Well since you asked...here's the whole story.
For those of you that do not know me, let me preface this tome with a little background. Two years ago I was a happy Ultrarunner who thought my wife's horses were very nice and yes I would feed them if she couldn't but who otherwise did not have a lot of use for a horse. Then while taking a little stroll through the hills of Vermont lo and behold here come horses riding the same course as I was running and surprise the riders and horses were also having fun. Well I finished that little stroll in the woods, went home and informed my wife that I had finally found a use for a horse, that you could wear running clothes, that I wanted to learn how to ride and needed to buy myself some horses and that I was going back to Vermont to ride the course.
My wife is the most wonderful person on this planet and has to be one of the most understanding people I know, but even she was not quite prepared for that announcement. After the shock had subsided and she realized that like many of my crazy undertakings, I was serious about this she wholeheartedly agreed to help me. I of course had no idea what I was in for, I mean after all you get on the horse and ride, just like running they say go, you put one foot in front of the other for 100 miles and someone tells you to stop and you fall down, moan in pain and proclaim how much fun it all is! Needless to say it was not quite that simple...first I had to learn how to ride...a painful endeavor if there ever was one. Then I had to buy a horse, again my gratitude to my wife for knowing which horse I really needed, instead of which horse I thought I needed! Then the riding had to proceed...enter here the numerous and wonderful people of CTR/Endurance...how can I thank you all for what you have given? Irving, Tom, Kathy, Janet, Sharon, Traci, Liz the list goes on and on. Not only did you all suffer from my numerous questions, laugh at my feeble attempts to stay on the horse, but you encouraged and supported and realized that I had a goal and was committed.
So two short years later here I was back on the ground in Vermont, surrounded by all my running friends (who while insane...figured I was really insane for being on a horse). Along side were Kathy, Liz on Darby and a host of others I have had the pleasure of meeting over the last two years and most importantly of all, my beautiful wife smiling and wishing me a good ride! Trails open and Liz and I were off, not dead last but definitely back of the pack...a nice leisurely start and a good beginning. The sun was painting the eastern sky and the birds were singing, the horses were having so much fun, I think I was the only one worried...after all 100 miles is a 100 miles. Soon enough the lady's horse in front of me tripped and over the reins she went..no harm and she jumped right back on, both Liz and I were impressed to say the least. Away she sped...and we too picked up the pace a little as our first fly by was at 10 miles and we only had 1 hour and 45 minutes to get there.
Now one good thing about running a course is you get to know it REAL well, I mean in intimate detail. So I was able to describe to Liz when we could go fast and where the runner's aid stations would be and how soon we would catch the runners (they get a one hour head start). And right on the predictions we came to the aid stations and caught the back of the pack runners. We also came to the second runner's station at mile 10.1 and looked everywhere for the fly by. Oh no, we missed it or did we and where in the heck is it if not at 10 miles? Keep going, but if we do we will cross the river and then will be at 12.7 miles and time was running out...we had planned to take at least 1 hour and 30 minutes and had only 15 minutes to spare. Time to go a little faster Summer you magnificent goober! By the aid station and around the bend, there is Stephanie smiling and waving and yes the fly by but at mile 13 not 10, still made 1 hour and 45 minutes but wow!
Eat Summer, drink Summer, have an electrolyte Summer, we are outta' here...first hold still down the road but now the time was going to work in our favor providing the mileage was right (and it was). We continued to trot up the hills and down. Liz and Darby were having fun and Summer and I continued our dance with them. So many runners and all having fun and telling me to give them a lift and what was I doing up on that horse...you runners are so awesome, how well I remember the climb that just keeps going up and the drive to keep moving...somehow on Summer it was surreal and yet so real. Hey Liz just up here we get to a clear cut be sure and look back over your shoulder...what a view...fantastic, and yes that is Mt. Ascutney...we will be down there later today. Into the first hold and both Summer and Darby sail though...cleared back on trail. Yippee we get to pass the runners again. How is it going all? Yep good day, life is good, yes I love my horse and no you cannot be towed :-) River coming up, take the ford but Liz, we go slow by the next aid station (the famous chocolate chip runners station). Hi, I know we are not runners but will you kindly share a couple of your cookies with us riders? You will, my thanks to you all! Yum yum were they good...of course the photographer is just ahead and both Liz and I had a mouth full of cookies when he said smile!
On to the second hold, the miles are starting to add up and the day is getting hotter and more humid, but right on schedule there it is and so is Steph...what a joy to see her smiling face and know Summer was going to be taken care of so well. Once again Summer and Darby sail through...how can one ever thank the vets and volunteers enough? Back on course and now the famous back loop out of Camp 10 Bear and the also famous climb from hell, two actually, first it is Agony Hill (Summer agreed) and then the real climb from hell it just never ends! But yes it does end after all and the view back over one's shoulder is worth the price of admission! Third hold coming up...pulse is good, but Doug our good vet says, that horse is going a little funny, come back when you are tacked up. Time to panic..is Summer off or is he being Summer (this boy travels funny for sure). Tack up and trot down and back...here's your card, Summer has all A's for metabolics is eating and drinking and peeing up a storm so you can proceed. Back down to 10 Bear then up the gulch from hell (I always hated that climb when afoot especially since it was always dark when afoot). Finally the top and Liz comments on the beautiful home on the right...told her I had never seen it in the daylight before! Into the hold and Summer does well. Meg Sleeper gives Summer a good going over and clears us onward...yippee 70 miles gone and even though we are in last place Liz and I can proceed. Ah the best laid plans of mice and men! Poor Liz is not feeling well and pulls herself...Summer and Darby look at each other and nod, Liz's health is more important. Well Summer looks like it is going to be you and me. Say what? You crazy human all the other horses are gone, it is getting dark and why are you putting on running shoes? Lani and Kathy, Summer says next time please wait or at least leave your horses behind! Steph looks at me and says, well you have been here before, you know what you have to do your horse knows what he has to do so go out and do it! Got it!
Out of the hold and the daylight is fading fast. Good some runners ahead we are still on course and still moving. Soon enough it is dark, and I mean DARK. Now everyone told me to not blind the horse, so I put a couple glow sticks on his breast collar and they are blinding me. I was using my red LED but that was just about worthless. Guess I will trust the horse even more. And so the miles were slipping by. Look Summer another glow stick ahead lets go that way and yes those are runners do not run over them. Kept getting nice comments...wow a horse, haven't seen one of those for hours...thanks! Keep moving, what is that noise? Screeching...the hair is standing up on the back of my neck and Summer is saying no damn way! Come on buddy lets go, it won't hurt us...I still do not know what was up in those trees nor do I want to! More screeching only this time it is a peacock...go back to sleep it is only Summer and I. Another pit stop and there is Steph, still smiling and still crewing...we both owe her so much! Eat up Summer miles to go before we sleep. About 7 miles to next and final hold, okay be there in a while. Back into the darkness and once again all alone, no runners, no horses just Summer and I. Down behind Rojeks house and all of sudden we are crashing through the woods. Whoa Summer, what is going on? I am turning on my light I need to see what is the problem...holy moly they have jumps set up out here...good boy I am glad you went around that instead of over it! Guess I will leave the light on for a while! Lets go! The miles continue to pass, thank goodness for runners aid stations as they have mile markers and good food too! Shouldn't be too far to the hold, couple of miles time to run big guy so on the ground I go and don't you know, at this point I am faster than Summer. Crazy humans he thinks! We jog right to the hold, surprise no other horses but he vets immediately...trot a little funny, what's that? Major pee...oh he had to pee, great color, you been on foot? Yep. Doug says we are both fit to continue see you at the end. Thanks. Okay Steph, only 12 miles to go, can you meet us one more time? Good we are off. Ride a ways then back on my feet too..need to climb these darn hills faster and without my weight he can.
Time starts to drag and we are all alone, haven't seen a runner in an hour. Summer starts to question his rider's mentality...you must be going the wrong way, there is no one out here. How about this farm they have horses, we can stop here! Finally two runners coming, look Summer lets follow them. Okay Dad! Not to worry runners we are going to drag off of you for a while, Summer needs a guide dog! Pace actually picks up as they are shooting for sub 24 hours running and we only have a few miles to go. Up ahead Steph's smiling face once again! Tom is there too...what a great group they all are. Eat up Summer, 4.7 miles to go. Steph meet us at the end and skip the last pit crew stop we are coming home! Two more runners racing the 4 AM time cutoff for 24 hours. Nice guys, one older than the other. He is tired, very tired, Summer is getting excited as we had ridden part of this course on Friday. The runner keeps asking how are we doing? I tell him he can do it, get in front of the horse and keep moving, we have to climb Blood Hill (twice actually) and then the final shoot. 3:45 AM how far he says, I tell him he can make it but he needs to push and push hard...I know the struggle going on...he has been running for 23 hours and 45 minutes, his brain is screaming go, go, go, and his body is yelling make it stop please! I get off the horse and start chasing them on foot...Summer says huh?
Down the final shoot, there is the finish line. Damn 4:06 AM, he finished but missed the cutoff (a plaque not a buckle)...but such is the life of an ultra runner or rider! He comes over as I am untacking Summer and shakes my hand and says thanks for letting him go first and for the wonderful horse pushing him onward. Our pleasure I reply. Steph takes my vet card and goes into the almost empty tent and announces 106 arriving! Nick and Meg are waiting, pins and needles time. Is Summer okay, is he a little stiff, I know damn well he is tired, but he has been so magnificent what else can I say. Meg and Nick confer and Meg turns to me and says Completion. What? Completion! Yahoo, a big hug from Meg a handshake from Nick, Lani comes in and gives us all bear hugs. I hug Summer and Steph. It is over, we had done it! What can one say? As we headed up the hill it was getting light in the east once again. The runners were still coming in and the world was good. A quick nap and then up again to make sure Summer was okay...feed me he said, so I did! Awards ceremony...everyone keeps asking did you make it! The smile alone told the story! Sue calls out the 50 mile finishers and then gets to the 100s. Yep Turbo Turtle for sure..we paid for 24 hours and by golly we got 24 hours. Art King shakes my hand and his head...Sue shakes my hand as do countless others...it is like a dream. I sit back down holding that buckle in my hand and can't stop smiling...guess I need to buy a belt! Kathy gets her buckle too! So many are there, Irving, Tom, Kathy, Steph and so many others.
Sorry this is so long but it had to be told. If I did not make it clear from the beginning I owe so much to my wonderful wife Stephanie and to my fabulous horse Summer (thanks Nancy and Julie for selling him to me). Dreams and goals are such a part of a persons life and the ability to go after one's dreams are so important. My thanks to any and all that shared our journey, we will see you on the trails for sure.
And if you are wondering, yes it is much easier to run 100 miles (maybe physically tougher) than it is to ride 100 miles, but I must say riding a wonderful horse is pretty close to bliss!
Bill and Summer