Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A Weekend of Firsts - Margit Krellwitz

It is Sunday; an amazing sense of self-satisfaction fills my heart as I sit in church. I am grateful for so much. Each attempt I make to stand or kneel during the service is followed by a quick pang of excruciating physical pain. I know the pain will only get worse over the next 24 hours. Still, I am happy today, and thank God for the wonderful weekend I just experienced.

This adventure began Friday morning, shortly after I dropped my children off at school. I was so excited. I'm 52 and in the 26 years I have been married I have never had a girl's weekend away from my family! A weekend doing something new, challenging and just for me!

The trailer is packed quickly, the horses loaded and we are off. Three women who love to ride horses! Annetta and Linda have been working with me for over a year, slowly building my confidence and stamina. Finally, I said yes, I was ready to take on this challenge. Linda and Annetta have many years of experience; I have none.

We are headed for the Indian Territory endurance horse race at Lake Oolagah, Oklahoma. The road trip passes quickly and before long we are pulling in to camp. Despite arriving in the early afternoon, there are trailers and horses everywhere! We set up camp, taking care of the horses first, of course!

Once the horses are settled in we head for the ride manager's camp. We check in and show our horse's current Coggins and receive our race card. Annetta switches from the 50 to the 25-mile race. Linda & Misty will do the 50-mile. I will attempt the 25-mile race. After the paperwork is completed we return to our camp to get our horses and walk them to the vet's camp for out pre-ride vet check. Once our pre-ride vet check is complete we settle the horses in for the evening and check our tack for the next morning's ride. A ride meeting to explain the course was schedule for that evening. They would honk a horn when it was time to come!

I was glad to have Annetta accompanying me in my first race, my horse, Shahb El Shiraz (AKA Comet), would behave better around his buddy Fernie, but I was afraid I would either not be able to keep up or worse, hold her back! We went back to camp and prepared dinner. We had a great meal with mashed potatoes, pot roast and veggies all zapped in the microwave thanks to Annetta's generator! We sat outside in our camp chairs and watched the sun set on the lake, not 40 feet in front of us, our horses peacefully grazing between the lake and our trailer. This was nice!

The "mom" in me kicked in and I grabbed my cell phone and turned it on, I had left it off all day. I had three missed calls and several messages! I listened to the messages and called home. I straightened out the confusion about what to feed the mare and colt and what to feed the pony and told everyone I loved them and would call after the race ended.

The ride meeting was short. The start time of the 25-mile race was moved from 8 am to 9 am, giving the 50-milers a two-hour head start. The ride manager and head vet explained what the rules were. The directions were deceptively simple: go to your right, follow the ribbons, pick up a token at the end of the trail, turn around and come back the same way. 17 miles for the first loop, 64 pulse, vet check, 45 minutes hold, then out again, go to the left this time, 8 miles for the second loop, 4 miles out, pick up a token, then back the way you came, 60 pulse, Vet check then done. No maps just follow the ribbons! Seemed simple enough. No maps!!!

The ride manager announced a first-timer meeting with the vet after the general meeting. I moved up to meet the vet. Did I have any questions, he asked? I truthfully answered that I didn't know enough to know what questions to ask. Have you crewed on a ride, he asked? No. Have you come to a watch a ride? No.

I felt like a neophyte. I was a neophyte! I told the vet I was riding with Annetta, if I could keep up with her, she would help me through the ride. One kind gentleman standing nearby offered to let me ride with him. I said great. Of course, I never recognized him the next day and to my knowledge I never saw him again all weekend!!

We went back to our trailer, got ready for bed and waited for morning to come. Anxiety about the race settled in my gut! Great, I thought, I'm going to be stuck in a port-a-potty all night, or all day tomorrow and miss my race! Eventually I fell to sleep, listening to the rumblings of my intestines!

Linda's alarm sounded the start of the day at 5:30. Morning finally arrived. I had woken up at 3 am to go to the bathroom, stepping on Annetta's head getting down from the bed. I couldn't get back to sleep, but thankfully my stomach had stopped making noise! Annetta has taken the couch while Linda and I shared the bed. Annetta and I tried to go back to sleep, but gave up at six. We decided to help Linda get ready for her 7 am start time.

What a glorious morning. The Harvest moon was full and heavy, ready to sink into the west, but still provided plenty of light. The sun was creeping up in the east. You could see the moon reflected in the dark lake water. Someone grab a camera! Horses quietly grazing with the moonlit water behind them and the sunrise too! Does it get any better than this? Before long, it was 7 am and Linda was off! Our turn to get ready to go!

We had checked and double-checked everything the night before. It didn't take long to get ready. What to wear? Why is that always the hardest thing to decide, even here! If I dress too warm I'll get hot, but I don't want to freeze either! Layer and strip, decision made. One last pit stop and I was ready. We walked our horses around to get them warmed up.

It was time to go. Lake Oolagah was a beautiful place; plenty of the people who came to the ride lazily enjoyed the scenery during the ride. We, however, started out at the front of the line and never gave up first and second place!! Annetta was #29, I was #15. We did a 17-mile loop at the start, with a few people on Comet's tail, but gradually we were down to one lone horse chasing us. We thought we had lost him for a few miles, but he caught up and stayed with us until the vet check at the end of 17 miles. With a strange horse on our tail Comet wanted to go faster to get away from him, Fernie in turn didn't want Comet on his tail, so I was stuck in the middle trying to keep Comet off Fernie's tail, and remain far enough ahead of the horse on our tail!

Time flew by, and we expected to meet Linda on the trail as she started her second 25-miles. We saw the front-runners; Linda was not in the top 10 horses. Something was wrong. Time passed quickly and it was 10:38 when we rode back into camp.

Linda was waiting for us and helped get us through the vet check. Misty had slipped on the 8-mile loop and the vet noticed something in her trot during the vet check and pulled Linda and Misty from the race. They had been in the lead for the first 25 miles of the 50-mile race.

Annetta and I both passed the vet check with no problems, and then had a 45-minute hold. She could leave at 11:25, Comet and I at 11:26. We took care of the horses, took a potty break and then it was off to the races again. Annetta graciously waited until 11:26 so we could leave together. We were off again, Annetta and Fernie in the lead. We had hoped to have a few minute start on the horse who had been chasing us. We never saw that horse and rider again.

The second loop was a short 8 miles. We felt great and since it was shortly before 11:30 hoped we could finish before it got too hot! The second loop was rocky in many places and we were cautious after learning of Misty's slipping in the terrain. We still went fast, but walked down the rocky hills and tried to be careful!!

At the halfway mark we were both doing well and felt great. On the way back we passed our closest competitor. We had about 2 miles to go. We pushed to extend our lead. We dashed down a small ravine and up the other side. We had a tree to jump/walk over. We had done many jumps on the trail and had done this very same log on the way out. Comet jumped, I fell -- HARD!! My ears were ringing, I saw stars and heard Annetta say, are you OK? She was holding Comet and was about to head to the finish line and get help. I said no I was fine. I struggled to get back in the saddle. I got back up, determined to finish. Luckily I really was ok, and did not get dizzy as we raced to the end.

At the finish we walked in, Annetta in the lead, Comet and I right behind her. We quickly headed to the water trough. Linda was waiting for us, and helped cool off Fernie and then Comet. Linda urged me to get off Comet. Annetta had gotten off and walked Fernie in. I slid off and started splashing water on Comet. Someone handed me a scoop. I used it and quickly returned it, grateful for the help. Linda instructed me to quickly head to the P&R (pulse and respiration) station. I watched my heart monitor as it dropped and headed in as soon as it registered 60. Annetta had entered before me, and as it had been for the whole race, I was right behind her.

The P & R area was teaming with activity. Several people were taking P & R's. The timer's table was strategically located to record the times as the volunteers shouted the horse's number and the time. 50 milers were coming in at the same time as the early finishers for the 25-mile race. Comet's time was recorded and we were whisked away to the vet. Several vets were checking horses and I moved to the first available. Annetta and Fernie were already being check by a vet. All went well until the dreaded trot out! After completing 25 miles and taking a fall, the last thing I wanted to do was run to a cone and back! But Comet and I did what we had to do. We weren't going to stop now!! Next we had to strip our tack off the horse and step on the scales holding it all! Ugh!!

We had one hour to get our horses cleaned up and ready to present to the vet for the best-conditioned horse evaluation. Fortunately, the campsite had access to a hose so it was easy to clean them up. Linda was a big help!!! Were it not for Linda and Annetta I would have been lost in the chaos of the moment.

We fed and watered the horses and finally got a minute to take care of ourselves. That's when I noticed that my brand new helmet was cracked at the base! I was grateful to have had a helmet that worked. That would have been a nice C-1 injury! Always wear your helmet!

Soon it was time to go for our final vet check. Amazingly Fernie and Comet had each pulsed down at the same time. We were both scheduled to report to the vet at the same time. The vet looked at the best conditioned paperwork she had been handed by the timekeeper and asked to see Comet first, that was when we realized that the timekeeper had mistakenly placed #15 ahead of #29. It was an understandable mistake; after all, the P&R station was like Union Station at 5 pm on Friday. Annetta and I told the vet and timer about the error and asked the vet to check 29 first as 29 had finished first. She said fine. We both vetted out fine, although I thought I was never going to do Comet justice in the trot out; I had run beside him as he trotted up and down a small incline, which, after 25 miles, felt like Mount Everest to me!

We were done at last and could now have lunch! After a nice lakeside lunch, Annetta and Linda took Fernie and Misty bareback into the lake to cool off their legs and just have fun. I stayed camp side and called home to let everyone know I was alive and well and had finished second to Annetta. I was happy and proud of my accomplishment. I took some pictures of Annetta and Linda in the lake.

As the afternoon passed we wandered up to ride manager's camp to see what time the potluck dinner was going to start. She said the last 50-mile rider had just left to complete the last 8-mile loop. Dinner wouldn't start until they returned. I guessed 6:00ish. While with the ride manager we learned that the error in place finish we thought we had corrected at the vet check, had not been corrected. #15 was recorded as finishing first and #29 as finishing second. We had brought that error to their attention at 1:22 when we went to the vet check; we thought we had fixed that error!

It's ok, we thought, we can fix it now, no harm done. Unfortunately we were the ones who were wrong. The rider manage would not change the results. The times had been recorded that way and she was not going to change it! Changing the results, she insisted, would require thirty minutes. It's too much trouble to change it now, besides its no big deal; limited distance (25-miles) doesn't count anyway! Imagine how that made me feel as a first timer!!

We went back to camp and Annetta checked the AERC rulebook. It stated clearly that in the event of a tie the first person entering the P&R area would be awarded the first place finish. OK, we thought, we'll just go back and show her the rulebook; surely she will change her mind. We trekked back to the ride manager's camp and tried again. No luck, despite attempts to reason with her, the ride manager would not change the results. We left, dishearten. I was so embarrassed! I did not deserve to win. I was proud of my second place finish. I could never feel that way about this win. As we walked back to camp I hoped Linda and Annetta would be ready to break camp and go home.

Annetta insisted we stay for the awards ceremony anyway; we would break camp afterwards and head home. At the ceremony I reluctantly and very embarrassingly accepted the first place finish award. I wanted to shout "I didn't finish first - I wouldn't have finished at all without my friend, who lead me the whole way, and gave up a minute for me, and babied me though a fall!!" But it was my first time and I had already alienated the ride manager enough! Strangers who were tired, hungry, and just wanted to go home surrounded me, they didn't want to hear me complain about finishing first! I just offered Annetta my prize as I returned to my seat. Later, I had to stand before the crowd again, this time to be recognized as a first timer. I stood, but I didn't turn to face the crowd. I simple turned several shades of red when I overheard the whispers when people said, "she finish first in the 25, and this is her first time!"

We headed back to camp after the potluck to break camp. Just before pulling out, we broke out the Razzleberry pie I had baked for the potluck. We had chosen not to share it as a silent protest to the finish; it was Annetta's favorite pie and I saluted her with a big slice. The pie lifted our spirits and we headed for home.

We didn't miss a single turn during the race; we missed several, on the way home! We pulled in late, but as always took care of the horses and tack first. I offered the rest of the Razzleberry pie to Annetta. She insisted I take it home to my family.

I drove the 30 minutes to my house. It was after midnight. My husband greeted me with a hug and congratulations. He emptied my car for me while I jumped in the shower, my first since Friday morning. Afterwards I popped several Ibuprofens into my mouth and happily fell into bed. My prayers were simple thanks, I was grateful for so much. I fell to sleep quickly.

All in all I had a very nice time with my friends and our wonderful horses! Will I do it again? We'll see.

Happy Trails

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