Friday, October 10, 2003

AERC 50 Mile National Championship, 2003 - Nick Warhol

Red Rock Ride, Reno, Nevada
Nick Warhol

Boy, that sure sounds cool, doesn't it? It sounds even neater when you tell people you get to go ride your horse in the National Championship. Lucky for me it was held this year at the Red Rock Ride site, about 30 minutes north of Reno, Nevada. It was indeed a very special ride for me, since I entered on Warpaint the wonder appaloosa, on what was supposed to be his retirement ride. Had I been able to ride the second day at Camp Far West in August, this ride would have put him over the 4000 mile mark, and he would have been able to end his endurance career in style! If he finishes this ride, I'll just have to go and ride him one more time in the Las Vegas ride. Oh Darn!

The ride was indeed run like a championship ride should be; the ride management did a terrific job with all the details. The atmosphere and quality was a lot like the Pan Am ride, without the hassle. (Can I say that?) Unfortunately for me, I did not get to enjoy any of the Saturday pre-ride festivities, since once again the tired old Pony Tug truck let me down. (I heard that the hundred hunting hound-dog demo on Saturday was pretty cool) It was very lucky for me my riding buddy Sally Abe was following me in her rig, and when I broke down on highway 80 outside of Auburn, we stuck the War Pony and all my stuff in her trailer and sent them on to the ride, while I spent the entire day in Auburn at the Ford dealer getting my truck fixed. This time it turned out to be the entire anti-lock brake system. So tell me- why would an anti-lock sensor and control valve also control the shift points on the transmission? All this stuff is computer controlled nowadays, and everything in a truck depends on something else electronic. I can go without anti-lock brakes for a while, but it was a problem when every time the truck shifts it hits a false neutral. I spent a very "fun" 8 hours in hurry-up-and-wait mode, but thanks to the great guys at Maita Ford in Auburn, who didn't really need to spend all day Saturday scrambling for parts and working on an emergency repair, I left Auburn at 5:00pm and arrived at the ride at about 7:30, right in the middle of the ride meeting. At least now we had a place to sleep. Judy had gotten Warpaint all checked in for me, so all I had to do was show up and ride! The base camp is set up in a nice flat meadow with lots of room, and lots of water. They had showers, a giant tent for the assembly area, and even an ice machine! I rode most of the 50 miler pre-ride here a few months ago, so it would be interesting to see what changes they had made to the trail.

Another treat for me was the fact that Jackie Bumgardner was bringing Zayante to the ride. My two favorite horses in the world, here at the same ride together for the first time. I think they shared a trailer ride some time back, but this time they would be going down the trail together. Sally would be joining us on her horse Phathom; he's pretty competitive, and when he and Warpaint get together, especially at a ride, it can get kind of, what's the word, "hurried?" "Frantic?" "Fast?" All of the above fit.

The three of us stared out about 5 minutes after the start at 6:30 at the back of the pack on a clear, cool, and very beautiful morning. My goal? Get fifty miles! Jackie's goal? Get fifty miles! These two old geriatrics are a combined forty something years old and are getting pretty creaky. Sally's goal? Finish, but she would see how the youngster Phathom was with the two other feisty horses. She was also playing with her electrolyte program, at this ride she was using less. The rule with Warpaint is I can ride with other horses, but I get to be in front. No, make that I HAVE to be in front. It just does not work any other way. The trail starts out on a dirt road for a bit, then we dive onto a nice sandy desert single track that rolls up and down a few hills, after a mile or so we head up a long, uphill, sandy climb that we walk up. Warpaint wants to run, Zay is jigging, Sally is holding Phathom back, since he can walk twice as fast as either of the old coots. It looked like a three ring circus of horse restraint. It was a twenty minute climb that ends up on top of a valley with spectacular views.

The desert is so pretty, especially in this Red Rock area. And the smell, oh, the smell of that sagebrush! I don't miss the cold of the high desert, but I sure miss that smell. The trail became soft roads that were nice to trot on, so we happily obliged. But what's this, a change? The last time this ride headed down the middle of this long valley; this time we are hanging a left and staying on the roads. Up and down, rolling hills, but still good footing with the occasional rocky patch. No pads required, this ride does not seem like it is in the state of Nevada. Virginia City 100, Washoe 100, Silver State: rocks, rocks, rocks! Not up here. It was now about 45 minutes after the start and Phathom was telling Sally he'd had enough and would like to pass this stupid spotted horse in front of him, thank you. We stopped to adjust her saddle pad and then sent them on their way. (Keep in mind Sally started out last, and we were going really slow for the first 45 minutes) Now it was the aged beasts going it alone, Warpaint setting the pace and Zayante trucking along behind, doing his best impression of a steam train. I don't notice the breathing noise so much when I'm riding him, but when he's behind you, well, this is one horse who will never, ever, sneak up on anyone!

We rode along with Ted Ruprecht for a while on the rolling roads that finally dumped us down back into the valley for a water stop. Hang a left and trot down the valley on a nice sandy trail on perfect footing. A right turn on yet another sandy trail takes us across the valley for a while, along a fence that has these wooden jumps for eventing, or hunting, or some crazy horse leaping activity that we declined to try on this day. We caught Becky Hackworth, who was riding drag for Juniors, and rode with her on up into the first vet check at 19 miles. It was very well organized, with lots of workers and vets. Tinker Hart and her mom Kay were there keeping everyone in line and things flowing smoothly. My old buddy Jamie Kerr took a look at Warpaint and ordered me back out on the trail. Judy was there with all the crewing goodies, Laura Fend was there as well crewing for her hubby Gary, who was riding his horse Smokey. No, that's her horse Smokey, apparently Gary gave Laura Smokey. But he was qualified, so he rode. There had been a few pulls, but where was Sally? Left ten minutes ago? Wow. She sure put the smoke on us.

We left nice and refreshed and trotted away, across the paved road, and up another pretty valley. A couple of miles of good roads, with mega cows, and then its walk up another short, but very steep sand canyon. Walk down the other side, then it was time for the highlight of the ride. It's about a four mile section of single track that winds along a creek, all the way down a long canyon. 85 percent of it is trottable with perfect sandy footing, you have to stop and pick your way through big rocks and over the creek every once in a while. But oh boy, that trail is fun, especially on a horse that steers as well as Warpaint. You have to pay attention, since there are so many bushes that hide the trail in spots, but that trail section ended way too soon for me. We hung out at a water stop at the end of the trail while the horses ate hay; a few riders were all bubbling about how wonderful that section was. Back on the trail, and up a short climb into the moon rocks, otherwise known as the Pinnacles. One of two things caused these incredible formations- either it was the wonder of geology and the ever changing of the earth, or some really big rock artist has a twisted sense of humor. We mostly walked and jogged among the crazy formations on sandy trails, way above the valley and the camp below us. A long soft downhill brought us to the new road crossing, and then right back into camp. Thank you, ride management! Way better than the last time, where we had to trudge back up that climb and pass camp again before going down. We hit the camp at about 11:50, our out time would be 12:50.

Zay recovers quickly, with the spotted beast following along in his normal few minutes. I learned one really interesting thing from Head Vet extraordinaire Melissa Ribley while she was vetting the App. His scores were all very good, CRI 48/52 (superb for him) but his skin tenting wasn't very impressive. I asked her about that, and she told me she doesn't pay much attention to skin tenting on horses this old, since they don't have much collagen fibers left in their skin. You know, like how old people get wrinkles in their skin? I never even thought about that before. Melissa said "I bet he's a B or so with skin tent even when he's home and totally hydrated." Yes, he is. The wonders of the animal body, and vets smart enough to understand this stuff. I still learn something at every ride!

The first loop was 32 miles, so we only had a short jaunt to do in the afternoon. We had a nice lunch in camp, the horses ate like they should, we had great crews helping, what could be better? (maybe riding the 100?) But- where were Sally and Phathom? Oh, they left 15 minutes ago! Cripes! Now they are an hour and 15 minutes ahead of us. They had a great recovery and lunch break as well. Gary elected to pull Smokey at lunch- he wasn't eating like he should and just was not acting normal. (The horse, not Gary! I'm happy to report that Gary was eating and drinking as normal.) Jackie and I headed back out just before 1pm; Warpaint jumped right in to his trot. Boy, I like that in a horse. He had his crazy switch turned off just past the first check, and since then he'd been in is his "superb just go down the trail" mode that I love so much. Behind us there was some commotion, it was the leaders racing flat out to the finish! We turned around to look- Leisa Belser beat Dennis Tracy out by a length or two for the win! We trotted a mile or so to the last big climb, the longest uphill sand canyon of the day. We walked up it all the way to the top of the ridge again, maybe 20-30 minutes, where we hung another left on the nice roads for a while. Then it is down the escalator chute, a long and steep road of pure deep sand that goes straight down the valley to the other side of the range. I led the horse all the way down, my shoes filling up with sand. There was water and hay at the bottom, which we took full advantage of. Now it is time for some trotting on the roads.

The pre-ride in June had us go up this road for a few miles, all the way to the end of the canyon to the vet check, then it was a long 12 mile haul back to camp. Not this time! We trotted a ways up the canyon to another water stop, then it was a shot across the valley to the road that led down to the vet check at 44 miles. The added mileage in the morning, then not going all the way out there now, is a huge improvement over the previous ride. I also appreciate getting the tough stuff out of the way in the early part of the ride. We got to see wild horses again for the third time today while we trotted along the roads. The vet check came sooner than I though it would, it was hiding around a hill. We walked in from the ¼ mile sign, the horses both came right down and both looked good. Susan McCartney took a look at Warpaint and ordered us back out on the trail. A quick 20 minutes of eating and we were on our home leg, a very easy, flat trot of six miles, all on roads. I think we trotted the entire thing without stopping, except for one stop sign. (Don't want any equine citations by the highway patrol) We crossed the finish line, very happy with our horses. One more vet check to go, but no worries, both horses made it just fine. Hooray! But-where was Sally? How about in 11th place, first featherweight? Holy cow! What would have happened if she had been in a hurry? Phathom's really becoming a nice horse, and is turning some heads. And Zayante? Now he's at 11,345 miles. What can you say about him? (I get to ride him at Death Valley again, that's what)!

We finished before 4 pm, so we got to chill for a while. A shower and some beer, then its into the chair in the sun. Judy put Warpaint's regal robe on for some pictures, he looks like he should be in a Rocky movie with this thing on. The ride dinner was excellent, we especially liked the bar. Bloddy Mary's area good thing after a ride. But the awards banquet was a riot! Robert Ribley was the host, and was pretty funny with his one liners. And this was no normal awards ceremony- Every finisher got a really nice polar fleece finisher jacket and a picture of their horse taken at the sign up, with the flowers and championship banner. It was really nice, especially since my photo was of Warpaint and Judy, since I was AWOL on Saturday with my stupid truck. But those weight division winners? Every one of them won a saddle. Yeah, a saddle! A REAL saddle, very expensive saddles. Sally won a saddle! How cool is that? I'm very proud of them. They also raffled off three more saddles, but Robert noticed that the raffle was taking a long time, so what did he do? Improvise! He started just throwing awards out in to the crowd, like at a baseball game. It was very funny! It would have been REALLY funny if he had thrown one of those saddles to the crowd!

The ride was excellent in every aspect, I don't think I heard one complaint all day. The weather could not have been much nicer- sunny, cool, with a nice breeze in the afternoon. It was put on with professionalism, the trail was fun, it was marked great, plenty of water, great awards, and lots of good friends all over the place.

But for me, it was a perfect day-Warpaint got his 3,990th mile, one more ride to go. We will get him over the 4000 mile mark at Las Vegas, then it's time for the old guy to hang out and enjoy the rest of his life, which we all hope will be a very long time. I'll sure miss riding him in endurance rides, but I'll always have the memories. This weekend will be one of my best. (Except for the stupid truck, which is not long for this world.)

Nick Warhol
Hayward, Ca

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