Monday, July 28, 2003

Riding with the Big Boys, First 50, Washoo July 26th - Crysta Turnage

It wasn't that long ago (Rides of March, 2003) that my horse, CT's Sinatra, and I completed our first LD ride. My mom (who had also done her first ride) and I remarked somewhere around mile 20 of the 30 mile trail that we could not IMAGINE doing 50 miles. We were especially worn out, and our horses were tired as well. We could hardly believe the riders coming in back to camp in the near dark, just finishing, as we had already taken a little break, had dinner, and received our awards. I guess it's amazing what a difference a few months can make.

This last Saturday, July 26th, my horse and I had the pleasure of completing our first 50 mile ride at the Washoo Ride held in Washoe Valley near Reno, NV. We were very sedate, back of the pack finishers, who completed with about 50 minutes to spare. My biggest thanks goes out to my riding partner for the day, a man named Ted from the Cool, CA area who has been doing endurance since 1978 and whos mare is now just a few miles short of her 3,000 mark. Our two horses worked together very well and it was a boost, for both Sinatra's spirits and mine, to have some company for our first real venture into the sport of endurance. =)

I haven't had Sinatra very long, just since early February of this year. I named him that because he definitely stands out in the crowd with his two blue eyes and overo paint job. He is a 5-year-old grade gelding with four white stockings and a great BIG blaze (almost a bald-face). He always causes a mild stir in camp and people usually ask his breeding, of which I have NO clue. He must be one of those horses that are pretty generic looking because I've heard a VERY wide range of guesses. =) We have done 4 rides this year prior to Washoo, all LD's, with a 2-day 50 as his last ride(s). He was ready to move up, but I was a little unsure of myself.

Last week was near record highs for the Reno area but the weatherman had been forecasting mid-90's for Saturday for the last week and it hadnt changed much. With that in mind I decided to brave the heat and make our first attempt at the longer distance. Friday I was able to leave work early and, with a slight delay in packing due to thundershowers, was at ridecamp (about an hour from my house) by 5 pm. Sinatra vetted in with all A's and proceeded to eat everything in camp. He is VERY good about eating at and during a ride, he thinks he ALWAYS going 100 miles the next day even though, at this point, 30 was his longest ride. I decided to forgo sleeping in the cab of the truck for the back of the horse trailer since it would be cooler and roomier. Note to self: NOT a good idea with a horse that eats, and eats, and eats all night long. I ended up removing his hay bag around 11:30, empty bucket by 1:00 and throwing a flake of hay on the ground, because I was tired of him jerking the trailer reaching for wayward strands of hay and weeds, sometime around 2:00 in the morning. So much for sleeping before a big day! I was very comfortable though, so maybe some earplugs would be a good investment for me. Sinatra ate about = bale of hay, drank about 10 gallons of water, and peed an entire lake to his credit. Good boy!

Ride morning dawned crisp and clear. It actually got pretty cool (low 60's overnight) for the first time in about two weeks so it felt GOOD out. I decided to wear my new tights that I made myself (gloat), a jog bra, and a long sleeved white shirt based upon recommendations received on Ridecamp. I also wore a Camelback (70 oz) with half Poweraid and half water for myself to drink (this worked GREAT, I just had to tighten the straps as it was emptied) and carried two large (32 oz) bottles of water to squirt Sinatra with. I knew staying wet and cool would be the name of the game today. The trail was opened at 7:00 am and I started in the middle of the pack. Sinatra usually does well in a crowd but today was the first time he thought about bucking with me. He wanted to trot out but we had some slower riders on narrow trail in front of us so I had to hold him back. He got a little more 'rounded' than usual but after a verbal warning on my behalf, cantered in place for a few strides and then preceded to behave himself except for a little occasional head tossing to let me know the pace was still not suiting his tastes.

The trail was laid out extremely well. Three loops of 25, 15, and 10 miles respectively that all returned to camp for the vet checks. The first loop had quite a bit of elevation changes, taking us up, up, up in the morning to the top of McClellan peak where the TV Stations have their towers. There were beautiful views along the way that looked both west down on Washoe Valley and the lake as well as views south over the town of Carson City. At the top near the towers ride management had put out some hay and several water troughs. Sinatra drank very well (he usually does) and then dove into the hay. I waited at the top for about 3 minutes or so for his heart rate to drop to 60 before we continued on.

From the top of the mountain we headed northeast down towards the town of Dayton. We didn't quite go that far (they do on the 100 mile Washoe ride held in May) but rather after reaching the bottom, turned and went northwest back towards Jumbo Grade which would link us into the valley. I rode most of this stretch with Connie Creech's little group and we got off and walked some of the long downhills. At one point, we crawled down a really rocky hill to some water troughs that were naturally fed at the bottom of a small canyon. Sinatra didnt drink here (it was only about 10 minutes since the last water where he drank really well) and I totally ripped my sponge bag on a stray piece of wire while sponging him off. I stuffed the destroyed bag into my cantle pack and the sponge was strapped into an empty water bottle holder on the same. At this point, we headed back up the really gross rocky hill and I let Sinatra really tail me for the first time. I have been working on tailing with him on flat roads so he's used to me being back there, but he still needs someone else in front of him as incentive to keep walking down the road. As our little group headed back up the hill, I grabbed onto his tail and off we went! A little more ambitiously than I had originally intended! I quick tug on his lead and he slowed down to a more sedate pace. =)

At the next water stop, a puddle with a really steep edge about 10 minutes from the last one, again Sinatra didn't want to drink. This kind of concerned me since he had now refused water twice in a row, and that was VERY unlike him. I have a feeling this one was more of a location refusal though, since he's still working on the whole 'puddle crossing' issue and he would have had to step in the water to get a drink at this stop (sigh). So I hung out there a little longer than most people and Connie's group moved off. It was at this point (maybe 15 miles in) that Ted came along. He waited for me while I tried to coerce Sinatra to drink and even let me borrow his scoop to see if he would drink out of that (he didn't). So we continued on, up another mountain and back down into a fun little twisty single-track trail at the bottom of a canyon. A group of three riders, one on a green horse, and one a green rider joined us, we took turns leading/following and our little group progressed very well. This trail lead us out to Jumbo Grade where there were water troughs waiting at the point where this loop intersected with the last 10 mile loop. Sinatra drank really well here and we elyted the horses. From this water stop, it was only about 5 miles or so back to camp. Once back in the park, we followed a fun little trail that twists and turns through the sagebrush. We would take this trail (2 miles or so total) all three times today as we looped back into camp. About = mile from camp, we got off and walked the horses in. We came in from our first 25 miles at 11:28 am and Sinatra pulsed right in at 42. Good Boy! =)

At this point, we had an hour hold so I went back to the trailer, pulled tack, and gave Sinatra his mash. He happily dove into his mash and slurped up every last bit. When he was done eating and I was about halfway through my tuna sandwich, we went over to vet through. Kevin Lazarchef was the head vet; he is a REALLY nice guy that I have gotten to know from attending several rides this year. He has a daughter just a few months younger than my son, who just turned one the weekend before. He always asks me how Taren (my son) is doing and knew that I was going for my first 50-mile completion. He checked Sinatra over, gave him a G for 'Gross' on those mashy mucous membranes (actually an A) and had me trot him out. As I came back from the trot out, he looked me dead in the eye and told me 'He's pretty lame, we're going to have to pull you.' I gasped and exclaimed that I had JUST trotted him to the vetcheck from the trailer and he had looked just fine! Kevin started laughing and said that he was just kidding, he looked great, A's for impulsion and gait and that we were cleared to go. BRAT! =) So we went back to the trailer for a little more lunch for both of us (Sinatra = eat, eat, eat) then tacked up, met up with Ted, and headed back out.

This loop (15 miles) took us west out of camp towards the beach. It was very pleasant riding along the waters edge with the breeze. We rode the entire length of the lake, maybe 5 miles, probably less (I'm a horrible judge of distances). Due to the sand, which could be fairly deep, we walked almost this entire stretch. From there we cut over to a dirt road for an 'out and back.' Sinatra had fun spooking and looking at the other horses and farm equipment that lived along the road. At the end of the road was a clipboard that you had to sign with your name and rider number. We both signed-in and then headed back out. Honestly, this was the only point in the trail where I wish there was some more water. Due to the low water level at the lake, we hadn't braved what looked to be some pretty boggy mud/sand to get a drink there. After we had returned from the 'out and back,' we were able to get the horses a drink at a water trough in a little parking lot. They both drank well and we soaked them down. I also soaked myself, which felt absolutely wonderful! From here, it was back into the park for a quick jaunt back to the twisty trail into camp. I think it was around 3:30 or so as we got back into camp, Sinatra pulsed in at 48 and again had all A's and B's at his vetcheck (well, actually another G for 'Gross' on those mucous membranes due to an apple and some carrots this time!). This was only a 15-minute hold, tack on, so it wasn't long before we were headed back out for our last 10 miles!

These next five miles or so were probably the hardest for Sinatra. At this point, I had already ridden further than I ever had before (40 miles) and he was a little disappointed to leave camp but just seemed to resign himself to the fact that I was going to ride him forever, I was never getting off, and we would just keep coming to camp and leaving again until he died. =) Once he realized this, he just kept moving down the trail, my slow but steady boy! He had actually lead a good bit of the day today since Ted's mare didn't like to be in front. That was pretty new for him, leading another horse, since usually when we ride with company he's in the middle or back. But he did good and just keep on going down the trail. This last 10-mile loop took us back out northeast towards Jumbo Grade, which we crossed, and into the smaller hills on the north side of the grade. Both horses (and riders) were pretty hot and tired. It started to cloud over (thundershowers on hot days are very common in Nevada) and that gave us some relief. It even sprinkled a tiny bit. My knees started to get very sore, something I used to have problems with but had gone away as I started riding more. So I got off and walked as much as possible but it felt like I had a huge blister on the bottom of my right foot (I don't so go figure). This last 10 would actually have been a really fun loop on some fresh horses, but for now we were just going down the trail nice and steady. About 8 miles from camp, Sinatra realized we were heading back and started to perk up. When the trail would turn away for the general direction of camp, he would LOOK towards camp and kind of wonder why we were going a different direction. Once we looped back to the water troughs where the first loop joined in, I had a whole new horse. Sinatra drank but was very eager to keep going, since he now knew exactly where he was (we had ridden this trail several times before the ride as well). My steady boy took a nice easy trot and carried us most of the way back. I did get off to walk a couple more times but for the most part stayed on and trotted. I was a little disappointed as we came upon the finish line. I had always envisioned myself cantering across the finish on my first 50 amidst some clapping from the volunteers (silly maybe). Instead we found that no one was there to great us and I didnt have the heart to make Sinatra canter. Some people directed us to the vetcheck where the 'new' finish line was. We got off and walked the couple hundred yards or so to the vetcheck and Sinatra was pulsed down (56) when we got there. It was about 6:10 pm so that was a total ride time of 11 hours and 10 minutes, 'trail' time of 9:55. He vetted out with all A's and B's again and we did it, we got our completion! Dr. Lazarchef congratulated me on a job well done and asked me if that was my first 50 since the baby. When I told him that was my first 50 EVER he was pretty impressed and re-expressed what a good job I had done. I was very proud of my boy! He has come a VERY long way in the five months I've owned him. The trust and bond we have built is amazing and he really looks to me for guidance and assurance. I went back to the trailer and pulled tack and gave Sinatra another mash and a bunch of hay to chew on. I didn't sponge him since it was getting cool but he wasn't sweaty except for under the saddle anyways. After a few rubs and pats I went to go see what was left of the ride dinner. It is kind of sad for those last few finishers, especially us newbies doing our first rides, when it is all over and done with by the time we get into camp. Dinner had already been served, awards presented, and most people were leaving camp on their way home. There was plenty of food left (hamburgers, etc) and we got our choice of colors on the finishing awards (bags from Rider Relief). I have YET to get a T-shirt in the five rides that I have done now. =) So I don't even KNOW who won, who top tenned, who got BC, who finished, who didn't, etc. I DID enjoy sitting and visiting with the people who were remaining, a well-rounded group of very experienced riders. And I learned that if you are a male, it pays to race to the top of the hill at our rides out west. We had a very cute female photographer at the top of the hill waiting for riders to come in. Since she was all alone and could see riders coming WELL before they got there she, umm, how do I put this, decided to 'sunbathe' so she wouldn't get any tan lines. =) And no, not even the front-runners were lucky enough to get a show! All and all I had a great ride and learned some valuable lessons. Am I hooked on 50's? Heck, I was hooked on 50's before I even did one! =) My 105 miles of LD I did so far this season was just to get ready for what I accomplished on Saturday. And really, these 50's are just in preparation for my final goal, 100's. I'm hoping to try my first one sometime late NEXT year.

Hope to see you on the trail!

Crysta & CT's Sinatra

Monday, July 21, 2003

Moonlight in Vermont - Patti Stedman

Our diabolical plans for the ride involved a 9 hour haul from WNY to VT with my steed, Ned, along with my friend Carla and her trusty mare, Miss Dee. We planned to spend a couple of days at my friend Suzy Fraser's new dressage facility, and some dressage lessons with Ned, who is a quasi dressage horse in addition to being a quasi endurance mount. [Ned is 9, ½ Arab and ½ Trakehner, originally intended to be my "real" dressage horse, but then we did one fifty, and he seemed suited to the sport, and well, you know how it goes. Dressage has taken a bit of a back seat, and some days we school 2nd level dressage, other days training level.]

After years of hauling with my husband with nary an incident of note, we were chugging along the NYS Thruway at noontime when a family of four passed us in the left lane, gesturing wildly and surely screaming, although all we could see were their wide open mouths and fingers pointing at the trailer.

Not good news, we figured.

Sure enough, a blown tire on the trailer, and a nice two hour wait alongside a 65 mph highway while AAA and the NYS Thruway Authority (which will not allow AAA service on their Thruway) argued over who miscommunicated to whom when the driver showed up with a tiny jack (luckily, we had one) and no tire iron sufficient to change the trailer tire. Ooops. Two hours spent there, including the time it took for the driver to return to his shop for a tire iron. Note to self: pack all necessary equipment to change tire oneself, THEN allow burly man to do it for you. Also note to self, explain to dispatcher in excruciating detail precisely what one needs, then make dispatcher read it back to you. Get dispatcher's name. Anyhow, both horses behaved like saints, and we headed off again, arriving in time to settle the horses in and watch Suzy school her third level Danish Warmblood before crashing for the night.

Over the next two days, we shopped and fussed over the horses, and I had two dressage lessons that reminded Ned once again that he does indeed have a left hind leg, and that no, collection is not just something that happens at Sunday Mass. He's a talented guy, but after an hour lesson I was flushed and wringing wet, and he had barely turned a hair. No wonder I love endurance, where at least we BOTH sweat.

Headed off to Rojek's Smoke Rise Farm on Friday morning, joining our friends Georgia O'Brien and Paul Calandra in camp. Met Susan Brehm, who was riding her first 100, and with whom I'd conversed on line, but had never met in person. It was so good to see familiar faces, new faces, swap stories, and enlist Paul to assist us in getting nearly level in a hilly pasture! Paul was planning to ride the 50, Georgia was going to crew (although she had packed her saddle and seemed to be wishing an evil injury on Paul so she could ride herself). We mapped out the holds and got unhooked to set up our crewing areas, since Carla and I were "flying solo."

Did I mention this was an ultramarathon as well? Two hundred seventy runners had entered to run the 100-mile course, so alongside the horse camp were camps for the runners, and all the vendors and volunteers there to support the runners were in camp, along with Running Bear Farm, NeighPerSay, and Animal Tacker. In short, it was a bit more "zooey" than the usual ride camp.

Speaking of zooey, Steve and Dinah Rojek have a pot bellied pig named Mr. T who roams the farm, interacting with the horses, and just generally being social. This made me raise my eyebrow a bit in concern - what would hyper-reactive Ned think of a pig in his paddock?

Registration and vetting went smoothly down in Rojek's indoor round pen/indoor arena. With all the vendors and spectators and runners and horses, it was a busy place. Art King vetted Ned in, and called another vet over to listen to Ned's heart. This had me a little worried until Art told me why. Ned's pulse was 24. As in 6 lub-dubs over 15 seconds. Leave it to Ned to be unflappable in the face of chaos, and yet have dumped me too many times to count for such remarkable sights in a forest as a rock or a tree stump.

My friend Carla's mare had the tiniest intermittent lameness behind, so we enlisted Michael Beesley (what a great guy!) to come over and check her out. Sure enough, just a bit of tightness in a hamstring, which he worked on (and promised to work on again at any of the holds if she needed it), and the Miss Dee was back in her usual perfect way.

The start for the 100-mile runners was set for 4 a.m., complete with live music and fireworks. Sounds like your average endurance ride, yes? So we were warned to set our alarms and keep an eye on the horses for that event. More fireworks at 4:30 a.m. or so to kick off the 100-mile riders heading out at 5 a.m.

Then we 50-milers could go back to bed for a nap before our 2 p.m. start time.

This whole "moonlight" thing was new to Ned and me. Carla and I had kept telling ourselves we'd do a night ride to get ready, but just never quite found the opportunity. We were armed with glowsticks, but it was odd setting up the vet checks for a ride where you were leaving at the hottest part of the day and planning on needing another clothing layer for the end of the ride. We kept having to remind ourselves and each other about that.

Given my concern for Ned's potential encounter with the pot-bellied Mr. T, I took him for a handwalk down to the pasture where the little (well, not so little) guy was mingling with three horses. Immediately, social guy that he is, Mr. T headed right over to say hello. Ned was enthralled. Neck arched, nostrils flared, he reached his neck over the two foot stone wall so he could almost touch the pig in the split rail pasture beyond the wall. Scared? No. He was in love. At one point Ned had his knee on the stone wall, with every intent it seemed, to crawl over to meet his romantic interest. When he rocked back with intentions to jump, that seemed like a good time to bid farewell to Mr. T.

Now I had a new worry. If Mr. T was anywhere near the starting line, we'd never get out of camp.

There was a huge buffet dinner with all the riders and runners, plenty of carbs, and of course, Ben & Jerry's for dessert.

Ride morning began with the alarm at 3:45 a.m. Sure enough, the fireworks began at 3:55 a.m. with lovely music (was it Chariots of Fire?) playing, and it was awe-inspiring to see those beautiful fireworks over the darkened VT sky, standing beside your regal horse and partner, knowing just how privileged we are to be able to participate in such a sport as we do.

It was an odd morning, catching a nap, then running to the various vet check areas, and waiting to tack up until 1 p.m.

Normally, Ned and I are back-of-the-pack starters, given Ned's proclivity for airs above ground particularly during his younger years, but Carla and I ended up in the middle of the pack for this start. Ned was pumped, but thankfully, mostly earthbound.

Ten miles to the Greenall's, where there was a 10-minute mandatory rest stop. This part of the trail was probably the most challenging, technically, with a few switchbacks, climbs, twists and turns and a rocky area or two. We stopped for a quick potty stop on trail, and realized Ned was in ground bees. A little kicking and stomping and we were out of them. Phew!

We pulled into Greenall's in a little over an hour, immediately soaked the horse's slurpies, and they dove in, and then spent all of the ten minutes just sponging them while they ate. Great idea, nice stop, not terribly hectic since there was no pulse taking (although I'm quite sure our horses were down to 64) or tack stripping, and Julie Bullock watched us trot out to check for soundness after the rest time was up. Good to go, and nine miles to the first "real" hold.

The weather was gorgeous. Probably approaching 80, bright blue skies, fluffy clouds. Carla and I oohed and aahed over gardens and the New England-charming houses and barns, and the lovely views up the mountains, and down into the valleys. For pure wish-I-could-sit-back-and-hang-at-this-scenic-outlook-forever standpoint, this ride has to be tops. The horses were traveling along at a nice clip, Miss Dee favoring the wooded, technical trails, Ned enjoying the dirt road country lanes where he could just get into big trot mode, and go. With the occasional spook thrown in for kicks.

The trail into the vet check at Rhodes' took you through the back of their property, wooded, with a screened gazebo, and beautiful yellow barns and outbuildings and a house over a gorgeous stone barn. Breathtakingly beautiful, and so exquisitely maintained that I just couldn't believe we had a vet check on their manicured green front lawn (complete with that most lovely sight of all, the portapottie).

Miss Dee came down to parameters immediately. Ned hung for a few more minutes - he may have a low resting pulse, but he's also a big bodied ½ Trakehner. And as Mary Coleman would say, it wasn't Morgan (or warmblood) Riding Weather yet.

Julie vetted Ned through with all As, and seemed to take a liking to the big lug, despite the fact that on the trot back, he did the Arab head whirl and then managed to trip over his own legs. "Serves him right for showing off!" she said. Back to our crewing area, where both horses made quick work of their slurpies and hay, and were munching on grass as our 45 minute hold came to an end.

Off down the road for what was probably the "fastest" section of trail. Fourteen miles, methinks it was, of nearly all dirt road to the next vet check. This just hummed along. Ned was in power trot mode, allowing Miss Dee to come up front to take him past exceptionally frightening things like mailboxes. Another great part of this ride was that just about every horse place along trail had water tanks out for us. So there were lots of opportunities to stop and get your horse a drink despite the fact that there wasn't a lot of easy-to-get-to water on trail.

After one of these stops, I managed to sneak electrolytes into Ned via syringe, since it was a longer loop and probably the warmest and sunniest part of the trail. I do PnWs in feed at vet checks, but this was a bit of Enduramax, ProBis and ProCMC. I had the advantage of the element of surprise, snuck it into the corner of his lips while mounted, pushed the plunger, and voila, the deed was done.

Into the next hold, where once again, it took a bit of time for Ned to pulse down. He looked like he wanted to pee, but didn't, but all of his vet parameters were As and he ate in his usual don't-raise-the-head way. Short hold, 30 minutes, and we were occupied by getting our glow sticks attached and glowing. Michael worked on Miss Dee's hamstring a bit again, and offered to take our crewing stuff back to camp in his car. Did I mention he was a great guy?

It was almost dusk as we headed back out on trail. The wooded trails were quite dim, but the roads were still fairly bright. We made time where we could, knowing we'd end up slowing down in the pitch dark. Here we began to pass runners more frequently, awe-inspired by THEIR endurance and mental toughness. Some were walking, some were jogging and chuckling with a run partner, many were limping. All at least raised a hand when we greeted them. One gave the international hitch-hiking signal. I offered him Ned's behind but said I couldn't promise just how long he'd last. One duo agreed to race us back to camp for a beer. At this point they were over 75 miles, I believe. Incredible.

By now, the glow sticks were actually glowing, and beginning to be the real visual marker of where to head next. We got a bit confused by some "Xs" on trail that were for earlier trail, but right on our trail back; we reminded ourselves to simply follow the glow sticks and were fine from then on. It was interesting that the horses seemed to see just fine - the best evidence of that was that Ned spooked in darkness at all the same silly things that he would spook at during the day.

We caught up with Ellen Tully and rode together for a bit. Even found a nice grassy area where the horses (and ahem, some of the riders) could have a pee. Was relieved when Ned stretched out and peed for approximately three weeks.

Ned seemed to look forward to catching up to the runners, and I swear HE was looking for the next glow stick at this point. Carla was feeling a tiny bit seasick from the glowsticks and riding in the darkness. We both ate a few more bites from a PowerBar, realizing we hadn't done so well in the eating department ourselves, and with a few Vitamin I tabs (aka ibuprofen) we both perked up. Still the horses were trotting right along the roads.

Into the last vet check, four miles from camp, in pitch darkness. This was a busy, congested check, with lots of crew vehicles in a small place. We found our bucket, sponged but not too much (there was a definite drop in temperatures in the air, and we didn't want to risk getting the horses chilled) then off to vet through. Didn't have to strip tack here, thank goodness, or I might have tacked up with my saddle backwards because it was so dark, and it was a quick 15-minute hold. I got a laugh out of the deep footing in the lit outdoor arena. Ned bounced right off it, but I floundered in the deep stuff, so the trot back was less than pretty with me trying to keep up.

Four miles back to camp and it was just Carla and me, our glowsticks, the trail and our ponies. We rode glowstick to glowstick in the woods, with me in the front on my not-historically-trustworthy Ned, reins at the buckle, trying to sit incredibly still in the middle of the saddle so he would simply follow the trail. I couldn't see a thing except the next glowstick and I found myself laughing more than once at the silliness of it all. More than once, I'd lift a finger, or find myself unconsciously steering with my legs to the next little glowing green light, and then we'd inevitably hear crash, crunch, and the sound of breaking twigs as Ned obediently steered right off trail. Sometimes it was easier to just close my eyes and stay in the middle of the saddle.

At one point we tried some trotting, with me in two point, hands holding mane, reins still on the buckle, having no idea of the terrain until I felt Ned negotiate the dips and twists. I got out of balance more than once, and he'd come to a walk to "catch" me. Good boy. We walked nearly all of that four miles, laughing and giggling, and knowing everything was going to be just fine.

The last section of trail was marked by glowing jugs on both sides of the trail, a lovely evening corridor to the finish line, where we were greeted by thunderous applause, although we certainly didn't Top Ten, or even close. Vetted through with Nina Barnett laughing and saying we looked too good to have ridden 100 miles (no truer fact was ever spoken, we'd only gone 50). Both horses looked great, trotted sound, then lead us through the darkness back up the hill to camp. Final ride time 7:40, 29th and 30th I think (there had been 55 starters). It was approaching midnight.

Fussed over the horses, drank water, ate a sandwich offered by Georgia. Paul had finished 23rd, with his Morgan wanting to go faster the whole way. That must have been some fun four miles in the dark woods!

Awoke to feed the horses, begin packing, and head off to GMHA to see my friend Suzy's winning third level dressage test ride. It was positively lovely.

But watching so many tight lips, and black coats, and the incredibly precise riding, I couldn't help but be proud of my slightly stiff knees and my weary glute muscles and the fact that I'd ridden all around and above and below that facility while those horses were tucked quietly in their stalls and those riders were sipping Chardonnay out of crystal.

There was a huge brunch of BBQ back at Smoke Rise Farm at 10:30 a.m. and it was great waiting in line and visiting with the runners, including one who had just finished at 7 a.m. and the one who had won the run. Incredibly inspiring. One woman, stiff legged, who had finished at about 4 a.m. said she'd decided she would perhaps NOT mow the lawn tomorrow. Ate with one of the ride vets, and we spoke of many things, including the runners, and the impressive cavalry endurance riders, and of the on-the-edge things our wonderful horses are willing to do for us.

My Ned arrived home last night about midnight after a nearly 11-hour haul, screamed for his buddies, galloped once around the paddock with two clean flying lead changes, then passaged along the fenceline until he seemed to suddenly remember that there was indeed an open gate to the large pasture where his friends called back to him. Then he galloped down hill in perfect balance, perfectly sound, fit as a fiddle to join his friends.

Ah, heaven.

This morning his legs are cold and tight, and other than that big ol' red 37 on his behind, he looks like a mighty fine dressage horse!

Thank you so much to everyone who made the Vermont rides possible.

--Patti Stedman (NY)

Thursday, July 17, 2003

An Outlaw Rides the Big Horn Trail - Tom Noll

One Hundred Miles is the signature distance of endurance riding and to me there is magic in the 100 mile distance that is different from any other ride.

Frank (my horse) and I are relative newcomers to endurance riding. Frank is an unregistered Arabian horse from Basin Wyoming. There are rumors about Frank's heritage, but Frank's past remains unknown. Kathy and Bud Arnold acquired him from friends and sold him to me when I needed a solid and honest horse to teach me about riding and endurance. I have trained Frank based on the knowledge of others and the experience that I gained from endurance running. Frank and I have trained on the same trails. Frank has taught me about horses and riding and I certainly doubt that I'll ever be able to give Frank enough in return.

Frank and I live in SW Idaho and earlier in the year I was honored when asked to join a local PNER endurance team called the "Outlaws." Frank is an outlaw horse. Butch Cassidy reportedly placed caches of especially strong horses with sympathizers and personal friends throughout the mountain west to be used for his escapes. Today we ride the decedents of those outlaw horses.

Riding the Big Horn 100 is an adventure in addition to being a 100-mile endurance ride. The Big Horn 100 travels true wilderness trails. The ride starts and finishes at the Trapper Creek Ranch outside of Shell Wyoming at 4500 feet. The ride climbs to a high point of nearly 10,000 feet and much of the ride is above 8000 feet. Very little of the course can be considered level and there are many climbs in and out of canyons. There are some gravel roads, many single-track and double-track trails, as well as some sections where there is no trail at all. The footing is rocky and the primary water sources along the trail are the natural creeks and steams.

This year the ride went clockwise around the loop and there were four vet checks at approximately 25, 38, 50 and 75 miles. Even though there are only four vet checks, I understand that in the whole history of the Big Horn 100, only one horse has been treated - and that was a long time ago. However, riders must be aware of the challenging trails, the difficult access, the long distances between the vet checks, and ride their horses responsibly. The Big Horn 100 is a very significant undertaking and I did not want to underestimate the terrain or the ride. People will debate the relative difficulty of various rides, but when the discussion turns to the most difficult 100s, the Big Horn 100 is always on the list. A crew is recommended for the Big Horn 100 and my brother Willi and his wife Alice drove up from Greeley Colorado and along with my wife Leslie, the three of them were a very capable crew.

Just like the words in the cowboy song, "I'm up in the morning before daylight, and before I sleep the moon shines bright." I got up early to saddle my horse and ride to the start. At 4:00 in the morning Tom Van Gelder spoke those unforgettable few words "The trail is open for competition." Cindy Collins led us on a nice controlled start. I was riding with the other 100-mile riders looking around at the stars, the badlands, and the cliffs thinking to myself, "This is really cool, I am so lucky." I was privileged to be riding with some rough riders and tough horses on some of the best trails in the mountain west. Soon Cindy released us and we were off and running through the shale badlands. Early on I linked up with Terry Dye and we rode together for the entire ride.

On our way to the first vet check, we passed farms, ranches, and camps as we began our climb out of the badlands from a low point of around 4000 feet on Shell Creek. We came into the first vet check about 20 minutes ahead of the next riders and pulsed down for our 45-minute hold.

Between the first and second vet checks the trail leaves the badlands to climb to the Big Horn plateau at over 9,000 feet. In portions, the trail is nonexistent and you just work your way up to a ridge or saddle through the forest underbrush. Later I heard that Regina, Linda and some of the other riders saw a bull moose on this section of trail. The section between the first vet check at Hudson Falls and the second vet check at Horse Creek is where some of the other riders met difficulties. Terry and I were alone for the entire ride and we were unaware of the troubles facing some of the others except for the short reports that we heard at the vet checks. The trail climbs and descends steeply in and out of several canyons on the way to the Horse Creek vet check. The Horse Creek vet check is on top of the Big Horn plateau and the snowfields and wildflowers were spectacular - especially the tiny blue alpine forget-me-nots.

After 45 minutes at Horse Creek, Terry and I were off to the Antelope Butte vet check at 50 miles. Again, this section is up and down. I don't know the total elevation gain of the ride but I am sure it is significant. During one section the trail was unmarked with only a sign reading "Big Horn 100 Riders - Head for the Peaks" and those peaks looked very far away. Little did I know that much later in the day we would actually be riding by those peaks. We descended off of the Big Horn plateau to the base of the Antelope Butte Ski Area for the 50-mile check and a one-hour hold.

After Antelope Butte it is a long 25 miles to the Jack Creek vet check. We were now in the hottest part of the day and we slowed our horses accordingly. Again the trail climbs to the Big Horn plateau, descends to the Shell Creek Ranger Station, and then climbs the Adelaide Trail to the plateau again. The Adelaide trail is very rocky and part of the trail is in the Big Horn wilderness. At one point in the wilderness a low overhanging log has fallen across the trail. Frank is a small horse at under 15 hands and we were barely able to squeeze under the log. Terry leaned sideways in the saddle as his horse Glory passed under the log. I heard later that Regina Rose had to unsaddle her Percheron-Arab horse Gypsy to get under the log. At Adelaide Lake we picked up two ranch horses that followed us along the trail. Our "herd" of four passed through the meadows and creeks until we cut off the two ranch horses at a fence gate. There are fences on the Big Horn 100 and Terry and I opened and closed many gates over the 100 miles of trail. Before our descent to Jack Creek we reached the high point of the route at nearly 10,000 feet. We were in the Big Horn Mountains and we could see other mountains and basins of Wyoming and Montana to the west and northwest.

Jack Creek at 75 miles was the last vet check. I loped Frank along the road and then got off and walked into the vet check for the final 45-minute hold. At Jack Creek I ate two excellent hamburgers while talking with the others about various 100s. I mentioned that in the 100-mile runs I was never able to get to 75 miles while there was still daylight so this was a first, but there were still mountain trails and slickrock ledges to cross before we reached the finish.

Terry and his horse Glory, Frank and myself left Jack Creek for the final 25 miles of trail. Our horses had worked together all day with each one of us helping the others during the low times. Terry and I had the talk that any two riders would have when they've ridden and shared the trails for 80 miles of a 100-mile ride and we made our agreement.

This last stretch of the trail was magical. The sun set in the west as a golden rider's moon rose in the east. Coyotes called to each other in the twilight as we rode along. Later that night the moon was so bright that in many sections I could see the silhouette of two riders on two horses making their way down the trail. The image was the same as it has been for hundreds of years on countless trails. At times we cantered through the darkness listening to the three-beat rhythm of the feet, always trusting our horses to carry us steadily and safely as they had faithfully done for nearly 100 miles. Around midnight we reached the finish line where Tom Van Gelder had spoken those unforgettable few words so many hours earlier. We finished together just as we had ridden together for the last 100 miles.

Best Regards,

Tom Noll
SW Idaho

Monday, July 07, 2003

Wild Wild West 3-Day - Nick Warhol

The Wild West Ride- Three day Multi-day, May 2003

Nick Warhol

It has been a wet and muddy Winter and spring here in the Bay Area, where I usually get to brag about how good our riding weather is. Unfortunately the regional park people don’t like the rain, and when it rains, the rides get canceled. Not to mention that I have been spending too much time at work lately, but ride we must! After too much waiting, I finally got a chance to do a ride for the first time in a couple of months. Over Memorial day weekend Judy and I attended the Wild West 3 day ride held at the Skillman campground, located on highway 20 about 15 miles from Nevada City, up at about 4500 feet, a nice elevation for mountain riding. Melissa and Robert Ribley have been putting on this gem for about 5 years now, I think, but it used to be over the Labor Day weekend. That used to make it pretty dusty, but by moving it to May it made the conditions just about perfect. The days were sunny, the weather was a little hot on the first two days, but cooled down considerably on the third. The single track trails were glorious, except for a few boggy spots here and there that were kind of gooey. The dirt roads were mostly okay, (If you like riding on roads), some were a little rocky, some were a little hard, and some were just right. Rocky is an overstatement- even the worst of these roads were all pretty nice when you compare them to rides like Virginia City, Las Vegas, and Death Valley.

What a great way to spend 3 days- up in the mountains riding your horse a whole bunch. And speaking of mountains, there is something I have to know. What is it with these stupid little mountain flies? The little white ones that just have to buzz your face and head, all the time? Sure- I know that’s where they live and all, and I guess they have a right to life, but how come there are only six of them buzzing you at any given moment? It seems no matter where you are, there are only six that are constantly buzzing excitedly around your and your horse’s head, making every effort to land in your ear. Does the fly union assign six flies to every rider, and then those same individuals just follow you and the horse around all day, or are there teams of six flies stationed every hundred feet on the trail, and they pass you off to the next group of six as you make your way down the trail? With all those flies, don’t you think there would be a hundred around you at once, or none? Always six! It’s like they have rules. But when you ride over a pile of manure on the trail, there are a thousand of those bigger green and blue flies on every little pile of poop that sound like a nest of hornets when you ride over them and disturb their lunch. Go figure!

So much for the philosophy of the insect world, what about the ride? I would attempt to ride the semi-sort-of-retired wonder Appaloosa Warpaint on all three days. I say semi-retired because he is nineteen years old now, and we are trying to keep him going a little slower on the easier rides. He doesn’t need to try Tevis any more. But try and tell him he should be going slower. Yeah, he still pulls, and is still trying to run down and pass every horse in the ride. I don’t care, I love riding him. Judy’s plan was to ride the first day on Wabi, and the third if he looked okay. The weather on Thursday night was a little weird- it was so warm we had all the windows in the camper open. In the mountains! Two weeks before the ride the camp was covered in snow. Friday morning was indeed warm- most people rode out in tee shirts, and those who didn’t wished that they had. About 78 people started the first day, a 2 loop affair that had lunch back in camp after 20 miles. Judy and Wabi took off with the rear of the pack, but I started out even later to avoid the mad rush my horse would bring, and quickly hooked up with my friend Jane Could, who was riding her superb horse Ezer. (I have no idea how to spell that. It sounds like eezur) It was his first ride back after a long recovery period, she was taking it easy at the back of the pack. He wanted to go much faster as well.

We rode along on the yellow loop and chatted a bit, but I went on ahead after the two competitive boys wanted to compete with each other. We trotted down a mountain road for only a few minutes when we came across a bunch of horses, all in a line, waiting to go somewhere. Uh-oh. It seems there was this uphill that Robert had described as “Don’t stop, and you better have a breast collar.” He was right! It was a very narrow, single track trail that went straight up for a hundred yards or so. It was really steep, but had pretty good footing due to the moist soil. There was absolutely nowhere to go but up, and of course that’s what happened to a horse ahead- a third of the way up the rider lost his balance and the horse bolted off the trail, right into the forest of manzanita and pine. Ouch! It took him a while to get going again, so we all just waited in a traffic jam at the bottom. Once it was my turn, Warpaint quickly dispatched with the hill like it was an elevated speed bump. A neat single track trail at the top led us to a water stop, where I ran into Judy and Wabi. We rode off together down the road with Wabi following his spotted barn mate. This first loop was mostly roads with a little single track thrown in. I wanted more single track! We wound around the forests and back to the lunch check at base camp for an hour hold. It was getting pretty warm, and it was only 10:45am. The horses both looked very good; we had our lunch and started out on the pink loop that headed up higher into the mountains. This loop is so cool- the first few miles are all just wonderful single track trail. Not too steep, just right for trotting along. Warpaint led the way, he’s so willing, always going forward; I just love that. Wabi and Judy tagged along behind. We hit the water stop and took a break for a while, since it was pretty hot, then took off for the road loop that would bring us back to the water. We were warned to watch out for the rattlesnakes. (GASP) What we found was snow- big banks of it crossing the road. Of course Warpaint is an old hand with snow- he’s been in it up to his ears a few times, so he just motored through the snow drifts without blinking an eye. Wabi, however, had never in his life seen this white stuff. He was a little apprehensive the first time he tried to cross the snow, but he walked across it with his nose pressed to the surface. For some strange reason, known only to Wabi, he avoided the section where the other horses had walked across it. He went for the deep, untracked stuff, where he deftly sunk in up to his knees, just like in a Warren Miller flick. What a goof! Judy piloted him from the deep back to the trail- he crossed the rest of the snow without incident, but unlike Warpaint, Wabi didn’t really like to trot through it.

A short walk on a slightly rocky road led to the short downhill that Robert calls the “Snowy River Downhill.” It’s a very steep, but soft, short decent that you could canter down like the guy in the movie, I guess, with your feet out in front and your head touching the horses butt, with one hand clinging onto the saddle horn, but me? I’ll lead the old guy down it, thanks. The bottom of the hill provides a great view of the valley; but after the hill it is just a few miles on roads back to the water. From the water we headed down a nice, long soft road that used to be some kind of wilderness route, but now it is just the road to the vet check. In we go, out we go. That simple. We scooted the last 4 miles or so to the finish, where we ended up in 24th and 25th, I think, at about 3:30. The finish line had a bonus- they handed me an ice cold bottle of beer! Oh yeah, that’s a finish line worth remembering! Back in camp for the post ride vet check, both horses looked very good. And the best thing yet- I get to ride again tomorrow! The ride had a pot-luck dinner, but we made our own in the camper (big mistake!), cleaned up and got ready for Saturday. Judy wasn’t going to ride, but I was! We got hats for completion awards.

Saturday morning didn’t come quickly enough for me; I saddled up while Judy slept in. Wabi looked at us walk away, but another hay bag was all he needed to keep him happy. Day two started out down the same dirt road, but unfortunately we had to stay on the roads for a long time. I rode along with Mike Bernsten and Rick Gomez for a while, Mike was riding his wife’s horse with the blue eye. We commented on how cool it was that these wife’s let us hubby’s ride their horses. The forest roads led to a serious jeep road downhill that was pretty torn up, it dumped us out into a nice creek where the horses took a drink. I stepped into the creek while giving the appy his salts, now my foot was wet. Only one. Walk, squish. Walk, squish. I would be out of balance on the horse until the water all drained out of my trail runner. Warpaint didn’t mind.

A long, slow climb led us through lots of houses that would have a heck of a time with this road in the winter. You could see fossilized mud puddles that had to have been pretty drastic when wet. I could just see the stuck cars buried up to their axles. The prehistoric mud road led us all the way to this huge reservoir where people were waterskiing already. A quick water stop and then the slick road. We had to lead up a hill along side a paved road that was by far the most slippery thing I have ever set hoof on. It was fine for my rubber shoes, but put a horseshoe on that and it looked like an Olympic ice rink, only on a steep hill. If a horse took a bad step on the pavement on the top of that hill, it would probably ski down a quarter of a mile before stopping! Once past the slick road we started up a serious climb on a single track trail called Anderson hill or something. Anderson is a madman! How could he have found this trail on a horse? What a cool climb. It was steep, somewhat aggressive, but really neat. Up a thousand feet or so to water stop, and then nice trotting through the trees along side the highway. It took me 5 minutes to cross the stupid road for all the cars, there ware 10 horses all bunched up when we finally got to go. Perfect, just what Warpaint needs. Now it is race time along the other side of the road all the way back down to the vet check. The mighty App breezed through the check, and after and the short hold, we were back on our way, all by ourselves in the forest. I had not ridden this day before, I had heard this loop was kind of strange. It was really nice, lots of single track! I caught and passed Rebecca and her gang, silently hoping she might feed me dinner later. (These are the guys who eat better at rides than most people do in restaurants) We came to a mile or more of hard gravel downhill roads, so I hopped off and just walked for a half hour or so. It was nice- just walking along in the shade, all alone in the woods with the War Pony. You get to listen to the forest sounds and not think about work. This is good for the soul. More roads led through meadows and forests, really pretty. We stopped and I let him graze in a lush meadow for 15 minutes or so, we never even saw another horse. We eventually got back to the vet check along the highway for our hour hold, I sat in the grass eating while he chowed down his goodies. It’s such a good feeling sitting in a check with a happy, healthy horse. You talk to your friends, you eat your lunch, you wish the hour would end so you can get going again!

The next 4 miles or so are one of the ride’s highlights. Amazing single track winds through the forest, right along the highway, but you have to slow down to cross about 20 driveways along the way. This is the kind of trail Warpaint lives for- he just motors through the trees. He doesn’t need another horse, he just boogies on his own. Away from camp, towards camp, up hills, down hills, whatever. The highway crossing came way too early, now it was just another few miles of single-track back to camp, including a long, slow climb up to the ridge. We made it in around 3pm or so for another splendid ride. Wabi was happy to see Warpaint, but once we gave Wabi some hay, he shuts right up. He knows his priorities!

We attended the Saturday night pot-luck, it was superb! There was a ton of food, and my salad was demolished. I snagged a big hunk of fresh BBQ Salmon, okay, so I had a bigger hunk than I should have. It was good! Today I got an embroidered pillowcase for my finisher award. That’s a new one, and quite creative. Warpaint looked just fine after his second day, and since Wabi looked great, day three was next!

We woke up and headed out at 7 am again, a very civilized starting time, don’t you think? Judy and I were at the back of the pack, intending to just ride through slowly and get a completion. We hooked up with a few horses after the start, which today heads right down the single track trail from camp. About 3 miles from camp we came to a clearing with not many trail markings, we didn’t see the ribbon to the right, since we were looking at the photographer down on the road in front of us who was on the trail. We rode towards him, he directed us to go that way, to our left! We did, and in retrospect, might have noticed that the turn ribbons were on the left. Down the trail we went, and in about a mile started up that big climb again. We walked up the long hill, a couple of people passed us, but that seemed normal. Then when we are about half way to the top, the leaders come blitzing up behind us. Uh oh. They are confused, we are confused. We get off the trail and let them go on their way, we turn around and head back down. That durn photo-guy sent us on the trail, but the wrong part. We missed a loop of about 3-4 miles. Okay, back down, we did the loop, turning around several people who had done the same thing we did. We did not get lost, we just went on the trail too soon. What the heck- we only lost 40 minutes or so, and got to ride some extra miles! At the top of the hill (the second time!) people were trying to get it sorted out. Two women rode the entire top loop and got passed by the leaders, they were confused as well. They were cool- they just rode back down that big hill and did what we did. Adapt and overcome, I always say.

Once we got back on trail the ride got really fun. Single track, single track, and more single track. Oh Boy! These are some of the best trails anywhere, and they were loamy soft with no dust or mud. There are parts where if you trust and can steer your horse, you bend in and around trees that would take your knees off if you were not careful. Very fun! We were whooping it up through there. We did encounter a few dirt bikes, out in the unbelievable conditions, but they were all very good and shut down or turned around when they saw us. The vet check and lunch came too quickly- those trails are too much fun. We were going pretty slow, and doing the extra miles got us out of the lunch check around 1:00. Now we got to do the cool pink loop again, the one we did on day one. We trotted most of the 8 miles or so to the water- the weather was nice and cool today. We let the boys eat for a while at the stop, while we got the rattlesnake warnings! Okay, yes, we will be ever-vigilant. The snow was just about gone, it is amazing how fast it melts. Two days earlier there was a couple of feet of the stuff on the road in spots, now it was just about history. But those roads were prime! A last trip down the steep hill, where Judy rode Wabi down, (Wabi from Snowy River? I don’t think so!), brought us back to the roads and the water stop, from here it is a nice downhill jog to the vet check. Judy was watching Wabi, he seemed to be a little leg weary, but he was fine for the vets. It is only a few miles from there to the finish, which we crossed for the last time around 4:30 pm or so. The horses vetted out fine, with Warpaint looking very good. Hooray! More pillowcases as awards, now we have three. (one is a spare?) Sunday night’s dinner was catered, it was good, but not as good as that pot-luck!

Who won? Michelle Roush! First day- first place and best condition. Second day- first place and best condition. Third day- second place and best condition. On the same horse, Do-So-La. Zounds! Not too bad. Overall BC? Ya think? I hope Melissa and Robert can keep this ride on this weekend going forward- it is a superb ride that is loads of fun. Us folks that did all three days on the same horse will get a custom monogrammed sweatshirt to boot. This ride is a perfect way to try a multiday, especially if you like riding in the forest. On single track trail. Through the trees. Perfect!

Nick Warhol
Hayward, Ca.