Saturday, May 13, 2006

Bluebonnet - My First 100 - Dawn Carrie

Somehow, it seemed fitting that I would attempt my first 100 at the
Texas Bluebonnet Classic, held on the LBJ Grasslands near Decatur, TX.
I had done my very first LD at this ride back in 1999 on my mare, DC
Mackenzie. It seemed so long ago...I had started that ride thinking,
wow, 25 far...would we make it? We did, with 15 minutes to
spare, and I was hooked on a sport that would take me down so many
miles of trail, introduce me to many wonderful people, and teach me
more about horses than I ever dreamed there was to know. Even back
then, I dreamed of someday doing a 100...and eventually, Tevis.

I don't handle the heat/humidity well, so decided that the mid-80s
would be my cutoff for trying the 100. I signed up for the 50. Then
a week before the ride the forecast called for 82 degrees on ride day!
I emailed ride secretary Trish Dutton and asked her to switch me to
The Big One. And then I worried all week as the forecast crept
up...83...85...87. Then 90. I quit checking. One of my
characteristics (some consider it a virtue, others a fault LOL) is
extreme stubbornness. I refused to drop back down to the 50. I would
start the 100 and if I got sick, threw up nonstop, and passed out,
then I guess I'd have to quit, unless I revived enough to climb back
on the horse (and could evade my husband long enough to do so).

I decided to drive up on Thursday so that Bear, my 7 yr. old gelding, could have plenty of time to hang out and rest before the ride. At the last minute, Jenna Pywell decided to do the 100 as well, and ride up with me. We left around 10 Thursday morning, taking Bear, her horse Zar, and my husband's horse Diamante. Ross wasn't going to be able to ride due to work, but was coming up Saturday morning to crew. I figured that Bear was used to having Diamante along at rides, and this was not the time to change things and leave him home.

It should have been a straight-forward trip of about 5 - 5 1/2 hours. But maybe an hour or so from home, a trucker pulled up alongside us and honked, and pointed back at the trailer. I looked in the mirror, and could see tire shreds flapping. Uh-oh. I waved a thanks at the trucker, and began to slow. Luckily there was a rest area coming up, so I pulled in. The left front tire on the trailer was peeling off. It hadn't blown yet, but had to be moments away from doing so. Between the two of us, Jenna and I got the tire changed and were on the road again within maybe 30 minutes. I was uneasy about now not having a spare, but what were the odds of *another* flat, right?

Less than an hour later, we were cruising along, and suddenly "POP!!!" I muttered something unrepeatable, Jenna said, "what?" and I said, "we just blew a tire." I pulled over, and sure enough, the right rear trailer tire had blown out. Ok, this sucks. But luckily, we were less than a mile south of the exit for Fairfield. I put on my flashers and eased onward, while Jenna grabbed my cell phone and called 411 to locate a tire place. She found one and got directions. We arrived, and had to wait for the manager to get there, just to have him tell us they were out of our kind of tires. Fortunately there was another tire place...he gave us direction and we eased that way. This store looked more reputable than the last one. I told the guy that I needed a tire, preferably one that didn't have any holes and would hold air. H e joked that I sure was picky, and asked what kind. I gave him the specs. He said he'd just sold a bunch of those yesterday, but thought he had one left. He checked, came back and said yep he had two left. I said I'd take 'em both, since I needed a spare. He said it would be about 30 minutes wait...but then this older rancher spoke up and told him to go ahead and take care of me first, so that I could get back on the road with the horses. I thanked him, and went out to back the trailer in where he requested. Now, I guess the sight of a blonde woman backing a dually with a 4 horse gooseneck LQ trailer into a narrow slot between stacks of tires up to the garage door still makes men nervous, because they all stopped what they were doing to watch. The trailer behaved and went right where it was supposed to, and a swarm of 3 technicians went t o work. In about 10 minutes they were done, and with a flash of my debit card, we were on the road again.

The rest of the trip went uneventfully, and we arrived at camp around 4:30 or so. We found a really nice spot in the trees near the vet check, and got the horses settled in. Jenna set up an extra pen for Dakota Broadway's horse, who would arrive the next day with Chachi Rosvold and her horse. We drove back into Decatur for dinner and to pick up a few things, then back to camp and to bed.

Friday morning we took the horses out for a short ride. I'd been borrowing Jenna's and/or Chachi's Sport Saddle for Bear, but since they were both riding this ride, I had contacted Gail Zeck, who I knew had a Sport Saddle, to see if I could borrow it for this ride. She immediately said yes. I spent a little while getting it adjusted to Bear and the stirrups adjusted to me during our short ride. She had fitted it with a centerfire rigging, which I found I really liked, and Bear seemed happy with it as well. We spent the rest of the day puttering around camp, getting ready for the ride, visiting with people, vetting the horses in, etc. I got a call from my friend Lianne, who was indeed going to make the ride but would arrive very late, so we set up another pen for her horse Al.

I set my alarm for 4 am. I got up and fed Bear and Diamante, then returned to my trailer and went over my preparations. All was ready. At a little before 5 I went out to tack up. It was nice and cool. Bear had eaten everything. Good boy. Got tacked up and headed over to the start and checked in. I trotted Bear around to warm him up, and he threw in a few bucks...not like him at all. Could be an interesting morning. At 5:30, trail was open. Jenna and I waited till most everyone headed out, then we followed. Bear is a raving lunatic if he thinks there are horses ahead that he can pass. Not that he ever *gets* to pass them, but hope springs eternal...

It didn't take long for the horses to disappear in the dark, and we picked up a slow trot. We came upon a small group of riders with a broken stirrup. I was trying to get my flashlight out of my camelbak for them, when two other riders came along with one more easily accessible, so we went on. Bear led the way in the dark through some winding single track in the woods and out into more open trail, as we followed an occasional purple glowstick. He was actually doing very well, listening to me and not fighting too hard to go fast. Could this be the New Bear? As we continued on, it began to get light around 6 or so. Jenna and I traded off the lead now and then. My goal was to do this first 25 mile loop in 4 hours.

We played leapfrog with Bobby and Alex Wallis, who were stopping to give their horses grass breaks, then passing us again. I wanted to give Bear some grass breaks, and he did grab a few mouthfuls, but Jenna felt that Zar wouldn't eat if we stopped. At about 10 miles or so, Bobby and Alex were right behind us, and I asked if they minded if I rode with them for a while...Bobby said I was welcome to. So I told Jenna to go ahead, that was going to fall back with these guys so that Bear could eat. Their horses eat great on the trail, and would help Bear relax more. He just gets too focused on the job at hand early in the ride, and will just grab a few bites and then wants to keep moving. I fell in behind Bobby and Alex. When they stopped for grass, Bear at first figited, t hen since their horses were chowing down, decided to do the same. We followed this pattern for several miles. But then I decided to drop back, as they were doing more cantering than I do during conditioning, so I let them go on ahead. Bear was fine with this, and we trotted along alone. I stopped for grass, but he was back in travel mode. So, I hopped off him and turned my back on him, ignoring his fussing and circling. After a few minutes, he gave up and figured since he wasn't getting anywhere, he might as well eat, and chowed down. We continued on, and about 8 or 9 miles from camp, he suddenly reverted to the lunatic Bear...jigging and cantering sideways down the trail when I asked him to walk, jerking his head forward and down, nearly pulling me out of the saddle several times, constantly fig hting me to go at mach 8. I guess he remembered that he was almost at camp, from when we did this trail at Frigid Digit in February. Anyhow, those last 9 miles were a battle.

We made it to camp right on schedule (4 hours), and he pulsed down right away. One thing about him, he has great metabolics. He stood nicely for the P&R guy, but was a total snot for the vet. I don't know what got into him...perhaps he heard Ross's horse calling or something. He would not stand still. His CRI was 12/14, because he was spinning circles and trying to rear when she took the second pulse. Grrrr...he's usually a good boy. I kept apologizing profusely, and was profoundly embarassed. His vet scores were all good, and we headed back to the trailer for our hour hold. He usually doesn't eat much at the first hold, but did eat some beet pulp slurry and some hay, and a bunch of carrots.

I dawdled a bit, and headed out a little late for the 15 mile blue loop. It was starting to warm up, and this loop was in the sun a lot. Bear headed out of camp nicely, and picked up a good trot. We cruised along steadily. Several 50 milers passed us, but Bear was pretty well behaved when I made it clear to him that we were not going to follow them. The trail was a mix of some wide singletrack through patches of woods, and lots of trail through open grassland and scattered scrubby trees. The wildflowers were awesome. I guess the recent rains really got them going. The orange butterflyweed (a kind of milkweed) was especially prevalent, and true to its name, had lots of different kinds of butterflies in attendance. There was also Indian paintbrush, coreopsis, skullcap, blue-eyed grass, and many other kinds of wildflowers.

The LDs and the 100s had to take a detour off the regular blue loop to add 2 miles. We made this turn and cruised along. The detour was actually quite pretty. We caught up to Bobby and Alex Wallis, and rode with them for the rest of the loop, as they were going more our speed now. This loop seemed extra long, I guess because of the 2 mile extension and because so much of it was in the sun. It was getting hot. The horses were all drinking well at the water stops, which was good to see. And even Bear didn't need to be asked twice to chow down on grass when we stopped. We finally made it back to camp. I think it took us nearly 3 hours to do this loop. I think we were all three glad that we wouldn't see this loop again today.

Bear was again pulsed down as soon as we hit the water tanks, which he tried to drain. He was somewhat better behaved in the vet area this time. Ann Kitzmiller offered to trot him out for me, which was very welcome, since my knees were sore from the first loop's battles. He again got mostly As, a couple of Bs. Back to the trailer for a 30 minute hold. Ross had arrived by now, and helped me with Bear. Bear ate some beet pulp and hay. I again went out a little late. As I was leaving, I passed Alex, who told me that her horse Faroh had been pulled for being tight in the rear. Darn!!! He's such a nice horse, with I believe several hundreds under his girth. I headed out at the same time as Bobby and Jenna. We all rode together for a while, then Jenna went on. This was the 10 mile yellow loop. We did it in around 2 hours or so. Bear was still moving out strongly, eager to go down the trail. He was now diving for grass as soon as we stopped, and guzzling water at every chance. This loop went by very quickly. Before we knew it, we were back in camp. Half done!!! Only 50 miles to go. Bear again pulsed right down and vetted through fine. He looked really good on the trot out. Guts were a B, which was not unusual for him. I wasn't too worried, since he was eating well on trail.

Back to the trailer for another 30 minute hold. Bear ate well, then took a little nap. We had four loops left to do. We'd do the 15 mile white loop, the 10 mile red loop, then repeat each. These two loops overlapped quite a bit. I figured I'd get the first white loop done before dark.

I should point out that by this time I'd acquired a wonderful crew. In addition to my husband Ross, Ann Kitzmiller was everywhere, helping at the vet check, asking what I needed, etc. Vicki Holzer was doing the same. And Lianne Lami, my riding buddy from Houston, was plying me with food of every type. During this hold they all decided that they would meet me where the red and white trails crossed one of the open gravel roads with food for Bear and food and drink for me. This spot was a little over 9 miles from camp on the white loop, and a little over 4 miles on the red loop. So far, I'd handled the heat ok. I had a headache and was starting to get a migraine, so took some ibuprofin and one of my magic migraine pills. I'd been making myself drink what seemed like gallons all day...I wear a 100 oz. camelbak while riding, and had drained it on the 25 mile loop, and nearly drained it on the other loops. I drank 32 oz. of strong Hydralyte (human elyte) and an Ensure at every hold. Plus I ate/drank various other things - yogurt smoothies, boiled eggs, etc. But, although I'd had a few touches of nausea, no vomiting so far.

After calculating when I would reach the road crossing at 9 miles, I headed out on the white loop. This one had some deep sand at the start, which we walked. Bear then picked up a nice trot and moved along fairly steadily. I was happy to see him still so eager to go down the trail. He was now taking the initiative and stopping for grass on his own. We took a couple of grass breaks, then continued on. We caught up to Jenna and a couple of other riders. We slowed to a walk and stopped for grass to let them get ahead. I like the red and white loops, since they have a lot more wooded sections, with winding singletrack type trail and more shade. After giving the other three riders time to get ahead, we moved on, zipping through the woods at a good clip. We caught up to the other riders, and I decided to pass them, since they were trotting fairly slowly, and Bear was in the mood to move out at a good pace. We passed and headed on, and they fell in behind us at our speed.

We came to a pond, and I was surprised to see cattle, since we had been told there were no cattle on the trails. There was a herd of cows and calves coming to water. I slowed to a walk till most had headed to the pond. Three calves were scampering along the trail, and Bear must have thought they were dogs, because he merely looked down at them, even when one brushed against his front leg. We trotted on, and entered a piece of singletrack surrounded by dense brush. We were in front, moving at a fast trot, and rounded a sharp curve to see a big horned hereford bull lying crossways in the trail about 30 feet in front of us. Bear hit the brakes and his eyes popped out on stalks. LOL The other three riders piled up behind me. I said, "there's a bull lying in the trail." On of the riders in the re ar, who couldn't see the critter, said, "There's a fawn?" "No, a bull!" I started yelling and waving at him, but he ignored me. I urged Bear to within maybe 20 feet, and kept shouting and waving, trying to get him up, as there was no room to pass. He finally slloooowwwwwly rose to his feet. Bear scooted backward ("OMG, look at the size of that thing!"). The bull calmly walked off the trail, and we went on past.

We continued on at a good pace. The other two riders fell back at some point, but Jenna stayed with me. After a number of miles, I slowed Bear to give him a break, but she urged Zar onward and kept going. Bear and I reached our 4-person crew at the 9 mile point right on schedule. Bear wasn't too interested in eating, although he did eat a little...he was more interested in continuing down the trail. But I munched on a few things, drank some Hydralyte, and had the luxury of someone else holding Bear while I peed. Vicki gave me some KM, the human elyte that Darolyn sells. I'd tried some years ago. It still tasted as bad as I remembered. LOL But my lingering headache did disappear about 20 minutes later. After leaving our crew, it was only a few hundred yards to a water tank, where Bear drank deeply, and grazed on a nice patch of grass. Only 6 miles to camp...we made it in a little over an hour, walking the deep sand and moving out on the good footing. Ross and Ann met me where the white trail enters camp, and we all walked to the vet check. Ross trotted Bear out, and I was again able to watch...he looked great.

Now we had another hour hold. Bear ate well, and took a nice little nap. My out time was 8:38. We had 35 miles left. I ate, drank Hydralyte, and relaxed. I put my headlamp in my pommel bag. I didn't plan to use it unless I needed to check something out. I was going to rely on Bear's night vision, and the moonlight. A full moon was predicted, so it should be plenty bright. The hold was over before I knew it, and we headed out on the red loop in the growing dusk. First stop was grass for Bear. LOL After his break, we continued on. As darkness approached, the Chuck-will's-widows (nocturnal birds related to nighthawks) began calling like crazy. At one poin t I could hear probably 30 of them calling from all directions. It was pretty cool. It soon got dark. The patches of woods were blacker than the inside of a cow, since the moon was not up yet. I couldn't see the ground, Bear's ears, or even my hands. But Bear could obviously see just fine, as he flew along at a fast trot, twisting and turning as he followed the winding trail. It was a total blast! Ever once in a while we'd go through a little dip - he'd suddenly drop out from under me, only to pop back up beneath me a second later. It was a bit lighter in the open. We arrived at our crew stop in about an hour or less. This time Bear ate. Lianne had had to go to bed...her sore throat and congestion had finally gotten the best of her. Vicki had done likewise, but not before sending plenty of advice along with Ann and Ross . After a brief stop we continued on to the water tank, and then the 6 miles to camp. Ann and Ross met us where the red trail hits camp. We came in and Bear pulsed down immediately again. He trotted out with spring in his step. Wow, 75 miles done.

Back to the trailer, 30 minute hold. Bear ate beet pulp slurry well, as well as hay. I wasn't looking forward to the next loop, the 15 mile white loop, just because it was longer. But with only 25 miles left, the end was in sight. Could it be that we just might do this??? My legs were sore, I had very painful chafing in unmentionable places, and my knees were killing me. But Bear looked and felt great. So onward we would go.

Time to go...back in the saddle, and out on the white loop. Jenna was out...Zar had been off on a front leg when she came in. It was not enough for the vet to pull her, but when he palpated the upper suspensory, Zar reacted very strongly, so she pulled RO-L. There had been a fair amount of deep sand. He'd had trouble with this suspensory last year, and apparently the sand had gotten to him. Darn! We headed out, gave Bear his grass break a short distance from camp, and continued on. The full moon was up now, and it was lovely. I was totally transfixed by the image of my and Bear's shadow trotting alongside of us. The grassland was bathed in a silvery light, and I could see for miles. The moonlight was so bright, that some birds were actually singing. I heard several Rufous-crowned Sparrows singing, and a couple of Painted Buntings as well. Of course, there were a number of mockingbirds singing, but they're known for singing at night anyway. The patches of woods were no longer black. However, it was no easier for me to see the trail. The bright moonlight had transformed the woods into a kaleidoscope of silver moonlight and black shadows, looking like pieces of silver and black confetti scattered on the ground. But again, Bear was not deterred, and flew along. This time when we met Ann and Ross, Bear dove into the beet pulp and didn't come up for air.

We continued on...just 6 more miles to camp. The frogs were really calling...they had begun at dusk,and continued into the night. I heard narrow-mouthed toads, cricket frogs, green treefrogs, and several other species. It was fun identifying all the different species as we passed various ponds. Bear had certain ponds that he'd developed a liking for, so we made sure to stop at those for drinks.

Camp at last...90 miles done!!! As Ann, Ross, Bear, and I walked through the sleeping camp to the vet check, I marveled that Bear had gone 90 horse had gone 90 miles!!! Wow...

He vetted through, but was a C on guts. He'd been eating, but perhaps not enough. Everything else was ok, though. However, since he was eating well, I wasn't too worried. We went back to the trailer for our last 30 minute hold. Bear chowed down on beet pulp this time, and ate quite a bit of hay as well. My out time was 3:10 am. I'd have 2 hr. 20 min. to do the last 10.7 mile loop. I wasn't too worried. We decided that that Ann and Ross would meet me as usual to check on me, but I'd not make a major stop. Bear was still being very forward, so I knew we could do the 10.7 miles in the allotted time. The two riders behind me had pulled RO, knowing that they'd be OT. Ann and Ross told me I needed to be at the crew stop by 4. I didn't have a li ght on my HRM (well, it did have one, but it no longer works), so I figured I'd just ride normally and see what time I got there. I headed out right at 3:10. Gave Bear his customary grass stop a half mile from camp. We continued on, walking all the deep sand, moving out at a good trot (whatever pace he wanted) when footing was good. Took another grass break or two, and arrived at the crew stop. I asked what time it was...Ann said 4 am on the nose. I hopped off to pee while Ann took Bear to some grass. Got back on, and headed to the water tank. Only a bit over 6 miles left between us and our first 100.

We alternated trotting and walking (sand) as we headed back. I noticed lightning way off in the distance, so far away that no thunder could be heard. Now *that* was really neat. Trotting along on my horse at 4 am under a full moon, watching lightning off in the distance. Does it get any better than that? Bear was still moving smoothly, slowing to a walk on his own when we hit deep sand, and resuming his steady trot when we reached better footing. I think he knew the end was near. Or else perhaps he could sense that I was getting tired, and wouldn't be able to continue this foolishness much longer. By this point I was getting very sleepy. When I'd stop for Bear to graze, I'd suddenly feel like he was falling over, and would grab the pommel...then realize that he wasn't falling. Or, I'd be sitting there looking at a red glowbar, and it would turn green as I looked at it, or would move from the right side of the trail to the left side. Very strange.

We reached the point where the red and white trails diverged near camp. Only about 1 1/2 miles to go! We veered right down the red trail, and Bear picked up a strong trot. I saw the finish line approaching. Gosh, I can't believe no one is waiting there for us! We slowed to a walk and headed in, and saw Ann and Ross. I dismounted and led Bear in. Turns out we did the loop in exactly 2 hours, even with 4 or 5 good grass breaks for Bear and walking all the deep sand. Bear was pulsed down when we arrived, trotted out with all As on gait, attitude, and impulsion, and his gut sounds had improved to a B. We were done...we were now 100 milers!!!!

I couldn't have done this without the help of my wonderful husband Ross and Ann Kitzmiller, who stayed up all night, right to the end, offering encouragement, food, water, a mounting block (thanks Ann!!), trotting Bear out for me, and doing all the little things that needed doing that I probably would have been forgetting by the end of the ride. And Vicki Holzer and Lianne Lami...who helped during the afternoon and early evening with encouragement, advice, KM (Vicki), and tons of food (Lianne). All of you guys were just great!!! And of course, ride manager Carla Jo Bass for offering the 100 mile distance in the first place...thank you!

Some thoughts...Patti Stedman said that the hardest part of a 100 is signing up for one. She's right. Although, in my case, I was eager to do one, so even signing up wasn't hard. Funny, but I wasn't the least bit intimidated by the thought of doing one...I couldn't wait to give it a shot. I learned a lot about my horse. He's in better shape than I thought...we could have gone faster, I realize now. But I erred heavily on the side of caution, and went very slowly. It not only earned me turtle, but I bet it earned me the honor of the slowest 100 ever completed at this ride. LOL

I never hit a wall...and Bear never seemed to either. I never felt him hit a slump. He always seemed eager to motor down the trail. His only problem was leaving camp. LOL But he's like that at every ride. Once we got out of camp, he happily zipped down the trail. I do feel cheated in that I didn't have any hallucinations. I didn't see any elephants, clowns, or little green men. Maybe on my next hundred. Because there *will* be another one...I'm hooked. This ride was the most magical experience of my life (even without any hallucinations). Just me and my horse out there for all those miles, trotting along toward one goal.

For those of you thinking about doing a hundred, give it a shot. I can truly attest, there's nothing in the world like it. And if I can do it, a middle-aged, "well-rounded" woman with two bad knees who works full time and can only condition once or maybe twice a week, trust me, ANYONE can do it. My horse is not a "super horse" with tons of miles, either. He only had 310 endurance miles (and 25 LD miles) before this ride. He completed his first 50 last July. So do a few 50s, maybe do two 50s back to back if you really want to see where your horse is (we did that in March), then find a 100 and just enter it, go slow, and see how far you get. There's a quote I like, can't remember who said it: "It is better to have tried and failed, than to fail to have tried."

Dawn Carrie, Huntsville Texas
and Little Bear TC

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