All photographs by Gail Henricks. Gail’s full gallery of the race can be found here.
John McInnes and John Farless, course designers of the 2011 Planet Adventure 30 Hour Challenge, stayed true to the original format by staging a single 100+ mile race course for all participating teams. The race’s published start time was “sometime after 9 pm” on Friday night, June 17. The race would continue for 30 consecutive hours into Sunday morning. Disciplines included mountain biking, trekking, paddling canoes and some ropes.
Team Ragged Glory decided early in the year to participate in the event. Our planned team was a threesome including Bob Mueller, Nancy Gawrys, and me. We signed up an invited fellow TRG member Julie Nor to race with us as a foursome. Julie joined up in March. Then Bob Mueller bowed out in April after being diagnosed with a hernia. His surgery was scheduled for the morning of the race. We asked fellow TRG member Eric Henricks if he would take Bob’s place as the navigator, and he agreed. Then, during the week preceding the race, Nancy bowed out with an aggravated IT band and collateral quad problems. She had to make a difficult call, but it was the right one. Rather than look for a fourth team member, the remaining team members decided to race as a threesome: Eric Henricks, Julie Nor, and me.
Past experience told us that a 30 hour course would be somewhere between 90 and 120 miles long. We knew that John McInnes, chief course designer, was a veteran adventure racer and has done many long, unsupported races. We therefore assumed that we would be carrying most everything we needed and that we would probably have little or no access to additional food, water and gear along the way.
This race means a lot to me. My second adventure race ever was the original Planet Adventure 30 Hour Challenge (PA30) back in 2001. TRG has raced in all but one PA30, and we volunteered at the one we missed. We love PA30 because it has always been as a racer’s race. A racer’s race is an event where the cost of entry makes sense, where the course and the event are designed to be fun and challenging for the racers, where an average team has a chance to finish.
On Friday evening, we arrived at Paoli Peaks around 5pm and unpacked.
We received directions and maps at 7:30 pm Friday night and found out that we would begin at midnight. The course was long and heavy on paddling. We read the race directions and plotted the coordinates. The course and our route choices would have us doing these disciplines and distances in this order:
- Paddle about 2 miles
- Trek on foot in the woods roughly 16 miles, hitting 8 checkpoints
- Paddle about 10 miles to Transition Area 1 (TA1)
- Mountain bike around 13 miles
- Rappel down a 150 foot cliff
- Mountain bike another 35 miles, hitting 3 more checkpoints to TA2
- Paddle 4 miles
- Trek on foot another 5 miles, hitting 5 checkpoints
- Paddle 2 more miles to TA3
- Mountain bike18 miles, hitting 3 more checkpoints
- Cross the finish line
Team Ragged Glory's Plotting coordinates for the 2011 PA30 course
We were allowed to tape our bike shoes and helmet to our bikes for transport. We also were allowed to pack a single box of additional gear, food, water and clothing. The race directors would take the bikes to TA1 and the gear to the TA2. We estimated we needed to carry enough food, water and clothing to last us 14 hours until we made it to our gear box at TA2.
The start line was a 45 minute bus ride away from Paoli Peaks at a boat ramp on Patoka Lake. All paddling sections would be on this huge reservoir. We readied our gear and got on the buses at 11pm for the ride to the canoe put-in.
Once we arrived at the start line, we were told that there would be a short swim in PFDs (life vests) to get us started (and wet). The gun sounded, the racers swam, and we jumped into the canoes to paddle two miles to the first trekking/orienteering section. Julie kept an eye on the map while Eric and I paddled. Eric later said that Julie’s help was hugely important; it helped us make sure we that didn’t commit any early navigational errors in the dark on the water.
Team Ragged Glory at the start of the 2011 Planet Adventure 30 Hour Challenge
For the first trekking section, the checkpoints we had to visit were on a huge plot of land separated by a wide creek. We decided to split the section into two loops connected by a short paddle. We had a little trouble with the first control, so we decided to catch it on the way back. Eric immediately dialed in and we found all eight checkpoints like clockwork. At about 3 am the lightning and rain rolled in and it stormed continuously for about four hours. Our route covered eighteen miles, enough distance that we hiked into the dawn. The storms delayed the first light of day, but when it finally came, it brought new life to each of us.
After finishing the first trekking section, we got back in the canoes for the longest paddling leg of the race, a ten mile circuitous route to the Little Patoka Boat Ramp. The storms had subsided and the wind was light as we enjoyed the beautiful scenery along the way. About half way through the paddle, Julie asked me if my knife was handy. I gave it to her, and she proceeded to cut off her underwear! We had all been soaking wet for hours and she had decided that her underwear was chafing her enough that she was going to get rid of it without stopping the boat! Julie accomplished this amazing trick and we continued on, with the wind picking up near the end of our paddle. At the end of this long boat ride was TA1.
Jennifer Farless, Nancy Gawrys and James Nichols at TA1
Seeing the race directors, our teammate Nancy Gawrys volunteering, and Gail Henricks taking pictures at TA1 was a welcome sight. We changed into dry clothes, ate some food out of our packs, and spent about twenty minutes preparing for the long mountain biking section that was ahead of us. This bike leg would prove to be the most difficult section of our race.
Team Ragged Glory leaving TA1 at 2011 Planet Adventure 30 Hour Challenge
We stopped just after we left the boat ramp to buy a gallon of water at a convenience store. Eric’s bike developed a flat on the rear tire shortly thereafter, and we stopped again to repair it.
About 13 miles into the 48 mile bike loop, we arrived at the ropes section. The rappel was down a spectacular 150 foot concave face called Hemlock Cliffs near Mifflin, Indiana. The view on the way down was amazing, with the wall many feet away from the rope after the initial descent. The climb back up was perilous in bike shoes. But we made it, got back on the bikes, and headed out for the remaining 35 miles.
The bike route was almost all paved and gravel roads. We stopped by the English Reservoir to investigate a shortcut, but opted to ride around rather than bike-whack through some pretty thick brush that we later learned was private property. Julie fell one on elbow, then fell on the other. We had been racing almost 18 hours and we were all running out of gas. The team decided to rest for a while in the yard of an empty home near CP5. We catnapped for about 20 minutes and resumed our ride.
The bike went on forever. The hills were unending. We rode through the town of English and decided to rest again. Julie and I went to the convenience store and picked up some water, Fritos, Cheetos and a Coke. We headed back to Eric, who was resting, and we all feasted on the junk food. A few minutes and a few hundred calories later, we set out revived for TA2.
Team Ragged Glory entering TA2.
Arriving at TA2 was a huge milestone. The TA2 location was at the same boat ramp as TA1, but now we had access to our food, water and gear. Even though each of us privately considered quitting during the bike leg, we confirmed with each other that we were in the race to finish it. We ate Arby’s Roast Beef and Taco Bell Bean Burritos that tasted like steak and lobster. We spent a luxurious 42 minutes offloading climbing gear, fixing our feet, changing our clothes, eating, and repacking for the final three sections.
Leaving TA3 as the sun set, we evaluated the maps of final trekking section, which held five checkpoints surrounding a large inlet. Doing the whole section on foot would involve miles of backtracking. We decided to drop our packs on the near side of the inlet, paddle and park the boat on the far side, and swim with PFDs back across the inlet to our packs. This strategy would let us walk a line back to the boat picking up controls along the way. This would minimize our effort and time on foot. The plan worked perfectly, and Eric’s navigation was incredible, in spite of our fatigue. We got a little help from another team on the last control. We then found our way to the canoe and paddled to TA3, which was located at another boat ramp just a few miles away.
Arriving at TA3 we found that we were in sixth place. We learned of a surprise optional six checkpoint swim navigation section that surrounded the boat ramp’s inlet. We also learned that the final three off-road bike checkpoints were optional as well. We could choose to skip up to nine checkpoints, ride our bikes straight to the finish line and be official finishers. We talked as a team and decided to skip all nine optional checkpoint controls and head for the finish line.
We had heard that the ride to the finish line was about 12 miles, but it tuned out to be 18. The ride was very hilly, and as the early hours of the morning passed, we ground out mile after mile to the last hill before Paoli Peaks and the finish line. We hiked our bikes up the steep hill, then rode together to the finish, elated to completed the course and be official finishers.
Words cannot express how critical Eric’s navigation was to the success of our race. His innate ability to watch the land forms and feel the distance allowed us to travel straight down the center of the course. It is so easy to want to quit when you’re lost; Eric never gave us that option.
Julie’s positive attitude, her life experiences, stories, and her amazing transparency makes her a perfect teammate. Her ability to bounce back in the midst of adversity is second to none. The team dynamic couldn’t have been better.
And even though we’d rather have her racing with us, seeing our teammate Nancy at transitions gave us energy and moral support. Gail Henricks’ amazing photography skills and encouragement made this amazing race even better.
Crossing the finish line of this race was big for me. I hadn’t finished a PA30 race since 2003. Three DNFs in past years weighed heavy on my mind in the days leading up to the race. I thank my team for working together and making our goal a reality.
Congratulations to the top three finishers: Alpine Shop, Bushwacker and Climb4SMA. Great racing on a tough course. Thanks to Planet Adventure organization including Matt Jourdan and James Nichols, and to all the volunteers. It was one of the great races of my career.
Eric put together a MapMyRun of our course here.
Here are all the pictures of Team Ragged Glory from the race. 2011 Planet Adventure 30 Hour Challenge – TRG photos