March 07, 2001 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

Michael Dunlavey of La Grande is no stranger to physical challenges.

He competes regularly and successfully in grueling mountain bike and long-distance running races.

This summer Dunlavey will travel to the Land of the Midnight Sun to put his stamina on the edge.

The U.S. Army captain will compete in the Armed Forces Challenge adventure race in Alaska. Competitors will cover about 300 miles of rugged country via mountain bikes, mountain climbing, canoeing and rafting. Adventure races involve four- member teams that must complete the course together. Team members can never be more than about 500 yards from each other during the race.

The Armed Forces Challenge begins in Fairbanks at midnight June 21, the first day of summer.

Dunlavey is training four to six hours a day in preparation for the challenge. He often runs 10 miles, swims 45 minutes and bicycles about two hours in one day.

He will add mountain biking and hiking to his training regimen once the snow clears from hills and mountains.

Dunlavey does not know what to focus on at this point. The Armed Forces Challenge course and the description of its legs will not be announced until two days before the event. This means that competitors do not know how far they will have to mountain bike, canoe, raft or mountain climb.

I dont know what to expect, Dunlavey said.

Two of Dunlaveys teammates are from Indiana and one is from Arizona. All are in the Army. The squad is calling itself Team Zaroni, representing a sample of the letters of the states of the squad members.

Dunlaveys team will compete in memory of a fallen comrade, U. S. Capt. Milton Palmer.

Palmer died during a training accident at the U.S. Army Ranger School in Florida in 1995. Stephen Kreis of Muncie, Ind., a member of Dunlaveys team, was a classmate of Palmers at The Citadel.

Team Zaroni was assembled via the Internet. The teams members have communicated by phone and e-mail but have not met each other.

That is the tough part. We are trying to make sure we have the same goals in mind, Dunlavey said.

These goals are to finish together, represent the Army well and honor Capt. Palmer.

Dunlavey has never competed in a full adventure race before. However, he has competed in two-day races.

They were exciting and very trying, Dunlavey said. ...It (an adventure race) is a true test of endurance and teamwork.

Dunlavey, who volunteers as a youth soccer coach, has lived in La Grande for about 1 years. He works at La Grandes National Guard Armory. He came to La Grande from Fort Knox, Ky.

All teams participating in the Armed Forces Challenge must pay a $4,000 entry fee. All fees will be donated to Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors Inc. (TAPS). This is a national non-profit organization which provides services to those who have lost a loved one while serving in the Armed Forces.

Anyone who would like to make a donation to Dunlaveys team should call him at 963-2788 or