raidin six days and 19 hours, beating Nokia Adventure by three hours.
another unforeseen source: the kindness of the local population.
"We'd pull into these tiny villages of five bamboo huts at 3
a.m., and families would insist we come in," says Rusch. "One
kicked the kids out of bed and insisted we sleep there. At
another place, the man offered us his bed--and a pull from his
opium pipe.... We declined." Though grateful to have survived the
Baatan-like march, Rusch felt a little sad to see the longest
adventure race in history come to an end: "Being from the U.S., I
was expecting hostility, some war baggage, but it was just the