From his desk in the water and waste management division of the Environmental Protection Agency, Carl Kassebaum dreams of scaling the Himalayas or retracing Marco Polo's route overland to China.

He's flexible about his destination. America's highest mountain or Mount Everst would be fine with him. "If somebody said, 'Boy, there's a safari going to Africa,' I might consider that, too, I'm open," he said.

Adventure is his motive, and Expedition Research Inc., is his vehicle. Kassebaum is one of more than 250 bankers, bureaucrats, businessmen and blue-collar workers who are part-time thrill seekers on file with what is thought to be the nation's finest expedition referral service.

Operating since February and formed by two young, amateur mountaineers, Expedition Research Inc., has on file a steadily growing number of resumes from potential expeditioners categorized by skill -- scuba diver, climber, physician, parachutist, etc.

Co-director James P. Stout said outing organizers can call his firm and request free referrals of prospective team members such as Kassebaum. And hopeful adventurers can choose among an almost Hollywood-like array of expeditions.

Consider:

A team of cave explorers hopes to shatter the world depth record next year by spending a month descending the underground Iglesia cave in central Mexico.

The expedition, which will need new members, has already taken climbers 2,400 feet beneath the earth's surface in the adjacent Agustin cave this year, and planners hope to blast their way from the bottom of one into the other.

An expeditioner from London is planning a whirlwind trip covering almost the entire American east coast, from Main to Cape Horn at the tip of South America, on a 16-foot sailboat -- "strictly for the adventure," Stout said.

Two mountain assaults are scheduled for next year and climbers and physicians are needed. One project will pit expeditioners against the world's longest vertical climb -- the northern fact of Mount McKinley in Alaska. The other will send climbers to Mount Aconcagu in Argentina, highest in the western hemisphere.

"We're looking for people who . . . " Stout broke off his statement and glanced at the 6-foot-by-4-foot world map on the wall behind him. "They have a lust for adventure. They're ready to go on a moment's notice."

That description fits Chicago banker Monica McConnell perfectly. "I

That description fits Chicago banker Monica McConnell perfectly. "I am willing to just up and go, and I can go just about anytime," said McConnell, an experienced diver. "It does thrill me. I find it exciting."

The financial arrangements for each expedition vary from shared expenses to free room and board plus salary, Stout said.

Kevin McDonnell, a marine engineer in Annapolis who just left the Coast Guard, is getting paid $2,000 for the month he is now serving as chief engineer on a research ship in the Gulf of Mexico. McDonnell learned of the offer last Friday and left for the boat less than 24 hours later.

Boston resident Amy Davidoff earns her living piloting a tugboat that clears logs from Boston Harbor. Describing herself as "very strong," the 5-foot-9, 155-pound Davidoff said she hopes to join the crew of a 46-foot catamaran that will sail from Florida to New Zealand via the Galapagos Islands next summer.

The project may require crew members to share expenses, though, she said. "I'm banking more on (ERI) than anything else. I'd like to go transatlantic and sail through the Mediterranean -- but I'm more than happy to go to the South Pacific. No problem there," she said.

From a Baltimore busboy and a California state employe to a college student working the Wyoming uranium mines and a veteran's benefits counselor in Pittsburgh, almost all of the dozen would-be expeditioners interviewed by telephone cited one major reason for their interest: the search for adventure.

Richmond physician Robert McDermott, a self-styled "disenchanted doctor" who teaches courses at Virginia Commonwealth University, said he has offered his medical and hiking skills "just for the excitement of it."

"I'm just not in love with the medical profession the way it's practiced nowadays. I just wanted to go another direction," said McDermott, 35. He'll take "whatever comes my way," he said.

Julian Chisholm has a biology degree and two jobs -- selling climbing equipment during the day and clearing tables in a Baltimore restaurant at night. But the 23-year-old Chisholm said he would leave the dirty dishes for the unknown at a moment's notice.

"You read about these guys going off to climb the Himalayas and all those romantic spots. You wonder, 'How am I ever going to get the chance?'" Chisholm said.

David Tewksbury, a free lance photographer in Clinton, N.Y., said he spent four months with a research team in Antarctica two years ago, but joined Expedition Research Inc. anyway for one underlying reason.

"The old adventure syndrome," he said.