Monday, May 10, 2004

Little Manistee Memorial Ride - Maggi Mieske

OR the Forrest Gump Rain Ride

Remember how Forrest Gump described the rain in Vietnam? Big, fat rain. Small, sting-ging rain (don't forget the twang there). Rain that came in sideways and even some rain that came straight up from the ground. We had that and MORE at the Little Manistee Memorial Ride!

First, it rained all night.

Then, the day dawned dark and dreary and now that I have the poetry out of the way, let me just say that the morning dawned YUCKY! It was dark all right. And dreary. If you could call it dawn, but I wouldn't. It was raining and it was thundering with horrendous flashes of lightning.

We were due to head out at 7:30 a.m. on the 50 miler. We didn't really decide that we WOULD attempt this ride until 7 a.m. and brought the horses out one by one to saddle them under the awning. For once, they didn't argue about being under the scary awning. However, Max and Malik both gave us very disgusted looks as we saddled them. I couldn't blame them. But in weighing the options, it occurred to me that the word "endurance" does not imply FUN or EASY or JOYOUS. "Endurance" is enduring and sometimes what we endure is not fun, is not easy and sometimes is heartbreaking. This was just some RAIN. OK, so it was also 39 degrees. Luther, Michigan is not the Arctic. And besides, my dear daughter, Carrie, offered me the use of her expensive waterproof Columbia coat. And to be brutally honest, NO, we were NOT prepared to ride in the rain (which will be rectified before the next ride!) but neither was the Donner party ready for winter. Well, maybe that isn't the best analogy!

In any case, we warmed up and actually left out a few minutes behind everybody else. We wanted to COMPLETE. We wanted sound, happy horses at the vet checks and at the finish. Malik and Max were thoroughly disgusted as it became apparent to them that we weren't just messing with their heads but actually meant to RIDE in the slop. We took the back loop behind camp that brings us out to the road and then down to the Tin Cup Springs trail. When we got on the road, they could see horses ahead and suddenly realized it was a "ride". A real ride! They perked up and never looked back.

I soon discovered that glasses are a girl's worst nightmare in Forrest Gump rain and removed them to a pocket (after I found one in my unfamiliar loaner). I was now, for all intents and purposes, blind. Jenny devised some ingenious hand signals to guide me through roots and mud and water (it was raining too hard to hear her!) but I basically turned it all over to Malik and was supremely pleased that he never once faltered, even when I missed a signal from Jenny. He never missed a step that whole fifty miles. Maybe I should ride like that more often.

Our first check went great. Max's guts were a little slow at first but he chowed down on the beautiful alfalfa I set aside for the ride and they came right around. He had A's on everything else, as did Malik. I couldn't believe they were doing so well in such awful weather. Ride management was having quite a time of it with vet cards disintegrating into oblivion. The vets and timers and vet writers were wonderful working under pressure. Many of the riders were on the honor system and for the most part, I feel most if not all were honorable. It was not the best of circumstances but spirits were high and there was a lot of laughter in spite of the rain!

I discovered at the first check that I was getting wet underneath my daughter's coat and thought perhaps it was seeping in when the hood had blown off from my helmet and from the neck when I had finally unzipped it slightly to regulate my body temperature. This trail took some concentration and WORK! We usually have to worry about it being deep and dry in the sand and Jay and Becke usually put out water troughs. Not this time, no sir!

There was water everywhere!!!

Our hold at the first check was 30 minutes. Jenny and I were basically numb from the cold but the horses warmed themselves up under a blanket and with some munchies in their slurry. They were quite happy to trot off for the next loop, which sure helped us be upbeat about going back into the storm!

Again, I was blind but it couldn't be helped. The glasses were even worse. We made it back to camp with water-logged shoes and literally peeled our clothes off back in the warm, dry trailer. We asked each other if we wanted to quit but neither one did. I discovered a couple of things back at camp. Carrie had not waterproofed her coat after washing it several times. I had to peel that off before I could peel off the rest of the layers of clothing. And I discovered that my tights with the suede knee patches had accumulated dirt and sand to the point that they rubbed the dye right off of my stirrup fenders and the skin right off of the inside of my knee to boot. OUCH! I had been so cold and numb that I hadn't realized it. Fortunately, I had some dry tights and before we could finish dressing, Nelson showed up to inform us that the check had been changed from a 50-minute hold to a 30-minute hold. We had ten minutes to head out! BUT, there was good news. While we had been changing, the rain had STOPPED! Hallelujah, praise the Lord!!!

Back on the trail we went and this time, I was able to SEE it! I noticed the poor little starflowers had shrunk themselves up as tight as they could. The marsh marigolds behind the ride camp were under water. The muddy spot we usually pass over was now a flowing stream and flowing pretty fast. Back to the road and then on to the trail again farther down and the horses were now really enjoying themselves immensely! While it was still gray, the sky was lightening up and the air was becoming warmer. Our 3rd vet check was 40 minutes and things were smoothing out for most of the volunteers though there was some confusion about vet cards and time outs and such. Nothing major and still lots of laughter to go around. Jenny and I left the check with happy and refreshed horses, strong and willing and we both agreed that in spite of the earlier weather, this was the best ride we had shared in a looooong time. Our horses took turns leading on the trail and kept each other motivated. When they wanted a breather, they would walk and in 4 or 5 minutes they would voluntarily pick up a trot again. They started drinking deeply finally on this last loop. Though not drinking well before, they never showed any outward signs of dehydration. They did decide that the water on the trail was the most delicious they had ever tasted, especially the dirtiest and brownest stuff. There was some tough going where the trail is usually firm, as it had been churned up into a muddy mess by the time we passed through. We slowed down in those parts and let the horses have a little gallop where it was clear and easygoing. They had fun "competing" with each other. We passed a few comp horses here and there. The 50 comp riders were doing the trail backwards and Max and Malik looked after them as they continued on after sharing a drink in the same puddle as if wondering what was wrong with them...they were going the WRONG way.

I can't believe how much our pit crew did for us. Carrie's boyfriend, Joe, was a trooper and proved himself invaluable to us. We couldn't have done it without Joe and Nelson, I am afraid. They were waiting for us with a smile and a pat on the back even though we didn't need a slosh bottle or anything to drink during the deluge! When I knew a pit stop was coming up, I would start calling "Yoo-hoo, where are you?" through the trees. (Watch the Bonanza episode called "Hoss and the Leprechauns" and you'll understand). When they could hear us, they would start calling the horses' names. Max and Malik LOVE to see their pit crew on the trail even if they don't get anything though they often do. We discovered during the course of our ride that saying "yoo-hoo" again would spark immediate renewed energy and vigor in both horses even if Nelson and Joe did not soon appear. We decided to not abuse our newfound, performance-enhancing chant lest our steeds catch on to our game! But it certainly was effective!

We finished in 5 hours and 48 minutes. What a great ride! Before we finished, the flowers had decided it was safe to come out and it actually became warm and somewhat muggy and buggy! Only in Michigan!!!

Max and Malik had top-notch vet scores (480 and 490 respectively) scoring 9 or 10 on everything. They were in excellent condition at the end. But Earl Baxter is not only heavier than we are, he is faster and he drove away with the Best Condition Award. Congrats to him. He has some fabulous horseflesh underneath him!

I must mention our new addition to our crew and ride camp family this year, Nellie. Nellie is the Great Dane that Jenny rescued and brought home at Christmas to live with us. She has become quite a fixture in our home and in our lives. Our dear Cardigan Corgi, Fancy still lurks under the trailer to guard us from strangers and overly inquisitive dogs that wander in but Nellie doesn't fit. She was a big hit though. We painted a number on her butt (#1, of course) and she went visiting with us. Everyone wanted to know if she was doing 25 or 50, competitive or endurance. Everyone wanted to pet her, of course and when she leaned her head into them, they were captivated if they were lucky enough not to be capsized! She waits with Nelson at the pit stop and runs up the trail to watch for us coming and then runs joyfully back to tell him that we are coming. She can't ride with us on the roads at home but I hope to take her to some trails with us this weekend and let her roam trails while we ride nearby. If she weren’t a dog, she'd be a perfect endurance mount! She loves to go and helped us clear the trail for LMMR a couple of weeks ago, leaping over the downed trees and finding water in the depressions of the forest. Fancy, of course, stays a little closer to supervise.

For our first ride this season, I am VERY pleased. Our horses were in great shape, did everything we asked of them, we didn't push them or get caught up in the excitement of the ride...rain dampens more than the forest! But it could not dampen our spirits or enthusiasm. The trail was as well marked, as always, the people were the best as always. A typical endurance ride in spite of the weather and a few "aguasfiestas". Thanks, Jay and Becke, for a wonderful ride AGAIN. As long as you are willing to put on this ride, I will be there to ride it and if you need help clearing trail, I'll do my best to make room in my schedule to do so.

The Grand Island 100 is next on our list!

Miles of smiles,