Thursday, February 17, 2000

Far OUTTTT Forest With the Kid: Part III & IV - Howard

We continued on our ride, keeping a slow pace, but every now and then I`d take off on Dance Line, cantering and checking his responses, especially in the deep sand. I had almost decided, or Dance had decided for me, that the canter would be the gait of choice on this ride, if Dance`s heart, respiration rate and, especially, his legs can handle that pace. I felt that it would be safer, with Dance`s old tendon injury, in a canter than in a trot with the softness of the ground here. I wasn`t too worried about Rebel and Jennifer being able to keep up.

I didn`t get to talk much with Saint Sandy, since her Arab mare didn`t want to be near my guy at all. And once, during the ride, Sandy`s horse got too close to Rebel and he kicked her right in the breast collar. Rebel`s never kicked another horse before on the trail, so Jen and I were very surprised and apologetic. St. Sandy (this kinda stuff helps confirm her Sainthood) said not to worry about the kick; it was her mare`s fault and she hopes her horse learned something.

We returned to ridecamp a different way then we left, so I didn`t get to see if my naked sunbather was still catching some rays. I considered taking a solo ride back that way, but decided a beer was more important. Jen and I say good-bye to Sandy and Samantha, untacked our horses and put them back in their portable corral. I throw some hay at them and tell Jen I`m taking a nap.

I give her instructions as to where she can go (Samantha`s rig or the Pavilion or Roxanne`s rig). Roxanne is a close friend who is kinda my mentor when it comes to endurance riding. I met her at this ride last year and have spent time with her at almost every ride I`ve attended (I think I`m up to 8) and have learned to respect her advice. She also does 100`s and is a possible sponsor for my daughter if Jen ever gets to that level. Rox adores Jennifer and I plan on using this as my selling point for sponsorship. The truth is I sure as hell won`t and probably can`t do a hundred. I didn`t even want to do a 35 let alone a 50; but Jen has me sold on the idea of a 50 at our next ride if we do well here tomorrow. Last year I used to say I`d never do a 50 cause it would interfere with my naptime. haha.

I take my nap and dream. I dream of Angie. It`s not a sexual dream, in fact quite the opposite. I haven`t told you about her, but mentioned her earlier and you may be wondering just who I was talking about. So, I`ll tell you. Angie`s a southern endurance rider, who has done quite well in the 50`s. As far as I know she and her horse aren`t 100 mile material, but Angie has acquired quite a few miles and won the GERA 50 when I attended. I did a measly 25. I met Angie, prior to the GERA ride, on the computer (online) by way of a website that caters to endurance riders and endurance wannabes, like myself.

Besides being an endurance rider, Angie`s also a writer (sound like anybody you know?). And she has an attitude with a "male ego" attached. She is a witty and humorous writer and I made the mistake of "taking her on" with my thoughts on this particular website, that`s really like a delayed chat room. Anyhow, we became adversaries at the start and it hasn`t gotten much better with time. Basically, I`m a Florida Gator, and she`s from any other Southern State that happens to beat the Gators during that particular year (and she says she doesn`t even like football). This year she`s from Alabama, since the Gators beat Tennessee and Georgia, but lost to Alabama twice. But, I digress....back to my dream.

I dream of riding the GERA 2000 classic, which I know will be the first ride I will do after my summer break (summer breaks are required if you live in Florida). I`m in the 50 and I don`t take Jennifer. Don`t want any baggage with me this time, cause I`m hunting for bear. And my quarry is Angie. AS GOD IS MY WITNESS (sorry) I`m gonna beat her one time before I die. (Now, remember this is all a dream, I don`t really think like this.) I don`t have to win the GERA, even though Angie won it last year. All I have to do is beat this wild woman, who rides like a jockey with a tongue that whips like a riding crop. In my dream, as I yell at the rude drivers in Atlanta on my way to ridecamp, instead of using curse words when someone cuts me off, I yell "Angie." As in "Angie you asshole." Actually, that should be "Angie you Angie," but "Angie, you asshole" sounds funnier to me, for some reason. Hey, it`s a dream and kind of fuzzy.

Anyhow I get to ridecamp, set up and at the preride briefing Angie and her buddies make fun of me. Tell me how they`re gonna kick my butt and how men really shouldn`t wear tights, even on a horse. One of them decides to call me Robin Hood, the Merriest of Men. I take it all in stride, smile, don`t start anything (remember, this is a dream), and just smolder inside. They don`t realize it but they have all just fed the machine a lot of fuel. I know I will beat her tomorrow, or I will die trying.

I`ll digress here a bit from the dream and tell y`all that endurance riding has become my life. It`s what I live for (you might want to skip the next two paragraphs if you don`t like sentimental crap). It permeates my dreams and influences my life. It`s all I think about, I`ve become obsessed. The camaraderie at ridecamp, the feeling that most riders really care about the sport and their horses and, like I`ve said before, the intensity of the event. And riding with my 11 year old daughter, watching her compete against full grown adults, and do well; it`s all a bit too much for me sometimes.

I`ve yet to see a poor rider at any of the endurance rides I`ve attended and to win is something to be very proud of. I`m consumed by it all; I`ve even learned camping, though I still am not crazy about that aspect of endurance riding, especially when it gets down to 20 degrees. But to me, the main ingredient is the love of your horse. It`s indescribable how I feel about Dance Line, and I know more than anyone how special he is. Sure he has a few bad habits, he nips at me when he`s nervous and he might rear up if I force him to go where he doesn`t want to. I could probably beat these bad habits out of him, but I choose not to. Instead, he and I both make modifications to accommodate the other. Anyway, I`ll just close this paragraph by saying there are a few riders I really do respect and want to beat on my 17 H non Arab horse, and Angie`s on top of the list.

Back to the dream. We start off early the next day with Angie and her friends still making fun of me in my tights and my tall legged horse, who doesn`t have one drop of Arab blood in him. I smile, but maneuver to the front of the line in this controlled start. We take off slow, but as soon as the leader releases us we are all off in a gallop. I stay right behind Angie and follow her the entire way. After the third loop, at the vet check, Angie realizes I`m in for the long haul and says to me, "Shorty, I`m gonna kick it up a notch, so don`t get in my way." More fuel has just been added to my fire and she doesn`t even know.

She and I leave the vet check at the same time and she keeps her word. Forgetting the canter, she gallops into the forest, with lots of knee breaking trees that can rip off your legs, with sharp twists and turns, the trail becomes a real challenge, especially on my horse, who has the longest back in the world. She gets a long lead on me and Dance and, soon, is out of site. This infuriates me but I stick to the plan of mostly canter, occasional trot, all the way. Towards the end I spot her. Her horse seems to be tired and she`s walking. I gain on her, pass her, raise up my butt high in the air so she can get a good look, turn my head around at her and say, "Take a peak at my best asset BAMA." And I win the race, ten minutes ahead of Angie, who comes in second place.

OK, it`s a dream, but I wake up invigorated. I almost wish Angie was here, but for some reason she chooses to skip the Florida rides. It`s almost dark outside and I start worrying about The Far Out Forest Pervert and go look for my Jennifer. I find her at Samantha`s rig, both playing this Gameboy handheld computer toy and I hang out with the kids for a few minutes. I tell Jen we have to go feed the horses, we do this, and then wander to Roxanne`s rig. Roxanne has these two adorable miniature dogs (haven`t a clue as to the breed) that we take with us to the dinner and subsequent pre-ride briefing at the Pavilion.

For some reason I end up with both dogs, each on a leash, inside the Pavilion (it`s a French thing) while everyone stands in line for their spaghetti dinner. I get lots of strange looks from people in line because of the tiny dogs. They probably think I`m either gay or French since I look kinda out of place with these two tiny dogs, whose combined weight is less than my cat back home. Roxanne and Jennifer return and I get in line for my food.

After eating, the manager starts his thing and all I really want to know is the start time for the 35. Somewhere during his talk he says the 35 milers will start at 6:30, along with the 100 milers, and the 50 milers will start at 7:00 AM. Whoooooaaaaa there Mr. Ridemanager, whatever happened to the LD`s starting late and sleeping in? I almost get up to object to this scenario, but decide otherwise. Man, it doesn`t even get light until 7:00 AM. I`ll have to tack up in the dark, something I avoid whenever possible. This is the first ride I`ve attended where the LD`s are not the last group to leave. I hope this isn`t a trend.

After dinner breaks up Jen decides she`s going to bed. I let her walk on up alone to our tent (making sure she has her flashlight), inspite of The Far Out Forest Pervert, and go have a few beers with Roxanne, who has a campfire going. We talk about the deep sand, about other riders (I do love gossip) and a couple other friends join us around the campfire. Allison, one of Rox`s friends, is there and she tells me she has actually read and enjoyed my endurance stories. Since I don`t have too many fans, when I find one, I treat them like gold. I offer Allison beer, wine, a back rub, anything to keep her reading and liking my stuff. She laughs, but declines on all offers. After a while I say good-bye to all and head off to my tent. The night is crisp, but not freezing, and we`re only hours away from lift off.

Sleeping in a cold tent is not an easy thing to do. I ignite a gas heater inside, the one that says "Don`t use indoors," and put it close to my face. I`ll probably wake up with a sunburn tomorrow. It`s not freezing out, but one of those nights that`s just a bit too cold to sleep outside, tent or no tent. I eventually get a few hours sleep, but it`s not a deep one and I don`t dream (lucky for Angie). I wake up at 5:00 and decide it`s time to get up, feed the horse and light up my flame throwing burner for coffee.

Normally, I can count on a couple of GA buddies for coffee, but they didn`t make this ride, so I`m on my own. I feed the horses, rub Dance`s head between his eyes and tell him, again, if he gets me and Jen and Rebel through this today there is nothing I won`t do for him. Nothing. I put my burner on top of my cooler (I regret this action later), pump up the alcohol, turn the crank, and light up Flame Thrower. And it does. Six feet atleast. And I put the darn thing under a tree again, what the heck was I thinking?

I go grab a blanket, for possible use, but the flame does eventually die down. The burner did ignite a few leaves on the tree overhead, but no one will ever notice. I put on the tea kettle and get this really cool thing out of a Wal-Mart box that`s made especially for toasting bread on a gas outdoor burner. I love new shit. And it just so happens I have some bagels, also from Wal-Mart, and I light the other burner, put on my new toaster gadget and add a bagel. Too cool, and I didn`t lose a tree.

So there I am, drinking coffee, toasting bagels, just having a really great time. I wake up Jen, let her go get some hot chocolate at the Pavilion. As I enjoy my food I start to think that, maybe, I actually have this camping thing down. Jen comes back and asks me for the time. I look at my watch, with my flashlight (it`s still dark outside), and scream, "Oh shit, it`s 6:30." Damn. How`d that happen?

Part IV

We rush tacking up the horses in the dark, I put out all fires, and I`m pissed. Just can`t believe the time got away from me like that. We finally get the horses tacked, Jen mounts Rebel by herself (you should see this) and I find a stump that aids me with getting on top of my giraffe. I look at my watch and it`s 6:53, 7 minutes till the 50 starts. We trot pass Roxanne, who is warming up her horse for the 50. She yells, "Man, are you two late!". We yell out our numbers to the clipboard lady, and canter off down the trail.

I tell Jen we will still stick with our plan of a slow canter, even though we missed our starting time (way to go Dad). All because of that new cooking gadget from Wal-Mart, hot coffee and a couple of toasted bagels. I want to stay ahead of the 50 milers, as much as possible, even if we only have a 7 minute jump on them. And the only way to do this is to canter. Dance is in the lead, as usual, and Jen and I have the trail completely to ourselves. There is daylight, but it`s predawn daylight, so not very bright out. The sand is deep, but in some places the trail is in good shape, if you keep your horse on the side where it hasn`t been torn up by the 4 wheelers.

Lot`s of low branches here, so I try not to look behind me at Jen, cause I know as soon as I do one of them will get me. And on my tall horse I have to duck more than most riders. We clip along at a good pace, with motivation being not letting the front runners in the 50 catch us. I know our lead from them won`t last forever, I`m just trying to delay them passing us right away. Both Dance and Rebel are into this run and know they have buddies somewhere up ahead. If I die and reincarnate I want to come back as an endurance horse with a young, pretty female owner who gives me lots of beer.

The trails are deep sand, where the 4 wheelers have tore deep into the ground (I`m not a fan of this motorized sport), but most of it isn`t too bad. I spot a lot of hidden roots and try to avoid them by riding the high end of any holes. Rebel follows us perfectly. It is a beautiful morning, a nice chill is in the air, and it just might be perfect weather for my horse. He is overly excited, which is normal for him in an endurance run. I try and control his pace, to keep Dance from breaking out into a racehorse sweat. The brisk weather is helping.

The mist rises above the lakes here giving it an eerie quality. The fog, created by the lakes, would make great cover for The Far Out Forest Pervert this morning. Thanks Jean, for letting me know about some of the whacko people who live in these woods. I push out the bad thoughts and think of my sunbather, with that smile on her face. Much better.

As Jen and I continue, I get that feeling of "this is the greatest sport in the world" and I wish I had started it earlier in my lifetime. I`ll just have to let Jen make up for my lost riding time. I know she`s into it as much as I am; I hope it continues. I plan on distracting her from the one thing that may hinder this goal, boys, till she`s 35. She`s still at an age where they`re almost a nonentity, but I know it`s coming, sooner than I would like.

For once Jen isn`t talking a lot. I look back at her, when it`s safe to do so, to make sure she`s OK. I can hear Rebel constantly, he has this type of breathing where he exhales loudly every time his front hooves hit the ground while cantering. Sounds kinda cool. Reminds me of a professional tennis player, how they grunt when they whack at the ball. "Ummmmmmmpppppphhhhhhhh" says Rebel. This, also, lets me know how close he is. I do love Rebel, almost as much as Dance Line, cause he has this habit of never passing me on the trail, no matter how much Jen pushes him to do so. I consider this a safety feature that keeps my kid from losing control of her horse in, what a lot of people consider, an extreme sport.

I duck to miss a branch, but not enough and my helmet cracks the limb. Man that would have knocked me out cold if I didn`t have this helmet on. I`m at the point where, if you, as an endurance rider, choose not to wear one, I feel that you`re a complete idiot and not serious about the sport or haven`t done enough rides. If I saw a downed rider who wasn`t wearing one, I`d stop and help but he/she would hear it from me about their stupidity, coma or no coma.

After a while, I eliminate all negative thoughts and just enjoy what Jen and I are doing. No one is ahead of us. We go on like this for at least 5 miles. Very little hills (hey, it is central Florida) and the most change in elevation is about 6 feet (Florida Mountain). I do love my state, and wish more riders would come down here to run with us locals. This time of year the bugs are dead and the snakes are buried deep underground, out of site where I like them. Few tornadoes and no hurricanes; what more could you ask for? I did forget the fire danger is high, but nothing`s burning yet.

I notice Dance is sweating a little more than I`d like to see, so I slow down to a trot and then to a walk. Not long after doing this I hear the first group of 50 milers closing in. Jen and I let the group of 4 riders pass. I ask my partner if she wants to try and keep up with the big boys. She yells a resounding YES and off we go. Dance always seems more motivated when he can see a horse or two in front of him. And today is no exception.

I keep the riders in site and sometimes we even get close enough to pass. But I hold back, knowing these riders will canter all the way. And they do. Not once do any of them trot their horses; even after we follow for several miles. The trail is wide enough for a vehicle, but it better be 4 wheel drive. Jen and I stay right behind the leaders for almost 5 miles, then I pull back on Dance and we trot for a while. And then I notice something bad. Damn.

Dance`s head is bobbing every so often, in the trot, even though he doesn`t feel off. I curse to myself, knowing I might have pushed him too hard. I get that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that he`s gonna get pulled at the first vet check, which is only a couple more miles ahead. Even if Dance isn`t lame, if the vet sees his head bob while trotting out I`m gonna be stuck out here in the middle of nowhere.

We walk a bit and I try and figure out if Dance is lame or just tired. I play around with his trot, post on the left diagonal then the right, to see if it`s the left front, where his old tendon bow is. He stops bobbing his head, so I wonder if he`s OK? I feel no sign of lameness and hope we might atleast get thru the first vet check without a hitch.

And up ahead I see a group of people hanging around and realize we just covered 14 miles. I`m ready for a break. Jen and I give our cards to the check in lady, who marks our in time, and hands them back. We dismount and walk over towards the vet area. I bend down and feel Dance`s old bow, no swelling or tenderness that I can see. Good! Rebel and Dance are both pumped up cause of all the other horses and activity. We stop for water at a large trough, and I spot Phil, who crews for his wife. I know he has at least a stethoscope. I ask if he`ll check out Dance`s heart rate, it tends to run high, and Phil pulls out this really cool electronic thing, puts it on the left side in front of the girth, and in less than ten seconds tells me it`s 70. He checks Rebels and it`s in the low 50`s. Damn Arabs rule when it comes to pulse and respiration.

We walk around a little with our horses, Rebel and Dance cannot be separated in this situation, with me looking for my bucket of feed. I don`t see it anywhere. There`s not much of a line at the P&R area so I decide to gamble on Dance`s pulse. I turn Dance so he can look at Rebel while the lady uses her stethoscope and she gives us a passing 64. Rebel is 50. I go up to one of the vets, he does his thing super quick and then tells me to trot out. Dance and I take off and I can tell he`s OK. Back to the vet, check complete, all A`s, and wait for Jen to finish. Too easy, what was I so worried about? Jen finishes with all A`s also and we start our 30 minute hold.

We wander together, looking for my lost bucket loaded with beet pulp, some grain and other goodies. I spot Phil again, and he offers this beet pulp mash that he has left over. Phil`s a classy southern gentleman who I hang out with any chance I can, hoping some of it will rub off on me. This has yet to happen. His wife, who does 50`s, is getting ready to leave the vet area. She has to be in that 4 group that we followed for so long. Dance and Reb dig into the food, both gobbling it up, which makes me and Jen quite happy. They also steal some nearby hay and drink a lot of water. These two are into this run today.

I get concerned about them stealing the hay, Phil comes by and tells me it`s his, help yourself. What a cool dude. I`m still irked that my bucket is not here, because I had two syringes of oral electrolytes I wanted to give the horses. Oh well, crewing for yourself is the pits (pun intended).

Our 30 minute hold flies by and we mount up, tell the clipboard lady we`re leaving and off we go. I spot Roxanne up ahead, with a few other riders, and Jen and I join them. We work our way up to the canter, and off we go. Jen loves talking to Roxanne, so the Mouth of the South (Jen) starts in on her. Poor Rox, I know she`s gonna hear whatever is on Jennifer`s mind for the next 5 miles or so. It always amazes me how Jen can talk and canter her house, simultaneously. When I first started riding endurance I was never able to do this, and I`m still not crazy about it. But I notice a lot of women have this gift, while a lot of men either don`t have it or elect not to use it.

Speaking of men, I forgot to tell y`all, I saw two male riders at camp and both had cuts on their cheeks, a result of running into the low hanging branches. One gentleman was bleeding so heavily I was concerned and mentioned it to him. This kind of struck me as funny, for some morbid reason, especially when I noticed not one female had even a tiny scratch on her face. Must be a macho kind of thing, instead of ducking we`ll just go through those branches.

I ask Rox to point out the tricky turn the 35 milers have to take. Evidently, a large number of riders missed the intersection last year and ended up doing a 50. She says she will and that it`s not much further up ahead. OK, my conversation is over, and Jen takes my place. The mind of an eleven year old girl is constantly evolving, and I do believe if the mouth doesn`t continue to move the whole process stops.

Rox points out the turn to us and we all separate. One rider has joined us and she asks if we mind her company. I advise her she might want to wear ear plugs, Jen gives me a dirty look, and we introduce ourselves. Her name is Maria and she is riding a tiny Arab mare about Rebel`s age (ten). It`s Maria`s first endurance ride and she seems to be enjoying it quite a bit. I tell her we plan on cantering most of the way, and she says, "No problem, I`ll try and keep up." Dance leads the way and the three of us continue on a wide path out in the middle of nowhere. We`re so isolated I feel like a Knight whose job it is to protect these young women on a dangerous trail while traveling between castles. Any pervert shows himself out here and I will lop off his head. haha.

This loop definitely seems more remote than the first. It`s not really a loop, the entire ride is one loop. The only people who do it twice are the hundred milers, and from what I hear there are only a few of them riding today. I still don`t understand why the number of riders is so low. The weather is perfect and the trails are well marked. And we`ve run into just a few 4 wheelers, who have all been courteous to us, pulling over and some of them even turning off their machines. If Dance keeps up the pace I still might have time for my afternoon nap, even though we`re adding an extra ten miles to our normal 25.

WHEW, almost done. Please let me know some of you are reading this.


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