Friday, December 19, 2003

2002 My Last Tevis Ride? - Chris Martin

This story is about the 2002 Tevis ride and the horse that fell off the cliff on Cal 2 I first rode the Tevis in 1999 and since that time, the ride has kinda taken on a life of its own. Tevis is a 24-hour event that takes 365 days of your life. You pack a whole year into that little 24-hour period, especially for those of us who have the BUG. The Tevis gods rule, and this year was no exception. I have pre ridden most of the trail, at least twice and as many as 10 times, except that portion from Robie to Robinson. This year I started in January, riding different parts of the trail once a week.

The horse I have been training and conditioning for four years came up with a reoccurring problem with his right fetlock, fracture of the sesamoid that never really healed. He could go for a couple of fast 50's and then he would start to have some problems. This was to be by top-ten Tevis horse.

I had another horse that I’d started along last year and he was doing fine until he came up lame in May. I knew you had to have a backup horse but I didn’t think I needed a backup for the backup. The Tevis god’s have spoken.

Being desperate, I borrowed a horse from my neighbor on June 23rd, a 12-year-old Arab named Bo who had been bought at auction. The horse had done some endurance back in April of 2001 and had 150 AERC miles with one metabolic pull. My neighbor’s daughter was riding him when he panicked about a loose saddle and fell off a cliff, hurting himself pretty badly. After he’d healed up enough, he was put out to pasture on 900 acres for that whole year. When I rode him home from, a distance of about 3.5 miles, I thought he was going to die. I had a heart rate monitor on him and it took him over 20 minutes to recover from the ride/trot home. I had some big question marks at that time.

I started conditioning rides with the horse (Bo), riding every day and sometimes twice a day. He did very well, some days being able to do twice what he had done the day before. I recorded all his training rides keeping track of milage, heart rate files, and recovery times. We did quite well on our first 25-mile training ride and then the next week we did a 40-mile training ride. During the last weeks, we were doing about 80 miles a week with our long ride days being on portions of the Tevis trail with our training buddies Jon and Spider. Spider is the horse. We did hard/easy workdays with a high carbo supplement after each work and feeding the work with grain. He had taken to the work very well His most training miles were 83 miles in one week. By his 8th week, which was the Tevis week, I was sick with the flu and we did almost no milage, but Bo was looking very fit, a much different horse from the pasture potato that I had started with seven weeks earlier.

One week before Tevis I decided that I should buy Bo., just in case something happened, so we worked out a price, just a little more than the price of meat, and the deal was done. The eight weeks of conditioning were actually six He had once week off because of a swelling on the left rear caused by a kick during one of our long rides about the 4th week. He had another week off, the week before the Tevis, as he had caught his right front in the lead rope while tied to the trailer. On Monday prior to Tevis, I came down with the flu and was down in bed until Wed. On Thursday, I left for the ride. Jon and Spider had saved us a spot at Robie

Jon and I rode on Friday before we vetted in. We rode about 10 miles, Bo looked fine when we got back, still swollen but not lame at all. Anyway, I vetted him through and he got all A's, so we were good to go. I kept ice on it until we went to bed. Jon got Spider a massage and he looked like he really enjoyed it.

Ride morning started for me at about 3 a.m., with the ride actually starting at 5:15 a.m. I was kinda worried about having lost about 12 pounds with the flu and not having eaten anything since Sunday (not to mention having liquid coming out each portal). Needless to say, I was pleased when I made that first important stop to the Porta Potty and I did more than dribble; now we were really ready to ride.

At about 5 a.m. Jon and I headed for the start line along with 250 other riders. Bo and Spider were all hyped up and ready to go. The trail was set up in three sections, red for the people who wanted to start up towards the front, blue for those who wanted to be in the middle, and white for those in the rear. We started moving up towards the front and just made it into the red section when the line started moving. The trail is only 20 feet wide at this point and we were all packed into this little space with very excited horses, some behaving better than others. As we started moving down the trail, I heard someone behind us holler that a person was down but do not know what happened. As the trail opened up, we started moving faster and faster, riding with someone beside us and of course someone in front and someone in the rear. As we came to a small wooded bridge, there is a guy on a mule trying to pull it across the bridge. He got out of the way and we continued on, heading down to the highway just below Squaw Valley. We crossed the highway and up the steep trail that led us the to top Squaw. Bo was flipping his head and trying to get the rains over the top of the bit. Jon noticed that Bo had managed to get his tongue over the bit and was now bleeding. I looked at the heart rate monitor and it was in the 170-180 range. People were in front of us and behind us, so there was no backing down the way I wanted to. Before the ride, I had decided not to let him get over 160 for any length of time during the ride. As soon as I found a place we could pull over, I pulled the bit off and just rode him with the reins attached to his rope halter (what a mistake). After I pulled the bit we continued down the trail for a quarter of a mile or so when we heard people yelling. We looked up and saw that we (me) had missed the trail and would have to go back up the mountain to catch it.

Jon was in front so I just put Bo on Spider’s tail and off we went. He was pulling on me but when I headed him directly into the other horse's butt there was nothing he could do. We made it up the top of Squaw where they had a water stop. Both horses drank well and we gave them their electrolytes. There are no bathrooms so you just use your horse as kind of a shield and go for it.

From the top of Squaw where the lift stops, you have to go about another half a mile to mile to get to the real top. Wow! What a view, if you take the time to look. From there, the trail drops off into what they call the Granite Chief wilderness area. There is a five-mile stretch so terrible it’s hard to describe. It is a rocky (large and small rocks), steep, downhill stretch with large slabs of rock that you slide down into. Many, many horses are injured on this part of the trail. There are spots where it is muddy and almost boggy. Bo, not having a bit in his mouth, was almost uncontrollable. Spider would get a little bit ahead and Bo would just race through these rocks and mud; scared the hell out of me. My hands were so tired from trying to hold him back that I decided that I had to get his bit back in his mouth, but had to wait until we had a safe place to do it. As we were making our way though this nightmare, a lady in front of us fell off her horse when it slipped. Jon stopped and we blocked the trail until she got back on, after a couple of attempts, and then we were off again. I finally found a spot to stop and redo the bit for Bo; wow, power steering again!

The next obstacle was Cougar Rock . Not as hard as it looks; they take the pictures so it looks like you’re doing something superhuman but it’s a piece of cake. Both horses went up and over, looking good. A lot of the trail is fine dust so if you don't have a mask, you will be blowing a lot of dirt clods. I wore an outlaw-type bandana, which worked great, just pull it up and pull it down. We finally made it to Lyons Ridge, the first kinda vet check; horses get to eat and drink a little, heart rate checked, trotted to make sure they are not lame, and then you are off to Robinson Flat, which is at the 36-mile mark six miles down the road. From here, the trail is pretty nice all the way to Robinson. We had crew waiting for us with all the stuff we would need, plus some food and replenishment of the drinks we carried with us. We arrived at about 10 a.m., both horses vetted through, and we settled down for our one-hour hold. It seemed like we no sooner sat down before we had to get back up again to saddle up.

They pull a lot of horses at Robinson, mostly for lameness and some for metabolic (going too fast). The average pull rate of the ride is about 50 percent with this year closer to 60 percent. The finish rate was in the 40th percentile, with 94 riders finishing.

Jon and I had pre ridden the rest of the trail from Robinson to Auburn in different chunks during the last several months. Because I had to start a new horse, Bo had seen only some of it.

When we left Robinson, we were in 40- 50th position. From there, the ride goes to a water stop at Four Corners and then on to a vet check at Last Chance (an old mining location). The trail was not too bad but very dusty in spots, and they run you down a couple of canyons and back up again, all on single-track trails. We were following three other riders when the female rider’s horse tripped and fell. The rider went over her horse’s head and landed sitting up in the middle of the trail. Her horse skidding on his chin until he was almost right on top of her and then got up and trotted down the trail. One of the other riders got the horse while the lady slowly got up and made sure everything worked. At that point, we passed them and went down the trail. The vet check was just a few miles down the road. We were pleased and surprised to see the woman who had fallen off vetting her horse through, though she had a thick layer of that fine dust all over, especially were she skidded on the trail. Her horse looked fine and she ended up finishing the ride, as we found out later. We ended up staying at Last Chance for a while to let the horses eat. It was only a 15-minute hold but they had good eats, ice-cold watermelon, lemonade, Coke, etc.

From Last Chance, you head down into a canyon with a swinging bridge at the bottom, takes about a 30-minute ride with switch back after switch back. Some people get off their horses and jog down the trail which is single track and rocky in spots, but for the most part you can make good time over this stretch of trail. Time at this point was not a factor. There are cut off times at each vet check and you have to make that time or you are done; over time, you’re out. We started down the trail going pretty fast with the horses feeling great and everything looking good. All of the sudden riders start stacking up on the trail and we’re moving at a snail’s pace. We could see what the holdup was as we looked down the switch backs. I spied some unfit overweight female, slowly walking her horse down the trail. I kept my mouth shut for at least a couple of switch backs and was very proud of myself for that. Then I could no longer contain my frustration and started hollering. I asked for the trail, asked her to speed up, asked her to jog, asked her to pull over when safe and let us by. She basically said she didn’t have to and she didn't. We ended up passing her just before we got to the swinging bridge and didn’t see her again; I don’t think she finished. On the way down, we saw the same mule that we had seen at the beginning of the ride (the one that would not go over the bridge) coming back up towards us. The rider said that his mule would not go over this little tiny wooden bridge that was on the trail just before the swinging bridge, so I guess he was going back to Last Chance.

From the bottom of the canyon, the trail, which is all single track, goes straight up via switch back, for over a mile to Devil’s Thumb. A lot of people tail their horses up, walking behind the horse and holding its tail. It takes 30 minutes riding and a little longer tailing, but you can only go as fast as the people in front of you. When we got the top, they had water and some hay for the horses. After that, the trail flattens out until you get to the vet check at Deadwood, about four miles away. The trail to Deadwood is actually more like a road and doesn’t have many rocks so you can pass there.

The vet check at Deadwood was good, with lots to eat, and we spent lots of time letting the horses eat. From there the trail goes down into another canyon and then back up to the check at Michigan Bluff.

The Michigan Bluff check was even better, with fried chicken and lots of other good stuff to eat. Then it’s only six miles to Foresthill. While in Michigan Bluff, I encountered Bo’s previous owner. She said that the horse would only go so far and then he would just lay down. She asked if I had any such problems and I told her no; nice information to have at about the 60-mile mark in a 100-mile event.

The next stop was Foresthill, the main vet check and a one-hour hold. Our horses vetted through fine, we changed clothes and got something to eat, and then we were gone. The ride goes through the middle of town and all the local yokels were out hootin’ and a hollerin’ as we went by. We headed down into another canyon called the California Loop, on our way to Fransisco’s about 15 miles away. We started this loop in the dark at about 9 p.m. Again, we weren’t too concerned about time as it was just a buckle ride (riding for the finish and not top ten) and trying not to be in the other 50 percent. We’d just headed down the trail when we noticed another rider following quite a way behind us and hollered out for (him) to join us. He turned out to be from Japan and was riding a leased horse. Anyway, as time went on, we started picking up more and more riders. At last count, I think we had about 15 riders following. I started to pick up the pace. Bo had light bars on his breast collar so the other riders could see him as we trotted down the trail. Bo w as doing a great job. At one point, a rider asked who was leading them and doing such a great job, and I answered, “Bo, a gelding.”

The top part of the trail is called Cal 1 and the next section is Cal 2. Bo, who was leading us, had never been on this section of the trail. On about the third switch back of Cal 2, Bo was trotting fast with Jon and Spider right behind us when I heard some scrambling and then Jon saying, "Going down." I turned and looked and could see the light bars on Spider tumbling over and over. My heart sank as I heard Jon yell for Spider, that frantic scream you would yell after your child when he stepped into the path of a freight train. I yelled at Jon to see if he was OK and all I could hear was him yelling for Spider. The other riders were now on top of me as I halted Bo. By that time, I was at the corner of the switch back. Two riders were in the corner, apparently coming up the trail as Spider rolled right over the trail in front of them. As they let me by, I thought that Jon had gone on down the switch back that I was on. I sent the other two riders on to get help, let all the other 15 or so riders pass me, and then went back to find Jon. I finally found him and he was okay, having only gone down about 30 feet or so. We thought sure that Spider was dead because of how steep it was where he had gone down and because of the fact that he had gone completely over the trail in two spots. He went out of sight tumbling over and over and then there was dead silence. After the second switch back there aren’t any more as the trail continues west. Jon asked if I would go on to Francisco's and make sure we got some help. I gave Jon my flashlight and left my good friend in the darkness. Bo easily found his way through the darkness as my tears clouded my vision. I knew that Jon would be okay but I could still hear his screams for Spider in my mind. I knew that other riders that had passed me would get to Francisco's long before me. At this point, alone in the darkness and knowing that Spider was dead, the ride did not seem to be very important. Waiting year after year for the Tevis ride did not mean anything anymore. Bo and I just kind of plodded along and finally came to the vet check at Francisco’s which seemed like forever.

Wonderful volunteers, a couple of young ladies, held my horse while I went over the to person with the ham radio. He said they knew what had happened and that the sweep riders had already been in contact with Jon and were making plans to get him out. I kept worrying about what I was going to tell his wife, Anne Marie. I looked for the signal on my cell phone but no such luck. I decided that Jon had probably already been in touch with his wife on one of the radios that the sweep riders had and that he would beat me back to Auburn by a long shot.

I pretty much took my time at Francisco’s, watching at least 20 riders pass along down the trail. I had no clue what time it was and really did not care. Bo and I started walking on down the trail, a section Bo had been on at least once. We walked along the trail about 200 feet above the American River, the full moon shining brightly, which would have been pretty nice if tragedy had not struck. We just walked in the darkness, not a soul in sight. I could see the tiny green light bars that they had marked the trail with dangling in the air. As your horse moves up and down along the trail you can make out all kinds of shapes and visions. I could see outlines of giant houses with windows and doors. The whole time I was thinking about Spider and Jon’s frantic scream. I decided that this is my last Tevis ride and a DNF (did not finish) at that. I never wanted to feel like this again. I am sure that my eyes were all red and blood shot.

We finally got to the river and crossed without incident. Bo was used to going fast on this last section of the trail. I knew that the last vet check, the quarry, is just four miles down the trail, but really didn’t care. I didn’t even look at my watch to see what time it was and had no idea what the cut-off time was. Bo kept trying to trot and I kept pulling him back to a walk. About two miles after the river crossing, I heard riders behind me. Bo and I just kept walking. Soon there were three riders, the drag riders coming from Francisco’s. Well, that meant that I was the last rider on the trail. They started chatting with me and I told them what had happened. By this time, I could see the lights from the vet check at the quarry. The ladies said that the cut-off time for the quarry was 4:15 a.m. and gave us some encouragement. I started thinking about it and decided that if Bo had it in him, we would give it a try for our good friend Spider.

Bo and I left the drag riders in the dust as we cantered that last two miles into the vet check. The people at the check could hear us coming and started yelling that we could make it. As we neared the check, they lowered a yellow ribbon they had used to direct the horses. The vet ran out to check Bo who got a quick drink and then had his pulse checked. Reaching the mandatory 68, he did a quick trot out and we were good to go. We nailed the 4:15 a.m. check-out time but now we had to go almost seven miles in under 60/minute. Bo had done this section of trail at least three times so he knew it well, but we had never done it in the dark and 60/minute was a real push even for daylight hours on a fresh horse. Bo had already done over 95 miles

Bo seemed to have taken on new life and had to be held back almost the whole way. I knew that if I got to the top of Robie Point by 5 a.m. I could make the finish by 5:15, the cut-off time. Bo ran through a section of the trail called the Black Hole of Calcutta like a champ. He strongly trotted all the way to the top of Robie Point were I checked my watch at 5 a.m. We then sprinted down the trail that weaved in and out, up and down, over some rocky areas, through the star thistle, and under the tree limbs towards the finish. Soon we heard someone screaming from the finish line. Some young girls (bless their hearts) started yelling,” You can make it, you can make it.” We crossed the finish line at 5:15 a.m., the last place finisher with maybe the fastest time between the last vet check and the finish line. I could not have been prouder of Bo if he’d had the four years of conditioning instead of his meager six weeks.

We walked into the stadium where Bo vetted through, looking very good, I might add, for a horse that just ran and last six miles of a 100-mile ride. We would get our “Spider buckle”.

I stood around for a few minutes looking for someone I knew. It wasn’t a very big crowd of people who had stayed up to see the last place finisher at 5:15 a.m. I finally spotted Jon’s wife, Anne Marie, and the tears welled in my eyes.

She told me that Jon was on his way in and would be there shortly. I assured her that Spider had to be dead, that there was no way he could have survived that fall, and vowed never to do this ride again

Bo ate some hay as we were talking and we saw a truck pull into the parking lot. Jon got out and we hugged and cried, then got down to business of finding Spider. Works were already underway for the search party. I left Jon talking to the search people and went to tuck Bo into bed. I had told Jon to wait because I was going with him. I had Bo squared away and was changing clothes when Ann Marie appeared and said the search party had already left. I didn’t think that I would be able to sleep but told them to come get me the minute they heard anything. I jumped up in the camper bunk at about 7:30 a.m. I laid awake for some time but finally fell asleep. At 10:30 a.m., there was knocking on the camper door and voices yelling that they had found Spider. I could not believe my ears. The first info that we got was that he was swimming in the river. Not all that info was correct but much better than dead. We waited for what seemed like forever for Jon and Spider to show up at the fairgrounds. The Tevis Gods had spoken again, only this time they were smiling.

We spotted the truck and trailer pulling into the parking lot at the rear of the Fairgrounds. I ran out and could see Jon riding in the back of the trailer with Spider. I jumped on the side of the trailer, looking in at Spider and Jon. The truck pulled as close as it could to the barn area and then stopped. I opened the trailer door and out jumped Spider, looking like he had been in a knife fight with straight razors. We walked Spider to the wash rack and washed his cuts and abrasions. He appeared to only have one (1) significant wound, a puncture wound to his left upper front leg. He was not lame and was eating up a storm! His right eye was somewhat swollen and he looked like a prize fighter, (the looser).

I got Bo and took him over to keep Spider company while we waited for the vet to show up to treat Spider. Jon told us of the rescue while we waited.

Jon said that he and two volunteers, and the vet, Jamie Kerr followed the path that Spider had taken off the trail of Cal 2 on his journey down towards the river, with Jon in the lead. He said that he got to a ledge about 50 feet above the river when he looked down and thought he saw Spider’s head lying with his mouth open on top of a giant boulder. Thankfully, what Jon saw turned out to be a piece of driftwood. Just as he decided it was not Spider, Jon heard a noise to his left. He looked and there was Spider, 30 feet away, standing with his hind feet on the up slope of the hill. Jon could not believe his eyes. Spider was trying to reach around and grab a little patch of grass that was nearby. Jon called out for the rest of the party and they came on down the hillside. Jon led Spider to a small clearing where the vet did a quick assessment of Spider’s condition and was given some medical treatment by Dr. Kerr. The volunteers cut some brush and small trees out of the way so that they could walk Spider down this steep section closer to the river.

Dr. Jamie Kerr stayed with Spider, letting him eat the green grasses alongside the river while Jon went downstream to see if they could get to Ford’s Bar. The other two volunteers went upstream but ended up coming right back down. By the time Jon had turned around, Dr. Kerr and the other two had decided that the best way out was the way that Jon had gone, downstream, so they started crossing the river. When Jon met up with Dr. Kerr, the vet was soaked from head to toe as Spider had stepped on his toe and down into the river he’d gone. Dr. Kerr led Spider out about four miles to the waiting trailer in Todd Valley; or the way Dr. Kerr tells it, Spider pulled him up the trail the whole four miles

After Jamie Kerr returned to the fairgrounds, he made a more comprehensive inspection of Spider and spent some time cleaning out the puncture wound. Spider was cleared to go home at about four in the afternoon. Being pretty tired myself, I loaded Bo and headed for home.

The drive home went quickly as I reviewed in my mind everything that had happened in the last 34 hours. I did that same review for the next two weeks and then some.

At about 10:00 the next morning Jon called and said that he was going back to Cal 2 to retrieve his saddle. I told him I wanted to go and met him in Todd Valley, along with my precious Honda Rancher quad. Jon and his wife rode on the quad they had brought and Peter, their son, rode with me. We parked the quads at the beginning of Cal 2 and started walking. Jon shot a video on the walk to where Spider took his spill. We walked the two switch backs, marking Spider’s path with trail ribbon. We found where he had flown over the last switch back, marked it, and then started the climb down. We went down about 100 feet and then decided to use the rope that Jon had brought (300 feet). We secured the rope to a tree and the four of us descended the rest of the way to the bottom. We ran out of rope for the last 100 feet but the mountainside angle had finally started to mellow a little. We are guessing that it is about a 50-degree angle on the hillside. We took a reading on Jon’s altitude watch at the top and then again at the bottom, 750 feet. During the climb down the hillside, backwards, holding onto the rope, we could see small trees and other large bushes that had been dislodged by Spider’s fall. Whole tree branches had been snapped off the trees that he had come close to. His path was very definite. If Spider had gone the extra 50 feet to the river he would of died, but this 750 feet should have killed him too, so who knows? If it’s not your time, its not your time. We spent a few minutes at the water’s edge and then started the trek back up the hillside. Jon had purchased a large quilted BBQ bag, one of those real nice covers that you put over your Weber BBQ. We stuffed his saddle into the bag, tied it off with the rope and within the hour we were up to the trail.

On Thursday of that week Jon invited my wife Nancy and I, along with Tracy and Eric, our outstanding crew, and with their respective significant others to dinner at his house. We arrived about 5 p.m. and went directly to see Spider who whinnied when I called to him and paced around his pen. Jon got him out and I hand-trotted him around to see how he was. He was good to go. Jon told me that Spider wanted to look all scarred up like Bo so that’s why he fell down the mountain. Jon and his wife gave us a gift, it was a Manx Kitten, with the name of Tevis, who thinks that she “is the Tevis God”.

Three weeks later Bo and Spider were racing on the wonderful trails at Point Reyes, The hard rocky terrain of the Tevis seemed so far away.

For more information on Bo and his rise to being a real endurance horse see my story “Eight weeks to Tevis” This story actually happened for the most part before Tevis 2002 and takes you through the conditioning process from a pasture potato to his 8 weeks of training and the completion of the 2002 and 2003 Tevis rides.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

JD's Chilly Carolina Ride - Deb Ambrose

Hello all,

This was our first LD a year ago, and now our 3rd 50. Lippy, my Ara-Appy and I drove down Friday in 68 degree weather, light rain, and rising wind. We set up camp in the damp, waited out the rainstorm to vet in inside the covered arena, and the show was on. Just before out trot out, 2 pickups pulled in the side entrance, parked in the middle, and began unloading drums, cymbals and amps for the musical entertainment to come. 6 more horses came in to line the complete perimeter of the arena. Normally Lippy is pretty silly on our first vetting in, slinging his head and passing me by. I took a deep breath, and off we went between trucks and horses, past the open side door to the far end. He stretched out and kept his head by my shoulder, ears up, floating quietly on that soft footing. Down and back, good boy!

Storm passed by, sun went down, wind came up, and BRRRR! It didn't freeze overnight, but the wind was still there in the morning as I tacked up. I tried to join the last of the 50s as we went down the farm alleys toward the 1/2 mile open field at the start. Yes, it was thrilling. Someone had hounds in a kennel nearby, and their baying added to the excitement as we zipped across into the rising sun. Lip was less silly than the last few times, and we managed to link up pretty quickly with Sue Corr-Jackson, whose beautiful chestnut had the steadiest trot.

This ride has a good bit of road shoulder in the first loop, and we have no safe place to practice this at home, so thank goodness the ride mentality kept him thinking "trot down the road, don't worry about the odd vehicle zipping by".

Off the road, into the woods, out of the wind for a while, and around we went. We took turns leading, although Sue did the greater share, and got along great. Cold it was, occasionally we were simultaneously out of the wind and in the sun. My chin, forehead, and drippy nose suffered the most. Solved the, ahem, chafing problem with 2 pairs of cheap Wal-Mart tights.

The only casualty was my poor non-horsey husband crewing, who began to wonder why I was so happy trotting along at a moderate pace, when most everyone else was done earlier. We finished in about 7:30; he preferred the nearly out-of-control Hallelujah Ride time of 5:55. I was glad Lippy was able to relax, eat well and be ridden on a loose rein apart from the first hectic mile or two.

We'd love to try a couple of days of the Gator Run, but if Spouse cannot be persuaded, the Sandhills in March will probably be next, all things in order. Big thanks to Tim and Lara Worden for all their encouragement every time we meet at these SC rides. If you ever camp next to them, you'll be glad you did.

Deb Ambrose and Lippy, 150 miles!

Good Friends, In Our Hearts Forever - Laura Hayes

Daily for almost 19 years I gazed out my window the first thing each morning to see her. I have a cherished picture of her taken many years ago - Freckles completely white and ghostlike, and her baby daughter in the mist by the pond - standing at attention, gazing off in the distance.

We laid her beside that pond on Sunday - her great heart still, her powerful floating trot and deep dark eyes only a memory now.

Before she slipped quietly away from me, with the help of modern medicine, I sat with her and we remembered all the years together. It started at the horse auction, a grey arab type mare standing on her hind legs, the look of defiance in her eyes. $400 outbid the meat buyers in 1985, and she was mine, or I was hers - we never really established that - but we were in each other's keeping for almost two decades.

We did several hundred miles of endurance in her late teens - she was almost always in the top five and won many BCs with me and other riders, until a chronic lung problem from an old illness forced her retirement. The races were always fun, but with Freckles the training was the high point. She met me at the gate every day, eager to go, happy to explore over the next hill. Unlike any other horse I have conditioned, Freckles and I went further and longer, never wanting to come home. The company was always so pleasurable and comfortable - just she and I.

She ferried my then small son around ride camps after rides, careful to not unseat her little charge sitting proudly on top of the big rangy mare - the competitive endurance horse who galloped to the finish took baby steps with her precious cargo and patiently went here and there at his whim.

We chased cows through my son's team penning days - the only arab type horse in the contest, and she did the breed proud- beating the cow horses to the end of the arena and cutting cattle like she had done it all her life. Maybe she had - her history was unknown- her breeding, though obviously arab, could have also been some TB or QH. Her training had been extensive at some point, but she never told, and I found out in serendipitous moments when she would perform some graceful move at the shifting of my weight or some unintentional cue. Her age was a mystery also, though she was fully an adult the day I outbid the meat buyers.

Our last ride together was two years ago. I took Freckles, or 'Mama' as I called her in later years, to a 'girls weekend' with several friends. I rode her bareback on the trails those two days and wondered why I ever rode any other horse - she was so sure footed and smooth and we fit together like an old married couple.

She wandered the pasture since then. I took her down to the home farm on the lake this summer where she had raised her daughter 10 years before, to enjoy the lush pasture there. She grew thinner and her teeth were almost gone - the NY winter would be difficult for her. On Sunday she was uncomfortable, and stretched out in the late fall sun - her gums white and tacky and a look of pain in her beautiful arab-mare eyes. I knew it was time.

I hope she enjoyed the life I shared with her. I know I did, and I'll never forget - she'll be in my heart forever.

Laura Hayes AERC#2741

Sunday, November 09, 2003

The Tour de Oreana - Tom Noll

Owyhee Trail Series -- The Tour de Oreana

The Owyhee Rides are like a stage race, like the Tour de France. When you count the Owyhee High Country three days, the Owyhee Canyonlands five days, and the Oreana 100 one day, you have a total of nine days of riding spread out over a couple of months. Perhaps it is the Tour de Oreana, and like any great tour, the rides take you to some amazing country that varies from the crest of the Owyhee Mountains to the edge of the Snake River in the Snake River Canyon and much of the desert in between. I live in SW Idaho, which affords the opportunity to riding all of the Owyhee days. Other riders came from throughout the Western US and Canada. Steph and John Teeter host the ride at their ranch west of Oreana. The hosts are gracious and the accommodations are excellent including the pretty-good showers, dinners, and open-roof outhouses - including one outhouse with a moonglow toilet seat. Sometime I think hosting the five-day ride might be like hosting a weeklong slumber party for over 100 friends.

Each segment and each day has a different character. The Owyhee High Country was fast and furious for my horse Frank and myself. On the first day I rode with Jennifer Knoetgen from Montana and through an interesting set of circumstances we found ourselves being chased for much of the ride. The chasing riders were just a few minutes behind and just like Butch Cassidy, we kept looking over our shoulders wondering, "Who are those guys?" We rode from the ride camp up to the crest of the Owyhee Mountains on an old stage road, back down through desert canyons on narrow trails, and finished back at camp.

Day Two was similar to the first day but much of the trails were reversed. This time I rode with Leighsa Rosedaul and Dean Hoalst. This time the ride was less intense. Again, we rode to the crest of the Owyhees and back down the stage trails that we rode up the previous day. The views were spectacular. All day long, Dean kept looking for a rock to pound the clips on his horse's shoes. Somehow, with all those rocks on all those trails, Dean was never able to find the perfect rock.

Day Three was a more relaxed trail in the Owyhee foothills and I rode with Sally Tarbet most of the day. We took it easy although as we approached the final water stop about four miles from the finish, Al Paulo and Patty Barfield looked up with surprise and quickly departed for camp ahead of us. Sonny and Marilyn Hornbaker employed brilliant strategy and determinedly pursued the turtle award on the 30-mile ride.

The High Country ride was held on Labor Day, and a family and their friends happened to be camping at the vet check used for the first two days located at the crest of the Owyhee Mountains. They completely opened up their campsite and took in all of the excitement. We reciprocated by letting some of the kids "ride" our ponies during the vet check.

There were about seven weeks between the Owyhee High Country Ride and the Owyhee Canyonlands Ride. I wanted Frank to be fit and ready for the five-day ride so we rested and rode the Old Selam LD at the end of September. I like mixing in some LDs because I get to ride with different people and I have time to saddle up and do a trail ride at the end of day while the 50s are still out on the trail. Plus, Frank and I like the variety.

The five-day ride was at the end of October. The weather forecast was for record heat in the mid 80s on the first two days, dropping to seasonal temperatures with highs in the 60s by the end of the week. The trails were a series of loops out of the Bates Creek ridecamp. The Canadians made quite a showing at the five-day ride, and Canadian Trail House donated many of the awards. All weeklong the Canadians heartedly participated in all of the ride activities. One Canadian was so determined to do the rides that he took a cab from the Boise airport to the Teeter Ranch west of Oreana. I imagine that the cab driver is still talking about that crazy Canadian and the dirt roads leading to a small town of horses and trailers in the desert. On Day One I had the privilege of riding with Canadian Elroy Karius. Elroy and I remarked that we are so lucky to be riding fast fit horses through the desert of the Western US, an experience that characterizes the pony express and endurance riding today.

Day Two was the perfect endurance ride. I rode with Paddi Sprecher and Sue Hedgecock (Sue White). Our three horses worked very well together and we had a perfect day riding from Oreana to the Snake River and back. John Teeter was thoughtful enough to put ribbon "cheaters" on the fence gates so we could get through more easily. There were so many sights and stories. Sights of a real cowboy saddling up outside the tack house while watching the Arabian horses ride through the ranch, sights of ancient petroglyphs along the Snake River, sights of our three horses eating together out of the same food bowl at the vet check. And the memory of climbing out of the canyon and seeing the butte that we rode by earlier in the morning - a butte with tiny dust clouds that were riders just entering the canyon, a butte that looked so far away across the desert yet a butte that we had to pass by on our return.

On the morning of Day Three, I checked out my horse and something didn't seem right. I had my wife Leslie look at Frank while I trotted him and then Frank and I went over to see Dr Barney Fleming. Frank was off and I didn't want to ride him that day. Frank probably stepped too hard in a powder-dirt puddle and rolled his ankle along the Snake River trails on Day Two (At this time Frank has recovered and appears to be fine. Even so, he will get a well-deserved rest for the next several weeks). While I was dealing with the disappointment of the whole turn of events, a fellow Outlaw, Regina Rose noticed my condition. Regina asked if I wanted to ride Stormy, an extra horse that she brought along to the ride. Wahoo! I was going back out on the trail. We quickly got Stormy vetted and saddled and we left camp dead last. Stormy can be a bit nervous and the 30-mile riders were soon to leave camp on the same trail. We didn't want Stormy to lock in with a passing fast 30-mile rider and run himself silly so we split up and I headed off to the vet check ahead of Regina Rose and Linda Black. The trails on Day Three took us out to the Snake River again and the winds were howling. The white-capped waves on the river were large enough to kayak surf and the vet check was very dusty from the blowing wind.

Day Four is one of the best ride days. Each day has a separate attraction and Day Four's attraction is Sinker Canyon. Sinker Canyon has a year-round stream and numerous water crossings. You must walk through Sinker Canyon because of the footing, but it is so pretty that no one would want to trot anyway. At the vet check, Steph's kids cooked hot dogs over a campfire for the riders, vets, and helpers. We fed some hot dogs to one of the local canines proving once again that endurance can be a dog-eat-dog world. I rode with Carol Fitzgerald all day and it was another perfect endurance day. Carol's horse Boomer and my borrowed horse Stormy had a great time all day long. Boomer cannot trot as fast as Stormy, so Boomer would canter while Stormy trotted. Stormy would hear the canter footfall and eventually yield to his inner feelings and start to canter too. Except, Stormy would gradually pick up the pace until he'd want to drop his head and run off in a rocket canter. He'd then run for 100 yards or so, just far enough to show Boomer who was the fastest horse, and then drop back into a slow walk to let Boomer catch up. Over and over again the pattern was repeated. It was as if Stormy was saying, "Boomer my good friend, how many times do I have to show you, you coffee-colored bag of fleas, that I am the faster horse." Carol and I found the whole behavior hilarious and we laughed with our two equine friends and their equine games throughout the ride.

Day Five was the famous costume ride and the characters were out in force. There were outlaws, cowboys, Indians, cowgirls, rodeo queens, princesses, the man with no name from the Clint Eastwood films, Zorro, clowns, parrots, cartoon personalities, and characters of all colors and stripes. Even though the Canadians were well represented at the ride, I was disappointed not to see any Royal Canadian Mounties on that day. Partway through the ride, Linda Karius and Bianca Loseth asked me to join them for the last 30 miles. At the time, we had no idea how far those 30 miles would be. It was the last of the five days and the ending of the ride. During the last few trail miles I was looking around at the rocks and hills, at my trail companions, and our horses, thinking of the past five days, the trails, the river, the canyons, the desert, the coyote, the eagle, the cougar tracks, and feeling rather sad that the whole thing was soon to be over. If only it could go on for a few more miles I thought to myself. Linda, Bianca, and I rode into camp side-by-side for our final completion and pulsed down. Sometime later we became aware that there was some controversy over the trails. Eventually it was determined that we needed to go out for a few more miles and some more trail. This was one of those times when an Outlaw has to saddle up quickly and leave camp. Linda and I left down the road to complete the trail segment that we missed. After all those miles, if we were to be true Tough Suckers, then we were certainly tough enough to go out again and ride a few more miles. About a mile down the road Bianca caught up to us saying "Wait for me!" and the three of us rode the last miles of the trail together. The afternoon was beautiful and I was lucky to be riding a good horse along one of my favorite trails above Bates Creek.

One of the most remarkable performances all week was Elroy Karius' horse Apache Eclypse. Apache received BC three of the five days including Day Five. It is always impressive when a five-day horse receives BC competing against fresh horses. Steph and John recognize high vet score too. I believe that Apache Eclypse received the high vet score as well as BC for those three finishes including high-vet score on Day Five. There were 12 riders who completed all five days on five-day horses and four riders completed all eight days on eight-day horses. One of those eight-day horses, a big black Arabian-Percheron cross was jokingly described as a plow-horse by one of the veterinarians early in the ride. That horse may look Percheron, but Gypsy has the heart and stamina of an Arabian. Four riders received Tough Sucker recognition for riding all eight days - all three days of the High Country Ride, and all five days of the Canyonlands ride. The race for overall best time was hotly contested between Elroy Karius and Sue Hedgecock all week. Both were riding five-day horses - Sue on Montego and Elroy on Apache. Sue missed a trail junction on Day One and lost twenty to thirty minutes. At the end of five days, after 24 hours of riding, the top two riders, Elroy and Sue, were separated by three minutes and four seconds. Carrie Johnson and her horse Bagheera finished first on each of the 30-mile rides and received BC and high vet score on all three days. The top riders often receive the attention but there was high drama in the rest of the pack too, including Linda Black's heartbreaking pull with only a few miles left on the fifth day. Also, Bianca Loseth's horse Sadeek reportedly did his first ever 50 on Tuesday, and completed his fifth 50 on Saturday. Tom Dean received the cussingest character award and I can imagine that he has some stories to tell about dogs, horses, and a trailer awning. I am sure there are many other tales to tell as well.

You can see some of the sights and get a feel for the event at the Oreana websites:

Canyonlands, 2003
Canyonlands, info

The final ride in the Tour de Oreana series is the Owyhee 100. All week long the emails flew as the Outlaws tried to get enough horses and riders to field a credible team. We wanted to get some riders out for the 100. As I' ve written before, to me 100 miles is the signature distance of endurance riding, the Owyhee 100 was our last ride of the season, and we wanted to do the last ride with finesse. Once again, Regina Rose offered to let me ride Stormy. Stormy is a first-string horse that we can always count on, even as a back up. Linda Black rode him on one of the three-day Owyhee rides, I rode him on three of the Owyhee five-day rides, and now Stormy was going for his first-ever 100 at the Owyhee 100 one week after completing 150 miles in the five-day ride. Riding someone else's horse is an honor and a great responsibility.

At about 6:45 we were off (well, actually about 7:00 for the three of us). Linda, Regina and I were off on another journey on the Owyhee trails. The 100 consisted of a variety of loops out of the Oreana base camp and we visited the Snake River Canyon, as well as numerous other trails in the area.

We rode at the tail end all day long and well into the night. Regina's Percheron-Arabian horse Gypsy was the only horse in the 100 that completed all of the previous eight Owyhee Ride days. It was Stormy and Noodle's first 100 and our last ride of the season so we wanted to take it easy for the horses and savor the moments on the trail.

We rode the final two loops in the dark. Riding at night and trusting your horse is one of the great experiences of riding a 100. We had good moonlight for the first loop but by the last loop it was totally dark. The night was cold with temperatures in the teens and our reins froze to the bits. We rode in the darkness on trails just off of Idaho Highway 78 during part of the loops. There was little traffic except for the sugar beet trucks. To the truck drivers, we may have been barely visible as three faint ghost riders in the shadows and the sagebrush. We felt a kinship to the riders in the past who traveled from one ranch house to another on cold clear nights covering the long miles in the darkness.

The final miles on the Bates Creek Road were cold. The stars were clear and bright and we saw quite a few meteors. The air that was chilled on the Owyhee Mountains flowed off the peaks and funneled down through the canyons. We rode up the canyon and into that cold breeze on a crystal-clear night. Linda, Regina, and I rode silently on our last few miles of the season. As we headed up the road I saw another shooting star and shed a few tears in the darkness as I thought about the good horses, the good trails, the good friends, and the distances that we had all traveled this past season.

There was a small field in both the 100 and the 80. We all got together in Steph and John's ranch house the next morning for breakfast and awards. Regina's horse Gypsy was the only horse to complete all nine days of the Owyhee series. Regina Rose and one other Totally Tough Sucker completed all nine days of the Owyhee Trail Series. There would have been three Totally Tough Suckers except for Linda Black's heartbreak pull during the last 10 miles of the fifth day on the five-day ride. Linda may be the toughest of the bunch because she still saddled up and rode the 100. Mary Forrester, another Tough Sucker, came to help out with the 100 even though she weren't riding. After breakfast we all lingered and talked about the season as well as a possible big-loop 100 next spring in the Owyhees. During the awards, we recognized Steph's fine ride at the 100, some other great performances in the 80 and the 100, and we all said our goodbyes as we packed up and headed home from Oreana.

During the Owyhee Rides, I had the privilege of riding two great horses. Frank is a special horse and he has had an exceptional season. I rode Stormy for the final four days of the nine-day series and Stormy passed his 1000th AERC endurance mile at the completion of the Owyhee 100. He passed that milestone like he goes down the trail, with no complaining and a can-do attitude. They are both good horses and I've been fortunate to become their friend.

Best Regards,

Tom Noll
SW Idaho

Thursday, October 30, 2003

My First Ride - Nancy Reed

As I proof-read this I think about how beautiful the Pamo Valley is. As of this minute I believe it has not been touched by the fires. I pray for all of us in Southern California. Be safe and watch out for each other - human, canine and equine! Nancy

I wanted to tell you about my first ride. I am a newbie with a newbie horse, a 5 year old green Arab. Being an old newbie and a conservative rider I chose a CTR to start with. We did the 9th annual Ramona Rally and AHA region 1 CTR championship, on October 3-5. Let me first say that the location was beyond beautiful. The Pamo Valley in San Diego County is the land that time and developers forgot. The valley floor had a small stream with an oak and sycamore canopy. Cows were everywhere as were deer, coyotes and wild turkeys. The temperature was in the low 80's at mid-day with a nice breeze. One could not wish for a more perfect fall southern California day. I was scared to death as I did not have a horse buddy to bring from home. My greenie, Lyric has done lots of camping, but always with her buddies. She has never spent the night tied to the trailer. Did I say I was scared to death? She trailered the short distance fine, but boy was she awful in camp. She had temper tantrums, called out constantly and was a really BIG pill. It then dawned on me after I watched her pee for the millionth time in an hour - Oh s---, she's in season! Did I tell you I was scared to death? I brushed her getting ready for check in. I talked to her about what fun we would have. Lyric would have none of it. She hated the ride vet; refused to let him even look in her mouth much less press on her gums. And lunge/trot out, forget it. Lyric came from a show barn were she was religiously lunged each day. I can lunge her at home by voice command without a rope. But at the ride-FORGET IT. I was mortified. Next I thought, tack up and walk around camp. Maybe that will calm her down. Lyric thought that was a fine thing to do as long as I walked too, no riding. I was still scared to death as Lyric's behavior was the worst it has been in 6 months. By now I'm thinking I'll just say at camp and maybe drink beer instead of riding. Friday night my understanding husband told me it would all be OK and to get some sleep. Sometime about 9 Lyric decided to stop calling out and we all got some sleep.

On Saturday morning at 5:30 a.m. horn honking awoke everyone and everything to a picture perfect day. Lyric started calling out. I keep thinking beer sounds good. Lyric ate everything during the night, including e-lytes and every blade of grass hay. She kept peeing every few minuses. I was scared to death, but figured we had come this far, we done all we could do to get ready, WE ARE DOING IT! I tried to eat some oatmeal (we call it gruel), but I got about 3 bites and gagged. I rechecked my cantle bag and all my tack. My husband helped me with the camelback water system and made sure I have some Cliff bars for later. I was ready to start my first ride. Who would I ride with; would some poor soul take pity on me and be my ride buddy? I know Lyric would not go alone - I did not want to go alone. I kept thinking I'd pull if Lyric unseated me and you know, drink beer. To the starting gate I went. Lyric started to rear, buck and have a hissy fit. I kick her forward, do tight circles, think of beer. Then I am saved, clutched from the jaws of curtain defect and rejection-by a junior!!!

Yep, Jayla from Riverside County came up to me and said, "Do you need some help?" I wanted to kiss her, but was still trying to stay seated. Flame, aka Olympic Flame, her 19 year old Arab gelding is calm and quiet in the face of Lyric's antics. I start to let myself hope we could do same of the ride. I thank God for my good fortune and ask for protection and blessings. Lyric starts to calm down and follows Flame out of camp. As we climb the first hill I am exhilarated by the beauty of the Pamo Valley and heartened by how Lyric is calmer with each footfall. Up the hill and past the ranch house we travel. As we reach the valley floor heading north, a coyote bounds across our path from the brush. Lyric calmly gazes at the running figure and goes back to her job, getting us down the trail safely. Yep, all those despooking exercises do work! Maybe we are going to finish this ride. About 45 minutes into the ride some photographers are waiting for us on the far side of a 20 foot deep arroyo. Lyric is sure they are going to kill her and pitches a fit. Tight circles one way then another. Flame and Jayla come back to rescue me. I put Lyric on his butt and she calms down and manages the arroyo without a misstep. Boy is she worried those women were going to do evil! The pictures document her worried face, pictures I will cherish for years to come. To make a long story short we finished the ride! Lyric was not perfect, but she settled down and went to business. Lyric went up and down all the hills and rode by cattle (they were scary!). Flame and Jayla kept us on time and in good humor. Lyric's metabolics were all A's at the vet checks but still would not let the vet check her gums. She looked good at the finish line after 21 miles. I hurt everywhere. Lyric hated those sneaky judges who attempted to hide on the trail and spy on her. She ate, drank, peed and pooped throughout the ride. We finished, no falls, no crashes and still a lot of horse left at the end. I was so happy, we did it.

I learned so much from this ride and have a LONG list of things to work on. For Lyric, it's time to learn to go alone down the trail. She may need a new saddle (no not that!), but I will see if the synthetic pad was the culprit first. I need to lunge Lyric several times a week, much to Lyric's dismay. My cinch needs to be replaced and I've ordered a mohair one. I also need to have all my friends and even passersby's look in her mouth. For me I must go back to the gym and do sit-ups and push ups along with other forms of torture. Jayla was so wise when she told me the rider has to be just as fit as the horse. More important, I have to relearn to ride without leaning to the right. This is a deep seated habit, based on holding my reins in my left hand.

I could not have dreamed this was possible without everyone on Ridecamp, all the knowledge, tips and stories. All the stuff about tack, e-lytes, training, and ride stories, etc. I am so thankful for this venue. Ridecamp got me to my first ride. Jayla and Flame saved Lyric from the "alone" monster and made our completion possible. I will someday graduate to endurance when Lyric and I are mentally and physically ready. That will take more training for horse and rider. And more Ridecamp. Thank you!

Nancy Reed
Lazy J Ranch
Elfin Forest, California

PS I am blessed with a family that not only tolerates a horse crazy mother, but came to my first ride to help and support me. Daughter Danielle helped with pulse and respirations while hubby Jerry tried his best to get me to eat gruel, as it has served him well for many years on hundreds of mountain bike rides. Thank you for loving me!

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

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Outlaw Trail LD 2003 - Marlene Moss

Stace and I just got back from Outlaw Trail and what a ride! This was my second time – I did 5 days 2 years ago and probably didn’t stop talking about it daily for months. So I finally got the chance to bring my husband so he could see it for himself. I also have a different horse so I was really looking forward to seeing how she’d handle it – my last ride was scary in places!

We probably couldn’t have asked for better weather. It was a perfect year for the aspen color – everything was gold. We were just doing the LD rides because it was more important to us to be able to do all 3 days than to push for a 55 since our summer conditioning has gotten interrupted a couple times.

We parked so our horses could be in the shade and we didn’t have far to walk for water. I really felt like I could just stay there and camp for weeks.

For those of you that have done the 5 day, single base camp ride, this was essentially the first 3 days. I really wished we were able to do all 5 days, but I am at least satisfied that my husband got to do this as it sounds like the Outlaw Trail multiday ride may have come to an end. Which is really sad as I can’t even imagine a ride I will enjoy more than this one, but I understand how difficult these rides are to put on and Sharon and Crockett do have some other plans.

This first day takes us north to the top of the world. You can see forest and slick rock and all the beauty Utah has to offer for miles around. Before we got to the “big climb”, Stace’s horse, Cody stumbled on a rock. He tried desperately to stay up, but after a few stumbled strides went to his nose and Stace went off. He got a little cut on one leg from the rock or a stick and cut the inside of his upper lip and that was all. From what I saw, I expected bloody knees, broken teeth or nose – and that just on the horse. Since Cody tried so hard to keep from going down, Stace was able to control his fall and had a sore shoulder the next day, but that was it. We wrapped the cut on the leg even though it has stopped bleeding and walked Cody around – all looked good. Stace hopped back on, figuring we’d walk out slowly and make sure everything was ok. Not gonna happen, Cody was raring to go and jumped into a canter.

Then the “big climb”. It’s really weird, I remember it being steep and rocky on my last ride, but I think I must have closed my eyes. The horse I rode then panicked in close trees and wasn’t good at going over downed logs at a walk. I know she scared some people with some antics when she wanted to go really fast at the bottom of the last part of the climb, but I really didn’t remember a lot of the climb. This time my horse, the beautiful Kit Kourageous, handled everything like she’d been doing it all her life. She took every rock, log and turn calmly and safely – which was nice because she was very powerful up these hills and really wanted to go.

In fact she was amazing the entire ride. It was like she enjoyed every challenge and then looked for the next one. Other than a single temper tantrum being forced to stand at the finish line waiting for her turn for pulse check, she was just perfect all 3 days. You really have to love every minute on a horse like that! Of course Cody was good too, but then he always is! Stace has done an amazing job with him – they did the entire thing bitless, first with a soft sidepull and then just with a rope halter.

In general, we took things pretty slow, knowing there was always lots more terrain coming – and of course, the rocks! Kit is an amazing drinker. She might not drink at the first couple opportunities, but once she starts, she doesn’t miss even a mud puddle. I think she drinks more volume than any horse I’ve ever seen, including our mustangs. Of course I had visions of a ruptured stomach after all the recent conversations on Ridecamp, but I let her do what she needed to do with eating and drinking and she always looked good.

The third day gets us into the slick rock area where all the stories of the outlaws and Morman pioneers abound. To get there, you have to ride over more rocks than you’d otherwise see in a lifetime, but the horses handled it really well. We led a lot. I was happy that I had easyboots on in the slickrock area – much grippier than shoes. Kit wanted to really move except in the deep sand, she didn’t like that at all.

But some of the other things about this ride that are really nice is that at the ride meeting every night, Crockett tells stories about his experiences in the area and the history he’s kicked up. There were several people with other stories to add. And many of the riders had done this ride many times so it was really nice wandering around talking to people. Sharon and Crockett are so great – they know every riders name and find something special to say and unique awards for everyone. And in general, everyone that did this ride was really great to talk to or ride with.

I think this ride is also an amazing bonding experience between horse and rider. I’m sure many multi-days have that effect. But it is just amazing to see what your horse is really capable of getting you through – and then still wanting more. I think Cody got LD BC 2 days and in the end tied with another horse for overall LD BC. Stace got a gorgeous picture of a horse and falcon that I’m going to have to steal some day.

So for those of you that haven’t done this ride, take any opportunity you can to do whatever ride Sharon and Crockett put on – you’ll have memories to last a lifetime.

Marlene Moss
Moss Rock Endurance Adventures

Sunday, September 28, 2003

A Successful PanAm Story - Laura Hayes

My husband drove me, a month's worth of clothing and equipment, and my good old gelding Music, South to Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania to meet Cia and Wave. On August 24, three weeks before the PAC in the state of Washington, we left NY and PA behind and started west. This was no wily nilly meeting and trip - this was a mission with a plan, and the successful outcome was the satisfying reward.

I had helped Cia in Spain last year and had become attached to Wave during the World Games. I was impressed with his workman - like attitude and his ability to adjust to everything around him. I was thrilled when she asked me to come along to the Pan Am Championship.

We traveled only 400-500 miles a day stopping in the middle of most days to walk and graze for almost an hour. The two geldings got along great, with good natured Music aptly handled the role of companion, scratching post and entertainment to Wave, while Cia and I got on swimmingly. The four of us moseyed our way across the country with the human travelers singing to rock and roll, playing gin rummy, and absorbing the history and beauty of the west, while the equine partners munched hay, watched out their windows, and rolled in the western dirt each evening.

We stopped every afternoon in time to set up camp, ride the geldings a few miles, and make new friends from the Equine Travelers book we used to make overnight accommodations. Except for the second night when we stayed with old friends of mine from Sandarac Arabians in Illinois, we stayed with strangers every evening of our trip west and never had a bad stop.

Getting to Trout Lake on day 7 of our journey was really exciting. After 2700 miles we were ready to put down our "camper' roots" and put up our portable corral. The area was beautiful with the White Salmon River nearby and Mt. Adams which stood above us in our rented field. The horses had not lost a bit of weight and appeared content. We met the neighbors, made lifelong friends, and scouted the local groceries (25 miles away) and feed stores for supplies for the ride.

With two weeks until PAC, we began to explore the trails. Instead of hard volcanic rock, we were delighted to find good soft footing, but the dry weather that caused fire warnings, also turned the trails to dust. Many times when trotting down a trail behind another horse, I couldn't see the footing I was asking my horse to trot through. I couldn't imagine being the 20th horse through in a single file line. Fortunately that aspect of the trail would change before ride day.

Though I was along as 'groom' and was prepared to do anything needed, Cia took care of Wave herself She was aware of every poop, every drink and whether he seemed restless or happy. Nothing escaped her observations and though we were in a secure field and the horses were in a sturdy portable corral, we never left them alone. Too many accidents can happen, and we were going to do everything within our power to make sure Wave was ready to compete at his best.

With a week and a half to go, other East team members began to appear in our field. It seemed a little odd at first, but we were glad for the company. Becky Harris from Ohio came in first with Orsi from Hungary, Stagg's horse, and Val's horse - having picked up the latter three on the road when Stagg's truck broke down. Cia and I still stayed up late at night playing gin rummy as everyone retired early- we were getting excited - suddenly it appeared as if we were actually going to have a ride!

The appearance of team members, support staff and vets in the next few days added more excitement. Our little field had become a village with a buzz of activity. Keeping with tradition, the East Team was out enforce and had the largest body of veterinarians (at least 9), farriers (at least 5), fashion consultants, caterers, and hangers-on of any US team - all having come across the entire country to be there. We performed arcane bonding rituals in our rented house accompanied by mounds of food and gallons of drink. One evening included a 'Yankee Swap' which entailed a shiny red jammie set (well, maybe not the type of jammmies your mama would buy you) and painted Virgin Mary night light that were fought over and schemed for. The event culminated with one of our volunteer vets from El Salvador ending up with the Trout Lake fleece jacket that was very highly coveted.

We continued to ride the trails and learn the lay of the land, and the horses thrived. One day while we were out riding, Lynn Gilbert's Chagall went through the little electric fence attached to our corral, and over a barb wire fence into the road. He was scrapped and sore, which eventually kept him from starting the ride, but we were thankful our horses were not in at the time, adding more tragedy to the situation.

On Wednesday we moved up to base camp with the other competitors. At this point I had to leave Music with neighbor Mel Sherman, as he was not entered in the ride, and couldn't stay at base camp. Wave pined a bit, but being the trooper he is, he went right back to business and only walked his corral in disgust for a half day or so. Music being a friendly guy, made a new best friend at Mel's and never gave it another thought! (thanks, Mel!)

Cia's husband Alex flew in and then my husband, Mark, and our team was complete. We spent the two days before the ride making sure we had anything we could need to get Cia and Wave through successfully. USA East had a road crew who would take electrolytes and rider supplies to P-stops for all 12 riders, and we added our labeled products to the piles headed out on the trail. The coordination was incredible and as usual, East was on top of things. At one away vet check where the crew box was on hard packed gravel, one official commented that since East was so prepared, he figured that we would have had sod delivered for our area. I informed him that we paid the man, but he must have gotten lost.

Cia had made it clear to the East vets that she did not want to ride on the team, but as an individual. It was pretty evident that a win was in the planning, but so many things could go wrong!! Tension mounted, but good old Wave just kept munching and taking it all in. He had been to Spain, he had been to the UAE - this was nothing to him - there weren't even any airplane trips involved!

Ride day was just dawning when the mob of 90 or so horses moved out of the clearing and onto the trail for the start of the 2003 PAC. Mark, Alex and I had our jobs and were ably assisted by Heather Hoyns, who kept track of Wave's pulse as we headed to the Pulse box and the vet. Alex called the shots, I fed, watered and attended Wave (never leaving him when he was in the check), and Mark took care of the vet card and Cia, even reading her the description of the upcoming loop before she went back out.

The story ends with a win. Cia and Wave navigated the last 13 mile loop in only 53 minutes (my wager had been 1 hour 8 minutes), and cantered over the line in super shape. The next morning we simply tidied him up and he trotted out for BC in his typical casual fashion - but absolutely sound. He didn't look like he had lost any weight at all, except for his grumpy ears (which would have perked right up if he was headed down the trail) he was picture perfect.

Wave is not a big guy - probably 14.3 with his shoes on. He is more than a bit ponyish - chunky, with long fetlock hair and a thick coat, but he has the spirit of a survivor - eating and drinking at every chance - and full of heart. Cia took fabulous care of him and then rode him to his potential. It is said that 'success happens when luck meets preparation', and it is true in this case. There are no short cuts to this level of success and no small thing can be overlooked - from the consistantcy of the horse's poop to the type of socks the rider wears - it is all important.

Our PAC trip ended almost four weeks from it's beginning, and none of us are any worse for wear. Half way back across the country, Cia and I tied our third game of gin rummy, having both won a game to 2000 points, the horses returned to their fields happy and healthy and the pictures have been developed. It was a great trip.

Laura Hayes

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Tall Pines Ride - Kathy Myers

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!

Kathy Myers
in Santa Fe, NM
with Blue... aka Mr Maajistic