(or When Pigs Fly): MY FIRST 100
I have decided that fifties are fun and hundreds are hell. Well, sort of. I DID get to see TWICE as much trail as I do on a fifty. Hmmm... and I got to push my body and my mind to limits that border on torture. But I DID FINISH my first 100.
At our first ride, I had decided NO WAY could I do the Grand Island 100 THIS year. The next weekend, I started thinking MAYBE. Then I just started thinking (bad thing for me to do, just ask Nelson!). Every year I set some goals and many of them get pushed off to "someday" or "next year". I had heard through the Grand Island ride management grape vine that this might be the last year for the 100 (good hook, don't ya think?). So, maybe next year wouldn't get here. At least not for doing the Grand Island 100. I held off my final decision to see how the weather would hold and how my knee was doing (remember I hurt it while "extreme" bowling!). And how Malik looked and felt. I discussed it with him. He was game. He always is but I "know" when he's all bravado and when he's all business. He was serious about it. So I got out my crappy looking old helmet and started getting it ready....in addition to using stickers on it that declared TEAM MAGGIE N MALIK, it also said 100 MILES OR BUST on the back! :) And YEE HA on the front. (Jenny's said TEAM JEN N MAX , FOUR MORE MILES on the back and HOT DAWG on the front!). I also had stickers of the sun, moon, stars, planets and flowers ALL OVER it. Looked brand new when I was done!! At this point, it was all but a done deal!
We began our trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan on Wednesday and stayed overnight at the home/farm of our friends, Paul and Sara Matthews. Sara is also a fellow distance rider and we rode part of the Grand Island 50 with her last year. Nelson did a little work there and nearby (gotta earn those ride fees!) and the next morning we packed up and headed out. Max and Malik had the benefit of some wonderful green grass grazing overnight and we started their slurries early in the day. After a quick lunch at the bridge with my niece and her family, we had a couple more hours to go to arrive in Rapid River. For those of you not familiar with the "bridge", I am referring to the Mackinaw Bridge, a 5 mile suspension bridge that connects the lower and upper peninsulas of Michigan. It's a good thing that Nelson drives! I often wonder if the horses look out their little window and think "Oh, shit!" or something similar. I know I do!
We arrived late afternoon and found ourselves a nice little spot to camp with lots of downed wood for a campfire (gotta have a campfire!) and a nice grassy area for the boys. We also had to save tent room for the "Water Boy", Jenny's Uncle Daniel who was coming from Illinois up through Wisconsin to help Nelson crew on Saturday. I knew on Thursday that we would indeed do the 100 on Saturday... the weather was PERFECT. The horses were PERFECT. My knee was PERFECTLY awful but I'm tough, right? What does Angie McGhee say? If you're gonna be stupid, you gotta be tough! Well, I'm a PERFECT example of BOTH. :)
We had a wonderful time settling in and having that extra day to relax...the horses relax, too. They eat and drink well, they sleep and ENJOY themselves. I know it's not always possible to get to a ride early but I have found that our best rides are the rides where the horses have had lots of time to relax. We have several "relaxed" photos of Malik sleeping....I caught him snoring once and twitching in his dreams. He will even let out this funny little whinny when he dreams. Absolutely hilarious!!! (Pay attention...this has significance later in my story!).
Where to begin with the story of a hundred miles? With the first step? The first mile? The first vet check? I don't know. I received advice from EVERYBODY who had ever done 100 miles as soon as they knew I was for sure taking the plunge. So I'll start with that. Actually, I'll start with the advice that stuck with me and actually got used! Some advice was the same from several people and some was unique. Can't be sure to credit everyone with THEIR specific advice but you'll know who you are....
RIDE YOUR OWN RIDE. I set a "hopeful" goal of 12-13 hours of ride time figuring that should get us in before dark. However, I did prepare myself for the possibility of being out there in the dark and the wee hours. But the reminder to ride my own ride came from everybody and was the BEST advice of all, in my opinion.
POSITIVE THINKING. Though this was put many different ways to me, I knew we needed to keep ourselves "UP" mentally. For ourselves and our horses. Nelson and Daniel did a good job of cheering us AND the horses on....nothing like hearing that whooping and hollering ahead when you are worn and tired and trying hard not to feel discouraged.
FRESH CLOTHES. Though I always try to remember DRY clothes in case we get wet, the advice to bring FRESH clothes was a life saver. Like an idiot I chose a T-shirt I hadn't worn in a long time (now I remember WHY). It chafed the underside of my arm RAW. I couldn't figure it out. Seems it was the seam (hahaha!). I tried zinc oxide and then when that didn't help, remembered my Wal Mart bag (yes, I am a redneck of sorts!) in the truck with a fresh change of clothes!!!! Another T-shirt!! Solved the problem IMMEDIATELY!! DUH!!! Oh, and the deodorant I had with my clothes made me feel much better, too.
DON'T RIDE 100 MILES, RIDE ONE VET CHECK AT A TIME.
LISTEN TO YOUR GUT (not sounds, INSTINCT).
Basically, I saw the sun rise and I saw the sun set and everything in between....I identified at least 10 different Michigan wildflowers (yes, I keep a book in the horse trailer...one for birds and snakes, too). I listened to orioles and blue jays and crows and mourning doves and even a whipporwill at dusk. Our trip north showed us the true beauty of Michigan in the spring with carpets of trilliums and spring beauties spilling out of the forests right up to the highways. Well, it continued right on into those forests on the trails with even MORE flowers. We also saw the yellows of trout lilies, downy yellow violets and marsh marigolds in wetter places. We even noticed some partridge berries during some slower terrain and a few dutchman's britches. I do love Michigan in the spring.
Our first ten miles was gravel road. Not a welcome beginning to some but I understand that it is not easy putting on a ride of ANY length and I was happy for the opportunity to be able to do this ride even if it meant starting out on ten miles of gravel. After only about 3 or 4 miles of "discussing" the ride strategy with Malik (he forgot about it being 100 miles, I guess), he settled into a nice working trot with an occasional comfy canter which was perfect for my knee. I really wasn't sure how long it would hold out or IF it would hold out but I had found my bottle of Vicodin (which I thought I had forgotten at home) the night before so I was in fine shape! I did start off with some queasiness at about ten miles (normal for me and a Vicodin) and some Gatorade fixed that quick and I was never queasy again through the whole ride.
Our first vet check was at 15 miles. I discovered to my surprise that we weren't far behind the front runners though I really was not concerned with that. Malik and Max both pulsed down beautifully, Malik in spite of several mares making eyes at him...well, you know what I mean. He is a hunk after all!! And buff, too. This check went GREAT. Horses ate and drank everything in sight. Everything with the check went smoothly. And then we were off to the next check which was at 35 miles. For a fifty miler used to vet checks anywhere from 10-15 miles regularly, this added distance was a challenge. It wasn't too bad this first part because we were loping along so easily and quickly, marvelling at nature, feeling good, full of energy yet. That 20 miles flew by fast.
The 35 mile vet check was terrible....too many horses, not enough vets and too many rude people who have no idea what waiting in a line means. Basically, the only way to be sure to get your CRI done 15 minutes before your out time was if you were willing to be a jerk and basically run over anyone in your way. We are not that kind of people. So we were out SEVERAL minutes late from this check as were several other riders. I guess in the whole scheme of things, it's not a big deal but as I realized later in the day, sometimes that extra ten minutes is the difference between dusk and BLACK night. I do not fault ride management as much as I do human nature and people caught up in the heat of the moment. I think a good portion of the 35 fifties entered and all of the 16 100 milers were clustered in this small campground with one pit toilet. But we were still "up" and feeling great and it was going to take more than a late start out of a check to get me down! Even Malik's C on guts didn't concern me as he had pooped AND peed and was still scarfing EVERYTHING he could get his mouth on!!
Our 3rd check was at 58 miles...23 miles from the last check. We had never ridden that far without a check before. The good thing was that this was all new trail for us. We had never ridden this portion before. It was beautiful...breathtaking views of lakes and mountains in the distance...ok, they aren't mountains to you guys out west, but to us flatlanders (or trolls as we are sometimes referred to...think about it), they are pretty big and just "pretty" anyway. With the occasional Vicodin to keep me comfortable, the knee wasn't that much of an issue though I was concerned I might be compensating in my riding trying to protect it. Sure enough, at 58 miles the vet noticed a "wobble" in Malik's right hind (it was my left knee bothering me). We talked about it, I explained about my knee which she felt explained the wobble and when we brought him back later in the check, she said it was fine then. She also noticed some "lumps" as she was examining his hindquarters and was quite surprised to find this mellow fellow was a stallion. They were all fussing over him as he stood there, almost falling asleep while he was examined. In fact, the vet rubbed his gums for him when she checked his cap refill and he stood there with his lips open as if wishing she would do it again. What a silly horse! He still had gut sounds of a C though he had been eating everything in sight including what green grass we found here and there along the trail. He stopped eating partway through at this check and we took a walk together. He needed to pee and then he was fine and went back to eating. His gut sounds improved. I thought at this check that he acted as if he'd like to roll but he didn't. He did look around a LOT as if looking for his camp and his pen....at this point, 58 miles was the longest he'd ever worked in his life. We saddled up, trotted out and were off with a whoop and a holler to go back the way we had come.
That 23 miles again felt like an eternity but the horses were still so strong, cantering up hills, trotting BIG trots. We continued to stop for grass and Malik was acting a little gassy from time to time but still trotting and cantering like a trooper. At this point, we had been running 9th and 10th for most of the ride. We had been averaging 9-10 miles an hour which we felt was efficient...not pushing but not lollygagging either. Nelson and Daniel were meeting us everywhere they could along the road. We had started to slow down before this next check and Nelson was getting annoyed about that...it was at this point that I left a pit stop and suddenly burst into tears. Not that he had been that mean to me but I think the day had taken its toll and I was entering into that "zone"....after a few tears and then a few bad words about men and some commiserating with Jenny, I was better and ready to get to that check for some more Glucerna (chocolate) and Gatorade (Lime Ice is my favorite). What a combination, huh?
The horses cantered into the 4th check and pulsed right down. I was sent to the truck to eat and drink and stay out of the way. Nelson returned with Malik, took off his tack and presented him with a nice slurry. Malik simply laid down and put his muzzle on the ground. THIS immediately had people scurrying...a horse is down! I wasn't immediately alarmed....Malik does enjoy his naps. But when you have someone telling you your horse is in big trouble and you need the vet NOW, it does tend to disturb you. Nelson was certain he was just being lazy and we should just get him up and continue on our way. I didn't want to pull but that was a distinct possibility. So, we agreed to consult the vets (mind you, he had just COME from the vets who had examined him and found him to be fine). We presented him again and asked for another once over plus a CRI. They could find nothing physically wrong with him except that he wanted to LAY DOWN and have a NAP!!!! SO DID I!! And so, we let him lay down for a snooze...the vets gathered, photos were taken, all who were present gathered to see this sight as if they had never seen a horse taking a NAP. I do believe the bugger even SNORED!!! I was so embarrassed. I will never live this down!! Jenny chose to continue on with her uncle crewing for her. Nelson stayed with me and the few things we could think of at first (though we thought of all HORSE things, not Maggie things). Friends and fellow distance riders, Jeanie Miller and Pam Rosendall (who manages the Hopkins Creek ride) generously offered to stay and crew for us if we continued on so Nelson could go fetch the "Maggie" things. (Thanks to those riders picking up their buckets who gave him a ride back to camp!) And continue on we did....I gave Malik about an hour or so for his nap. He started to wake up and though he was comfortable laying down was suddenly ravenous, eating all the grass he could reach plus what people were picking and hand feeding to him PLUS his rubber tub full of slurry and carrots and apples. Finally, I made him get up. And put the saddle on him. Jeanie held him for me and gave him a brief lecture about taking care of ME now. Malik gave me the dirtiest look I have ever seen a horse give their beloved owner...I was not beloved at that moment. I offered him a treat of dandelions (a favorite) and he couldn't spit them out fast enough!!! He was MAD at me. But we saddled up and continued down the trail....ONLY 22 more miles to go and we could complete though our top ten was blown by then.
Jeanie and Pam said they would meet me about 3 miles down the trail. That wasn't too far! :) Malik resigned himself to the fact that we were continuing on and picked up a slow and easy trot. He was stopping to poop a lot which I wasn't all that unhappy about...I would prefer he be able to poop and pee without a problem! But he insisted on stopping for EVERY poop...they were small but frequent. I knew there were two more riders yet behind me and wondered when they would catch me. They had gone slow throughout the ride but I thought they might push now to get in before dark. I figured even if I had to WALK that last 22 miles, I would still make it before 6 a.m. and I still had one more 30 minute check 12 miles from camp. The mile markers went by MADDENINGLY slow!!! Every time I thought for SURE this time I must be about 3 miles out, I had only gone another mile. About 45 minutes out, the last two riders blasted up on me. I had heard them talking and laughing behind me but didn't realize they were coming that fast. The girl in the lead hollered out that she was passing on the left AND she was on a STALLION. I hollered back that so was I and she said something like "Oh, shit" and passed anyway almost forcing me off the single track. Malik trotted steadily on and ignored their rudeness. The other girl hollered SHE was passing now (at least she slowed down a bit first) and that SHE was on a MARE. Yeah, so what? Anyway, a few hundred yards up the trail we came out on the road and there were our pit crews waiting for us. A lot of sense THAT all made! Fair warning to future blasters. Please do not TELL me you are going to pass. Please ASK. Let me get OFF the trail FIRST. I'm happy to let you by. And it isn't necessary to try and intimidate me with the "I'm riding a stallion" line (never did see any equipment on that horse!). I am a nice person but I am not going to let people endanger me or my horse and if it were any other horse besides Malik, it could have been a bad scene!
And so we were all off and Malik gallantly started cantering after them. They were not going to be caught and I finally asked him to trot again which he was quite thankful for. A steady trot will get us a lot farther when we are tired than a blistering gallop! He listened and so we continued mile upon maddening mile. We only had about 7 more miles to the vet check after that but I thought it felt like 70! Jeanie and Pam met us again, cheering us on and encouraging our weary minds and souls and refreshing our bodies with water. Malik always perks right up when he gets that drink and a slosh bottle splashed on his neck, even if he's not "hot". They met us one more time before the check and Nelson was there with them. He had made it back with some Maggie supplies. Like another Vicodin, a long sleeved shirt and more bug spray (did I mention the bugs are horrendous in the Upper Peninsula this time of year???). And GLOW STICKS. Though I still thought I could make it before it was too dark, I wanted to be prepared!
Malik started to canter. He alternated cantering and trotting the rest of the way into camp and when he heard Nelson and our friends hollering for us and cheering us on, he cantered on in. It was 10:09 p.m. Oh, how I wish it had not been too dark for a photo!!!! It was the most wonderful feeling in the world. I almost cried! Our friend and ride manager of the Little Manistee and Tin Cup Springs rides, Becke Grams took Malik for me so I could dismount...I am happy to report that I did not FALL off or get my foot stuck or anything else embarrassing like that. If it had been light out and everybody could have seen, I would have. But it was dark so my agility at this point went unnoticed! Jeanie hugged me, Nelson hugged me and I heard congratulations all around. I wanted to stay with my horse and started walking with Becke to the vet in area but finally gave up (that sand is awful to walk in when you're NOT tired!) and caught a ride in the truck with Nelson. Malik pulsed in at 58 and trotted out just fine for completion. (It wasn't easy with his FIFTH leg sticking out there!!! Go figure!!). We weren't top ten anymore so did not get any more of an evaluation than that. Fortunately, I know my horse and knew he was fine and just needed a rest but I hope if there are other riders out there who are not sure, that they will ask the vet for help if they need it. I was surprised that with all the concern surrounding Malik's nap that the vet wasn't more meticulous in her examination at the end. I am sure there are people out there who think I should have pulled and was crazy for continuing on. But I can say with confidence that I know my horse like I know no other. He is my soul mate. If I had thought for one second that he was in REAL trouble, I would have pulled without even consulting the vets! I had several people tell me later that either their horse or someone they knew had a horse who would take naps at vet checks when they were tired. So I am not alone. Maybe I should start a support group for us. It's really quite a sad state of affairs!!
Max whinnied happily when he saw Malik come back to camp and came over to nuzzle him over the fence. Malik laid back his ears and bit him on the neck. I do believe he was disgusted and mad at Max for leaving him out there! It was quite funny. They did later make up but not until Malik had a good roll and a nap. We blanketed both horses for the night. It was chilly out and still freezes at night up there. But they looked great and spent a relaxed quiet night next to each other. We woke up the next morning to the sound of Malik trumpeting his supremacy to the horses warming up for the 25 miler. He came off the trailer at home hollering his head off for his mares and telling them all he had WON the Grand Island 100 (he is a famous liar!) and was so busy bouncing around and misbehaving that I dispensed with his liniment rub and turned him out. He went bucking, kicking and rearing over to the mares' fence, prancing and doing all kinds of pirouettes.
We did take home a ribbon for 2nd heavyweight (UMECRA divisions) and even though there were only two heavyweights, I don't care!! We placed 12th in 12 hours and 39 minutes. Unfortunately the two girls who had blasted up on me after the 78 mile check got turned around at the spot that almost sent ME in the wrong direction. They came in from another direction, I guess. At least I wasn't LAST! :) In retrospect, I believe Malik tried to go right (the WRONG way) follwing the scent of those 2 horses. Definitely something to think about!!!
In spite of the pain and fatigue, the bugs and a few rude riders, we had a GREAT time. I had the wonderful opportunity to meet some Ridecampers (Margie Burton from Kansas was one!). Also met Joyce Mocilan...someone I have e-mailed with but never had the pleasure to meet. We actually rode part of the trail together. She was doing a demonstraton ride for the Pan Ams. She is a VERY NICE lady and the very best example of an experienced rider encouraging newbies and showing them a good time. I do believe she finished very strong in the top ten and I hope her demonstration ride was a resounding success! Also loved meeting the Mielke's, Bonnie and Bob. What neat people....we have the same viewpoints about taking care of our horses and how we feel about them. We all agreed that it is desirable and possible to compete in the big rides without having to hurt your horse. I LIKE these folks!!! Nelson spent a good deal of time snooping around everybody's trucks and trailers to see what ingenious things they come up with for making life easier at rides. He got some good ideas, too!!!