The Tahoe Rim Ride is a “boutique”, limited entry ride with a unique entry system: you send in your entry, and trailer parking spots are drawn. If you are drawn, you can then bring as many people with you as can fit in your rig (minimum of 2 people per rig). There are only 18 spots available in what management describes as the “postage stamp parking lot” so it still remains a small ride, and since people tend to bring other people that they like and are friends with, it has a very comfortable, casual, fun atmosphere.
Entries got sent in last fall, and a group of us all sent entries in with the hope that at least one of us would get drawn, and thus bring the rest of the group. My observation was that I had neither rig nor 50-mile horse, so wouldn’t it be ironic if my entry got drawn?
I got drawn.
Since this was back in December when entries were drawn, plans were pretty vague at that point, but I had assurances that we would make ride attendance happen, and offers of at least a couple of horses that would be available. Plans were finalized by late spring, when full entries had to be sent it…I would be riding Lucy’s Roo (AM Ruwala Land)! I’ve had a soft spot for him from the very beginning, when I went up to crew for Lucy and Roo at Tevis 2009. I’m a sucker for anything out of the Al-Marah lines, and he’s just a fun little horse…just my size at 14.1, very sensible in his trail-craft (I’ve done part of the Tevis canyons and Cal Loop on him), and generally an uncomplicated worker bee…albeit with what can be a wicked spook, depending on his mood. He’s also very experienced, having just earned his 2000 miles earlier this year, and has done Tahoe Rim twice…and it’s one of his favorite rides.
As anyone who has been following my blog knows, the last couple of years have been pretty endurance-lite…and the few rides I have managed to get to haven’t exactly been successful, with one lameness and two overtime pulls, all in LDs, and it had been 3 years since my last 50. By the time summer rolled around, I was at the point of seriously questioning my capabilities, trying to push through some major fear issues, wondering whether continuing to try to pursue endurance was worth it, and prior to getting some good rides in during Tevis week, ready to throw in the towel on even going to Tahoe Rim.
My week at Tevis provided some much-needed saddle time (and conquering Cal Loop was a major confidence-booster) and friends-as-sounding-boards to finally talk about all of my doubts and insecurities that had been pinballing around in my head, and I wrapped up that week feeling much better about the whole endeavor. Not only would I be riding a very experienced horse who knew and liked the trail, I would be riding with my friend Renee, who has quite a bit of endurance experience and miles, so I would be in good hands (and hooves).
The week leading up to the ride, I spent way too much time overthinking again, obsessing over little details like what to wear, what water system to use (bottles or hydration pack?), what snacks to bring, the trail and timing of the loops…I’m a type A, list-and-detail-oriented planner, and attending rides is still a novelty to me…so I over-think and over-plan, but I’d rather be that way than the opposite.
My original plan was to glue Renegade Glue-Ons on Roo’s hinds. Historically, he was always been hard on hind boots, no matter what kind, and I figured it would be one less thing to worry about. Since I wanted some extra time to glue, I left Phoenix on Wednesday late afternoon for an evening arrival in Sacramento.
I’m starting to feel really familiar with the Sacramento airport…next to Phoenix, it’s my most-frequented airport. (And a very nice airport it is.) Lucy picked me up, and we headed back to her place (which is starting to feel a bit like a second home).
Thursday was my prep day — get the trailer packed, food shopping done, ahead-of-time cooking done, boots glued. Only, when I went to try the glue-ons on, I realized I had made a sizing error, and they were going to be way too big. (What have we learned from this, children? Always remeasure and check sizing, even if “it’s what they used before.” See, I had used Classic size 0 boots on him in the strap style before…they’re a little loose, but 00 are too tight, and more recently, he’s been going in Vipers anyway. So I figured 0 would be fine. As it turns out, he probably needs the 0-N size that is offered in glue-ons.)
I hemmed and hawed for a bit, and then decided that, whatever, I was just going to run him in his normal strap boots. Lucy said it was a boot-friendly ride, with minimal steep climbs after a water crossing, and minimal mud. Okay, then. That’s 2+ hours of my day I just got back, and promptly spent grocery shopping, cooking, and taking Roo out for a leg-stretch down to the lane.
Ridecamp for Tahoe Rim was only about 2-1/2 hours from Lucy’s, so Friday morning was spent leisurely drinking coffee, packing up the coolers, and giving Roo a quick hose down before loading up and pulling out about 11. We picked up Renee and her mount for the weekend, Finney, made the obligatory Starbucks-and-lunch stop in Auburn, and then were well and truly on our way.
The route to TRR from Lucy’s is the same as going to Tevis, only instead of making the turn at the summit to head down to Tevis, you keep on heading south, crest the summit, and continue down to Lake Tahoe.
This is easily the most scenic drive I’ve made to a ride — the road hugs the eastern shore of the lake before peeling off to the east, past Spooner Lake, and up a service road to ridecamp.
We got the ponies settled on their Spring Ties, I gave Roo a final quick touch-up on his feet and popped his boots on, and then we made our way over to vet in. He vetted very nicely, and was cheery enough on the trot-out to give a head toss and some kind of little hop thing. Guess he’s ready to go, huh?
Once we were vetted, Renee and I tacked up and headed out for a quick pre-ride to the ride start + first maybe mile or so of trail. The start is nice — the wide dirt road that leads into camp, and then you peel off onto a single-track trail that does some steep dips up and down, and one steep downhill. Lucy had warned me about that last downhill, and that historically if Roo was going to act up anywhere, he would probably try to sneak in some crowhopping at that point, so she wanted me to get a look at the trail so I would know what to expect.
Roo didn’t even wait for the ride start…he threw some jigging, and some naughty pony crow-hopping in as soon as we were towards the bottom of the steep downhill, since Finney and her fast walk had gotten *just slightly ahead of him*. Fortunately he’s pretty half-hearted in his attempts and is very controllable, so I was able to ride him out of it and we headed up the trail another 1/4 mile or so before turning around and heading back to camp.
Once we got back, we had just enough time to untack before ride briefing, which was a perfect balance between “long enough to share everything you need to know” and “short enough to still be interesting.” 7am ride start, the trail would be 3 loops of 18/12/20, with a 45-minute hold at the vet check in-between loops. Pulse parameters were 60 at the checks, 64 for the finish. We were warned that the first 9 miles were essentially uphill, climbing from basecamp (~7000′) to the highest point of the ride at 9000′.
After briefing, we pulled a quick dinner together (tortellini and chicken-caesar pasta salad), spent some time socializing, and then I eventually succumbed to the colder-than-I-was-used-to temperatures and lure of a cushy mattress. I slept “typical” for me on a pre-ride Friday night…which is to say, “not great.” I’m always restless the first night in a new place, combined with some pre-ride nerves, and the fact I had forgotten to bring any melatonin with me meant I spent quite a bit of time shuffling and tossing and turning…but at least I was warm.
It was almost a relief to have the alarm go off at 5am…time to get up and get moving. I was back to my typical “don’t wanna eat, nothing looks appealing” games, but managed to stuff in my coffee, juice, part of a banana, and about half a little container of oatmeal. Not fabulous, but better than nothing.
As soon as it started getting light out, we took the ponies for a quick leg stretch walk around camp, and once back at the trailer, I quickly put Roo’s boots on while everything was still nice and quiet — I wasn’t sure how fidgety he might get, and I like to be prepared and have some extra time to sit and twiddle my thumbs versus scrambling to get ready. Lucy was volunteering at the vet check and had to leave at 6 to be able to get up there in time, so she headed out, truck loaded with our crew bags/boxes.
Tacking up was quick, since I had already been through the fiddly bits yesterday of attaching boot bags and getting everything situated and adjusted, so all I had to do was fluff the saddle pad, tack up, and add water bottles.
In an effort to avoid ride start shenanigans from either horse, we elected to wait a couple of minutes and meander out after most of the pack had left, and it worked beautifully. There were only a few people us when we strolled out of camp at 7:05am, and we got a nice walk down the road, got through the steep downhill without any issue whatsoever, had a couple of people pass us, then we passed a couple people, all within the next mile, and then we settled in to a space bubble we would keep for most of the day.
Since Renee is really, really good at pacing, and Roo is way less spooky when he’s following, Renee was elected “herd leader” for most of the day, and she did a great job of setting a really steady, consistent, all-day dib-dib-dib pace. The trail wove around trees and rocks, and steadily gained in elevation. Eventually we broke clear of the trees and we on a ridgeline that overlooked Lake Tahoe, with Marlette Lake right below us.
“Breathtaking” really doesn’t even begin to describe it, and pictures certainly can’t do it justice. I think “wow” became the most over-used word the whole day.
Shortly after hitting the aforementioned highest point of the ride — Snow Valley — we passed by ride photographer Bill Gore (who is a West Region institution as a photographer; and he’s been the official Cougar Rock photographer for the last several years) and I told him to take lots of pictures. :) I have a whole stack of them in print format that I got there at the ride; these are two digital copies:
Go to the linked site to see allllllll of the lovely photos from the weekend.
(Yes, Roo’s tail is orange. No, I did not dye it to match his boots. :P Where Lucy lives is very much of a red dirt footing, and it inevitably stains anything light/grey-colored…and I just couldn’t be bothered with extensive tail scrubbing for his bath.)
After climbing, the trail descended (of course…theme of the day: “what goes up must go down”), back into the trees, still on lovely single-track with excellent footing, and we made our way down to the “water trough intersection” that we would end up re-visiting 3 times throughout the ride.
The troughs were at about 10 miles,…perfect place to electrolyte, relieve one’s self behind a tree, and yank another snack out of the saddle pack. (Bonus points for electrolyting Roo while managing to keep this waffle-cookie thing clenched between my teeth…which is what can be done when the horse is polite and easy to electrolyte [“Mimi and Liberty, I’m looking at you,” she muttered under her breath].) Both Roo and Finney drank well, and we were out of there in…I dunno, 5 minutes or less?
From here, the single track turned into double-track service road, and we got some good trotting in again before it turned downhill…we both hopped off and lead down. Renee and Finney for sure made better time, but neither Roo nor myself are particularly speedy on downhills…but the stretch felt good. Once the trail flattened out again, it turned into an old flume road that wound around and eventually into the vet check. There were some really good long-trotting sections here, and we switched off leading back and forth. There was a pretty good climb a couple miles out from the vet check, and then the pie plate mileage marker that we had been warned was actually more like 1/2 a mile, despite saying “1/4 mile”.
The entrance into the check was right through a knee-deep creek, so unless you really don’t mind wet feet, you ride right into the check. But the creek gives them a chance to drink and start cooling down, and with the creek right there, they had an endless supply of water refills for lots of sponging buckets. Roo is not world’s best/fastest pulser, even with walking the last 1/4-mile into the check, so I did lots and lots of sponging and sloshing with that nice cool water, and it took him about 5 minutes to come down to the 60 parameter.
This ride wins for most unique vetting location — the trot-out was along the top of the dam of Hobart Reservoir.
Roo vetted beautifully, with the only B’s being on two of the four gut sounds quadrants…everything else, all A’s. And he was a squirmy fidget who just wanted to rub against me, so clearly he was just getting warmed up.
Once we were vetted, we still had another 35 minutes or so left of our 45 minute hold, so we headed over to the crew area Lucy had set up for us. The ponies got mashes and hay, and I wandered over to the food table. Management had a serious spread set out — muffins and cookies, fruit, crackers, all kinds of drinks, and a huge cooler loaded with half a dozen different varieties of sandwiches. A tuna salad with swiss sounded like the best thing ever…and it was! Probably some of the best tuna I’ve ever had. I sat and ate, and enjoyed the rare luxury of having a crew person do things like refill my water bottles and stuff snacks in my saddle pack.
Lucy also pulled Roo’s boots and cleaned them — the creek crossing immediately into the sandy check had left them quite a mess, and we also wanted to see how the newly-drilled holes in the toes were working to help minimize debris. (Some horses, either due to hoof shape, boot fit, or terrain ridden in, can sometimes get dirt wodged in the boot toe enough that it creates a bit of a gap, pushing the toe of the boot further forward than the breakover point and tightening the captivator. Drilling a couple of pencil-eraser-sized holes can help empty the toe area without compromising the boot structure or wear.) Roo is also very sensitive-skinned and prone to getting rubs (he had a spot on his shoulder by the end of the day that was slightly more bald where the sponge was hanging), so I wanted to double-check that he wasn’t having any issues from the boots…and he wasn’t.
Electrolytes were administered, bridles and helmets put back on, and we were out of there. We were right on time at the out-timer, but by the time we got mounted up, Roo thought about peeing (but ultimately didn’t…no matter, he had already peed out on the first loop at the troughs…), and we got out of there, it was about 2 or 3 minutes past our out-time.
Loop two went out on more of the double-track road, and quickly peeled off onto a lovely single-track that roughly paralleled the earlier hill we had hiked/jogged down, back up to the trough intersection, and then headed back to Snow Valley. The ponies were most enthusiastic, since their compasses were pointed “due trailer” and they were seriously disappointed when we reached Snow Valley and started down a long downhill away from camp. This was another good “get off and walk” hill, and at the bottom, there was some lush grass for the ponies to munch.
This loop, although it was the shortest at 12 miles, felt like it went on forever. I generally have very good spatial orientation and sense of direction, and can typically “know” where the trail is going just based on looking at the map and some internal “if we need to get here, this is what e should do based on the terrain” calculations…but the last few miles of this loop threw me a bit. I think my sense of timing was off, and I felt like we should be further than we were, so when we veered away from the direction I *thought* we should be heading (thought we were closer to the check), that was a bit disconcerting, but ultimately, the closer we got to the check, the more I got myself re-oriented.
It also started getting warm on this loop, so I reveled in ditching my overshirt and just riding in a tank top (sufficient tree cover plus sunscreen meant I might not actually get burned to a crisp, unlike riding in the desert).
It was a relief to get into the check (ponies still cheerfully moving out, even passing a couple of ladies we had been leapfrogging with for the past few miles) and dismount…my legs were telling me it had been a very long time since I had done more than 25 miles, and I had a seriously cranky hamstring-thing happening. (I say hamstring, but I don’t think that’s actually it…there’s a spot just above my knee, on the inside towards the back of the leg. I aggravated it somehow running, and while it hadn’t bothered me to date riding…I also hadn’t gone more than 22 miles, and not with this much trotting.)
Roo took his standard 5 minutes and lots of water sloshing to pulse (after he drank like a fish in the creek), and was at all A’s all around for vetting.
Another 45 minutes and a repeat of the last check, with peanut butter and jelly replacing the tuna sandwich for me. More waters re-filled, electrolytes topped off, boots pulled/cleaned, saddle fenders adjusted to hopefully provide a little more lower-leg support, bathroom visited, electrolytes dosed, lots of mash eaten, back to the out-timer, and on our way right on time.
Loop three had another one of those long-trotting flume roads, and Renee was a good sport about heading out in front again. I was fast running out of leg strength to be able to reliably hold position if Roo would spook (which he was plenty inclined to do when he was in the lead), and I was trying to avoid getting to the point of being out of balance and causing any kind of back soreness. This loop also featured a climb that Lucy had warned me about — short (maybe 3/4 of a mile) but steep, and historically, Roo has been wildly unimpressed (read: “I’m gonna die”) with it, so she said prepare for a wilted, trudging horse.
Roo must have eaten his Wheaties at the check, because what I got was a crazy-strong, impatient, enthusiastic climber. We stopped to let Finney take a breather, and Roo just kept trying to march ahead. There were strategically-positioned troughs at the very top of the climb, and both ponies gratefully snorkeled.
The section after this was fun — slower-going, as it was a more technical single-track that wound through a ton of granite boulders, with some interesting step-overs, and a lot of sections where, if you could trot for 30′, you trotted.
Roo and I ended up leading through a lot of this section to give Fineny a mental break, and since it was slower-going and smaller trot sections, it was a more controlled environment for me to be able to manage his spooking, and physically, I could cope with the short trot sections a lot easier.
Eventually the trail made its way around and down to the trough intersection where we electrolyted, they drank, and we were on our way. From the troughs, it’s about 8 or 9 miles back to camp, and although I had been doing really well up to this point, I started hitting a wall on that last stretch. Again, a bit of spatial disorientation had me thinking we were closer than we actually were. My hamstring was also not thrilled with me, and kept getting less thrilled. This section had a lot of very shallow grade downhill trotting, and that seemed to cause the most discomfort.
Roo earned so many gold stars on this section, as I basically let him do his thing and just concentrated on trying to stay centered and balanced and not turn into a flopping platypus. I was really happy for the treed saddle (Specialized), and for the endurance-style pommel, since it allowed me to balance some of my weight on the pommel, and be a little more forgiving of weight distribution.
Several years ago, a group conversation resulting in the following gem from Renee: “Nobody likes a sissy!” and it’s stuck around as a catch phrase that we all use to remind ourselves from time to time. Said in good humor, but it’s a gentle reminder that 1) we choose to do this, 2) if it were easy, everyone would do it and it wouldn’t be endurance, and 3) dig deep.
Renee was super-encouraging during this section, and kept us going with a persistent forward motion. The whole trail was really smooth, and once we were past Marlette Lake, we picked up the Tahoe Rim Trail towards Spooner Lake…more beautiful single track that wound through pine trees and aspens.
Roo snuck his way into the lead at one point, gave me a couple more good spooks, lost his leading privileges, and then we were back at the base of the steep downhill trail from the morning, only now it was one last steep uphill, little down, and down onto the road for the last 1/4-mile into camp. We walked — or attempted to walk — in so that the horses would hopefully be down by the time we reached camp, but both Roo and Finney still had plenty of energy and kept both sneaking into their little jog-trots.
And then we were finished! I’m not sure of our exact ride time…I completely forgot to stop my GPS until after we were all done vetting and back at the trailer, but I think we got back to camp just after 6, so with 1:30 of hold times, I think that probably puts our ride time at around 9:30-45. Apparently this is known as one of the most difficult 50s in the region, and a GPS-track ranking system (TopoFusion) ranks it as “at the top of the difficult scale when compared to tracks of similar distance.”
We got tack pulled and the ponies covered in fleeces, and headed over to vet. Roo trotted out beautifully (Lucy took a video that I later watched), had pulsed down to 56, even after trotting out, and finished with ALL A’s.
I freely admit: I cried. I was so relieved, so happy, so validated. I went from “I can’t even finish an LD, so maybe endurance isn’t for me” to finishing an extremely tough 50, toughing through some physical pain, and feeling like I am a competent endurance rider.
Ride dinner was a delicious build-your-own-taco bar, and I sat down with a beer, a plateful of delicious tacos, and enjoyed the entertaining awards.
Lucy had brought and set up her camp shower, so after awards, we were able to get hot showers and scrape the initial layer of dirt off. A number of people were still staying overnight, so we had a couple hours of socializing, and then I was ready to crash until morning. I was dreading waking up and getting out of bed, but I actually didn’t feel horrible the next morning. Because Roo doesn’t pull, I didn’t have the fighting/bracing soreness I would get from riding Mimi, and because he’s a lot smoother, my calves weren’t all knotted up from posting an eggbeater trot. Upper legs, and the cranky hamstring, were sore, and the core muscles were letting me know they were there.
And as for Roo? He took off at a tail-flagging trot up the driveway/hill out of camp after Finney when we were hand-walking them, leaving me scrambling to try to keep up. He was feeling quite fine, had some very minimal stocking up in his legs (understandable with the downhill trotting we had done, but his Equiflex sleeves seemed to have done a good job overnight), and no back soreness.
I got to gawp at Lake Tahoe one more time on the drive back, we dropped Renee and Finney off (Roo was very sad over leaving his new bestest girl), gave Roo a shower when we got home, dragged coolers in the house, grabbed a shower myself, and then crashed for a couple-hour nap.
This trip was also a birthday present to myself, as my birthday was four days after the ride, and finishing it was absolutely the best present I could ask for right now.
To Lucy: Thank you so much. Without your support, none of this would have happened: the horse, the rig, the crew help. Thank you for trusting me with Roo, and for having the faith that I lacked that I could do this. Thank you for sharing your special pone with me. You’re not just an endurance friend…you’re family.
More still to come with my typical post-ride analysis and what worked/didn’t…