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Adventure racers to tackle cross country epic

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Whistler athlete to take on Vietnam jungle in the Raid-Gauloises

Before there was an Eco-Challenge, there was the Raid Gauloises – a 10-day, 1,000 kilometre adventure race that combines kayaking, trekking, mountain biking, canyoning, spelunking and orienteering skills.

In its 10th year, the 2002 Raid-Gauloises will take place in Vietnam, on a course that stretches from the northern mountains at its border with China to the southern peninsula.

While all of the leading Eco-Challenge teams will take part in this event, it is open to teams of men and women over the age of 18.

One of those women is Verdell Jessup, a long-time Whistler resident who is currently enrolled in the Adventure Travel Guide program at the University of the Cariboo College in Kamloops.

She will participate in the Raid as part of an all-female group, Team Going Beyond. Team Beyond is hoping to be the first all-female North American team to take part in the race.

Jessup has already participated in the 2000 Raid Gauloises in Tibet and Nepal with Team Nomad, and finished 34th.

There were originally five female members signed on for this year’s Raid, but due to the financial costs of taking part, two were forced to drop out. As it stands, the current team consists of Jessup, and Maaike Porter and Julie Kearns of Golden, B.C.

The team is currently looking for two more members who have a minimum of $10,000 each to cover their share of the entry fee. If they can’t find anyone the team may have to withdraw. "As for potential team mates, there is definitely interest by accomplished athletes, however they are not willing to foot the bill themselves. We are hoping that a cash sponsor comes our way and we are able to choose which accomplished athletes we wish to have join us," Jessup says. The group is even looking at women from outside North America, even though it would mean giving up their first.

At 26 Jessup is already an accomplished adventure racing veteran and no stranger to distance events like triathlons. She has competed in two Raid the North adventure races, the 2000 Raid Gauloises, and is an experienced paddler and mountain biker.

The team is currently sponsored by Salomon, Jody’s Internet Services in Whistlers and Footworks in Calgary. A major cash sponsor will be needed to get the team to Vietnam, and to cover entry fees and equipment costs.

"The hardest part is getting to the start line," says Jessup. "We must organize our food, gear trunks, bike boxes and bike bags, the list goes on."

Although the next few months will be spent planning for the race and building support for the team, Jessup says the appeal of the race far outweighs the difficulties in getting to the start line.

"To many the sport would be described as crazy – unnecessary pain and unimaginable distances. For me it is all the challenges of life wrapped into one event," she says.

"The sport of adventure racing can take many forms – expedition style, multi-day races or one-day affairs. I have come to love the thrills, unknowns and struggles of expedition-style racing."

This year’s Raid Gauloises will take place from April 27 to May 9, and will feature hundreds of athletes from all over the world. Team Going Beyond will fly in for April 10 to acclimatize to the humidity.

You can read about the team and its efforts at their Web site, www.goingbeyond.ca . You can read more about the Raid Gauloises at www.raid-gauloises.com .

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