I drove 7 hours up over the Grapevine , and on up to Fresno, turning right toward Yosemite, up and down steep winding 2-lane black top roads, with the horse trailer in tow...on Thurs... to camp out and do a 50 mile Endurance Ride on Sat. I just got home last evening from the" Mariposa Run for the Gold." Endurance Ride, on the Western side of the Sierras...in gold country, in the foot hills, above the rolling, oak studded hills and up in the pine forest...dense, and lush with under brush, big tall juniper trees (green mossy stumps of tremendous girthed old growth trees) beautiful, delicate dog woods, some kind of very tall spindly Oak (Black or water?), wild berry brambles...and we saw a bear! I got so excited and yelling...I scared it away. I was trying desperately to get a better look...and it took off. Good thing. Funny how Fear was not a factor ...my immediate response was to get a better look, to somehow share in its being here, in nature, free and doing its natural thing. People I told afterwards got all wigged out and were "concerned." Only then did I remember the danger aspect of bears. I'm more apprehensive about thuggey looking characters in gas stations than I am bears and mountain lions. (When I got home I found out that a mountain lion had mauled a woman hiker in the Sequoias..., which is not very far from where we were.) I reasoned: I'm safe... I'm riding a mule...?
We had a terrific ride, started out last (32nd), waiting until all the "racing-types were well out in front. We trotted down pine needle covered old logging roads, with the forest canopy high above, the sun darted thru in long raking flashes out of the dark shadows like waves of a magic wand. Chelse drove and I lookey-looed. We were going pretty fast. She was "hot to trot" Jacqy was worried we were going too fast (earlier, I had said we were going to "take it easy", but Chelse wanted to go...so we did. We passed many riders, the arabs had a hard time keeping up with her charging up hill and zooming down hills. She has a competitive spirit and knows the game. Sometimes she cares passionately...sometimes only about what she wants and is neither shy nor subtle.
She bonded" to Penny and liked having her right behind her for moral support. We got to the first Vet Check, 15 miles out, averaging over 9 mph, up and over hill and dale. Penny got "pulled" for lameness and we had to continue on alone. This is a problem. Chelse is very loyal to her friends and reluctant to leave. I found another rider who came in with us and was willing to help me get her back on the trail. A pleasant young woman from Palmdale (Alexa) riding her mothers nice gray gelding just off the race track.
Chelse vetted thru just fine, as she didn't know Penny wasn't going on with her yet. She ate and drank. A helpful volunteer refilled my water bottle. We rested our allotted 15 minutes and took off. Poor Chelse was so distressed when she discovered Penny was staying behind. She called mournfully and didn't want to go. I had the new mechanical hackamore on her and didn't know how well I would be able to handle her in dire circumstances, but she went, calling, but she went with her new friend and me. Soon she forgot and we trotted off thru the piney woods again, up and up and up. Saw all kinds of trees and flowers that I didn't recognize. Charming little brooks with hatches of millions of lady bugs., twisting single track trails thru the bushes and low hanging branches, with trees so tall and dense you couldn't tell where you were...until you popped out on top a ridge and looked out across the tops of the sierras...and so quiet! Nothing but bug and bird sounds, many of which I didn't recognize, but I did see a glorious Western Tananger...he looked over dressed for the forest...too flashy. We had to stop on a steep single track trail for a Western Diamond Backed Rattler to slither into a hole...and as we passed by his tail was still on the trail and his "business end" was disappearing into the hole. He only shook his tail once and took off.
Alexa and I took turns leading. Chelse did the downhills faster. Tthe gray horse did the flats fast like a race horse should. We worked like a team. Chelse was able to drink (with her new hackamore on) from the streams and watering tanks ride management provided along the trail at various points. We were still averaging about 9 mph until we got to the steep uphill grades and we walked most of those, but at a pretty good pace.
The lunch stop was back at base camp. Penny was back in her stall and I wondered about how to get Chelse back out on the trail again. We would have to trick her somehow. I pondered how to do this while I ate dusty food, drank too much cold cranberry juice and did our vet business with the saddle off. After re-saddling and re-organizing and ready to go...Jacqy led Penny off thru the crowd of horses and trailers...out of sight. When I was sure the coast was clear...we took off. It worked. We hooked up with Alexa and the gray horse again. Chelse thought Penny must be out there ahead of her somewhere.
We go out past the pond and up the other direction into the mountains to see what we could see and maybe find Penny. I get stomach cramps.
We arrived at another vet check high up in the forest somewhere, did our trotting thing, got hay and water, I got to go to the "bathroom" behind the big pine tree, and we set off again. We had figured that we were about last, but it was determined that we were in the middle somewhere.
In the afternoon, both animules hit the doldrums and got pokey. I decided to let Chelse grab bites of native grass and flowers and bushes. That perked her up. She has learned to snatch a bite and move on. She can keep up a good pace and not fall down. As we made our way down the mountain like this. Alexa and I got off and walked to relieve our butts and knees. It wasn't too hot and it was a pleasant thing to do. We were all alone up there. No other riders, no hikers, bicyclists or any motorized vehicles of any kind. Quiet. Mysterious bird calls. Insects busily buzzing. Chelse munching and clip clopping along. The grasses were strange to me, but she seemed to recognize them, from past experience or prior life?
About 5 miles from the finish another rider intersected us coming from the wrong direction---having missed the turn and gone miles out of her way. She got in between us on a single track trail and Chelse came alive with the new energy of the additional horse. She was very activated. The new rider requested permission to pass and informed me that she was riding a stallion. So that explained the new energy. I couldn't help but notice...the cheeky stud had his wiener out, flapping, flappetty, flap, flap against his belly, back and forth!. It was an awesome site and Chelse was mightly impressed. They flew down the trail at a rapid pace. Chelse thought a nano second, and galloped off in hot pursuit. "Wait! Come back! I didn't know you were a real guy, I think I love you." But, he went too fast too far and she worried about her new friend left behind and gave up the chase. I never even tried to stop her she was so smooth and efficient in handling the stick and stone terrain ... I just let her go. If she wanted to gallop at the end of 50 miles...good for her. I was glad she felt so good.
We were headed toward her new home at a fast clip, she could now see and hear Penny calling. There are myriad gopher holes hidden in the grassy pasture, so... I tried to keep her at a nice walk to the finish line. Being overly excited and not watching where she was going anymore, down she went on both knees... five feet from the finish line. Didn't unsettle me at all, I just sat back and let her right herself and we were off again, over the finish line. I could hardly wait to get to the porta potty and she was anxious to get back to her private dust wallow and her beloved Penny, apparently having now forgotten about her nice gray horse friend.
The portable corrals were just the right size for a good one-side-at-a-time roll, sending up billowing clouds of black powdery dust with her tail, from the hole she had dug in the nice carpet of grass down to the black silty dirt below... and when she shook off, flapping her ears...flump, flump,flump, flump... she was so happy I couldn't conceive of trying to stop her.
I ate some dusty tuna salad, drank some dusty cranberry juice and decided that cleaning her up before the final vet in was going to be more trouble than it was worth... stirring up more dust and she would probably roll again and we weren't going to be showing for best condition anyway. We came in 13th We had one hour before going back to see the vets again. She ate, drank and rolled. I sat in a dusty chair watching and wondering about how tired I was. I wasn't. ..fifty miles in 10 hours in the mountains and I'm not tired? She is so smooth and easy...I'm still wondering why more people don't use mules for endurance. Yes, she is a bit pushy sometimes, but I think it's worth the effort.
She wouldn't trot out for me at the final vet in. She can walk as fast as I can run and just wouldn't, no need. The vet wanted to try his hand. He didn't get her to trot, but he did get to experience how strong she was "...doesn't feel like a horse, her neck is sooo strong." We passed the final test, but not with flying colors. I should have told the vets about the recent disappointing love affaire. She wasn't too tired to trot, she was just disappointed she let him get away.
The first horses came in more than 2 hours ahead of us. How do they do that?. I heard 4 of the first 10 horses were pulled ( not "fit to continue.") That is way to risky for me... too fast to see anything. The only point then is to Win, and that is competition... willing to go faster than anyone else (no matter if they have good sense or not.) Going fast is a rush, apparently addictive and possibly clouds sound judgment.
I try to keep perspective. I worry about hurting her legs. I worry about frying her brain...trying to stay within her limits, not asking her to do more than she can. I want her to think she can do anything. She has such tremendous potential, is so athletic, smart, graceful, beautiful, and strong that I feel obligated to take care of those capabilities to the best of my abilities. That is a big responsibility. So many "experts" have opinions about what I should do with her, and they don't necessarily agree...so I have to ferret out what is appropriate for us...and I'm not a mule person or a horse person...per se...I'm just me...seeking the Truth.??? I think about Reason and Caution ahead of time, so when I get to a "situation" I will hopefully remember to use it.
Susan's mother Susan and who calls her Rose was camped right next to us. Her mother Mae S. was the recipient of the first Partners Award. All three generations have ridden Endurance Rides together. Unfortunately Susan's horse was "off" and didn't get to start. That's what we have the veterinarians for, to help protect our various animules on this adventure. They can spot a potential lameness and prevent a major problem from occurring out on the trail somewhere far from help.
The vets initially determined that Penny (who has an "odd" way of traveling, throwing her feet and legs all which-a-way) was "off" behind. Jacqy's "presentation", I thought, looked a little sloppy and perhaps contributed to their decision. After some discussion, the vets agreed to let her come back later and try again. We got a lunge line and whip and worked on circles to the right and left. The horse wasn't "head bobbing" or showing signs of lameness...that we could see and was doing better circles. So, Jacqy took her back and showed her again. The vets agreed that she looked better, and still not entirely convinced, reluctantly consented to let her start the ride. That was good news: Chelse likes to have her buddy with her. Mules seem to bond stronger than most horses.
A nice BBQ dinner was held at the main ranch house, across the road, in an apple orchard. We sat on the grass and chatted with other riders, re-counting events of the day, swapping stories." Chelse chasing the stallion" was a hit. A computer glitch caused a delay in figuring out the ride results and handing out awards...so, we had to wait a long time. No one seemed to mind. It was a merry crowd. Lots of dogs and screaming children (why do they do that?)
Some people are fascinated and impressed with the mule. Don, who rode behind us and couldn't catch us on the last half, commented on her great trot and business like attitude. He helped me get her bridle on at the East Mojave ride...so, he has seen her "un-professional" side too. She was jumping up and down and throwing her big ole' head around, having a nasty tantrum fit, and I was having a heck of a time. It was 20+ degrees and starting to rain and all the other horses were milling around and I couldn't get her bridle on...so, he came over and to help a short lady with her (now) tall mule.
Tthere is always someone to help when trouble strikes. I have personally experienced and heard of many more acts of kindness in this loose-knit, diverse, independent group of riders. I saw a horse get tangled in his rope while tied up too long at his trailer, with buckets strewn around, and a dog tied up too near by. Untangled him and woke up the owner who had driven from San Diego in the night and was dead tired, sacked out inside the trailer. Was glad to have helped. Anyone would have, you can almost count on it, but you shouldn't.
Melody and Jonathon and kids were across the way in a big motor home, gray horse over there with another big rig, mule and donkey people down there, Don back there somewhere, trucks and trailers, people and horses, kids and dogs...with plenty of room for all. The water tank was parked in front of us...right in the middle of camp. We got see everyone that came to the well to fill water buckets, drink, socialize and/or play in the water. Young girls dipped their long hair in the big bucket (mine) and slung their wet hair at one another, screaming and running around like chickens or wet hens.
Base camp was on the Circle 9 Ranch... apple orchards, cow pastures, dense forests, fish stocked pond, dam, ancient log cabin out buildings, barns, and a little stream running right behind our camp. Bushy tailed handsome coyotes stalked the gophers making holes in the grassy meadow behind us, dragon flies flew low above the grasses and the violet green swallows swooped in loops up high in the day time; the bats took their place in the cold brisk night when the stars were so bright from horizon to horizon, a barn owl squawked and the Great Horned Owl called as the bats echo-located their insect prey, the coyotes howled a higher pitch than the ones I know. There was profound silence behind these sounds and the Milky Way looked like a magic carpet you could walk across to...Heaven?
This influenced the decision to stay over an extra day and explore more of the area. We had come a day early and explored some of the trails around the ranch... seeing the dog wood trees with their bright chartreuse leaves and odd looking seed pods, the tall Junipers, a bear, Foxgloves, orange columbines, Pines and big leafed Oaks, Maples... and the brambling, stickery berry bush patches (good bear habitat.)
Camp is difficult to keep organized. I start out with good intentions and it soon looks like someone stirred it up with a big stick. Stuff everywhere and dirty too, (Chelse's rolling propensity.) I forgot the fuel for the 2-burner stove, but found some for the one-burner, and found a collapsible back-packing grill that made it more efficient. Necessity is the Mother of Invention. I cooked in Cliff's old Boy Scout cookware set, perfect for stacking pots on top of lids and cooking vertically instead of horizontally, I made stew, toast, pasta all at the same time on one burner...and it was a treat to sit and eat under the starry sky and chat over the days events. Chelse entertained us curling her lips and making faces for carrots, rolling and agitating at Penny who sometimes ignored her and sometimes showed her teeth in distain. We were kept busy fetching carrots and running from the dust clouds. I wondered "what the rich folks were doing?"
The cell phone didn't work in this valley and we should inform our loved ones (and boss) of our recent decision to linger. Jacqy is elected to drive the truck to a mountain resort "convenience" store down the road a few miles. She called her husband who called her boss and my husband.
I stay in camp and keep an eye on the animules and decide to take some kind of bath...a primative French Renoir-"Lady at her Toilette" type bath, standing in Chelse's slop bucket, in the back of the trailer, in the now practically deserted camp, with a view of the meadow and forest. Best bath I ever had. The dirtier you are the better you feel even if you aren't the cleanest. I was covered in Chelse's dust and my sweat, my hands were filthy black, my nails were blacker, my hair felt un-familiar and I probably stank! I know Jacqy did, but we were having a grand time. Again, I wondered what the rich folks were doing now? I poured sun warmed water over my head and purred with pleasure.
I let Chelse out to explore the now, almost empty, large golden grassy meadow and pasture leading down to the pond and locked gate. She milled around pleasantly, sniffing and eating and checking back in at her camp periodically, Only once did she venture outside the entrance and that was to go to the watering hole and get a drink and come right back.
One other group stayed over on Sunday. They had a mule with them that was as stubborn as Chelse when they tried to get it to go out on the trail alone. It twisted and turned and balked (just like Chelse)...and then trots off ... pretty as you please, (just like Chelse.) I saw myself when Chelse gets... "other ideas," from a spectators point-of-view. I felt somewhat vindicated and somewhat embarrassed at the humorous aspects of this vision.
I talked mule-talk with Harold who has had mules for 30+ years. His wife just did her first 50 miles ride on a horse. She "...doesn't care for mules." It takes all kinds.
We packed a little lunch and went out to explore the other end of the pasture, with the pond. We lay on our backs on the grassy bank, in the sun ... watching fish jump, dragon flies flit and a black Phoebe swoop out , catch a bug and back to it's branch...over and over. A solitary coot swam around calling its strange call. It's soo peaceful and quiet here, even if there was a bear roaming around right up there in those trees yesterday.
We didn't start packing up camp until morning since we didn't need to leave before 10, so we just enjoyed the evening. Again, bats ecolocated. The Barn Owl barked and the Great Horned owl whoed. And, somebody ate all the mosquitos that should have been emanating from the little stream right behind us.
In my cozy sleeping quarters in my trailer, by flashlight, I'm reading Clinton's new book (I happened to be in Costco the day it came out...and there it was.) I would vote for him for "Sexiest Man in America" from the cover photo alone. I don't think Mick Jagger is sexy anymore. The book is surprisingly interesting, Southern in style and attitude. A simple, but brilliant man, with similar southern roots as I. More disadvantages. Different circumstances. Different paths. A nerdy fat boy, picked on by bullies learns important lessons dealing with adversity on the way to the White House (handy social skills.) Skills we all need to get to where we are each going.
He quoted Abraham Lincoln: "I'll get myself prepared and see how far I can go..." (something like that.) That has always been my motto. He became President, an impossible dream. How far can I get? Where do I want to go? What will I endure to get there? What does it matter? As long as the trip is fun.