I'm sure there are those of you out there who think that all we have in NM is high desert, rocks and scorpions. Not true. We also have Tall Pines. This was one of the most beautiful and difficult rides I've done so far and that includes both Castle Rock and the Eastern High Sierra Classic.
This was one of the best marked trails I've ever seen. While there are a few key turns you don't want to miss (unless you'd rather ride into town and have a beer), they were all extremely well marked and easy to follow.
Camp is located in the Gila National Forest amoung many Tall Pines, which are great for your high line. I was very spoiled as my usually allergic and non-crew hubby joined us for this ride. Crew! I'm spoiled! Our cattle dog Jasper rounded out the entire family outing.
We loaded up and headed out only 1/2 hour late on Saturday morning. The ride was on Sunday so we had all day to make the 300 mile trip to ridecamp. I am without a trailer right now, but my neighbor Jack kindly loaned us his 1981 steel Circle J 20ft gooseneck stock trailer. This is quite a bit of trailer for one horse, two people and a dog, but we were camping in it. After my old 10 ft slant load 2 horse bp it was like bringing along a whole condo!
We stopped at our favorite rest area down by Socorro, which is about 2 hours south to offer water and take a break. We met up with a Japanese gentleman who couldn't believe the size of our rig. He and his Japanese / American friend fed Blue carrots and took pictures so he could prove that he had actually bagged a large american rig. I didn't have the heart (or the translation) to try to explain to him that our rig was by far not the largest or fanciest out there. :)
Not wanting to risk 152, a twisty road between Truth or Consequences and Silver City, we continued south on I25 and then cut west through Hatch. Hatch is a small community along the Rio Grande which is famous for their chili growing fields. Hatch are the best chilis to be found. Labor Day weekend is the Hatch Chili Festival Weekend and we did get caught in a bit of traffic trying to get through. That was OK though since we stopped and picked up a bushel of fresh chili on the way home.
From Hatch we continued west towards Deming where we would pick up 180 and head north into Silver City. The miles flew by and, with one more rest area stop / water break, we were heading through the old mining towns Hurley, Bayard and Silver City. At one we stopped to top off the diesel and bag 2 blocks of ice for the weekend. Our last leg of the trip found us skirting Silver City and heading up 15 into the Gila National forest. One of the first road signs we saw said "Not recommended for trailers over 20 ft." Knowing that Randy Eiland and his 4 horse LQ Sundowner were surely ahead of us I didn't worry very much, even though the center line disappeared about the same point.
We wound our way up through the forest, letting cars pass where I could pull over, and shortly started to see pink ribbons here and there. Sure enough camp was just ahead, up and down a dirt / rock road. Rigs were parked here and there, especially since we arived fairly late, at around 4:30-ish or 5pm. Ride management kindly helped us back into our spot which was very close to the main vetting area. There were many round stock tanks full of water, more than enough for the number of 55 and 25 mile riders.
The vets were excellent! They were having fun, enjoying the ride and the horses. Everything was explained in detail and the riders warned about the 2500ft Signal Peak climb. Tailing up was suggested by many. We are still fairly new to NM and so met many new faces and horses.
We left camp at 6:30 am at the back of the initial pack of aproximately 20 riders. A few people stayed in camp for a couple minutes, but not many. I can't believe only about 26 55 mile riders showed up to this fabulous ride!
The trail starts along the dirt road into camp, but quickly turns onto a single track weaving between trees and along a bank. We then crossed the main road through the Gila (not an issue, there just aren't that many cars in NM, even on Labor Day Weekend) and rode along between the trees (Tall Pines) and wild flowers.
Blue REALLY liked this ride. He was in green grass heaven with several different varieties to choose from. He pulled on me a bit at first, but we let the faster riders go and he settled back into our own pace. This was good because while the trail appears to be mostly flat, the hills and elevation climbs are there. We went faster on good flat trails, but let the pack go on the uphills. I figured we had a day ahead of us since this would be the furthest we've ridden and we'd all been warned of the Signal Peak climb after the second hold. Besides, while I am able to do hill work and climbs of up to 400 ft by riding off my property, we had not been able to trailer to the mountains to train since the end of May. I knew we could do the trail, but I also knew that we would need to conserve to get us both home in good shape.
We found the first water tank and I took the opportunity to start electrolyting Blue. It was cool, but a bit humid from the monsoon squalls from the last few days. At the tank we were joined by Maribel Paulson and her beautiful bay Arabian Echo. We left the tank together and rode to the trot by and then into the first vetcheck together. The trail wound up and then along the side of the mountains with spectacular views of forest, wildernes and red cliffs. So far the day was still cool, but riding we were much too warm for our morning jackets, which we dropped at the trot by.
From along the mountain trail we decended into a stunning canyon along a stream that is usually flowing, but was dry this year due to NM's extended drought. We passed an old home site and then a fence. The walls of the canyon are rock and steep. It's amazing anyone could put a fence heading straight up a rock canyon wall, but there it was. Blue pee'd just as we slowed into the first vetcheck so he was immediately down. All checks were gate into hold so we got our time and then headed for the water. We vetted right through without issue and started pigging out on our 45 minutes. There were many very helpful volunteers. I ate a donut, which probably wasn't such a good idea as we will see later. Oops.
Blue and I were a few minutes late out of the first check, but quickly caught up with Maribel and Echo. The two horses paced well together back to camp and our second hold. We travelled through more pine and across granite sprinkled with patches of grass and wild flowers. Always heading to the water tank first, Blue and I again pulsed down a few minutes behind Maribel. I know I should just get his time going asap for a gate into hold, but I have a hard time bypassing the water tank. Fortunately, at the last check in camp a pulse person met me at the tank. Thank you!
By this time I was having shooting pains on the outside of my right leg, from knee to heel. I'm not sure what that was all about, but it gave me a bit of a hobble. Blue vetted through fine and Pete had food ready for both of us. Once Blue had finished his bran mash, Pete took him out to graze for 20 minutes while I got to sit with the dog and eat. Man, having a crew is being really spoiled!
Just as we headed out of this check, I was reminded again that the Signal Peak climb (2500 ft in 2.5 miles) was just ahead and would be an excellent place to tail up. Also, to take it easy since after the climb up the peak and back down, the trail flattened out and got easier. OK.
* * * * * I guess this is a good time to insert a little information. The week before this ride, my Dr. put me on a low carb diet plan for a couple reasons. Changing my way of eating (cutting out a ton of sugar and other simple carbohydrates per day) just before an endurance ride probably wasn't the best planning in hindsight. Also, knowing I'd need some carbs in my body for the day of the ride, I'd gone back off of the diet the night before... and eaten a bagel for breakfast and the donut at the first check.
* * * * * We headed out of camp and along a single track trail that quickly led through a gate and into an open field of wonderful grass. Can you tell grass is a delicacy here in NM? Atleast it is where we live. The trail almost immediately headed left and up Signal Peak. I thought I'd just "make sure" we were on the trial up before getting off to tail, but it was obvious very quickly that the trail was going up and not coming back down for a long time. I did get off and tail at a walk. Neither of us were in shape to try to rush this climb, but especially *me*. I guess I made it about 100 ft before two things happened. First, damn!, I had to find a bush and fast. I guess burning that glycogen out of the muscle groups also drops quite a bit of water back into your system. No wonder Atkins can cause dramatic initial weight loss. It's the water. The second thing that happened was lunch came back up. OK, you didn't really need to know that, now did you? I lay on my back along a bank off the trail trying to get back into control while Blue was trompling around me in circles trying to figure out why the heck we were not heading up the trail? I think it took me about 5 more minutes to get it back together. I realized that I was not going to do either of us any favors by trying to tail. I had to be able to ride. So I got back on and let Blue walk my butt up the rest of that hill.
I also figured that the nausea was from my sudden change in diet so I did force myself to eat a bit of this and that out of my pack. It did stay down and it did help... some cashews, a bit of beef jerky, Gu, and lots of water. About 1/2 way up we met two hikers with a golden retriever or two (I honestly can't remember if they had just the one dog or two! What is up with that?). They asked how long it would take us to ride 55 miles. I told them it would take us a lot longer than the front runners! A few more switchbacks up the trail and we started into fields of wild flowers! Purple, yellow, red, orange, all different varieties. There were carpets of flowers under the pines and patches of different types of grasses. Blue got to graze on the way up, I got to enjoy the flowers!
Fortunately, the lighting was striking one ridge over. Oh yeah, we were supposed to be back down off of Signal Peak *before* the afternoon monsoon hit. No worries. The lighting was over there, and it wasn't raining on us quite yet. Besides, after the hotest July on record, I wasn't a bit worried about the rain. At the top we were caught by two riders who let their horses drink and then kept moving. When I gave my number to the volunteer at the water tank he said that my new friend Maribel was just a couple minutes ahead. She didn't want to linger on top of the hill with the approaching storm. That made sense to me, but what about the volunteer stuck right up there in his truck until the rest of the riders came through? I figured if he wasn't worried (the lightning *was* striking one ridge over) then I had time to let Blue graze a few minutes and electrolyte him again.
We headed down the road after about 10 minutes and then the trail picked up the Continental Divide trail heading along and then down the ridge. I guess we were about a mile past the top when the rain started. Big heavy drops of rain... a typical squall. The trail instantly turned muddy as the rain pinged off my helmet. Blue didn't want to head into it, he wanted to turn his butt to the onslaught and wait it out. Nope, we are heading down buddy. You are a good endurance horse and this is what endurance horses do... they walk straight into a wall of rain. Only rain doesn't bounce and this was bouncing... It was hailing on us! Isn't that great? Where else can you go to do a true endurance ride with lightning and hail?
We continuned down the trail (it wasn't going to get any better, so we may as well go down) at a walk and joined up with the two ladies who had passed us at the water. What good riders... they were both off slipping and sliding down the trial with their horses. I, stayed onboard. We stayed with them until my second bout of having to find a bush, and bringing food back up.
The divide trail headed into town, but we turned left and continued down back towards camp. This was the *best* marked turn you'd ever want to see. Latteral orange stripes across the wrong trail, more orange stripes across the logs along the wrong trail, pie plates and big arrows joining tons of ribbons pointing out the right trail. You'd have to really want a beer to ride all the way into town by missing that one.
The trail picked up dirt roads again and we caught back up with the two horses ahead of us, and then the three of us caught up with Maribel so we were having a good 'ol time... until... my third and fortunately final bush visit. Don't start new diets the week before an endurance ride. We all know not to change our horses feed, but...
We came into the 3rd hold a few minutes behind everyone else, but by this time my right leg was really bothering me and I wasn't feeling so well. I thought maybe the vet might find something a bit wrong with Blue, but, no she sent us back out. --- sigh --- Everyone was really cheerful though. They all said the last loop was beautiful, not to be missed, and a lot easier than the rest of the ride. Just 10 more miles to go. We'd done 45 by the 3rd hold, but it was 4:50 in the afternoon. And we'd hauled butt back to camp on the downhill between holds 1 and 2. Do people ride this faster? Sure enough, top 10 had gotten off the mountain before the storm and hail. Well, they missed out then, eh?
Knowing I was out of schlitz, I figured I'd just try to stay on top of Blue, not bounce on him, and stay out of his way. We headed down the road past our campsite to finish our last loop... the easy one. Maribel and Echo were again a few minutes ahead of us out of camp. I know we were not last, but I didn't care where we placed. I just wanted to see if Blue and I could get these miles.
We headed flat out along the road out of camp and... immediately dropped about 1000 ft down into a canyon. This is easeir??? :) It is a wonderful canyon with a full stream running through that we crossed several times. No want for water on this one. There are sloping grassy pastures between the rock walls. More wild flowers. It would be a perfect place to live!
We caught up with Maribel crossing the stream at one point. Together the two horses were willing to trot a bit. As long as we were flat or uphill, I was fine, but I could no longer trot downhill without losing my seat. We ambled along at a leasiurely pace, chatting and talking horses. Now and then we would trot a bit just because we were supposed to be endurance riders, but mostly we just enjoyed the scenary and the afternoon. About 3 miles from camp we were caught by two more riders who happily trotted right by. Maribel's horse Echo picked right up with them as did Blue, but when we got to a down hill section, I pulled Blue back to a walk. Actually he just jigged sideways... am I crazy? They are getting away! I just couldn't do it. I did let him trot up the hill into camp though since it was the end of the ride. Maribel and Echo walked for us to catch up. She said she didn't want to risk twisting an ankle on the granite because she wanted to do the Scorpion Sting in a couple weeks. I think she was just being nice and waiting for us. Anyways, she pointed out we should trot over the finish line so we did.
What a ride! 55 miles and 12 hours 10 minutes since the start. Blue pulsed in and vetted out fine. Pete trotted Blue out and back for me. Fortunately Blue was still miffed that I had let two horses pass so he bounced around a bit. It is really interesting watching your own horse trot out and back. I highly recommend it. Scorpion Sting is supposed to be just as pretty and it's only a few days away if anyone out there can make it.
These are not rides to be missed!
in Santa Fe, NM
with Blue... aka Mr Maajistic