Velocity

Velocity equals Distance over Time. Yes, that is massively simplified down, but the only thing I’m worse at than chemistry is math and physics. So that would be velocity, as I understand it.

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What is the landspeed velocity of a frustrated-but-persistent endurance rider?

This summer will be 15 years since I’ve been involved in endurance riding. A few years of competitive trail prior to that, but the summer of 2004 was what officially kicked off my love affair with endurance, starting with a trip down to Australia, where my dad and I got to gallop endurance Arabians on the beach and ride through the rainforest; then I came back home and crewed Tevis for the first time.

From that point forward, I was hooked. Competitive trail was fine, but I had been introduced to the idea and the world of “further, faster.” I scoured the internet, sniffed out every information resource I could find, ramped up my pony’s conditioning. The endurance fire had well and truly been lit…and it’s pretty much been ups and down ever since.

This may be one of the most honest posts I write when I say endurance has been amazing, exhilarating, fulfilling, an invaluable learning experience, and has left me on top of the world. It has also been the most disappointing, frustrating, disheartening experience that has left me a demoralized, crumpled heap. I know I’m not unique in that, and it’s definitely helped in the past to talk to other people and find out some of the “behind the scenes” where they haven’t had an entirely smooth go at it either.

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This photo of Roo and me at Tevis last year showed up in this month’s issue of Endurance News. I was quite surprised to see it, and I’ll admit, I started crying after I read the quote.

“There is in every true woman’s heart a spark of heavenly fire, which lies dormant in the board daylight of prosperity; but which kindles up, and beams and blazes in the dark hour of adversity.” — Washington Irving, The Sketch Book, 1820

I’ve had so many ups and downs in this sport that sometimes it’s hard not to feel like it’s a constant uphill battle in trying to reach my goals. And there’s many times I don’t feel like I’m particularly strong or resilient in dealing with it. But I guess the fact that I still persistently keep on chipping away at it, or refuse to throw my hands up and walk away in disgust, speaks to a certain amount of…whatever you want to call it. Fire. Stubbornness. Tenacity. Optimism. Reincarnated Whack-A-Mole.

And I’ll admit I have some big dreams and lofty, some might even say slightly ludicrous, goals, especially given the fact I have one mostly-retired pony and am currently at the mercy of relying on catch rides. But that also provides some great motivation to get out there and do something about it. It’s currently small steps…small steps like finishing my online equine anatomy course, one of the requirements for Masterson Method bodywork certification.

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I still have many more small steps towards that final certification, but each one completed is still one step closer towards my end goals.

It can be altogether frustrating at times, but I’m not ready to hang up those big dreams. I’ve held on to them for too long, and worked too hard to get to this point, to give up on the ideas that make me sparkly-eyed. Things like:

  • Pioneer ride finish (on the same horse). I’ve never done three days in a row, let alone on the same horse. I’ve done a few back-to-back days, but on different horses, and one back-to-back on the same horse…but we didn’t finish the first day.
  • Tevis finish. Last year was good in that it really knocked some of the edge off the slightly-obsessive view and pedestal I had put this ride on…but it’s still my Original Endurance Goal. I will happily aim for multiple finishes…at some point…but for starters, I’d just be happy with one buckle.
  • Virginia City 100. More unfinished business. And I just adore this ride. The history, the atmosphere, the challenge…but it’s also way less intense of an environment than Tevis, and a little more doable on a regular basis since it doesn’t need quite the level of crew personnel and involvement.
  • Big Horn 100. Another one of the “big 100” rides, at least in my book. Wilderness, self-sufficiency, amazing scenery, challenging trail.
  • I love 100s, or at least the idea of them. We’ll talk more when I can actually finish one. But having a couple of horses going, to where I’m able to chase a few 100s a year, would be my idea of awesome.
  • This is really far out there, especially at this point, but…going down to Australia and doing the Quilty. I would love to someday be in a position to do a horse trade of a Tevis (or other 100) ride for a Quilty ride…or do a horse lease or something for the Quilty. But some of my initial fascination with and introduction to endurance came about down in Australia, so it kind of just seems fitting.

Big dreams, yes…but also big motivators, and something to keep me buckled down and going during this certification process. Just don’t ask me to even think about velocity calculations.

Ride Story: Tevis 2018

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I got into endurance because of wanting to ride Tevis – not exactly a unique story. It was the first endurance ride I ever attended – back in 2004, the 50th anniversary ride. I was in the middle of riding NATRC, and a fellow rider and friend asked me if I would be interested in crewing. Tevis had already started getting its hooks in me even at that point, and that one crewing trip was all it took to slide from “interested” to “obsessed.”

I came back again the next year, did my first AERC ride in 2005, and spent the next several years obsessing over “the Tevis plan” and trying to get to Tevis. I did my first 50 on Mimi in 2008, with the end goal in mind of Tevis 2009. A lack of qualifying miles on my part nixed that plan in fairly short order, so I took up the crew mantle again in ’09, with the thought of 2010 in mind.

Long story short, rarely does life go according to plan, and 2010 found me with a retired endurance pony and a busy school schedule. Fast forward to 2012, when I once again fixed on my crew hat (literally…I’ve got a collection of several different crew hats now)…and proceeded to crew my way through every year since.

Until this year. This year being the year I threw a few tickets into the Tevis entry raffle at the AERC Convention, because why not. I’m pretty sure it’s the most popular item at the AERC raffle, having its own special allotted raffle bin and all. Odds of winning, especially with only a few tickets, were astronomically not in my favor.

Maybe I should have bought a lottery ticket that weekend as well.

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And so it begins…Having Barbara White pull my winning raffle ticket out made me feel like the luckiest girl alive. (That clear bin to the left was just for the Tevis entry…and the photo only shows a little more than half of it. I have no clue how many tickets were in there, other than…a lot.)

So there I was, irony of ironies…a Tevis entry…and no horse. I put the word out to my endurance network, and ended up with a couple of “play it by ear” possibilities, but nothing very definitive. In the meantime, I got the opportunity to catch-ride Flash at some spring and summer rides to get him legged up for Tevis – too bad he was already spoken for, as I fell in love with him after one little pre-ride and would have taken him through in a heartbeat – but riding him kept me in very good shape and gave me the needed saddle conditioning that can only come from longer competition rides.

I also had Plan B – Roo. Lucy had offered him to me as just that – a no-expectations “plan B” that would at least get me to the start and allow me to experience the beautiful high country, and we would just see how far we got down the trail. As the season continued on, and potential plans fell apart or dropped to the wayside, Roo moved into the position of Plan A. And I was pretty dang excited about it. I’ve done a 50 on him, and pre-ridden different parts of the Tevis trail on him (he’s shown me everything from Deadwood to the finish), so it only seemed right that he be the one to show me the first part of the trail.

Now, obviously, a “normal” Tevis experience probably wouldn’t be so casual of an approach – it’s a big expense (especially if you’re from out-of-state or non-local) to go in with that kind of a “just do it for the experience” approach – but in this case, it was a rare opportunity for me to have a go at it with minimal expenses, so I was going to take that chance. For someone like me, who tends to overthink, over-plan, and hype myself up into a bit of an anxious wreck, this was probably the absolute best way for me to experience my first Tevis.

Fast forward through the spring and first part of summer of me doing what I could to stay in shape and be as ready as I could make myself while still living 800 miles away from my Tevis mount. It was a bit of a weird/funny way to go about things…someone else was conditioning the horse I would be riding, while I was helping put ride conditioning on another horse someone else would be riding.

Wednesday before the ride, I was out the door, stuffed suitcases in tow. In typical me fashion, I don’t travel lightly, so even though I was planning on using all of Roo’s usual gear, I still had plenty of “extras” and stuff that I was toting along.

My flight arrived in Sacramento mid-afternoon, Lucy picked me up at the airport, and we made our way to the Auburn Fairgrounds, with a quick stop in to Echo Valley Feed first to pick up one of the shirts they hand out to riders. This year, the BBQ was moved over to the North Lot parking lot, and I have to say, I like the location change. It was cooler and breezier, plus there was a nice view of the Auburn Overlook parking lot. The BBQ is always the first chance to do the meet-n-greet routine and wander around getting caught up with folks, which was exactly what I did. And shopped a bit at the Tevis store. Then it was time to head home to Lucy’s (aka “Tevis Low Camp”). Lucy and I stayed up for a while going over some of my crew notes and talking about the ride in general, and then I meandered off to bed before it got too late.

Thursday was my busy day – Dad was flying in to crew for me, so I headed back down the hill to Sacramento to pick him up, then we ran errands on the way back home (shop for food, pick up crew hats, get diesel in the truck). Once back, it was time to tackle my favorite task in the world…gluing on Roo’s boots. I had opted to go a little bit outside the box for him, and I was gluing on Viper shells. His hoof shape is such that the Vipers are a perfect fit, and fitting him into the Classic-sized glue-ons was just not working how I wanted it to, especially on his fronts. The hinds would have worked, but I also really prefer the Viper tread.

Lucy had already trimmed Roo over the weekend to his ideal parameters, so there was very little physical trimming I had to do other than a tiny bit of touch-up here and there. I spent lots of time meticulously prepping his hooves – first with the smooth side of the rasp, then thoroughly going over them with really coarse sandpaper, and finally a wipe-down with denatured alcohol.

For his boots, I was trying something that I had talked about doing for a couple of years, but finally had an opportunity to try. One concern with gluing that often happens is if Adhere gets under the hoof, it sets up rock-hard and can cause the equivalent of stone bruising. I can minimize the chances of that happening just in how I apply the boots – gluing the sides while the hoof is flat on the ground – but I wanted extra insurance. To that end, I squeezed a layer of Vettec Super Soft Equipak on the inside of the boot, just barely above the bevel along the sole/wall. The idea was for it to serve as a dam to prevent any Adhere from sliding under the hoof, and it was soft and squishy enough that it would not interfere with boot fit or the hoof seating into the bevel. It also cures in a fairly quick amount of time, so there’s not an extended set-up time to worry about.

Once I got Roo’s hooves all pretty and prepped, Dad was on hand to help out with all of the “need a second set of hands” aspects of gluing. He handed me extra glue tips, took the glue away from me when needed, and kept Roo standing quietly. I *have* glued all by myself before, but it really does help to have a second person, especially in hot weather when everything happens so much faster. In fact, I was even sticking the glue/dispenser into a cooler in-between uses, because that stuff was setting up fast. I went through a ton of tips because in-between gluing the toe and applying the boot, the stuff would set up in the tip before I could then glue the sides. But it got done, and while it wasn’t the loveliest glue job around, it was better than the last time I glued.

Gluing also went faster than I had anticipated, so I had plenty of time to finish packing up the trailer, put dinner together, pull my own clothes/stuff together, and still get to bed at a reasonable hour.

Friday morning, the only thing I had to do was get food coolers put together and give Roo a bath. All of that was managed in record time, and then it was time to load up and head down the road.

We had to do some logistical planning in terms of vehicles – we wanted an extra car so that Lucy and Dad didn’t have to unhitch the truck at Foresthill to get up to Robinson Flat, but also didn’t want to drive an extra vehicle all the way up to Robie Park and back – so to that end, we devised a plan in which Dad and I would drive ahead into Auburn with the crew car, leave it at a safe spot at the Foresthill exit, then Lucy would pick us up in the rig and we would all drive up to Robie Park together. Saturday morning, Lucy and Dad would drive the rig down, then Dad would pick up the car and follow Lucy to Foresthill, she would park the trailer, and then they would zip up to Robinson Flat in the car. If this sounds slightly exhausting, that’s because it is. Not only is Tevis a challenging ride physically, it’s also very mentally intense – there is a lot of planning and details that have to be ironed out and logistics to be sorted. Especially if you’re a somewhat Type A person who has a hard time with not having things planned out well in advance, and contingency plans in place, and…and…and…

This whole Tevis endeavor was a very, very good exercise in not turning into a crazy ride-zilla control freak.

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Ready to load up and hit the road!

Once on I-80, it’s a quick drive up to Truckee, and a beautiful, super scenic one. This time, the views were definitely impacted by the haze of smoke from several large wildfires burning. While none were in the close vicinity, wind patterns were moving the smoke in all around.

As we drove into camp, I reflected on how un-nervous I was. Seriously. I think I’ve been more nervous on the years I’ve been crewing. But this time, the main thing I was feeling was an overwhelming sense of relief – finally, I was at Tevis. Finish or not, I was finally at least getting a chance to start this crazy ride that’s held my brain in an obsessive grip for so many years.

Lucy dropped me and Dad off at the “action area” of vet-in and check-in so I could check in and grab my rider packet, while she went to park the rig and get Roo settled. I got my packet, got a lovely swag bag of rider goodies, picked up my SPOT GPS tracker I had signed up for, then hoofed it back to our camp. Lucy had Roo all set up, so once we got camp all set up, I gathered up Roo and headed over to vet in.

I had a few “Oh, please let me start” nerves when I walked up, but Roo was a perfect gentleman for vetting, and gave me a lovely trot-out. He passed with flying colors and the vet’s comment that he “looked excellent” and we were in!

Once vetted, we headed over to get my rider ID bracelet, get Roo’s butt numbered, and get the first blood draw done for a research study we were participating in on the effects of inflammation markers in endurance horses (something that apparently has been studied in racehorses, but this would be a first time with distance competition).

Once all of that was taken care of, I had one last main task for my afternoon – pre-ride Roo to the start and back. In all honesty, I was not looking forward to it. Roo doesn’t really like going out by himself, and tends to be a bit spooky and naughty, especially on a pre-ride. Oh, well. Better to get it out of the way now than to end up with some even more undesirable shenanigans during ride start.

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Heading out to pre-ride

I came fully prepared for shenanigans, and was armed with a short jumping bat. I think it’s a throwback to my jumping days, but for whatever reason, carrying a little crop immediately makes me feel more confident and comfortable. Like the ability to give them a little “tap, tap” on the shoulder is suddenly going to make all the problems go away. It’s like Dumbo’s Magic Feather of endurance riding.

Overall, he was actually pretty good. I had to pedal him on the way out…all by ourselves…and he thought a kayak on the roof of a passing car just might eat him. But we made it to the start banner, and I finally got to take my own “between the ears” photo of that iconic banner.

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We made it this far…

And then we turned towards home and he had to give me an impressive display of athleticism by leaping around and trying to bolt back down the road. That earned him a few cross words and the directive to do a polite, orderly trot back, and he was walking politely by the time we got back to camp.

After a couple of disappointing experiences with getting meal tickets for the ride dinner, only to have them run out of food, we’ve taken to making our own Friday evening dinner. This time, it was a collaborative effort that netted pasta with little chicken sausages, marinara or alfredo sauce, salad, chips/salsa, and brownies for dessert. Kaity arrived just before dinner, crew goodies got passed out (crew hats, and Lucy made batik-dyed crew bandanas), and we all had a chance to socialize and catch up before heading down to the ride briefing.

All of the most critical pertinent information is posted up on the Tevis website, including maps, checkoff times, checkpoint info, etc…so the meeting is typically pretty short, covers any really important information they want emphasis on, and goes over any last-minute changes. But for such a big, important ride, it’s one of the most succinct ride briefings I’ve been to. And I’ve sat through a number of them at this point, so it wasn’t really anything new.

After briefing, Lucy gave a walk-through of the area that would be “Pen 2” for starting in the morning – where to go, and areas to avoid if you didn’t want to run your horse into a tree. That was helpful, since I had looked at the map overview of the spot, but was having a harder time visualizing it. So to get a quick walkthrough while it was still light out was very useful for the next morning.

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Artsy sunbeam photos during our walk-around of Pen 2

Back at the trailer, the crew car got packed (Kaity and Megan would be schlepping all of the gear for both myself and Renee, and never has a Subaru been more stuffed…) and the “point crew” headed off to camp at Foresthill for the night. I took Roo for a little stroll around the area, then settled him for the night with a fleecy blanket and full hay bag.

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Crew Tetris Level: Beyond Expert

I thought I was feeling pretty settled, but apparently my subconscious was not. Sleep, usually somewhat elusive on typical ride nights, was practically non-existent that night. I felt like I could never fully fall asleep, and at one point, I was startled awake by the sound of some noise and voices outside the trailer – turns out the resident black bear had come sniffing around my Dad’s tent, and he and a couple of the neighbors were out shooing it away.

Great. Do not get your crew eaten by a bear. (And no, there was no food, or even toothpaste, in the tent. That was just one entirely too curious bear.)

So, needless to say, it was a short night, and by the time my alarm went off at 3, I was pretty much already awake. I slowly dressed and picked at coffee and breakfast, and managed to cram in a banana and most of a bowl of oatmeal. Lucy worked on getting Roo ready (I could get spoiled by this crew thing…), I made one final pit stop, and then it was time to get on and walk over to the start. Roo had his grown-up horse hat on, and was all business as he marched down the road. Lucy was walking up to the start with me, and we even managed to do a stirrup length adjustment on the fly.

I don’t remember exactly what time it was when we reached Pen 2, but I think we milled around quietly for maybe 10 minutes? We alternated between walking around in circles and standing out of the way but strategically positioned in such a way as to easily exit Pen 2 without being in too much of a crush of horses.

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Standing quietly, contemplating what’s ahead. Full moon in the background.

I went in to Tevis with a very firm “ride my own ride” plan, with some “we’ll see how they pace together” plans. Given that Roo prefers a buddy and can get pouty and sulky and think the world is ending if he’s alone, it was preferable to ride with someone else…but he also is more of a steady-eddy worker bee type when it comes to pacing. Very consistent, but not fast. So I was going to have a balancing act of keeping his spirits up and motivated, but not letting him burn himself out, especially by going too fast in the beginning. To that end, Andrea (whom I rode with at Virginia City last year), MJ (another AZ rider), and I had made tentative “see how they do together” plans to try to ride together, at least at the start. We were parked near each other, so all managed to make our way to the pens together and hang near each other, waiting to be released. Lucy hung out with us, and right before they released us, I peeled off my outermost jacket layer and pitched it at her on the go as we surged out of the pen en masse.

Roo was absolutely perfect at the start. We alternated walking and slow trotting up the road, generally keeping to a side-by-side configuration with riders around us. There were half a dozen people who thought it necessary to do the “elbows flinging, practice-for-Black-Friday-sales” barge-by – because getting three or four horses ahead is going to make so much difference at this point – but overall people were very courteous and horses well-behaved.

I think I was probably towards the back of the first third of Pen 2 as we headed out, and there was never any time that I had to stop and stand and wait. By the time we reached the actual start line/banner, people had started spreading out into a single-file line and we just eased our way right onto the trail. Right away, Andrea and MJ took off at a lot faster trot than I wanted to go, and I just held Roo back, setting our comfortable trot pace around 7-7.5mph.

It’s hard to put into words the feeling of that moment, but starting down that single track trail, lit by the last of the moonlight and the early pre-dawn, already dusty from the dozens of hooves ahead of us, I felt this incredible sense of peace, confidence, and happiness wash over me. I talk about my “zen” moments at rides, when the horse and I are totally in sync and feel like we could take on the world. This was all of that, and more. I felt like we were in a perfect bubble out there – the riders in front of us had disappeared, and no one behind us had caught up yet. Roo was listening to me, maintaining his perfect 100-mile trot, completely locked onto the trail, motoring his way through the dark. It was probably one of the most magical moments on horseback I’ve ever experienced.

All too soon, we caught up with a couple more riders in front of us. They had a nice, easy trot pace going, though, so I asked if I could tuck in behind them for a bit. They were totally fine with it, and I was glad to have found a couple of people traveling at the same pace I was, since the faster-paced people started catching up to us and going by. This section of the trail was what I would call wide single-track – not room to comfortably travel side-by-side for an extended length of time, but plenty of room to move over and easily let people go past. So that’s what we did. A couple of times, Roo glanced back at me as though to say, “Can we follow them?” but he politely listened to me as I requested he maintain his comfortable pace.

I know we got passed by a ton of people, but I was so proud of how both Roo and myself did through this section. I had to very consciously fight against my desire to “go with the pack” – I can see why it is so easy to get swept up in the “conga line” of speedy trotting through this section. I know Roo would have loved to have been turned loose, but he was so good about listening to me and keeping to a slower pace.

After a couple of miles, the majority of the faster traffic had passed by, and we were just travelling in small groups. I passed a couple people, got passed again, passed some more…kid of back and forth, pretty much riding our own ride, with a few people nearby. It was really fun passing or being passed by people I knew (or who knew Roo), and there were a couple times he garnered some “He’s looking great!” comments along the way.

This first section, from the start to the highway crossing, doesn’t get talked about a lot – probably because it passes by in too much of a blur – but I really enjoyed this section. The single-track was beautiful and interesting, and I loved the technical aspects like crossing the little bridges. Roo might not be fast, but he’s super-handy, and he did so good on navigating the ups and downs of this section.

Pretty soon, we were at the Hwy 89 underpass crossing – Roo lead a small group of us down, under the highway, with a patented spook-n-leap at the manhole/culvert thing next to the trail, and back up the other side. He merrily trotted next to the concrete barrier beside the highway, and then popped back up onto the single-track trail.

The webcast was filming live video at the crossing, and you can see us on this video. We appear at about the 1:30 mark. (Roo is grey, yellow tack, and I’m wearing a dark grey shirt and white helmet.)

The next section would take us on more single track, climbing up into the Squaw Valley ski resort area. We were in our own tiny little space bubble for a bit, which was hilarious as Roo would trot down the trail, letting out a rather bellowing whinny every so often. Our space bubble was fairly short-lived, though, and we were soon back in a small group of people – several that I knew – and that made it enjoyable to trot down the trail, laughing and trading early morning ride banter back and forth. I had to figuratively pinch myself a couple of times – I was on the Tevis trail, riding Tevis – and I was having a blast! I was fulling expecting to be uptight, anxious, under pressure…but I had drawn the right hand of cards, it seemed, because I was relaxed, in a good space bubble, and really enjoying the experience.

Once I reached Squaw Valley, I was glad to be in a group of people – there were several areas that I almost went off-trail, and having experienced people direct me was the only thing that saved me. The first time was still on the single track, when the caution ribbon blocking the wrong way had been knocked down and trampled, and the trail split into two directions. Fortunately, there was a ribbon a bit further down on the correct trail. Then, twice on the dirt roads in the ski resort area, I overshot turns…blithely trotting along, and “going straight” looked like easiest way, completely ignoring the big chalk arrow on the ground. And the second time, I was managing Roo’s mini-meltdown over the flapping caution tape and cones…that it didn’t even occur to me that they were there to direct ride traffic (there was construction happening around the ski resort and I assumed it was for that purpose) until riders behind me whistled and pointed out the single-track trail we were supposed to be going on. Go figure. Normally paying attention to trail markings and staying on course is one of my hallmarks.

I had been told by multiple people – walk the climb up to High Camp. Some people might trot/canter it, but for my purposes, the only thing that would get me was a tired horse. So we walked all of the climbs, and trotted whatever was flat. Roo got good at eating on the go – there was grass alongside the roads, and I would randomly lean over and stuff bites of carrot in his mouth as we were walking. The climb was gorgeous, and again, I really focused on staying in the moment, and enjoying the here and now.

At 13 miles, you reach the High Camp checkpoint. There’s water troughs there, but Roo was more interested in finding a spot to stretch out and pee than he was drinking. Relieving the bladder sounded like a good idea, so I handed him off to a willing volunteer, and darted off to my own spot. That taken care of, I gave Roo a small dose of electrolytes, then hopped back on. I think I took maybe 5 minutes there. I connected up with MJ and Andrea up there, and we headed out at the same time. Beyond High Camp, there’s still one last bit of climbing up to Watson’s Monument, and Roo sneakily tried to trot as I was turned around, trying to look at Lake Tahoe. Unfortunately, all of the smoke from the fires had settled in, and the lake was completely blanketed with smoke. Cresting the top of the climb at Watson’s Monument and looking out into the Granite Chief Wilderness, the smoke layer had settled in on that side as well. We were currently above the smoke layer, but it looked like we were going to descend down into it at some point.

Going through the Granite Chief Wilderness was absolutely spectacular. The trail is technical, with rocks and logs to step over, around, or between. There’s water to cross, and although there were a few muddy sections here and there, it wasn’t at epic mud-bog levels. My favorite section was at one point, we were following the trail up a streambed and tiny waterfall. Roo even stopped to drink from the waterfall before stepping up over it. He was such a good boy – we were at the back of a train of people, and he still took the time to figure out all of the obstacles. He never rushed, and made tons of really smart decisions. To me, that section was like something out of my favorite fantasies. You could have told me I was in Middle Earth, and it wouldn’t have been a hard sell.

I don’t know at exactly what point the Granite Chief Wilderness ends and it reverts back into the Tahoe National Forest, but at some point, we transitioned between the two. Once in the national forest, we were put on a section of trail that was freshly cut – like, barely finished as of ride time – that hadn’t yet been rained on or bedded down in any way. This section was probably one of the craziest things I’ve ridden. The dust was so fine and so thick, it was like riding blind. At one point, it was actually up over my head. But Roo…brave Roo…he gave me his heart and his trust. I don’t think he could see much of anything – certainly not the rocks and roots underfoot – but I would watch the horse ahead of us, and in the brief moments of the dust poofing out from underhoof, I could see wherever there was a rock or a root, and would communicate such to Roo. It was another one of those moments that is hard to describe, but I was, and still am, overwhelmed by the level of trust he put in me at that moment. In all that swirling dust, he never put a hoof wrong. Even when we ended up in the front of a long wagon train, he bravely trotted through, barely flicking an ear at tree trunks that would suddenly loom up out of the dust.

That section was less than a couple miles long, all told, but it was a relief to be able to break free of the dust cloud and get back onto established trails. (Once it beds in after a winter of snow and some rain, it will be a lovely trail – single-track, with fun switchbacks.) From there, it was only a couple miles to the Lyon Ridge water stop and trot-by. Roo dove into the trough as I jumped off, handed my reins off to a willing volunteer, and ducked behind a nearby bush for a quick potty break. Another small dose of electrolytes into Roo, and I made good use of the thoughtfully provide mounting block. The vets gave us the ‘all clear’ on the trot-by, and we were on our way again.

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Onward past Lyon Ridge, I was super-excited about getting to Cougar Rock. I thought it was *right there* after Lyon Ridge, so I was a little surprised to keep going for a while before reaching it. I was committed to doing the rock – I didn’t know what my chances for a buckle were, so I was going to go for the photo. From a distance, it didn’t look bad at all, although I had some “oh, holy crap” butterflies when I got up close to it and it looked a lot bigger. But I trusted Roo. I gave him lots of leg, and some verbal encouragement, and he just easily marched up that rock. No fuss, no drama, no wild flailing or leaping. Just no-nonsense, business-like…and the perfect Cougar Rock photo. This is the photo I have dreamed about for years.

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From there, it was about 5 miles into the first full vet check at Red Star Ridge. Everything was lovely single-track, some shaded under trees and other parts exposed. We also passed through Elephant’s Trunk, which is a section of exposed trail on a slope that always sounded ay more terrifying than Cougar Rock…but in reality, it was a total non-issue, and I didn’t even realize that was the section in question until we had passed it and someone said something about it.

The trail does a singletrack switchback into Red Star, so it was easy to hop off above the check and lead down. Roo started tanking up at the troughs and chowing down on the alfalfa soaking in the troughs while I sponged him down on his neck, shoulders, and legs. He came in around 72 at the immediate courtesy check, and he was down to the 60 pulse parameter in about 5 minutes. As soon as he was down, we headed over to the vets and he passed with all A’s, from my recollection. We stayed a couple more minutes on the far side of the check, letting him eat a bit more, then headed out again with Andrea and MJ.

A minute or so out of the check, I realized I had made a strategic error and forgotten to electrolyte. I was so tempted to keep going, but I wanted to keep to a “small but frequent doses” schedule, and wasn’t sure going into the 7-mile long-trotting stretch between Red Star and Robinson Flat was the best time to run low on e’lytes. So in mid-trot stride, I grabbed the e’lyte tube out of the saddle pack, paused Roo long enough to jump off, dosed him, jumped back on, and let him take off trotting down the trail again as I stuffed the syringe back in place. And we caught up with our group in about 30 seconds.

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Looking back, I think this section between Red Star and Robinson Flat was probably my biggest strategic error. I had to weigh out the mental load versus physical load for Roo. Being with friends kept his spirits up – I think he would have rapidly deflated along that stretch all by himself – but I think they were going just a bit faster than his comfortable pace, and I think it tapped him out. But he’s also really hard to get mentally motivated again once he deflates, so the end result may have been the same.

This was a harder section for us – that much long-trotting isn’t in either of our repertoires, so we did a lot of “walk this uphill section, then trot the flats and the downs.” He was unimpressed with the uphills, but still super-keen to trot the flats and the downhills, and he came pretty much flying into Robinson Flat. As we approached, I dumped my water bottles on his neck on the go, then jumped off and started jogging him in.

Dad, Lucy, and Kaity were waiting for me, and they jumped in and started pulling tack and sponging Roo as we walked down the road. I think, all told, from the time we reached the in-timer and over to the water troughs to let Roo drink and keep sponging him, it took him maybe 5 minutes to pulse down, and then we headed over to the pulse box. He was indeed pulsed down to the requisite 60, so they sent us on into the vet line.

Distance riding is a small world, and it’s even smaller when you end up getting vetted by a vet you already know. In this case, Dr. Mike Peralez had vetted me at a couple of NATRC rides, as well as a couple of rides when I rode with Kaity. We went through the usual checking of all parameters, and trotted out and back. Overall, everything looked good, with a couple of things he noted – a “slight unevenness” in the hind (which he also said could have been the uneven ground we were trotting on), but gut sounds were a little quiet, so keep an eye on him during the hold, and I could always bring him back for a re-check before going out if I wanted to.

Well, that’s not necessarily the ringing endorsement of “all systems go!” that you want to hear. Hmmm.

Kaity swooped in to take over Roo, and she and Lucy set to work getting him fed and taken care of while Dad popped me into a chair and took care of me. First order of business was a washcloth, because I was definitely taking home the award for “filthiest Tevis rider ever.” Then I worked on nibbling on some food while Dad re-packed my saddle bags.

Before we tacked back up, it was decided to take Roo for a re-check. A couple of times, he had stretched out like he wanted to pee, but didn’t, and he was just acting a little out of sorts with the world. So Lucy and Kaity took him down, and left me with the directive of “stay here and recover” because apparently I wasn’t looking great at that point. Sure enough, I was feeling kind of queasy and pretty tired, and nothing, food-wise, was at all appealing. I nibbled on a couple things here and there, and figured I would feel better once I got moving again. The time to tack up came and went, and no sign of Roo re-appearing, so I headed back down to the vet area. Kaity was just coming back up to find me to discuss options. On re-check, Roo’s gut sounds were still quiet. That was enough for me – they were putting the decision as “up to me” and I chose to rider option. We also decided to preemptively put him on IV fluids.

At that point, I was feeling really crappy myself, and ended up curled up against a tree, sitting on the ground, keeping an eye on Roo before Kaity and Dad brought down chair and some provisions for me. That lasted a few minutes before I was bolting for the Robinson Flat meadow, hanging over the side of a log and puking. Which is pretty much unheard of for me.

I’ve since put together that I was dealing with a perfect storm of multiple factors – I don’t think I ate enough along the way, the smoke and air quality, it was hot and humid, I was way short on sleep, and it was my time of the month and the tights I was wearing were a bit too constrictive in the waistband and creating massive cramps. At the time, though, all I knew was I felt like crap and I just wanted to curl up and sleep it off. Theoretically it also could have been some fast-acting bug that hit me…but I really think it was just a horrible combo of all of the above factors colliding.

I am so, so grateful to my crew during this time period. Dad took care of me, Lucy took care of Roo, and Kaity got everything packed up and ready to go. Roo was cleared to go back to Foresthill, and Lucy travelled down with him. Back at FH, I learned the benefit of having several nurses around, and I got well taken care of – shoved into an air-conditioned trailer to lie down, given crackers and ginger ale, and then ordered into the shower after I had the chance to lay down for a bit. It probably took several hours for me to return to normal, but by late afternoon I was feeling much more like myself.

Back at FH, we ran some more fluids on Roo as a precaution (he was running a bit of a temperature, and we weren’t sure if it was because he was internally hot and a bit dehydrated, or fighting off some kind of bug), and we both were pretty much recovered and back to normal around the same time.

Lucy was also simultaneously doing live feed for the webcast, so while she stayed around to fulfill her webcast duties, Dad and I headed back to the house and Kaity brought Roo and the rig home. Roo hopped out of the trailer, bright-eyed and full of pep in his step, and I felt good about the decision I made. I don’t feel bad about exercising extra caution, especially when it’s not my horse.

And after that, I was done. I don’t even remember anything other than collapsing into bed, and not stirring until about 8 or so the next morning. Possibly later. I wanted Dad to experience the Haggin Cup judging, so we were out the door and over to the Fairgrounds in time for that, and then the awards banquet in the afternoon.

The rest of the trip looked a lot like previous Tevis years – pizza at Lucy’s Sunday evening, cram all my stuff back into suitcases, and then Dad and I flew home Monday early afternoon.

It took me a while to pull this story together, mostly because I was a real mix of emotions following Tevis, and I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about it. I still don’t. Parts of it were wonderful, and then other aspects, not so much. I kind of hate to admit it, but there’s a part of me that feels like the whole thing was rather…anticlimactic. There, I said it. Is my perception colored by the fact I didn’t finish? Yeah, probably. Am I disappointed? Actually…no. It’s more of a relief, than anything, to find out that at the end of the day, it is another ride. Is the planning, and crew instructions, and all of that worth it? To me, it was and is…but that’s because I like planning and being organized. And given that I was up against probably some of the worst weather in recent Tevis history, between the heat, the humidity, and the air quality…and one of the lowest completion rates in recent history (42%, I believe), I have to look at all of that and overall, fell pretty good. Do I still want to do it again? Oh, heck yeah. I want that buckle, darn it.

Looking back, I can say that I really did have an overall positive experience, and really, that was what I was in it for – this time around – the experience, and at least getting to start. Now that I’ve got the whole “first Tevis” under my belt…now I want the buckle to put on my belt.

And yeah, despite the fact I’m 0/2 at them…I really love 100s.

 

100-Mile Musings

I don’t spend a ton of time on Facebook discussion groups, endurance-related or otherwise. I tend to “lurk” — I read and pay attention, but don’t often chime in, mostly because I’ve always tended to keep a fairly low public profile and social media, and use it more for direct interaction with friends and people I know. But I digress. Long story short, a thread on one of the endurance groups popped up in my newsfeed this afternoon and caught my attention.

The gist of the topic? What is stopping people from doing 100s?

Good question. Wish I knew the answer. Especially because I could probably be the poster child for a skeptical eyebrow raise of “Why do you keep doing this?” with all of the ups and downs I’ve experienced along the way. Maybe I’m just a slow learner, because I still have a love affair with wanting to try 100s. I got into endurance with the specific wish and desire to do 100s. Especially Tevis, but all of the 100s (particularly the “buckle” 100s) have appeal to me and are on my “I hope I don’t have to wait until the unforeseeable future to get to do them” list. With my current set-up as a catch-rider, the 100-mile goal becomes that much more elusive, but it doesn’t stop me from hoping/wishing/scheming.

Virginia City…my #1 “must return” 100-miler…because where else do you start in the dark in front of a saloon? And 76 miles gave me a serious taste of, “oh, so close.”

Both of my 100 attempts have just left me wanting a finish (at those rides, and at any 100, really) that much more. Pulls at 50s and LDs tend to bum me out, and yes, while I really  wanted finishes at the 100s, I feel like even starting those rides was an accomplishment.

Just like there’s a phrase about “horses who can do 100 miles” and “100-mile horses,” I think the same probably applies to people. There are people who can and will do 100s…and others who eat/sleep/breathe 100s. Although I haven’t completed one yet, I’m pretty sure I fall in the latter category. It’s difficult to describe why, or the personal appeal. I do this sport for fun, and there are elements of 100s that are most definitely not always fun. But I guess for me, those times when you think, “this is stupid” or “what was I thinking?” are outweighed by the satisfaction of conquering and accomplishing something supremely challenging.

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I got to see the start banner from more than just the window of the crew vehicle…so I at least got my “Tevis start” experience under my belt. Now I need the buckle ON my belt.

Besides, there is something magical that happens after 50 miles. I have absolutely loved starting in the dark, and being out riding in the dark. There’s a bit of a dichotomy that occurs…a desire to get as far down the trail as possible before losing the light…but also a part of me that wants to linger, to not be in too much of a rush and miss that opportunity to be out, watching as the stars appear.

Even when riding with other people, there’s a connection that happens between you and the horse in the dark. They can see — you can’t. You have to be willing to put a lot of faith and trust in their hooves to carry you through that trail safely…and I can tell you from experience, you feel pretty darn bonded to the horse after that.

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On the trail at dusk, racing the fading light.

I don’t really know where I was necessarily going with all of that, aside from my own random musings, and if it really had a point other than to illustrate that I really think those people who want to do 100s will find a way to make it happen (eventually, one way or another), and those that really don’t find it their particular cup of tea won’t. That is one of the benefits of endurance in that if does offer so many options…I just hope there are enough people that like and continue to like and support 100s to keep them around long enough for me to jump in and participate more as the opportunity arises.

Following Me at Tevis

5 days and counting.

2 days until I leave.

I should probably finish packing. :)))

But before I do that, I just wanted to put up some info for how to follow along on Tevis ride day. There’s quite a bit of coverage via the webcast, as well as Facebook.

I’m rider #47. And I do have one of the GPS SPOT trackers (http://trackleaders.com/teviscup18i.php?name=Ashley_Wingert). 

Sharing this from the Tevis Facebook post, since they already did such a good job of laying everything out and explaining it.

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“The Western States Trail Foundation has a loyal group of volunteers that will be working hard to bring you up to date information during the ride weekend. When the ride starts, there will be a link on the main website http://www.teviscup.org/ to the LIVE WEBCAST. That link will allow you to search the progress of a specific rider, information status by checkpoint, current leaders, and a list of pulled riders. New this year, you can even save a list of Favorites to make checking on their progress throughout the day more streamlined!

You can also find updates, live streaming videos and photos during the course of the ride on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TevisCup/ We have webcast photographers and crew at MORE checkpoints than ever this year. We will be doing our best to provide continual coverage, upload pictures and video live during the event. Live streaming was a big hit last year. We plan to have even more if possible this year!

Additionally, this year we have a totally new feature of optional live GPS tracking for riders! For an additional fee, riders can elect to carry a live tracker, which will send pings to update the riders’ status on the trail every 5 minutes. There may be locations on the trail where GPS signal is too weak to successfully send a ping, the unit will try three times before waiting for the next 5 minute interval. You can follow along with those riders who have elected this service here: http://trackleaders.com/teviscup18 Individual riders GPS units should also be linked to their “Where’s My Rider” webcast page.

All of the people helping to man our EIGHTEEN various checkpoints are volunteers, typically working long hours for nothing more than the love of the event and a spiffy Tshirt. They do their best. Several new innovations have been introduced to provide updates as quickly and error-free as possible. Most stops are either direct internet uploading from the check point or through technology called Winlink which enables emails to be sent over short wave radio. These two things allow us to be more accurate than in the past. We will do our best to keep everyone up to date on their rider.

You can imagine how hard it is to not transpose numbers, either verbally when reading/calling them out (especially for tired riders), or while writing them down/typing them in (think of 3-4 people having to hear/write the number for each instance), especially when you’ve been awake 20+ hours. Keep in mind it’s possible to miss a rider # if they all come in in a big group. If your rider shows up pulled or in a strange place – check again later and don’t automatically take it as gospel. There are automated tools to help the webcast volunteers find and correct a mistake at the next update. With the batch uploading process, and some of the remote locations, they may take up to an hour to fully upload.

Also just because your rider stops at a particular location for longer than usual/planned, it’s not necessarily significant. It could be that the spotters missed their number going out, or perhaps they stayed longer than planned to let their horse eat or rest for the upcoming trail segment. There will be volunteers in Foresthill with computers if you need assistance in looking up a rider.

Summary of how to follow us online:

Main Tevis Website:
http://www.teviscup.org/

Official Tevis Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/TevisCup

Event GPS tracking:
http://trackleaders.com/teviscup18

Twitter Account:
https://twitter.com/tevisnews

Flickr Photos:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/teviscup/albums

Instagram:
https://www.instagram.com/tevisfeed/

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Ride Prep, Tevis edition

When I was growing up, I liked watching movies. A lot of Disney movies, to be precise. (Sorry, Mom and Dad. There’re probably still some songs permanently stuck in your heads.) There’s one movie preview/commercial thing I remember watching…two young boys, packing for a trip to Disneyland, all excitement and anticipation. The older one is dispensing wisdom to his younger brother, they get everything packed into the suitcase…and the punchline of the whole thing is when the older one says, “We’ll be leaving in about three weeks.”

I can relate to this, because I was the kid who was usually packed a full week before leaving for any family vacation. (Which was a problem when I packed away things I still needed.)

For the most part, that’s really changed, and my typical packing routine now is to prep ahead of time — use the week before to make sure I’e got everything I need, go shop for whatever, and then pull everything together the day before. (Mostly because my dogs pout and sulk as soon as the suitcase comes out, so I try to spare them the stress and worry until the last minute.)

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must you go anywhere, mommy?

But right now? I feel very much like I could pack everything and twiddle my thumbs for the next two weeks. I may be going in with a “cheerfully realistic” view (I know Roo will give me his best effort, and I’ll do whatever I need to do on my end to manage him and keep him cheerful, and we’ll get as far as we get), but that doesn’t take away from my excitement levels of seeing my name on the sign-up list and just being able to start the ride.

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as seen on http://teviscup.org/2018_tevis_rider_list

Just like Virginia City last year — this is not according to plan. But it’s an opportunity and a chance, which is more than what I would have just sitting around and waiting for life to come together in alignment with what I think it should look like.

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Shared this on Facebook this morning, courtesy of theawkwardyeti.com

With two weeks until I leave, and two and a half weeks until the ride, things are coming together. My dad volunteered to come up and help crew, which means more to me than I can adequately express in a blog post. Riding Tevis together has been our goal for years, and that hasn’t changed…but the fact that he’s willing to come crew me through the attempt is one of the best parts of this whole endeavor. (And he’s crewed for me at several “home” rides in the past, and he’s an A+ crew.)

Of course, I’m now moving into the “second-guess and overthink things” phase, in which I ponder last-minute gear shopping, or what clothing to wear at what point. (Hey, we’re at least gonna look good for photos.) I think I’ve got the critical stuff checked off, so now it’s just “mental fiddling” as I count down the days.