Arnett Canyon @ Picketpost

Happiness is…

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Starting the new year off right, seeing the trails between my favorite set of pony ears.

We were originally slated for a traditional “start as you mean to continue” day on New Year’s Day itself, with a ride out at Picketpost Mountain…but a cold/storm front moved in, and even dumped snow on the outer parts of the Valley. So the ride got postponed to the weekend, and I spent my New Year’s day in “Closet Purgeatory.” I’m not sure if that means I’m going to spend the rest of my year cleaning, sorting, and organizing things?

Anyway, postponing it resulted in an absolutely perfect day for riding, with the kind of weather that reminds me of why Arizona in the winter is such an ideal place. Highs in the lower 60s, breezy, a few scattered clouds…ideal weather for the older, sometimes-crunchy pony.

Not that she was feeling particularly crunchy this time. I think I shocked her with another outing so soon after our Christmas ride, and when we ended up going to a destination she hadn’t been to in almost 8 years, I’m pretty sure she aged down by a decade or so out of sheer delight. The last time we were at Picketpost, we were still in endurance training mode, and I’m pretty sure she thought the same thing was still true this time around.

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Little stinker being sassy with her pasturemate Tuudy, whom she has merrily lorded over and bossed around for the last dozen years or so.

Picketpost Mountain is a trailhead in the Superstition Mountains, out near the mining town of Superior. It’s an access point for The Arizona Trail, and that’s one of the main features of the trailhead, but there are miles of other trails that connect or branch off from that point. I’ve ridden and hiked parts of The AZ Trail from there, but this time, we would be exploring one of the side trails — brand new to both of us!

A group of seven of us would be riding together, and while the entirely of the trail can be ridden as a 10-mile loop that eventually goes the entire way around Picketpost Mtn, we opted for an out-and-back option…ride out for a few miles, stop for lunch, then head back.

I don’t actually know if the trail itself has a name…it winds through what appears to be called Arnett Canyon on the maps, so that’s what I’m calling it, if only for the purposes of my own identification.

Like the vast majority of the Superstitions, it has rocky parts…some slab type of stuff that is either flat or somewhat stair-steppy, some dry washbeds, some typical embedded rocks in the trail. But there were also some sections that were smooth, gorgeous singletrack that both of us itching to go blasting down the trail.

Bonus of riding with other people...I finally get media of me riding my own pony! And proof that I really need to work on my collapsing right ribcage habit.

Bonus of riding with other people…I finally get media of me riding my own pony! And proof that I really need to work on my collapsing right ribcage habit.

During out Christmas ride, I wondered if that was going to be our “new normal” — while she was willing and happy to go, she also felt stiff, very heavy on the forehead, minced her way along on downhills, and had more than a few stumbles…all things that had me second-guessing if I had any business taking her out on trail anymore.

No second-guessing this time around. Main difference? Switched saddles. I had been using the Sommer Oakfield the previous ride, and I think I finally have to come to the conclusion that it’s too narrow for her, and she really wasn’t comfortable. This time, I used the Frank Baines dressage saddle, and she was moving out and doing her endurance pony power walk. No hesitation, no tripping, very balanced…and color me totally shocked that I’m pretty sure it’s actually the most comfortable saddle I own for me. 8 mile ride, totally at a walk, and I wasn’t sore at all…whereas 5 miles at a walk in the Sommer actually left me feeling it in my legs a bit.

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I can also actually mount from the ground in this saddle. Every other one, I end up rolling on her…in all of her not-quite-14hh-glory. So not exactly a huge stretch and hang time to get up there. But this one stays put. Good thing, too, since I had to test that a couple times after she pitched a couple boots along the way. Time for some troubleshooting, since it’s been ages since she’s flung a boot. I suspect I need to bring her toes back some more, and the combo of that + water + mud was just too much. Eh, well…nothing like putting one’s own work knowledge to the test.

It was an absolutely beautiful trail, though, and really fun to explore an area I had not been to. It’s really quiet back in there, and although the trail is well-maintained, I think it’s not as well known, or gets passed over in favor of The AZ Trail. Which is fine by me, because it felt like we had the entire canyon just to our group. It’s a hidden oasis, tucked into the shadow of Picketpost Mtn, and has that wild, untamed feel that, to me, defines the Superstition Mountains and makes them so unique.

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I’ll leave you with a bit of history — that strip of pavement is part of the original US-60 highway. The trail is about 1/2-mile from the current highway at this point, as the crow flies.

 

Walk to Mordor

I don’t really have any 2019 goals at this point. I’ve learned with catch riding that it’s a difficult endeavor to try to set concrete (or even nebulous) goals when you’re at the whim and mercy of other people’s schedules, agendas, and plans. So to that end, I’ll basically take things as they came, and whatever happens, happens.

With that out of the way…I do like finding ways to make my daily routines more interesting. One thing I do on a daily basis is take the dogs out for a walk or run. While I try to hit 2-3 miles most days of the week, there are some days that not even the threat of a couple of hyperactive terriers is enough to motivate me to do more than a loop around our neighborhood.

I think that just might change this year, because I found a really, really fun distance tracker app.

Walk to Mordor

For a bit of backstory: I’m something of a fantasy and sci-fi geek. I didn’t necessarily “grow up” with those genres from a young age, but got introduced to them in middle school, and have been regularly getting lost in various fantasy worlds ever since. But from the middle of high school and onward, one thing that has stuck with me on the regular is the writings of JRR Tolkien — the world of Middle Earth, The Lord of the Rings, and The Hobbit. (And a ton of others, but that’s beside that point…)

The world of Middle Earth grabbed me from the get-go, and the older I get, the deeper into it I get. So when I found a distance tracking app designed to log your miles and show it as a representation of the journey from Hobbiton to Mordor, I had to get it.

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The app is using the figure of 1932 miles…I haven’t pulled my Middle Earth atlas yet to figure out exactly how accurate that is or not, but I’m going with it. I’m pretty sure I can cover the distance just on my daily walks/runs with the girls within the year. If I get pretty ambitious on mileage covered, I may even figure out the distance the hobbits covered from Gondor back to Hobbiton and try to do the entire round-trip journey within the year.

Might be a bit silly, but it gives me something to do and internal incentive to crawl out of bed when it’s cold, dark, and early. As my alarm label says, “If Frodo can get the ring to Mordor, you can get out of bed.”

It was an impulse idea, made at 6AM this morning, to install the app and set my “trip to Mordor” mileage goal…but to that end, the girls and I logged 4.78 miles this morning.

So, I guess 2019 is going to be the year of “Mordor or Bust!”

2018 Year-In-Review

This year, I don’t think I did quite as much blogging about the “in-between” elements of life. Covered the big events, and managed to maintain my “at least one post a month” streak I’ve had going since August 2011. But I think a lot more of the day-to-day stuff ended up on Facebook or Instagram, so some of life’s happenings might briefly get covered for the first time here in my year-in-review.

2018 ended up being a pretty epic year, riding-wise.

  • Number of rides: 7 (technically one falls into the 2019 ride season, but the 2018 calendar year)
  • Number of completions: 4 (215 miles)
  • Number of horses ridden: 4
  • One mileage milestone patch attained (750 endurance miles)

January

Looking back, I have to chuckle at what I said in my first post of the year:

“I’m inclined to do the same approach this year — take things as they come, say “yes” to as many opportunities as is feasible, and stay flexible.

I’m just planning one ride at a time and we’ll see what the season has in store.”

Even after I said that, I never could have predicted that the rest of the season would bring, and the opportunities that would present themselves.

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I managed to do stuff with all three of my girls — two pups, one pony — and spent quite a bit of trail time hiking and trail running this month.

Later in the month, Junior and I attempted the inaugural Tonto Twist 50 ride. We were pulled for a subtle but consistent lameness after the first 30-mile loop, but in spite of that (and getting rained on), I still loved the ride, the scenery, and the trails. It was one of the few times I’ve done a ride on my own, which was kind of a fun and different change of pace and perspective. That said, a big part of endurance for me is the “togetherness” aspect of doing rides either with Dad, or with endurance friends, because this is my major social network.

I wrapped up the month with more trail outings, including taking Rocco out again for an evening training ride. I’ve also had the chance to expand on some more local endurance friendships in my own age group after figuring out that Taylor lives not too far away from me, so that’s been fun to build a closer-in network.

February

I played with other people’s ponies, spent several days up at the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show, and finally, traveled down to Florida to the FITS ride at the end of the month for work, where I managed to sneak in a little training ride and experience the Florida trails.

And I can’t let the month go by without recognizing Arizona’s statehood day (Feb 14th) and doing a bit of state love. (That said, I should probably stop doing such a good job of promoting my state and start talking more about the 115* summers. Maybe that will get people to stop moving here.)

March

I had way too much fun at the AERC Convention, with the highlight, of course, of winning the Tevis entry raffle drawing. I love Convention, especially when it’s in Reno, and consider it one of the highlights of my year, and probably my favorite thing for work.

The end of the month also featured running the Renegade booth again at The Mane Event — semi-local, only half an hour away in Scottsdale. I was able to get Dad to help me out again for that, and it also gave me a chance to see some preliminary Masterson Method intro seminars (and go down and participate in one at the very end of the last expo day).

April

The standout highlight for this month was meeting Flash and doing the Bumble Bee ride on him. Remember back in January when I said that my plan was to say “yes” to as many opportunities as possible? Well, saying yes to that initial catch ride offer was one of my better life decisions, and it lead to multiple opportunities over the entire year — and still continues to do so.

I was happy with just breaking my Bumble Bee “curse” and finishing the ride — 3rd place and High Vet Score was an unexpected bonus, as was just how well I got along with Flash, and how much he had stolen my heart by the end of the weekend.

On the canine front, Artemis had to go in for tooth extraction surgery — she had cracked it the previous year, and we had put a temporary patch on it, but that didn’t last and eventually she started having some issues with a localized swelling on her face indicating an abscess was likely forming. (Lower right-hand photo is a post-surgery, still-slightly-stoned puppy.) Sofie also had way too much fun enjoying the spring weather, and rolling in the dead baby birds that would end up in the yard after falling out of their nests. #FarmdogLife

I also counted up and celebrated all of the numbers of ears that I’ve viewed the trail through over the years. (I’ve competed on over a dozen different horses just in endurance alone, and ridden over 80 different ones in my lifetime.)

May

Mimi’s birthday month! She turned 25, and I spent some time musing on random factoids about her. She also got to get out and be a demo pony at another local expo — my live model for hoof trimming and boot fitting.

June

I got Mimi out and around the neighborhood to explore, I completed the first seminar towards certification in the Masterson Method equine massage, my truck’s transmission had to get rebuilt (but 224k miles on the original, so I really can’t complain), and I finalized my Tevis plans and sent in my entry.

I wrapped up the month by doing two days at the Strawberry Fields Forever ride with Flash. This ride has been on my bucket list for years now, and it did not disappoint. Day one brought some good learning experiences when Flash thumped at lunch and we were pulled, thus verifying that Flash really does need a fairly aggressive electrolyte protocol, but he was good to go for day 2, and we finished that 55 miles in fine style.

July

I’m pretty sure things happened this month, but my brain was all about one thing: Tevis.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed to pull at Robinson Flat — in spite of all my “realistic” outlook, there was a tiny part of me that dreamed we might be able to pull off something unexpected. But I was still really glad for the experience, and glad I was at least able to finally start the ride I’ve dreamed of for so many years. And I’m grateful to Lucy sharing Roo with me and making sure I could get to the start line and make use of that raffle entry.

August

No rest for the wicked — I came home from Tevis and kept on rolling, getting in more saddle time on both Mimi as well as friends’ horses. I also had an article I wrote on catch riding appear in this month’s issue of Endurance News, which was pretty awesome. I’ve had a couple of things get put into the online quarterly newsletter, but to have it in the hard copy print main magazine is extra-special.

At the end of the month, I headed up to the Grand Canyon XP ride to ride the first day. “Nene” was a fun ride and I was proud to take her through her very first ride and have her finish so well.

September

Artemis turned 5, and I actually spent a lot of time playing with Mimi this month. I also got convinced to throw my hat into the ring for the AERC Director-At-Large elections that would be taking place in the fall. (Spoiler alert for December: I didn’t get elected…THIS time. But I’m not going away. And next DAL elections will be in 2020.)

October

October is a busy month for me, animals-wise. It’s Sofie’s birthday (she turned 7), Sofie’s Gotcha Day (3 years with me), and Mimi’s Gotcha Day (22 years). We got quite a bit of delayed monsoon activity showing up this month, so it made for some spectacular sunrises/sunsets, and some arena water obstacles for the unamused pony.

I also went to Reno for the Pacific Hoofcare Practitioner’s Conference, which was an excellent networking and learning experience.

I reached a mileage milestone of a combined 1000 miles with the ride completion at Grand Canyon, so did a bit of musing about the journey to get to that point. I also attempted to narrow down my favorite rides.

November

Early in the month, I volunteered at the McDowell ride. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve done any volunteering stints, and I enjoy being able to give back to the sport. It was a really fun way to spend time in camp and actually get to hang out with some of my endurance family, which doesn’t happen as much when I’m out on the trail all day.

It was Artemis’s Gotcha Day (5 years!), time for annual AERC membership renewal, and a hilarious moment of Mimi being absolutely fascinated with watching the water filling up one of the irrigation canals by the barn.

I mused on 100-milers, and how even though I haven’t completed the two I’ve attempted, I’m still hooked on the idea of them. I don’t know when the next chance at one will be, but maybe third time’s a charm?

I spent Thanksgiving weekend up in Utah with my best friend, and we had a really fun girl’s weekend of cooking, seeing Christmas lights, and doing a “Middle Earth marathon” of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings films. It also snowed while I was up there, so I got my annual fix of the fluffy white stuff.

December

I started the month off in the best way I know how — with a ride! I was able to ride Flash in the inaugural Dashing Through the Trails ride at Estrella Mountain Park, and since it is technically the 2019 ride season, our finish there kicked off the new ride season in fine fashion.

Finally, I started off what I’m calling the “four-day Christmas weekend” with a wonderful gift — taking Mimi out on the trails. This year, I did a pretty dismal job of getting her out aside from arena work or around the barn, so it was a special treat for both of us to hit our old familiar San Tan Park stomping grounds. I will forever love her, not because she’s perfect — because she’s definitely not — but rather because of how perfect she’s been for me. She made me laugh so much during the ride because even at 25 years old, she still thinks jigging is a legitimate response…and riding her in a snaffle on trail is still a dumb idea. But in spite of her shenanigans, I still have that invaluable feeling of safety and security on her back. And settling into her saddle is always like coming home.

With that, I’m calling it a wrap on 2018 — Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone! This has been an incredible year, and I can’t issue enough thank yous to all of the friends and endurance family that made this ride season happen for me.