“Plan? What plan?” would also be applicable. Not to say there wasn’t a plan. There was. It was just very laid back, casual, and a little bit fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants. We didn’t even do crew instructions this year. ;)
(Face it, when your entire crew has crewed Tevis multiple times, and one crew member has even ridden the horse to be crewed at a ride, directions are kind of redundant.)
theme of the year
Initially, Plan A was Fergus — Wonder Pony, Golden Boy, two-time Tevis finisher. But Fergus has been NQR this year, and a final “Go/No-Go” ride determined that this would be a “No Go” year for him.
Thus, Plan B: Roo. Roo, the 50-mile reliable worker bee. Roo, who had tried Tevis in 2009 and made it to 64 miles before deciding he was done playing for the day. He had a base, he had done “spring training” alongside Fergus, and he was well-rested. And Lucy really wanted to be a part of the “snow year” alternate starting location/Duncan Canyon trail.
So, with the above in mind, the “A” goal for Plan B was just get to Robinson Flat. No expectations of finishing, just “get as far as he gets.” Roo is very self-preserving and sensible — when he is done playing for the day, he’ll stop. Robinson Flat was the goal, and any more than that was just bonus points.
So, with all that as background, onwards we go to Auburn…
this route between Phoenix and Sacramento is getting very familiar
I followed my typical routine of “fly in late Wednesday afternoon, Lucy picks me up at the airport, we go straight to Auburn for the Tevis BBQ.” I even had time to shop at the Tevis Store before the BBQ started. (Irony is: Buying a sweatshirt when it is 100*+ outside. But I needed something warmer for up at the Soda Springs start. I also got a chuckle out of shocking several people by letting them know if was currently hotter in Auburn than it was back home in Phoenix.)
After dinner, we perused through the barns and drooled over ponies (found a couple of them I would have happily handed over $$$ for right then and there), did a quick grocery store run, then headed through the canyon to Tevis Low Camp (Lucy’s).
an Auburn sunset
I will never get tired of the unique sense of peacefulness and solitude that comes from staying at Low Camp. Although there are neighbors around, the hills and trees combine to create a setting that feels incredibly private and serene. (At least until the dogs start barking and leaping around after squirrels and other wildlife.)
a Low Camp sunrise
Thursday was Prep Day — I got food going in the morning, making hard-boiled eggs and pasta/egg salad, and figuring out what food needed to go in which cooler. The crew box got packed with all the essentials, horse blankets got swapped around from Fergus’s gigantic ones to Roo’s adorably-petite ones (there’s like an 8-inch height difference between the two…Roo plus his whole crew could fit inside one of Fergus’s blankets), the trailer got cleaned out, and feed and fresh waters all filled up.
Our goal was to get everything packed by early afternoon and then take Fergus and Roo for a leg-stretch ride down the lane before the rest of the crew (Renee and Megan) arrived in the late afternoon to do the final task: glue boots on Roo.
We had a fun little jaunt down the lane, as Fergus showed me his full range of gears. (There also may have been an offer of “If you ever don’t feel like riding him at a ride, just let me know…” made.) The one and only time I had ridden Fergus before was when I crewed for Lucy in ’09, and we did a similar pre-ride down the lane. Back then, Fergus had yet to start his endurance career, and mostly he felt large and a bit ungainly. Now, with 8 years of endurance experience under his girth, he felt powerful, balanced, strong, and SO much fun. Bottle that feeling into something a little smaller than 16.2hh, and that’s the ultimate endurance horse.
<wipes drool off keyboard>
Ahem. Moving right along…
Renee and Megan showed up shortly after we got back from our ride (with pizza for dinner), and we commenced with the antics and shenanigans of gluing on boots. Lucy trimmed, I hoof-prepped, Renee glued, and Megan wrangled Roo’s flailing legs. Good team effort, and accomplished with a lot of laughter, fairly minimal mess, no swearing, and the only alcohol consumption was afterwards in celebration.
Roo got to “stand quietly” for the next hour or so for optimal boot set-up while we retreated to the back deck for pizza and beer and to peruse through the rider list.
Since the plan was for me to accompany Lucy to the start, and then drive the rig back down, Renee and Megan would stay in Auburn with the crew car/gear, and proceed directly to Robinson Flat on ride morning, where I would then meet up with them. So the crew car got packed up with crew gear (this was our best year yet in terms of paring stuff down to the essentials and having a pretty easy load to schlep), and half of our team departed to where they’d be staying.
Friday morning saw the packing of the coolers and toting them out to the trailer, throwing necessary clothes in the trailer, giving Roo a hose-off, and then hitting the road. One last stop at the grocery store for some last-minute/would-keep-if-purchased-earlier foodstuffs, then we were well and truly on our way.
The drive to the Soda Springs base camp was quite a bit shorter than the usual haul up to Robie Park, probably only an hour up the highway from Auburn. We had been warned parking would be tight…and that there was no shade…so we weren’t in a huge rush to get there.
Once we did arrive, what we found was a sardine-can madhouse.
most of ridecamp, crammed into 2 ski-resort parking lots. Robie Park is so spread out, you never get a sense of how many rigs are involved with anywhere from 150-200 riders…until now
Base camp was the Sugar Bowl ski resort. By the time we got there, the two main parking lots were full, and the overflow parking had been packed out. We ended up on a pullout spot off the road above camp, with a few other trailers for company. And it turned out to be a pretty prime spot, especially for navigating out in the morning.
Once we got camp set up (the whole 10 minutes it takes to swing out the Spring Tie, attach/fill buckets, hang hay bag…), we tacked up Roo, then headed down for Lucy to get checked in and then walk over to the vetting area.
Vetting happened to be an almost 2-mile walk down a lovely shaded dirt road to what used to be the old “sheep pens” for sheep grazing in the area. Roo was convinced we were taking him out into the woods all by himself to die, so he would scream and be very happy every time someone would be coming in the opposite direction, heading back to camp after vetting.
Roo vetted in well (including a “Definitely” comment for “Attitude”), then we took him over to participate in the voluntary research study on gut movement (used ultrasound to look at location/size/movement of parts of the gut).
pre-ride out to the morning bridge crossing
After that, Lucy wanted to take Roo out to the bridge that would crossed in the morning. It would be part of the controlled start, and they would have spotters there to ensure a controlled crossing…but still a good thing for them to see ahead of time.
It was only about half a mile out from the vetting area, and since there was a lack of immediately available buddy horses, I acted as Roo’s “lead mare” and walked out to the bridge with them and back.
Full service crew: I cook, I rig drive, I accompany horse/rider on pre-rides. Hire me.
While the tight quarters (and trains passing right next to camp a couple times an hour) made the alternate base camp a bit less desirable than Robie Park (although my hat’s off to the ride committee for being flexible and making the ride happen this year…better an alternate camp/route than no ride at all), the setting around the vetting area was absolutely spectacular.
that low point of the ‘V’ where the thunderheads are building up is Donner Pass
And then it was back to the trailer, and I got a nice 5-mile hike in for the day. Once back at the trailer, we got Roo settled, then headed down to the ride briefing. Got some socializing in ahead of briefing, listened to the briefing, then headed back to the trailer to make dinner.
a Soda Springs sunset
While we were eating our pasta/chicken sausage/alfredo sauce (and getting attacked by bird-sized mosquitos), a large flock of geese flew overhead and settled in the nearby pond area…apparently this strafing run was too much for Roo, who proceed to scream and twirl about…never mind all of his neighbors were sleeping/quietly eating. Guess he had to protect them, y’know.
giving Roo a stern lecture on behavior and how mature Tevis horses don’t twirl about on their high-ties when they should be getting ready for bed
Once the geese settled down, so did Roo (or he actually listened to my lecture?), and I was able to successfully whisk Lucy off to bed. Hahaha, because sleep the night before Tevis is so gonna happen, right?
Because they wanted riders gathered at 4:30 for the start, that was an early wake-up call…even earlier than typical (normal Tevis wakeup is 3:30…wow, a whole 15 minutes more of not-sleep).
my current alarm line-up on my phone…yes, 3:15AM
Lucy ate breakfast, and Roo got a small mash to nibble on while he got tacked up. I took him for a walk down the road towards the main camp and back to the trailer as a leg stretch, and he was really calm and business-like. He got a quick butt massage back at the trailer, I rounded up his rider, put her on the pony, and then we started walking down towards where the starting pens would assemble.
Ready to go!
Once we were in the company of other horses. Lucy handed off her extra jacket to me, and I stayed out of the way of the swirling masses and made my way back up to the trailer to pack everything up. Once vehicles were able to leave, our spot proved to be very convenient, as I was able to get out easily with very little waiting time. Camp was only a couple miles off the highway, so in short order, I was cruising down I-80 towards Foresthill.
And then it started raining. Whut??? It was still dark out — which I figured was due to the early hour and the fact we were on the highway so much earlier than usual…which may have been part of it, but the other part was there fact there was a ton of cloud cover at that point. Huh, that’s something different at Tevis.
The rain lasted for part of the drive, but had stopped by the time I reached Auburn and swung back up to Foresthill. A bit of jockeying around, in which I got to test my gooseneck-handling skills, netted me a nice parking space at Foresthill (and not a single scratch, dent, or any indication of driving shenanigans on either truck or trailer, thank you). Timing was such that Renee and Megan were only a few minutes behind me in the crew car, so they waited for me while I parked the rig, grabbed some last-minute items for up at Robinson Flat, and then we bee-lined it up to RF.
We were well within the window of when they would allow vehicles to drive up and drop stuff off within the check, so we made quick work of unloading within the allotted 3-minute window, then while Renee drove the car back down and parked, Megan and I secured a very nice crew spot.
We were there a good 3+ hours before we expected to see Lucy, so had plenty of time to get things set up and then hand around and socialize with friends that we knew. I joke that Tevis is my social life, but it’s largely true — my endurance network is spread out pretty far and wide, with Facebook being the main thing that holds us together on a regular basis, so it’s a treat to actually get to see my friends once a year and get caught up via a non-digital methodology.
I also happened to have one of the better-working phones/networks (AT&T, go figure…) so I was constantly refreshing the webcast and checking the status of the earlier checkpoints. (Trying to remember what it was like crewing Tevis before we had this wonderous near-instant access and technology…hanging out by the old hand-written “leader board” listening to numbers coming in across the radio, holding your breath every time you heard something that might be your rider’s number…nerve-wracking.
Now, between text coverage along the trail and the newscast updates, a crew is able to know when their rider arrived/left the checkpoints, and sometimes even where they’re at along the trail thanks to things like “Find my iPhone” and the SPOT GPS trackers.
We had been there for maybe an hour, and it had gradually been turning from sunny to grey…and then it started raining. Uh? In 2015 it had briefly rained for about half an hour in the morning, causing crews to scuttle for horse blankets to wrap ourselves in, and I hoped this would be a repeat of that — a quick rain, and then done.
Not so much. It ended up raining there all morning. Of course my sweatshirt was in the car…partway down the mountain. And my “just in case” rain jacket I packed? Was sitting in my backpack…down in sunny Foresthill. That was helpful.
Tevis. When in doubt, be prepared for anything.
After the alternate trail start had been announced, there had been some concern that the first third would end up being a lot faster, with horses coming in to Robinson even earlier than usual. So it was a bit of a surprise to hit the anticipated “arrival hour” and have no one showing up. Even more surprising to hit the “normal” arrival hour and still, no horses. The front runners finally came in about an hour off “normal trail” time…apparently the Duncan Canyon section of the trail rode extremely slow as compared to the normal trail. Feedback that I heard was lots of dust, lots of rocks, and more slow and technical.
We hung out around the “in trail” area, watching horses and riders coming in, and I would periodically check the webcast to get updates on Lucy’s status. They were trucking along, best we could tell…but time-wise, it was going to be very, very close.
Every so often we would wander back to the vetting area and watch horses being vetted — always interesting and educational. Very interesting was the high number of horses whose pulses were hanging, or were jumping around, and I directly know at least several people who were ultimately pulled at this point for that reason. Chalk it up to the weird weather? We were all shivering standing around in the rain, but the horses were coming in surprisingly hot, and most needed quite a bit of cooling to get them pulsed down.
As the noon cut-off approached, word got around that the cut-off was being extended to 12:30. There was some miscommunication going around, though. The out-time of 1:30 was not being extended, so some people said they had to be pulsed by 12:30…others said they just had to be in by 12:30, but still leave by 1:30, so if it took longer to pulse, their hold time would be short. Ultimately the latter was how it ended up playing out for the last eight or so people who were in by 12:30 but not pulsed until about 12:35.
Lucy and Roo were part of the last batch to come in, and it was a mad flurry of stripping tack, manage to sling the saddle right into the small puddle that had accumulated in the cart (oops, my bad…), and sloshing as much water on Roo as possible. He’s not quick to pulse even under the best of circumstances, so the fact we were able to get him pulsed down in under 10 minutes, from what I remember, in absolutely non-ideal circumstances was really good.
vetting at Robinson Flat
Renee went into the vet line with Lucy and Roo, while Megan and I watched. The vet ended up having them trot out twice (not sure what he saw on the first tine?) but ultimately they were passed and good to go. We took horse and rider back up to our prepared crew spot and settled Roo in front of hay and mash. He’s probably the easiest horse ever to crew for — settled him in front of food and he just tucks in and eats his way through the hold, leaving the crew free to take care of things like feeding and cleaning the rider (a wet washcloth or baby wipes are an absolute lifesaver at Robinson Flat…the rider will thank you profusely when they are able to wipe 5+ pounds of trail dirt off their face), re-packing the saddle, and doing adjustments to the doesn’t-want-to-stay-in-place sheepskin saddle cover.
Initially, Lucy wasn’t sure if she was going to go back out — they had made their goal of “get to Robinson” and riding on the time cutoffs was going to be very close. Roo still looked good, and after getting some food/drink into her, Lucy decided to go for it, and just get as far as they could. So we got Roo all tacked up again, and even had her at the out-timer a couple minutes early.
leaving Robinson Flat
Once they were back out on trail, we got the crew area cleaned up (another pro-tip: pack a tarp to spread out and feed the horse on the tarp…then it’s really easy to bundle the tarp and shake all of the excess hay and mash leavings into a trash bag), everything loaded into the cart, and headed back to the car.
From this point on, we were on a “play it by ear” plan. Since we didn’t know how far Lucy and Roo would get, or if we would be needed at Michigan Bluff and Pieper Junction, we decided to hang out in Foresthill, grab lunch, and follow the webcast. Since it’s only about a 15-minute drive to the parking area for MB/PJ, and then another 10-15 min walk in, there’s plenty of time to wait until you know for sure your rider has passed a certain point and your crew service will be needed before venturing down there.
And then we got a text from Lucy — done for the day. Roo had done really well, but eventually decided he was done playing, so she was hand-walking in to Dusty Corners. Ah, well. There was a vet there that cleared them and pronounced Roo as “just a bit tired” and they were able to get a trailer ride back to Foresthill.
In the meantime, I hung out on Bath Rd and watched the front-runners come in until Lucy texted she was just a few minutes out from FH.
eventual winners Tennessee Lane and Auli Farwa
If there was a lesson to be learned in all of this, it was: It’s a pain to get pulled at Tevis. On one hand, they do a really good job of accounting for riders/horses, making sure paperwork is filled out, and they know where horses are being taken/reason for the pull/etc. But they also get to a point of being, well, a bit overzealous.
In this case, even though the vet out on trail cleared Roo, they wanted to vet at FH to clear him. And then that vet wanted us to go over to the treatment vet and have them clear him. Which was where the trouble started. When the treatment vet checked him, they were a little concerned because his pulse was at 64. Never mind he had just come off an hour-and-half trailer ride on a very rough, twisty, difficult road. It had been maybe 10 minutes since we walked him across the Mill Site, dumped his tack at the trailer, and walked over to the vetting area. He had only just had a drink back at the trailer. So we asked to give him a few minutes. The gut movement research team was right there as well, so they finished off their study (look at the horse before the ride, then either when they get pulled or at the finish) — gut motility looked excellent. I took Roo over to the troughs and let him get another good drink, and while he munched on hay, I sponged him down. A few minutes later, the vet tech came scuttling over, took his pulse, and when I asked her what he was at, she just walked away, completely ignoring me. She looked to be conferencing with the vet for a few moments, then started coming back towards us, hands full of all the stuff to put in an IV catheter.
Uh, excuse me, on who’s authority? Fortunately Lucy was right there as well, and we both stepped up and blocked her, insisting that we would speak to the vet first. The tech was really aggressive, saying that he needed to be on a IV because his pulse was still between 60-64. The vet came over at this point and said that his pulse was still a little bit high. However, she was not taking the circumstances into account. Roo was still warm, and at this point, he was more pissed off than anything — tired of being sponged, tired of being pulsed on his girth line (which we discovered had some rubbing/irritation starting), tired of being messed with. He just wanted to be left alone. We explained as much to the vet, told her we were taking him back over to his trailer where he could relax, eat, and really settle. And that’s what we did.
Let me be clear: I am not advocating not treating a horse if they need it. On my own horses. if there’s something that is not normal, that horse will be marched right over to the treatment area. If I’m riding someone else’s horse and I feel there’s even a slight issue, I wouldn’t hesitate. My problem in this whole scenario was how it was handled, the rudeness, the complete lack of bedside manner, and an approach that I felt was overly aggressive and designed to take advantage of a tired, possibly distraught rider whose horse has been pulled. This was a rider who knows her horse very well, and the vets were not listening to what the rider had to say.
From a crew perspective, I was glad I was there to back Lucy up — she knew her own mind, and wasn’t in a “mentally wiped out or distraught” state of mind that was preventing good decisions, but it at least kept the dynamic to two people versus one vet and her bullying tech against one rider. So file that away under potentially useful advice — have a crew person that you trust to be your “advocate”, who is clear-headed enough to analyze a scenario and provide either guidance or support.
Anyway, we took Roo back to the trailer, I made up a bucket of colder water and gave him a full sponge bath, getting all of the trail dust off, put ice boots on his legs, then left him alone to eat. And after being left alone and some peace and quiet, he dropped down to the low 40s. Lucy and I hung out at FH for the next couple of hours — not only to give Roo more recovery time and wait until it got dark/a little cooler to stick him back in the trailer and drive home, we wanted to see people we know come in/lend a hand when needed.
Once back home, Roo hopped out of the trailer and moseyed around the barn looking downright perky, so we left him with a full hay bag and stumbled off to the house. Tired as I was, I still couldn’t resist the siren call of the shower first.
Sunday morning we trucked back over to the Fairgrounds to watch the Haggin Cup judging (best condition among the Top Ten horses) and the awards banquet. All those pretty silver buckles at awards…<wistful sigh>
To wrap things up Monday, we went to a really fun little swimming hole down near Placerville. The water was cold, but the air temperature was warm enough that sitting in it felt really good. Nice way to wrap up the trip and enjoy some leisure time in an absolutely stunning setting.
Then it was back home on Tuesday, where it’s then taken me two weeks to get this blog post generated. Ah, well, better than the years it took me a couple of years to re-visit, or the ones that have never gotten blogged about. So, that’s a wrap on Tevis this year…as always, have at it with questions/comments/whatever. Now onward to some other pony adventures coming up in the future…