“Flexibility” was the catch-phrase of the weekend and I have to admit, I am getting so much better about learning how to be flexible and go with the flow. What started out as a plan to do three days on three horses ended up being two days on two different horses, with a lot of changes in between. And you know what? I had an awesome weekend.
The original plan had Gina (my boss at Renegade) driving down with two of her horses for us to ride in the LD on Saturday, then I would ride Stephanie’s mare Kasha in her first 50 on Sunday, and finish the weekend on Stephanie’s Rocco on Monday’s 50.
You know what they say about “best-laid plans.”
Here’s what actually happened:
I drove over to Steph’s place on Friday morning, loaded all of my stuff (So. Much. Stuff.) in her rig, and we were on the road by noon, texting progress reports and expected ETAs, since I was attempting to coordinate multiple rigs parking together and saving each other spaces. Unfortunately, Gina had some truck problems and ended up turning around, which would delay her arrival by a day.
Plan Rearrangement One: Steph and I would ride together on Day One, her on Hadji and me on Rocco, and then she would ride Kash on Day Two while I rode with Gina, and then we would ride the boys again on Day Three.
Ultimately, the first two elements of that plan went off perfectly and it worked out for all involved….but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Camp was located at the L Bell Ranch in Skull Valley, just southwest of Prescott and a gorgeous area. We parked in a beautifully flat cow pasture with tons of room to spread out and plenty of space around rigs. The only bad thing was the abundance of “goathead” weeds — those hard, dry, extremely sharp little round balls of obnoxiousness that stick in the soles of your shoes then get dragged into your trailer where you then step on them with your bare feet.
|Like I said, gorgeous.
Day One 50, Loop One
But when that’s the worst of it, that’s saying a lot.
When we pulled into camp, my friend Kaity had beaten us there by an hour or so and had saved us parking spots, and we were able to get camp set up and go check in. (God bless the ride secretary as she had to deal with me and my “change this, scratch that” alterations of horses and distances. Ride management at this ride can’t be beat. They did an awesome job.)
Steph and I had enough time after vetting in to take the horses out for a half-hour shakedown ride…a very good thing, it turns out, as we went out the same way we’d be heading out in the morning, and thus encountered all of the obstacles that made up the terrifying “gauntlet of horsey death” stretch, including: large amounts of ribbons, large boulders, flapping signs, old dead farm shacks, old dead farm equipment, rustling leaves, sprinklers, cows, more large rocks, and a cattle guard. (This was a very good — or bad, depending — ride for the uninitiated horse when it came to stuff to gawp at. If they had a good brain, they were pretty much over it by the end of the weekend.)
And did I mention the windmill? The very large, very functional windmill that creaked and groaned most enthusiastically under the slightest of windy conditions? That just happened to be placed right next to the trail in/out of camp each day?
Yeah, that was a fun one. Going out for a pre-ride, no problem. Wind hadn’t picked up yet. But by the time we came back, it was somewhat breezy, and going back past the windmill, Rocco took me halfway across the open field at a lovely, sidepassing trot. Dressage potential, that one. But by the time we passed it for the final time Saturday afternoon coming into camp for the finish, he was over it.
The nice thing about doing rides this time of year is that you don’t completely freeze overnight, and that when you come crawling out of the trailer at 5:30 in the morning, the sun is starting to come up and there’s really no need for a headlamp. (Or five layers of clothing.)
I engaged in my customary ride morning battle to eat breakfast and managed: a croissant, a yogurt smoothie, and half a cup of coffee before calling it good enough. I had a teeny bit of excitement upon mounting up when Rocco took a couple of steps away from the trailer and all of a sudden did one of those “downward dog” stretches. I admit, I yelped, pretty sure the only way this was going to end was with him doing an upward leap of naughtiness.
In reality, he was just stretching…which is possibly a really good reason to give them a morning walk around camp to stretch out ahead of time. Or not…this was pretty efficient. (As long as you’re expecting it.)
The ride had a controlled start, which is really nice. This was where pre-riding and letting them see all the scary stuff really came in handy — all the things that were worth snorting and gawping at the previous afternoon were now a non-issue. (Remember this for later.)
Saturday’s 50 was split into 2 loops, 27 and 23 miles each, with an hour-long vet hold between the two. Water was pretty plentiful (for the high desert) on this ride, especially the first loop, and I got to experience the hoof boot triple threat of water + hills + speed. For the most part, it went well, but I’ve been testing a new prototype Renegade for the last couple of months and such is the nature with tests and why we do them: Things don’t always work perfectly, and I did have a couple of boots come off during the course of the weekend. It was definitely a challenging ride and terrain for boots, with a lot of rocks, water, sand, hills, and technical trail.
And speaking of water crossings…Rocco isn’t a huge fan. He does it, especially after his buddy Hadji has already bravely waded in…but they have to be sizable water crossings. When presented with a narrow stream crossing, he displayed his back-up career choice: Event horse. He’s really a smooth and lovely jumper.
The Sycamore Creek part of loop one was definitely my favorite: lots of technical single-track and really, really pretty. And then there were the stretches of Forest Service and/or ranch roads that help break up the demands of technical single-track…but I was always happy to get off the roads and back on to trail.
|Call it a “road” if you will.|
Rocco was down by the time we walked into the vet check back at camp, and that hour hold went by really fast. Leftover cold spaghetti from the previous night tasted delicious and was the perfect balance of carbs and proteins that I needed. Out of the check right on time and out on loop two, which was the flatter and less technical of the two loops.
|Rocco sez, “Food?!?”|
Loop two came with an unexpected obstacle, however. A fairly major train track runs right down through the Skull Valley area, and is not exactly what one would call “lightly used.” I’m pretty sure it’s part of a main shipping line, and large freight trains go through the area several times a day…even on weekends. Because it’s a completely wide open, rural area, trains don’t have to sound their whistles the way they do in an urban area with street crossings. (Trust me, I know this: I live 300 feet off a major rail line, in between two major street crossings. I don’t even hear train whistles 98% of the time anymore.)
You see where this is going?
Of course we met the train. We’d just crossed under one of the trestles and through the other side, where Steph was off of Hadji, closing the gate. She’d just moved Hadji away from the gate when I heard the rails start humming. Uh-oh. So there we were, 100 feet away from the tracks, watching this giant freight train monster come racing by. Gold stars to both Hadji and Rocco for holding it together and not freaking out.
There were some really fun parts on the second loop as well, with some great sections of single-track (including a bit through a section of large rocks I got so enamored with we completely missed the turnoff and dead-ended a short while later at quite the drop-off over some of those rocks going, “I don’t think we’re supposed to go this way”).
We alternately trotted/death-trudged the road back to camp, and then we were done. 4:03pm…Steph’s excellent pacing and timing had put us exactly at the 8-hour 50 we were aiming for. We vetted through right away, and with that, Rocco had completed his 2nd 50!
One day down…and Day Two still to come…