Nick and I made our annual post-Christmas pilgrimage to the Death Valley Encounter (we`ve done this ride 5 out of the last 6 years). It`s been a great way to start the new year. This year all of Nick`s familycame to our house from Los Angeles and Vermont for Christmas. This meant 3 extra adults in the house, 2 adults and a 3 1/2 year old in our camper, and 4 adults farmed out to the local motel. Amazingly enough, pandemonium did NOT reign and we all had a good time. I am very lucky to have great in-laws. Nick and I packed up and left them all at our house on the day after Christmas and headed off to Ridgecrest with Warpaint and Shatta. Nick was just coming down with a cold so I drove the first four hours to Lost Hills on highway 5. He drove the rest of the way and I think I slept most of it. I woke up when we were just about an hour from Ridgecrest so it was a nice short trip for me.
The weather was interesting. We had quite a cold snap in the Bay Area and I think it extended to a lot of California. We actually had frozen water buckets (and snow!) at our place just before Christmas. We were concerned about cold weather in Ridgecrest because the propane in the camper had been used to keep our houseguests warm. When we drove by the local Albertson`s we were reassured that the weather was nice by the sight of people wearing shorts or t-shirts. This turned out to be OK for daytime attire but the nights were another story. We pulled into Jim and Jackie Bumgardner`s place, set up our camp, debated over sheets or blankets for the horses (blankets won) and went to bed. We woke up in the middle of the night in a very cold camper! There was just enough propane left to run the heater and take the chill off. When we got up, the water buckets had a layer of ice. I know this is no big shakes to some of you RideCampers that live in other parts of the country, but this was the Mojave desert in sunny California! It probably wasn`t unusual weather for December in the desert but it was strange enough for California weather wimps.
We spent a fairly quiet Saturday at Jim and Jackie`s. I noticed that Jim`s collection of guinea hens had been complimented with the addition of a pig. I met him (her?) the night before when I heard some strange noises and tried to figure out what kind of bizarre dog was walking around in the dark. The pig wandered in and out of Warpaint and Shatta`s pens rather fearlessly. The horses were curious, or maybe a little shocked, but they tolerated the pig. I`ve seen them be more annoyed with dogs.
We met Alisa Waxman, the fearless one who drove 3 days from Chicago by herself. She was cheery but her horse Pyewacket seemed to be nursing a grudge about being hauled across the country. These two had a successful journey in spite of a whole bunch of "firsts". New truck, trailer, longest haul, and first multiday. Nick was getter sicker so he took a nap in the afternoon before we headed out to Valley Wells at Trona. I was surprised to see how many rigs were there when we arrived. I think this was the most popular DVE that I`ve attended. We set up camp, vetted the horses in, got ready for the next day`s ride, went to the ride meeting, and then finally headed off to bed.
The morning rolled around after a night of not so great sleep (a pattern that continued through the trip). Nick was a mess but was determined to ride anyway. We both started out just behind the main crowd with Shatta behaving himself by walking/trotting nicely while Warpaint did his usual hysterical thing. This involves alot of sideways stuff, some crowhopping, cantering in place, etc. Loads of fun. Nick and I rode together for about 1/8 mile before we split up and I went on ahead. After my waist pack opened up and spreading all my stuff on the trail, Nick caught up and graciously waited while I repacked it and got back on my horse. These kinds of things are never easy because Warpaint won`t stand still when he`s excited. He just keeps circling around me. At this stage of the game I`m willing to put up with it as long as he doesn`t step on me. Ready to start again, I left Nick and left him to choose his own pace.
The first loop was somewhat of a blur because we went through it fairly fast and barely in control. Trying to ride with other horses is always difficult and even more so when the trail is relatively flat. By the end of the first loop we were spacing out enough that WP was beginning to calm down and slow down. We walked into lunch, vetted through and went back to our camp. We had to break camp after lunch so that the driver could move our rig to Ballarat, so Nick and I had decided to each try to take down half the corral after we were through. I really missed having crew because I was hurrying to feed and clean up the horse, feed myself, and be ready to go when my hour was up. Nick arrived almost an hour after I did and looked like death warmed over. I decided to hang around until his out time. I had let Warpaint roll (I didn`t really have a choice) and it had taken some time to clean him up. Then I cleaned up Shatta. Then Warpaint rolled again when I wasn`t watching. I spent most of my lunch time washing horses. We finally had everything put away and horses ready to go after I`d been in for two hours. I like to live up to my nickname of Judy Longlunch.
Our afternoon ride went considerably slower than the morning. We actually were able to walk on the way out. Since Nick was feeling even worse, we walked most of the way. There was some rolling uphill and then there was a long rolling downhill. We did the downhill on foot and our afternoon dragged on. At the bottom of the hill was a very rocky trail that Nick did on foot and I rode at a walk. We came across Steph and John Teeter here and when we finally got to where we could trot, Nick and I tried to ride together. Warpaint is very difficult to rate and trying to keep him slow was getting tiring. Nick said he would wait for John and Steph and ride in with them, so I let WP move out. He will usually go real fast if are horses behind him or in sight ahead of him, so we left Nick in the dust fairly quickly. We would probably do a lot better if I could get him to go at an even speed. As is was, we came to Sparrow`s very welcome water spot and Nick, Steph, and John caught up. Nick wasn`t interested in riding with me anymore as it was too much physical work to keep our horses together. I left ahead of them once more and trotted the last few miles in to Ballarat.
I vetted through and found our rig in the very full parking lot. While I was taking care of Warpaint Nick showed up, looking very very bad. Both he and Shatta were off. Shatta was a little off in the left rear (probably due to Nick riding in his sick and weakened state) and Nick himself was way off in just about all ways. He tried to eat and drink a little and ended up getting the shakes (as well as hurling back what he ate and drank). He managed to drag himself into the camper and I found him there under the covers, fully dressed, and shaking. He was able to take a hot shower and get back into bed. I think he slept from 5 to 9, woke up to drink a little orange juice and then went back to sleep for the rest of the night. After I took care of the ponies and went to the ride meeting, I had a strange meal of some snacks, odds and ends (including our last avocado). I went to bed and slept rather fitfully, waking up often to the sound of my wheezy spouse trying to breathe. At least I knew he was still among the living! (Barely).
Day two rolled around after a long night. Nick was actually able to get out of bed and get dressed. We were concerned about how Shatta would react to Warpaint leaving him in the morning, so Nick was going to lead him over when we left. Apparently this worked pretty well -- Nick said he only cried for about 15 minutes after everyone left (and Shatta only cried about 10 minutes ;) Most of my time getting ready was spent trying to get the clay off Warpaint`s legs because it was still wet and I didn`t want to put splint boots on clay-covered legs. The other part of the time was spent trying to thaw my fingers. The morning wasn`t icy cold unless you were foolish enough to stick your fingers in cold water. I finished getting ready and mounted up on a slightly calmer Warpaint (no sideways stuff, just jigging). I started out at the end of the pack which later turned out to be a good thing. Steph, John, and another rider (Carol?) were headed out at the same time, so I jigged along and chatted with them. We all followed the long line of other riders who had headed up the long hill ahead of us --- going the WRONG WAY! Just about everyone missed the first right hand turn and headed up a much steeper hill. To make it more confusing, there was an orange ribbon way up the hill and even though it was tied on (ours were on clothespins) and it looked old, we all just kept going. Shortly after I passed the ribbon, there were a lot of riders coming back down. I got off and walked back down with the tide of people and horses. The hill definitely seemed way longer going down than it did going up. Some people didn`t get back on to the correct trail until at least 8:30 or 9:00 am after a 7:00 am start. Some others never even made it back to the correct trail and came back into camp after wandering around (or so I heard).
I headed up the trail in a pretty good crowd of people. The morning was warming up and the ride up the canyon was beautiful. There was a lot of water that was at first on one side of the trail and then later was flowing down the whole trail. I remembered Nick telling me about walking down this in the dark last year and getting soaked. There were some spots that had ice but nothing that couldn`t be avoided. Warpaint was still in hurry up mode, but he was easy to control because it was a steady uphill. On my way up I came across a lady with a horse behaving like a bit of a nut case. Her horse was apparently upset at being alone and had worked herself into a very excited state. The horse`s mind had gone somewhere else and I could definitely relate to the situation. Warpaint used to do that all the time and still manages to have his brain leave his head some of the time. I ended up riding with Valerie and Hosannah(?) for the rest of the first loop. It was a long, long climb up through a very beautiful, rugged canyon. We finally reached an area that had good footing and lots of pretty pine trees where we were able to trot for a mile or two. At the end of the trottable stuff we climbed up to a historical monument and a fantastic view. Another short, steep climb over a hump and we were at Sparrow`s water stop. Sparrow and his girlfriend ran several very welcome water stops on this ride that turned up just when you were thinking about it being hot and your horse being thirsty. After the water stop we went down, then up, then down back to the trail with the pine trees. The two downhills on this part were the type that you get off and try to walk (or slide) while your horse and you argue over who gets the best line down the trail. It was a challenge to stay on your feet but Valerie and I both managed.
Once we were back on the trail with the trees, the horses both knew they were headed back to camp. I think these were the pine trees that sustained Nick last year on day two. The pine cones were full of pinon nuts which turned out to be his only food because I had missed him at the vet check (another sad story). Warpaint was in a hurry (not interested in pretty pine trees) and was not very comfortable to ride, so I did a lot of walking on foot. This worked until one of my toenails started to dig into its neighbor toe. I walked until my feet hurt, then I rode until my body hurt, then I walked...etc. Valerie and I finally worked our way down the long canyon and trotted slowly down the last part of the hill. Valerie was doing the 30, so she got to stop. It was 2:00pm and I still had 16 more miles to do. At least they were flat miles, going down to Indian Ranch and back. I went back to the trailer and was happy to see that Nick was alive and moving about. He was feeling well enough to do some crewing!! I went back out after lunch (and a quick toenail trim) and had a really lovely steady ride down to Indian Ranch. In the first mile I felt something scratching my leg, you know like a sticker or weed does? After fussing around trying to get it off my leg, I reached down my tights and found... a toenail clipping. Another lesson learned: maybe you should keep your tights on when you cut your toenails. I know, why were they off, but I had a legitimate reason having to do with putting my socks back on. Trust me, I`m not that wierd.
At Indian Ranch the sun was just going down when we turned back. The desert was quiet and beautiful and I took a few minutes to enjoy the surroundings. On our way back we passed tons of riders on their way out to the ranch. I was really surprised to see how many people were behind me. I was and more surprised when Warpaint and I finished 15th. So starting in the back and going kind of slow works really well when everyone ahead of you gets lost and ends up behind you :)
Nick was feeling well enough to come out and eat dinner at the great spaghetti feed. The ride meeting was on the porch of the General store, so before that got started we warmed up around the wood stove inside. The Ballarat General store has to be seen to be appreciated. I`m not even going to try to describe it. You had to be there.
After another night of restless sleep and wheezing Nick, dawn rolled around and we crawled out of bed. The start turned out to be kind of fun for me because Warpaint was getting calmer at the start as the days went on. We started out on the same road to Indian Ranch at the back of the pack and passed a lot of people. Warpaint wanted to go like he always does at a start, but now he would trot and not try to run away. I didn`t mind letting him do it because it was way easier than trying to fight him and I also knew he would calm down fairly quickly. I`m not sure what time we got going but we were at Indian Ranch at 7:43 am. After the water stop at the ranch he settled down nicely and we went pretty slowly to the lunch stop. It seemed like it took forever. There was some trail we could trot, and some short sections of up and down, and then there was a very long wash. Last year we had done a very long rocky road through this part, so the wash was nicer to ride in. I still ended up walking down the whole thing because Warpaint gets in too big a hurry and doesn`t look where his feet are going. It was around this time that all the spots on my body that had been rubbed and chapped were talking to me. (Voices, I hear voices..?) It was also fairly warm, maybe somewhere in the low 80s? We finally made the lunch check! We vetted through, but Warpaint looked really hot and tired. He did one of those trot outs where everybody behind him is yelling and clapping to get him to move. I think this was his low point for the four days. Nick wasn`t able to come to this check to crew but he had packed me a great crew bag with lunch for me and mash for Warpaint. We both rested and had our food while we enjoyed the sunshine.
Leaving the lunch check we headed into another wash (oh no!). I was feeling pretty raw by this time and I just didn`t want to trot. Warpaint seemed to have perked up and wanted to go. When we trotted the wash there was a lot of starting and stopping for rocks and every time we did that I was so weary that I was hitting myself on the front of the saddle. I had the bright idea of trying to "re-adjust" my raw spots so this wouldn`t happen. It might have been a bright idea, too, if I just hadn`t happened to have electrolytes on my hand. It brought the whole pain thing to new heights. I have decided this was another one of those defining moments for me, sort of like my Tevis outhouse puking experience. Simple raw flesh is NOTHING compared to raw flesh with a little salt added. Sooooo, electrolyte on raw tender flesh is not recommended. No indeedy.
We walked all the way down to wash until we came out into the Panamint Valley. I knew that the rest of the way in was fairly easy trotting so off we went. We made it into Panamint Springs just after the sun went down. I was feeling better and my horse was doing well -- I was hopeful about finishing all four days.
The next morning wasn`t as cold as some of the others as we got ready for our last day. Warpaint actually walked at the start (I made Judith Ogus be my witness). Of course the walking only lasted a short while but I enjoyed the easier start. I doubt that this will carry over to the next endurance ride we go to but still, it was a nice change. We headed up to Darwin Canyon on our trip to the lunch stop. Nick and I have come down to this ride for several years and each time I have ridden this one piece of trail from Panamint Springs past Darwin to the highway lunch stop. It was the first day of the ride the first couple of years that we went and it`s been the last day these last two years. I really enjoyed this day the most because I was feeling good, I knew where I was and where I was going, my horse felt great, and it was a beautiful day. We had a great ride into the vet check where I was very glad to see that Nick had been able to come out. The wind was amazing -- you came down the valley and turned right and it seemed like the wind started right there. Nick had strategically placed the camper as a windblock. The weather in Panamint Springs had been downright balmy, but the vetcheck was sunny, cold, and windy. Nick had loaned out some of his jackets which resulted in me waving at all the people wearing his clothes as I came in, thinking at least one of them was him. I had a great time here because I didn`t have to do anything. After vetting Warpaint through, I got to park my butt in a chair and eat for an hour. Warpaint did the same (sans chair).
We had a rare moment on the way out of lunch. I was actually 45 seconds early for my out time. I was actually able to leave on time! This would never have happened without having Nick there to crew. We headed back out to Panamint Springs, backtracking on the same trail we came out on. I was feeling great, Warpaint felt great, and we were on the home stretch run of the ride. We took almost 5 hours on the way back, first going through the valley with the Joshua trees, then into Darwin where Alex was waiting with water. Up out of Darwin, then back down into the canyon. The sandy road twisted through the canyon where there was lots of evidence of wild equines. I hope someday to see one. As it is, I`m always thrilled to see a living creature (besides a crow) in the desert. This year`s highlight was sighting was a jackrabbit on day 2. We climbed up out of this canyon and as the sun headed down, so did we. This was the last hill down to Darwin Canyon and the finish. I had a nice walk with my pony and was able to enjoy the beauty of the terrain. I`m always amazed at how different the trail seems between the morning ride out and the evening ride back. It took about 40 minutes to walk down the hill to a place flat enough for trotting. The last part of the road flew by because Warpaint knew where he was and where he was going -- he was in quite a hurry to get back to camp. The finish line was on the road before the highway and Warpaint was not interested in standing still. I handed my card over to the finish timer who noted "that horse never did settle down, did he?" That sort of sums up Warpaint. Vetting in back at camp, I could barely get him to hold still because the wind had come up and the tarps over the vet check area were flapping madly. We passed! We finished! A very hungry Warpaint dragged me to the truck and started to consume all food in his sight. Later in the evening he laid out flat (the "dead horse" look) and snoozed for a while. He was tired but he wasn`t dog-tired.
There was a tent set up in camp where the New Year`s Eve dinner and party were held. There was a live band and Jackie did the awards between the band`s sets of music. There were quite a few people dancing and having a good time. Fatigue set in well before midnight for me and Nick was still in the throes of his illness so we left after dinner. Nick went to bed and I worked on wrapping Warpaints legs. I learned another lesson the (almost) hard way when I took both horses for a walk. I stupidly walked them past the tent with the band which wasn`t too bad, but the flapping tarps outside combined with the music was too much for them. They panicked and started running off. I fell down and they ran onto the highway. Lucky for stupid me, they started at a trot up the highway and then slowed to a walk. Another rider helped me catch the two and lead them back to camp. This was the first time that Warpaint has escaped from me and stopped. I thought for sure that he was going to keep going and take Shatta with him (and that Nick was going to kill me). I got lucky on that one.
I had a great time at DVE this year and I hope to be back again next year. Nick and Shatta are going to have to shake off their Death Valley jinx and have a successful ride someday. This was a great start for a new ride year and a fantastic end for the calendar year. Warpaint did 450 miles in the last ride season, including a Tevis finish making this one of our best ever. We`ve been through so many different situations and emotions over the last 7+ years that make finishing all four days all the more sweet. If you`ve been riding the same horse for many years you probably all know what I mean and how it feels. I`m keeping my fingers crossed that we can both stay sound and keep having a good time on the trail. I hope we see some of you out there!
Happy New Year!
Judy Long and Nachi Sunshine (Warpaint)