2019 Ride Season

AERC ride season starts Dec 1 and runs through Nov 30 of the following year. Which means that as of this past Saturday, 12/1, the 2019 AERC ride season was on!

Only once in the 13 years I’ve been doing endurance have I done a December ride…they just historically haven’t happened very frequently in AZ, which is a shame because the weather in early December is just about perfect. I’m guessing that timing between holidays probably makes it more difficult.

But we’re fortunate this year in that we’ve got a brand-new ride coming up on Saturday, 12/8 — the Dashing Through the Trails ride, held at Estrella Mountain Park. I’m really excited about this ride — it’s “local” to me, being only an hour away, and it’s the site of my very first competitive trail ride I did, back in 2001, so there’s some major nostalgia and memories involved.

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entry sent in last week

I’m fortunate enough to be riding my favorite catch-ride darling Flash again, and I can’t think of a better way to start off the season!

shamelessly taking every opportunity to spam my audience with Flash photos #sorrynotsorry

My last ride that I actually rode was back in August, so on the agenda this week is taking care of all my ride season prep and making sure I can actually find the things I need for the weekend.

My half chaps were capable of fully standing upright on their own, as they haven’t been washed since before Tevis, so they’re currently sitting in a bucket, soaking away their layers of grime. (This is when I hope they’re not held together by horse hair and trail dust.)

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Free-standing half chaps…even Artemis is worried

It’s also winter (“winter lite” since it is AZ), which means things I wore for rides in the summer might not be quite toasty enough, so it’s time to dive into my stack of jackets and vests to figure out the most appropriate apparel without bringing half my closet along.

Like I said before, this is a great way to start off the 2019 season…a ride right off the bat, and on my favorite catch-ride. At this point, I have no clue what the season will hold…I know what I would wish/dream/like to happen, but endurance is pretty much an exercise in creative thinking and flexible planning, so I guess we’ll see what ends up actually happening along the way…

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any view, through these ears, would be great with me…

Ride Story: Tevis 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ready to load up and hit the road!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Heading out to pre-ride

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

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

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We made it this far…

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

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

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

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

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Artsy sunbeam photos during our walk-around of Pen 2

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

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Crew Tetris Level: Beyond Expert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

100-Mile Musings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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On the trail at dusk, racing the fading light.

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

My Favorite Things: Rides

My Favorite Things: A series of my favorite things of different categories, less formal than a review and more conversational musings. Everything from rides, to tack, to food, to apparel, all following a “Top Three” format. Also, because I’m me, and I’m known for changing my perspective and opinion of such things as favorites from year to year, some of these topics may end up revisited…more than once.

It was hard for me to narrow down my favorite rides, especially limiting myself to the Top Three. I can pretty easily narrow down two…but that third one I just may have to leave as a “rotating space” for now.

Virginia City 100 (Sept 2017)
It’s probably my favorite ride to date, even with not finishing. Yes, that’s how good everything else was to basically negate the Overtime pull. It’ll always be special because it was my first 100-miler attempt. It was a leap of faith, with an uncertain outcome, and I’m still proud of myself for attempting it and taking that chance, even if all the stars didn’t align for a finish.

(FWIW, 100-mile hallucinations are real. I saw land bridges and Easter Island heads.)

VC just has the best atmosphere. Given that it was the 50th anniversary ride when I rode it, it was larger that usual, with over 70 entries…but normal years has entries usually between 40-50 people, which makes for a very laid-back, more intimate type of ride. I love that it’s a 100 only, so everyone in camp to ride is there to do that ride and that distance. Kind of hard to describe, but it gives it a different feeling than other rides.

Yeah, the rocks suck. Coming from Arizona, I’m fairly used to rocks, and many claims of areas being rocky elicit merely an eyebrow raise from me. This one earned the double eyebrows and a few colorful words at opportune moments. That said, I also has the fortune (?) to ride it during “one of the worst footing years to date” thanks to some epic rain/snow earlier in the year that decided to rearrange most of the trail footing and rocks.

But the scenery is gorgeous, and I love how different the Nevada high desert is from my own. The multiple, but not excessive, loop format (50, 26, 24) isn’t as intimidating (or hard to coordinate) as a point-to-point trail, but the loops aren’t so short/frequent that you feel like you’re just doing a merry-go-round of repeat loops around camp. There’s also very little shared trail (and you’re usually in the dark most of the times you’re on it, so does that even count?), and the sections that are shared are the ones you’re happy with because they’re of the “back to camp” variety that makes for happy horses who know where they’re going.

Plus, they feed you well (steak for breakfast, cookies at one of the water stops), and you can get finisher’s buckles. I really want one of those pretty buckles, darn it. One of these years…

Strawberry Fields Forever (June 2018)
Well, Flash, for starters. Hard not to enjoy any ride I’ve done on him. The Strawberry ride had been on my “must do” ride bucket list since I started endurance, so I was super excited to finally get to experience it. The scenery is out of this world amazing. Think “Sound of music” minus the singing nuns. Grass, aspens, an amazing array of micro-climates and vegetation. It’s so different from everything I know that I felt like I was living in a small slice of high elevation, green tree paradise for a few days.

It was also a really good ride experience for me. Flash put me and my horsemanship to the test, since he was feeling very strong and forward on day one. He has his Opinions and doesn’t like to be micro-managed, so he appreciates a certain level of tact and picking one’s battles. I must have done right by him, in his mind at least, since he rewarded me with being sensible and mindful in the technical, tricky stuff.

It was also interesting to experience a pull on day one for thumps, but to be able to work through it, solve the problem, and be cleared to go out again on day two…and then finish that day with a super-strong horse (who probably would have been happy to go day three).

The day two scenery was also gorgeous, and Flash was even more settled, so we had a really enjoyable ride right from the start. He’s also a fun horse to travel with on the road. I also enjoy my road trips, so the scenic, two-day drive up there also doesn’t hurt my feelings. The weekend also involved some of my amazing endurance mentors and friends, and just a ton of fun overall.

The Third Ride
I’m having a tough time narrowing this one down. I look back at my rides and think, “Oh, that one was really fun,” or “That was a major accomplishment,” but I’m not sure one stands out above the rest. Currently in the running are:
Lead-Follow @ Bumble Bee 50 (2018)
Tahoe Rim Ride 50 (2016)
Man Against Horse 50 (2009)
Lead-Follow @ McDowell 75 (2017)

Bumble Bee was excellent because 1) Flash and 2) broke the seeming curse I had in regards to finishing, or even riding, this ride. Had some phenomenal “connected” moments with Flash, and I will never forget how he danced his way up the Black Canyon Trail, with nothing more than a whispered “go get ’em” encouragement to let him know there were horses ahead of us. It was also my first real top ten in a 50, and first time to stand for Best Condition. The only real negative of this ride was figuring out my shoes I was riding in were pretty well shot for padding, and I spent the last 10 miles or so of the ride wanting to cut my feet off at the ankles. But Flash gets a gold star for putting with with several miles of my probably-crappy riding. And the shoes got permanently retired.

Tahoe Rim was a beautiful ride, probably the prettiest I’ve done. It’s also a very challenging ride, so definitely a feather in the cap to finish with a sound, happy horse. It also followed a string of very disappointing pulls at rides, and a badly-needed confidence booster. Roo did really well for me and gave me an excellent ride overall, even if he was being a spooky snot when it came to leading, and we almost parted ways a couple times.

Man Against Horse…probably one of my proudest accomplishments with Mimi. She proved what a tough, game, big-hearted war mare she is when she finished that particular 50. Funny thing is, there were definitely things that didn’t make it an entirely wonderful ride, such as the vet thinking he “might” have seen something in her trot-out at the top of the mountain, and having to re-trot her a couple times. Heart in throat for sure. And my stirrup leathers decide to declare war on my shins, so by the time we were down to the last third of the ride, my shins felt like I had hit knives stabbing into them. But it was one of those “worth any crap along the way” rides in order to get that finisher’s buckle.

McDowell 75 last year was pretty awesome. Not only to be entrusted with a friend’s special horse, but to have it be both his and my first 75, and to finish…and finish well. I fully anticipated needing to take the full time, so to finish mid-pack, with several hours of buffer, was a very pleasant surprise. It was a day that went really smoothly, and I was really pleased with how horse management and pacing went. It was definitely a ride that helped build my own confidence in the “yes, I am a competent endurance rider” department.

So between those four rides, I have a really hard time narrowing it down. I guess I just have to wait for another outstanding ride to come along that tops those four to round out my ultimate Top Three…at least for now.

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.