The Year Tevis Wasn’t

You know it’s a strange year when Tevis cancels. In all of the years since its inception, there have only been two major disruptions to the ride’s scheduled date — the 2008 cancellation due to massive wildfires, and the 2011 date change to October due to late-season snow. But 2020 has been the first time the Tevis Board of Governors has preemptively voted to cancel the ride, and well in advance of the scheduled date.

Given that I’ve made an annual pilgrimage to Auburn every summer since 2012 (and several other intermittent times prior to then), it feels very strange to not be there this year.

(The WSTF has creatively offered a “virtual Tevis” this year — 100 miles in 100 days, based on your miles submitted from training rides, competitions, and other horsey endeavors. Liberty and I are signed up, as our first major “goal” together. It kicks off Aug 1 — what was supposed to be Ride Day — and continues through Nov 9.)

As I write this now, it is the evening on Friday of what would have been the day before Tevis.  The scenic drive across I-80 from Auburn to Truckee would have been completed, the temperatures dropping the further east we headed, the scenery changing from the Auburn foothills to the soaring alpine peaks of the Sierras. The long last stretch into Robie Park would have been made, with obligatory remarks among all in the vehicle of, “I always forget how long of a drive it is back here.” The vehicles would have received their first coating of Tevis dust.

A parking spot would have been found — most people have a “favorite” spot, and all of us are convinced that “our” spot is the “best” for various reasons.

Riders would have checked in, signed their waivers and paperwork, and picked up their rider packets. Horses would be vetted in, numbered, and gone out for a pre-ride to the start line, and perhaps the first couple miles of the trail. There was also likely some time slotted in there for perusing the vendor tents. (Pro Crew Tip: When your rider goes out for a pre-ride, that is a great time to sneak in a blitz round of shopping.)

Crew and rider will all be tending to some of the details around camp — making sure the crew bags are packed and that everything that needs to go to the Robinson Flat vet check is set aside, or packed in a secondary crew vehicle. Horses may be getting last-minute tending such as mane braiding, or making sure they’re eyeballs-deep in a bucket. Camp is being tidied up so there is minimal clean-up in the morning before leaving Robie Park. All afternoon long are chances to attend various pre-ride meetings (crew meeting, first-time rider meeting, junior rider meeting) although none of these are mandatory (unless you’re a junior rider/sponsor) until the main ride briefing later in the evening.

The ride offers the opportunity to purchase meal tickets to a pre-briefing dinner, but over the years, my core Tevis group has found that it is easier/less stressful/more predictable to put together our own meal ahead of time and eat dinner before briefing.

By 6pm, all horses will have been vetted, and ride briefing started at 6:45. For as much information as there is to be covered, much of it has been provided ahead of time via the e-packet emailed out to riders in the weeks preceding the ride, and the briefing serves to reiterate the most critical parts of that information, as well as any last-minute changes to be made. This meeting is mandatory for riders, and most crew members will also attend.

After the meeting adjourns, riders may linger for a few moments to briefly socialize, must most quickly disperse back to their trailers. Horses are taken out for a final walk for the evening. Tack is given a final once over, set-up and ready to go first thing in the morning.

Some crew leave out early in a separate crew car to spend the night back down the hill in Auburn or Foresthill, so as to be that much closer to Robinson Flat and avoid the log-jam of rush hour that is the great trailer exodus out of Robie Park in the morning.

 

The morning will roll around all too quickly, and most riders try to get to bed as early as possible. Pony noses are kissed goodnight, accompanied by a quick cuddle and gentle admonition to eat and drink well overnight, and rest up.

Finally, before bed, the full moon is glanced up at. Wishes are being made on it, and not on stars, tonight. Wishes from the riders that hope they’ll be seeing that moon again the following night, along the trail and all the way to the stadium in Auburn. Wishes from crew for a safe ride for their horse and ride, and that they’ll be watching the moon from the dark, quiet knoll next to the finish line as they wait for their rider to appear out of the darkness and sweep under the banner.

056

Good night Tevis riders, and Tevis crews. May we all be gathered back together under that Rider’s Moon in 2021. Best of luck to all participating in the virtual ride this year, and I will “see” you on the virtual trail.

Crewing Tevis 2019

This year, I was actually pretty “waffle-y” on whether I was going to go to Tevis or not.  Earlier in the summer, I was pretty set on the idea that I wasn’t going. I’d had a taste for riding it the previous year, had fallen short, and although I hadn’t had high expectations for the day…it still stung, and I was battling back a lot of “if I can’t ride, I don’t want to go” feelings.

Well, that lasted until my friend Cathy messaged me, wondering if I possibly had any Tevis plans, and if I didn’t, if there was a possibility I might be interested in crewing. She’d asked me several previous years, but I was always otherwise committed to someone else, but this year, the way the cards ended up falling for various and sundry people, I was still un-booked when she contacted me. It was also a nice way to return the favor of her taking me with her and providing horses for the Tevis Ed Ride a couple years ago.

IMG_9066

Flying in over Lake Tahoe

I flew in to Sacramento early Friday morning, accompanied by ride-and-run buddy Cristina, who would be crewing for Lucy, riding Andrea’s Mustang mare Lilly (from my Virginia City adventure). I had just enough time to pick up the rental car (actually, a small Nissan Frontier truck that proved to be the perfect crew vehicle) before swinging back to the airport terminal to pick up Cathy’s husband Tim, the second half of Cathy’s crew duo.

From there, it was a (fairly) straight shot up I-80 to Robie Park, and two-and-a-half hourse later (with the last half hour being the road into Robie Park…every year, I forget how long it really take to get off the main road and all the way back in to camp), we were pulling up to Cathy’s rig.

IMG_9074

Cathy’s mare, OT Dymonite RSI

Cathy was already super-organized, with all of the crew gear packed and ready to go, so we spent some time going over where everything was and what needed to go where, then got Dymonite cleaned up and headed over to vet in.

 

This year, Tevis was doing a research study on dehydration/weight loss — the same type of study as I participated in at Virginia City — and I have to say, I much prefer the “walk the horse on the scale, get weight, move on” format of study than some of the prior years of pokey needles and blood draws. Much faster, and much less fuss from the majority of the horses.

Dy vetted in very well (very full of herself…super-attached to Stephanie’s gelding Ash, and wanted to know where he was at all times), then we headed back up to the trailer where we tacked Dy up so I could know how all of her gear went on, then I hopped on and headed out with Steph for a pre-ride to the start and down the first few miles of the trail.

IMG_9099

Practicing? One day, this photo will be for real, on my own horse. But for now, other people’s horses and crew-bonus pre-rides will suffice.

It was lovely to see the trail in the daylight. I loved it last year in the early dawn light, but it was just as pretty to see all the greenery and the spectacular mountain views along the way.

IMG_9106

The goal of the pre-ride was to do a slow-release of the pressure cooker…mostly walking, bit of trotting, and to try to bleed off some of the “I’ve been chowing down on extra mashes and have more energy than I know what to do with” sillies. Mission accomplished by the time we got back.

Cathy made a late lunch/early dinner, then I went wandering around camp for my social networking hour, touching base with as many of my friends who were there as I could find. It was a really good reminder of the “this is why I do this” social aspect of the sport — even a simple hug and 10 minutes of talking with someone makes me feel really good, and makes me remember that doing the introverted hermit routine for too long isn’t actually a great long-term approach to life.

When it comes to ride briefing, I have to say, I appreciate how much information they can impart in a relatively short period of time. Helps that so much of the information is published ahead of time, and the briefing really just reiterates the critical parts, or last-minute things that may have changed.

Because we had everything packed up and ready to go, including all crew bags (Cathy’s and Steph’s — part of her crew were carpooling up to Robinson Flat with me and helping schlep all the stuff) packed into the back of the truck, it was actually really easy to grab an early bedtime, which has been pretty much unheard of for me in the past. Of course, that doesn’t mean I actually slept…but it’s the thought that counts, right?

Dark and early Saturday morning rolled around all too soon, and it was a quick enough process to roll out of bed, out of the trailer, and fetch Dymonite and start tacking her up and Cathy got herself ready. Once Cathy was on the horse and heading to the start, we did the crew “stand around and wait” for the magic hour of 5:30, when engines can be started and vehicles are clear to leave Robie Park.

It’s actually been a number of years (2014, I think?) since I last did the trailer convoy out of Robie, and I had forgotten about the spectacular levels of dust that happen on that drive. Forget seeing the actual road…I pretty much just followed the taillights of the trailer in front of me, because I figured if a big rig could make it though, the little truck would be fine. And it was.

Once free of the twisty-turny dust cloud and out onto the main road, that little truck just flew down I-80, back towards Auburn. I really, really enjoy this drive — it’s super scenic, and it’s just a fun road to drive, both 80, and the drive into Foresthill and beyond into Robinson Flat.

I just barely made it into the last batch of vehicles allowed to drive up to RF (they close it when the first horses start coming in, and while the published “close time” is usually 9 or 9:30, a lot of it depends on exactly how fast the frontrunners are going. It was a cooler weather day, so the times were faster. I think I got to the Sailor Flat parking point about 8:40, and they only allowed like 3 other cars in behind me. Nice thing about that was being able to drive right up into the check, dump Steph’s crew and all our stuff, and then drive partway down (ended up being about 3/4 of a mile away, so I was definitely getting my exercise over the whole weekend) and park the truck before walking back up to the check.

I had managed to find a good spot up near the out-timer, although there ended up being quite a few little sticky weed things — not pokey-jabby type, but persistent in sticking to fabric. Slightly annoying, and possibly why that area was still relatively unoccupied. Ah well, live and learn. That was my first time that high up at RF — I’ve usually been able to snag spots closer down towards the vet check.

I got everything set up for Cathy and Dymonite, then made my way out to Soda Springs Rd with the crew cart to wait for Tim (who had driven the trailer, parked it at Foresthill, then grabbed a ride up with the other part of Steph’s crew) and watch riders come in.

This is the spectator part of Tevis that I really enjoy — seeing riders come in, following the webcast, being in the know of what’s happening. When you’re riding, you kind of miss a lot of what’s happening with the rest of the ride.

We were expecting Cathy a little after 11, based on the time she left Red Star, and she rolled in right on time. I was a little concerned at first of how well a two-person crew might work or not (used to having at least three of us) but it went really smoothly. I pulled the saddle and dumped it into the cart, then Tim took schlepping duties while I followed Cathy and Dymonite down the road, holding the mash pan for the hungry-hippo mare. Five gold stars to Dymonite for being the best multi-tasking hoover I’ve ever crewed for — she could consistently slurp mash while walking, and not faceplant. Very effecient, and by the time we were to the vet, she had consumed most of a pan of mash.

Cathy had me do her trot-out, and we got a “very nice” comment from the vet. (Thank you, years of halter and showmanship classes.) All A’s across the board, and she still couldn’t get enough of her mash, hoovering her way through her mash pan even as we walked back to our crew spot.

IMG_9127

This inadvertently made the best crew shirt ever. Limited edition shirt from Flik Equestrian.

The rest of the hour-long hold time went really smoothly, and I had Cathy waiting at the out-timer two minutes before her out-time.

IMG_9134

And away they go! 36 miles down, 64 to go…

With Cathy on her way, we wrapped up the crew spot and headed back down to the truck, then zoomed back down the road to Foresthill. From here, we had several hours of downtime and waiting. I got everything set up and ready for the Foresthill check, then hung out on Bath Rd for a bit to watch the front-runners come in before then heading back out to meet Cathy at the Chicken Hawk vet check.

Although it’s only 4 miles out from Foresthill, Ch can be a good place to station a crew-person…horses and riders both come into this check looking a bit tattered around the edges, and having that extra hand to take the horse, cool them off, and trot them out can be a big mental boost to the rider. I know it was definitely worth it for me to make the trek in and out — you can’t park at the check, you have to park out on the road and hike in about a mile, give or take. (It’s probably a bit less than a mile, based on my time out of there — I made it back to the truck in 8 minutes, with a combo of running and walking, and I’m no 8-minute-miler.) And then it’s a close enough drive back to FH that unless you have a rider who decides to absolutely fly through Volcano Canyon, you can still make it back to FH in time to be on Bath Rd, waiting for your rider.

There was a bit of confusion and flurry of activity as Cathy came in to Foresthill — a couple volunteers had been mistakenly telling people the cutoff time was 8pm, rather than the actual 8:45, so it ended up creating a stampede of riders rushing in, all at the same time, and having times that were super-clustered together…which later had repercussions further down the trail as far as congestion, trail sharing, and quantities of dust.

Dymonite was already pulsed down by the time we got to the pulse-takers, so we were able to pulse right in and hustle over to the vet line. It took a couple of minutes to wait for the vets, but Dy was hoovering another mash, so it was time well spent for her to eat. I did her trot-out again, and she got another “looks good” comment.

Because I had taken some time earlier in the afternoon to get everything ready to go, it was fairly short work to get Cathy’s saddle refilled with waters/snacks while Dymonite kept on stuffing in the food.

IMG_9153

Waiting at the Foresthill out-timer

Once again, I had her at the out-timer a few minutes early, and we waved Cathy off into the night before hustling back to the trailer, cleaning everything up, and booking it back down to the Fairgrounds.

Since Cathy had a stall, we didn’t have to deal too much with parking troubles, although the stall assignments ended up being a bit upside-down and super confusing. At the end of the day, we had a stall for the horse, but there was definitely some extra dramatics involved. Ah, well, got to have one thing at Tevis that makes you a bit crazy, right?

Crew truck again came in super-handy to load up everything for the stall, drive over to the stalls from the parking lot, get the stall set up, and then drive back to the trailer. I had a pretty good idea of the kind of timing schedule Cathy was following, and we expected her back no earlier than 4…which meant there was actually several hours of downtime to be able to sleep…novel concept! Normally I get caught up in watching people come in to the stadium, but this year, the draw of sleep won out, and I was able to snag several hours in there before waking up to check the webcast, realize I still had some time, grab a bit more sleep, and then finally get up, grab the cart, drop it at the stadium, then head over to the actual timed finish line.

IMG_9164

Finished!

Nail biting minute by nail biting minute I waited, watching as other friends and people I knew crossed the line…then finally, the distinctive red and yellow glowbar pattern I had attached to Dymonite’s breastcollar appeared from out of the trees, and they crossed the finish line at 5:02am, the last pair across the line.

Dy was still super-strong, and hustled her way down to the stadium, then looked downright perky on her victory lap, bouncing into a cheerful trot and charging under the finish banner. I quickly yanked her saddle off, then we hustled over to the vet area for the final vetting. Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait at all, and Dy needed to extra encouragement from me on her final trot-out. Vet Mike Peralez (who I know from way back in my NATRC days), did their final vetting, and it’s always the highest compliment to get a “very nice job” comment from him on the trot-out. She passed with flying colors, and several positive comments, and then they were done! Tim bundled Cathy off to the trailer to bed (she was very sore after coming off Dy on Cal Loop after a loose horse knocked into them and knocked Cathy off Dy, and she was definitely feeling the effects of that, so I insisted she go lay down while I finished taking care of Dy), and I took Dy back up to the barn so she could start in on another mash while I wrapped her legs before taking her back down to the stadium for the post-completion wellness check, done 1-2 hours after finishing.

Once she was all checked out, and settled into her stall with plenty of fluffy shavings, I meandered my way back to the trailer, stopping to catch up with some friends along the way. Back at the trailer, I caught Cathy (who still hadn’t gone to sleep) up on the ride happenings, then crashed for another couple of hours until the sun was up enough to start warming it up a bit in the trailer.

I didn’t end up watching Haggin Cup presentations…got up fairly close to the time it started, and the need for a shower won out over everything else. The rest of the afternoon was taken up with socializing, as I wandered over to the awards banquet area, got caught up with several friends, then enjoyed the offerings of the awards meal spread, a bit more socializing, checking on Dymonite, and then finally wrapping up and heading to the airport. I typically don’t sleep well on planes, but I was out pretty much as soon as my butt hit the plane seat, and didn’t wake up until we started the final descent into Phoenix.

So, a short, very full Tevis weekend this year, but very fulfilling, and always thrilling to have my rider finish. This was my “Decade Crew” year, and I couldn’t be more tickled for how well Cathy and Dymonite did…and it was Dy’s first 100. Great rider, great horse. Always really good to see my endurance tribe, to celebrate with those who finished, and commiserate with those who didn’t. Tevis is a ride like none other, whether you’re riding it or crewing it. It gets under your skin and in your blood, and I don’t ever regret being a part of it.

Tevis Links

thumbnail_LowResAshleyWingert-2973

It’s that time of year again — in a little under 3 weeks, riders will be saddling in the wee hours of the morning, and riding late into the night and the wee hours of the following morning. Yep, Tevis is just around the corner, August 17th this year, moved to a later-than-usual date after concerns of heavy snowpack in the Sierras and trail accessibility.

I’ll once again be donning my crew hat — this year marks the 10th time I’ll have crewed Tevis, so I guess that makes me Decade Crew. This time, I’ll be crewing for my friend Cathy, whose horses I rode at the Tevis Ed Ride in 2017.

My previous crewing and riding Tevis stories that I’ve blogged about:

2018 Ride

2017 Crewing
2016 Crewing
2015 Crewing
2014 Crewing Part A / Part B

Other links:

Main Tevis site
This will also be where to go for the live webcast link on Ride Day.

Tevis Cup on Facebook

Someone on YouTube put together a very comprehensive playlist of Tevis-related media.

“Inside Information” Tevis video

Tevis Ride stories blog (and if you Google “Tevis ride story” you’ll also get a ton of stuff showing up)

Endurance.net almost always has annual Tevis coverage on their Events page

For everyone riding, good luck and I’ll see you up there. For those following along from home…enjoy the air conditioning and a cold drink for me.

Crewing Tevis 2017: Uh, What Plan Are We On Now?

“Plan? What plan?” would also be applicable. Not to say there wasn’t a plan. There was. It was just very laid back, casual, and a little bit fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants. We didn’t even do crew instructions this year. ;)

(Face it, when your entire crew has crewed Tevis multiple times, and one crew member has even ridden the horse to be crewed at a ride, directions are kind of redundant.)

IMG_9246

theme of the year

Initially, Plan A was Fergus — Wonder Pony, Golden Boy, two-time Tevis finisher. But Fergus has been NQR this year, and a final “Go/No-Go” ride determined that this would be a “No Go” year for him.

Thus, Plan B: Roo. Roo, the 50-mile reliable worker bee. Roo, who had tried Tevis in 2009 and made it to 64 miles before deciding he was done playing for the day. He had a base, he had done “spring training” alongside Fergus, and he was well-rested. And Lucy really wanted to be a part of the “snow year” alternate starting location/Duncan Canyon trail.

So, with the above in mind, the “A” goal for Plan B was just get to Robinson Flat. No expectations of finishing, just “get as far as he gets.” Roo is very self-preserving and sensible — when he is done playing for the day, he’ll stop. Robinson Flat was the goal, and any more than that was just bonus points.

So, with all that as background, onwards we go to Auburn…

IMG_9146

this route between Phoenix and Sacramento is getting very familiar

I followed my typical routine of “fly in late Wednesday afternoon, Lucy picks me up at the airport, we go straight to Auburn for the Tevis BBQ.” I even had time to shop at the Tevis Store before the BBQ started. (Irony is: Buying a sweatshirt when it is 100*+ outside. But I needed something warmer for up at the Soda Springs start. I also got a chuckle out of shocking several people by letting them know if was currently hotter in Auburn than it was back home in Phoenix.)

After dinner, we perused through the barns and drooled over ponies (found a couple of them I would have happily handed over $$$ for right then and there), did a quick grocery store run, then headed through the canyon to Tevis Low Camp (Lucy’s).

IMG_9151

an Auburn sunset

I will never get tired of the unique sense of peacefulness and solitude that comes from staying at Low Camp. Although there are neighbors around, the hills and trees combine to create a setting that feels incredibly private and serene. (At least until the dogs start barking and leaping around after squirrels and other wildlife.)

IMG_9153

a Low Camp sunrise

Thursday was Prep Day — I got food going in the morning, making hard-boiled eggs and pasta/egg salad, and figuring out what food needed to go in which cooler. The crew box got packed with all the essentials, horse blankets got swapped around from Fergus’s gigantic ones to Roo’s adorably-petite ones (there’s like an 8-inch height difference between the two…Roo plus his whole crew could fit inside one of Fergus’s blankets), the trailer got cleaned out, and feed and fresh waters all filled up.

Our goal was to get everything packed by early afternoon and then take Fergus and Roo for a leg-stretch ride down the lane before the rest of the crew (Renee and Megan) arrived in the late afternoon to do the final task: glue boots on Roo.

IMG_9155

Golden Boy

We had a fun little jaunt down the lane, as Fergus showed me his full range of gears. (There also may have been an offer of “If you ever don’t feel like riding him at a ride, just let me know…” made.) The one and only time I had ridden Fergus before was when I crewed for Lucy in ’09, and we did a similar pre-ride down the lane. Back then, Fergus had yet to start his endurance career, and mostly he felt large and a bit ungainly. Now, with 8 years of endurance experience under his girth, he felt powerful, balanced, strong, and SO much fun. Bottle that feeling into something a little smaller than 16.2hh, and that’s the ultimate endurance horse.

<wipes drool off keyboard>

Ahem. Moving right along…

Renee and Megan showed up shortly after we got back from our ride (with pizza for dinner), and we commenced with the antics and shenanigans of gluing on boots. Lucy trimmed, I hoof-prepped, Renee glued, and Megan wrangled Roo’s flailing legs. Good team effort, and accomplished with a lot of laughter, fairly minimal mess, no swearing, and the only alcohol consumption was afterwards in celebration.

Roo got to “stand quietly” for the next hour or so for optimal boot set-up while we retreated to the back deck for pizza and beer and to peruse through the rider list.

Since the plan was for me to accompany Lucy to the start, and then drive the rig back down, Renee and Megan would stay in Auburn with the crew car/gear, and proceed directly to Robinson Flat on ride morning, where I would then meet up with them. So the crew car got packed up with crew gear (this was our best year yet in terms of paring stuff down to the essentials and having a pretty easy load to schlep), and half of our team departed to where they’d be staying.

Friday morning saw the packing of the coolers and toting them out to the trailer, throwing necessary clothes in the trailer, giving Roo a hose-off, and then hitting the road. One last stop at the grocery store for some last-minute/would-keep-if-purchased-earlier foodstuffs, then we were well and truly on our way.

The drive to the Soda Springs base camp was quite a bit shorter than the usual haul up to Robie Park, probably only an hour up the highway from Auburn. We had been warned parking would be tight…and that there was no shade…so we weren’t in a huge rush to get there.

Once we did arrive, what we found was a sardine-can madhouse.

IMG_9164

most of ridecamp, crammed into 2 ski-resort parking lots. Robie Park is so spread out, you never get a sense of how many rigs are involved with anywhere from 150-200 riders…until now

Base camp was the Sugar Bowl ski resort. By the time we got there, the two main parking lots were full, and the overflow parking had been packed out. We ended up on a pullout spot off the road above camp, with a few other trailers for company. And it turned out to be a pretty prime spot, especially for navigating out in the morning.

Once we got camp set up (the whole 10 minutes it takes to swing out the Spring Tie, attach/fill buckets, hang hay bag…), we tacked up Roo, then headed down for Lucy to get checked in and then walk over to the vetting area.

Vetting happened to be an almost 2-mile walk down a lovely shaded dirt road to what used to be the old “sheep pens” for sheep grazing in the area. Roo was convinced we were taking him out into the woods all by himself to die, so he would scream and be very happy every time someone would be coming in the opposite direction, heading back to camp after vetting.

IMG_9172

Roo vetted in well (including a “Definitely” comment for “Attitude”), then we took him over to participate in the voluntary research study on gut movement (used ultrasound to look at location/size/movement of parts of the gut).

IMG_9178

pre-ride out to the morning bridge crossing

After that, Lucy wanted to take Roo out to the bridge that would crossed in the morning. It would be part of the controlled start, and they would have spotters there to ensure a controlled crossing…but still a good thing for them to see ahead of time.

It was only about half a mile out from the vetting area, and since there was a lack of immediately available buddy horses, I acted as Roo’s “lead mare” and walked out to the bridge with them and back.

IMG_9180

Full service crew: I cook, I rig drive, I accompany horse/rider on pre-rides. Hire me.

While the tight quarters (and trains passing right next to camp a couple times an hour) made the alternate base camp a bit less desirable than Robie Park (although my hat’s off to the ride committee for being flexible and making the ride happen this year…better an alternate camp/route than no ride at all), the setting around the vetting area was absolutely spectacular.

IMG_9179

that low point of the ‘V’ where the thunderheads are building up is Donner Pass

And then it was back to the trailer, and I got a nice 5-mile hike in for the day. Once back at the trailer, we got Roo settled, then headed down to the ride briefing. Got some socializing in ahead of briefing, listened to the briefing, then headed back to the trailer to make dinner.

IMG_9183

a Soda Springs sunset

While we were eating our pasta/chicken sausage/alfredo sauce (and getting attacked by bird-sized mosquitos), a large flock of geese flew overhead and settled in the nearby pond area…apparently this strafing run was too much for Roo, who proceed to scream and twirl about…never mind all of his neighbors were sleeping/quietly eating. Guess he had to protect them, y’know.

20621940_10155838561895649_7348542111957394738_n

giving Roo a stern lecture on behavior and how mature Tevis horses don’t twirl about on their high-ties when they should be getting ready for bed

Once the geese settled down, so did Roo (or he actually listened to my lecture?), and I was able to successfully whisk Lucy off to bed. Hahaha, because sleep the night before Tevis is so gonna happen, right?

Because they wanted riders gathered at 4:30 for the start, that was an early wake-up call…even earlier than typical (normal Tevis wakeup is 3:30…wow, a whole 15 minutes more of not-sleep).

photo

my current alarm line-up on my phone…yes, 3:15AM

Lucy ate breakfast, and Roo got a small mash to nibble on while he got tacked up. I took him for a walk down the road towards the main camp and back to the trailer as a leg stretch, and he was really calm and business-like. He got a quick butt massage back at the trailer, I rounded up his rider, put her on the pony, and then we started walking down towards where the starting pens would assemble.

IMG_9189

Ready to go!

Once we were in the company of other horses. Lucy handed off her extra jacket to me, and I stayed out of the way of the swirling masses and made my way back up to the trailer to pack everything up. Once vehicles were able to leave, our spot proved to be very convenient, as I was able to get out easily with very little waiting time. Camp was only a couple miles off the highway, so in short order, I was cruising down I-80 towards Foresthill.

And then it started raining. Whut??? It was still dark out — which I figured was due to the early hour and the fact we were on the highway so much earlier than usual…which may have been part of it, but the other part was there fact there was a ton of cloud cover at that point. Huh, that’s something different at Tevis.

The rain lasted for part of the drive, but had stopped by the time I reached Auburn and swung back up to Foresthill. A bit of jockeying around, in which I got to test my gooseneck-handling skills, netted me a nice parking space at Foresthill (and not a single scratch, dent, or any indication of driving shenanigans on either truck or trailer, thank you). Timing was such that Renee and Megan were only a few minutes behind me in the crew car, so they waited for me while I parked the rig, grabbed some last-minute items for up at Robinson Flat, and then we bee-lined it up to RF.

We were well within the window of when they would allow vehicles to drive up and drop stuff off within the check, so we made quick work of unloading within the allotted 3-minute window, then while Renee drove the car back down and parked, Megan and I secured a very nice crew spot.

We were there a good 3+ hours before we expected to see Lucy, so had plenty of time to get things set up and then hand around and socialize with friends that we knew. I joke that Tevis is my social life, but it’s largely true — my endurance network is spread out pretty far and wide, with Facebook being the main thing that holds us together on a regular basis, so it’s a treat to actually get to see my friends once a year and get caught up via a non-digital methodology.

I also happened to have one of the better-working phones/networks (AT&T, go figure…) so I was constantly refreshing the webcast and checking the status of the earlier checkpoints. (Trying to remember what it was like crewing Tevis before we had this wonderous near-instant access and technology…hanging out by the old hand-written “leader board” listening to numbers coming in across the radio, holding your breath every time you heard something that might be your rider’s number…nerve-wracking.

Now, between text coverage along the trail and the newscast updates, a crew is able to know when their rider arrived/left the checkpoints, and sometimes even where they’re at along the trail thanks to things like “Find my iPhone” and the SPOT GPS trackers.

We had been there for maybe an hour, and it had gradually been turning from sunny to grey…and then it started raining. Uh? In 2015 it had briefly rained for about half an hour in the morning, causing crews to scuttle for horse blankets to wrap ourselves in, and I hoped this would be a repeat of that — a quick rain, and then done.

Not so much. It ended up raining there all morning. Of course my sweatshirt was in the car…partway down the mountain. And my “just in case” rain jacket I packed? Was sitting in my backpack…down in sunny Foresthill. That was helpful.

Tevis. When in doubt, be prepared for anything.

After the alternate trail start had been announced, there had been some concern that the first third would end up being a lot faster, with horses coming in to Robinson even earlier than usual. So it was a bit of a surprise to hit the anticipated “arrival hour” and have no one showing up. Even more surprising to hit the “normal” arrival hour and still, no horses. The front runners finally came in about an hour off “normal trail” time…apparently the Duncan Canyon section of the trail rode extremely slow as compared to the normal trail. Feedback that I heard was lots of dust, lots of rocks, and more slow and technical.

We hung out around the “in trail” area, watching horses and riders coming in, and I would periodically check the webcast to get updates on Lucy’s status. They were trucking along, best we could tell…but time-wise, it was going to be very, very close.

Every so often we would wander back to the vetting area and watch horses being vetted — always interesting and educational. Very interesting was the high number of horses whose pulses were hanging, or were jumping around, and I directly know at least several people who were ultimately pulled at this point for that reason. Chalk it up to the weird weather? We were all shivering standing around in the rain, but the horses were coming in surprisingly hot, and most needed quite a bit of cooling to get them pulsed down.

As the noon cut-off approached, word got around that the cut-off was being extended to 12:30. There was some miscommunication going around, though. The out-time of 1:30 was not being extended, so some people said they had to be pulsed by 12:30…others said they just had to be in by 12:30, but still leave by 1:30, so if it took longer to pulse, their hold time would be short. Ultimately the latter was how it ended up playing out for the last eight or so people who were in by 12:30 but not pulsed until about 12:35.

Lucy and Roo were part of the last batch to come in, and it was a mad flurry of stripping tack, manage to sling the saddle right into the small puddle that had accumulated in the cart (oops, my bad…), and sloshing as much water on Roo as possible. He’s not quick to pulse even under the best of circumstances, so the fact we were able to get him pulsed down in under 10 minutes, from what I remember, in absolutely non-ideal circumstances was really good.

IMG_9222

vetting at Robinson Flat

Renee went into the vet line with Lucy and Roo, while Megan and I watched. The vet ended up having them trot out twice (not sure what he saw on the first tine?) but ultimately they were passed and good to go. We took horse and rider back up to our prepared crew spot and settled Roo in front of hay and mash. He’s probably the easiest horse ever to crew for — settled him in front of food and he just tucks in and eats his way through the hold, leaving the crew free to take care of things like feeding and cleaning the rider (a wet washcloth or baby wipes are an absolute lifesaver at Robinson Flat…the rider will thank you profusely when they are able to wipe 5+ pounds of trail dirt off their face), re-packing the saddle, and doing adjustments to the doesn’t-want-to-stay-in-place sheepskin saddle cover.

Initially, Lucy wasn’t sure if she was going to go back out — they had made their goal of “get to Robinson” and riding on the time cutoffs was going to be very close. Roo still looked good, and after getting some food/drink into her, Lucy decided to go for it, and just get as far as they could. So we got Roo all tacked up again, and even had her at the out-timer a couple minutes early.

IMG_9225

leaving Robinson Flat

Once they were back out on trail, we got the crew area cleaned up (another pro-tip: pack a tarp to spread out and feed the horse on the tarp…then it’s really easy to bundle the tarp and shake all of the excess hay and mash leavings into a trash bag), everything loaded into the cart, and headed back to the car.

From this point on, we were on a “play it by ear” plan. Since we didn’t know how far Lucy and Roo would get, or if we would be needed at Michigan Bluff and Pieper Junction, we decided to hang out in Foresthill, grab lunch, and follow the webcast. Since it’s only about a 15-minute drive to the parking area for MB/PJ, and then another 10-15 min walk in, there’s plenty of time to wait until you know for sure your rider has passed a certain point and your crew service will be needed before venturing down there.

And then we got a text from Lucy — done for the day. Roo had done really well, but eventually decided he was done playing, so she was hand-walking in to Dusty Corners. Ah, well.  There was a vet there that cleared them and pronounced Roo as “just a bit tired” and they were able to get a trailer ride back to Foresthill.

In the meantime, I hung out on Bath Rd and watched the front-runners come in until Lucy texted she was just a few minutes out from FH.

 

IMG_9235

eventual winners Tennessee Lane and Auli Farwa

If there was a lesson to be learned in all of this, it was: It’s a pain to get pulled at Tevis. On one hand, they do a really good job of accounting for riders/horses, making sure paperwork is filled out, and they know where horses are being taken/reason for the pull/etc. But they also get to a point of being, well, a bit overzealous.

In this case, even though the vet out on trail cleared Roo, they wanted to vet at FH to clear him. And then that vet wanted us to go over to the treatment vet and have them clear him. Which was where the trouble started. When the treatment vet checked him, they were a little concerned because his pulse was at 64. Never mind he had just come off an hour-and-half trailer ride on a very rough, twisty, difficult road. It had been maybe 10 minutes since we walked him across the Mill Site, dumped his tack at the trailer, and walked over to the vetting area. He had only just had a drink back at the trailer. So we asked to give him a few minutes. The gut movement research team was right there as well, so they finished off their study (look at the horse before the ride, then either when they get pulled or at the finish) — gut motility looked excellent. I took Roo over to the troughs and let him get another good drink, and while he munched on hay, I sponged him down. A few minutes later, the vet tech came scuttling over, took his pulse, and when I asked her what he was at, she just walked away, completely ignoring me. She looked to be conferencing with the vet for a few moments, then started coming back towards us, hands full of all the stuff to put in an IV catheter.

Uh, excuse me, on who’s authority? Fortunately Lucy was right there as well, and we both stepped up and blocked her, insisting that we would speak to the vet first. The tech was really aggressive, saying that he needed to be on a IV because his pulse was still between 60-64. The vet came over at this point and said that his pulse was still a little bit high. However, she was not taking the circumstances into account. Roo was still warm, and at this point, he was more pissed off than anything — tired of being sponged, tired of being pulsed on his girth line (which we discovered had some rubbing/irritation starting), tired of being messed with. He just wanted to be left alone. We explained as much to the vet, told her we were taking him back over to his trailer where he could relax, eat, and really settle. And that’s what we did.

Let me be clear: I am not advocating not treating a horse if they need it. On my own horses. if there’s something that is not normal, that horse will be marched right over to the treatment area. If I’m riding someone else’s horse and I feel there’s even a slight issue, I wouldn’t hesitate. My problem in this whole scenario was how it was handled, the rudeness, the complete lack of bedside manner, and an approach that I felt was overly aggressive and designed to take advantage of a tired, possibly distraught rider whose horse has been pulled. This was a rider who knows her horse very well, and the vets were not listening to what the rider had to say.

From a crew perspective, I was glad I was there to back Lucy up — she knew her own mind, and wasn’t in a “mentally wiped out or distraught” state of mind  that was preventing good decisions, but it at least kept the dynamic to two people versus one vet and her bullying tech against one rider. So file that away under potentially useful advice — have a crew person that you trust to be your “advocate”, who is clear-headed enough to analyze a scenario and provide either guidance or support.

Anyway, we took Roo back to the trailer, I made up a bucket of colder water and gave him a full sponge bath, getting all of the trail dust off, put ice boots on his legs, then left him alone to eat. And after being left alone and some peace and quiet, he dropped down to the low 40s. Lucy and I hung out at FH for the next couple of hours — not only to give Roo more recovery time and wait until it got dark/a little cooler to stick him back in the trailer and drive home, we wanted to see people we know come in/lend a hand when needed.

IMG_9239

Foresthill moonrise

Once back home, Roo hopped out of the trailer and moseyed around the barn looking downright perky, so we left him with a full hay bag and stumbled off to the house. Tired as I was, I still couldn’t resist the siren call of the shower first.

Sunday morning we trucked back over to the Fairgrounds to watch the Haggin Cup judging (best condition among the Top Ten horses) and the awards banquet. All those pretty silver buckles at awards…<wistful sigh>

To wrap things up Monday, we went to a really fun little swimming hole down near Placerville. The water was cold, but the air temperature was warm enough that sitting in it felt really good. Nice way to wrap up the trip and enjoy some leisure time in an absolutely stunning setting.

Then it was back home on Tuesday, where it’s then taken me two weeks to get this blog post generated. Ah, well, better than the years it took me a couple of years to re-visit, or the ones that have never gotten blogged about. So, that’s a wrap on Tevis this year…as always, have at it with questions/comments/whatever. Now onward to some other pony adventures coming up in the future…

Tevis-bound

Tevis crew collage

Stay tuned for the adventures of crew year #9…this year it’s for Lucy and Plan B — Roo! (Funny how things come full circle — that top right photo in the collage was crewing for Lucy/Roo in 2009, my first time crewing for her.)

Everything about this year has been unpredictable and in flux, so why not the Tevis crew plan as well?