Primal Quest: Location Changes Yearly

Primal Quest: Location Changes Yearly

The Super Bowl of Adventure Races

Nicknamed “The Super Bowl of Adventure Racing,” the grueling Primal Quest is the ultimate adventure race. Sounds too dramatic? During the race through South Dakota’s Badlands teams paddle, run, mountain bike, and navigate their way non-stop across more than 600 miles (966km) of rugged landscape. In the process, they climb more than 100,000 feet (30,000m) of vertical gain. Co-ed teams must survive in the open wilderness with only what they carry on their backs, and depend upon solving problems together and helping each other through the mental and physical challenges.

With a focus on being an ecologically aware wilderness Expedition Adventure Race, in this competition teams of four must make the backcountry journey using only a map, a compass, and combined skills. Winning requires selfless teamwork as much as stamina and determination. In keeping with Primal Quest’s ecological mantra, teams can travel only where permitted, can’t build campfires, and stick to the “pack it in, pack it out” rules.

Experienced adventure-race addicts from around the world are the ones who show up for this annual competition, but only after training for months beforehand. Cross-training is a must because the full team must take part in all six stages of each race: trekking, off-road running, and orienteering; mountain biking; caving; swimming; kayaking; and a fixed-line ropes-climbing course.

The co-ed four-member teams must travel together at all times and finish as a group to be officially ranked. If one member drops out for any reason, the team must drop out. On average, since the first race in Telluride, Colorado, in 2002, almost half the teams fail to finish. Racers are tracked with SPOT satellite messengers, small sophisticated units that show where the teams are at any time.

Primal Quest is held in a different location every year and new disciplines are added, such as whitewater swimming and canyoneering. During the first race in Telluride, 62 teams from eight countries entered and the winning team completed the course in just over 3 days. In 2003, the Primal Quest 457-mile (736km) race in the Lake Tahoe area became the first adventure race to be shown on network television.

Entering the race is costly. The fee was $11,000 per team for the Badlands race in August 2009. But, the three winning teams each get more than their entry fee in prize money, plus free entry into the next Primal Quest event. —LF

Primal Quest (

TransRockies Run: Buena Vista to Beaver Creek, Colorado, U.S.A. Race the Train: Tywyn, Wales