Wednesday, October 02, 2002

20 Mule Team Story - Nick Warhol

Endurance General’s Warning! If you went to this ride and didn’t like it, or don’t like my descriptions, stop reading here and go to and read about a sport that might be more your speed. I liked the ride and had a great time, fair warning.
I had a very busy past couple of weeks! Since the beginning of February, I got a new job, I spent a week in Park City watching the Olympics and skiing, then drove down to Ridgecrest for another shot at the 20MT 100. (By the way, going to the Olympics was one of the neatest things I have done in my life, but that’s another story.) This would be my fifth time at the ride in the medium high desert of So Cal. I would have ridden Zayante the wonder horse, but I got the option of riding Jackie’s mare Holly in the 100-mile ride instead. Zay is sticking to the 50 milers, since he’s getting up there and doesn’t need to do 100’s anymore. Not that he couldn’t, I bet, but its best for him. Before the ride he had 9,905 miles. Merri Melde would be riding him in the 65-mile ride this time. Would he make it to 9,970? Read on.
The trip from the Bay Area to Ridgecrest is about 7.5 hours in my rig, it only took 4 hours and 55 minutes to do in the car. Swoosh! That was fun! And on 14 gallons of gas! (I guess I could haul my horse trailer with the Honda Accord, but the camper might compress the suspension a bit.) The weather was pretty warm for this time of the year, making people nervous about the long hair on most of the horses. The sounds of the clippers buzzed all day at the base camp like a bevy of bizarre bees. On Friday I took Holly out for a warm up ride with Zay and Rafique, another of Jackie’s horses. I enjoyed riding along with Zayante, getting to actually look at him under saddle. We rode from Jackie’s house, up into the hills, and then over to the fairgrounds where the ride base camp was located. Zounds! Look at all the rigs! It had to be a record number of entries. Gary and Laura fend were here to both try the 100 together, that is if Laura could keep Gary from getting lost, or falling into a pond. Believe me, there aren’t many ponds in the desert, but if there was one out there, Gary could find it and fall in. Steph Teeter made a long drive down from Idaho to try the 65-mile ride on one of her huge, wooly Russian horses, but left hubby John at home. Regulars Joyce and Dennis Souza were there again, from way up north. Joyce had her new boy in tow, fresh from winning some days at the 2000 XP ride. There were really a lot of entries, it turned out to be something like 230 in the three rides. I was entered in the FEI 100 mile ride, since Jackie thought that would be good for Holly’s record. This would be Holly’s second attempt at a 100-mile ride, she was pulled in her first attempt for lameness. The FEI riders had a separate vet check in, where the vet inspected all the horse documents, and the officials made sure all the FEI rules were adhered to. The infamous international endurance ace and chef de’quipe ( how in the heck do you spell that?) Teresa Cross was one of the officials and made sure things hummed along smoothly. I duct taped on some stirrup cages, (bought ‘em there), put on my shirt with a collar, (had to bring that), put on my black tights, (had ‘em), and my helmet. (had that, too) Now I was officially FEI compliant. Gary and Laura took pity on the camperless me, feeding me some great spaghetti for dinner on Friday. The ride meeting was huge! I took a moment and presented Ken Cook with a Death Valley sweatshirt as thanks for taking care of our poor, stranded horse Wabi at Death Valley. The shirt said: “Ken Cook, Friend of Wabi.” People will probably ask him what in the world that means for years to come. Just tell them it’s a yoga chant, Ken! Becky Hackworth came up and asked me if I would mind sponsoring her junior daughter, Heather, in the 100-mile ride. Absolutely! I sponsored her last year at Death Valley for a couple of days and had a lot of fun riding with her. She was riding her really nice horse, Tez Mark, for the third time in the 100 down here. On day 3 at the DVE, Heather and I had a trotting contest to see who could trot the furthest, that we had to call a draw when we ran out of places to trot after 55 minutes without stopping.
I slept in the plush accommodations at Jackie’s house and woke up to another nice ride morning. We got tacked up and warmed up the horses for a while, getting started a few minutes after the 6 am start. I wanted to let the pack get ahead of us, since our plan was to just go a nice, steady pace all day and not be in a big hurry. We left camp at the back of the pack and started trotting up the start road. Less than a half mile from the start, there are only 3 horses in front of us. Huh? Heather points to the right, where we see 40 or so horses coming down the road, back towards the trail, going fast. So much for being in back. For a moment there, we were leading the ride! Our horses were good about letting the entire pack pass us, but it got them amped up a bit. By the time we got to Jackie’s house, we were back near the end of the pack again. Whew! What’s this? Here are about 20 horses coming back to the road, again! There was an old arrow on the road that fooled people, so here we were back in the lead again! The entire pack passed us again, but we ended up staying with the riders in the middle of the mob. Mark was pulling on Heather a bit, being the strong boy he is. Holly was being great, with the occasional head toss, telling me she wanted to go faster. She has big, effortless trot that just gobbles up the ground. We climbed up the first range of hills that took us out of the valley and towards highway 395. We crossed the highway and headed down a short road, where the trail turned right, across the soft, open desert on a virgin trail. There were a whole bunch of riders going on up the road, the wrong way. Hmmmm. They didn’t see the arrow, or the chalk line they rode across, or the word “NO” written in chalk where they were riding? Who knows? The half mile or so to the water stop was soft, perfect desert, so we let the horses go and blasted across the landscape. Holly can really blast! After a quick water stop, it was back across the desert, riding with a constant string of horses. We passed a few riders here and there, who were stopped, or walking. We stopped for more water at the trestle, (neither horse drank, but there was water every 7 miles on the ride), and across the open desert for a few miles to the first vet check. It was a pulse and go for the 100’s, so we did just that. Holly was at 48. We vetted and scooted out, heading up the canyon to the wilderness area around the sacred mountain. It was SO much better than last year, where there was snow and mud everywhere up here. The conditions were perfect. We took it real easy in the rough sections, walking through every rock patch and up and down the hills. The ride was going quickly- I was surprised to see we were going a little faster than I went last year. We rode with two other horses for a while, but left them after we did another fast blast down a perfect sandy road for a half-mile or so. We climbed up and down through the hills, passing the old mines and dilapidated shacks, then headed down to the 35-mile lunch stop. It was here that the first riders on the 65 caught us. They started an hour after we did, and had a 15-minute hold at vet 1. Jackie wanted to spread the riders out to avoid congestion in the first two vet checks, her plan worked perfectly. We walked into the lunch camp and pulsed down again, Holly was at 48. Good horse. Mark also came down quickly. We were treated to great crew service by Heather’s sister Miranda. Lunch tasted good, and after our hour hold, we set out down the 6-mile road, trotting the whole thing at our nice, consistent pace. We left the lunch stop in the middle of the pack in the 100 ride, somewhere in the thirties. We passed a couple more horses that were walking while we were trotting. More water, then back into the desert, through a nice, but sometimes rocky section that led back to the water stop at Vet 1. We kept moving, passing a few more riders as we kept going. Holly and Mark were getting along perfectly. They just kept going, and going, ears forward and strong. We were not really going that fast, we just didn’t stop much. We caught and passed a few more riders, but then had a little disaster. On the way to the third vet check, one of Heather’s stirrups fell off. As in bouncing around on the ground, in the sand. This is not good. We stopped, and lucky for us, we were able to find the metal clip thing that holds the stirrup leathers together. We put is back together with some duct tape, and without missing a beat, came into the vet check at 57 miles. Holly was at 48 again, but Mark took a few minutes to recover. We got word that there were quite a few horses being pulled, mostly for lameness. We let them eat during the hold, then continued on, paying attention to the really muggy and humid conditions. Back through town and into the dinner hold at 65 miles. Here comes Joyce Souza out of camp, onto the last loop. We said hi, not realizing at the time that she was leading the ride.
Both horses came right down, but Heather was not feeling so great. I would have never known it, since she never uttered a word of discomfort or complaint. You know the number one endurance rider rule? No Snivelers. Heather wins the award for non-sniveling. (Is that a word?) Becky fed her some food and some kind of coffee drink that perked her back up. I didn’t realize what time it was until we were getting ready to leave. It was 4:45, and we were in 11th and 12th place as we left camp. Wow. I remembered what Teresa said when I told her my ride plan- I was going to just go and ride a steady, easy pace and finish. She said if I did, I’d do just fine, since there would be a lot of attrition. She was right so far; we went from the mid 30s at lunch to 11th and 12th now. It was fun riding out of the dinner hold in the daylight, since I have always left camp as the sun was setting, or down in the past. The horses were very good about going on, although Holly was just positive, absolutely sure, that I had missed the turn to her pasture. It was like riding a magnet for a couple of minutes until we got out of range of Jackie’s house. (She was really good about it, it was just kind of funny) We kept on trotting along, heading east on very nice roads with excellent footing. This is the loop for the 35 mile ride- its an excellent trail for a LD ride. We got to a water stop where we came across Bob Spoor, who was letting his horse Moose rest and eat for a while. I rode with Bob out here last year on Rebecca’s horse Moose- a better pair of meese you’ll never see. We trucked on, still trotting and trotting. The sun began to set as we made the turn to the West, riding through the hills and moon rocks of the desert up on the ridge, above the town. The trail was different this year, and I was positive we would end up way south of the road crossing, but wouldn’t you know it, we popped out of the hills right at the regular spot. Becky was there waiting with cokes and a jacket for Heather. It was getting windy, and the temp was dropping quickly. We came across a rider who was also resting at the water stop, he joined us for a while, but then dropped back as we climbed up the last little range of hills. Now we were in 9th and 10th. It was dark, windy, and getting much colder, but we just kept on trotting through the night. The stars were spectacular, the moon was a little sliver, its sort of surreal riding in the desert at night. Mark took a stumble in a rut and scrambled to stay up, banging Heather’s leg in the process. He was fine after a few steps, and Heather never made a peep, even though she hurt her leg a little in the mishap. We hit the power line road, still trotting and trotting. Back under the trestle, and 3 more miles of trotting to the vet check at 92 miles. It was cold here! Both horses came right down and looked really good, but were incredibly hungry. They were scarfing everything they could eat. Jackie had been concerned about Holly’s eating in the past, but she ate all day like a good hundred-mile horse needs to. We were treated to hot chocolate that really hit the spot. As long as you were riding, it was comfortable, but standing in that wind was chilly. Bad luck hit a rider at mile 92, I think it might have been Becky Hart, who pulled at this check. That put us in 8th and 9th as we left. We crossed the highway for the last time and climbed up the small range that leads to Ridgecrest. The lights from the city make it impossible to see anything at all on the way down the valley towards the town; we just let the horses show us the way down the mountain. Back into town, past Jackie’s house (Holly became the magnetic horse again,) and now it is only 2 miles to the finish. We trotted along down the last road and across the line at 10:10 pm. Becky was there to greet us with blankets for the horses and major congratulations for Heather and Mark. We walked down to camp and found a very happy Jackie, who hugged her special horse Holly. This mare was still bright eyed and very energetic, with lots left in the tank. She’s a superb horse, and was so easy and a pleasure to ride. We vetted for the completion, (Holly was at 48), put the horses up, and went to bed.
Sunday morning brought the nice breakfast and the awards ceremony. My jaw dropped when I saw the official results- there had been three horses pulled at the finish of the 100. I finished in 5th, 3rd in the FEI ride, and first middleweight. Heather was 6th and first Junior going away. We both scored a nice pile of prizes, but the real prize was these two horses that made doing a hundred miles in the desert look easy. It was a perfect ride, and a whole lot of fun in every way. The worst thing that happened to me all day was my poor smashed egg salad sandwich at lunch that I had packed in a Tupperware bin. The Tupperware had stopped tupping, and my sandwich was the poor victim of riding in a crew bag. (the yellow, sloppy, goo tasted just fine, though) Sure it was a little cold at night, but as I told Connie Creech out at the last check, I would not care if I was riding in a monsoon or tornado, as long as I could ride a horse this good.
Joyce Souza won the ride on her new horse, who looked very nice the next morning. Way to go Joyce! And what about Zayante on the 65? He did it! 9,970 miles. He looked great all day, as usual. I took Zay and Holly for a long walk early Sunday morning- they both looked great and would have gladly gone back out. Jackie will be riding Zayante at the Geo Bun Buster ride in the middle of March to go over the 10,000 mile mark. What more can I say about this horse, other than he is simply the best. I sure hope I can be there with the champagne at the finish.
On a final note- on Sunday morning, after the awards presentation, a woman came up to me and asked me a couple of questions about the last loop and riding at night. She then asked me if it was a hassle to have to sponsor a junior in a 100-mile ride, having to pay attention and control them all day and night. I thought about that for a moment, and then said: “Is that what I was doing? No, I was just out riding with a friend.” Thanks, Heather. I’ll ride with you any time, anywhere.
Nick Warhol, Hayward, Ca

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