I first met ride manager Cheri Briscoe at the Old Warriors Water Hunt ride in April. I was telling her how difficult that ride was - and she replied - just come to my ride in the fall to do another real test of endurance. Her ride - Bear Valley Springs - in the third week of September - is certainly another test of endurance in the PS region.
The ride is held in the mountains near Tehachapi starting in a gated equestrian community named Bear Valley Springs about 2 hours northeast of Los Angeles. It's nearly 25,000 acres in size with the mountain ringed community encompassing a broad grassland valley, upland meadows and hills with majestic oak, high mountains with tall pine forests and an extensive wilderness area. The ride goes from turf farms and fields of carrots to foothills with sage and oak to the high mountains with pines.
Our ridecamp is in the 42 acre Equestrian Center with stables, corrals, paddocks, training ring, rodeo ring, and a camping area. It's home to the BVS Horseman's Association, the Buckaroo Club, the Bear Valley Springs Dressage Society, and the White Wolf Vaulters Club. There's approximately 50 miles of dedicated equestrian trails that cover the valleys, foothills, canyons, and the high country. Our camp is at 4000 feet with the surrounding mountains reaching almost 8000 feet. There's a full moon with the mountains and camp brightly lit in the night. Early in the evening the moon comes up a dark orange and larger than you know it really is. After dark I can see lights from a few houses on the peaks overlooking our camp.
The ride starts for the 50 milers(47) at 6:15 AM and for the 30 milers(33) at 7. It's a short controlled start taking us by the painted penguins out into the rolling foothills to work off the excess energy that all of our horses seem to have at the start. Then it's into flat areas along the lake and community streets finally going up into the mountains with a lot of single track into the first vetcheck. The first loop with one vetcheck is 30 miles coming back into our basecamp for the lunch check. It's warmer in the foothills and the valley with areas of warm - then cold air as we get further into the foothills. You can smell the sage as you move along the singletrack just as you can smell the pines when we get up in the high mountains.
Riding along the high trails and looking down into the valley - it almost seems like a view from a plane. You see green irrigated fields along with the normal brown of the area, homes, cars, the park and the lake all spread out over the valley to the distant mountains. The trail is well marked and easy to follow. Volunteers are at all the road crossing and there are bridle paths all through the community. The marks of a community that's very equestrian oriented are easy to see - trail signs everywhere and even wood beam crossings for many of the concrete home driveways so that horses will not slip on the transition from dirt trail to driveway. And there's almost no rocks on the trails - even the single track in the high mountains. There are large boulders along the trails usually but just soft dirt and dust in the trail.
The 30 miles go by fast and even though there's a significant amount of climb - my horse and I are thinking - this is not as difficult as the Water Hunt we did together in April. We ride along the ridges and past some of the homes that were visible from the camp last night as lonely spots of light. There's even green watered lawns up on the top of the ridges. There's some nice downhill back into camp where you can get off and give your horse a break. The lunch hold is 50 minutes and goes by too quickly. The ride vets are Beasom, Hewett, and Billingsly with all the checks going smoothly.
The next loop is 20 miles with a 20 minute hold and a 10 minute stop just 5 miles from the finish. It uses some of the same trails we had in the morning but will go up to almost 6500 ft with one very tough 3/4 mile climb. There's lots of switchbacks in the climbs with water at all the right spots. The planned trail was rerouted on Friday to avoid large numbers of yellow jacket nests. The morning 30 miles had taken about 4:30 and the next 20 takes about the same. There's a 6 mile section uphill that takes 2:30 all by itself. It's the longest 6 miles I've ever done. My horse and I revise our views that this is a lot easier than the Water Hunt.
The loop has a nice high mountain spring in the shade that we get to pass twice. >From the high trails - we can see the lake, the golf course, and the vet checks. On the way up - we pass a home with a little girl out on the deck who calls out to us and our horses. Little girls everywhere seem to love our horses. At the finish we're greeted by Cheri with ice cold orange juice for the riders.
There are awards for everyone - oldest horse, farthest distance, youngest rider and horse(a nine year old girl on her first and her horses first 50) - and especially the "Golden Buns" award. The Golden Buns award is judged by all the female volunteers and awarded to the best looking male in tights in the 50. Buns in Training awards go to the LD male riders. Ernie Lohman does well in this award as well as in the regular endurance. First and BC in the 50 is Suzy Kelley riding Linda Morelli's young gelding Falling Leaf in about 6 hours. Carol Miller is second and Ernie Lohman third. Three riders have come from Arizona - some in the 50 and some in the LD. It's a long distance but it's still too hot in Arizona for rides. Of the 47 starting in the 50 - 38 are finishers. All 33 of the LD starters finish. The last 50s crossed the finish line with just seconds to spare - and neither was John or Trilby.
Going home - I see reminders of 9/11. In at least three different areas - I see bright reflecting silver shapes that turn out to be many mothballed airline jets - small ones all the way up to huge 747s. Full flights are an illusion as there are just fewer flights now and air travel has never returned to pre 9/11 levels. Other sights along the way are characteristic of California - vast wind farms for electric generation and a huge auto junkyard named Ecology Auto Parts. I don't think there's another state in the nation where ecology would be linked to junked cars...
This has been an excellent ride and one that I never realized was there. I've made many trips to Ridgecrest from the Bay area for rides and passed within just a few miles of Bear Valley Springs without knowing about the excellent riding that was there. The three things that characterize this ride for me are - it's certainly a test of endurance, the views out over the valley, and no rocks on a high mountain trail.
Cheri - a very nice ride - and next time - perhaps I will get to see your DR Thunder Bask +/ - the highest mileage stallion in AERC records with over 14,000 miles.