Monday, June 21, 2004

2004 Old Dominion: Super's Story

Jayel Super (owner of Stagg Newman)

The start: I was happy Stagg had arranged for me to ride with Charlie, who is a good guy. We had camped together at the Pan Ams but did not ride together. I told Stagg I did NOT want any of this B.S. of doing 70 miles alone over this rock pile they call the Old Dominion like we did in 1999. I wanted company like in in 2001 only all the way. Since Charlie was to be my buddy for the ride, I decided to be nice early in the ride (well at least relatively nice) and more or less make Stagg think I was listening and willing to go out at a reasonable pace.

Of course at OD we do the first 1/2 mile or so on a paved road behind Henry's pace car. Stagg sings Kum Ba Ya to try to calm me. Boy does he not know how to carry a tune. Calming - Hah! Then we start the climb up Hickerson hollow.

Like usual we were near the front after doing the first 1200 foot climb at a slow but steady pace, in fact slower than usual. When we get to the top of the mountain the course is very inviting to fly down the mountain and I am ready to do that. But Stagg won't let me. He keeps mumbling (he does mumble a lot) about some guy named Matthew MacKay Smith saying "Never hurry, never tarry." So now I no longer even fight him (well not much) while all of these other horses come flying by us thinking they are going to make good time early. So of course most of the horses in the ride passed us before we got to McCoy's Ford (12 miles) out. Of course we always an lose an additional minute or so 'cause Stagg has to pee so often. But's it's fun doing circles around him while he tries to maintain his composure.

Crossing the Shenandoah River is the early morning light is really cool in more ways the one. This year is was cooler than normal cause the water was up to my belly due to the rains! And the milk jugs to mark the crossing had been swept away!! But I was smart enough to get Stagg across the river without getting in trouble unlike the horse who gave its rider a good bath. Then it was my turn to pee in front of the vets at the fly by. Nice color, good volume of course. Most of the other horses were now ahead of Charlie and me.

Charlie and I kept up a good steady pace going up Morgan's Trail (Stagg said Col. Morgan cut that at the direction of G. Washington in case the colonial army had to retreat from the British - I said Col. Morgan cut trails for mules not horses). We passed all of the other horses going up the mountain and across the ridge line as I am pretty good at dancing along the rocks and Charlie stayed right with me. Of course I did not tell Stagg we had passed all of the other horses and he can be clueless at times.

Stagg and Sue came into the first vet check (25 miles) in just under 3 hours. They looked around and asked where all of the other horses were. Charlie and I just laughed as we knew we were leading even though they did not. Sue and Stagg checked our pulses. They should not have bothered. We knew we were already down.

During the check Stagg made his first mistake. He was too busy feeding his face and running his mouth. He did not check the map for the next loop even though I thought I had trained him to always do that. But he's damn hard to train. Cheryl (Stagg's wife and my crew) told Stagg that he went out the way he came in but Stagg asked the out-timer which way to go who pointed to a set of ribbons in the OD color pattern going out in a different direction. I smelled trouble.

We left the first check point the same way we had in prior years and got a couple miles away when Sue said something looked funny. Stagg claimed we were going the back way up to Milford's gap. Then a couple minutes later he said some words that I will not repeat, got out the map and we turned around. It was funny as horses kept coming towards us. Stagg would point in back down the trail from which they came, shout something and they would turn around and follow us. After a couple of miles, Charlie and I had collected all of the horses in the ride and were leading them back to the Vet check like a troop of cavalry horses. Sort of cool in a way but Stagg did not seem to be amused. We had just done an extra 4 to 5 miles (at the OD!). And of course all of the other horses had done less extra mileage as they turned around as we met them heading back into camp. Stagg hollered for the Station Head that they were sending all of the horses out the 75 mile trail, not out the 100 mile trail. Then we headed back up the Massanutten in the right direction.

The rest of the way to the second vet check Charlie and I just cruised along with a couple of other buddies over new trai and some road. I like new trail. This was neat trappy up and down stuff without big rocks but good tough work. We did trot right over a rattlesnake in the road. But a car had already removed any threat from that particular crittur by running over it first.

As we got a few miles from the vet check I saw hoofprints ahead of us which roused my suspicions. When we got to the vet check, there were 4 horses that Charlie and I had passed on the climb up over Milford Gap. Turned out that after coming down from Milford Gap the riders made the guys turn right onto the 75 mile trail in the backwards direction instead of left onto the 100 and 75 going out. Then they picked up the 100 again when it split from the 75 and got ahead of us by cutting off several miles accidentally. Felt really sorry for the chaps as their riders had missed the one critical pie plate. Heard later the riders decided not to make them go back which would have made their ride over 110 miles but rather just ride for completion.

At any rate Charlie and I came into together. Our pulses were down immediately so we went straight to the vets while our buddies took a couple of minutes longer. Then we really chowed down! as we had heard that there Haburn's Gap was a big steep climb.

After this, it seems that we got into the serious rocks. Likely they import them -- no one place on earth could really have so many rocks natively. So Charlie I climbed up the new Habron Gap trail. This new trail is quite a steep climb altho we did trot much of it.

Got exciting when I saw the snake in the trail and no place to go. Stagg said it was only a black racer. Whatever. Charlie kept his cool and we got by.

Maintained steady pace to top, across the knife edge at Jack's notch. Believe they have added rocks since '01 on this trail! So we cruised into Hickory Lane. Again our pulses were down as soon as they took them (this was true at every check point all day since day was cool and we were just cruisin'). About 20 minutes later several of our buddies that we had left at last check point came in.

Just one word for the section from Hickory Lane to Edinburg Gap. BORING. 1 full hour of steay trotting on the long gravel climb up the mountain. Drubin had told me he once saw a bear in the middle of the road. At least that would have added some excitment. Personally preferred the old trail through the valley but heard the ATVs have torn it up too much.

Then Charlie and I did the steep climb out of Edinburg Gap on the ATV Trail to Little Fort. This next section of trail was OK in 2001 but now the ATVs have stripped the top soil so it was really rocky. Met lots of ATVs.

A few miles from Little Fort, my left front shoe came off. As soon as we hit some fresh gravel I let Stagg know by bobbing my head. He said some of those words again. Then got easy boot on. I was then OK and we headed on into Little Fort check. Took us almost two hours from E Gap to Little Fort because of all the rock. Ugh!

Got thru vet check right away even with easy boot on and then had to get shoe put on. No farrier truck at check point which was bummer so we had to walk up hill to meet farrier. Stagg got up tight as we left vet check about 10 minutes after scheduled to do so and other riders had come in. Charlie was nice enought to wait for me. I really like Charlie.

When we left the Little Fort Vet check, I could tell Stagg wanted to move out since the other horses were only about 15 minutes behind. With a new shoe on I felt fine. And since Charlie and I had been taking it easy we were ready to go. So we cruised up the gravel road to the Fort Powell campground. Then lots more rocks where Charlie (actually on orders from Sue) insisted we slow down. Then we cruised down the mountain into Pickett Springs.

V4 to V5 was fastest 10 miles of day (about an hour). Went straight into P&R. Really had to chow down as Sherman's gap was next and 20 minute holds do not give much time for serious eating.

None of our buddies behind us were into the check point when we left.

Sherman's Gap. Ford Passage Creek and start climbing on nice dirt trail with occasional rocks. And then more rocks. And more rocks. And then really steep with more rocks. Stagg took me to Sherman's Gap for training two weeks before my first OD in '99. I told him if he made me do it again he was going to have to scramble over the rocks on foot on the last steep section. And I have made Stagg do that at each of the OD's I have done. Lets him know what I do for him. Charlie was good enough to lead this stretch as I had done most of the leading. Sue calls Charlie a tractor and he just trudges along. Then along the ridge and down the other side. The descent has gotten tougher. I used to dance down beside Stagg on foot. But with mud from the rain and about a 100 horses from the 50 and 75, it was a mess. So we trudged down.

When we finally got to the open road I was ready to roll. So we cruised into McCoy's Ford vet check with Charlie reminding me occasionally to not go too fast. We went straight into the check. 20 minute holds do not give much time for serious chowing down but I did find some nice alfalfa cubes that some horse had left and hoovered them.

McCoy's Ford at nite! Had never crossed the Sheandoah River at nite before but thanks to the extra 5 miles or so we did leaving V1, Charlie and I headed into the river in darkness. They had the 1/4 mile crossing marked with glow sticks in milk bottles. Really cool looking!!!

We trotted up the climb to Limeton and on to Fox Hollow, where the trail was now really well churned up as those 50 and 75 horses had gone through twice. Charlie told me he had lost a shoe in the mud. As soon as we got to the gravel road Sue figured that out. Actually she had asked Stagg if he saw anything earlier but Stagg did not figure it out in the dark (JMO but he's frequently in the dark).

Sue put an easy boot on Charlie. Stagg trotted Charlie for Sue and then vice versa. They decided Charlie was OK. Charlie agreed. We did an easy trot into Liberty Hall, the last vet check and of course went straight in.

As the vet was checking me I looked up and saw 4 of my buddies from earlier in the ride had just come 4 minutes after us. Stagg and Sue did not look pleased.

Well those other horses came into the last vet check just 4 minutes behind Charlie and I. I overheard Stagg discussing with Sue what the plan was. Sue said she had to make sure Charlie finished as she was riding Charlie for Maggie Price, Charlie's owner. And Maggie had come to the OD to see Charlie as well as her human friends. Charlie said Sue was concerned about the shoe Charlie had lost as was Charlie. They did not want to race in with an easy boot. And there was no farrier at the vet check. So Charlie and Sue agreed that Charlie would just "tractor on in".

Aside: Maggie is a dear friend of both Sue and Stagg. My best buddy Drubin was bred and raised by Maggie who sold him to Stagg. Drubin said Stagg claims Maggie taught him much of what he learned about endurance riding but Drubin says he is really the one who trained Stagg. And Maggie, who is fighting cancer, had loaned Charlie to Sue. Sue rode Charlie to a successful finish at the Pan Ams last summer. Charlie told me Sue was riding the OD for Maggie.

I could feel the excitement in Stagg as we left the check point. Charlie and I remained together for a short ways. Then it was time to move. Now all that practice of trotting and galloping up that 2000 foot climb at home paid off. We made good time to the first creek crossing. There I took a good long drink as Stagg had put more of the nasty electrolyte in my mouth at the vet check. Yecch! Twelve times in one ride. Too much. The applesause only helps so much.

Then it was on to the top of the mountain. We got to the top before Stagg realized and would have tripped over the chain across the trail as the way around the chain was not marked by glow sticks and there was a glow stick lined up on the other side that Stagg was focused on. However I was alert and avoided the chain. Now downhill to the Finish.

Stagg hopped off as we crossed the Skyline Drive to run down Hickerson Hollow. I actually could have gotten him down faster in the dark with hin on my back but he likes to think he is helping so I humor him. But he can't see worth a damn in the dark. He was trying to use the light from the glowsticks on my breast collar so he would not affect my night vision. Great for me but not so bright for him. The glow sticks marking the trail were sometimes on the right and sometimes on the left. I could tell but he couldn't. So he headed to the left of a glow stick on the left and went straight into a ditch. I would have given a horse laugh if I wasn't so concerned for him. At any rate we did make it down the Hickerson Hollow with lots of stumbling by Stagg but none by me as I can dance down the trail in the dark. Stagg really is a lousy dancer, just ask Cheryl.

Stagg got on me just before the gravel road past Pete Wilson's and I did my big trot on down the lane. Had to be a bit careful on the paved road but did not hear or see any horse behind. We made the final right turn onto the dirt road, the left turn by the big tree and thru the woods onto the big field. Then I trotted proundly across the field to the finish line that Henry had all lit up. I appreciated all of those folks cheering at 8 minutes before midnite.

Charlie came in about 15 mintues later. Maggie was at the finish line to see both Charlie and I finish! Those other buddies that had come into Liberty Hall were 15 mintues behind Charlie. So we had saved our fastest riding for the last 5 miles in the dark, not knowing of course that the other guys were not chasing us.

As soon as Stagg weighed, we went down to the quadrangle where my vet friend Dr. Art King was. I did my trot out for completion. Then I proudly could say I was the first horse to win the OD three times. I could tell Stagg was pleased.

A bit later Charlie did his trot out for completion. He told me he was a bit sore where he had lost the shoe but determined to complete for Sue and Maggie which he did. Charlie is one tough horse and the only horse that I have ridden with that matched me at every hold on recoveries. I like Charlie and hope to ride with him again.

The last piece of business that nite was the Best Condition trot out at one hour. I felt good and so did a nice big trot as Art likes that. Stagg told me later that I there is a nice silver bowl on his mantle for OD high vet score to go with my Best Condition blanket. I am still waiting for him to serve me dinner in the bowl.

That's it. Am now on summer vacation! To my equine buddies hope to see you after the summer.

So long and happy trails,

Jayel Super.

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