This weekend I did the 50-mile ride at the Old Dominion. It was my 3rd ride and first 50. My friend (crew) and I arrived at the 4-H center on Thursday (we wanted to get a good parking spot near the shopping). It was blistering hot and by the time we finished setting up camp I think we were both on the verge of heat exhaustion! She had brought a neat little mister and we sat around spraying each other and using her battery operated fan to cool ourselves off. Worked pretty good! Fortunately, we heard a front was coming through and it should be cooling off by ride time.
The "front" arrived on Friday afternoon in the form of rain, rain, rain, rain. Our great parking spot turned into the great dismal swamp. I really felt sorry for the tent campers ... I wonder just how waterpoof those things are. We spent the afternoon keeping things dry, "strategy" planning and chewing our nails. We were told at the ride briefing that no crew would be allowed at the first vet because of the rain, which about put me into a panic. Who would hold my horse when I went to the outhouse????
Saturday morning looked pretty cloudy, so I hauled out my rain gear. Might as well stay dry and warm. Thank goodness it cooled off considerably. They had a controlled start which I watched from a distance. There were about 100 50 milers, so it was quite a crowd. Once they cleared out, I left (with the drag rider right behind me). Actually, she knew me by name because we had ridden together at my first ride back in October. Nice to see a familiar face.
The ride to McCoy's and the first vet check was fairly easy. Long up and long down, across the Shenandoah river. That crossing was pretty awesome. I've only crossed creeks. The river is about a quarter of a mile wide and standing out in the middle of it in waterproof overalls was a photographer. I don't know how she can stand out there all day in the middle of the river taking pictures. Sure wish I had a picture of that! The river was about chest deep on my little 14h horse. I was really worried when we had all that rain and imagined swimming a raging river. At least we didn't see the canoers and kyakers that other people ran into. My horse gamely plowed through the water, his sights on the vet check (and dry land) ahead.
McCoy's vet check actually worked out pretty well despite having no crew. I found the hay I had sent ahead and I carried feed and electrolytes with me. Widget pulsed down immediately, ate and drank. I quickly discovered that I had just completed the easy part of the ride. We left McCoy's and rode through tons of mud churned up by the 100 horses still ahead of me. Where there wasn't mud, there was rock or rock and mud. I ride a gaited horse (Paso Fino) and the places where we could have made time were too soopy to go through at any speed, so we just went at whatever speed we could. We passed a farm where someone had put out two huge water troughs for the horses and had a cooler of water for the riders. How nice!
Then the climbing began. I've never seen so much uphill in my life. We went up and up and up and up, and just when you think you are at the top, you round a corner and there's more up and up. Poor Widget would stop, look up, look back and try to turn around and go downhill instead. I kept telling myself that this is the worst ... after the next vet check, it will be downhill back to McCoy's. Some of the views were just spectacular. You look waaaaaaaaaaaay down and see the Shenandoah river snaking through the valley.
At the next vet check (I can't remember the name) I was so happy to see my crew. They took my horse, got him eating and drinking, got me eating and drinking. No problems getting through the check. I barely remember it! Anyway, I set off happily anticipating the downhill coming up. Wrong! The trail going back was more uphill!!!! Where the heck do they find all these hills. Again we climbed up and up and up over even more rock than before. More spectacular views.
At one point I came to a pie plate that said "Bog" and sure enough, right smack in the middle of the trail was this huge pit of mud. No way around that I could see. I checked very carefully to make sure hoofprints went up on the other side of it and that no ears were sticking out of it. Looked like it hadn't sucked down any horses, so we slogged through -- it was over my horse's knees (he's only 14h). So anyway, I'm looking (and praying) for some downhill - please!! Be careful what you pray for -- the downhill finally appeared and it was scarier than the uphill! No dirt -- just rock. At one point my horse stopped dead in the trail, looked down, and clearly said "No WAY I'm going down that!!" I got off and tried to lead him down, but he refused to budge, which was probably a good thing because if he had gone, he would have most likely landed right on top of me. I got back on and he immediately tried to do a rollback (no room to turn around) and head in the opposite direction. Nope -- I told him, we have to go down there. He finally heaved a huge sigh and plunged down the hill. I spent the next half hour or so praying that his shoes didn't slip. We finally got past the really bad rock into more sucky mud. I didn't think we'd ever make it back to McCoy's. In fact, I was so sure we would be over time that I stopped frequently to let him graze and drink. We finally came into McCoy's (dead last) and to my surprise, they vetted him through, and after our hold sent us on our way! I again met up with my friendly drag rider who led the way back across the Shenandoah.
We had 7 miles to our last vet check and this time I was definitely over time. I was almost to the check when I heard someone call my name. Turning around in the road I saw my truck and my crew -- all loaded up and on their way back to base camp! They were told I was pulled at McCoy's and the ambulance was taking my horse back to camp, so they were leaving. They were pretty shocked to see me coming up the road. Thank goodness we ran into each other. We got Widget watered and fed and checked by the vets. It was only 4 more miles back to the 4-H center and I wanted to ride it rather than be trailered back. He pulsed right down and was deemed fit to continue, so Suzanne (the drag rider and now my best buddy) and I headed back to base camp.
She and I discussed whether we should race to the finish, decided "nah" so we just trotted/gaited in waving our arms, shouting YEAH!!!!!!!!!!!! .... our friends were clapping and cheering ... it was pretty cool. I was an hour or so over time, but we completed 50 miles -- a distance neither myself or my horse has never done before. Widget was tired and had some foot soreness from all the rocks (definitely pads if I ever do this again), but no puffiness, no muscle soreness that I could find. He was out galloping around the field with his buddies after we got home this afternoon.
All in all .. it was a wonderful weekend. If I had planned a trail ride, and it had rained all the previous afternoon and all the previous night I would have said "forget it", rolled over and gone back to sleep. But there I was, so I might as well get up at an ungodly hour and go ride in whatever is out there. I met lots of wonderful people, made some new friends, reconnected with old friends ... Life is good!
Karen Williams Spotsylvania, VA www.mattariver.com