Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Swanton Pacific, my first 100 mile - Sandy Holder

by Sandy Holder

Where to begin? Well, I can't say at the beginning because you'd probably be asleep before I got to the real story so I'll start with why the 100 miles in 1 day title. You see, at the AERC convention, my daughter was so excited about my first attempt at Tevis that she bought (ok, with my money) a decal representing the title above. Of course, she said we couldn't technically put in on the trailer until I actually had DONE 100 miles in one day. As most of you already know, completing Tevis on my first attempt at a 100 was not to be (something about me pulling Tally at Foresthill when his trot out revealed a grade 2 lameness - but sound as a bell 4 hours later - a good decision I think). So in our tack room the decal sat while I contemplated how my new addiction for 100's would be "fixed". Ah, that's right, the famous "The Most Beautiful Trail in the World" and Barbara McCrary's Swanton Pacific 100 (SP 100). Guess I'll have to victimized (oops), I mean see if Katie will "volunteer" to crew for another 100 miler! Having a daughter into endurance (good thing for me she's not into 100 milers yet) is really terrific.

But the stars weren't shining too brightly so to speak for the two days ahead of the ride. Four seriously major crises occurred, one of which by itself could have been overwhelming (a family friend with breast cancer will be coming to live with us until she's healthy again). I won't go into any more details but when you head into a ride like the SP100 with terrible challenges hanging over your head, your confidence level is, shall I say, a bit depleted - at least mine was. In fact, I acknowledged to my husband that there was probably only a small likelihood that I'd actually finish. He to his credit, bless his heart (particularly since he's a non-horsey type) simply remarked that it wouldn't be called "endurance" without some challenges! I think I'll ask him about "endurance" midway through his Iron Butt rally (11 days on a motorcycle with potential routes all the way from Alaska to Florida back to Colorado)! And it wasn't getting any easier traveling to the ride, a late start and the Hwy between Gilroy and the coast shutdown. We arrived at ridecamp, as you might imagine, late in the afternoon, and me with a heavy heart. It was here, unbeknownst to me at the time, that our luck began to change.

Driving into camp, it appeared that all the "good spots" were pretty much taken. Into the meadow we headed where the vet in area is, stopping to unload my precious Tally boy so he didn't have to endure a bumpy ride, hoping to find a spot to squeeze into. With a sigh of relief, we noticed a really beautiful spot and as it turns out, right between our good friends Don and Pam Bowen and JULIE and BOB SUHR!!! Ok, maybe I should take out the capitals but you'll know why I kept them in by the time you finish the story!

And the miles started to melt away until we were really riding alone. It was at this point that my pony started to question me and for me to start thinking (not always a good thing) about not having any of my riding partners of the past 4 years there with me. As I started to become a bit melancholy, a piece of advice that a very warm and loving person (did I mention experienced rider) shared with me prior to my attempt at Tevis. "Ride your ride not like it's a 100 mile ride, but from vet check to vet check". I'll give you a hint who said it - she has 27 Tevis buckles and both she and her family (including her famous mother) have given a tremendous amount of encouragement to both me and my lovely daughter.

Coming upon the photographer (and trying hard to smile), I noticed someone jumping up from a chair and calling out, "you're here already?!". . . it was Dick, my riding buddy, stealing away from work to come out to the first vet check to greet me. Wow! It was hard not to tear up given the thoughts that had just been racing through my head!! Anyway, I hopped off my boy as I came into the vet check, pulled his bit knowing his pulse was already down and gave my pony over to my wonderful crew Katie and Dick. Taking in the surroundings, I noticed an open area with all the right things, particularly a Porta Portie (even if the closest one did say "Men" - which had at least one woman in it that day). The McCrary's had thought of everything.

In and out of the vet check - good, well with the exception of gut sounds (only B-). All morning long Tally had been nervous - I could tell because of the mess he'd left on his hocks. This wasn't a total unknown to me, but still, he'd not been like this since his second year in endurance (this being his fourth) and the less than ideal guts sounds played on my paranoid mind (and would throughout the day). So with only a completion as my goal, we stayed in the vet check for an extra 10 minutes to allow him to continue to eat, which he did quite voraciously. We let him eat until he stopped and went into "power snooze". After a minute or two we finally decided to depart. Of course, the only problem with hanging out sometimes is that you're all by yourself with no other horses going out with you. I'm sure you can imagine how "excited" (yeah, right!) he was about leaving, so with a mile and a half of payment, I decided to hand walk him until we found good footing.

Coming off the road, we entered a fairly large stream and found a photographer sitting on the other side. I found out later when my daughter presented me the photo at breakfast the next day just how good a photographer we had - a picture definitely for the house wall. In and out of the airstrip (and friendly encouragement from Kiki and Peter), we continued on, vet check to vet check, sometimes riding with a group and sometimes alone. It was during one of these "alone" times that we came upon Frank and his pretty little mare Gypsy. Evidently Gypsy had pulled long and hard on Frank and had come into the first major vet check at 8:30 a.m. (we didn't come in until after 10 a.m. but doing the 100 had done a longer loop). He thought she was "done" but as nothing obvious appeared to be wrong, was hand walking her to the next check. I believe he'd been walking for quite sometime and for an "older gentleman", it appeared to have taken a bit out of him. We walked for a bit and talked and as we were talking, I noticed that Gypsy was taking quite an interest in my handsome gelding. It didn't take a rocket scientist to see that Ms. Gypsy was just a bit lonely and so with a little encouragement and us stopping to wait, Frank and Gypsy became our new riding partners. . . and riding we did. Here's where I think I need to share with you that little Gypsy had either gotten really rested or had been bluffing her dad that she wasn't doing too well. Either way, Frank suddenly had his hands full of a lively mare. It was fun keeping Tally at a steady pace and watching Gypsy alternately take the lead and fall behind us. As we approached the coast, we were joined by Lori Olsen, another QuickSilver Endurance Rider, and rode a beautiful stretch of trail (even though it was a bit slippery occasionally) to the lunch stop at a ranch on the California coast. The weather had been tremendous all day, misty and cool with the sun poking out to warm us (but not too much) as we enjoyed our ride.

Trotting out once again, Tally was virtually all A's with the exception of gut sounds. Once again I wondered about my talented mount and waited for Cory to check and subsequently recheck my boy. When possible, having the same vet see your horse throughout the day, particularly if he's both an experienced vet and endurance rider helps. We trotted him out twice (1/2 hour into the vet check and then just prior to leaving) to do CRI's on him and consult on his gut sounds. A few questions and soliciting Cory's opinion gave me some sage advice, "take him slowly to the next check and we'll see how he does there. I think he'll be fine." Of course, going slowly is not a problem when you leave and ride by yourself on an inexperienced (at riding alone) horse. With no one in site, we walked and talked to each other quite a bit. As my daughter later put it, he walked slower than Sister, our 1100 lb mare that thinks walking only means stopping to get another blade of grass. With 25 minutes between us and the group behind us (we'd encouraged Lori to leave while Tally continued eating and Frank had RO pulled with Gypsy reasoning the RIDER was unfit to continue), we went so slowly over 10 miles that the folks riding 25 minutes behind us DID catch us. . . only to find me now on a "raging" mount - too full of himself to want to listen! Ugh - talk about extremes!!!

The good news about having some riders catch up was that I met Debbie and her horse Remfire. As it turned out she was a really caring rider and she and I were to continue through the night past the Saw Mill vet check together and even into the finish. It was with her that Tally and I experienced our first true night ride (oh yeah, you're suppose to have DONE THAT already right?!!).

And then it happened. . . it was night and we came up to the top of the bluff by the ocean. The clouds parted and the glow of the full moon exploded with bright light! Oh man, what a magnificent sight!!! So beautiful that as I relaxed to enjoy the view, my lively boy decided to take advantage of me and jumped forward, almost breaking into a canter, to pass the two riders in front of us. I'm sure I heard Jonathan mutter something less than flattering to his riding partner about my horsemanship at that point. (I did apologize profusely and fell back behind them. Hopefully he understood when, toward the end of the ride, I decided not to challenge either one of them for a higher spot in finishing as we all rode in together).

We rode by moonlight, off and on over the hills, through a glowing valley and into the last vet check. Having dumped all my extra tack at the Saw Mill vet check (thinking with only ten miles to go I wouldn't need my pommel pack, sponge, scoop, etc.), I realized at the final pulse stop 5 miles from the finish (and before a killer mountain) that I had neither water for me, nor more importantly, electrolytes for my pony. Sensing my concern, Debbie asked about us and to my surprise, handed over a syringe filled with the same elytes I use mixed with unsweetened applesauce. Two lessons learned in a short period of time. One, don't EVER dump your pommel pack and TWO, my horse really likes his elytes with unsweetened apple sauce. THANK YOU, THANK YOU Debbie and Remfire for the joy of riding with you and your help on the last leg of our adventure.

As we crossed the same grassy meadow we started off in, the mist by the glowing of a full moon and the whoops and hollers of the two young girls waiting for us to cross the start/finish line gave me goose bumps. With my big white horse pulling at the reins, we trotted into camp. Can you imagine my surprise when somebody told me I needed to hop on the scales at sometime past midnight? My bleary eyes couldn't even focus much less my mile weary feet stand on the little tiny scale!!! So Kirsten held my saddle (FreeForm - only 7 lbs. or so but heavier than I could hold at the time) until I balanced on this little bitty thing and with a big gulp, we weighed in. Of course I promptly notified everyone that I was NOT going to interrupt my long awaited snooze and show up at 7 a.m. for the BC judging!! That was, of course before I woke up the next morning and shared with Julie Suhr my fabulous adventure - this at exactly 6:38 a.m. Without pausing for a second, she told Bob to get Barbara and that "WE WILL HELP YOU GET HIM READY". . . oh man, I dare say, an offer I couldn't refuse??!!!

Well, win or lose BC, I'll never be the same. My first 100 miler on my adorable Tally and Top 10 to boot. Guess all I have to do now is wash my trailer so I can find a clean spot to put that decal on!! Hmm, I wonder if I should ask Katie where it should go??!!!!!

Highlights of the ride (not all of which you PERSONALLY would want to experience):

  • * An incredibly delicious dinner and pre-ride meeting. Barbara McCrary really touched my heart when she shared with us how she and Lud had almost given up on doing the ride until their children became interested in riding. . . and almost given up again, and the third generation stepping up to participate. . . and each generation represented in the riders of 2005

  • * Sleeping some the night before the ride (hmm, - or was that a full glass of red wine?)

  • * Katie spraining her left hand (yes, she's left handed) while trying to help me tack up my nervous boy. . . good news is that its not broken, nor did it deter her from crewing - that part was fabulous I might add!

  • * Starting the ride with no buddy - the first time in 4 years - which can be mentally challenging for both horse and rider.

  • * Riding Tally in a snaffle bit with no buddy horse in sight (he actually surprised me and did quite well at the start)

  • * And here's where it begins to get really good - giving your number to a group of amazing volunteers who call out encouragement until you are no longer in site.

  • * Heading across a misty field and finding someone else trying to "start late" to keep their high strung mount a bit under control, and Tally relaxing and letting me focus more on the surroundings (I have no idea who it was but really appreciate the "help")

  • * Heading up a steady grade - I really like this - to take out some of the "hotness" (adrenaline) from my excited mount and warming him up

  • * Level ground with excellent footing to let him trot out (this is where he excels and the ride starts to become fun)

  • * Meeting previously unknown riders (hi there Jill) to share time with

  • * Realizing that everyone in the forest can hear you when you scream because of "knee knockers"

  • * And finally stretching out a bit and riding ahead of the current pack, having the opportunity to talk to my confused boy about why and where we were, oh, and I should mention singing not TOO loudly ?
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