In a roundabout way, I ended up with a ride entry to Bumble Bee via the Convention raffle (friend won it, but wasn’t going to be able to make it to the ride, so offered it to me), but found myself with none of my prior catch rides available. So I let a couple of friends know I was available and looking for a horse, and left it at that. Worse case scenario, if I couldn’t find a ride, I would be able to transfer my entry to next year, and I would go up and volunteer.
A week and half out from the ride, I got a Facebook message from Troy Eckard, with an offer to ride his second horse, Flash, if I was interested. It was an offer than needed no thought whatsoever, and within seconds, I was on the phone confirming that “yes, please, I would be quite interested.” Flash is experienced, with over 1000 miles and a Tevis completion last summer, and this ride was to serve as another notch in his conditioning belt towards Tevis this summer.
Of course, the weekend before the ride, I started battling a head cold, but spent several days throwing every kind of odd concoction I could find down the hatch, and I think the cold germs finally just gave up in disgust and fled (granted, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, honey, ginger, cinnamon, cayenne, and horseradish is a little odd, but I promise, it tasted better than it sounds or smells), because I was feeling completely back to normal by the Thursday of ride week, and woke up Friday morning absolutely ready to rock the ride.
I had also arranged to do a boot fitting for a good friend (the credit/blame goes to her for being the one to introduce my father and I to more “extreme” trail riding, thus setting us off on what would eventually lead to endurance) that morning up in Camp Verde…normally way outside how far I’m willing to travel, but for that long-standing of a friend, and given the fact I would already be more than halfway up there for Bumble Bee, I made an exception. So I spent a couple of hours with her and her four horses, getting everyone sized and fitted and catching up on life before I headed back down to Bumble Bee.
Every year, I cuss out the dirt portion of the road to the ranch, and habitually forget that I drive a 4WD truck until about a mile or so in, at which point I remember, “Those 4WD control buttons on your dash are there for a reason.” And then my 4WD gets its annual use.
I got myself checked in and did some socializing, and once Troy arrived, went over to meet my ride.
Like I mentioned, Flash has some good experience under his girth. He’s also tall (15.2 or 15.3 using my highly scientific “his withers are higher than my eyebrows” method), gorgeous, and has “opinions” about just about everything in life. He is personality+ and I adored him immediately.
We got camp set up, then headed over to vet in the boys (Flash, and Troy’s mount Rymoni).
All day, it had been blowing gale-force winds (pretty sure I heard predicted there would be gusts up to 60mph at times), but we needed to get stirrups on Flash’s saddle adjusted for me, as well as the whole “maybe get to know the horse, at least briefly” aspect…so we saddled up for a quick pre-ride. Right away, we set a good tone with Flash standing politely while I climbed on and we fiddled with the stirrups, then meandered out of camp.
The wind didn’t faze either of the boys, and we got a good stretch in…mostly walking, tossed in a bit of trotting to stretch them out, and a very brief canter, so I could get a feel for all of Flash’s gaits.
They do the ride dinner Friday evening before briefing — Bumble Bee Ranch puts out a nice spread of spaghetti and meatballs and salad, and the pavilion is a great spot for both dinner and ride briefing.
Ride start for the 50s was 6:00AM (yay, beat the heat!), so the boys got to go for a little leg stretch walk, then got tucked in with light blankets for the night. I gotta admit, even if it gets warm in the day, I kind of prefer the April ride date over the January one…much more pleasant overnight temperatures.
Ride morning, I was up plenty early, my standard two hours before the start to give myself time to ease into the morning — dress, coffee, eat — without rushing around. I already had my hydration pack set with water and food, and extra water bottles ready for the saddle. Tacking up was a quick affair, Flash again stood quietly for me to get on, and we meandered over to the start on a loose rein with a couple minutes to spare.
I’ve had some interesting ride starts in the past, so I’m never quite sure what to expect…especially since I could feel Flash literally quivering with anticipation. I had internally steeled myself for the inevitable rocket launch when the “Trail’s Open” call was given…and we casually walked out on a loose rein.
Okaaayyyy. With just a bit of encouragement from me, Flash clicked over into his power walk, and the front half of the 11 starters in the 50 made their way calmly through the ranch and out onto the trail where everyone picked up a trot and started cruising down the trail. The main objective in this first section was “keep it to a dull roar” and while Flash was strong and would have liked to go faster, he was certainly obedient enough to my request the tone it down just a bit.
We had a clever little checkpoint out at Antelope Falls, where the trail for the 50s breaks off from the shared trail and heads further east for several miles before cutting back in and rejoining the shared trail. In the past, riders have been asked to pick up some kind of token, but this year, there was sign with a question on it, and you would be asked for the answer back at camp during the one-hour hold. Nice to not have to worry about losing some kind of token, or jumping off to sign a clipboard.
My favorite section of this ride is the Black Canyon Trail — all single-track, fairly smooth, with just a few rocky areas and enough ups and downs to keep it very interesting. It’s a trail that really helps to have an athletic horse…one that had a former life as a dressage horse was a major bonus.
I’ve run or ridden this section of the BCT multiple times now, and it never fails to delight me. It’s scenic, it’s interesting, it keeps you and the horse paying attention. To me, that all adds up to what makes a really fun trail.
The trail eventually ends up in a wash that has a tiny little creek running through it — another favorite section of trail. This time, I laugh a lot as Flash was being a bit prissy about the whole “trotting through the water” idea. He thought we should be to the side of it, or jumping over it, and when we’d start trotting through it, I could see him actually wrinkling his nose up a little bit. Again, “opinions.” He also couldn’t possibly drink out of the stream water…but as soon as we hit the water troughs set out in front of the ranch, he tanked up.
The horses (and riders) get a bit of a mind-twist at this point. The trail for the 25s goes right up into the ranch, but the 50s end up heading up the wash for another several miles before looping back down and coming in the same way we went out in the morning. Both boys kept glancing over as we headed up the wash, just looking for a break in the vegetation, or a trail that would offer the first opportunity to cut east and head back. Their wish was eventually granted…several miles later.
The trail coming back into camp is pretty nice, although there are several gates to be opened, but we took it easy, backing off the pace the closer we got, and hopping off and hand-jogging in the last quarter mile before walking the last 100 yards or so. They boys had drank really well not far out from camp, so they weren’t interested in the in-camp water when offered, so we immediately went over to pulse and both were down right away.
They got a little bit of time back at the trailer first to eat, then we took them back over to vet. Passed with flying colors, and then back to the trailer again to chow and snooze. I got my pack ready to go back out on loop 2 — refill water, add more food — then briefly sat down to eat a quick lunch and send a quick text update to friends/family. The hour hold actually zoomed by, and before long, it was time to head back over to the out-timer, with a couple minutes to spare.
The first part of loop two is called the “Miner Bob” loop, apparently named after a miner in the area. It’s got a lot of mining claims, and still some kind of mining activity here and there. It’s a more technical, slow-going loop — part of it is winding through a wash in a canyon (Troy and I were both at Virginia City 100 last year, and did some reminiscing about how at least this section was easier than Bailey Canyon at VC), so there’s some slowing down through rough footing.
There were more hills and climbs on this section, too, and Flash is a great climber, so he and I lead through this section multiple times. Leading is definitely his happy place, and his enthusiasm was infectious…several times, as I would duck alongside his neck for an overhanging tree branch, I couldn’t help but just giggle. He’s definitely a horse that makes me laugh.
Once clear of Miner Bob Loop, it was back onto the Black Canyon Trail, this time heading in the opposite direction from the first loop. But first, a pause down in the creek, for a drink and for Flash to proceed to pose for photographer Sue Kordish.
The last two especially are my favorites. He is such a ham for the camera, and I could feel him deliberately focusing on Sue, and then doing some kind of little pose or showoff moment.
I finally had to convince the showman to get his butt back on the trail, which he did, and quite cheerfully as soon as he realized we were leading out. I had the best time ever the next 5 miles or so back up the BCT in the lead, and it felt like we danced down that trail. He was soft, responsive, and so incredibly tuned in to whatever I was asking.
I always feel supremely fortunate whenever I experience one of those “horsey zen” moments at a ride, and this was definitely one of them.
Coming off the BCT, we rejoined the same trail from the morning, minus the detour out to Antelope Falls, and eventually connected to the very same in-trail from loop one. We followed the same routine of slowly backing their pace off the closer we got to camp, coming in at an easy jog, and meandering across the finish line, with a round of rock-paper-scissors to determine placing order.
We also found out we were in 2nd and 3rd — which was quite a surprise, as we had been sitting in 4th/5th all day, but somewhere in the last few miles, the two in front of us made a navigation error, and they ended up coming in about 10 minutes behind us.
That also meant getting to show for Best Condition — the first time for me! The vets did a CRI 10 minutes after finishing, and then we took the boys back to the trailer to clean them up and let them eat before BC judging an hour after our finish time.
Troy’s Rymoni came away with Best Condition, but I was pretty tickled to find out that Flash had the high vet score. Always super gratifying to know that you rode well, finished well, and the horse looked good.
Because I don’t particularly like driving down I-17 and back into Phoenix on a weekend evening (hello, crazier-than-normal traffic)…and I don’t spend nearly as much time with my endurance tribe as I would like…I had decided to stay over Saturday night, then head back home Sunday morning. Good call, as it made for a leisurely afternoon, plenty of socializing, and not having to mainline large amount of caffeine to avoid being zombie!driver.
Sunday morning, it was super-cute to see how cheerful Flash looked — I came around the corner of the trailer, and he looked up, ears up and eyes bright, like, “Oh, it’s you! Hi!!” And I didn’t even have food for him. ;) Safe to say I definitely connected very strongly with him. He took really good care of me, made me laugh countless times, and I just felt really strong and confident riding him. It was an eye-opening, inspiring weekend, that’s for sure.
I have no idea what’s next on the books, since the AZ ride season winds down from now until the fall, but as always, just kind of playing everything by ear and taking things as they come…