Well, here I am again. For 7 years in a row now, we have rung in the new year at Panamint Springs. This place just draws you. I can't tell you why. But I keep coming back.
When the Hackworth's go to Death Valley, it can be an overwhelming undertaking. This year there were to be 2 horses and 5 people going. Since I am saving all of my Vacation time for this Summer and XP04, I worked right up until the day we left. Oh yes, Christmas also gets in the way, what with shopping, baking goodies, wrapping gifts, Observing the holidays. On the 26th, while at work the whole time, I have delegated errands to anyone that can drive, and chores to anyone that can't. It is so nice when everyone does pitch in and gets everything done that you ask. Even if you ask 10 times in a row and they roll their eyes and say "yes, Mom" 10 times back to you.
The only casualties not to make it in to the rig this year were my new Stainless Steel Thermos, and a 1/2 bag of Almonds. Not to bad. Beats forgetting the saddle blanket or the bridle. Don't laugh, have done that in the confusion ( " but I thought YOU packed it! )
We left later than I had hoped to, but left with nerves and horses intact. We got on the road about noon with the 5 hour drive ahead of us. But at least this year, we didn't need to stop at every Wal-Mart on the way looking for last minute necessities. That saves about 3 hours on this trip. Yup, we have done that before too.
We pulled in to camp after dark. Thank goodness I know right where we were going. We parked right across from good friends Mike and Sue Benson. We had not talked to them recently and they had started to worry that we had broken down. We got the horses settled in and went over to the Golf Pro Shop ( you've got to see it to believe it) where the early birds were eating dinner. We got checked in, said our "Hi's" to all of our friends, Mike and Sue found us. Just the usual "old home week". It's great.
We had gotten there too late to vet in, so we were up a little early to Vet-in in the morning. Both of the Boys looked great. They have both been here before and you can tell. Ed (my horse) wanted to stay with Marc (daughter Heather's horse) but finally settled in with Rocky (Sue's horse) Ed and Rocky have ridden several 100 miles together and seem to get along well. Help each other eat and drink and get by spooky stuff (ok, Rocky goes by fine, Ed might follow).
So Sue and I walk around camp until we are sure that the Hot Shoes are gone. Then we calmly walk down the runway (I told you not to laugh) toward Trona. It was cold this morning, so we walked for quite a while to warm up the ponies really well. They were both really good and when we asked for a little trot, they were both very willing to stay steady and easy. We kept that up all the way up and around the local boarding stables where we turn right and up the first of many canyons for the week. The morning light on the high rock walls is always so fascinating. Each year it looks different. This part of the trail is a lot of cross country single track. Ed was listening well and just leading or following as asked without arguing. It was so nice. Then at one point, the single track cuts left and joins in to a little road up a hill. Ed jumped the ditch and gave a little buck and was going for more. That should have been my warning sign. I didn't listen.
We finish up the loop back to camp easily. The boys both tank up and immediately begin eating. Even though we have only gone 7 miles or so, they remember how long it is until the next check.
Daughter Colleen (crew) says that Heather and Marc have just left. This is only a 30 minute hold, so a few minutes later, Ed and Rocky have slowed their eating, Sue and I have done "our business" and set off for the Vet check. Both horses vet through just fine, both eager. BUT HEATHER AND MARC ARE STILL IN THE VET AREA. Horse and rider are fine, just hanging out a little while longer eating. Ok, but Ed thinks he needs to be joined at the hip to BOTH horses. He started getting nervous and anxious. Heather and Marc trot off down the trail and Ed settles in sort of with Rocky. Our hold is up and we hand walk them over to a spot to mount up. I stop Ed and Sue kept walking Rocky ahead of us. That was a fatal error on my part. Ed DID NOT want to be that far away from Rocky. So as my right leg is in mid air over the saddle, Ed gives one of his famous BUCKING shows. I am sure profanity crossed my lips as I went sailing into the air.
It wouldn't have been so bad if we hadn't walked over to the road to mount up. The ground was as hard as asphalt. I did a full 4 point landing. Butt, right hand, left elbow and back of head (helmet!) I hit left elbow and tailbone so hard it took my breath away. Sue said that Ed turned toward her and Rocky with a look of "I'm in trouble now" and wouldn't come close to her. He went over to friend Ken, who had no trouble catching him. He walked over to me while I was still writhing on the ground, unable to get up. After a couple of minutes lying there, I was able to get up with much help from Ken. Ken held him while I got back on this time. We were able to then walk out of camp while I continued to assess the damages. One bloody finger (right hand). One lump on left elbow that hurts a lot, but is moving fine, No headache or blurred vision. Neck isn't even stiff ( not yet anyway ) Elbow seemed to hurt worse than butt at this point. So we set off over the mountains for the next leg of trail.
When we got to the top of the ridge, the views were as beautiful as ever. Very clear day. Cool and crisp and the horses are still feeling fresh. Trotting until we ask them to stop. The footing down this next section can be very tricky, but I figure with Ed's walk, we will be much better off if I can ride down them. I was right. He was careful with each step and we got down to the bottom without incident. This is my least favorite part of this whole day. There are only 10-15 foot sections where you can trot, the rest is all ankle biters. This section of trail to the bottom of the valley is close to 4 miles long before you turn north to camp and the footing from here to camp is PERFECT.
We finally pick up a trot. Not long into our trot we come up to Cindy Prior riding at a very slow walk. No distress, just slow. We stop to check on her. She describes walking on foot down the nasty rock hill and her ankle rolling over and she heard a "pop" sound. Another rider had helped her to get up on to the horse. It was her left ankle. She had it out of the stirrup, just hanging there. Her horse was being SOOO good about it. Sue and I asked if she needed Vet wrap or Duct Tape for it, did she want us to wrap it for her so she wouldn't have to get off, etc. Nope, she was fine. Would her horse be ok if we rode off and left her? Up. Ok, so off we went.
The horses are glad to finally be moving out too. Manes and tails are flying in the breeze. What a great day. Much to my surprise and amazement, Sue and I are both able to trot nearly the whole way to the 2nd vet check. Only a few brief short walks. This is so different than last year. There was more walking than trotting last year. Boy how the trail seems shorter when you are moving fast. This is fun.
Vet 2, no problems, smooth sailing. Worried Mom checks on Heather. She and Marc are over an hour ahead. No problems. Vet Charlie said they had looked good. Thanks Charlie!
So off we went. We walked all the way up to Ballarat from here. This is another 3 miles. With the cool air, we didn't want any stiffening muscles. Once again, the horses turn in to the campground, where camp has been in the past. Once again we keep them going to where camp really is, 8 more miles down the wide flat road to Indian Wells. Once again, Sue and I amaze ourselves with our ability to keep trotting. This is in such sharp contrast to last year. Muscle fatigue, muscle cramps, raw spots, the usual were just not there. Ed got in to a great little trot and I was able to keep the rhythm going with little to no effort on my part. It was incredible.
The horses vetted through just fine. Colleen trotted out Ed for me since walking was getting very difficult. Posting Was just fine! It was just not good when the legs wanted to go in opposing directions. So we got the boys settled in then Sue and I each got to take showers in our own campers. Love even the spit shower. Sure beats helmet head for a week.
We got to the ride meeting then off to bed for us. Ready for day two!
PS on Cindy Prior.....Husband Greg was leaving Vet2 in a little truck to find her. We sort of assumed she would drive the automatic truck since it was her left ankle, or sit on the tailgate and lead horse in. Nope. She rode at a walk all the way back to camp AND GOT HER COMPLETION! THEN WENT TO THE HOSPITAL TO CONFIRM THE BROKEN BONE!! Now that is ENDURANCE...Cindy did sit out the next 3 days. Becky and the gang
Day 2 dawned with us all tacked up and it was COLD. As of the ride meeting last night, we were supposed to go all the way up this mountain. This Mountain goes up to 9000 feet. It was less than 30 degrees down where we were and the snow clouds were looming. As we started, Jackie said we only had to go up to the water trough and the glacier, write our name on the paper, and come home. Yeah! So we set off. Sue and I started off at a great little walk. OOps, there is Heather and Marc. Ed decides that is who he wants to be with. Berzerk. I still had him in the S hack and he knew it. Miranda was at the Balarat vet/ trot by. Asked her to find my bit. Now if I can survive until I get back down off the mountain. So off we go up the hill.
Ed was a little more cooperative going UP. It was nice. It really surprised me that the front runners didn't come back at us until we were up near the water. Ed was so thirsty he pushed his was in to the trough. He and Rocky really tanked up. That was really nice to see. Half way! So down the mountain we go. Now Ed decided he wanted to hurry. Ed has such a walk. It is actually a running walk / gait. I don't know what we look like, I just know it is smooth and he just FLIES down the trail this way. The biggest problem is I didn't want to fly DOWN the mountain.
Well, we made it down off the mountain in one piece. Not really sure how. Miranda was there and had found Ed's bit and had brought it back to the vet check with her. What a great crew! Thank goodness my new headstall just has clips at the bit ends, so that change only took about 30 seconds.
From Ballarat, Sue and I actually got to see some new trail, since to go straight back to camp would short the mileage since we didn't go all the way up the mountain. So we did the LD loop backwards. Flat with good footing. The scenery didn't change much, but it was nice after all of the walking we did up and down the mountain. The bit gave me so much more control and a whole lot less head shaking, wanting to go faster. He knew we weren't going to. End of argument. In the S-hack, it became just a long constant argument. Day one had been just fine. No problem or argument, just ok, Mom, what ever you want. They do get more fit as you go on a multi-day. By day four I had a "super-horse". At least he thought so.
Along the whole stretch down along the road, we would look up the mountain and see the whole area engulfed in snow clouds. It had been so cold only as far as we went, I was so glad we hadn't gone further!
It clouded up and looked like rain all afternoon. The light on the clouds really made for something pretty to look at. We actually passed a couple of riders in the last 5 miles. The desert is so funny. You can see camp. Looks close. Then you ride for a while, look up and it isn't any closer. It can be very discouraging unless you are used to it.
We finished with lots of boing in the step of both horses, both eager to get back to the trailers to drink and eat. There was plenty of time to take care of the ponies, eat, shower AND get to the ride meeting. My only question was, SAME AS LAST YEAR?. YUP. Good, that makes it so easy. Don't need no stinkin ribbons that way. Some years there has actually been sabotage out here. You wouldn't think there would be another sole out here, but there are. It is easy when you have done it before. There just aren't that many options out here. So off to bed early. Boy does that feel good. I can ride without any discomfort but still can't trot out my own horse. Oh, well, there is always someone there to trot out the horse. I just have to ride, right?
Well, I slept well, because I like the sound of RAIN on the camper. Yes, rain. It rained all night. Forcast was for rain today as well. Well, I have rain gear, so packed it on the horse. No problems.
Was careful tacking up this morning. Have gone 100 miles now, lots of up and down, but there wasn't the slightest hint of back soreness. No "armpit" raw spots. No loin rubbing. Everything doing great. Oh yes, once again I am the test dummie for another new product. Katee of Heels Up Saddlery has come up with a pad that has a bottom of material that DOES NOT SLIP, breathes well, doesn't let sweat soak in to the felt. She put lots of thought in to the design of this pad. I have been riding it for a month or so at home without a problem, but the true test is always a multi-day ride. Well, so far so good. Two more days to go.
The morning was warmer while tacking up, so I took off the sweatshirt before putting on my windbreaker for the day. Error in judgement. It was a lot colder this day than past years. Just like every day so far. Oh well, just trot more! This is a good day for moving out. There are only 15 miles or so of hideous rocks today. That leaves you 35 miles of good trotting. So that is just what we did.
On the longest stretch of the notorious rock road, someone we passed asked "how long is this"....answer "too long", but then you get to the sand wash. If you are careful to watch for deep sand, you can move pretty fast. For 5+ miles you are going UPHILL in the sand though, so you have to know your horse pretty well.
So off the rock road, up the sand wash to the old vet check and around the corner to the other sand wash down to the vet check. All of the horses are looking great. Drink everywhere. Of course, water is only about every 10-12 miles. Sure makes the horses learn to drink when they have a chance. If you go slow enough, it has literally been hours since the last water. Some years on this day I have actually gotten HOT. Not this year.. But is wasn't nearly as cold as that mountain yesterday, which is still covered in snow clouds. Sure glad we aren't up there today too!
In to the Vet check and Ed and Rocky are doing great. Eating, eating, eating. We stay a few extra minutes because there isn't anything to eat out on trail out here. They stop to rest so we go vet them though. No problems. Both boys look great. So back in the saddle we are. Off for another long trot stretch. Sue and I aren't able to trot non-stop, but the breaks are less often and last less time. Training at home, there isn't a mile where you can trot non-stop, so being able to trot 2-5 miles out here is our only training ground. It is always me that has to stop, so this is great. I have never felt so good across this valley floor before.
Two things I credit with this is loosing 30 lbs (30 more to go) and sticking with Atkins durning the ride. I had no energy problems on any of the days. I always get looks when I eat my hunk of cheese, but I have always liked to eat a hunk of Jack Cheese. That with some applesause, ziplock of nuts and some Crystal light. The amazing thing for me was that I never felt hungry between, and I didn't feel uncomfortably full after the vet checks. This is realy new for me. Sometimes after lunch, trotting can be very uncomfortable. This is great.
So off we go down the valley floor. They are moving rigs again, and there are still many going past as we trot, and trot and trot. The road is 3-5 miles away on our left. I don't know if they can see us over here or not. Sometimes the rigs look like toys. They are so far away.
The jets are flying again today. My first year here, they buzzed us so close, you could see the sunglasses on the pilots! They were much higher this year. Probably 1000 feet at times. So cool to watch them. Good thing is Ed doesn't seem to mind.
We get to the last water. NOw it is a left turn and 4 miles up the side of the road to camp. Ed sure knows where he is. He is on a misson. Power walking whenever we aren't trotting. We are getting in the earliest I think I have ever done this day.
As we approach what earlier in the day is the finish line, there is a white van parked on the right side of the road facing us. I had crossed the road to the right, thinking they must have left the finish line out here this year. Did I mention that I am getting old and my eyes aren't as good as they used to be. As we get close, it turns out to be tourists. A whole passle of tourists. 4 Adults and 6 or so kids. Two of the kids are way up on the side of the rock hill, sliding down. The rocks are providing avalance material. One of the adults was holding a baby with a very loose blanket whipping around in the wind. Ed is taking this all in, dancing, gigging, snorting. You would think this was the start of a 50, not 150 miles in to a Multi-day ride! I was just about ready to get off or wait for Rocky to keep him settled. Took too long. Ed was out-a-there. Spun to the left leaving me in the same spot in mid-air without my horse. I had seen a car approaching us from behind. The only thing I could think of as I was sliding down the right side of his neck was "hang on to the horse, hang on to the reins" Ed did back up a drug my a couple of feet. But then he did stop. This time I just bounced a little on my RIGHT hip. At least he found a new spot to bruise up. Well, there was only a 1/2 mile to camp and I thought I could walk, wrong. So I got back on. That was still easier than walking. Miranda was at the finish line so was able to have her trot Ed out for me. I was able to walk across the street to our rig.
I asked why we were parked where we were and was informed that the runway we usually park on was actually being used AS A RUNWAY for a real life plane. Who'da thunk it.! Mike Benson has pictures too!
So once again, a spit shower, dinner and bed. Ready for day 4.
Day 4. What can I say. It is generally cold and windy here at Panamint Springs. This morning was no exception. It really was only breezy and it has been colder in past years. This morning I wore more layers than yesterday. I also brought both pairs of gloves. My warm ones and the regular gloves.
Sue and I started 5 or 10 minutes after the leaders. This worked out just fine. Some years the start is a bit crowded on the road. We ride along side of HWY 190 for the first mile or so, and I would imagine that seeing 100 horses along the road would make you drive carefullly. Well, sometimes. At least this section of road is curvy, so most drivers slow for that.
After the first mile, you turn left on to the dirt highway. This is the "back road" to Darwin. A sign tells you that 4WD is required. They mean it. The flat section of road is easily 2 1/2 lanes across, and pretty good footing as dirt roads go. In the morning this stretch goes by quickly, tonight this road is ever so long.
After a couple of miles of flat comes the climb. It goes up and up and up some more. It is only 4 miles or so. Nothing like the day 2 climb to the top. In fact it is only 1/2 the climb of our limited climb this year on day 2. But you are 100 miles more sore. 100 miles more raw. 100 miles more stiff. BUT THE HORSES are raring to go. They are not stiff. They are not sore. THEY ARE READY TO GO. The hill fazes them not. So Sue and I trot a little, walk a little. Trot a little, walk a little. We actually get through this section rather quickly. Then it's down to the wash. As we approach the wash, I am always reminded of my first year hear, when Gloria Vanderford came galloping from the right (the wrong way) muttering that no one had told her it was the wrong way! I guess she had been near other riders. But that was 7 years ago. Funny how you remember different things on trail from other years. Going down this trail Ed is in March down the trail mode. We hadn't seen but a couple of riders going up the hill, but I think we passed 6 or so going down. Most every one was off and hand walking down. Ed walks twice as fast as I NOMALLY do, and with my ever ripening tailbone bruise, I am only walking 1/2 of my normal speed anyway. Ed gets to carry me. It's his fault anyway.
So we get to the wash and go for the couple of miles through the georgeous rocks and cliffs. The layers are jutting out of the ground at a 45 degree angle , sometimes more. What an earthquake that must have been to have done that. I know what it feels like when the San Andreas move a few inches. These cliffs are a couple of thousand feet and are nearly vertical. Must a been something. Glad I wasn't there! The colors of the layers show such different types of rock. I don't know what they are, just that they are beautiful.
We get to the end of the wash in no time and head up the boring paved road. Again I am drawn to the memory of riding up here with Tuttie Nichols my first year and there was snow way lower than even this year. The wind was so cold and the views were incredible. We could see Mt Whitney from there. It just makes you feel so small and insignificant.
So while I was daydreaming, we get to the top. Now it is the drop in to Darwin. As others have said, what an interesting place. You really do have to see it to beleive it. I can even pick out NEW things from last year! Alex is at the edge of town with the ever wonderful water truck. Both Rocky and Ed find the water just delicious. There is even a few flakes of hay. We let them nibble, then it's off we go. They are both trotting strong today. Rocky is so steady. Ed is aguing with me STILL about going faster. At least I am winning the argument today. So on we trot.
Last year through this section, the wind in our face nearly pulled my helmet off. It had to have been gusting at 75 mph last year. Right now it is calm and beautiful. The clouds are forming. Sue and I both wonder how cold the Vet check will be. Check on this day has a very bad, very deserved reputation for being cold and windy.
We made our stop and turn at the corrals for the last 5 miles to the Vet check. Since this day is just an out and back, I wonder where the leaders are. They haven't started coming back at us yet. Either they are slower this year, or we are actually riding faster. Maybe that is it!
About 1/2 way across the valley, we did pass the leaders going the other way. Heather (daughter) and Elfta were planning on riding together today, so I kept expecting to see them any minute. Not so. So the Mom comes out, where are they??? Did one of the horses have a problem??? Did one of them have a problem. They have both ridden this day before, THEY CAN'T BE LOST! Even without ribbons.!
We got all the way to the Vet Check. There they were! Nope, both horses were fine, they were fine....just hanging out...taking it easy today. Whew.....Mom sigh of releif. OK, back to my horse. Oh, yeah, water, pulse, eat. Got it. Gosh, you would think I had never done this before! So Ed pulses down the instant I ask, which was as soon as I remembered! Just fine. Go over to where Miranda and Mike Benson are stationed with Miranda's car. Wow....they are ready for us! Coolers go on the horses. The flame thrower heater (boy does this thing work!) was set up next to the CHAIRS. No sitting on packs and bags this day! Yeah! My bottom can't take anymore of that! The saddle doesn't hurt to sit on, just everything else!
We eat. The horses eat. We drink. They drink. After about 45 minutes, Mike and Miranda VET THE HORSES FOR US.... Wow, what a crew. Boy does this heater feel good. You don't realize how cold out it was until you stop. Gonna have to make "coolers" for Riders!
All too soon, we are off the way we came. Seems impossible that we have already gone 175 miles and only have 25 to go and the last vet check. Ok guys, hold it together. Trot a little, walk a little, trot a little, walk a little. Boy that one raw spot is really sore today! Walk a little, trot a little.
We get to the end of the Valley and the trough. EMPTY! Not a good thing. At least the boys had tanked up at lunch and it wasn't hot. It is only 5-7 miles more to Darwin and the next water. Both horses seem upset over the empty trough but very willingly head for home. Ok, more than willing. Pulling! So very strong. Well, it beats having un-willing at this point.
So in to Darwin. Yes, Alex is still there and there is water. Both of the boys tank up really well. There are a few scraps of hay left, so we let them nibble for a few minutes. Then Ed decides that the trailer hay bag will be much better and off we go. Up to the summit on the road, then down to the wash. Through the wash to the climb. I am not sure how, but I thought we were riding faster today than last year. But no, the sun is setting. It is getting colder, but not unbearable. At least there are no clouds and the moon is about 3/4 an already high in the sky. We are at a point where that road just lights up in the moon light. It is so white. We get down to the flat last section. Ready for our last trot. Ed pulls just slightly ahead of Rocky. I hear all sorts of commotion. Horse stumbling, stumbling. I see the light and dark shadows behind me bobbing up and down. I pull to a stop. Rocky had just about gone down with a stumble. Sue had miraculously stayed on and Rocky had done everything in his power not to fall on her! He somehow had gotten his feet back under him and righted himself. Both were a little shook up, but only a tiny skinned knee for Rocky and Sue was fine. OK, so we take a little more time and WALK the rest of the way home. At the end of the dirt road, Miranda and Colleen are waiting for us with her car. Again we are walking next to the road. It is dark and New Years' Eve. Miranda puts on her parking lights. Rocky trots a little. Yeah! Sound! Ed in on a mission! Power Walk time again. I try to keep him slowed down. A car is coming. We are in front of Miranda and she turns on her flashers. Ed is watching the lights, on, off, on, off....he is getting real nervous. Ok, lets hop off. Right, after 200 miles and it is cold out. My legs are a bit wobbly and as I am getting off, my left foot gets hung up for a couple of seconds. Thank goodness. Off and in one piece, but that was close. Totally my fault, Daughter Colleen walks Ed in the rest of the way. Miranda asks if I want a ride. Nope, got to finish. If not on the horse, at least under my own power. Never mind that we had passed the finish line for the front runners. Now it is another mile back in camp. It is actually feeling good to walk. By the time I get there, Ed and Rocky have tanked up well. Now we just need a Vet! We finally out wait Dave N. and get him to come out of his cosy 5th wheel trailer to vet us out. Both Boys trot out just fine. Now they pull us back to the trailers, where they know food awaits!
Boy is a shower going to feel good tonight.
Best thing I had done the past few nights was to use the hot water from the camper on Ed's Beet Pulp, so that it was nice and warm when he got to it. He would first drink all of the "slop" off the top, then eat all of it! He really seemed to enjoy them. He was also peeing out of trail 4-6 times per day. A little more than his norm. this is good. Got Ed bedded down for his meal, cooler on to dry out. Now it is my turn. Miranda had as usual scored dinner tickets from someone that had changed their minds. So the girls were all gone to eat. THE CAMPER TO MYSELF! Yeah. Only someone with teenage girls could enjoy that part!
Clean dry and fed. Horse and Rider. In that order. Wow. What a great week. Sue, Mike and I go up to the awards presentation. Wow. 30 Riders (+ or - officially?) have ridden the same horse all four days! Whooppee!
For Sue and I, that is two years in a row. Now the goal is 20 Mule Team 100 in Feb. Last year we only got to 65 miles when both of US pulled. The horses were great. I think we have gotten those kinks worked out.
After the awards were all over with, we head back to the campers where Miranda has set up her DJ equipment and we have our own party on the runway! What a great time.
The next morning, in what has become another tradition, we head to the Denny's in Ridgecrest for BREAKFAST! We have another party right there in Denny's. Then we said our goodbys, and head home. Thank goodness for a nice boring trip home. No problems at all. Rain from Tulare home. So everyone is home and safe and we had a great time. Will we be back?? You betcha! IT'S TRADITION!
Becky and the gang