Ride Story: Grand Canyon XP 2018 Day 1 55

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OT Raemone RSI, Grand Canyon XP Steve Bradley photo

I’ve wanted to attend the Grand Canyon XP ride for years, so when I was offered a catch ride for one of the days this past weekend, I really didn’t have to think too hard about that decision. Held near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, the current ride format is 6 days long — two 3-day pioneer rides with one rest day in-between.

This time, my catch ride offer came from Crockett Dumas — he had a 9-year-old mare who was ready to do her first ride and would I be available and interested in riding her? Ooo, yes, please. It’s been several years since I’ve taken a greenie on their first ride, but the few times I’ve done it, I’ve enjoyed it.

It’s a 6-hour drive up to the North Rim for me, so I left out at o’dark thirty on Saturday morning. That is the best time to travel — I’ve never seen I-17 so emtpy — and I made it up to Flagstaff in near-record time. Flagstaff always means a stop at Macy’s, a truly excellent coffee shop that has probably some of the best coffee in the state. Grabbed coffee and breakfast to go, topped off with gas, then hit the road again.

This was the longest road trip I’ve done on the suburban again since probably…2010? The older she got, the shorter and shorter I kept the trips…then the “cascading system failures” of the past 3 years happened, to the point now I think every major component has been replaced (reman engine, rebuilt transmission, new catalytic, a/c repairs, front end work) and it’s like driving a new vehicle again. This would be the ultimate acid test of making sure all those repairs had been work it. Spoiler alert: They were, and I am more than delighted to have that level of road trip freedom at my disposal again.

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As I put on Facebook: “In the words of JRR Tolkien, ‘the road goes ever on.’ Who knew he was talking about road-tripping through Arizona?”

Northern AZ finally got monsoon activity this summer, so the drive up was actually fairly green and pretty, and several fires that had put the status of the ride and trails into question were out (up until a couple days before the ride, the fire crews were camped out in the spot that is normally the ride basecamp). I can’t say I would be overly enamored of taking a rig up through 89-A to get up to the Rim, but in a passenger vehicle, it’s quite a fun drive. I might have grown up in the city, but I love a good twisty, turning mountain road. Not to mention the fact that the temperature was a good 40* cooler than it was back home, and pleasant enough to drive with the windows down. Ah, fresh mountain air…nothing like it.

The current basecamp for the ride is easy enough to get to — only a few miles off the main road, on well-maintained forest service roads, in the spot that serves as the snowmobile play area in the winter, which means solid parking and rigs don’t sink when it rains. (Which it often can…this is AZ high country, which means monsoon season…fortunately, although the clouds built up every day, it didn’t ever rain on us.)

As soon as I pulled in to camp, I got introduced to my ride — OT Raemone RSI, a 9-year-old chestnut mare from Crockett’s long-time Outlaw Trail breeding program. She’d been a broodmare with one 3-yr-old filly on the ground, and Crockett had broken her to saddle earlier in the summer. She was still green, but so far had proven to have good trail sense and a solid nature. There were a lot of firsts for her this weekend…first ride, first camping trip, first time with that many other horses around, first time riding among groups of horses.

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Meeting Nene. All saddled up and ready to go for a pre-ride.

Right from the get-go, I got along well with her. Crockett insists his horses stand politely for mounting, which always goes a really long way towards boosting my confidence — really starts the ride off on the right foot, so to speak, if they’re calm enough to stand quietly. I figured out pretty quickly that “power steering” wasn’t exactly installed, but she was responsive to leg, so I got a great reminder of “soft hands, strong leg” that would continue through the weekend. (Which, face it, I needed that anyway…I can always stand to use less hand and more leg.)

We rode out in a big loop around camp for about an hour, just getting a feel for each other, and getting “Nene” used to being in a group…front, middle, back…as Crockett, Terry, and I all rotated and lepfrogged back and forth. Once back in camp, we wandered through camp and did some horseback socializing. Great exercise in standing politely for the green horse, but as it turned out, she loves people, so she though socializing her way through camp was the best thing ever.

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Getting socialized. She also falls into the Magnificent Mare Ears category.

Vetting in later that afternoon, her trot-out was a bit…erm…inglorious. But given that it was her first time trotting in hand…she gets a pass. Fortunately The Duck was tolerant/understanding of “green horse, first ride,” and I promised to do better the next day. Worked her a little bit on the concept on the way back to the trailer, and she started getting the idea.

At ride briefing, I was super-excited to learn we would be doing part of the Rim Trail the next day. Not every day goes to the canyon, and I was really, really hoping for one of the iconic ride photos taken with the canyon in the background, the same photos I’ve drooled over as I’ve edited them for work promos and displays. If I could only ride one day, at least I would get that wished-for photo!

Ride start was a super-civilized 7am, so I crawled off to bed sometime around 9, and managed a fairly solid 8 hours until the alarm went off around 5. It was a very, very bright full moon that night, and with the large expanses of windows in the suburban, I was woken up a few times by that bright moon shining right into my face. As much as I hate my sleep being disturbed, it’s hard to grumble (too much) about that beautiful of a sight.

My “two hours ahead of ride start” wake-up gives me plenty of time to dress, braid my hair, make coffee, and down some breakfast before it was time to saddle and boot Nene. About 10 minutes before the start, we headed to the perimeter of camp, mounted, and quietly made our way around camp, winding through the trees and giving her things to focus on such as stepping over legs and around trees, taking her mind off of things like the ride start.

We made it over to the ride start after the main pack had left, so just eased onto the trail and headed out at a nice walk, Nene comfortably sandwiched between Crockett and Terry’s horses. We made it probably a good mile of calm walking before horses started to come up on us, and I could feel Nene getting wound up as the other horses went bouncing by, so we headed up into the trees and paralleled the trail, weaving through trees and over logs as groups of riders passed by. That really helped, and we did that several times for the first couple of miles. By the time we hit about 3 miles in, we were in our own little pocket, and Nene was once again mentally focused.

We did a lot of walk-trot-walk-trot for the next several miles,…small bites, letting Nene ease into the day. It was a super low-key way of starting a green horse at a ride, and definitely something I will keep in mind for the future, because it kept the whole experience very positive and no-drama. The trail was lovely — winding through tons of trees, crossing small grassy meadows, mostly-good footing, alternating between some forest roads, then back onto trails.

Nene quickly got the memo about all the grass available on the trail for grazing purposes, and in short order, was picking up on the “grab and go” concept of stuffing her mouth on the fly when directed. At the first water tank we reached, she snorkeled right in and tanked up, and she had no qualms about stopping to pee along the way. And everything that was being stuffed into her mouth was exiting the other end.

The cardinal rule of endurance horse function is EDPP  (Eating, Drinking, Peeing, and Pooping) and she nailed all of them. She was also politely following along behind Crockett’s mare, and I could tell she was doing some “watch and learn” from the experienced horse…but she was also attentive to me and my requests, such as “you wait to trot until I cue you, not go just because the other horse did.” Very smart, very “thinky” mare.

About 13 or 14 miles in, we reached the rim, and our first sighting of the canyon. This was only my second time at the North Rim, and third time to the canyon, and I’d not been this far west before. If you haven’t seen the canyon…it’s hard to put into words. The scope and grandeur of it is just breathtaking, and no photograph can ever do it full justice or capture the feeling of actually being there.

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For several miles, the trail follows the rim, sometimes right along it, other times veering in to skirt around and follow some of the tiny side canyons. And along the way, photographer Steve Bradley was set up to get our photos right along the rim. And we managed to get some excellent “greenie’s first ride photos.”

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Steve Bradley photo

Lunch wasn’t until about 33 miles in, so we really took our time…set a very easy pace, with lots of short walk/trot segments, and plenty of pauses along the way for grass. The open meadow with the lunch hold was a very welcome nice…we walked in and pulsed right down, then settled the horses in front of hay. Nene thought lunch was the best thing ever…she tucked her head right now into my crew bag with the hay into, and barely came up for air. The ride provided lunch for riders, and that tuna sandwich tasted absolutely delicious (I like tuna on a normal basis, but for some reason, it tastes just beyond delightful when I’ve had it at rides). I scarfed my food almost as fast as Nene was hoovering hers (we were a good match, we ate our way through the ride), then took care of my “vet hold chores” like refilling water bottles and replenishing my snack supply on the saddle.

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Along part of the Rim Trail

Nene did great on her vet check, and nailed her trot-out that time. And if she thought it was strange to be pulled away from her hay, made to run back-n-forth, then plopped back in front of her hay, she didn’t show it. Total professional, that one. By this time, I was having a hard time remembering it was her first ride, and even the power steering was coming along to the point that she was even starting to neck rein. (Did I mention ‘smart’?)

The hour hold was more than sufficient, and we were mounted up and ready to go as soon as they waved us out of the check. Leaving lunch, we passed through the old basecamp at Dry Park (which became not-so-dry when it would rain, and rigs had a tendency to then get stuck) and continued along, gradually making our way up a several-mile-long climb up a sort of rocky dirt rock. The trail might not have been particularly fascinating, but I got some impromptu botany lessons in high mountain flora, which kept things a lot more interesting.

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Our conga line of climbing chestnuts

As we wound our way back to camp, we passed through some beautiful aspen groves…dappled shade, with perfect single-track winding through the trees. For a desert rat, this is my idea of a little slice of paradise. (Never mind that Nov-Apr would be a “hard pass” on the snow levels they would get there at 8000′.)

The last 6 or 7 miles was roughly paralleling some small powerlines along a primitive double-track road, and we just kept to the same trot/walk pattern we had been doing, with plenty of grazing stops along the way (Nene was now doing her best “hungry hungry hippo” impression). We also did quite a bit of alternating who was leading/following…Nene truly loves being in the lead, and she’s super-bold and not spooky. She also has a fast walk, and I believe is naturally inclined to have a slightly faster trot speed, although for the sake of both her mental and physical conditioning, I was working on keeping her at a slower, “multi-day” pace while she’s learning.

There was much celebrating when the trail connected back to the same trail we had headed out in the morning…only a couple miles to go! And with a mile to go, we slipped Nene into the lead again, and she proudly marched into camp, all sparkling eyes and flagged tail, still wanting to trot up the hill to the finish. We vetted through right away, with flying colors, acting like she had just been out for a casual stroll versus 55 miles in just under 10 hours ride time.

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55 miles and finished!

I was pleasantly surprised we finished when we did — I was fully expecting to be out there longer, but we still had plenty of time to untack, groom, take care of legs, and make sure they were all settled and tucked in before moseying over to the ride meeting.

Despite some impressive cloud build-up, especially out over the canyon, and some thunder booming and echoing all around, it never did materialize into anything other than a spectacular sunset….for which I’m grateful. I’m still not fond of getting rained on at rides.

It was super-easy to crawl into bed that night, and I stayed pretty much unconscious, bright moon and all, until about 6 the next morning when I staggered out of bed (oooo, sore legs…) and immediately set to mainlining coffee. I did, unfortunately, have to head home that day, so got my little camp all packed up, spent a bit more time socializing with some friends, then reluctantly headed down the road to home.

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I’ve been hoping for a completion mug for a while…I use coffee mugs the most out of just about everything out there.

One stop on the outskirts of Flagstaff to fuel up, and then I was pulling up to my house mid-afternoon…6 hours up, 6 hours back. Quick trip, but well worth it! Nene was a super-fun ride, and I feel very flattered and honored to have been entrusted with her first ride. It went as well as could have ever been hoped for, and Nene got herself a great introduction into the sport. Watch out for this mare in the future…I think she’s going to be one of the good ones.

Thank you to The Duck and Annie for putting on a wonderful ride…I will definitely stay longer next time!!

PS — Still working on my Tevis write-up. If you’re friends with me on Facebook, you know we didn’t finish, but we had one heck of a good time anyway.

Ride Story: Tonto Twist 50

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photo by Susan Kordish, Cowgirl Photography

Alternate titles:

“Not According to Plan”
“How Not To Start Off Your Ride Season”
“At Least We Did An LD”
“Did We Get the Bad Stuff Out of the Way Early?”

In short: Lameness pull after the first 30-mile loop. <insert lots of sad trombone noises here> Minor, but consistent, on the right front…the same RF the vet was looking at suspiciously on Friday at vet-in.

Lesson #1: Always trot the horse out at home before you load them into the trailer.

Of course, this doesn’t preclude them from bonking themselves in the trailer along the way, or thrashing on the high-tie, or stepping wrong on the pre-ride, or…or…or…

In short, I still have no idea what happened. No heat, swelling, or reactions to anything on his shoulder or leg. Current working theory is maybe some lingering foot soreness from trimming, because he displayed more of a consistent choppiness/short-striding on that leg versus a pronounced head-bob/limp.

Lesson #2: You will second-guess yourself about everything. Welcome to endurance.

Every pull, I armchair quarterback. I look back and go, “What could I have done different? If I had done such-and-such, could I have changed the outcome?” And then there’s the dangerous path of “maybe I should have just played it safe and never tried.” Because that comes with its own set of “What ifs” to the tune of, “What if I had tried and it worked? Now I’ll never know…”

Yes, endurance riding can sometimes be a metaphor for life.

Luck wasn’t on my side this time around, so it didn’t all go as I had hoped…but I know myself well enough to know that if I had elected to not start, I would have spent the whole weekend wondering.

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settled in camp; time for a pre-ride

So, to the actual ride. Originally, the plan was for Barb to ride K-Man and for me to take Junior. Middle of the week, she texts me that plans changed…she and K had an incident while clipping, with the end result being her on the ground and one very bruised and sore body/tailbone. In other words, “50 miles in the saddle wasn’t going to happen.” But I should still take the rig and Junior and go to the ride.

Ooookay, then. Nothing like mixing things up a bit. Fun fact: This would only be the second time going to a ride all by myself, in 12 years of endurance. I guess I’m pretty adaptable, because I like going with a ride buddy, but I was also okay by myself. It was kind of nice/different to be able to operate entirely on my own schedule/timeline and feel that independent.

This ride won the award for “closest and most convenient ride ever” — only half an hour away from my house, and a little over an hour away from Barb’s. Friday morning saw me gathering up all my stuff (including a last-minute “bring all the jackets I can find” round of packing in response to the 60% chance of rain now being forecast for Saturday) and heading up to pick up the horse and the rig. Got everything transferred over to the trailer, loaded up Junior, and we were on our way. I even got to drag the trailer through my hated nemesis of a freeway exit, which features two roundabouts instead of our standard stoplights. So dumb, so confusing, and so not made for large trailers. But we did it, without a single curb check or running anyone else out of their lane. Not bad for only my 6th time hauling a gooseneck.

In camp, I set up next to some friends, got Junior settled in with food and water, got the lay of the land and some socialization in, fitted and adjusted Junior’s boots, then saddled up for a short, “blow out the cobwebs” pre-ride.

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heading out to pre-ride; those are the Superstition Mountains

One of the things I really appreciate about Junior is how solid he is under saddle. Tacking up, he was all kinds of squirrely and fidgety, but as soon as my butt hit the saddle, he was all business, marching through camp and out to the trails. We got a good stretch in, and Junior felt strong and happy to be out. Back to camp, and I checked in, got my vet card (all printable material such as maps had been emailed to riders ahead of time so that we could print out as much or little as we needed/wanted, and management had extras on-site if needed, but it was really nice to have that material before the ride), then fetched Junior for vetting in.

He felt so good when we were pre-riding, so needless to say I was completely thrown for a loop when the vet said, “trot him again, I think there’s something on the right front.”

Uggghhhh. In my experience, being asked to trot out again has rarely ended well.

After going again, the vet said there was something really subtle there…subtle enough that if it was during at at the finish of the ride, she certainly wouldn’t pull me…but something to be aware of at the start of the ride, and she wouldn’t prevent me from starting.

Back at the trailer, I immediately called Barb and detailed out what was going on. After chatting for a bit, she ultimately told me to go ahead and start, and if he was off along the way, pull him. He was completely nonreactive to any poking or prodding of his leg and shoulder, and his movement (slightly “short” on that side), coupled with Barb’s comment he had seemed slightly sore a couple days after trimming when she had taken him out the weekend before, had me contemplating if maybe he had some bruising or soreness.

To that end, I promptly starting digging through my supplies for anything I could use to make some pads for his boots. After some digging, I ended up jerrying rigging something together out of spare heel captivator liners, duct tape, and double-sided carpet tape. Not pretty, but certainly innovative…

By the time I got that project all wrapped up, it was time for the potluck dinner and ride meeting. And boy do people know how to potluck. There was a huge spread of food set out, with all manner of main dishes and sides (and desserts). No problem with going hungry here…or worries about dropping below your weight division.

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if you find a buddy to share the chocolate-chip cheesecake with, it doesn’t count

The ride meeting went over the usual — trail markings, water stops, check points, loops (there were 3 — 30/14/6 miles, with a 1-hour hold between loops 1 and 2, and a gate-n-go check between 2 and 3) — although this ride would feature something new: the option to use the “Ride With GPS” app, a turn-by-turn audio track of the trail. The trail was fully marked with traditional ribbons, but we were going to be using some highly-populated, very popular shared trails (other horsepeople, hikers, bikes, ATVs, jeeps, campers), and there was some concerns about removal of trail markers, or the potential for sabotage. Having the app on our phone would give it turn-by-turn directions along the way and act as a back-up in case of questions.

The subject is really deserving of its own post, but the CliffNotes version is that I overall liked the idea. A few times, I got a bit tired of listening to my phone yapping at me so frequently — the directions were very detailed — but I’m also coming from the perspective of knowing and being very familiar with probably a good 85-90% of the trails that were being used and I tend to have a good sense of direction. But what was nice was hearing the voice telling me to do something, see a ribbon, and keep going, versus the worry of “I haven’t seen a ribbon for a while…am I still on the right trail?”

Post-briefing, I took Junior out for one last stroll around camp (the Tour de Water Troughs), tucked him in with a fresh bag of hay, and retreated to the trailer to tuck myself in. With a 7am ride start, I didn’t have to be up ridiculously early — 5am left me plenty of time to dress, walk and feed Junior, feed myself, and get tacked up. I put his newly-padded boots on, and trotted him out in-hand…and he looked good. I had told myself that if he was still off, even after the pads, I wouldn’t start. But he looked good, and when I hopped aboard and walked and trotted him around, he felt good. So off to check-in at the start we went.

Junior is also a really good boy at the start. Will walk out on a loose rein, no matter how many horses around him. But when you trot, you had better be ready, because it will not be a quiet little 5mph dib-dib jog. Nope, the turbo will kick on, and he’ll be ready to roll. He’s one of those horses whose natural, comfortable speed is a little bit on the faster end of the scale, and it’s taken me some time to get used to that and re-calibrate my own internal speedometer, which is used to a much slower default setting. But the more I’ve gotten used to it, the more fun I’m having, and the more comfortable overall I’m becoming in the saddle “at speed” so to speak.

We had a controlled start out out base camp, and through several hundred yards of single-track trail that opened up into a wider, double-track road, at which point we were turned loose. Junior had gotten a nice walking warm-up in, so as soon as we hit the road, I let him trot out, and we actually had our own little space bubble in fairly short order. The first several miles went by really fast — mostly good footing and fairly flat as we made our way up to the Goldfield Mountains and the pass that would take us through the mountains out spit us out on the north side of them.

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photo by Susan Kordish/Cowgirl Photography

Photographers Sue and John Kordish were waiting for us part of the way up a steep slickrock climb, and, as always, got some amazing ride photos. I love tackling technical trail on a solid, athletic, trail-savvy horse, and Junior scampered up the rock like no big deal.

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photo by Susan Kordish/Cowgirl Photography

Once at the top of the climb, we started hitting the more technical, rocky, slower-going sections of the trail. But we were also on the top of a ridgeline overlooking the most amazing spread of desert and mountain ranges.

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who cares about going slower with that kind of view?!

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there’s all kinds of legends and lore of gold in the Superstition Mountains (look up the Lost Dutchman mine if you’re curious), but I got a different kind of gold this morning

The predicted clouds and cold front also started rolling in more enthusiastically by this time, and what had started out as breezy, with a few wisps of clouds, was rapidly turning into full cloud cover with a cold wind.

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got rocks? I think I found where I need to go when I want to practice for Virginia City

Fortunately Junior was pretty agreeable about pacing, and had enough experience and trail sense to slow down on his own in the worst of it, and was willing to listen to my suggestions of “no, we are going to walk this section” when requested.

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there’s some sort of cave tucked in that rock formation behind the saguaro

The trail wound us through a wash, and eventually spit us out onto a forest service road. We’d been warned about it — rocky, hard-packed, would probably make people grumble…but also the only way for the trails to be connected and for the ride to happen. It wasn’t dissimilar to the road on the 50 at Man Against Horse, so I just employed the same strategy — trot when you can, walk everything else. We had our own space bubble by that point, and Junior just motored along, steadily eating up the miles as we made our way through the mountain pass and down to Bulldog Canyon.

Bulldog Canyon is about 4 miles of mostly sand wash…take it far enough, and you run into the Salt River, but today, we were heading uphill in the opposite direction. We had caught up to a few people at this point, and four of us took advantage of being off the slow-going road and moved up into a trot and canter through the wash. The company was nice at this point, because there were campers set up out there, so you’d come around a blind turn and there would be a huge campsite set-up off to the side, and more than one horse was somewhat startled by the slightly unusual sight.

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along the road; once we were clear of it, I didn’t end up taking any more pics due to the “moving out and making time” factor

Just a short way up the wash, we had our first water stop and checkpoint, 12 miles in. They also had hay and carrots, so we stayed there for several minutes. Junior drank a little bit, peed, ate several carrots, and chowed down on some hay. There wasn’t much to eat along the trail, so having hay at most of the stops was very welcome, and well worth the extra few minutes of stopping.

The next stop was 4 miles away, at the main trailhead/entrance area to Bulldog Canyon. It’s gorgeous footing, and the wash isn’t too deep, so we had fun boogieing through this section. We were also on my familiar turf now — I’ve ridden Bulldog multiple times, so know what to expect and where we were going. We had a bit of trail traffic through here — it’s a popular off-roading destination for ATVs and jeeps — but everyone was courteous and polite about passing/yielding the trail.

Into the water stop at 16 miles, Junior drank really well, and settled in with a nice flake of alfalfa. They also had volunteers there handing out Platinum flax snack bars for the horses (Junior approved) and trail mix and fruit to the riders. I got a water bottle re-filled, and downed a packet of trail mix while Junior ate. Another 5 minutes there, but Junior ate the whole time, and then when he was ready, he moved himself away from the hay and back towards the trail. Okay, then…on we go. We had our own space bubble back at this point, and picked up the trail that would take us into Usery Mountain Park.

Ah, some of my home trails. I’ve been riding, running, and hiking these trails for probably close to 20 years now, and I love them. Lots of single-track that twists and turns, climbs and drops…mostly good footing, and definitely a trail to enjoy if you have an athletic, agile horse. Lots of trail traffic here — Usery is a major county regional park, so very popular with hikers and bikers, especially on the weekends. I passed numerous hikers in this section, and everyone was really polite and curious.

Management had done a ton of advertising about the ride ahead of time, and there were signs posted at all of the trailhead access points, informing trail users of an event going on that day. That said, we were still on shared trails — and while horses always have the right of way, I try to be cognizant of not abusing that right. Yes, we were in a competition setting…but that doesn’t mean “run over everything in your way.” Part of being out on these trails and using them is to be ambassadors for the sport. Stopping and walking by hikers, exchanging greetings, or even pausing to give a brief explanation of what you’re doing, all go a long way towards building and keeping good trail relationships. They also tend to get a kick out of seeing Junior’s Renegades — I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “Hey, those look like Crocs for horses!” or “That horse has hiking boots on!” over the years when using Renegades. Again — it becomes something they can relate to (special gear that has a purpose, just like their own hiking boots) and fosters that sense of trail community.

Okay, PSA over…I just feel like because I’m on shared-use trails so much, I spend a lot of time on trail practicing said etiquette, building community relations, and educating people about trail sharing, so it’s something that’s a pretty big part of my riding (and running) life.

Mile 20, at one of the Usery trailheads, we had another water stop and checkpoint. Junior had done so well in the eating department at the last one that we just stayed here for a couple minutes, long enough to get a drink and to wait for a very large group of hikers to come in off the trail. Back on the trail, this was one of the super-flat, easy sections that eventually ended up at the “Channel” trail — a completely flat, perfect footing trail at the base of a flood control levee. It’s one of the most fun trails for a straightaway canter…and Junior thought so, too.

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from a training ride with Mimi, the “Channel” trail…for years, I have longed to canter this trail in a ride setting…got my wish

It was one of those “superbly in sync with the horse” moments…he was locked on to the trail and focused on nothing but moving ahead, I was balanced and super-secure, and we flew down that stretch. So much fun, and I’m pretty sure I was giggling with glee when we finally pulled up and got back on more single-track trail.

And right about this time, the predicted rain caught us. It started as just noticed a spot of water or two on my saddle pommel, and then a couple drops on my arms. So out came the jacket again, and as we made our way closer to camp, the rain started coming down heavier. Apparently getting wet at numerous events in 2017 wasn’t enough…we have to carry the tradition forward into the new year.

Volunteers stationed at all the road crossings made it super safe and easy to get across the roads (3 of them) on the way back to base camp. One last water stop at Prospector Park, just a couple miles from camp. It was raining quite steadily now, and the last couple miles into camp got a bit interesting. Junior threw a mutiny, basically…sulked his way out of the water stop because there was only water there, and no hay, and he decided at that moment he was starving as he tried to grab bites of nasty dry desert vegetation on our way out. He also isn’t a fan of the rain or the cold. I had a rump rug on him, but he still wasn’t amused, and I could also feel him hesitating slightly on one side, especially at the trot when I would post on that right diagonal. Crap. Combination of all those factors = equine mutiny.

I was pretty sure I knew what would happen when we got back to camp, but also had decided that if the vets didn’t pull us, I would…even if the last 20 miles were much easier, and way kinder footing, I’ve ridden Junior enough to know he is not a “pedal” horse…the fact I was having to pedal him, even that close to camp, meant he was telling me in the only way he knew how that he was done for the day.

We pulsed down as soon as we got in to the check, and he was already down to 56, and the vet said he looked phenomenal — all As on metabolics, fantastic gut sounds (those minutes at the stops to let him eat paid off)…but when we trotted out, agreed that there was something on that right front, and it was a more apparent than at vet-in. Given what she saw, and my own feeling, and the fact that, as much as a pull sucks, I would rather be safe than sorry, especially with someone else’s horse, we reached a mutual “He’s pulled” decision. I think the vet was almost as sad as I was, because she commented multiple times on how good he looked otherwise, and his metabolics were amazing.

Meanwhile, it was still raining, so back at the trailer, I did a quick yank of all of Junior’s tack and bundled him up in a couple layers of fleeces and blankets and installed a mash and more hay in front of him while I scuttled around cleaning everything up. Somewhere along the way, the trailer batteries had stopped holding a charge…so if the sun was out, the solar panels provided enough juice to run everything…but since it was raining and completely cloud-covered, the batteries were completely tapped out. Which meant nothing worked (and the carbon monoxide detector was chirping like crazy with its low-power warning)…no water pump, no water heater, no shower…how quickly I’ve gotten spoiled. :)

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ghetto-blanketing…no neck cover? just add a second blanket and strap it around the neck

Couple all of that with the fact it was still raining, and Junior was standing outside and pouting and shivering, I looked at the clock and figured I had enough time to pack everything up, drive Junior and the rig back to Barb’s, and then drive back to the ride for the rest of the afternoon and for dinner. So that’s what I did. Junior got some more recovery time while I worked on getting everything packed up and wrapped up (why does it take so much longer in the rain to pack everything up?), then I loaded him up and we headed back.

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back home…sun was shining, he was feeling fine enough to chase K-Man around, and he got mash leftovers

Once home, he was feeling good enough to chase K-Man around the pasture and away from the mash leftovers. I got everything unpacked and spread out to dry in the now-shining sun, and all my stuff thrown into my truck, then headed back down to the ride to hang out for the rest of the afternoon. It was so worth coming back for the dinner (homemade Indian fry bread tacos), and it was wonderful to see such a large turnaround stick around for the dinner and awards.

Of course I’m disappointed in the pull (sucks when it’s your own horse, doubly sucks when it’s someone else’s), but I couldn’t be happier with the ride itself. Management was absolutely top-notch, and you would have never known it was a first-time ride. Normally they come with some growing pains and things to be ironed out for subsequent years, but I honestly can’t think of anything I would have changed on this ride. Well, except for maybe the getting rained on part. I loved having a ride so close by, on trails I know so well. This felt like a classic endurance ride — challenging in some areas, and super fun in others. Really hoping it sticks around and becomes part of the regular AZ ride circuit.

Ride Story: Lead-Follow @ McDowell 75

Now that is how to wrap up a ride season. In the words of one of my high school ROTC teachers, “Finish strong.” In a season that was all over the place with changes of plans, lots of unexpected happenings, and numerous highs and lows, it felt good to wrap up the year on a high note.

The cliffnotes version: Cristina asked me to ride Atti in the 75 at McDowell. It was his first 75 (mine, too) and we finished with a strong horse who was still pulling on me at the end, in 5th place with a ride time of 12:49, and a finish CRI of 52/48. He was a blast to ride, and was a total rockstar all day long.

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photo: Sue Kordish/Cowgirl Photography

The full-length novel version: Where do I even begin? After Virginia City, the plan was to go for the 75 at McDowell with Beeba — after all, we did 76 miles at VC, so McDowell should be doable, right? The pull at man Against Horse put the kibosh on that plan, and future endurance endeavors for her, and I went back to the drawing board. Not for very long, though, because the Monday after MAH, Cristina texted me to find out my availability for McDowell and if I wanted to take the younger horse she’s training, Cosmo, in the LD, while she took Atti, her more experienced horse, on their first 75.

Since I had nothing set in stone, she claimed first dibs on me, and I was happy to have offered what would likely be a fun, easy ride.

And then a couple weeks out from the ride, she asked if I might consider riding Atti in the 75 instead. Some of her personal plans had changed, and it worked better for her schedule to ride the LD…but she really wanted Atti to do the longer distance, especially given that 75s and 100s are in  short supply around here, so we have to take advantage of them when they’re offered.

Just to establish the significance of this offer: Atti is to Cristina what Mimi is to me. Super-special heart horses that we’ve poured our hearts and souls into. The level of trust and confidence she had in me to make that offer…I have a hard time putting into words just how much that meant to me.

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This adorable face was still perky and earnest 24+ hours later.

Friday afternoon, I stuffed the back of my suburban full of food, clothes, and camping gear, and made the quick, 45-minute drive up to McDowell. It’s currently my most local ride, and it’s really convenient. I got my little camp set up, and a space saved for Cristina to arrive with her rig and the ponies later that afternoon, then wandered around camp and socialized for the rest of the afternoon.

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Nasty little hitchhiker that was hanging out in my rolled up air mattress. Welcome to Arizona desert life.

Once Cristina arrived, we whisked the ponies off the trailer and immediately over to vet in  while it was still light and before dinner started.

Ride dinner was done Friday night before briefing…I’ve waffled back and forth on how I feel about this, since I do like a good ride awards dinner afterwards, and not having to cook after I’ve just been riding. But in this case, it was kind of nice to not have to meal plan, since dinner was provided Friday, and I would be riding through the dinner hour and living on a steady diet of pre-made sandwiches on Saturday.

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Ride day food: a selection of turkey/cheese, pb&j, and tuna. A wide variety for whatever my taste buds wanted at the time.

I’ve ridden the McDowell trails for so long (one of my home training grounds), and done the ride multiple times, so knowing the trails was a major strength for me going into the ride. The park itself has all of the trails marked/signed incredibly well, and the ride maps/directions are very thorough. Not only a makred map, but written turn-by-turn directions, plus ribbons, laminated signs, chalk lines, and glow sticks out on the trails.

After briefing I did some last minute tack fiddling, switching out stirrups and adding a mini cantle pack to be able to carry electrolytes and carrots, and mixing up a bottle of said electrolytes.

Sleep didn’t come easy for me Friday night. As always, first night camping/staying anywhere is always more restless, and the back of the suburban is surprisingly not particularly soundproof, so I was hearing every noise and sound. Plus, being surrounded by windows makes it way too easy to always be looking out to see if the horse is still attached to the trailer, etc. I know I got some sleep, but woke up before my alarm was set to go ff, so used the time to just slowly start getting dressed and nibbling on some breakfast. My camp stove also picked this trip to stop working, so I had to suffer through the indignity of cold coffee to start my morning. (Which, funny enough, actually sat better than hot coffee does sometimes…)

This was probably the least nervous I’ve been at a ride start in a really long time. Atti reminds me so much of riding Mimi that I had the same comfort level with him as I do with her, and the same level of trust that a laundry list of shenanigans would not be forthcoming. He has the same kind of complete non-explosiveness/non-reactivity that Mimi does and I felt really relaxed and settled with him.

There were 12 starters in the 75, and since it was still dark for our 6AM start, we got a controlled start through the first couple of miles. There was a group of 5 of us that were sort of starting out together, but ended up spread out within the first few miles, and Atti and I found ourselves a nice little space bubble with Andrea and Lilly.

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Just before sunrise.

The first loop has the rockiest parts of the whole trail, but overall the course is practically a groomed racetrack, especially compared to the last two rides. Andrea also did Virginia City and Man Against Horse, so we were laughing at the “rocky” sections this time, and reveling in the luxury of being able to “walk the rocks.”

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A beautiful desert sunrise.

Part of the first loop trail is an out-and-back with a water stop and checkpoint about 10 miles in. We took a very quick break here — drink, electrolyte, duck behind a bush to offload coffee (and discover Atti believes in the tandem peeing phenomenon). The front-runnign 50s and caught us during this stretch, and heading back to the main trail is a lot of two-way traffic was people are heading to the water, and back out. It’s a fun section because you do get to see people behind you, and it’s always fun to say hi to friends along the way.

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Obligatory, “oh, look, rocks!” photo.

Aside from being passed by the first half-dozen 50 milers, we had the most perfect space bubble for most of this loop, and we made really good time, taking advantage of the cooler weather while we had it.

The next water stop was at the maintenance shed, 21 miles in. It’s a great stop because volunteers can drive right up to it, so they are able to bring hay, plenty of water buckets and sponge buckets, and have a hose hooked up and available to spray the horses off. It was quite congested when we got to the stop, a conglomeration of all of the distances meeting at one place. We let the horses drink, grab some hay, electrolyted, and I gave Atti a quick sponging before hopping back on and scuttling out of there, trying to keep our space bubble.

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Just after leaving the maintenance shed. Photo: John Kordish/Cowgirl Photography

I love this section of trail after the maintenance shed. It’s smooth single-track, just slightly down hill, and it’s a really fun ride. Atti and I were leading through here, and he just cruised through on light contact, effortlessly ticking off between an 8-9mph trot.

At the road crossing and water troughs just a couple miles from camp, we caught up with Cristina on Cosmo, coming in off her first loop on the LD, so we ended up riding back in with her, which made for perfect timing as Atti and Cosmo could spend their hold time together.

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Wagon train heading back in to camp from loop one.

I took a few minutes puttering around at the water buckets (trying to find one that didn’t have bees in it, always a challenge at this ride…), but Atti had taken a huge drink just a couple miles before camp, so wasn’t particularly interested in drinking again so soon.

He was at 56 as soon as his pulse as taken (criteria was 64), and I took him right over to vet. Mostly As, and even a fairly cheerful trot-out, which he normally doesn’t really see the point in doing. We headed back to the trailer and I set him up with a buffet offering of different foods to appease his somewhat picky appetite.

Cristina helped crew me and Atti — gave him a sponge-down and wrapped his legs while I sat down and browsed through my food cooler. Got my hydration pack re-filled with water and snacks, tacked up, met back up with Andrea, and was at the out-timer 10 seconds before my out-time.

Both Lilly and Atti headed out of camp doing a bit of “drunken sailor” weaving down the trailer…trotting, but in such a manner that suggested they would be perfectly happy to turn around and go back to camp now, thankyouverymuch. It was about 11AM at this point, and starting to warm up. This second loop is always the warmest, with most of the trail being very exposed, and some sections with very little breeze or air movement.

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The Scenic Trail trudge. That’s okay, Atti, no one likes this climb.

Shortly after leaving camp, the trail climbs to the top of a ridgeline on the appropriately-named Scenic Trail. It is very scenic, and you can see for miles around in all directions. It’s also exposed, has some rocky sections, and tends to be rather warm. So it can be a bit of a trudge-climb, but Atti handled it with really good humor and just kept marching along.

There’s a tendency to think of McDowell as a “flat” ride, because there appear to be very few visible climbs of any significance. But the GPS stats after the fact tell a different story.

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While they aren’t huge elevation gains, there are several long, sustained, constant uphills that are 5-8 miles of steady climbing up. It doesn’t look that way from the ground — it looks really flat and very speed-friendly, and there aren’t many obvious spots to go “oh, great time for a walk break.” So we  utilized a “trot for x number of minutes, then walk for x number of minutes” strategy, combined with bit of a “trot to the next ribbon” approach. It worked, and we ended up with a pretty consistent pace and minimal sulking from the ponies.

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“Granite Tank” water stop. This is the furthest point away from camp on this loop, and the horses are usually so sulky/pouty by this point. And then you make a turn and are directly pointed towards camp and they magically recover and get all perky again.

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Classy dude. Decorations left over from the last couple weeks of trail races that had been held at the park.

Both Atti and Lilly drank really well here. I hopped off and electrolyted them both, as well as sponged their necks. The next section of trail was a really fun, slightly downhill single-track they just begs to be trotted, and would take us right back to the maintenance shed checkpoint again.

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Trotting through a section of staghorn cholla “forest”

This section of trail used to be this long slog through a deep sand wash, but McDowell put in several new trails a couple years ago — beautiful, rolling singletrack that paralleled some of the old washes. These new trails make for so much better going and greatly enhanced my outlook on this particular ride.

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Eating, drinking, and getting hosed off at the maintenance shed.

Back at the maintenance shed, we had a space bubble of just the two of us, and the volunteers that were running the check were friends of ours, so we stayed for several minutes letting the horses eat and taking some time to  hose them off and let them cool down a bit.

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Leaving the maintenance shed on the second loop. photo: Sue Kordish/Cowgirl Photography

On this loop, instead of getting to go directly back to camp from the maintenance shed, you have to turn around and go back out in the opposite direction away from camp, go a ways down the trail, then pick up another trail that takes you back to camp. Most horses consider this cruel and unusual punishment. Not sure how much the riders love it, either.

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Eastern side of the McDowells — I call it the “rock giants’ playground”

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Snack break along the way

This ride only has two vet holds, so as a rider, it was really on me to take the time along the trail to stop and let Atti get some recovery breaks along the way, especially to eat. It’s really easy to get caught up in the nice trail and just cruise through the loops, so I was trying to be really conscious of looking for good areas to pause for a “grazing opportunity,” such as it was, since the whole desert is dry, brown, and crunchy right now.

Once we turned back for camp, it was a “all downhill from here” kind of trail, so we made some good time, although it was really getting warm out there. (Apparently parts of the trail hit 95°.) The horses drank well again at the road crossing water troughs, then boogied the last two miles into camp.

A significant milestone for me: this ride put me over my 500 endurance miles. That only took 12 years. Hopefully the next 500 don’t take that long. I feel like everything finally “came together” for me as a rider at this ride. In the past, I think I’ve been apt to not give myself enough credit, or just follow the lead of a more experienced rider. But this time, it was really on me to make sure I was making smart pacing decisions, really listening to the horse, and using my own judgment. It was a huge confidence boost to have everything go well and to finish so well, and while McDowell is a great “step-up” ride, it’s not an “easy” ride.

Atti was down at 52 for his pulse, and a couple more Bs on his vet card — apparently all completely within his “normal.” I repeated the same process as the first check: yank tack back at the trailer, set him in front of his buffet of goodies, wrap his legs, then sit down for a few minutes to eat/drink. Refill water pack, tack up, administer BCAAs.

I made a slight strategy error here. I was supposed to electrolyte him, but I was rushing to tack up and make my out-time, and my brain interpreted the syringing of his BCAAs as me having given electrolytes.

When I swung by Andrea’s trailer on the way to the out-timer, she told me to go ahead — she wasn’t feeling great after the heat on the second loop, so was going to stay back a little bit longer to recover.

Every ride, you have to go in with the mentality of being prepared to ride your own ride — riding partners get pulled, horses don’t pace well together, etc. Atti is used to training by himself, so I wasn’t concerned about that part. But given the drunken sailor routine at leaving on the second loop, I wasn’t sure what I was going to end up with when we went out a third time.

I opted to try for the “forward” strategy. I asked him for a nice trot up to the out-timer, and since we were right on our out-time, we got waved through and out onto the trail. Atti quite cheerfully trotted out of camp onto the trail, and not 100′ from camp, willing broke into a canter on his own and cantered the next 1/4-mile out of camp before slowing to his relaxed, 8 mph trot.

Okay, then. Guess he’s happy to be going out.

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Out on loop three by ourselves.

Being out there by ourselves, I finally let myself get a little bit emotional/happy teary. He reminds me so much of riding Mimi that this felt almost like I was out there again with her. I thought it might make me kind of sad and remind me of all the ride goals I had for her that we never go to do before her retirement, but instead it was a reminder of how much fun I’ve had with her along the way, how much I’ve learned from her, and how much we were able to accomplish. I’m just glad she doesn’t have Facebook or the ability to read a blog, since she would be very jealous about all of my catch riding and “cheating” on her.

Atti maintained his good cheer for probably the first third of the loop. Then we hit one of those long, slow, uphill slogs away from camp, and some of the enthusiasm deflated. Cristina had told me he is a very honest horse, and that when he wants to walk, it’s because he needs it. So we walked a good part of the uphill trail section. I hopped off and did part of the trail on foot as well, a mix of running and hiking. I had done some of the second loop on foot, and it felt really good to get out of the saddle and stretch.

Once we hit the next trail section that was vaguely in the “homeward” direction, Atti perked right back up again and gave me his lovely, loose-rein trot.

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Making it through the “trail hazards” section before dark.

Being out at dusk is an interesting time. I’ve noticed horses tend to be on higher alert as the sun goes down, since it’s often the predator dinner hour. Atti was definitely paying attention to things — he has a tendency to “peek” at dead logs and barrel cactus — but he was still forward and never spooked at anything.  It was also cooling down as the sun went down, and it was just breathtakingly beautiful to be out there that time of evening.

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I love my desert.

We went to the maintenance shed one final time, and I ended up staying here for probably a good 15 minutes because Atti wasn’t eating/drinking the way I wanted to see. I don’t know if he was getting physically tired or more mentally tired/pouty because he was out there by himself and it was the longest he’d ever been, distance-wise. So I walked him from bucket to bucket, waiting for him to find one that met his approval, and hand-fed him bits of hay. After about 5 minutes of this, he finally decided to take a good drink, and started more actively munching at hay, so I spent another 10 minutes hanging out letting him eat.

It was full dark by this point, and once he indicated he was done with eating, we headed back out — another “head in the opposite direction of camp” trail, the same one we had come in to the maintenance shed on during loop two. Not two minutes out from the stop, we ended up crossing paths with Andrea, riding with Jill and Stephanie, on their way in to the minatenance shed. I didn’t feel like backtracking, so I told them I was going to keep on moving along, albeit probably slowly, and they would likely catch up with me.

So we trucked on through the dark. The qucik rest stop had perked Atti right up again, especially when I realized “duh, he drank, better electrolyte” and hopped off and quickly stuffed a syringe in his mouth. We alternated walking and trotting along — it was another long uphill grade, so we just took it easy. I also knew that once his buddies caught up, he would probably perk right up from the herd mentality, so I wanted to give him a couple more miles of letting him pick whatever pace he wanted.

It was so dark out there, and I gave up trying to determine what exactly was trail and what was just reflective glowing desert ground. Atti knew, though, and he never strayed off the path. So I sat back and let him do his thing. We actually made it the couple miles up to the Granite Tank water stop and were diving into the water there before the other three caught up with us. Atti had been drinking fine when we got there, but once he buddies showed up, he dove back into the water buckets with renewed enthusiasm. So there as definitely a bit of “all by myself out here, so I’m going to pout/sulk” mental stuff going on. Which, eh…for a first go at a longer distance, I think that was the only “wall” he really hit.

From there, it was only about 8 miles to the finish, so I joined up with the merry band of ladies, much to Atti’s happiness, and Stephanie and Hadji lead us home. I love riding at night…who needs Disneyland and Mr Toad’s Wild Ride? It’s seriously a fun rush, and so exhilarating. I hadn’t bothered with glowsticks, and had a headlamp as backup but didn’t ever turn it on.

The closer we got to camp, the stronger Atti got, until he was pulling on me as much in the last 5 miles has he was in the first 5. We all walked the last quarter mile or so in, and crossed the finish line in a ride time of 12:49. I think we ended up 5th out of 12? We were in 5th at the maintenance shed, then there was a finish line pull ahead of us, but Stephanie came in ahead of us at the finish. So I think 5th? Will have to confirm that when results come out, but either 5th or 6th. Pulsed down and vetted through immediately, with a finish CRI of 52/48. He thought trotting out was dumb, but he was still perky and talking to me even at the end, and he dove into his food when I took him back to the trailer.

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Cristina’s parents had come to help pack up camp, and then take the horses to overnight at their place where they would have grass pasture turnout, so I wrapped Atti’s legs while they packed things up, and once he was settled and had some recovery time, loaded him and Cosmo up and they headed out. I retrieved my completion award (a fun color-changing clock) and top ten award (collapsible bucket), then headed home myself — my own bed was so worth the 45-minute drive versus staying in camp overnight.

That’s about the best way I can think to wrap up what’s been a very interesting 2017 ride season. This completion finally put me over 500 endurance miles…that only took 12 years. Hopefully it doesn’t take another 12 to get the next 500. Guess we’ll see what 2018 brings.

Ride Story: Virginia City 100

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photo by Gore-Baylor Photography

I still don’t know the exact clear, concise words to use to describe my Virginia City experience, other than there will be a lot of them. It was an absolutely amazing adventure, with highs and lows, and enough “highlight” moments seared in my brain to last a really long time.

Long story short: We did get pulled at 76 miles. We were overtime to be able to make it through the last loop in enough time, but Beeba was also off on the right hind at the trot. We went in knowing that a finish was an extremely tall order: it was the first 100 for both myself and Beeba, and we had picked a notoriously difficult 100. Nothing like a challenge, right?

It ended up being one of the most amazing ride experiences to date. I am completely in love with the “over 50” distance; had we had the time and been cleared to go, I would have been completely ready to tackle that last loop.

Advice that I got from a friend for doing 100s was “start with a horse you really like spending time with.” That was certainly the case with Beeba. Three conditioning rides ahead of time had me firmly convinced I liked the mare; after 76 miles and a ride environment, that relationship is solidified even more. Maybe I’m just drawn to horses with “interesting” personalities, but some of my favorites in my life have been mares with very strong personalities.

I’ve long-suspected that I would enjoy 100s — that was the main goal when I got into endurance, after all, but sometimes the reality ends up being different than the expectation. Well, I loved it. We didn’t get the full 100 miles (yet!), but I loved the mentality of even being entered in a hundred. On a ride that is a “standalone” 100 like Tevis or Virginia City, there is a different vibe than a multi-distance ride. Endurance is already a small group, but the world of 100-milers feels even more special, like you’re a part of something really unique. I’ve been on the periphery of that vibe with the number of times I’ve crewed Tevis, but standing there listening to the ride meeting as one of the riders was really something else. It’s taken me over 10 years in the sport, but I feel like I really found my niche with this distance. It’s like every fiber of my being was screaming “This is why you’ve been doing this for the past decade!

There’s also a different mentality that happens during the ride. When I’m doing an LD, 25 miles kind of seems like “huh, that’s a bit of a ways.” But 25 miles was our first vet check, and when we hit it, it didn’t seem like it was that long. Same with going out on the second loop after 51 miles. Normally I’m used to being done at 50, so around 46 miles, I start thinking “almost done” or “are we done yet?”. This time, I didn’t feel that same mental fatigue…I felt like I was definitely in the right “head space” for tackling a hundred.

There is no question that VC is a very challenging ride. This year in particular was especially challenging — an extremely wet winter took a toll on the trail, leaving behind a lot of erosion and even more rocks than normal. Multiple time finishers concurred afterwards that this was the toughest they’ve seen the trail in recent history. So I feel extremely good about getting as far as we did, and like everyone said, we did the hard part.

A week-long adventure makes for one heck of a story, so this’ll probably be a bit long-winded and disjointed as I try to gather my thoughts together into something of a cohesive fashion.

If you missed the earlier blog posts about the subject, my Virginia City story started with the offer from my friend Kim to take her mare to the ride. Kim was already planning to go to the ride, and offered to take her mare Beeba along if I wanted to ride. The mare hadn’t done a 100, and as Kim put it, “The stars will all have to align for her to finish” but she was available if I was interested.

Actually, back up a little bit: the whole idea of riding VC started percolating at Tevis this year. Since it was the 50th anniversary, excitement was already running high for it, and the Sunday after Tevis, Lucy started dropping hints at the awards banquet about how I should see if I could ride it this year (actually, a little less subtle than hints…she was straight out farming me out to people who might have an extra horse, or know someone with an extra horse…).

Anyway, whatever vibes she put out there must have worked, because it was that next week after I got back from Tevis that I got the offer from Kim. And so the adventure began. We had about a month before VC, so I was able to get three good training rides in on Beeba. I  enjoyed riding her right from the get-go, since, although she’s got an attitude (“chestnut mare”), she’s sensible and not spooky, which are the kind of horses I get along with the best.

Since Virginia City is a good 900 miles from Phoenix, we were splitting the drive into two days, as well as adding an extra day in there to give the horses some more recovery time. We were also going to be participating in a research study in conjunction with the ride on dehydration and weight loss in endurance horses — horses were to be weighed within a couple of days before leaving home, then weighed upon arrival to the ride, and then throughout the ride at all the major vet checks, and then at the end. It was really fascinating to see the numbers fluctuate, and once the results are emailed to us, I’ll do a separate blog post about the subject.

Our small caravan (Kim, her husband Garry [crew], and myself had the 3 horses: Nort [Kim], Beeba [me], and Lily [Andrea]; Andrea [the third rider in our group] and her husband Mike [crew], and their 3 dogs had all of the hay and extra gear in their trailer so that the 3 horses could travel together) left Tuesday morning, on the road by 7.

(Leaving was not without some drama on my end first: Mimi colicked Monday night, and I ended up having to bring the vet out Tuesday [coordinating all of this while I’m on the road] to clear up what was a minor impaction…she was all good by Tuesday evening, but that was some major stress and anxiety for me most of the day Tuesday.)

We drove about 9 hours to our first overnight stop in Tonopah, NV. There’s a nice rodeo grounds on the outskirts of the town, so we were able to turn the horses out in the arena for a leg stretch several times, and they had nice stalls to overnight in. It was also close enough to be able to unhitch the truck and make a grocery run into town. Some weather blew in during the evening, and we had off and on thunderstorms all night long.

Hmmm. My weather curse apparently *hasn’t* broken yet. Might as well resign myself to getting rained on at some point at every significant event I do this year.

Wednesday was a shorter drive, about 5 hours up to Washoe Lake State Park, only about 30 minutes away from ridecamp. Camp didn’t open until 2pm Thursday, so this was as close as we could get while still getting that extra recovery day. Washoe has a great horse camp set-up, though — we had a couple of covered stalls, plus another arena to turn them out.

Once we got the horses settled, we made a quick run into town (Carson City) to the Tractor Supply Company for a few forgotten items (kind of digging this whole “nearby conveniences” thing on this trip), and by the time we got back to Washoe, a major storm was blowing in. And by major, I mean about an inch and half of rain in less than a couple hours, bean-sized hail, thunder, lightning, and apparently some mini-tornados closer up to Reno. Eek.

I also had some concerns about the moisture levels in the stalls; the sheer volume of water meant water was coming into the stalls, and they were standing in puddles. Soft, wet hooves…another concern for both gluing boots as well as all the rocks. Oh, well. Nothing to do but dump shavings in the stall once the rain stopped and hope things dried out.

Thursday morning we killed some extra time with ride “housekeeping” items — glowsticks on breastcollars, saddle packs filled, etc., before we loaded back up and headed over to the ride. Up to this point, I felt like I was on a relaxing horse camping vacation. I was also working, but even with that, I still had some relaxation and down time, which was probably a really good thing for my mental state.

We pulled into camp just a few minutes before 2, and were given a very choice spot close to the middle of everything. (Okay, so *everything* is close at the Ice House parking…it’s a very “cozy” ridecamp and there is some creative parking involved.) Ridecamp is literally right in town — you end up riding through town several times, and the start is on Main Street, in front of the Delta Saloon. (Start at a saloon, end at a cemetery…there’s got to be some kind of humorous tagline and/or life lesson out of that, right?)

The Ice House base camp is just that — the old ice storage house from when Virginia City was in its heyday as a mining town. It’s now used by the county as a storage lot for gravel and asphalt grindings piles, so it’s pretty rocky/gravelly footing. We got camp set up and the horses settled in, and got our arrival weights done on the horses.  After eyeballing the gravel, I decided to glue boots on then instead of having Beeba stand around on the rocks all night.

I’ll do a whole separate post on gluing protocol for those that are interested, but suffice to say…I got the job done. It wasn’t gorgeous, but those suckers stayed on.

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Boots on. And only a few dozen bad words were uttered.

Once gluing was over and done with, I was able to relax a bit more — one more stressful thing checked off the list. Camp was already filling up by Thursday evening, and they started sending larger rigs down to the overflow parking at the rodeo grounds, and by Friday morning, they managed to shoehorn in a couple more rigs at Ice House, and then everyone else got sent down to the overflow lot. (Normal years, this ride sees maybe 40-45 riders. This year, they started 70!)

Thursday night dinner was a fun affair — Kaity was also riding, so we made arrangements to join forces and do dinner that evening. She made chicken fajitas, we took care of sides, and had a wonderful group dinner.

Friday morning was a leisurely hang-out in camp. Kim and Garry made a supply run, and I hung out with the horses and socialized — a number of friends were at the ride, so it was really good to be able to have a couple hours of relaxed conversation. Normally I’m used to getting to camp and scurrying around like a cracked-out ferret trying to get stuff done, so to be this relaxed and together was a bit of a novel concept to me. The biggest ride challenge I’ve tackled to date, and I was still surprisingly chill about the whole thing.

Andrea also had Cristina come in as crew, so we spent some time catching up, as well as going over some overall crew logistics for all of us.

Once Kim got back, we saddled up and headed out through town for a pre-ride to be able to see at least the first couple of miles we would be riding in the dark. And that’s when things fell apart a little bit. The horses were actually doing really well for the first bit through town, but then things started escalating  — construction air guns hissing, children at recess running and screaming, the train whistle going off, the school alarm going off. The horses started getting more and more amped up, and so we all hopped off and walked the next mile or so to the edge of town where we got back on and rode out another mile or so on the trail and then back-tracked. Once we hit pavement, I hopped off again and walked most of the way through town until we got back to the familiar streets around camp we had hand-walked several times, so was comfortable enough to get back on and ride back into camp.

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Heading out to pre-ride. L to R: me, Kim, Andrea

Hmmm. Not the most auspicious pre-ride. Not sure how this was going to bode for the start. Granted, at 5am on a Saturday there wasn’t going to be construction, or screaming children. But still…consider my ride nerves officially activated.

But I did my best to not think about that, and instead concentrated on what needed to be done that afternoon – once we were back to camp and had the horses untacked, they had rider check-in set up, so we wandered over and grabbed our packets, and went back to the trailer to examine our goodies. They had some great ride sponsors this year, and we ended up with some nice coupons, some samples of Hammer products, and a sample of Squirrel’s Nut Butter, which, contrary to how the name may sound, is not for spreading on your morning toast.

Vetting was supposed to start at 3, but unfortunately both of the vets were delayed and it wasn’t until a little after 5 that we ended up being able to vet in. Normally this kind of thing really stresses me out and throws me and my carefully coordinated planning into a tailspin, since delays tend to have a trickle-down effect…meaning dinner would be later, and ride meeting later, and bedtime later. I know I was a little bit stressed/anxious/annoyed at this point, but actually shook it off pretty fast…not like there was anything I could do to control the situation, and stressing about it would just waste valuable energy.

Once vetting starting, we scuttled over to get in line (advantage of being parked close), and only had to stand around for 15 minutes or so. Beeba vetted in beautifully – stood politely, trotted in-hand well. I found it interesting she had a couple of B’s on gut sounds, especially when she had been stuffing food in all day long.

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Waiting in line to vet. Photo by Lucy Trumbull

The ride offered an option to buy dinner Friday night, which always makes me happy. Whenever a ride offers me the chance to buy a meal, I do so, since that’s one less thing for me to cook/clean up after. They had really yummy smoked tri-tip (or chicken) and sides, and I’m a sucker for a good tri-tip.

Between dinner and ride meeting, we scuttled over to throw another layer of blankets on the horses. Desert rats (especially Beeba) weren’t too fond of the cold, so we ended up double-blanketing them most nights. Right about the time we were blanketing, everybody picked up and migrated from the outside dinner tables to inside the Ice House for the ride meeting, and we ended up packed in there tighter than sardines. (70 riders plus their crew and associated persons make for very crowded conditions…I actually want to come back on a non-anniversary year just to experience the “normal” ride conditions.)

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Sardined riders. Yours truly is up against the wall, snuggled next to the stove pipe (no, it wasn’t lit) in the purple hoodie and pink/orange puffy jacket.

Briefing was highly entertaining – the NASTR club really knows how to have a good time and the pride and joy they have in their rides really shines through. We got a really good description of the trail, as well as tidbits and insight into good natural water sources that would be out there this year. Head vet Jamie Kerr got up and gave us our vet check parameters for the holds, as well as spent time reiterating the importance of hydration in our horses.

Major takeaway: 30 swallows = 1 gallon, so when you’re at a water source, count those swallows and know how much your horse is taking in. He emphasized this several times, and it is one of those tidbits that is now stuck in my brain. It was also really useful out there on the trail – there’s quite a bit of peace of mind that comes from the surety of knowing “my horse just drank a gallon and half at that stop” versus “well, I think they drank pretty well???”.

After the ride meeting was the Calcutta, which apparently auctions off riders and people bid on the riders finishing high up in their weight class. Or something like that. I was a little fuzzy on the details when it was explained to me ahead of time, and I didn’t stick around for it – I was way more interested in getting to bed early.

We checked the horses’ food and water for the night, then hustled off to bed; I’m pretty sure I actually managed to be in bed by 9. 3AM rolled around way too fast, but I actually managed some pretty good sleep for the night before a ride and was technically up before my alarm (which was set for 3:15).

I got dressed, got coffee made, and sat down and slowly tried to gag down a bit of breakfast. It was a relief to finally just get up and go out to tack up. As I was tacking up, Lucy came over to give me a hug and a bit of early morning moral support. Beeba was being a squirmy wiggle worm as usual for tacking up, so it was useful having an extra hand for a couple minutes. Lucy’s been a huge part of my endurance journey, especially towards 100-milers, so that quick morning visit meant a lot to me and was a huge morale booster. Ride nerves had started taking hold, and the specter of the ride start loomed large.

We did a quick “start weight” of the horses on the scale, then gathered together and started walking towards the start about 4:30. Andrea was mounted and Lily was being a saint. Kim and I were both hand-walking. A little ways out from camp, Kim swung up on Nort, but unfortunately I just don’t have “fast mounting” down as one of my appreciable skills, and I basically would have held the other two up waiting for me to gather myself together and get on…so I kept hand-walking.

Beeba was getting pretty prancey as we were walking – we were getting passed by other people, and she just wanted to walk out at her really fast flat walk…but that would have put her ahead of our other two, and the whole point was to try to keep Nort especially under wraps. So I kept getting more and more intimidated as Beeba kept getting more wound up. Finally Cristina offered to walk Beeba for me, and after a moment of warring with my pride and ego, I handed the mare over and dropped back to try to gather myself together. I was really stressed out at this point – crying because I couldn’t get it together, mad at myself for not being braver, and frustrated about how easily I transfer emotions to horses – I was turning a normally calm horse into a ball of nerves with my emotions, because as soon as I handed her over to Cristina, she started walking out calmly.

Kim’s husband Garry was a solid rock for me at that point. He hung back with me, talked me through my emotional fit, and got me calmed down and re-centered. By the time we reached Main Street, I was feeling much more put together, enough so that he and Cristina held Beeba and I was able to swing aboard. We did a couple walking circles, and then the ride started.

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Getting ready to mount up at the start.

We were towards the back of the pack, and everyone was calmly walking out of town. As soon as I mounted, Beeba had settled down, and she was happily walking out, just as curious as I was about this novel and unique ride start. I chattered to her, pointing out different historic sites and saloons, mostly as a way to keep myself calm (you have to breathe to be able to chatter). This was, hands down, the most unique ride start ever, and absolutely magical. With the roads closed down, and everything lit by the soft glow of streetlights, it’s not hard to imagine back a couple hundred years to miners and prospectors walking or riding these same streets, in front of these same buildings.

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We walked a good part of the way through town, then turned off and dropped down a couple street levels to go past the cemetery and out onto the trail. This was what we had pre-ridden the previous day, so we able to pick up a slow trot. There were a few spots that had some trail wash-out and erosion, and management did a great job of marking the spots to avoid with blinking red hazard flashers.

We were a few miles in, starting to climb up to Sign Hill, when Andrea’s mare mis-stepped when passing from one trail track to another and stumbled, going to her knees and sending Andrea over her shoulder into the ditch in front of her. That’s always a scary moment when you have a rider off, in the dark, with horses behind you, in a trail area that has maybe 12” of passing space. Fortunately Lily is a saint who stood like a rock, Andrea was able to get back on, and we continued on our way.

The short climb up Sign Hill tops off at the highway, then drops down a steep embankment, and opens up onto a wide road (with dirt shoulder) that turns into a nice open dirt road. We made it down the embankment without incident (it’s steep enough to be potentially very *exciting* to a horse that’s a bit wound up) and once we hit the road, were finally able to let the horses really move out.  Beeba and I had our one and only “discussion” of the ride at this point, as she really wanted to move out, and I thought a dull roar was a bit more prudent, as it had lightened up just enough to see that the road did have some ruts and dips along the way.

She tossed her head, I growled at her. Another head toss, I made threats of a martingale for the future. It continued this way for the several miles we were on the road, but considering she wasn’t even trying too hard to dislocate my shoulders, I chalked it up as more of a minor annoyance than major problem.

We turned off the main road onto a wash that cut up to another road – “road” being a bit generous in definition, as it had a pretty impressive layer of rocks overlaying it. And so began the “hmm, if a hoof can fit in between the rocks, we should be trotting it” concept. This road took us up into the Virginia Highlands, and we wove through different streets and up and down some hills (got off to run a steeper downhill, discovered Beeba is a great running partner), past the volunteer fire station that’s kind of out in the middle of nowhere, and up and around the whole northern part of the Highlands.

I have no pictures through this section because the cold had zapped my phone — went to take pics and it was all “No Battery Life.” Lame. Zombie!Phone came back to life once it warmed up a bit, by mile 19, so I was able to get pics later.

A very nice homeowner had put out a trough in their front yard around mile 15, and the horses tanked up here while we gave very appreciative thanks to the homeowners, who were out spectating on their front porch. There had been water earlier (a trough at mile 4, plus a natural stream crossing about 10 miles in) but this was the first one Beeba decided was acceptable…and then she started tanking up at every water source from hereon after.

Got the scenic tour of more of the Highlands via dirt/gravel roads, and wound our way down to the highway crossing at 19 miles. There was another water trough there that we stopped at there before we did the trot-by, and Beeba started to drink well, only to be interrupted by a lady coming up and letting her horse barge in and snarl at everyone. Fortunately Beeba returned to drinking after the horse moved off, but that was a major annoyance.

Did our mounted trot-by, all were cleared to go, then we scuttled across the highway and headed down the Toll Rd, passing photographer Rene Baylor on the way. (The top pic was at this point as well.)

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photo by Gore-Baylor Photography

Once the road started descending (it’s about 2 miles down), I hopped off and started running with Beeba. Of course now that the sun was up, I quickly started warming up in my layers, so I pulled off probably one of my most impressive multi-tasking efforts to date. While still running, I managed to: hold the horse, remove my water pack, strip off my jacket, replace the water pack, and tie my jacket around my waist. All without falling or tripping.  The steeper or more rutted out parts of the road, we walked, but otherwise we were running. Beeba again proved to be a wonderful running partner, staying either right behind me or with her head at my shoulder, on a loose lead, matching her pace with mine.

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hoofing it down Toll Rd

Once the road leveled out a little bit, I hopped back on and we did the rest of the grade at a trot, making our way past the turnoff for Bailey Canyon (we’d be back here after the vet check), and into the residential area that would take us to the first vet check – a 45 minute hold at Kivett Lane.

Coming down Toll Rd; photos by Sanne Steele

This was the flattest trail we had seen for the last number of miles, and it felt really good to let the horses move out on flat ground at a good trot. There was a little creek running right through one of the streets, so all of the horses stopped and had a really good drink – perfect timing, not too far out from the check. Beeba and I ended up out in front through the residential area, and we had a few moments of “Arabian pinball” as we zigged and zagged past some spooky residential happenings…but I employed the “faster you go, the faster you get past the scary object” methodology, and we made really good time into the check.

It was a bit of an adrenaline rush coming into the check – that was probably the most intense 25 miles I had ridden, and during it, I felt very “in the zone” but coming into the vet check was definitely a “holy wow, what was that?” moment. It was really good to see smiling, friendly faces that I knew, and to get a few cheers and waves as I came in.

I took Beeba over to the trough to get a drink and get her pulsed. I had no idea where she was at – I basically knew “she pulses really well” from what Kim had told me ahead of time. The pulse checker had just started taking her pulse when Lily reached out across the water trough and bit Beeba right on the face. She was really startled, but all she did was jump in place – and she still pulsed in right at 60, even though the pulse-taker said she spiked right when he was pulsing her. (So who knows how low she was at that point? Ah, well, 60 was the parameter, that’s what we were at, so that’s all I cared about.)

Whisked her right over to the vet, where she proceed to stun all around her with a CRI score of 56/40. Yes, really. The same B’s on a couple of gut sounds, and A’s on everything else. Hopped over to the scale to get a quick weight, and then we made our way over to the crew area Garry had set up.

 

I am so not used to having a crew, so it was a major novelty to have the horse taken from me, and be pointed in the direction of food, drink, and a chair. I had done some good snacking and hydrating on the trail, so topped off my hydration pack, re-filled a water bottle, re-filled my snacks, and then sat down with breakfast.

We actually went into the ride with a small rub in front of Beeba’s girth – a small spot of pink skin that wasn’t in direct contact with the girth, and of unknown origin. But how would all of the downhill we were doing end up impacting it? So far, so good. Slathered it with more Cowboy Magic, rolled up her rump rug, attached a scoop and sponge to the saddle, electrolyted, and then it was time to mount up and head out, right on our out-time.

Back through the residential area, with a stop at the stream to drink again (despite tanking up well at the check…yay!), then re-traced our steps up to the Bailey Canyon turnoff.

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making our way to Bailey Canyon

I had heard stories and seen a few pictures of Bailey Canyon. I knew it was rocky. I knew it took an hour to get through whether you were fast or slow.

Well, I prepared myself for the worst, and was ready for an hour+ of misery. What I got was actually quite a bit of fun. I wasn’t too sure at the start of Bailey, when we did a bit of ribbon-to-ribbon navigating through rocks and sagebrush, then a very tricky drop into a stream crossing in order to get to the trail, but that was some of the worst of it, and we spent the next hour perfecting the art of walking the rocks, and trotting all 20’ of smooth trail.

If you’ve got a horse who just wants to go, I can see where this suck would suck. If they’re the kind that don’t watch their feet, and tend to do more spazzing and flailing than actually paying attention, I would hate this section. But I was on a mare with really smart footwork, who could “see” her own clear path through the rocks, and I just concentrated on stayed balanced and staying out of her way.

With three people riding together, it can be hard to practice traditional trail etiquette for these kind of scenarios. Normally, the polite thing to do is wait until all horses are clear of a rough area, then start trotting. But when the clear sections are so brief, by the time the last horse is clear, the first horse is in rocks again. So we employed the “trot whenever” strategy. Both Beeba and Lily are fine with being left when the horse in front of them trots off, so Kim and Nort set the pace out in front – they would hit a clear section and trot, then Andrea and Lily would trot when they reached it, and then Beeba and I, bringing up the rear, would trot when we were clear. This worked marvelously, and we made pretty good time through here once we figured that out.

The next section after Bailey had some good areas (comparatively speaking) to move out again. A couple longer downhills that were a good excuse to get off and walk/jog, and we wound our way through the mountains and down towards Washoe Lake, where our next vet check was waiting at 39 miles.

The couple miles of sagebrush flats into Washoe were a blast. Beeba and I led the way, blasting through the single-track at a speedy trot. She was a little spooky to start with, peeking at the sagebrush, or off in the distance at the irrigation wheels, but I just kept asking her for a bit more speed, and the faster we would go, the more focused on the trail she would get. This was one of those trails that really paid to have an athletic, compact, nimble horse, and I was laughing like a loon by the time we hit the Washoe Lake check.

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coming into Washoe; photo by Gore-Baylor Photogrpahy

There’s a 20-minute hold there at Washoe. Some time during that 20 minutes, you have to go see the vet for a full exam, but there’s no “gate into hold” where you have to pulse down before your time starts – they just have to be down to parameters by the time you go see the vet.

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entering the check; Beeba and I are both going “wah, why’d we have to stop trotting?”

Garry had a nice crew area set up for us again, so the horses were able to settle in and eat for a few minutes  while we topped off waters/snacks, then went over to the vet. Unfortunately, since we were at the back of the pack, they were down to only one vet, so to get all three of us vetted through took almost 15 minutes.

This check was probably Beeba’s lowest point; I didn’t get a photo of the vet card at this check, but from what I remember, her CRI was less phenomenal (52/52, I think?), I think she had a couple of B’s on the movement scores, and her trot-out was a little half-hearted.

We left the check probably about 10 minutes late; but at least the horses had a chance to eat while we were waiting. Only 11 miles into camp and a one-hour hold, but before that, we had to get through the SOBs (yes, it means what you probably think it means): three infamous, v-shaped pits of hell canyon things that you basically drop straight up, climb straight back up, die a little bit, climb down, climb up (only not as bad as the first time), die a little less, then meander down and back up a third time.

Oh, and there’s about a 4-mile climb to get to that point. Just keep climbing. Up, up, up. The views from the top are amazing. Beeba slowed down and asked for some bites of whatever grassy stuff was growing alongside the trail several times, but she never quit on me.

We stopped at the top of the first SOB, made appropriate “oh, #^%*” noises, then hopped off and started picking our way down. The footing was loose and rubbly, and I basically zig-zagged my way down. Beeba kept a safe distance back from me, and dutifully followed behind me, opportunistically grabbing grass whenever I paused to ponder my next move.

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SOB 1

Surviving the down is actually the easy part. The climb up is what really sucks. I thought I would “probably be okay” – after all, I did a 50k this spring with some massive hills, and had stayed in decent shape all summer. Well, those climbs might have been long, but they were nowhere near as steep as SOB1, which also featured really gnarly, loose, rocky footing.  Beeba knows how to tail, and we had even practiced it beforehand. What I didn’t count on was her ravenous appetite. I put her in front of me, clicked to her…and she walked up a couple feet and promptly darted off to the side of the trail and started grazing.

Well, this isn’t going to work. Part of a hill like this is momentum. Stopping every two feet wasn’t going to cut it. I also wasn’t going to be standing below her in this stop-n-start routine on a steep angle with crappy footing.

New plan. Time for a wagon train. Andrea, riding Lily, got in front. Kim tailed off Lily and lead Nort. I tailed off Nort and lead Beeba. Beeba trailed behind me, waiting for the opportune moment to dive for grass. And we managed to make it up the first SOB in this fashion. Paused at the top to remember how to breathe. (Did I mention this is also at  6500’ elevation?) Then continued downward on foot, slightly less treacherous of footing…and mounted up at the bottom.

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Tackling the second SOB

Sorry, Beeba, I gave you the first one, mare, but the next ones are on you. Maybe next time I’ll tackle the second one on foot as well, but I’m calling tailing the first SOB a pretty good deal for my first VC.

Past the SOBs, the trail is rocky (what else is new?) but levels out, so we were able to get in some decent trotting as we made our way past the reservoir and to the Jumbo Grade water stop. They have water trough, and hay, and mash, as well as cookies for the riders. We took a 5-minute cookie-and-mash break there, then we continued onward – only a few miles from camp.

The reservoir road/Ophir Grade is fairly flat, and pretty hard-packed, but the rocks aren’t as bad, so we hit that road and turned on the trotting afterburners. Nort and Lily both have a bigger trot than Beeba does (or at least than she prefers) so once we escalated past about 9mph, she kicked over into her wonderful rolling canter. It’s not fast, but it’s super fun and really easy to ride. Plus it’s exhilarating to know that at 49 miles in, the horse feels good enough to want to canter and is asking for more.

We came trotting off the grade, crossed the highway, and headed down the road into camp. Since the trailer was *right there* and it was a tack-off check, we grabbed our time slips, dumped tack at the trailer, then headed over to pulse and vet.

Again, I totally failed at taking a picture of my card, but I know she was improved from the Washoe check on everything and her trot-out was once again perky and cheerful and the vet said she looked good.

Then it was back to the trailer where she got a bucket of mash, and I put some ice boots on her front legs while I ducked inside and grabbed some food for myself. I was kind of disorganized in terms of food for myself here; I wasn’t sure what I wanted, I felt a bit frazzled because we were running way later on time than what I had planned, and didn’t quite know what I needed to do at this point.

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Stuffing in whatever she could find during the one-hour vet hold at Ice House

I also knew we would be out in the dark for part of the loop, so partially changed clothes into a couple warmer top layers, plus added my jacket back on to the saddle.

With 15 minutes or so until out time, I pulled Beeba’s ice wraps off and started tacking up again. I was fully expecting dirty looks at this point, since she’s never done more than 50 miles, and here we were at 50 miles, untacked and eating, legs iced…surely she was done? To my surprise, I got a polite “hmmm, whatcha doing?” ear tip in my direction, and she kept on steadily munching through her hay as I slung the saddle back on and got everything ready to go.

Kim was doing some reinforcement work on Nort’s boots during the check in the form of adding Sikaflex for extra padding and hold (her glue-ons had been eaten by the trail along the way, and by the Washoe check, Nort was wearing all of his spare Gloves), so it took a couple extra minutes to wrap that up, and we were out 5 minutes after our out-time.

Beeba quite happily moseyed over to the out-timer and meandered her way out to the trail –this time, we were heading out of the back of camp and would return through town. She wasn’t in a major hurry at this point, but she also wasn’t arguing the idea of going out again.

We picked our way down the hill out of camp, down another embankment, over a set of railroad tracks, and down a single-track that took us through a little canyon. It was a fun little section of technical trail…a section I had been told was probably worth hand-walking, but we were sneaking in little trot sections whenever it was at all possible, so I think we made better time staying in the saddle on this particular occasion.

Once clear of the canyon, a couple miles out of camp, there was another water trough waiting…horses drank, then we crossed the highway again, and started winding around through a mining area. Some of the building were really old and abandoned, but there were other spots that still had some kind of activity going on. (At one point there was some kind of large water holding tank/mini reservoir that was doing something that involved a couple large jets of water spraying into the tank, which earned some serious “What the heck?!?” looks from Beeba…but she was a good girl and kept on trotting by, even as she gawped at it.)

This section was kind of fun in that it meandered around…down some dirt roads, through a creek, up some hills, down another long, rocky downhill. We were chasing the sun now, trying to get as far as we could into this loop before we lost the light. The trail was marked with glowsticks starting at the Jumbo Grade stop, but getting to that point would only be ribbons and lime blobs on the ground. We really hustled through parts of this section, and it was an absolute blast trotting and cantering down some of the dirt roads, everything around us getting darker by the minute.

There were a couple more train track crossings we went over, then veered off the large dirt road we had been on and onto another single-track through a section known as “mini Bailey Canyon.” It’s not as long, only a couple miles, but we were in total darkness at this point. For what I’ve been told, maybe it was better I couldn’t see the trail? The most disconcerting part was were couldn’t sure 100% sure we were on the trail, although it was one of those places that would be hard to get off the trail since there was nowhere else to go. We managed to spot a couple ribbons along the way (orange ribbons are hard to see with red headlamps), and eventually we went up a short, steep climb, and there were more ribbons and lime blobs at the top, directing us down another road. We passed below the same reservoir we had gone by on loop 1 on the way to the Jumbo Grade stop, and stayed on a road that paralleled the earlier trail from earlier.

I think the hardest part here was how dark it was, and unfortunately, any kind of lights (headlamps or glowsticks) from any of us were having a very adverse effect on Kim and making her really nauseous. So it was hard to tell what exactly on this road was trottable, and how much of it was rocky and would be better off walking. Fortunately it wasn’t too long until we reached the Jumbo water stop again, with more water, hay, and mash. We only stayed here for a few minutes, though, as the wind had picked up, and it was getting cold, so standing around didn’t sound like a great option.

As promised, the glowsticks marked the way, and we could see them winding their way up the Mt Davidson climb. This was another section I had been warned about. It’s several miles of climbing, with a few spots here and there where it levels out, then gradually climbs again. Nothing particularly steep, but just long, steady climbs. We trotted here and there when we could, but for the most part, just moved along at a nice walk. I was also getting chilly at this point, despite my 3 layers, so reached behind me and rummaged through the saddle pack (Beeba just kept trucking along, reins on her neck while I was doing this) for my super light wind shell. It’s one of those super-packable, featherweight shells that blocks wind and will temporarily block rain – a glorified garbage bag with pretty designs, basically. But that thing actually did the job and blocked enough of the wind so that I stayed a lot more comfortable.

Periodically Beeba would drift over and snatch a bite or two of dried grass from alongside the trail, but she just kept trucking up the hill. Eventually we reached what I presume was the top, or near to it, and could look out over the city lights of Reno. There were a few areas where we were able to trot a bit, and then we started descending.

Gotta say, this was my least favorite part of the whole ride: the descent off Mt Davidson. There were a series of short, steep downhills, with some washed-out, technical spots – lots of red caution flashers. It was really slow-going, and there were a few moments where I wasn’t having a whole lot of fun. The city lights in the distance were a little disorienting as well – it was *so* dark on the trail, but then the lights were bright enough in my peripheral vision to affect my night vision, so that made it seem even darker. I just wanted to get through this section as quick as possible, but a lot of the trail really didn’t lend itself well to that, and once we were clear of the technical stuff and back out onto dirt roads, we were really far behind on time and pretty much resigned to the fact we wouldn’t end up making time.

We crossed the highway yet another time (vehicle headlights are the worst; someone please tell me why there are vehicles out at 11:30 at night?), made our way through some more quiet semi-residential streets, and onto a section of trail that would connect us up to Sign Hill and the shared trail from the morning.

Beeba and I were leading through a lot of this section, and I had some really strange hallucinations start to kick in. I was a bit disoriented from the headlights in the distance, and while it wasn’t making me sick, it definitely felt a bit weird. Plus I was getting sleepy, and still cold, and my brain really started playing tricks on me. I kept imagining we were crossing a giant land bridge (just a lighter-colored section of dirt), and there were towering rock sculptures next to us (just a tree).

And then I had one of those “bad human judgment” moments. I saw one glow stick, and rather than look for the next one, just reined Beeba over to where I assumed the trail was. Mistake. All of a sudden she dropped out from under me and when I clicked on my headlamp, I could see we were standing in a rough ditch, a couple feet deep, with embankments on each side and no clear way out except to keep going up the short slope we were on. So that’s what I did, and topped out on a flat area – where there were glowsticks. Hindsight, I should have just stayed there – turns out the trail just went *around* the little ditch/hillock thing I had just blundered through, and up onto the rise where we were standing now. But Kim and Andrea were still below us, and they couldn’t see the next glowstick, so I made my second mis-judgment and went back down the ditch to re-join them and find the actual trail.

Which wouldn’t have been so bad except I was gripped with a sudden need to *see* what I was doing, so turned on the white light headlamp option. Big, big mistake. Beeba was not happy, and she tripped and stumbled her way back down the ditch and rough footing. I immediately turned the light off, and she settled right down, picked her way over to the actual trail, we found the next glowstick, and continued on our way. She started taking charge a little more after that, tugging the reins from me and making her own decisions about where the trail went, since clearly the idiot human couldn’t be trusted.

Heading back down Sign Hill we were running into a lot of traffic of riders heading back out on their third loop. Made me a little sad since I knew we were so far overtime at this point, there was no way we were heading out…and I had a niggle in the back of my mind that Beeba also wasn’t 100%. She was a bit tentative on the downhills, and the trot was feeling a little crunchy. She was still walking out at this smooth, gliding walk, and still very much an energizer bunny, even “parade horse” prancing in place when we briefly stopped along the trail.

Crossing the chalk line at the cemetery was a bit bittersweet, since I knew we wouldn’t be crossing it a second time as the finish line. I was cold and tired, but also knew myself well enough to know that a change of clothes and hot meal would be been very restorative, and I fully believe I could have gone out on that third loop if we had the time.

Walking through town was peaceful and quiet – we were on the backside of all of the Main Street businesses, and the same horse that had been all wound up and dancing through the streets Friday afternoon was now calmly striding out on a loose rein, confidently making her way back to camp.

Garry met us at the entrance to camp with the tack cart and blankets, so we stripped tack off and dumped it in the cart, then immediately went over to the vet. Yes, we were way overtime – it was just past midnight when we got back to camp, and suggested cutoff time was 11. And sure enough, my suspicions were confirmed on Beeba’s trot-out – she was off on the right hind. Pretty sure I know the culprit – she had tried to do the “two feet occupying the same 4 square inches of space” trick back in Wildcat Canyon (between Bailey Canyon and Washoe) and the right hoof had slipped and she had knuckled over at the fetlock.

We took the horses back to the trailer, bundled them up in blankets, tugged a pair of the Equiflex “sleeves” on Beeba’s front legs, made sure they had plenty of hay and water, then retreated to the trailer. I was still cold, and hungry, so heated up water and made a quick cup of ramen noodles. The hot broth/noodles warmed me up, and with filthy clothes exchanged for warm pajamas, fell into bed and was out…until about 7am when the sun was up and I was no longer able to stay asleep. Facebook got a quick updating of how the rest of the day had gone down:

Well, ultimately the stars weren’t quite in alignment for us yesterday and we were pulled at the 76-mile point…a combo of being both overtime and Beeba was off on the right hind at the trot.

Still, can’t complain…that red mare poured her heart out for me all day long over some incredible and challenging trail. This was the longest either of us have gone before, and she headed out of camp for that second loop after 50 miles without any fuss or question. She was an energizer bunny all day, steadily eating up the miles, and eating and drinking amazingly well.

And me? More 75s and 100s, please! There’s something special about these longer distances and I can’t wait to do more of them.

Much more later…this was an incredible ride and I’m glad to have had the chance to start it this year. The VC magic got its hooks in me and you can be sure I’ll return for another go at it!

Once Kim was up, we took the horses for a walk up the street a little bit – Beeba was a little stiff on the right hind, maybe a grade 1.5 at the trot, but moving well at the walk and already looking way better than she had a mere 8 hours prior.

Once the horses were taken care of, I had the chance to grab a shower, then went  wandering around camp, clutching my coffee, in search of friends who might also be awake. I eventually found Lucy, and spent some time talking with and confiding in her – this was my one “emotional overwhelm” moment that had me a little weepy – various little stresses, disappointment about not finishing, and still a bit overly tired all combined , but once I got that out of my system, that was it, and I’ve actually been pretty darn cheerful about the whole endeavor in the aftermath.

Sunday morning breakfast was part of the ride entry – great spread of eggs, potatoes, and steak. I gobbled up breakfast, then went over to grab my ride photos from Rene Baylor. He got some really great shots that captured so much of the joy and excitement I had in those moments along the way.

Parts of the awards ceremony included plaques given out to those who participated in the research study with their horses, so we didn’t come home completely empty-handed, either!

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We also managed a quick trip into town for ice cream at one of the local shops…I managed to get my hands on a huckleberry cone, which is an almost unheard-of flavor. Yum.

Sunday afternoon, it was amazing how fast camp wrapped up and people headed out, to the point where there were just three rigs left in camp.

Sunday night we went into town for dinner – found a really fun Mexican restaurant that served some really good food with generous portions (enough that half of my jumbo burrito got boxed up and eaten for lunch the next day). Part of the fun of the ride is having town right there, which makes for a more entertaining experience for crew people or family members who may not be endurance riders. There are even hotels in walking distance from basecamp.

We had most of camp packed up on Sunday, so Monday morning, it was straightforward enough to pack up the last few remaining items, clean up the area, get the horses loaded, and hit the road. We had easy travelling (including seeing big horn sheep at Walker Lake), made a quick lunch stop at Tonopah where we let the horses out in the arena to stretch and roll while we ate, then loaded up again and pushed onward to Las Vegas, where we overnighted at Cathy’s place.

It was great to see Cathy again, and re-connect with Dean, my little Tevis Ed Ride pony. We all went out for dinner that night, and after dinner, did as endurance riders do – play around with saddle fit and hoof boots. Beeba got to spend the night out in Cathy’s round pen, which meant she did some really good moving around, and all of her legs were cool and tight (she’d been harboring a little bit of puffiness, especially on the hinds, after trailering) by morning.

Tuesday morning, we headed out bright and early – on the road by 7, managed to hit Vegas rush hour, then it was smooth sailing the whole way home – a brief stop in Kingman for gas, and a pause in Wickenburg to water the horses, and then we were home early afternoon. Got the trailer all unloaded, Garry helped me remove Beeba’s boots, got all my stuff shoved back into my truck, and managed to make it back home by 2:30ish.

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Still talking to me — unloaded at home, turned her out for a drink and roll, then had to retrieve her to pull boots. And she came right over.

Beeba was totally sound by the time we got home, and the horses are getting a few weeks of well-deserved rest. I absolutely want to go back and try again – I am hooked on the idea of 75s and 100s. The trail itself was a good challenge, and the ride was impeccably managed. I’ve got a laundry list going of “takeaways, lessons learned and what to do next time” so I’m hoping I’ll get a chance to implement it.

I’ve got a couple more posts coming that’ll detail out gear, plus go into more detail about boots and gluing.

Happy trails for the rest of the 2017 ride season!

 

Whirlwinds of March

I know the whole “In like a lion, out like a lamb” saying that applies to the month of March, but there has been nothing meek and mild about my schedule this March. Actually, 2017 has started off strong and just keeps gaining in momentum.

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view from 7100′ at the top of Mt Ord on a training run

After logging some great training runs in January and February, March handed me back-to-back travel weekends for work. One planned way out, one very last minute.

The last-minute trip was the first weekend of March, when I was offered the chance to go be the Renegade rep at the FITS (Fun in the Sun) endurance ride in Florida, hosted by Valerie Kanavy at her Florida farm.

That was an absolutely amazing weekend. I learned a ton, provided some good exposure for Renegade, was on-hand for customer service needs, and picked up a number of valuable tips and tricks for riding, training, and crewing. Valerie was a wonderful host and I very much enjoyed getting the chance to talk with her and spend the time at her farm.

Once I got back from Florida, I had just a couple of days to unpack and repack before turning around and heading back to the airport, this time to Dallas, TX, for the annual AERC Convention. This was my fifth time attending convention, and I had an absolute blast. Running the Renegade booth went really smoothly, the venue was really nice, and I got in some really good socializing and networking.

This was my first time spending any significant amount of time in TX (overnighting at a horse motel in Amarillo on a road trip 19 years ago hardly counts) and I was really surprised by the amount of water and vegetation in the Dallas area. Would have loved to spend more time there and explore the areas some more, but I was able to get out Friday evening for some excellent BBQ!

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March isn’t done with me yet…while I’m at home this weekend, I’m still working, this time doing the in-home catering for one of Mom’s memory art workshops. (A bit of a scheduling bummer, as I had several catch ride offers for Old Pueblo…but there’s something to be said about jumping on the opportunity to make $$$…see RP saddle caption above about the Money Tree.)

I want to slot at least one more good, double-digit training run in this weekend (Sunday), and then it’ll be the downward “just maintain and don’t do anything crazy” taper leading up to Crown King 50k on April 1.