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