Ride Story: Lead-Follow @ McDowell 75

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

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

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photo: Sue Kordish/Cowgirl Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Just before sunrise.

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

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A beautiful desert sunrise.

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

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Obligatory, “oh, look, rocks!” photo.

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

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

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

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

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

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Wagon train heading back in to camp from loop one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Trotting through a section of staghorn cholla “forest”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Snack break along the way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Out on loop three by ourselves.

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

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

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

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

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

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I love my desert.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ride Story: Man Against Horse 50

So, Man Against Horse happened back in early October…but things definitely didn’t go according to plan, so I’ve had a hard time mustering up the enthusiasm to write about it. Get through all 50 really hard miles…only to get pulled at the finish. I have to say, of all of the pulls I’ve had, this one probably sucks the most.

Short story: Beeba was off at the finish. The vet couldn’t even definitely pick a leg, just that she was “mild but consistently off.” And apparently she looked totally fine in her pasture once she got home later that evening. :/

I’m trying not to let the finish line pull completely cloud the good aspects of the weekend: riding and camping with good friends, some really good learning moments with pacing and smart trail strategy, the gorgeous fall colors on Mingus Mountain, the stunning scenery , and an overall fun time in the saddle.

But still, it stings. For whatever reason, I can feel good about the pull at Virginia City — we tried something hard, got the furthest we’ve ever been, and had a really good experience. This one? There are no good feelings about it. I’ve finished the ride before, she’s finished the ride before. It’s depressing and I’m bummed out about it. Also, to finish all the miles…but to ultimately have it not count for anything? Feels like a double insult.

Plus, a lameness pull makes me second-guess myself. What did I do wrong? Should I have slowed down even more? Done even more than I did on foot? Was it too soon after Virginia City? Should I have even started the ride? Y’know, all the shoulda-could-woulda armchair quarterbacking after the fact. Even a month later, I don’t know what I could have done differently, other than not ride.

It sucks, but we’ve concluded (based on not just these last two rides, but her entire ride history, which has been seriously up and down) that her forte is probably more as a LD/competitive trail horse rather than a 50+ miler. I’m bummed, because I really enjoyed riding her, and I let myself get way too excited and start thinking way too optimistically/far ahead with planning and future scheming.

Anyway, moving on to the ride itself. It basically took a village to make it happen. Kim wasn’t going to be able to ride, but I could still take Beeba, and she would come up and crew. I was able to find a ride for Beeba with a friend…but Barb was going to be working until late Friday afternoon and wasn’t sure when she would actually get to camp. So a convoluted plan was hatched, and despite the fact I felt like a flowchart was needed at times, it all ended up working out really smoothly.

  • Step One: Since Barb is about an hour away from me, and needed to leave for work early Friday morning, the plan was: drive my truck to Barb’s house Thurs night. Put all my ride stuff/food in her trailer, stay at her house overnight.
  • Step Two: Barb takes my truck to work. I load up Barb’s horse and drive her rig to Kim’s. Pick up Beeba. Kim follows in her car and we drive to the ride. Get camp set up and both horses vetted.
  • Step Three: Barb leaves from work Friday afternoon in my truck and drives straight to the ride.
  • Step Four: After the ride, all the stuff gets sorted into our respective vehicles, Barb drops Beeba back off at Kim’s, I drive straight home.

Endurance. It takes a village.

Ok, so we established that I drove the horses up to the ride on Friday. I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with rig driving this year, and feel like I’ve earned at least fledgling membership into the “endurance girls who can drive anything” club.

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Piggies!! Javelina (collared peccary) family crossing the “road” into base camp. (Fun fact: Only very vaguely related to pigs.)

Base camp is a big open cow pasture on the Fain Ranch just outside of Prescott — open parking among the rocks and random clumps of cactus. A spot that was free of rocks was cleared, horses got settled, then I spent a couple hours puttering around and socializing before rider check in and then going to vet in.

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This is kind of fun, because I have virtually no photos of me vetting in at endurance rides. My showmanship and halter upbringing is showing through. (photo: Sue Kordish, Cowgirl Photography)

After vetting in, I did a really short pre-ride with Beeba — meandered through camp, socialized along the way. Tried to head out along the finish trail, ended up feeling like I had a red-hot powder-keg under me. Errr, that would be a big old “nope” on that idea, so we walked politely(ish) back to the trailer red mare then got to trot schooling circles until she settled.

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pre-ride, acting fairly calm and innocent

One of the things I miss the most about riding Mimi in competition is her complete lack of explosiveness. She would spook at something, and be done. Interestingly enough, she had that “up” side that tended to appear at shows, especially large ones in new venues. But at distance rides? Never. Plenty of energy, and plenty of wanting to go forward, but I was never concerned about her bucking, rearing, spazzing and dumping me, or other variations of untoward behavior.

Friday evening, a couple dozen of us gathered for one of the “Zonie potlucks.” I’m skeptical of potlucks because so often it turns into everybody bringing a bag of chips or box of cookies and calling it good. Well, Zonies apparently love their food, because there was a glorious spread of main dishes, side dishes, and delicious homemade desserts. Yum. My contribution was a Mexican Street Corn salad, which seemed like a big hit since I only brought home a small amount of leftovers.

Ride briefing went by really quick — it seems like nothing had changed since the last time I had done the ride (2009). I should also add that this is my “anniversary” ride — it was Mimi’s and my first AERC ride back in 2005. We did the LD, and finished, and I’ve been hooked on this sport (despite questioning my sanity sometimes) ever since. 12 years in endurance…but that’s musings for another time and post.

Barb and I took the horses for a final walk around camp to stretch their legs, then retreated back to the warmth of the trailer. I was in bed at a decent time, and the 6:30 ride start meant the alarm was set for early, but not unreasonable.

Ride start nerves were out in full force again Saturday morning, albeit not as bad as at Virginia City. Barb and I waited back at the trailer until the pack cleared out (To recap: it’s an uncontrolled, “shotgun” start [at least they don’t actually fire a gun anymore] that drops through a rocky wash, then opens up through an open field. And you sort of just roughly follow along what used to be an old two-track road but has gotten fairly overgrown. Not a conducive environment for two horses who are not known for having the best start line behavior.

So we waited until a couple minutes after the start, hand-walked over to the start, mounted up, and headed straight out. Since the pack was pretty much out of sight, we were able to pick up a polite trot right away, and that was that. Beeba was settled within the first couple of miles, and she was perfectly happy to trot along behind Barb’s horse K-Man.

We kept it to a nice trot through the sand wash that is basically the first 5 miles of the trail — each year, it gets a little bit shallower and more trottable. By the time we headed out of the wash, we had caught up to the tail-end of the pack, and just kept steadily trotting along, catching and passing people.

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About 7 miles in, through the “rolling plains” section.

About 9 miles in, the trail hits one of my favorite sections: “the grapevine.” It’s roughly 7 miles up to the first vet check, and most of it is winding up through a canyon, twisting and turning in and out along a dry streambed, and then climbing up through manzanita bushes. So pretty, and so fun, especially on a athletic, agile horse.

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psychedelic endurance?

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out of the canyon and up into the manzanita. view is looking towards Prescott and the Bradshaw Mountains in the distance.

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in the manzanita tunnel, only a few miles out from the first vet check

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at the top of the climb, only about a mile from the check. (photo: John Kordish, Cowgirl Photography)

The approach into vet check 1, Mingus Springs Camp at mile 16, is about perfect. A downhill onto a two-track road, with lots of space to jump off and lead in.

By the time we walked to the troughs and Beeba drank, she was pulsed down — to 52. Vetted through, and then she set to work remedying those B’s on the gut sounds. In the course of about 20 minutes, she managed to stuff in a whole pan of mash, some hay, and start eyeballing some of the other horses’ mashes.

It was bit of a novelty to have a crew there, and to be able to hand the horse off to Kim and sit quietly and work through my own food cooler. Turkey lunch meat, cheese stick, and pasta salad all disappeared quickly, and then it was time to put the bridle back on, tighten the girth, and mount up, right on our out time.

I had kind of forgotten about parts of the next section — it involves quite a bit of forest road, combined with some sketchier “trails” to get from one road to another. And a lot of rocks. SO many rocks. After VC and this ride, I may have threatened that I didn’t want to see anything but a groomed sand arena for the next several months.

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oh look, more rocks

Parts of this section are really pretty, because it’s at a high enough elevation that there are lots of trees around, and some pleasant shady areas. And once you’re on the roads, there is plenty of area to move out…in between the rocky areas.

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on the long road around Mingus Mountain

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scenic overlook: looking down into the Verde Valley, and to the red rocks of Sedona in the distance

The scenery through this section is amazing, though. It overlooks the whole Verde Valley, and out into the red rocks of Sedona. It’s stunning, and photos barely begin to capture the colors, let alone the feeling of that immense of a view. Just one of the reasons I love this state.

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rode for a while with Cristina and Atti through this section

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flying

The ride was perfectly timed to catch the changing of the leaves as well. Sometimes when it’s within the first day or two of October, the leaves have barely started changing, but the ride date ended up falling on the 7th this year, and that was late enough to start really seeing the leaves.

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who says Arizona doesn’t have seasons?

Contrary to popular myth, parts of the state actually do have four seasons. The Valley just isn’t one of those parts. But anything that’s higher elevation definitely does.

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water and snack break before the real climbing begins

To get to vet check 2, at the top of Mingus Mountain, there’s a 3-mile climb with an almost-2000′ elevation gain, with some parts through some technical single-track (read: stepping up through/over rocks and boulder on an uphill). It’s hard. It ate our lunches the first time we did this 50, and I hopped off and led Mimi through it the second time around.

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taking a quick breather in the shade

This time, I stayed mounted, but that was a climb that definitely took the wind out of their sails. Beeba was tired, and K-Man experienced his first “I think I met Jesus” moment there on the mountain when he slowed his relentless forward movement and voluntarily stopped to eat. Ah, nothing like a hard ride to teach them how to take care of themselves.

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steep, rocky climb

I honestly don’t remember the climb being that hard, especially the second half. Either I blocked it from my memory…or I never realized just how much of an amazing hill pony Mimi is.

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more climb

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postcards from Arizona

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those radio towers are where we are going

We finally, finally reached the top…there was a checkpoint and water there, and the horses really tanked up. We only stayed there for a couple of minutes, wanting them to keep moving rather than stand around and cramp up. It was a mile of easy service road into the check, and we moseyed, alternating walking and trotting, right into the vet check.

Beeba’s pulse down down, and she vetted through well — one standalone ‘B’ for impulsion, A’s on everything else. Kim had a nice spread set out — sun for the horses, shade for the riders — and we each set to work on our respective food offerings. About 15 minutes into the check, Beeba started shaking, and looked really stiff when Kim walked her. We threw another fleece on her, gave her extra electrolytes, and Kim alternated walking her and letting her graze. Apparently she did the same thing at the check last year with Kim — we weren’t sure if she was tying up, or just cold, because she’s very cold-sensitive, or the post-climb exertion.

Needless to say, that put a major damper on my mood, as I went from “feeling good” to “gut knotted with anxiety.” Kim took Beeba over to the vet and got the “all clear” — her muscles were good, all other parameters were good, pulse was low — so probably just cold/exertion. I was worried about taking her back out, but between the vet’s okay, Kim’s okay, the fact she had done the same thing last year, a decision to really take it slow on the last third, plus me getting off and running, we headed back out again.

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after vet check 2. cross training? (Photo: John Kordish, Cowgirl Photography)

It’s pretty much “all downhill from here” after vet check 2, and I ended up hopping off and hiking/running any of the longer stretches of downhill. I could not believe how rocky and washed out this section has gotten. This was my absolute favorite part of the trail previously, because it was this smooth, flowing, slightly downhill single track that Mimi just flew down. Now, it was rutted, rocky, and a stumbling walk was the best gait we could hope for in many parts.

Right before we hit vet check three (a pulse/vet/go) I could feel Beeba take some funky steps when we were trotting along the forest road. Nothing I could pinpoint, but felt like there was a bit of a hitch somewhere in her gait. When we got to the check, we took a couple minutes to drink and pulse, then went over to vet. I had to trot her a couple times and the vet said she maybe saw “something” but just take it easy on the way back — which was literally all downhill at this point.

So we hiked out of the check, hit the section of switchbacks down Yaeger Canyon, and hiked and jogged the next several miles down the switchbacks. At the bottom of the canyon (and the last few miles into canyon) I hopped back on, but couldn’t really tell if it had made any difference or not. There was no definitive lameness, but she just didn’t feel 100%.

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Yaeger Canyon on foot

So we moseyed and took it fairly easy back into camp. Shoutout to Barb for being a real awesome riding partner and not ditching me. She certainly could have — K-Man was strong and had plenty of gas in the tank. But I really appreciated her sticking with me to the end.

Coming in to the finish, I was feeling a little hopeful — Beeba wasn’t 100%, but she wasn’t any worse. So maybe we would be okay?

Yeah, not so much. We vetted through right away, but after trotting back and forth a couple times, even yanking the tack and pulling her boots to check for any dirt/stones (nothing), it still wasn’t good enough to pass the vet’s scrutiny. They couldn’t even pinpoint a specific leg, just that she was “off.”

And that’s how I got my first finish line pull.

Barb and K-Man finished, and looked great.

Since it’s a close-by ride, we packed up camp, horses got their legs wrapped and a couple hours of recovery time, then we all hit the road. Beeba came out of the trailer sound back home and moseyed around her turnout looking none the worse for the wear.

Obviously, things didn’t go according to plan, and it kind of put a crimp in future plans. At this point, we’re operating on the theory that Beeba is probably a better LD/competitive trail horse than an endurance horse. These are not her first pulls, and it’s not fair to her, or whoever is riding her, to keep trying to pursue something that she’s probably not optimal for. It’s hard, because I really enjoyed riding her and spending time with her, and if she was my horse and the only option I had to ride (like it was with Mimi), I would probably spend the time and $ seeing if I could make things work. But reality is, she’s not mine, so it’s not my call, and I’m not going to put money into a horse that isn’t mine.

This has certainly been an interesting ride season, that’s for sure. And I say that with the full intent of “interesting” being used in the context of a curse versus a compliment.

Ride Story: Virginia City 100

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photo by Gore-Baylor Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Waiting in line to vet. Photo by Lucy Trumbull

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Getting ready to mount up at the start.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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photo by Gore-Baylor Photography

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

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hoofing it down Toll Rd

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

Coming down Toll Rd; photos by Sanne Steele

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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making our way to Bailey Canyon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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coming into Washoe; photo by Gore-Baylor Photogrpahy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SOB 1

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

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

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

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Tackling the second SOB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy trails for the rest of the 2017 ride season!

 

Ride Story: Tevis Educational Ride 2017

One step closer to my Tevis buckle dreams.

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The Tevis Educational Ride has been on my radar for a number of years, for obvious reasons. 1) It’s Tevis-related. 2) Chance to see the trail ahead of time. 3) Chance to be mentored by experienced Tevis finishers and learn appropriate pacing and other ride strategies.

The Ed Ride is held every other year (alternating with the “Fun Ride” which doesn’t cover as much of the trail, and isn’t quite as involved with mentoring/education), and includes two days of riding over basically 2/3 of the trail in a small group (2-3 people/mentor), as well as extra clinics and seminars that are particularly relevant to Tevis. To give an idea of the experience and educational value earned, despite the fact you cover 64 miles over the two days, completing the Ed Ride counts as 150 qualifying miles, for those trying to make their 300 qualifying miles to ride Tevis.

However, it’s a big time and $ commitment, especially if you don’t live in the area, so for those reasons (as well as timing, horse suitability, etc.), I’d never managed to make it to the Ed Ride. Fortunately, over the last few years, I’ve had a number of opportunities to do various and sundry pre-rides on the Tevis trail, usually coinciding with my mostly-annual crewing trips to Tevis.

This year, I was offered a chance to do the Ed Ride. A friend was going up to be an Ed Ride mentor, and had an extra horse she wanted to also have see the trail. I didn’t even have to think about that one at all — count me in for sure!

Fast forward to the Wednesday before the Ed Ride. I flew up to Las Vegas, NV early in the morning, Cathy picked me up from the airport, and we headed back to her place to finish packing and prep work. I met my ride for the weekend, an 8-year-old Al-Marah-bred gelding named Dean. This is his first season of endurance (after flunking out of both reining and dressage training) and he’s done 7 50’s to date, so went into the weekend with a good fitness base and some good seasoning and exposure to the sport (he’s done several XP rides, so technical trail was nothing new to him).

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AM Magestic Dean (AlMarah Mr Dream x Al-Marah HRH Domaine)

We got tack sorted and cleaned, stirrup lengths adjusted, and then glued hind boots on, a process that actually happened with minimal swearing or teeth gnashing.

While both horses have good hooves and tend to wear boots well, both of us opted for the extra insurance of using Renegade Pro-Comp Glue-Ons for the hind boots for the weekend. The canyons on the Tevis trail are a notoriously difficult place to keep boots on, thanks to a combination of climbing, some technical spots, some water crossings, and the amount of sweat that ends up coming off the horses.

Between Cathy, Cathy’s husband, and myself, we got both horses glued in less than an hour, taking into account boot sizing, gathering of materials, and then the actual gluing itself. Not too bad. The process for gluing Renegades isn’t necessarily difficult, per se…it’s just precise, and if the proper steps aren’t followed or followed sufficiently, then the glue job won’t be successful. And spoiler alert: they all stayed on through the whole weekend.

Thursday morning the horses got a quick bath, then we loaded up and were down the road. Because it’s a good 10+ hours between Vegas and Foresthill with a trailer, we had opted to split the drive into two days and overnight in Fallon, NV on the way up.

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driving by Walker Lake

It was a 6-1/2-hour drive on the way up, including one gas stop. Around Hawthorne and up past Walker Lake, we ran into some unexpected clouds/rain, which was a welcome relief and dropped the temperatures down into the 80s.

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settled in at the Churchill County Regional Park/Fallon fairgrounds

They got a chance to do a quick leg stretch in the arena (although were more interested in rolling in the dirt) before we settled them in a pen for the night. For us humans, luxury came in the form of power hookups and water at the campsites…hello, air conditioning and shower! I could very easily get used to this.

Friday morning, we loaded up and were back on the road bright and early after one last leg-stretching session in the arena. While they hadn’t done much the previous evening, they put on quite show in the morning — running, leaping, twirling, the full Arabian routine.

It was about a 4-hour haul through Reno, over Donner Pass, into Auburn, and onto Foresthill (including a fuel stop and stop at the CA/NV border ag station).

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stopped at the ag station. still snow on the mountains!

We pulled into camp at the Foresthill Mill Site (same location as the Foresthill vet check at Tevis) shortly before noon, and there were already at least a dozen rigs there.

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settled in at camp

Once they were settled on their respective Hi-Ties, we went over to check in for the weekend (Cathy as a mentor and myself as a rider), and go lighten our wallets at the Tevis Store. (My most-abused phrase of the weekend any time I would spend $ was “But it’s for a good cause!” as it all benefits the WSTF and the Tevis trail.)

I impulse-bought a couple of Kerrits IceFil items, as I was rapidly cooking in the hot sun and decided that the long-sleeve IceFil shirts were probably my best bet for weekend attire…and since I only had one long-sleeve shirt to bring with me, well, impulse shopping took care of that little problem.

Vetting in started at 3, and I believe we were over there shortly after it started. Fortunately there were patches of shade we were able to stand in while we waited in line.

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We’ll take it. Given he had eaten all night previously, and in the trailer, and all afternoon at camp, I wasn’t too concerned about the couple of B’s on gut sounds.

He even trotted out nicely for me…which he does when he feel like it. However, once the ride starts, his general attitude towards trot-outs is “Can’t Be Bothered.” Can’t complain about his other ground manners, though — stands politely, doesn’t fuss or trod on people, and an angel for vet handling.

Late afternoon the riders all gathered for a meet-n-greet with their chosen mentors. For the first day “long ride” option, there is a entry cap of 20 mentors and 60 riders, keeping the groups a nice, manageable size of 3 riders per mentor. It’s a pretty casual, relaxed affair — the mentors list their names, and the speed they intend to pace at (“fast”, “medium”, or “slow”), and riders can then sign up with their preferred mentor. Obviously since I was traveling with Cathy and riding one of her horses, I was signed up with her. :)

In-between the meet-n-greet and one of the educational seminars, I was called upon for some emergency boot-gluing services for one of the ladies who would be riding with our group. The gaiters of the boots she had been using the previous day had rubbed on her horse, making him sore enough to be off, and she wasn’t sure if she would be able to ride the next day or not. Cathy had extra Renegade glue-ons packed with her, so we offered to glue them on and see if it made a difference.

20 minutes later, front boots were glued, the horse was standing happily, and after a couple hours of letting the glue fully set up, he trotted sound. I made no promises as to how it would hold up, given the fact that, despite helping with doing glue-ons for a number of years now, I had yet to actually tackle an entire glue job on my own.

I guess that’s on-the-job training?

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Spoiler Alert 2: They also stayed on ;)

The evening lecture was from Susan Garlinghouse, DVM, and she gave a really good lecture on feeding and electrolyting, specifically with 100-milers in mind, and some Tevis-specific relevant tips. She is always so generous with her knowledge on some of the Facebook groups, and really knows her stuff in regards to nutrition and performance. She’s also a highly entertaining speaker (bonus points for working in the phrase “take it worth a grain of salt” when discussing electrolytes), and knows how to distill down information into easily-digestible tidbits for us laypeople.

A local taco truck came in and set up shop on-site for Friday meals, and three tacos later, I was quite satisfied during the ride meeting. The ride meeting was pretty straight-forward, covering logistics: we would meet down at the Mill Site entrance at our designated times, load up into shuttle trailers, and be taken up to the start at Mumford Bar trailhead, where we would be dropped off and then ride the 25 miles back to Foresthill along the trail.

A note regarding the Ed Ride trail this year: Due to the absurdly high snowpack levels in the Sierras, the Ed Ride followed a slightly different route. The first canyon (with the “Swinging Bridge” at the bottom) had suffered some trail damage from a mud/rock slide, and while it had been open for the Western States Run last month, it wasn’t safe for horses, and while repairs will be complete by the time Tevis rolls around, an alternate start was designed for the Ed Ride.

Instead of going up to Robinson Flat, we were dropped off at Mumford Bar trailhead, about half an hour drive from Robinson Flat, and rode down Deadwood Road to the Deadwood vet check, bypassing the first canyon entirely. (At this point, I am convinced that I will not actually see the first canyon until I actually ride Tevis.) 

From Deadwood, we picked up the actual trail and took it the rest of the way in to Foresthill. Obviously, this shortened the mileage from the standard 32-mile day to about 25 miles, so for the small handful of people who needed the full mileage of the Ed Ride for their Tevis qualifying miles, they also had an out-and-back segment added on to their route to make up the miles and the descent/climb.

Day Two also experienced some trail alternations. The American River is flowing at a rate that is almost 5x what is ideal/safe for horses to cross — the winter rain/snow and subsequent snowmelt has the river flowing uncontrolled over the Oxbow Reservoir spillway. Because the river is normally dam-controlled and under regulated release, the high point of the water releases normally don’t hit that far downstream at the river crossing point until late afternoon, making it safe to cross in the earlier parts of the day. The dam-controlled aspect is also what allows the river to be held back for the duration of the Tevis ride day, making is safe to cross even in the late night/wee hours of the morning.

Normally the Ed Ride would get to the river and cross it early enough in the day to then continue on in to Auburn. This year, however, we were re-routed after Francisco’s to continue up Driver’s Flat Road (the road that is used to access the Francisco’s vet check) and finish at the Lower Driver’s Flat parking area for an approximately 20-mile day, and then be shuttled back to Foresthill from there.

Friday night was a bit restless, as it usually is for me, interrupted by Dean busting loose from his Hi-Tie at one point. Fortunately he didn’t go anywhere, but that involved having to r-attach his rope to the Hi-Tie.

So when my alarm went off, I was happy to get up and get on with things. Because saddles had already been packed the previous evening, all I had to do was pull on riding clothes, drink my coffee and eat some breakfast, then go tack up.

Cathy’s horses are used to being trailered with their tack on, so that was one less thing to mess with — just walked them down to the meeting area and they hopped right into the trailer, and we were on our way.

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our group: Gayle/Bo, me/Dean, Cathy/Tempest, Liz/Boon

From our drop-off point at Mumford Bar, we mounted up and headed down Foresthill Rd for a little less than a mile to the turnoff on Deadwood Rd. Fortunately it was early enough on a Saturday morning that traffic wasn’t an issue.

In my typical catch-rider fashion, I climbed on Dean for the first time there at the trailhead. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from him…he had done a number of rides already this year, and only a tiny handful of minor indiscretions since Cathy had him…but old habits die hard (for me) and I still have a hard time relaxing and just jumping on board without wondering if the explosion will follow shortly thereafter.

He was just fine, and handled all of the commotion at the trailhead and heading out onto the street without fuss. He did start trying to jig and get really bunched up about 1/4-mile in when Tempest started outwalking him, so rather than get into an argument or have to get too in his mouth, I just jumped off and started hand-walking him down the road until we reached the Deadwood Rd turnoff. Once I climbed back on, we started trotting, and we found a better rhythm from there.

It was about 7 miles down Deadwood Rd to water, and we alternated walking and trotting, switching off and rotating through who was leading. We got passed by several groups — riding a faster pace than we were, but got a later start for shuttling or getting on the trail. No biggie — it was a great place to pass, since it was a dirt road. However, once we had been passed, Dean suggested to me a couple of times that “Wouldn’t you like to catch those horses ahead?” Nope, dude, we’re hanging back and taking it easy today.

We connected up with the actual Tevis trail about 7 miles in, at what would normally be the top of the climb out of the first canyon — the Devil’s Thumb water stop. They had troughs out, so the horses were able to tank up really well, and then we moseyed in the mile +/- into the Deadwood vet check.

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Devil’s Thumb area. The break in the fence on Cathy’s left is where the normal trail comes in.

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single-track trail into Deadwood (sorry, horrible mixed light meant most of my photos aren’t the greatest)

There was quite a back-up for the vet line at Deadwood, so we had some time to let them drink and eat. There was a volunteer there doing courtesy pulses — since I had no idea what to expect, I had her check Dean and she said he was at 68 just coming in.

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waiting in line at Deadwood

Once he got a drink, we did the actual P&R…unfortunately, the pulse taker was just putting ’60’ on the cards if they were at or below criteria, so I don’t know what Dean actually came in at since all pulse taker said was “he’s way down, so as long as they’re down, I’m just putting 60 on the card.” :/ Would have liked the accuracy for information’s sake, but what can you do? <shrug>

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when you’re waiting, you take pictures. this guy just makes me grin.

I took advantage of the downtime to fill my bottles and water pack, and grab some snacks and stuff my face. Practicing efficiency was one of my goals for the weekend, so I felt good about using my time in line well.

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clean-up crew at Deadwood

Dean vetted well, and after everyone in our group was ready to go, we scuttled off down the trail towards El Dorado Canyon.

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in line at Deadwood

There are a couple of exposed areas going down the canyon that make me squeak a bit. Funny enough, I’m actually better about those spots when I can trot through them, but on this day, we ended up walking some of those areas, so I jumped off and lead for a little bit. Dean and I were at the back of our group, so it was more efficient for me to power hike or do some jogging than to be doing the speed up/slow down thing in the saddle.

This trail can really mess with your head in parts. At one point, I swore I was seeing what looked like a little trickle of water/mud across the trail — which there was — that then opened up into a puddle of water that was reflecting the trees and greenery. Ummm, not so much on the puddle part. It was actually open air and really tall trees. That was kind of an “eep” moment for me, and I doubled down on keeping a really strong leg on Dean, reminding him that there was a drop-off there.

It was hot, hot, hot down at the bottom of the canyon, so we only lingered for a brief moment before continuing onward, bemoaning the fact that El Dorado Creek was so difficult to access. However, they had the route detoured to the little creek that is just off the trail a little ways, and we were able to let the horses drink and give them a good sponging.

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climbing up the Michigan Bluff side of El Dorado Canyon

The climb up to Michigan Bluff is long, and hot, and the horses all start thinking you’re a little bit crazy. Fortunately there’s actually a good amount of shade along the way, but being in a canyon, there’s not much air movement, so it gets pretty warm when you’re walking up the climb.

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manzanita tunnel at the top of the canyon

Once you hit the manzanita tunnel, that’s a sign that you’re near the top of the canyon and almost to Michigan Bluff.

On ride day, Michigan Bluff is a water stop only, but for the Ed Ride, they did have a vet check there. All of the horses drank well as we sponged them down, and Dean was at pulse criteria within a couple minutes of coming in and drinking.

There was a line for the vet here as well, so we found some shade and hay and again let them eat.

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Yeah, happy with that.

Rather than get bogged down in another line at the Pieper Junction/Chicken Hawk check, we elected to hang out a few extra minutes and let them eat at MB before moseying out and making our way the couple miles to the next check.

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“Frat Boy” at MB — eating, drinking, chillin’ in the shade

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riding out of Michigan Bluff. An iconic Tevis moment when doing the ride…being there at the Ed Ride was enough to give me chills

The road between MB and PJ/CH is pretty trottable, although I had forgotten that there’s a little climb slipped in there (~400′ in less than a mile, but it’s right before the check, and all the little climbs add up).

Our strategy initially paid off when we reached the check, as there were way fewer people in line ahead of us…unfortunately, while we were pulsed down and standing in line at one of the troughs, a group behind us slipped in to an open trough ahead of us…and then decided that was “their” place in the vet line. Lesson learned: if you’re in the back of the line and people come in behind you, make sure they know you’re the back of the line. Or don’t leave a gap in-between troughs that people can slip into.

If it had been an actual ride, chasing the clock, I would have been more upset, but we weren’t being timed, and we were already out there…what difference was an extra ten minutes going to make, under the circumstances?

Dean was a little lackadaisical in his trot-out, earning him B’s on gait/impulsion/attitude, and for me to quip, “B for ‘Can’t Be Bothered.'”

One out of the check, we collectively as a group decided that we’d like to try a slightly faster pace whenever appropriate for this last canyon, as it was getting pretty warm and we were all about ready to be done for the day.

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down into Volcano Canyon

Volcano Canyon is the “baby” of the three canyons, but what it lacks in depth it makes up for in being much rougher and rumblier footing. I last rode this canyon in 2014, and was able to jog-trot a good part of it…this year, we were reduced to a slithering walk on a lot of it.

The Volcano Creek crossing itself was a bit exciting. It’s always pretty rocky and slippery, and this year, Volcano Creek was a lot higher and faster-flowing than normal. Dean and I were in the lead at this point, and when he got to the edge, he decided, “Nope, not happening.” I jumped off as he contemplating back up the uphill single-track with a few drop-off areas, knowing I was probably going to have to get wet in order to get him across. I glanced at a couple of rocks, briefly contemplated rock hopping, concluded my odds of slipping on the rocks and ending up all the way in the creek were probably greater than not, and resigned myself to trudging across.

Yes, ultrarunner is a wimp who doesn’t like getting her feet wet.

Sure enough, the rocks were slippery, and Dean had a few slip-n-slide moments down in the creek, with a quick scramble at the end to get the heck outta there.

The water was cold, but felt really good, and I ended up about mid-calf deep after we cleared the main part of the stream and moved off to the other side to allow more of our group to fit in. This was another great chance to sponge the horses down, and since I was already partially wet, I squeezed several spongefuls of water over my own head/neck.

The last bit of climb out of Volcano Canyon goes by a lot quicker, and then we were at Bath Road. Now that is the part that takes way longer than expected. It’s the road that just keeps going.

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heading up Bath Rd, almost back to Foresthill

Dean was still perfectly happy to keep offering to trot, especially when some of the larger horses would out-walk him, and a few times, I obliged…a few other times, I insisted he needed to work on his “walk out” skills.

And then we were back at Foresthill and the familiar entrance to the Mill Site…a path I’ve traveled a number of times now with crewing. We got the horses pulsed down and while Dean initially was presenting to the pulse person at 64, as soon as dummy here realized I forgot to loosen his girth, his pulse immediately dropped to 56. (How long have I been doing my vet check routine of dismount and immediately loosen girth?)

We dumped off their tack at the trailer, then immediately went over to vet. Dean gave me the most unimpressive trot-out ever (seriously, can’t be bothered), although I guess he still looked perky enough for A’s on his movement scores, and the vet had some useful tips for teaching smart trot-outs.

We discovered he did have a slightly sore girth rub (coincided with the nylon edge of the billet keeper strap), as well as some scrapes and dings on a hind leg from slipping in Volcano Creek, although those were all surface.

Once we were vetted out for the day, it was back to the trailer to clean them up and let them eat, and our riding group hung out in the shade and re-hydrated ourselves until it was time for the BBQ dinner.

They served some delicious grilled chicken and tri-tip, plus salad, watermelon, and garlic sourdough bread. I know I’m pretty easy to feed, especially after a day of riding, but this really hit the spot, and we wrapped up the evening with a Q&A panel of half a dozen experienced Tevis riders answering open forum questions posed to them.

Some interesting tidbits were picked up, but my biggest takeaway from the panel is “you need to figure out what works best for you and your individual horse.” If you get the same/similar enough answer on a subject from half a dozen very experienced people, then it’s likely that is a reliable tidbit to file away as “critical information” for later.

But things like shoes/splint boots/electrolytes are all such personal topics that depend very much on the individual horse and rider, and you can try to emulate a person and everything they do as much as you want, but that isn’t going to guarantee you the same level of success if that particular protocol isn’t appropriate for your horse or you as a rider.

Anyway…after the panel wrapped up, Cathy and I made a quick decision after looking at saddles, Dean’s girth rub, and girth options…since we had each saddle set up for ourselves with our individual packs, etc., and since the saddle Cathy was riding was rigged just slightly different than the one I was riding, rather than switch everything between the saddles, we would keep our saddles and just switch horses. Unconventional, I guess, but it worked.

So Sunday morning saw me crawling out of bed and repeating the same morning routine of riding clothes/coffee/breakfast. I had already filled my water pack and set saddle snacks out, so I just had to stuff bottles and snacks into the pommel pack, put front boots on, tack up, and we were ready to go.

Sunday’s route was a point-to-point of California Loop up Driver’s Flat Rd, at which point we would be shuttled back to Foresthill. I did this exact same route last summer with Lucy and Kaity, and while I had a few “squeaky” moments, overall I was surprised by how “not scary” I found Cal Loop to be. (I’m sure it’ll feel different in the dark, but with my overactive imagination, it’s far better for me to go into a scenario knowing “yep, have already done this trail, we can handle it” than to be wondering just what the heck we’re traversing over.)

I also had the advantage today of being on the experienced horse — Tempest finished Tevis last year, so she knew where we were at as well. From the get-go she felt good, snorting softly as we trotted by the cemetery (another “I see dead people” horse), and striding out through town. Even if she did have to stare suspiciously at the liens in the road and any stop sign/crossing writing on the road.

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“Slow? I don’t wanna go slow.” Theme of the day.

Dean and Cathy initially lead out once we passed through town and hit the trail, but Tempest was in fire-breathing dragon mode (which I’m familiar with thanks to Mimi) and was having way too much fun breathing down the more slow-moving Dean’s back, so I shuffled her to the front at the first appropriate moment and we led the way down Cal Loop.

I wasn’t sure what to expect the second time through — now that I had seen and knew what parts I considered kind of “scary,” would I be looking for them? Would it seem worse? There’s one exposed section with very little “catch vegetation” before Cal 1 that I hadn’t cared for, but for whatever reason, it didn’t even register in my brain this time. We reached Cal 1, and I had a moment of going “wait, we’re at Cal 1 already?”

Now, we did have a “moment” at one of the Dardanelles Creek crossings on the way to Cal 1. There was a very large step-down into a very rocky crossing — hard to find good footing, and the water depth was hard to see. I once again hopped off, this time making it across without getting soaked, but when Tempest went to cross, she slipped and did a very impressive flail/scramble to get through. If it gives you an idea of the degree of scramble, one of her fetlock interference boots ended up inside out and up near her hock.

Lesson learned: try to stay on the horse if at all possible on water crossings. I just wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to get her to cross it without a major fight or a ridiculous cross-country leap over it. Hindsight, even the leap probably would have been better.

So much of Cal Loop is so trottable. The footing is good, for the most part, and the grades are gentle enough to allow for some good stretches of continuous trotting. Which Tempest was more than happy to oblige.

Just after Cal 1, we switched it up and put Dean in the front again. Fire-breathing dragon mode activated on Tempest again, and I got some good practice in riding off my core, and using seat and legs to keep her an appropriate distance back versus hanging in her mouth the whole time. We reached a fair-to-middling compromise on the issue.

The section between Cal 1 and Cal 2 was a little longer than I remembered, although fortunately there were some natural springs/creeks flowing for the horses to drink. But we did reach Cal 2, and set off down those switchbacks. I swear, this whole trail flows like a time warp, because the Cal 2 switchbacks were a lot shorter than I remembered.

The Ford’s Bar section — where you climb up, and then climb right back down — was just as nonsensical as I remembered. This area was a part of last year’s Trailhead Fire that burned just a few weeks before Tevis, but some of the greenery is already starting to come back.

The next section, between Ford’s Bar and Sandy Bottom, also had some “exposure” sections I hadn’t been real fond of previously, but I actually felt comfortable enough to trot through a good part of it this time. Tempest is really sure-footed and smooth, so it’s easy to feel really comfortable on her. She tended to “look” at things, especially rocks/logs, but all she would do was tip her head and start a little bit, and I never felt worried about her slipping or stepping off the trail.

Down at Sandy Bottom, we were fortunate enough to find an access point down to the river, so we took several minutes to go down and let the horses drink, and stand in the  water and cool off. After the previous day’s water-crossing episode, I was pretty immune to the whole “I don’t wanna get wet” thing, so tromped right into the river myself, getting knee deep, and using the horse sponge to thoroughly drench my head/neck.

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Cathy with Dean in the foreground; me and my obnoxiously fluorescent sponge (and a sulking Tempest) in the back

Tempest didn’t find the river nearly as amusing as the rest of us. She drank well, but had to be begrudgingly dragged fetlock-deep into the water so I could more easily sponge her. (Also not an amusing trick, per her.)

That was the most refreshing 5-minute break ever, and totally worth the time spent.

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down at Sandy Bottom

From there, it was a couple more miles along the river road to Francisco’s. Normally a check on the ride (an initially supposed to be a check for the Ed Ride), this time the road down to the check was too rutted out to be able to safely get vehicles/volunteers down to that point. They were able to get several troughs, hay, and some people snacks and waters, down to a spot just before Francisco’s, so we had a chance to get more water and let the horses eat for a few minutes before heading up to and through the Francisco’s meadow and up Driver’s Flat Rd.

We passed by the turnoff the trail takes to Poverty Bar — Tempest glanced that way, and then kept peering off to the side as we climbed the road, as if to say “Umm, don’t we go that way?” Nope, not this time. Climb, climb, climb we go, up ~1800′ in ~2 miles. Tempest was a climbing machine — any time I’d offer to let her stop in the shade, she’d brush off the offer and just keep marching.

The Lower Driver’s Flat parking lot was a welcome sight — hay and water for horses, food and cold water for people, and lots of shade to hang out and take a breather for a bit. They made this our finishing point, so when we vetted out, we were done for the day.

I forgot to get a pic of the vet card, but I do remember Tempest vetted out very well (she does a gorgeous in-hand trot-out), and had pulsed down to 52 by the time she was finished drinking.

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hanging out at Driver’s Flat

We hung out around the troughs and in the shade for probably about 10 minutes after we were done, letting the horses eat and drink. At one point, I was sitting on the edge of the trough, and Tempest decided she was so thirsty, she was getting to that trough no matter what…pretty sure she was intent on pushing me in if I hadn’t slid out of the way fast enough. (That would be the side of her that qualifies for “mare ‘tude.”)

Then we moseyed up to the Upper Driver’s Flat parking lot where we were able to shuttle back to Foresthill with a couple of other riders. Got the ponies untacked and cleaned up, and while Cathy worked on packing up the trailer, I worked on removing hind boots.

There are a couple of ways you can go about removing glue-on boots. You can use a flat-head screwdriver and chisel between the hoof wall and boot wall and break the glue bond. You can chop the boot wall off in pieces with hoof nippers. Or you can cut the sole of the boot away and then peel the boot wall off the hoof wall. I opted for the third option.

You do want a horse that stands quietly, as you’re going to be working with a knife. If they don’t stand well, or have a tendency to fidget, maybe use one of the other options. Even with a quiet horse, be careful. It’s still an exposed knife blade. I use a straight edge box cutter, something I can adjust so that only a small amount of the blade is sticking out, just enough to penetrate the thickness of the boot wall. Cut around the outside of the boot, at the point where the boot wall joins the boot sole. Since there’s no glue on the sole of the hoof, once the cut is complete, you can pop the sole of the boot off the hoof. Then grab a corner of the boot wall and start peeling it off the hoof wall.

I had both horses hind boots off in about 15 minutes.

Very pleased with my experience in using glue-ons for the weekend. I love the ease and convenience of using a strap boot for training and the vast majority of rides I do. But for certain scenarios, it is really nice to have the glue-ons as an option.

The afternoon wrapped up with an awards presentation for our completion certificates (pictured at the top), and a giveaway prize raffle. (I actually won an ice pack shoulder wrap thing.) The ultimate prize, of course, was a Tevis entry. Nope, didn’t win the Tevis entry. ;)

Cathy headed out after awards — Tempest is slated to go to Tevis is year, so rather than haul all the way back to Vegas, and then back up to Tevis less than a month later, she found a place outside of Reno to keep the horses and will fly back in ahead of Tevis.

And I headed for Tevis Low Camp (aka Lucy’s, aka my Sierra Foothills home away from home), where I got a shower, pizza, beer, and lots of laughs and great conversation. Monday morning, Lucy deposited me off at the Sacramento airport (seriously, I know this place as well as Phoenix at this point), and I came home to two very happy pups.

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It was an absolutely amazing weekend…ride management and all of the volunteers put on a fantastic ride, I learned a ton, and had a blast. I can’t thank Cathy enough for providing me the opportunity to participate in the Ed Ride weekend, and for sharing her ponies with me.

Next up: Food/Drink/Clothing/Tack/Afterthoughts

Ride Story: Tahoe Rim Ride 50 2016

The Tahoe Rim Ride is a “boutique”, limited entry ride with a unique entry system: you send in your entry, and trailer parking spots are drawn. If you are drawn, you can then bring as many people with you as can fit in your rig (minimum of 2 people per rig). There are only 18 spots available in what management describes as the “postage stamp parking lot” so it still remains a small ride, and since people tend to bring other people that they like and are friends with, it has a very comfortable, casual, fun atmosphere.

Entries got sent in last fall, and a group of us all sent entries in with the hope that at least one of us would get drawn, and thus bring the rest of the group. My observation was that I had neither rig nor 50-mile horse, so wouldn’t it be ironic if my entry got drawn?

I got drawn.

Since this was back in December when entries were drawn, plans were pretty vague at that point, but I had assurances that we would make ride attendance happen, and offers of at least a couple of horses that would be available. Plans were finalized by late spring, when full entries had to be sent it…I would be riding Lucy’s Roo (AM Ruwala Land)! I’ve had a soft spot for him from the very beginning, when I went up to crew for Lucy and Roo at Tevis 2009. I’m a sucker for anything out of the Al-Marah lines, and he’s just a fun little horse…just my size at 14.1, very sensible in his trail-craft (I’ve done part of the Tevis canyons and Cal Loop on him), and generally an uncomplicated worker bee…albeit with what can be a wicked spook, depending on his mood. He’s also very experienced, having just earned his 2000 miles earlier this year, and has done Tahoe Rim twice…and it’s one of his favorite rides.

As anyone who has been following my blog knows, the last couple of years have been pretty endurance-lite…and the few rides I have managed to get to haven’t exactly been successful, with one lameness and two overtime pulls, all in LDs, and it had been 3 years since my last 50. By the time summer rolled around, I was at the point of seriously questioning my capabilities, trying to push through some major fear issues, wondering whether continuing to try to pursue endurance was worth it, and prior to getting some good rides in during Tevis week, ready to throw in the towel on even going to Tahoe Rim.

My week at Tevis provided some much-needed saddle time (and conquering Cal Loop was a major confidence-booster) and friends-as-sounding-boards to finally talk about all of my doubts and insecurities that had been pinballing around in my head, and I wrapped up that week feeling much better about the whole endeavor. Not only would I be riding a very experienced horse who knew and liked the trail, I would be riding with my friend Renee, who has quite a bit of endurance experience and miles, so I would be in good hands (and hooves).

The week leading up to the ride, I spent way too much time overthinking again, obsessing over little details like what to wear, what water system to use (bottles or hydration pack?), what snacks to bring, the trail and timing of the loops…I’m a type A, list-and-detail-oriented planner, and attending rides is still a novelty to me…so I over-think and over-plan, but I’d rather be that way than the opposite.

My original plan was to glue Renegade Glue-Ons on Roo’s hinds. Historically, he was always been hard on hind boots, no matter what kind, and I figured it would be one less thing to worry about. Since I wanted some extra time to glue, I left Phoenix on Wednesday late afternoon for an evening arrival in Sacramento.

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Jetting out just ahead of a monsoon microburst

I’m starting to feel really familiar with the Sacramento airport…next to Phoenix, it’s my most-frequented airport. (And a very nice airport it is.) Lucy picked me up, and we headed back to her place (which is starting to feel a bit like a second home).

Thursday was my prep day — get the trailer packed, food shopping done, ahead-of-time cooking done, boots glued. Only, when I went to try the glue-ons on, I realized I had made a sizing error, and they were going to be way too big. (What have we learned from this, children? Always remeasure and check sizing, even if “it’s what they used before.” See, I had used Classic size 0 boots on him in the strap style before…they’re a little loose, but 00 are too tight, and more recently, he’s been going in Vipers anyway. So I figured 0 would be fine. As it turns out, he probably needs the 0-N size that is offered in glue-ons.)

I hemmed and hawed for a bit, and then decided that, whatever, I was just going to run him in his normal strap boots. Lucy said it was a boot-friendly ride, with minimal steep climbs after a water crossing, and minimal mud. Okay, then. That’s 2+ hours of my day I just got back, and promptly spent grocery shopping, cooking, and taking Roo out for a leg-stretch down to the lane.

Ridecamp for Tahoe Rim was only about 2-1/2 hours from Lucy’s, so Friday morning was spent leisurely drinking coffee, packing up the coolers, and giving Roo a quick hose down before loading up and pulling out about 11. We picked up Renee and her mount for the weekend, Finney, made the obligatory Starbucks-and-lunch stop in Auburn, and then were well and truly on our way.

The route to TRR from Lucy’s is the same as going to Tevis, only instead of making the turn at the summit to head down to Tevis, you keep on heading south, crest the summit, and continue down to Lake Tahoe.

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gorgeous Lake Tahoe…I really want to come back here and spend some time at the lake

This is easily the most scenic drive I’ve made to a ride — the road hugs the eastern shore of the lake before peeling off to the east, past Spooner Lake, and up a service road to ridecamp.

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*very* organized parking…there were still 3-4 more rigs that ended up fitting in at the back of camp.

We got the ponies settled on their Spring Ties, I gave Roo a final quick touch-up on his feet and popped his boots on, and then we made our way over to vet in. He vetted very nicely, and was cheery enough on the trot-out to give a head toss and some kind of little hop thing. Guess he’s ready to go, huh?

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body score of 6…I may have been a little overzealous in how much food I was stuffing into him…

Once we were vetted, Renee and I tacked up and headed out for a quick pre-ride to the ride start + first maybe mile or so of trail. The start is nice — the wide dirt road that leads into camp, and then you peel off onto a single-track trail that does some steep dips up and down, and one steep downhill. Lucy had warned me about that last downhill, and that historically if Roo was going to act up anywhere, he would probably try to sneak in some crowhopping at that point, so she wanted me to get a look at the trail so I would know what to expect.

Roo didn’t even wait for the ride start…he threw some jigging, and some naughty pony crow-hopping in as soon as we were towards the bottom of the steep downhill, since Finney and her fast walk had gotten *just slightly ahead of him*. Fortunately he’s pretty half-hearted in his attempts and is very controllable, so I was able to ride him out of it and we headed up the trail another 1/4 mile or so before turning around and heading back to camp.

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pre-ride, heading back to camp on the road in/out

Once we got back, we had just enough time to untack before ride briefing, which was a perfect balance between “long enough to share everything you need to know” and “short enough to still be interesting.” 7am ride start, the trail would be 3 loops of 18/12/20, with a 45-minute hold at the vet check in-between loops. Pulse parameters were 60 at the checks, 64 for the finish. We were warned that the first 9 miles were essentially uphill, climbing from basecamp (~7000′) to the highest point of the ride at 9000′.

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ride map

After briefing, we pulled a quick dinner together (tortellini and chicken-caesar pasta salad), spent some time socializing, and then I eventually succumbed to the colder-than-I-was-used-to temperatures and lure of a cushy mattress. I slept “typical” for me on a pre-ride Friday night…which is to say, “not great.” I’m always restless the first night in a new place, combined with some pre-ride nerves, and the fact I had forgotten to bring any melatonin with me meant I spent quite a bit of time shuffling and tossing and turning…but at least I was warm.

It was almost a relief to have the alarm go off at 5am…time to get up and get moving. I was back to my typical “don’t wanna eat, nothing looks appealing” games, but managed to stuff in my coffee, juice, part of a banana, and about half a little container of oatmeal. Not fabulous, but better than nothing.

As soon as it started getting light out, we took the ponies for a quick leg stretch walk around camp, and once back at the trailer, I quickly put Roo’s boots on while everything was still nice and quiet — I wasn’t sure how fidgety he might get, and I like to be prepared and have some extra time to sit and twiddle my thumbs versus scrambling to get ready. Lucy was volunteering at the vet check and had to leave at 6 to be able to get up there in time, so she headed out, truck loaded with our crew bags/boxes.

Tacking up was quick, since I had already been through the fiddly bits yesterday of attaching boot bags and getting everything situated and adjusted, so all I had to do was fluff the saddle pad, tack up, and add water bottles.

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all nice and relaxed before the start. camp was plenty lively, and all Roo did was stand there and snooze. after 2000 miles, he’s got this game figured out.

In an effort to avoid ride start shenanigans from either horse, we elected to wait a couple of minutes and meander out after most of the pack had left, and it worked beautifully. There were only a few people us when we strolled out of camp at 7:05am, and we got a nice walk down the road, got through the steep downhill without any issue whatsoever, had a couple of people pass us, then we passed a couple people, all within the next mile, and then we settled in to a space bubble we would keep for most of the day.

Since Renee is really, really good at pacing, and Roo is way less spooky when he’s following, Renee was elected “herd leader” for most of the day, and she did a great job of setting a really steady, consistent, all-day dib-dib-dib pace. The trail wove around trees and rocks, and steadily gained in elevation. Eventually we broke clear of the trees and we on a ridgeline that overlooked Lake Tahoe, with Marlette Lake right below us.

“Breathtaking” really doesn’t even begin to describe it, and pictures certainly can’t do it justice. I think “wow” became the most over-used word the whole day.

Shortly after hitting the aforementioned highest point of the ride — Snow Valley — we passed by ride photographer Bill Gore (who is a West Region institution as a photographer; and he’s been the official Cougar Rock photographer for the last several years) and I told him to take lots of pictures. :) I have a whole stack of them in print format that I got there at the ride; these are two digital copies:

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photo by Bill Gore; Gore-Baylor Photography

 

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photo by Bill Gore; Gore-Baylor Photography

Go to the linked site to see allllllll of the lovely photos from the weekend.

(Yes, Roo’s tail is orange. No, I did not dye it to match his boots. :P Where Lucy lives is very much of a red dirt footing, and it inevitably stains anything light/grey-colored…and I just couldn’t be bothered with extensive tail scrubbing for his bath.)

After climbing, the trail descended (of course…theme of the day: “what goes up must go down”), back into the trees, still on lovely single-track with excellent footing, and we made our way down to the “water trough intersection” that we would end up re-visiting 3 times throughout the ride.

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Cruising into the water trough intersection. Photo by Rene Baylor; Gore-Baylor Photography.

The troughs were at about 10 miles,…perfect place to electrolyte, relieve one’s self behind a tree, and yank another snack out of the saddle pack. (Bonus points for electrolyting Roo while managing to keep this waffle-cookie thing clenched between my teeth…which is what can be done when the horse is polite and easy to electrolyte [“Mimi and Liberty, I’m looking at you,” she muttered under her breath].) Both Roo and Finney drank well, and we were out of there in…I dunno, 5 minutes or less?

From here, the single track turned into double-track service road, and we got some good trotting in again before it turned downhill…we both hopped off and lead down. Renee and Finney for sure made better time, but neither Roo nor myself are particularly speedy on downhills…but the stretch felt good. Once the trail flattened out again, it turned into an old flume road that wound around and eventually into the vet check. There were some really good long-trotting sections here, and we switched off leading back and forth. There was a pretty good climb a couple miles out from the vet check, and then the pie plate mileage marker that we had been warned was actually more like 1/2 a mile, despite saying “1/4 mile”.

The entrance into the check was right through a knee-deep creek, so unless you really don’t mind wet feet, you ride right into the check. But the creek gives them a chance to drink and start cooling down, and with the creek right there, they had an endless supply of water refills for lots of sponging buckets. Roo is not world’s best/fastest pulser, even with walking the last 1/4-mile into the check, so I did lots and lots of sponging and sloshing with that nice cool water, and it took him about 5 minutes to come down to the 60 parameter.

This ride wins for most unique vetting location — the trot-out was along the top of the dam of Hobart Reservoir.

Roo vetted beautifully, with the only B’s being on two of the four gut sounds quadrants…everything else, all A’s. And he was a squirmy fidget who just wanted to rub against me, so clearly he was just getting warmed up.

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itchy face

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noble beast

Once we were vetted, we still had another 35 minutes or so left of our 45 minute hold, so we headed over to the crew area Lucy had set up for us. The ponies got mashes and hay, and I wandered over to the food table. Management had a serious spread set out — muffins and cookies, fruit, crackers, all kinds of drinks, and a huge cooler loaded with half a dozen different varieties of sandwiches. A tuna salad with swiss sounded like the best thing ever…and it was! Probably some of the best tuna I’ve ever had. I sat and ate, and enjoyed the rare luxury of having a crew person do things like refill my water bottles and stuff snacks in my saddle pack.

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endurance horse rule — the other horse’s food always tastes better

Lucy also pulled Roo’s boots and cleaned them — the creek crossing immediately into the sandy check had left them quite a mess, and we also wanted to see how the newly-drilled holes in the toes were working to help minimize debris. (Some horses, either due to hoof shape, boot fit, or terrain ridden in, can sometimes get dirt wodged in the boot toe enough that it creates a bit of a gap, pushing the toe of the boot further forward than the breakover point and tightening the captivator. Drilling a couple of pencil-eraser-sized holes can help empty the toe area without compromising the boot structure or wear.) Roo is also very sensitive-skinned and prone to getting rubs (he had a spot on his shoulder by the end of the day that was slightly more bald where the sponge was hanging), so I wanted to double-check that he wasn’t having any issues from the boots…and he wasn’t.

Electrolytes were administered, bridles and helmets put back on, and we were out of there. We were right on time at the out-timer, but by the time we got mounted up, Roo thought about peeing (but ultimately didn’t…no matter, he had already peed out on the first loop at the troughs…), and we got out of there, it was about 2 or 3 minutes past our out-time.

Loop two went out on more of the double-track road, and quickly peeled off onto a lovely single-track that roughly paralleled the earlier hill we had hiked/jogged down, back up to the trough intersection, and then headed back to Snow Valley. The ponies were most enthusiastic, since their compasses were pointed “due trailer” and they were seriously disappointed when we reached Snow Valley and started down a long downhill away from camp. This was another good “get off and walk” hill, and at the bottom, there was some lush grass for the ponies to munch.

This loop, although it was the shortest at 12 miles, felt like it went on forever. I generally have very good spatial orientation and sense of direction, and can typically “know” where the trail is going just based on looking at the map and some internal “if we need to get here, this is what e should do based on the terrain” calculations…but the last few miles of this loop threw me a bit. I think my sense of timing was off, and I felt like we should be further than we were, so when we veered away from the direction I *thought* we should be heading (thought we were closer to the check), that was a bit disconcerting, but ultimately, the closer we got to the check, the more I got myself re-oriented.

It also started getting warm on this loop, so I reveled in ditching my overshirt and just riding in a tank top (sufficient tree cover plus sunscreen meant I might not actually get burned to a crisp, unlike riding in the desert).

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It was a relief to get into the check (ponies still cheerfully moving out, even passing a couple of ladies we had been leapfrogging with for the past few miles) and dismount…my legs were telling me it had been a very long time since I had done more than 25 miles, and I had a seriously cranky hamstring-thing happening. (I say hamstring, but I don’t think that’s actually it…there’s a spot just above my knee, on the inside towards the back of the leg. I aggravated it somehow running, and while it hadn’t bothered me to date riding…I also hadn’t gone more than 22 miles, and not with this much trotting.)

Roo took his standard 5 minutes and lots of water sloshing to pulse (after he drank like a fish in the creek), and was at all A’s all around for vetting.

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vetting after loop 2; he is such a character. he’s one of my favorite geldings, just because he has so much depth of personality and attitude, the kind I normally attribute to mares

Another 45 minutes and a repeat of the last check, with peanut butter and jelly replacing  the tuna sandwich for me. More waters re-filled, electrolytes topped off, boots pulled/cleaned, saddle fenders adjusted to hopefully provide a little more lower-leg support, bathroom visited, electrolytes dosed, lots of mash eaten, back to the out-timer, and on our way right on time.

Loop three had another one of those long-trotting flume roads, and Renee was a good sport about heading out in front again. I was fast running out of leg strength to be able to reliably hold position if Roo would spook (which he was plenty inclined to do when he was in the lead), and I was trying to avoid getting to the point of being out of balance and causing any kind of back soreness. This loop also featured a climb that Lucy had warned me about — short (maybe 3/4 of a mile) but steep, and historically, Roo has been wildly unimpressed (read: “I’m gonna die”) with it, so she said prepare for a wilted, trudging horse.

Roo must have eaten his Wheaties at the check, because what I got was a crazy-strong, impatient, enthusiastic climber. We stopped to let Finney take a breather, and Roo just kept trying to march ahead. There were strategically-positioned troughs at the very top of the climb, and both ponies gratefully snorkeled.

The section after this was fun — slower-going, as it was a more technical single-track that wound through a ton of granite boulders, with some interesting step-overs, and a lot of sections where, if you could trot for 30′, you trotted.

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Roo and I ended up leading through a lot of this section to give Fineny a mental break, and since it was slower-going and smaller trot sections, it was a more controlled environment for me to be able to manage his spooking, and physically, I could cope with the short trot sections a lot easier.

Eventually the trail made its way around and down to the trough intersection where we electrolyted, they drank, and we were on our way. From the troughs, it’s about 8 or 9 miles back to camp, and although I had been doing really well up to this point, I started hitting a wall on that last stretch. Again, a bit of spatial disorientation had me thinking we were closer than we actually were. My hamstring was also not thrilled with me, and kept getting less thrilled. This section had a lot of very shallow grade downhill trotting, and that seemed to cause the most discomfort.

Roo earned so many gold stars on this section, as I basically let him do his thing and just concentrated on trying to stay centered and balanced and not turn into a flopping platypus. I was really happy for the treed saddle (Specialized), and for the endurance-style pommel, since it allowed me to balance some of my weight on the pommel, and be a little more forgiving of weight distribution.

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on loop three, almost down to lake level (Marlette Lake in the background)

Several years ago, a group conversation resulting in the following gem from Renee: “Nobody likes a sissy!” and it’s stuck around as a catch phrase that we all use to remind ourselves from time to time. Said in good humor, but it’s a gentle reminder that 1) we choose to do this, 2) if it were easy, everyone would do it and it wouldn’t be endurance, and 3) dig deep.

Renee was super-encouraging during this section, and kept us going with a persistent forward motion. The whole trail was really smooth, and once we were past Marlette Lake, we picked up the Tahoe Rim Trail towards Spooner Lake…more beautiful single track that wound through pine trees and aspens.

Roo snuck his way into the lead at one point, gave me a couple more good spooks, lost his leading privileges, and then we were back at the base of the steep downhill trail from the morning, only now it was one last steep uphill, little down, and down onto the road for the last 1/4-mile into camp. We walked — or attempted to walk — in so that the horses would hopefully be down by the time we reached camp, but both Roo and Finney still had plenty of energy and kept both sneaking into their little jog-trots.

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And then we were finished! I’m not sure of our exact ride time…I completely forgot to stop my GPS until after we were all done vetting and back at the trailer, but I think we got back to camp just after 6, so with 1:30 of hold times, I think that probably puts our ride time at around 9:30-45. Apparently this is known as one of the most difficult 50s in the region, and a GPS-track ranking system (TopoFusion) ranks it as “at the top of the difficult scale when compared to tracks of similar distance.”

We got tack pulled and the ponies covered in fleeces, and headed over to vet. Roo trotted out beautifully (Lucy took a video that I later watched), had pulsed down to 56, even after trotting out, and finished with ALL A’s.

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Roo doesn’t understand what the big deal is

I freely admit: I cried. I was so relieved, so happy, so validated. I went from “I can’t even finish an LD, so maybe endurance isn’t for me” to finishing an extremely tough 50, toughing through some physical pain, and feeling like I am a competent endurance rider.

Ride dinner was a delicious build-your-own-taco bar, and I sat down with a beer, a plateful of delicious tacos, and enjoyed the entertaining awards.

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technically a beer pilsner…but since I drink things like water and iced tea more than I drink beer, it is being designated an all-purpose glass (awards every year have been some kind of fun drink glass)

Lucy had brought and set up her camp shower, so after awards, we were able to get hot showers and scrape the initial layer of dirt off. A number of people were still staying overnight, so we had a couple hours of socializing, and then I was ready to crash until morning. I was dreading waking up and getting out of bed, but I actually didn’t feel horrible the next morning. Because Roo doesn’t pull, I didn’t have the fighting/bracing soreness I would get from riding Mimi, and because he’s a lot smoother, my calves weren’t all knotted up from posting an eggbeater trot. Upper legs, and the cranky hamstring, were sore, and the core muscles were letting me know they were there.

And as for Roo? He took off at a tail-flagging trot up the driveway/hill out of camp after Finney when we were hand-walking them, leaving me scrambling to try to keep up. He was feeling quite fine, had some very minimal stocking up in his legs (understandable with the downhill trotting we had done, but his Equiflex sleeves seemed to have done a good job overnight), and no back soreness.

I got to gawp at Lake Tahoe one more time on the drive back, we dropped Renee and Finney off (Roo was very sad over leaving his new bestest girl), gave Roo a shower when we got home, dragged coolers in the house, grabbed a shower myself, and then crashed for a couple-hour nap.

This trip was also a birthday present to myself, as my birthday was four days after the ride, and finishing it was absolutely the best present I could ask for right now.

To Lucy: Thank you so much. Without your support, none of this would have happened: the horse, the rig, the crew help. Thank you for trusting me with Roo, and for having the faith that I lacked that I could do this. Thank you for sharing your special pone with me. You’re not just an endurance friend…you’re family.

More still to come with my typical post-ride analysis and what worked/didn’t…