I have finally had a night's rest after being awake for 40 hours, and
want to get this down before I forget much.
To summarize all this in one sentence...The bear got me, but I had a
heck of a good weekend...now the story:
Along with some smashing successes at rides, my mare, Equal Terms has
had some problems in the past with ulcers and colic and such, and if she
belonged to anyone else, I would have advised them to get a new horse
and quit messing around. But I knew in my heart she was the most
physically talented of all the horses I have ridden, and we had a bond I
was not ready to give up on - so we persevered. After riding her for a
1000 miles of competition, I backed off and started from the beginning
again, and after almost another year of going slow and her learning to
eat and drink, we were ready to step things up a little. We won and
BC'd the Michaux 75 two weeks ago, and I was on cloud nine- I finally
had the horse I knew she could be, and I was ready to tackle the trail
at Old Dominion - one of the most difficult rides in the world.
In 1987 or 1988 I was at OD 100 with Rushcreek Noel and was pulled
riding Calvary, at the 80 mile mark. I had not had a horse, or the
time, or the situation in life to be able to try the 100 again until
this year- so this was a 19 year grudge match between me and this trail,
and I decided to do it Calvary. "Like it is not hard enough??" my ever
patient husband asks. I signed him up to vet, so I didn't have a crew
After speaking with Lynn Gilbert who won the OD riding Calvary a few years ago, and showing her my check list, I was very confident that I had it covered- food for the horse, food for me, a few emergency times, and a few comfort items. I had the fishing vest with the pockets, the front pack, the cantle pack, the water bottles, the ASPIRIN, the toilet paper....all the important things!
Even though the weather was brutally hot and muggy, and I had gotten a sunburn the day before, I was mentally prepared to deal with it, and physically ready with the items that would help me - mainly a sponge, sunscreen, and plenty of water to drink. I had a plan to meter out my food during the day, and to feed myself on the trail where we were forced to walk, and to take specific care of ET in the checks when she would have a chance to eat and relax.
I am sure I was more ready than I have ever been, both physically on ETs part, and mentally on mine.
We started out in last place. The start of the OD is down a paved road and with ETs usual 'airs above the ground' antics at the start and my fear of slipping on the pavement, I hand walked out of camp and down the road. As I went by, Art King did mention to me that it was ok to ride, and my husband commented that I should keep all six of our feet on the down side! I mounted up and took off when there were no more horses in sight.
ET was more mannerly and quiet than she had ever been at a ride start and that immediately had me worried! But when she grabbed at the carrot I offered, I knew she felt ok, and off we started up the first mountain. She was great!!!! I was so pleased with her attitude and felt sure we were on the course to success. We crossed the Shenandoah without mishap--she loves to roll in water and I was worried about staying up over a 1/4 mile of the stuff, but she was great and forged ahead steadily. The mountains were waking up and the low pockets of mist, the birds in the trees, the incredible view from the second climb and along the ridge, had me in the perfect frame of mind. ET went along in a workman-like fashion and we gained on and passed two 100 milers before the 20 mile mark.
A few miles before the long decent into the first check, which was at 20 something miles, while wearing wild rhodedenran flowers in our helmet and bridle, a group of the 75 milers raced past me on some rocks and ET pranced and fussed, stumbling some. From there is was a very rocky downhill and then smoother into the first stop for the 100 milers. I got off when we got to the road and ran the last mile into the check confident that we were in great shape and would be able to remain at a consistent pace over the mountains to come.
Oh well....if endurance were easy, could you call it endurance?? E was slightly and inconsistently off on one front foot and I am fairly certain that if I had asked, I would have been allowed to go on, but 80 miles of rock and mountains is rarely therapeutic and so I pulled. I will spare you the details, but will add that she was sound an hour later. Did I make the right decision??? Well, I guess we will never know, but I do know that being conservative is rarely the WRONG decision in the grand scheme of things.
I am going to admit it: I cried. In 6000 miles of this sport, I have never cried - I felt so foolish, but I couldn't help it. We were so prepared, so confident- ET was so fit and willing....I wasn't expecting this. The let down was huge. But Mathew McKay Smith came and gave me a hug, and I realized how fortunate I was to be involved with a sport with such wonderful and talented people.
We got a ride back to camp and I considered hanging around the empty camp and holding my own pity party with my dogs and horse. That lasted about 4 minutes while I changed my clothes, and leaving my saddle with it's packs of food and water, and my helmet and bridle laying on the lawn of the 4H center, I sprinted to the office to catch a ride back to the check. If nothing else, I could hang out with my husband and the other vets and maybe learn a thing or two.
Well, I love the vets, but they were not the liveliest group I have hung out with, especially in the oppressive heat, so I jumped in with old buddy Johanna Blackmore to crew for her sister Jean in the 100. This way I could keep an eye out for my other old friend, Libby Llop who was doing her first 100 on Fly, who I was especially attached to after competing on her last summer during the big XP ride. Johanna and I go way back to what seems like a lifetime ago. I rode one particularly memorable 75 with her late husband, David, and have missed him terribly since his tragic death in 1992. In fact, Johanna had already asked me to present the award for the David Blackmore Memorial during the awards ceremony the next day. I was honored and awed at the responsibility.
Johanna and I had a blast. It was so good to be able to spend time with her and the other girls we were caravaning with, Jennifer Sapira and her friend Jo, who kept us in stitches with her stories. At one check, while waiting for our riders in the dark, we adopted a skeletal dog who had the misfortune of either dying or being dumped in the parking lot we were in- wearing his choke chain and leash, no less. We named him Lucky and made up tales of his adventure to that point, while we drank expresso laced with sugar and fought off the giant killer moths that were attacking us.
Libby finished in 9th place with Fly looking GREAT (and won the David Blackmore award for second from last!), and Jean finished bravely by herself at 5:45 AM - 3/4 of an hour over time, but her horse looked wonderful. The second VA sunrise I shared with friends (first was ET, and the next with Johanna while we waited) was fabulous with the birds singing and the mountains around us waking up, and no matter that the bear got me and Equal Terms that day, we had a great time and wish we didn't have to wait until next year to try it again.
I woke my husband, who had vetted until 3:3:30AM and we went in town for breakfast. As I spilled the whole story to him, I couldn't help but feel fortunate to have such a good man, such good friends, a healthy horse, and more great adventures than most people are ever allowed.
Next month is the Big Horn 100 in WY. Watch out, trail, ET and I are loaded for bear.
Vine Cliff Farms