Friday, October 28, 2005


Angie McGhee

Well, none of my friends can believe I've taken this long to tell them about my trip to Arizona but I've been so swamped that I never felt like I had time to do it justice. Finally got on fall break and my brother found out! :-(( Ring, ring, "Hey, heard you're off work. We're over here painting the house for Mama and Daddy and need you to do the trim" Wahhh!

But I'm ready to talk so here tis.

The moral of this story is that whining on Ridecamp can be a good thing. Apparently, I whined and sounded a little down a while back and as a response I got a post from a Dayna Weary saying that she had been conscripted by her husband Bruce to invite me out to Arizona for an endurance ride lest I should fear that I was being invited out by some pervert. I didn't know it at the time but Bruce only wanted to allay my fears in that area until I agreed to come and the airline ticket had been purchased. Then he took a twisted pleasure in suggesting that I might just get off the plane and be met by a person who I would consider the worst possible Ridecamp person to have lured me out there. :-P Ha, ha, very funny. Even after I was convinced he wasn't, he hinted that maybe I wasn't the only person he'd invited. Bruce has a twisted sense of humor.

Normally, I would have felt I couldn't miss school but it just so happened that the very weekend they wanted me to come was the end of my daughter's contract at her dude ranch job in Colorado. That meant either Bill or I had to buy a plane ticket and fly to Albuquerque, NM to meet her and help her drive home. Bruce and Dayna assured me that they could use their Southwest Airlines points to fly me back to Albuquerque after the ride rather than home, so I could justify the trip. I would get to do a ride, and SAVE MONEY!!! Anybody who knows me knows I can't pass up a deal like that.

The flight from Nashville to Phoenix was the most unusual pre-ride day commute I've made. My daughter's stuff had barely fit in the car when she left, so I knew I couldn't fit much in her car for the ride home. First, instead of filling up a truck & trailer with my ride gear, I had to get it all in a backpack. I didn't dare check luggage so I had crammed all my regular clothes and enough books on cassette to get me through a 1400 mile marathon drive home into one carry on suitcase, then had to get my ride clothes into a backpack. Turns out Bruce & Dayna don't wear helmets so I needed to bring my own. goes one helmet, one pair of RIDE TENNIS SHOES, >phew!!< tights, gloves, sponge, etc. Honestly, I was so afraid the security officers searching luggage would open that bag. There's nothing quite like the scent of a pair of shoes that's been in pond water, green manure, etc. etc. Ugh. If they'd lit a fuse I'm sure those shoes would have qualified as a shoe bomb. I wasn't sure I'd be able to get it all in so I just told Dayna the way she could recognize me getting off the plane...I'd be the one in the helmet.

I'm not sure why, but it was easy to spot Dayna in the airport. Endurance riders somehow manage to look really fit without looking like aerobics instructors. When I had talked to Dayna on the phone about coming out I asked her were they the type people who would lure me out there just so they could drive off and leave me in the desert. She assured me not, but when she whisked me away in her Lincoln, and phoned Bruce to tell him "The parcel has been collected" I wondered if I'd ever said something on RC that had really offended them. :-P

Dayna and I talked a blue streak for the 2 hour drive to the camp...mostly about raising teenaged girls. It's hard to be scared of a 50 mile ride next to sheer rocky drop offs when you've been facing teenaged girls daily. This would be a picnic.

So...we pull into camp and how are things different from the South? Well, first, you opened a gate to get in camp and closed it behind you. Seems there would be cows that had free roam of camp and the gate needed to keep them in. That was a darned big ranch because we rode about 25 miles before we had to open another gate. Of course, I think it had about as much graze-able forage on it as 2 grassy acres back home. I saw one cow and calf and I think that might be all the land was able to feed. >g<

First I met Bruce. I know everybody has been waiting for me to get on here and describe Bruce to them. Well, if you've seen the National Geographic show about Tevis, picture Boyd with short blonde hair. The more I think about it, the more I think Bruce may have been riding under an assumed name in that video. If so, he has taken riding lessons since then. Since I came up to approximately his ribs I had a feeling the horse I was borrowing would be a big boy. And he was. I was riding Heisman, a big flea bitten Arab with a very impressive record (4000 miles) so I was in good hands.

I had been worried since the invite that they wouldn't have a saddle with holes punched high enough in the stirrup leathers for me. Bruce had told me I'd be riding an Abetta saddle with a fleece seat cover so as soon as I saw the saddle there on the rack I started taking up the stirrups to make sure they'd go up enough for me. I struggled to pull the fenders as far up into the saddle as I could get them, took the stirrups up to the highest notch, buckled on the keepers and then Bruce noticed what I was doing and said, "Ummm...that's my saddle". Oops.

Dayna's motive for the weekend was obvious from our first call. Seems she had just read my EN article where I griped about people in campers running their generators. Her plan was to corrupt me by having me spend the weekend in an air conditioned camper, sleeping on a feather bed and eating hot meals. If they'd had the toilet in their brand new camper hooked up it might have worked, but the walk to the porto-let cleared my head and I think I passed the test since I haven't said a word to Bill about taking out a second mortgage to get something like that for myself. The hard part about sleeping in the camper was that Bruce and I are both chronic "one-upsmanshippers". Every time one of us told the "last story of the night" the other had a better one. You know how it is at a slumber party when you turn out the lights, everybody gets quiet...and you try to stay quiet...and then somebody speaks and it all starts up again? >g< Poor Dayna.

OK, enough trivial stuff. The TERRAIN. I don't think I ever realized Arizona is so mountainous. If you said Arizona I just pictured desert. Nope, it was mountains. BIG mountains. The ground is a dusty, fine dirt with a scattering *everywhere* of loose volcanic rock. You could be trotting along on a flat trail and suddenly there would be a leg breaker type hole...the kind we get when an old dead pine stump underground rots out, but they have no reason for them I could see. They said it had to do with the volcanoes.

The really different thing about out there is that you can see forever. You can see mountains that are a hundred miles away. If I step outside my door at home I can see Lookout Mountain which is maybe 4 miles from me to the East and it rises up to block anything else that direction. Out there you could see a rider on a mountain from far away. Out here a rider is out of sight behind foliage 20 yards ahead. Out there you can see GROUND on distant mountains. There wasn't much that I'd call a tree till you got into the pines higher up the mountains. The "scrub oaks" are wicked little bushes that have *tiny* little miniature oak leaves. The limbs are made of cast iron and it is a *grave* mistake to think you'll just brush one back as you ride by. Bending apparently requires moisture and there isn't any, so it's like snagging your tights on a ragged metal rod. OUCH! They must use cutting torches to clear trails.

The "Man Against Horse" ride is just that. They had a 50 mile endurance horse race, a 50 mile human race, 25 mile LD horse, (don't think they had a people 25) a 12 mile human race and a 12 mile fun ride. This was something else strange to me. There were 18 horses in the 50, and maybe that many runners. Maybe 30 in the LD and over a HUNDRED in the 12 mile fun ride. We seldom have those here, and if they do maybe 5 or 10 show up. I didn't get to see any of the fun riders. They got there after we started and were gone before we came back. I don't know if they had fun or not. By the way, this is the first ride I've been to where the manager complained that antelope had been eating the markers.

If you ever have a chance to do an endurance ride over a course where they're having a human race, I highly recommend it. Boy, do runners get a lot of food! Every five miles or so we'd come up on a table and they'd offer us granola bars, tootsie rolls, M&M's, Gatorade, was crazy. I have never eaten so much at a ride. Next time I'll enter a higher weight division since I'll probably make it at the end. There was a Native American guy whose name I wish I could recall who had won the race and beat the horses for the past 5 years. I saw him but wouldn't have picked him as a favorite. He was sort of the Jayel Super of humans...just incredibly middle of the road. Not too big, not too muscled, just handy. He said he wasn't in good shape this year. Turned out he was still good enough to beat the horses but got beat by a tall Caucasian. I guess I could be happy...Caucasian pride and all, but the Native American was closer to my height so I related more to him. A woman came in third; it was just hard to pick who would make it and who wouldn't. A couple of younger Native American guys whose legs looked *so* ripped gave out around 25 miles. Meanwhile there was a guy who looked like a heavyweight still going (I think he finished) and there was actually a 67 year old man who did the whole 50.

Back to the horses. Bruce was riding his Fox Trotter mare that happens to be slim and gray so you have to look twice to notice it's not an Arab. She had a very "Lemme At 'em" attitude so my job was to stay behind and not challenge her to a race. I kept waiting for the catch with Heisman. He was steady, controllable, sound, and strong! I actually had my camera out on the first loop taking pictures as we started. THAT'S a dependable horse!

I had almost left my sponge at home but decided to take it just in case. What I found were a lot more opportunities to sponge than I expected. Heck, I figure if your horse is drinking out of a green cattle tank nobody's going to complain about a little sponge getting dipped. There was even a puddle or two. Bruce had a little collapsible bucket that he got off and dipped but good ol' Heisman acted like he'd seen leaping sponges all his life and let me do my thing from his back.

Vet checks were different. Out here they're usually in camp and I have an elaborate area set up with a truckload of stuff set out. Their checks were away, which make sense because if you rode within 12 miles of camp all the time you'd never lose sight of it out there. When we came into the check we stood around the water tank and a pulse taker came to us and took the pulses. I looked around and there was no sign of a "vet check area" but there were horses occasionally trotting down a strip of driveway so I guessed somebody down there was a vet. We got our pulses, then instead of going to vet through we stood around at our food that Dayna had set out and let them eat and had a bit ourselves. Finally, when it was almost our out time we went down to the vet and did a trot out. Very casual.

Now lets talk rocks. We have rocks, but we have some dirt under the rocks. They have rocks under their rocks. If I had been in charge of the pace on this ride we'd have had to walk the whole time. I just didn't look down. I figured if Bruce thought it was trotable and Heisman was willing, I'd just mind my own business and take pictures. There was one huge mountain that we had to get to the top of and it involved a narrow switchback trail cut into the side of the mountain. The air was thin and we'd been about 25 miles. There were a couple of 20ish *extremely* fit looking runners who ran out of steam there and were calling it quits. Bruce got off his mare and was tailing up and I was riding along in front turning around taking photos of them. Heisman meanwhile was expertly picking his way over loose rocks and around the switchbacks. I suddenly realized what I was doing and noticed that though there was lots of scrub brush around, there was absolutely nothing capable of slowing your tumble if you took one step off the trail. It would have been a long roll through cactus and boulders to the valley below. >shudder<

The ride itself was a great experience. I finally got to see the West without a freeway in sight, and on a *good* horse. It was fun to see the way the westerners run things and how and why it works for them. I got lucky on the weather, everyone said it was uncommonly pleasant...really warm but not the least bit miserable. The temp didn't feel bad at all to me. I think the South is "bake" and Arizona is "broil". I could feel the heat burning my skin but not inside my head. I did forget the sunblock and chapstick. By Monday my lips looked like one of those westerns where someone has crawled across the desert with cracking lips. I think there were 4 mouth sores. (Dentist appt. 2 days later with new dentist...perfect timing...trying to explain that I *don't* have Herpes type 6).

As we got down off the mountain and traveled along the sandy washes again I was just thinking how impressively sure footed Bruce's western horses were and how I had trusted my life to them trotting those switchbacks...not like Kaboot, who does summersaults on decent footing. As I pondered this I saw Bruce's mare's front hoof hit a soft spot and in slow motion she demonstrated a *perfect* Kaboot tumble. First, Bruce realizes he's riding a short horse with no head, then he has to tuck and roll left as she continues her flip. Boy, I sure was glad she did it in a sandy wash in the valley instead of on the side of that mountain where I'd have had to wait around for him to climb back up if he was still alive. Bruce was bruised but fine.

I finished the ride feeling great. I hopped off my horse, trotted him out for the vets, and suddenly thought I was going to puke. It's hard to look nonchalant when you're blocking the vet line with your hands on your knees hoping you don't puke and let everyone realize how much of the runner's food you scarfed up all day. Also, since I'd finished top 10 I really needed to weigh before losing any weight so I managed to pull tack, and stand on the scales before I handed Dayna the horse and collapsed in a worker's chair. Someone suggested the heat got me but no, it wasn't even particularly hot and there was no humidity. I'd say it was either thin air or all that runner food I ate.

The moment passed, I felt better and enjoyed a great ride meeting with nice awards, then went back to Bruce's house which is the absolute antithesis of mine. I live in a log cabin with wood floors, walls & ceilings (to match the dirt). Bruce's house is white...inside...outside, up and down. My house has stacks of magazines, walls of bookshelves that are full and have more books stacked flat on tops of the rows. My furniture consists of primitive antiques (mostly from my primitive ancestors) His is tastefully sparse... refined, like a decorator magazine. My horses eat along a wood plank fence with the buckets hanging on posts by baler twine. Bruce has 4 large pipe stalls (which he designed) with feeders and automatic time locks on the gates to let them out after they've had enough time alone to finish. I just looked at it all and thought, "It's amazing how much a person can accomplish with no humidity".

I am profoundly grateful for the big adventure Bruce & Dayna gave me. They flew me out, took me into their home, let me ride a wonderful horse on a beautiful trail, drove back and forth to Phoenix to pick me up and deliver me to the airport...and I gave sponge. I'm trying to come up with something better, but so far that's all they got out of it.

I did find out that though Bruce hit SEVEN THOUSAND miles at this ride, he's never done a ride in the east. That gives me an idea...I'm just not sure I can get my house clean enough for company! :-)

Angie McGhee

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