You can`t miss this horse. He stands out like a porcupine in a nudist colony, or a 90 pound fresh salmon on the floor of a donut shop. He doesn`t`t look like many of the horses at Tevis, in fact he looked like only one other that was there. He`s Warpaint, the Endurance Appaloosa. My wife Judy let me ride the spotted wonder at Tevis this year for a couple of reasons. My horse Shatta`s suspensory is still mending- he can`t do any rides until next year. Here I was, bummed to the max without a horse, when Judy decided to take pity on me and let me give him a try at the castle Rock 50. I finished the ride and had a great time, so I did the Oakland Hills 50 a few weeks later. I finished that one after a slight detour down the side of a mountain, but hey, not even plunging down a mountain can stop that horse. (Not even Gary Fend`s multiple attempts to make SURE I got lost on his trail could stop me!) The kicker was winning a free entry to Tevis at the AERC convention. Wouldn`t`t you know it, those entries aren`t`t transferable, not even to a spouse. Since I had been having so much fun on the horse doing conditioning rides she decided to give me a shot at my third Tevis. I finished the first one on Zion but got pulled at the finish, last year I finished really strongly on Shatta`s first Tevis and got my first buckle, and I wanted another one this year. For some reason this ride seems to grab hold of me: there`s something very special about it. I`m not sure how to describe the attraction except to say that the ride is a challenge, and I really like what head vet Mitch Benson says about this particular ride: It`s 30% horse, 30% rider, and 40% luck. I was really depressed when I found I couldn`t`t ride on Shatta, and became just as excited when I realized I was able to do it again.
I changed the horse on my entry from Shatta to Warpaint and began to get ready for the ordeal. We drove up on Thursday morning before the ride and set up camp in our usual place, just down the road from the start area, back in the forest a little bit. One thing about this ride that I`m not crazy about- it`s the second dustiest place on the planet, second only to wherever is dustier. You begin to get used to the dust in everything, including the food, water, clothes: you get the idea. At least it wasn`t windy. It did seem a bit cooler this year- that`s a good thing for Warpaint. As relaxed as I seemed to be about the ride, poor Judy was a bundle of nerves until we got checked in. I took him out for a few miles to warm him up before the vet in, and after our ride he passed the vet check just fine. Once we got checked in I really began to think about the ride. Yep, we`re going! This horse is a real pain-in-the-ass before, during, and for a long while after the start. Here I was, about to go and ride Tevis on a horse that just went crashing down a cliff on (my) his last ride because he can`t/won`t stand still, ever. I`m a pretty confident type of person, since I know I can do the ride, and I know he can do the ride. Last year I had no problem going right to sleep the night before the ride. This year I found myself lying awake in the camper thinking about the Granite Chief Wilderness and what it was going to be like going through there on a horse that won`t stop or stand still. What about the California loop and those (gasp) neat 500 foot drops to the American River just inches from the edge of the single track trail? I remembered how much fun it was to jam through there on Zion, and even more fun last year on my horse, who was perfect. There`s dust on the roof of the camper. What will those trails be like on this ballistic horse? I wish that horse out there would shut up so I can get to sleep. Would Warpaint calm down above Squaw Valley? What time is it, anyway, and why is Judy asleep? How am I going to get through the start without running over people, or going off the road? Oh, shut up and go to sleep.
Ride morning came way too soon when the alarm went off. My riding buddy Sally Abe came along this year to help with the crewing since she wants to ride this thing, perhaps next year. She and Judy had things well under control. We had a nice, relaxed morning getting ready. The horse was even standing reasonably still while getting tacked up. Judy and Sally pulled out at 4:30 to drop off the truck and get to Robinson Flat, leaving me in the dark on the back of a horse who was VERY alert and jigging already. Like I have said before- he thinks the ride begins once you hop up on his back. I jigged up and down the road for about 15 minutes and headed to the start. We jigged past the number taker and tried to find a spot to stand in the crowd. Except that he does not stand. I found a nice little spot just off the road where we spent the final 10 minutes jigging in a small, square pattern. Funny- if you stop him, he`ll pause for a second, then just go sideways, through bushes, trees, Honda Civics, whatever. Of course it`s not really that bad, but he just won`t stand still. I discovered something in that 10 minutes that would save me this day: as long as he kept moving forward he was fine, even when moving forward at a half a mile an hour. He will jig slower than a cat can walk, but as long as he`s not stopped, he was fine. Hmmmmmm.
The Start! I was riding by myself this year, which helped me on Warpaint. We started moving up the road, and as always the pack would stop, then go, then stop, then go, etc. This would drive Warpaint nuts! Once we got going we only stopped a few more times, but I hate to think of what some of the riders were thinking of me and my sideways horse. It was so dusty I can`t believe I could breathe that stuff. Absolutely terrible. Maybe Tevis needs a three tiered start, sort of like a foot race? Let the people who are planning on going faster leave at 5 minutes until 5, let the next group go at 5, then let the slower people leave at 5 after. Who knows, it might help the crazy congestion and dust of that start. I wasn`t having any fun at all until we got to the single-track trail. At least by then it was only a single line of horses, not two or three abreast. Except that the first time I had to stop for traffic, Warpaint paused his two seconds and went sideways, right off the trail. Okay- this won`t work. It was then I remembered the little, bitty, jig at the start. When we got started again, I held him back and made sure there was at least 50 feet of space between me and the horse in front of me. When I saw the horses in front stop I`d haul him down (no small feat) and get him into that half a mile an hour jig. Know what? It worked! Perfectly! I`d creep up on the horses in front of me, and just as I`d get close they would move, and I`d keep my distance again, then slow down again when they stopped, and so on. I was really jazzed since it worked. At last I found a secret that really seemed to work. From that moment on I used that technique on all single-track trails until after Robinson flat.
We blitzed along the normal trail towards Highway 89 but then took the new underpass. Some people watched Warpaint sort of jump up the rip-rap rocks since he thought that would make a nice short cut. Dumb horse. Strong, but dumb. Rather than head up the parking lot to the ski area we immediately started climbing on a new single-track trail that was a good climb, but was very dusty. The pace was faster than I liked, but this horse feels like a train climbing hills like this. The 50-foot rule worked perfectly all the way up this climb. It was really nice except for the dust. We were way up the mountain by the time we passed the base lodge. The trail continued climbing and eventually dumped us out on the main ski run about a quarter or so of the way up to the top. I really like this part since I`ve skied here so many times. The road is wide as we jigged up the mountain. We did some trotting but mostly took it easy. There were still a ton of horses around here that were filling up all the little creeks where there was some water. I knew the Ap was thirsty since there was no water stop at the bottom. We were about a half mile or so from the upper camp when we came upon the aftermath of the Debby Lyons accident, all though I had no idea what had happened until much later on. All I saw was a rider lying on her back a couple of hundred yards away being attended to by a couple of people. It turns out she was hurt badly and needed to be rushed to a hospital for some emergency treatment. We were all very relieved to hear that she would be fine. (as a side note- at the awards ceremony Debby`s husband Jeff Herten told the crowd about Debby as he accepted his buckle. Apparently she told him to finish the ride and not to worry about her. What a competitor! Helmets off to Debby, and get well soon!)
Warpaint drank a lot of water at the mid mountain lodge and did his walk-around-the-rider thing while I tried to give him electrolytes. Dumb horse. It takes two people to do this. I realized how many times in the past I thought Judy shouldn`t`t let him do this. Yeah, right. He almost walked through the water trough, another one of his specialties. Once up on his back we headed up the rest of the mountain and climbed over the top of the world at the monument. Stay around, look at the view? Forget it- it was freezing up here. Thank goodness I kept my jacket on. We hustled down the back of the Ski Mountain into the depths of the toughest part of the ride. Okay, horse, this is it. Let`s just get through this. We went in, following a big mule, and kept our distance. What worries? He did absolutely great. As long as he could see those horses in front, and I kept him slow, he went through there without a single worry. In fact, he did one thing so neat I actually laughed. There is one short step up about two and a half or three feet high, straight up a sheer rock. I watched three horses in front of me scramble up it, slip, and one even slipped down for a moment. Warpaint got to it and just jumped up it- he never even touched the rock! Man, for a video tape of that! The wilderness was a non-event for me again this year, knock on wood. We zipped through it and hit the rocky and very dusty roads that lead down to Lyon ridge and a trot by. We passed about 30 or so horses in that 3 or 4 miles. We stopped for another huge drink and a bathroom stop for me, another shot of salts for him, and off we went with no wasted time. The single-track trail from Lyon to cougar rock and beyond was so dusty I started getting irritated, sort of like I was irritated at those tree branches at the Gold Country ride. No matter what you do you just can`t get away from it, and it`s no fun to breathe it. We went around Cougar Rock again this year, mostly because I wasn`t about to stand in that line to go over. I ran into Karen Chaton just past Cougar Rock- she and I rode together last year from Foresthill to the finish. We rode into Red star ridge together and had a nice water break. We rode along together for a little while after that but she left me- Rocky was trotting faster than I wanted to go. I then realized that I had been riding by myself all day so far. Warpaint was still pulling and jigging as we walked down into Robinson Flat into the beehive of activity. Our good friend Jean Schreiber was there once again for us, setting up a perfect crew spot in the trees the day before the ride. Marilyn Russell was also there, helping Carolyn Schultz on her second attempt at Tevis. Poor Carolyn made it to Francisco`s last year and got pulled. She wanted another shot at that elusive buckle. Her big horse Echo looked great so far.
It took Warpaint his normal 10 minutes to recover to 60 here, which he did without trouble. He went right through the vets (much to the relief of Judy) and began his eating binge. This horse does it right- he eats and drinks everything in site. I got treated to some superb service including the magic Tevis Egg salad sandwich that I credit for my success here, as well as my shoulder massage. What a life! After a nice break we got him ready and headed out right on time. Carolyn had left about 15 minutes before me. Warpaint jigged out of camp- no shortage of energy here. We left by ourselves and headed down the rocky Cavanaugh Ridge trails, again, totally alone. I found myself talking to the horse and singing old songs out loud. That`s a habit I picked up while racing motorcycles in the desert. The thing about dirt bikes is that no one can hear you sing! I have to watch that on horseback. We passed a few horses but just kept trotting on down the trails to the big, flat, gravel dirt road called the freeway. Warpaint hit the road and just took off. No horses anywhere in sight and he`s just trotting as strong as at the start, but now he`s totally relaxed. Once again I realize how much I like a horse that doesn`t`t spook at all. Never. Nada. Nothing. Just as solid as a car. I began to realize again just how amazing this horse is. He is just sailing along down this road, passing horses with ease, going like this because he likes it. Most people who I pass say "Hey, it`s the appy!" It`s easy to spot this one, especially as he goes by. I passed Carolyn somewhere on that road and didn`t`t even recognize her. We got to the Dusty Corners trot by check and went right on through after a short break for water and some food. We rode out alone again, and turned down onto the neat single-track trail that was new last year. Except this year it was much more rocky and chewed up, especially at the beginning. It was a pain for the first mile or so but then got better. Last year I rode through here with Sam Bartee- it was dusty from the other horses. I never even saw a horse the entire length of the trail. No dust, just Warpaint jamming down the trail. He does not need another horse to be with him, or chase him, or be in front. He just goes, all by himself. We started down the steep trail into the first canyon- I led him down the entire way. Ride Director Larry said the trail was chewed up. It was miserable. Rocky, chewed up, dusty, yuck. We went into the river at the bottom and cooled down a while, crossed the swinging bridge, then headed up the first big climb into Devil`s Thumb.
This horse goes uphill like a ski lift! I rode a few turns than hopped off and had him tail me up. We kept passing horses, even at a walk. People can`t believe it when he goes walking past them up this climb. I was getting pooped by the top and was happy to see the water and lemonade. The horse drank a lot of water as did I. Off to Deadwood and our friends Karen Schwartz and Roberta Dunn who were working as in timers. They asked where Carolyn was. I didn`t`t know- uh, oh. Warpaint recovered in about 7 minutes which really pleased me- he ate for a while, then we left with a flake of hay under my arm as we walked out down the trail. He ate the entire thing before we started down the long canyon. I rode him for a while, then got off and ran down to the bottom. We were all alone again after passing a couple of horses. This second canyon trail goes down forever, but we finally got to the bottom and started the long climb up to Michigan Bluff. I was again off him the whole way up, but didn`t`t need to be. Up, Up, Up. We got to the top and went to the water tanks. A group of wonderful volunteers basically told me to go away and eat something and they would take care of him. They soaked him down with water like pros, and after only 5 minutes or so he was down. Wow- he`s recovering better as the day goes on! I was thankful the weather was so nice- of my three Tevis rides this was by far the best weather. We got a little nervous at the trot out when the vet asked us to trot again. They noticed a little wave on his right front but after a faster trot it seemed okay. My good buddy vet Jamie Kerr was there and suggested I make sure to trot him a little faster. It worked- he looked fine. I let him eat for an extra 15 minutes or so before leaving. I saw Carolyn come in just as I was leaving- great! She`s still in it. I jigged out of town (!) to the applause of a bunch of spectators. Neat! The out timer told me I was in 50th place. (long pause for dramatic effect)
I almost fell out of the saddle! I looked at my watch- it was just about 5pm! I was in shock as we trotted away, once again all alone, now with the horse in his relaxed mode. Here`s where he begins to become magic. Once that crazy stuff in his brain is gone it gets replaced with this business like attitude of just going forward. No reins needed- just go forward. He trotted up the hills out of Michigan and down we went into the third little canyon. I hopped off and jogged all the way down to the bottom, except this trail was beat to death as well. What happens to these trails? I think a rock monster has it`s offspring on Sierra single track trails. Across the creek at the bottom for another big drink and up the short climb into Foresthill. What a neat welcome- a couple of hundred people cheering and clapping for the Appy. Everyone is so excited to see him. He`s still jigging as we head into the last big check. Yeah, it feels nice to have so many people interested in him. Judy and Sally meet me as we walk into the sea of people. Warpaint is quite the center of attention. There is a ring of people around him watching as the crew gets his tack stripped and him cooled down. Sooo many people ask me if he`s an Arab or thoroughbred cross. I just say he`s as appy as an appy is- no crosses in his background. He recovers again very quickly and passes through the vet with no problem. I like this vet- a tall guy with a beard and baseball cap. He looks at the card that says "watch the right front". He replies: "Yeah, he`s got one, all right." Warpaint eats like the proverbial horse while I get my dose of hamburger from my great crew. Bad news for Carolyn- Echo is off at the trot and is done. She is having much more than her share of the 40% of bad luck. Sixty minutes goes fast here. I saddle up and head out of the check all by myself, again. There`s a lot of daylight left as I jig through the town to the cheering of more people. I continue to realize that it`s fun to be on such a noticeable horse. We hit the California loop and pass two horses as we head down the first few turns.
Then the magic returns. This horse turns on the jets and just starts trotting down the trail; solid, fast, totally relaxed, totally in control, just like riding a machine. There are no horses, anywhere. The time goes by too fast through this wonderful section as we just sail along. I am about 90 minutes faster this year at this point than last year so I get to see a lot more of this trail for the first time. It`s still a little light as I begin the drop down to the river. We did pass a woman leading a horse to Francisco`s that she was going to pull, but that was it. Just him and me, trotting along through the dark, just loving every step. He knows where he`s going- I`m just along for the fun. We start down the nasty section of tail that I was worrying about the night before that drops down to the river. I just shook my head- he was on auto pilot. We then heard some voices as we caught up to two riders. I rode with them down the last part of the single track at a fast pace that brought us past a group of 5 horses that were walking. I rode with the two into Francisco`s and the next to last vet check. The ride workers once again took over and did everything for me- what a treat. Warpaint recovered quickly again, but was a little inverted this time. I waited around for a while as he ate before taking him to the vet. He passed, but the vet noticed the right front and said it looked okay, just take it easy, and let him eat a while here. He had great gut sounds but the vet wanted him to un-invert before we left. I gave him about 20 minutes and he was fine. (It turns out I told Judy after the ride and she says, "Oh, yeah, that`s normal. He comes back down in about 10 minutes." He did that exactly.) We took it easy out of the check and onto the next section of trail. I rode along for a while leading another rider but left her just after the river crossing. Yikes! We entered the water and moved a couple of feet down stream with every step forward. That`s a funky feeling, but the Appy loves the water. He blasted right up the steep trail on the other side and off we went again at a trot. I wanted to take it easy but he was making that difficult. After a couple of miles I caught a rider who was walking, but walking fast. His name is Tony Brickel and his horse has the fastest walk of any horse, I mean ANY horse I have ever seen, or will ever see. Tony`s horse had looked a little funny to the vet at Francisco`s, so Tony said he`d just walk in for the finish and make sure the horse looked okay at the Quarry. I walked along with Tony for an hour or so- actually Warpaint was jigging / jogging since he could not walk that fast.
We got to the Quarry and made it through the check fine. Jamie was there and after watching Warpaint trot quickly he said he looked just fine. I was pleased and left right away since it was chilly. I trotted up the road for a mile or so and caught Tony again! Man- I was trotting and he was still walking! I said I`d see him at the finish and passed him as we trotted along the wide, flat, road. We got to the highway 49 road crossing and walked the steep, nasty trail up and down to the no hands bridge. Just as I walk onto the bridge a horse catches me- It`s Tony! It can`t be! "Hey, how`s it going?" he says. I can`t believe it. Who need to trot? That horse could top ten at a walk! I tell him again I can`t believe it and trot away once more, determined that he`s not going to catch me again! We trotted along the ravine, only 4 miles to go! We start up the last hill at a walk- Warpaint is walking, a little slower now, but I`m just waiting for Tony and that horse! He never did catch up to us by the time we got to the top of the climb. We headed down into the little last loop, all alone once again. No horses, no one, just me and him. He`s still trotting strongly and wants to hurry up the hills. Unreal. I look at my watch- it`s 2:00 am. Wow. We round the corner and finish at 2:13 am in 32nd place.
We passed the little trot out vet check where I got nailed 2 years ago on Zion. (That`s still okay. He was lame) We got to the Quarry and made it through the check fine. Jamie was there and after watching Warpaint trot quickly he said he looked just fine. I was pleased and left right away since it was chilly. I trotted up the road for a mile or so and caught Tony again! Man- I was trotting and he was still walking! I said I`d see him at the finish and passed him as we trotted along the wide, flat, road. We got to the highway 49 road crossing and walked the steep, nasty trail up and down to the no hands bridge. Just as I walk onto the bridge a horse catches me- It`s Tony! It can`t be! "Hey, how`s it going?" he says. I can`t believe it. Who need to trot? That horse could top ten at a walk! I tell him again I can`t believe it and trot away once more, determined that he`s not going to catch me again! We trotted along the ravine, only 4 miles to go! We start up the last hill at a walk- Warpaint is walking, a little slower now, but I`m just waiting for Tony and that horse! He never did catch up to us by the time we got to the top of the climb. We headed down into the little last loop, all alone once again. No horses, no one, just me and him. He`s still trotting strongly and wants to hurry up the hills. Unreal. I look at my watch- it`s 2:00 am. Wow. We round the corner and finish at 2:13 am in 32nd place.
We passed the little trot out vet check where I got nailed 2 years ago on Zion. (That`s still okay. He was lame) So far so good. Down to the fairgrounds for the last vet check. He is at 64 BPM and trots fine. He did it! I`m looking all around for Judy and Sally as I take my lap. They don`t seem to be here. I stopped and weighed him for the post ride weight test. He weighed 1045 at the start, 1001 at the finish. The weight guys were impressed. I take him over to the big pile of hay bales that he begins to devour. While I waited Tony made it in- I asked him how it went and he told me that he had walked into the finish from Francisco`s and only three riders had passed him, including me. Amazing. I waited around for about 40 minutes until Roberta comes up and asks me what I`m doing here so early. Early? Ask Warpaint! I think he could have gone a lot faster, given the way he looked and felt. She went and got Judy who felt really bad about missing me at the finish since they were up preparing the stall. I didn`t`t mind- her horse had done it again and gave me an absolutely flawless ride.
I really enjoyed the awards ceremony, since the Appy had done so well. I was really impressed when they gave Tony his 1000 mile buckle. Yep, I want one of those, and I`ll have one. There`s something about this ride that will keep me coming back. Now Warpaint is 3 for 4 at Tevis. The one he didn`t`t finish was when he was one of the horses that slipped down on the paved bike path at Squaw Valley a few years ago. I also learned more about this horse that I ever thought I`d know. For years I`ve watched Judy want to kill this animal at times, but she always sticks it out and is in love with him at the finish of a ride. I now understand. Totally. Like I said, he`s a major pain at the beginning, but once underway he`s the most incredible horse I`ve ever sat on. And now I know the secret! Maybe I`ll tell Judy, or maybe I`ll just tell her he`s un-rideable and keep him for myself. Oh yeah, fat chance. The neat thing is that we have both done the ride on this remarkable horse, who I really believe is one of a kind. Say hello to him the next time you see him on the trail. That is, if you can get his attention. He will be focusing on what`s ahead of him, and how he can get there in as little time as possible.
I`ll be back next year on Shatta.