June 19, 2005
Wow! That was a fun ride.
After turning off the 101 and driving through some of Geyserville's beautiful
vineyard country (and getting a few nice views of Lake Sonoma) we pulled into
ridecamp that was bordered by a creek with a mixture of trees (tall fir, alder
near the creek, old oaks, and blooming buckeye). We arrived not even an hour
after the gate opened, and ridecamp was already filling up fast. The mud was
deep and thick in ridecamp, and it was raining on and off. We met some friends
when we first got there, and they said they were probably going to turn around
and leave... they did. Along with others. Dad finally got the truck and
trailer up a small hill to where we wanted it. I could hardly watch it, it
took him a couple tries with the truck slipping and mud flying off the tires.
Once we settled in, I whipped out my camera and watched some of the HUGE rigs
being towed up another hill by Mr. Waltenspiel's tractor (they had gotten
stuck). Thank goodness for that John Deere, it was in GOOD use this weekend.
People didn't even try to drive through a particularly muddy spot to get over
to a nice meadow- and the tractor pulled every single one through it (if I was
told correctly). Scott Samson helped lots of people with getting their rigs in
the right spots- some of which included getting a really speedy start, and
launching the truck and trailer up a slippery slope (mud flying everywhere,
people dodging out of the way, truck fish tailing and trailer whippin' around
behind it, tires spinning... yeah.. that whole crazy deal...I loved it).
Well I noticed quite a few people I knew or recognized from Quicksilver or
Chalk Rock or the bay area. It was fun! People were saying 'Can you believe
this weather?'. Ruth gave a great pre-ride speech, and encouraged everyone
that the whole trail is not like it is in the beginning (phew). I had taken
Shrimp out that afternoon with my friend Julienne and her pretty Isabella; it
was such deep mud that we walked most of the 1.5 mile loop. Both my Mom and
Julienne had asked 'So Katie, what's your strategy for tomorrow?' I hadn't
really thought about it, I didn't know what to think.
Dad went into town and met my grandma and big brother so they could spectate
this sport. We met and had dinner around a table in our tent to escape the
rain, and I blew out 20 candles on a beautiful cake that my Grandma had ordered
special for me (with Shrimp and I airbrushed (is that the term?) on it... how
sweet!) It was very sweet actually; it tasted good. After that we walked
around ridecamp together and my grandma asked about a billion questions (ie
"Why is Shrimp wearing that?... What is the vet checking when he does that?").
The next morning we woke up at 4:30 as planned to prepare for a 6:00 start.
It was still nearly pitch black and had been POURING rain the night before, and
was still raining. Thank goodness Mom had gotten me a waterproof blanket for
Shrimp (my birthday was that friday, the 17th). So my arab boy was dry and
cozy even though he was being rained on and standing in deep mud outside the
trailer. Mom and I thought "Oh gosh", and I'm sure the whole ridecamp was
thinking that too. I didn't know whether even to start the ride or not. Mom
said 'Katie, there is NO shame in pulling, or not starting a ride with
conditions like these'. Visions of yesterday's muddy trail ran across my mind
as I lay in the gooseneck, and I thought of how they *had* to be even WORSE
after that night. (Questions were running through my head: Was I going to
start? Would Shrimp hurt himself if we did start? Oh.. I don't want that, I
have plans for the future- he is my only horse and I love him so much- I don't
want him to pull anything...) I really didn't know if we'd even be able to
finish the ride if the whole trail was like it was last night. We laid there
in the trailer discussing what in the world we were going to do. Finally we
saw a few lights outside; people were actually getting up. Thirty minutes
later I had decided to start the ride and my rain gear was on.
Some rigs were leaving, some people were tacking up, and others weren't
tacking up. John, Dad, and my Grandma came to watch the start (they stayed in
a hotel in town) and proceeded to get our *other* truck stuck
was set and ready to go, I hopped up and we joined the pack of 51 people who
started the 50 miler. Shrimp was a dream. At Quicksilver he was hot and
obnoxious at the start, and at the vet checks.. and well there was *none* of
that here. He was my dream Captain the whole mud-sucking, slipping, wet ride.
The first 10 miles were very interesting. Lots of horses and lots of mud. The
morning sky slowly swirled with thick grey clouds and threatened rain. And it
did rain. It was a train of horses for the first 4 miles, and Shrimp and I
tucked in behind Cindy Brown for it (I forget the name of the woman she was
riding with though... but they were both very nice and we introduced
ourselves). Once the hills came we broke off and started riding mostly with a
young woman, who actually was in the Navy for 5 years, and was riding a very
nice bay horse named "Jolie". We went up and up and down and up and through
the creek, and through the creek again, and then again.. and (yes.. lots of
water.. and Shrimp drank well), smiled for the cameramen, had fun conversing,
and trotted into the 1st vet check at 10 miles out. Shrimp pulsed down right
away and got all A's on his card. The rain had stopped, and my family was all
there taking pictures and helping me with Shrimp, it was great.
I started the next loop (25 miles) by myself. There finally was some really
good flat trotting ground, and Shrimp set a great ground-covering pace over the
muddy ranch road. A woman named Clare came up behind and rode with us the
whole loop. 5 miles out we met up with another woman named Sarah. They were
both really really nice people that I'm so glad I had the chance to meet. Both
of them said such nice things about me and Shrimp. It made me feel so good.
After the good level trotting ground we started getting under some trees, and
walked and trotted through more mud. The middle part of this loop had
beautiful views, but it was a climb and a half... all with short steep hills
that went up, leveled out, went up, leveled out.. etc... Our horses were
powerhouses- using all three gaits to get us up the hills. They were all
lathered up and blowing at the top of the hill. Finally when we started going
back downhill is when it got slippery. Many a time we hopped off of our horses
to try and survive short but steep downhills. There were over 3 of these
downhills that at times Shrimp just slid down on all fours (and me on both
feet- although I tried to stay on whatever 'edge' there was for traction). We
were all careful to wait for eachother to get on our horses before trotting
off. I was happy to have such courteous ride partners for this pretty tough
loop. It hardly rained at all for this loop which was nice, and Mr.
Waltenspiel greeted us at the very top of the series of hills with his brown-
colored quad (I think it used to be a different color, but I don't know
which..:)). That was cool to see him there!
Second vet check: John, Dad, and my grandma had all left, but my
trustworthy crew (Mom) was there waiting for us with food, blankets, e-lytes...
all of that. I didn't know if Shrimp was going to pulse down since he worked
very hard that last loop and it was very humid, but he did after a minute (the
p&r gals were so nice, too... all the volunteers and vets were too!) It was an
hour hold, so I sat down in the chair Mom had brought and took in the beauty of
the open meadow full of high native oat grasses as Mom grazed Shrimp. It was so
beautiful I took out our camera and couldn't stop snapping pictures of the two
them. In the background were the hills that we had just climbed, and if I
turned around I would have faced where the hill sloped down to Dry Creek- where
people were leading their horses down for water. To my right were all the
riders and crews during their holds. Everyone seemed well spread out and the
mood was relaxed and friendly.
So off we were after an hour for our last 15 miles back to camp. Clare
caught up with us quickly and we really hauled through the trees and over the
creeks and right through the thick mud. We chatted away and I felt like a
champion to have made it so far out on this very testing terrain- and still
with a happy, sound horse wearing all 4 of his shoes! It was a long way back
to camp... or so it seemed as I started to tire in the last 7 miles or so. It
started to rain on the last loop again. It was so fun though; we got to see
many ranch houses and barns when the course dumped out on a main road (still a
dirt road though.. or should I say 'mud' road). We really set a good pace here
too, but slowed up a little when the road had been going downhill for a ways
(though wet on top, it was still a bit hard). Clare's crew (her husband and 2
young boys) met us when we came out on a paved road about 3 miles to the
finish. That was great- because I was really wondering when the finish was
coming up! We walked up the pavement to the top of the hill, then did the last
1.5 miles on the same trail we did in the beginning of the ride: sloppy mud. We
really covered ground here- Clare took off and I knew Shrimp wouldn't let me
hold him back, so off we went... trotting and cantering through that stuff. We
came in right behind two grey horses at 17th and 18th place. Clare's horse was
#18, and she was 18th place on June 18th! We were met by Ruth and then after
giving our names and numbers to the volunteers we trotted back to camp were
congratulated by people along the way.
Shrimp vetted out beautifully (with a heart rate in the 50's, unlike last
time!! yay!) and we iced his legs and fed him. It took me 30 minutes to get
the caked mud off the bottom of his belly, his chest, and his legs. Mom and I
changed into fresh clothes and washed our hair with warmed water. I told her
about the ride and what I saw ou there on the 22,000 acre Cooley Ranch- like
the coyote I saw off the trail- and we relaxed and watched a family of noisy
woodpeckers enjoy their home in a tall old oak tree up the hill from us. Mom
and I watched BC judging at 4:00 pm and stayed to eat a REALLY really yummy
dinner around the community campfire (served with wine!). Then, Ruth gave the
post-ride meeting. Everyone was loud and happy and gave the biggest applauds.
Ruthie said this was the best group of people she's ever had on the ranch (and
she didn't hafta give out that 'Pissin' and Moanin'' award)! Potato and Kathy
came in first, Michele Rouch was 3rd and her horse received Best Condition. 50
people finished out of 51 starts, and everyone was given a nice bottle of wine
for completing. There was only one pull on the 25 milers as well!
Overall, it was just an absolutely wonderful, exciting ride. I gained so
much respect for my horse, and am still just in awe at his power, his ability
to watch where he steps and keep on his feet through that terrain, his will to
endure and set a great pace, and his great attitude. Quicksilver was very fun
and challenging (it was my first endurance ride), but after Cooley Ranch I now
feel like a real, true endurance rider! Shrimp pulled through that hoof-
sucking mud for 50 miles and looked so great at the end, we both endured the
weather conditions, we worked as a team and made it sound, stable, and smiling
across the finish line! ...So *that's* what Endurance is about!!
Wow, I don't think I could have had ANY more fun during this adventurous
weekend. It could have easily been my best birthday weekend ever!! To the
Waltenspiels: thank you a MILLION times for your efforts, encouragement, and
for an *excellent* ride. And thanks to the wonderful people I met out there on
the trail, and for the friendly folks I chatted with in camp.
Congratulations to all the finishers!
:) Katie Azevedo, and (RD Censashahnl) "Shrimp"