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.)

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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…

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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).

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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?

Tevis Vacation 2016

This year was a little bit different…plans got sufficiently gremlinized that I ended up not crewing for any one specific person, but rather ran around doing some Tevis webcast photography, and catch-crewing (aka “throwing ice cubes at people”) down at the Chicken Hawk (mile 64) vet check.

I also got in some excellent riding time and trail exposure, and a much-needed confidence boost and self-validation.

To start, I flew in to Sacramento on Wednesday afternoon. Lucy picked me up and we headed straight to Auburn for the pre-Tevis barbecue. Kaity met us there, and we did our annual round of “eat food, catch up with people, and tour the barns.” I’ve been existing in a somewhat introverted, hermit-y stage of life right now, with the majority of my human contact being via email or over the phone…and the in-person contact with friends and people of my endurance tribe was exactly what I needed. Nothing like the therapy of good friends and some saddle time.

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Tevis moon from the back porch of Tevis Low Camp (Lucy’s)

Since we didn’t have a significant amount of pre-ride prep to do, Kaity and I were able to do things like get in a morning run:

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good practice for our plan to run the Crown King 50k together next year. pleased to report we have similar pacing and running strategies, so this just might work after all.

It was a pleasant surprise to realize that I didn’t completely die tackling the rolling hills after doing nothing but flat surfaces for the past several months, and very little by way of running. Small victories, right?

And then we got to go ride. Since I’m slated to take Lucy’s Roo (aka “my favorite little grey Arabian gelding”) to the Tahoe Rim Ride next month, I wanted to get as much saddle time in with him as I could during this trip. So we loaded up and headed down to Auburn, with the plan to ride from the Tevis finish at the fairgrounds up the trail to the Lower Quarry check and back, about 12 miles round trip. I’ve ridden from the finish to just past No-Hands Bridge before, but never crossing Hwy 49 and going up to Quarry.

The trail is lovely — lots of single-track, plenty of shade, and even some water crossings. Roo was in a bit of a spooky mood (he always has to test me) so I was doing some pretty engaged, active riding…but for whatever reason, even with his spooks and shenanigans, I’m very comfortable riding him. He reminds me very much of a just slightly larger, spookier, gelding version of Mimi, and 98% of the time, his spooks either make me laugh or swear, but rarely scared.

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Kaity and Ani leading across No Hands Bridge — this is heading out in the opposite direction of the way the ride goes

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me-n-Roo

On the river road heading to Quarry, Roo gave me a very impressive hard-stop-and-partial-spin spook…the kind that I was pretty much resigned to not being able to save…and then my knee ran into the pommel of the Specialized saddle I was trying, and all was well, and Roo didn’t get the inglorious title of my first catch-ride to offload me. Normally I really like my English saddles, but the little extra security of the Western-style endurance saddles may be a good thing right now (and maybe always on something that may be a little more spooky and/or unknown).

The river road is wide (albeit with a drop-off edge on one side, but everything has a drop-off of some sort around here), and is a good trail to be able to “let down” mentally, provided you have a horse that isn’t fresh and looking for things to spook at. :P (Translation: On ride day, this is a good “mental break” section for you and the horse, since it’s in the dark, and they’re probably not interested in spooking after 94 miles.) Since it was hot, with no shade, we trotted all the way to Quarry, then rode past the check a short ways to the now-closed Mountain Quarries Mine.

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Kaity reading about the mine history

There was a nice cool breeze blowing through, so we hung out in the shade and breeze for about 15 minutes, getting a snack and cooling off, before heading back down the trail. It was a repeat of heading out — moving out when we could, random Arab spooks, and committing as much of the trail and specific turns and intersections to memory as possible.

It was sufficiently warm when we got done, and a quick stop in to the 7-11 on the way home netted me heaven in a cup — a Coca-Cola slurpee, which I haven’t had for years…but sounded perfect at the moment. Logistics for how to obtain one and still keep it slurpee-esque for a vet check might have also been discussed. ;)

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Finish line trough…a fun, successful 12+ miles done

Swimming, grocery shopping, and dinner and drinks on the back porch while discussing the who’s who on the Tevis rider list rounded out the day.

Friday morning, Lucy and I headed up to Robie Park to watch the vet-ins and for me to do my usual “connect with the Renegade riders.” I got some photos, remembered how hard it is to breathe at 7200′, and obtained an impressive Robie Park dirt tan-line on my legs after tromping around for just a couple of hours.

Friday evening, half a dozen of us that would be doing various and sundry webcast and/or crewing/hanging-out duties the next day gathered for Mexican food and margaritas. Half a dozen endurance ladies do not need margaritas to have a good time, and much hilarity was had before we packed it up and headed out to the Squaw Valley area to truck camp for the night. The plan was to be at the Hwy 89 crossing when the riders went through (roughly 6 miles into the ride) and get video of them going by. (I did this in 2012 as well, and this year, the normal video-taker, Crysta, was riding!)

The bench seats in the cab of crew cab Chevy Silverado are not designed to promote comfortable sleeping. Just saying. I was actually glad for 5AM to roll around and for an excuse to finally just fully wake up and get on with the day. A corner 7-11 took care of the immediate morning coffee needs, and we made a beeline down Hwy 89 to the point where the trail comes down the side, crosses under the highway next to a bike path, then comes up and runs along the overpass bridge (concrete barrier between the vehicles and the trail) before picking up the single-track trail that climbs up and away from the highway.

The first riders were there just before 6:00, and the field was through by 6:30. Once we wrapped up there, we headed to Auburn, with a brief stop at Starbucks for more coffee and breakfast, then onward to Robinson Flat.

I circulated around RF, taking pictures of riders coming in, and vetting, and leaving. It was interesting to stand and watch continuous vetting and a number of different horses going through, not just the extreme focus and concentration that comes from crewing a specific rider and concentrating on just getting them through the ride.

We stayed until most of the riders had left, and then gathered our things and headed back down for a brief stop in Foresthill to gather some things (a few people had asked us to haul ice in to Chicken Hawk for cooling), and then we headed back out to the Chicken Hawk check. At this particular check, you have to park about a mile out and then walk in to minimize traffic.

The front-runners came in about 3. At 64 miles in, and the two largest canyons behind them, the horses all look pretty tired at this point. Front, middle, or back of the pack…I saw very few that were perky and sparkly at this stage…but they’re also only 4 miles away from another hour-long hold at Foresthill and the revival of nightfall. (Even the front-runners will end up spending at least a few hours in the dark.)

I ended up helping probably half a dozen friends and acquaintances at this check — we had lots of ice, so were able to generously dole it out and create buckets of ice water for sponging. When the time comes for me to do this ride, I will definitely be sending a crew member in with ice at this point, because it makes such a huge difference in cooling. The water at the check isn’t always cold, especially the later the day gets and the longer it sits out, and I’m shocked by how much body heat horses can hold/generate, so the ability to cool them down quickly and have them stay cooled down is invaluable.

We stayed at CH until about 7:15, then went back to FH to drop off people’s coolers, hang out for a few minutes, and then decided that the need for dinner, after munching on snack food all day long, overruled everything else. A stop in to the McDonald’s drive-through (because trust me, after a day of Tevis, you are not fit to actually go anywhere that would be considered “in polite company” since you have horse mash on your shirt, sunburn spots where you obviously missed with the sunscreen, your legs are the color of red Sierra foothills dirt from the knees down, and your socks are filthy enough to stand on their own power) netted us dinner, and the Kaity and Renee headed to the fairgrounds to watch the finish while Lucy and I went down to No Hands Bridge.

That was quite exciting to watch the front-runners come through at that point. Karen Donley came through within 5 minutes of us getting there. She had a bright headlamp that lit up the trail, and the came trotting down the trail, around the turn, and then tore off at a gallop across the bridge.

Not 3 minutes later, the Fords come down…no lights on their horses, no headlamps on themselves. There was a brief pause to slosh water on their horses, then they too went galloping across the bridge, and we all waited to see what the outcome was…would they catch Karen in those last 4 miles?

Ultimately, no, they wouldn’t, and Karen would end up coming in 19 minutes ahead of them.

I actually had cell service at that point, and had texted Kaity and Renee with a heads up of what was happening and to let us know the second someone crossed the finish line. We stayed for the first 6 horses to get to the bridge, then headed back to the finish to watch the rest of the top ten come in before finally wrapping things up around midnight and heading back to Lucy’s.

It was really sweet to get a real shower, a real bed, and a solid 6 hours of sleep before going to watch Haggin Cup Sunday morning. This year, all of the Top Ten horses showed for it (there have been years where a couple of them have elected not to show) and the Haggin Cup ended up going to Lisa Ford’s horse GE Cyclone.

Final results were 165 starts and 87 finishers.

Monday rolled around…and this was the day I had been waiting for. I was going to get to see the California Loop, or “Cal Loop”, the trail after Foresthill. (Known for its narrowness, switchbacks, and drop-off trails above the American River…most of which ends up being done in the dark. Fun times.) I’ve been wanting to see the trail for a while now…but at the same time, I was also quite nervous, as I’ve not exactly been the bravest and most confident soul of late. Thursday’s ride had helped in that department, but this has been somewhat of a slow, insidious process of demoralization and loss of confidence…it probably won’t all come back overnight.

However, I was riding a horse who has ridden it multiple times, being escorted by two other horses and riders who have ridden it multiple times, both in training and in the ride.

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group photo, L-R: Lucy, me, Kaity; this is the first time all three of us have ridden together

Since, despite the name, Cal Loop is a one-way thing, (well, you can make it a loop, but it ends up being something like 38 miles) Lucy’s hubby Patrick was our trailer shuttle driver, dropping a car at the end, driving the trailer up to the start, waiting for us to head out, then dropping the trailer at the end and taking his car home.

We started off pretty much right in town, outside the Foresthill cemetery, versus further down at the mill site (which is private property and only open/accessible on Tevis events), and I was treated to the “full Foresthill experience” including trotting down the road to get to California Street and the trail access.

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“I see dead people”

As for Cal Loop? I loved it. It’s an active ride, and there’s a few parts that made me make sure I was really sitting up and staying balanced, and Roo made me squeak a few times when he was tailgating too close and would trip on a rock <scowl>, but overall, I thought it was amazingly gorgeous, and I have every confidence that by the time I get to Tevis with my own horse that I’ve put a lot of training and ride time and miles on, I will not have a problem with trusting that horse and trotting onward through the dark.

 

Apparently I’m in quite the habit of leaning to the right…which doesn’t actually help when the dropoff is to your left. ;) I’m very strongly right-side dominant, but this has gotten to the point where if I’m centered, I actually feel like I’m sitting off to the left. Riding with others and having it pointed out was quite helpful, and something I need to concentrate on addressing.

All told, we did about 22 miles. We didn’t follow the ride route exactly, since there’s no way to safely cross the river without it being lowered. So we went about a mile down the trail towards the river before turning around and heading up Driver’s Flat road to where the trail was parked. Roo impressed me to no end with his very grown-up marching up the road…which is about an 1800′ elevation gain in 3 miles, all uphill, and I’m feeling really good about tackling Tahoe Rim with him next month.

Sadly, even Tevis vacation has to end sometime, and I wrapped things up and headed back home on Tuesday. Sad to go, but I was also missing the dogs, and my very own pony. It was a fabulous trip, I learned quite a bit, added to my own personal “notes for Tevis” file, and got some much-needed saddle time in…and some very good downtime and time spent with my friends and endurance “tribe.” Sometimes it’s really, really tough to live such a distance away from so many of my really good friends, so I have to make the most of the times I do get to see them…and be thankful that there’s easy communication via things like texting and Facebook.

And that’s a wrap on Tevis…until next year…

Tevis 2015 Crewing: Worth It

I crewed the 50th Anniversary Tevis ride…and now I’ve crewed the 60th Anniversary ride. Plus 5 other years in between. I’ve definitely earned my crewing stripes. :)

I was crewing for my best friend Kaity again, this time riding her newer horse Ani in his first Tevis. I can’t really say “Spoiler Alert” since full ride results are available online, but THEY FINISHED!!

Wednesday afternoon saw me flying in to Sacramento, where Lucy picked me up from the airport and we headed straight to the Tevis Pre-Ride BBQ in Auburn. Since we were still early, we perused the vendors (pretty 60th Anniversary shirts this year…of course I added to my wardrobe) and walked through the barns, looking for people/horses we might know.

I ran into Tammy from Arizona and her mare DRae…who, we found out, is actually a half sister to Kaity’s Ani. Small world. It was their first Tevis…and they finished!

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D-Rae

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Ani

You would think they were related or something. ;)

After the BBQ, it was onward to Tevis Low Camp (aka Lucy’s place, where it is tradition to stash horses/crewpeople versus staying at the fairgrounds) for an evening of hanging out on the back deck, drinking beer and analyzing the Tevis rider lists.

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Tevis moon

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Cuddling with Spike, Artemis’s younger brother. Worst part about flying somewhere is not being able to take Artemis along.

I won’t admit what time we all finally shuffled off to our respective beds, but it was late. Or early, depending on your perspective and if you want to call it Wednesday night or Thursday morning. ;)

I had a way-too-early rooster chorus wake-up call, but I managed to stuff a pillow over my head and go back to bed for another couple of hours before dragging myself out for coffee and a day of trailer packing and ride prep.

Something I bring to the table (ha!) as a crew-person is my ability to cook, and I get an annual request for my “Tevis pasta salad” to be a part of the food line-up. (So far, all four years I’ve made this, my riders have finished. A correlation? {Probably not, but we all have to have our superstitions…})

Ashley’s “Magic Tevis” Pasta Salad
16oz small pasta (elbows, small shells, ditalini, etc…)
4 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
3-4 green onions, thinly sliced
9-10oz mayonnaise, more or less can be used as desired
salt
pepper
olive or grape seed oil

– Cook pasta according to package directions. Once cooked, drain and lightly drizzle with olive or grape seed oil (this will keep it from sticking or clumping together).
– While pasta is still warm, add half the mayo and stir to coat pasta.
– Add chopped eggs and sliced green onions and mix.
– Salt/pepper to taste.
– Add additional mayo to taste. I generally use about 9 oz of mayo for an entire bag of pasta, and it creates a nice coating on the salad without being gooey or gloppy. Adding it while the pasta is still warm allows the pasta to absorb some of the mayo for a nice creamy taste and texture.

*** For Tevis, I parcel it out into Ziploc bags and small tupperware containers to be divvied among the main food cooler and individual vet check coolers. It’s proven to be popular with both rider and crew alike.

This year we went the “dry ice” route of keeping food cold…all I can say is it worked really well…like overkill well, to the point that a number of food items were actually *frozen* by Saturday evening. Next time: yes to dry ice, just maybe a little less than 70 pounds worth… (Worked great for ice boots though!)

Thursday prep went really smoothly (no exploding hay bales this year), so Friday morning, we rolled out of Lucy’s around 10:45, on our way to Robie Park.

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Infamous Robie Park dust on the last several miles of the drive in.

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Tevis start line. {wistful sigh}
One of these days…

Monsoon activity has been pretty prevalent in the Sierras, and a couple miles out from Robie Park, we started getting RAIN! Ummm, whut???? It’s not supposed to rain at Tevis! (Except for that time in 2012 when it started raining in the evening after Foresthill, but I digress…)

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Rain at Tevis. It’s a thing. A thing that completely blew my theory that “if you actually bring raingear, you won’t need it.” Grateful for my GoreTex. Especially since “raingear” isn’t a commonly-carried Tevis vendor item…so I would have been reduced to running around with a trashbag, spooking horses.

Once at Robie Park, while Kaity went and checked in, I wandered around, connected with friends and some of “my” Renegade riders, and hung out at the vetting area until Kaity came back down with Ani to vet in.

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First obstacle passed: vetted in GREAT!

After watching them vet through, I went and did my best to contribute to the Tevis economy (yay, vendor shopping!). I had a couple things on my wish list that I was able to find, but mostly I just like perusing the different horse wares.

After having a couple of questionable experiences on the availability of food at the Friday night Tevis dinner the last couple of years, despite having pre-purchased tickets, it was decided this year we would have our own private crew dinner ahead of time, and then head down to the ride meeting, which worked perfectly.

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Super-crowded ride meeting. With 198 starters, the pavilion area was *packed*!

After the meeting, the “advance team” of myself, Lucy, and Renee headed out of Robie Park and back down to Foresthill where we would spend the night in anticipation of being able to be one of the earlier cars in line up to Robinson Flat. While it made for a shorter night of sleep, it was definitely a good idea and way less stressful than the Great Trailer Race out of Robie Park in the morning…plus we were up there early enough to watch all of the front runners come in.

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Tevis Moon! (Driving out of Robie Park Friday night.)

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Following the water truck up to Robinson Flat.

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Vet check area at Robinson Flat. The calm before the horse arrival storm.

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First rider in.

There was some miscommunication early on about how much “crewing” was allowed on the road in to Robinson Flat — first we were mistakenly told by an official “you can’t crew here, you have to go back down past the in-timer.” Never mind that the first 6 or 7 horses had already been in at that point…

Yes, there is a sign about 1/4-mile out from Robinson Flat that states “no crewing before this point.” But historically, we’ve always been allowed to meet riders out on the road, let the horses get a first drink, pull tack, and start cooling. So to be told, “No crewing” created a bit of a stir, especially since there was never anything published anywhere to that effect.

A few minutes later, another official came by and clarified: We were okay where we were, they just don’t want a huge backlog of horses stopping out on the road and creating major traffic jams — so as long as we could do things in a “mostly forward motion” we were okay to start pulling tack and cooling the horse. Which is what we’ve always done. I can understand the not wanting a backlog of horse butts standing in the road while other horses and crewing come bustling up around and behind them, but the communication of that intent could have been more clear.

(A a brief aside here: I realize an organization needs rules and regulations to run smoothly, but it seems like every year, there are more and more asinine and arbitrary rules that are invented and imposed on riders and crew…I feel like it’s starting to cast a bit of a shadow on something that has always been very enjoyable. This kerfuffle over crewing/not-crewing, and not allowing food into the blood draw and vet lines at Robinson Flat were the two biggies for me.)

{And stepping back off the soapbox…}

While we were waiting, it…wait for it…started raining. Again. And this time I didn’t bring the rain jacket. Fortunately there were large pine trees to shelter under, and horse blankets in the crew cart.

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A shivery (partial) SUPERCREW!
Renee, Lucy, and yours truly
The other half of the crew was on their way up from dropping the trailer at Foreshill.

And happily (since Ani does NOT like cold), by the time Kaity arrived, the clouds had passed and the sun was out.

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Kaity arrives!

Keeping the “forward motion” edict in mind, we quickly got to work stripping tack and stuffing food into the starving Ani. He wasn’t quite keen on the “quickly strip tack” idea, with a few “let me spurt forward and run into my handler (me)”  moments…but we got the job done and got them to the in-timer and then onward to the blood draw and vet line.

As I mentioned before, they blocked us from bringing horse food into the blood draw area (which we have in the past, as some of our participants are not fond of needles, so pans of food serve as excellent distraction) and into the vet line. In our case, this time, it was fine…Ani doesn’t care about needles, and Kaity only had one person ahead of her in the vet line…but for others that were stuck in that line for 20-30 minutes, that’s a big problem. At least if you have to wait that long, the time can be productive for the horse to eat, but that wasn’t allowed to happen this year. Another one of those new, unpublished rules that doesn’t seem to make any kind of sense.

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Ani trot

I have no photos of the crewing-and-stuffing-food-into-rider-and-horse part of the check, since I was refilling water bottles and saddle packs, tending to horse necessities, and re-tacking…but suffice to say that hold always zips by.

Ani needed a re-check per the blood draw (as the vet who re-checked them said, “Why???) but that was completely seamless and we had them to the out check right on time.

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leaving Robinson Flat

Shortly after Kaity left, a rescue helicopter was brought in for a rider who had come off earlier in the ride — that was a bit of excitement as it tried to land, kicked up a ton of dust, and peeled off to land elsewhere. A whole cluster of riders rushed up to the out-timer to try to get out, were sent back down when they brought the chopper in, then rushed back up as soon as it peeled off. Always a bit of unplanned excitement.

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(I was impressed by the fact that all the horses that I saw were completely nonplussed by the whole thing. Gotta love Tevis horses.)

After the helicopter excitement, we headed back down to Foresthill where we got the trailer set up, then Lucy, Renee and I headed back out again — Lucy and Renee to Chicken Hawk vet check, and myself to Michigan Bluff, which is just a water stop, but it’s at the top of the second canyon, and it can be beneficial to both horse and rider to have a quick pause here for a snack/cool-down before heading up to Chicken Hawk, a mile and half up the road.

I had some AZ endurance buddies down at Michigan Bluff to hang out with, who had snagged an excellent shady spot, so I took pictures, jumped in to give a crew hand to a couple of people, and waited for Kaity to show up.

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Kaity and Ani at Michigan Bluff. A little hot, and definitely starving.

My goal as crew was to have them out in 10 minutes or less — they were gone in 9 minutes. There was time to cool Ani, let him eat a large chunk of alfalfa, get Kaity to drink an Ensure and refill her water pack, and send them on their way.

I got the Full Tevis Experience this year in running down the hill to Michigan Bluff (and the shin splints to prove it), and the subsequent hike back up. New sympathy for the horses/riders climbing the canyons.

Timing worked out well — Kaity was *just* coming up Bath Rd to Foresthill by the time we got back (after socializing a bit in FH), and the other half of our crew had already taken the cart, met her, and pulled tack.

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Foresthill vet check

The Foresthill check was really smooth — longer vet line, but plenty of food — and we had them back at the trailer in short order. Kaity showered, Ani got ice boots on his legs, glowsticks and headlamp were applied to gear, and we had them to the out-timer on time.

After seeing them out, we hung out around FH for a little bit, eating our own dinner and packing up the trailer before making our way back down to Auburn.

Sensible people take advantage of several hours of downtime and take a nap.

I am not sensible. Nor is Lucy. Hence why we stayed up all night in the stadium, watching riders come in. I almost nodded off a couple of times, but we kept following the webcast status, seeing riders we knew leave the Lower Quarry check and would keep delaying the notion of heading off to bed. And before long, it was close enough to the time Kaity was expected that we might as well stay up.

Tevis riders and crews have perfected sleep deprivation.

Our routine has been that when our rider leaves Lower Quarry, they turn on their “Track My iPhone” feature that we can then access and follow their progress on our phones, so that last half hour was spent obsessively refreshing my phone, wondering *exactly* where she was at on the trail.

And then her tracker showed her very close, and then there were three neon green glowsticks appearing at the finish line!

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official timed finish

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down in the stadium

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completion trot-out

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good boy!!

And like that, we were done, and Kaity has another Tevis horse. We hung out in the stadium for the hour re-check on metabolics, using the time to poultice and wrap legs (another reason I’m on the crew, aside from my pasta salad, is that I’m an excellent leg-wrapper).

It was daylight by the time we wrapped things up and got back up to the trailer, and we all crashed for a few hours of sleep.

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Comparing grubby crew legs

Lucy and I got up early enough to shower (nothing feels as good as that shower Sunday morning, even if the water does go from ice cold to scalding hot), get breakfast, and watch the Haggin Cup judging. 8 out of the Top Ten horses showed this year, and they looked good.

After that it was hanging around the trailer, packing stuff up to head back to Tevis Low Camp, and then awards dinner.

The 2015 Tevis Cup was won by Potato Richardson riding SMR Filouette; the 2015 Haggin Cup was awarded to Auli Farwa, owned by Kevin Myers and ridden by Jenni Smith. 198 riders started, 90 finished, for a 45% completion rate.

After awards, we headed back to Low Camp, ate pizza, and spent the rest of the evening chattering away about all things Tevis. And then Monday, my Tevis fun was over and it was back to the Real World. (Tevis World is much more fun.)

2016 Tevis is early, so there’s only 50 weeks and change before the next round. ;)

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Crew shirts.
Really says it all.
Definitely worth it.

Tevis Time

We’re at under a week now until I take off for my Annual Tevis Adventure, so probably time for me to come up with something to say for my Annual Tevis Musings. I’m not sure what I can add that I haven’t covered in past years…search for the “Tevis” tag under categories on the right sidebar if you want to see all of the previous posts.

Last year’s post with links to videos, information, and other resources.

I’m crewing for Kaity again this year…she’s be riding her newer horse Ani, the one she took on last year‘s pre-rides. She is rider #85, which we have concluded is a Good Number. If you visit http://www.teviscup.org starting on Friday, 7/31, there will be a link to follow along with the webcast, with as-close-to-realtime-as-possible (wilderness areas, strictly radio communication, limited internet access points) updates, photos, rider statuses, pull lists, and more. Rider numbers have been posted, and as of 7/22, there were 205 sign-ups (limit is 210).

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Fergus at Robinson Flat, 2014

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Kody at the Finish, 2013

Ahead of Tevis, part of my work for Renegade Hoof Boots is rider coordination — finding out who is intending to ride Tevis in the boots, and what size and style they need, and making sure they get their boots well ahead of time to be able to do any adjusting or re-sizing if need be. During the ride, there’s not much for me to do — these are experienced riders who have successfully completed rides with the boots and have a sense of what they’re doing, and everyone is highly encouraged to carry spares or back-ups should they encounter a patch of boot-eating trail. (It happens. Rugged trails tend to eat horse hoofwear of all kinds. Nothing out there is perfect.)

While I’d love to do a repeat of last year’s Tour de Tevis Trails, this year won’t involve quite that much time away…but I’m still hoping to sneak at least one ride in to help dial-in boot fit (photos and online troubleshooting can do a lot, but sometimes, I just really like to get my hands on the horse/boots, especially for some of the more challenging ones…sometimes something can be hard to explain, but you can feel when you get the fit dialed in, and then subsequently be able to show someone what you’re talking about).

This’ll be year #7 for me to crew…at this point, I could almost hang out my “professional Tevis crew” shingle, eh?