Sunday, July 22, 2007

Big Horn 100-2007, Don's adventure

Well I guess this story starts with Willy's (Wild West) finish at Tevis last
year. After his fall several years ago, and he came back and beat that
trail, I promised Willy that I wouldn't ask him to do Tevis again. Since my
heart is with Tevis, and having many friends that live in the area, I will
surely ride Tevis again, just not on Willy.

So this year Willy would start his preparation for the Big Horn 100. He
completed at the 20-Mule Team 100 for cold weather training, not Willy's
favorite. We also completed all three days at Eastern Mojave, with some
altitude and a lot of rain, sleet and snow on day three. Next would be
Cuyama for three days with some speed work. Cuyama was most memorable this
year because on the third day, when Willy finished, the Duck actually asked
Willy, "well Wild West, how was your day?". He was missing a shoe but
trotted off sound and finished in the top ten for the day and again,
completed all three days.

So after Cuyama, I called Tom VanGelder and said Willy and I were planning
to come to the Big Horn 100 this year, depending on the fire season and if I
could get the time off. The next challenge was to help my wife, Pam, manage
the Malibu Ride and still get some work in for Willy. I have a lot respect
for ride mangers and even more now, and somehow Pam and I managed to stay
together after Malibu!

Four weeks later, it was off to the Californios 100. This is the ride the
Pacific South riders do to make their final adjustments before Tevis. Willy
looked good all day and ate well. We did most of the ride alone so this was
another good test for Big Horn. Willy finished well and looked great. So
another call was made to Tom about our status and my current situation.

On July 4, the National Situation was level 2, meaning there were enough
fire fighters throughout the country to handle the amount of current fires.
I called Tom that night and said Willy and I would be leaving Saturday
morning and would be arriving Sunday night or Monday morning. Well, Saturday
at 2 a.m., Willy was caught, and by 2:30 a.m. the Malibu white trash boys
were on the road to Wyoming. After passing Las Vegas the trailer got a flat
and I changed it before Mesquite at one of the stations. You should have
seen the look on the faces of some of the people watching me change the
tire, I had to hurry, it was getting hot. I called Pam to see if anyone had
a tire on ahead so I would still have a spare and it was BIG O Tire. The
good thing is there are a lot of them in Utah and they never made me wait
because there was a horse in the trailer, I was in and out.

At 11 a.m. the fire office called to see if I wanted to take out a Hand Crew
for a fire assignment and that the National Level had been raised to 3. Well
I was already past Cedar City in Utah having a first hand account of the
fire that was in that part of the state. As Willy and I were traveling up
Interstate 15 we experienced the biggest fire in Utah history. We were at
the I-70 detour when the fire bumped the road. For some reason all the
traffic was stopped and not moving. The fire had to be within a couple
hundred feet and we were not moving, so there I am in my truck and trailer,
hay in the bed, windows down on the trailer and we're stopped on the road, I
start honking to get people to move. I was thinking, "great, I slip out of
the Park just to go on this trip so I don't have to fight fire yet and now
I'm going to burn up the truck and trailer, Willy and myself, because these
people wont move". Well the next flash in my head is I have 5 gallons of
diesel in the back, how much backfire can I make, with that much diesel, and
get back to the truck. (Remember I'm a wildland fire fighter so I wouldn't
suggest this plan for everyone.) Well I didn't have to set a backfire
because traffic started moving and we were out of the smoke an hour later.
As we were traveling down the 70 I was calling Pam to explain my situation
and that I needed a new route change to get to Salt Lake. We pulled into the
Spanish Fork fairground before reaching Salt Lake City that evening and
called it night, I still had my truck, trailer, hay and Willy. Here, you can
have a stall with shavings for $10 a night and the caretaker will give you
access to a human shower.

The next day we left early for the Big Horn. At Rock Springs I let Willy out
for a travel break and usually we got the tourist questions and petting. One
lady just couldn't believe a horse could do a hundred miles in 24 hours so I
teased her and told her in the early days of the sport we used to ride them
to the ride. After Rock Springs we headed north and crossed the South Pass
of the Continental Divide which was something I had never done before so
that was pretty cool. As a side note, fuel is a lot cheaper in Rock Springs
than Lander or Riverton. The next cool thing was the drive along the Wind
River and its mighty canyon with railroad tracks on the other side. When we
got to Greybull we had crossed the Big Horn River a couple of times. I
figured we were getting close and had just another 25 miles to go.

When we got to Antelope Butte, Tom VanGelder was waiting for me. He looked
just like picture on the website and I am a better man for meeting him. We
settled in for the night, truck, trailer, hay, Willy and I with the night
sky. We would have days before the ride to eat, rest and get fat before the
ride. As the days went by people started to arrive and settle in and to my
surprise some of these folks actually knew of Willy the flying horse and me.
I did some trail marking with Tom, and got to meet Cindy Collins, who also
knew of Willy, she and her friend were there to mark the Horse Creek canyon
part of the trail for the first loop. The best part of the day was spent
riding around with Tom and getting to hear maybe a third of his stories, my
favorite was one about the flying mules of the army, after all Tom was a
Calvary man for a short while. I also got to spend some time with Teddy
Lancaster, the traveling vendor (Running Bear), and made a trip up to the
top of the ski lift in her jeep. Teddy will have to tell that story some

It's finally Friday and I'm going to spend time getting ready for the ride.
That night, Tom approached me about taking a junior through the ride. She
would be riding his horse Charlie and was the junior of the ride management
staff. I later found that other riders had been asked as well, but for some
reason weren't able to, either way, I was honored to be asked and looked
forward to the ride.

The ride started with a controlled start at 4 a.m. Mountain time until we
crossed the highway. Then we were on our way, Willy and me, Charlie and
Bryla. I thought Willy would be the oldest horse there at 17, but Charlie is
22, so the two oldest horses on the ride would be traveling together. When
we got to the first vet check Sue Lyke had already tied in with us and spent
most of the ride with us. One bonus for riding with the junior is she came
with crew. Lisa, sorry I don't remember her last name, was at every stop we
needed her to be. The horses came in at criteria, ate and vetted well. Next
would be the canyons of Horse Creek? Four of them as I remember and as usual
I did my share of leading and tailing. I guess we were in last place but it
didn't mean much because we were there to finish, not place. When we got to
the 50 mile hour hold we had made good time and the horses were looking
really good.

So we headed up on the second loop with plenty daylight to make time, except
someone forgot to tell the Wyoming weather we were riding that day. About an
hour into the second loop a hail and rainstorm came that lasted around a
half hour. It was bad enough that we had to shelter in the trees until it
was over. Due to the storm we lost our good footing for a little while but
ten miles later it was good again. When we got to the 70-mile vet check I
had misjudged the distance and thought we had gone further. Jeanette and Tom
asked me how long I thought it would take to do the next loop, not knowing
the course I guessed three hours for the14 miles, Bryla and I did it in two.
One thing about being a heavyweight, I go a little slower during the day,
let the horse graze several times during the day, so at night when we need
it they have the reserves and that's how we did that loop so fast. The rest
of the way back was trail we came out on so the horses knew the way back and
we made our plans for climbing the hills. When we got back on top the
footing was poor so we walked in the last eight miles. The two old horses
finished well and strong in 2nd and 3rd place and looked good the next

That morning Willy was his usual self, stall walking in his corral because
he could see cows off in the distance and I went to the ride breakfast and
completion awards. Also that morning there were 6 horses with no feed or
water and nobody to be found. I helped feed and water, and I removed the
twisted blanket from the horse that allegedly later died. I did see one of
the gals later on while I was packing and let her know what we had done.
That is really all the contact I had with them since I rode a different pace
than they did.

Willy and I said our good-byes and loaded up. We headed off the mountain and
spent the rest of the day and night in Thermopolis at the Healing Waters RV
camp. This is a great place to stop with two mineral pools for healing and
the owner does a little acoustic concert at 9 p.m. I tied Willy to the
trailer but I think they would have let me set up corrals if I wanted, the
cost was $30 a day. The next morning we headed for home with a stop over in
Cedar City. When we got to Cedar City they were having a huge thunder and
lighting storm and I couldn't get into the Equestrian Center to bed Willy
down for the night, the gate was locked. I started calling fellow AERC
members for suggestions. First I called Judy Hall and she gave me Dean
Jackson's number. While on the phone with Dean the caretaker saw me parked
and asked if I needed help. So we got Willy settled in a stall for the night
and watched the show for the next two hours. The stall rate at this
Equestrian Center is $12 a night. We were up at 3 a.m. and home early that
afternoon. As I climbed the hill to the house I could see Willy's nose
sticking through the bars and then he whinnied. I let Willy out of the
trailer and he ran down to his favorite rolling spot, rolled, got up and
started playing with the babies!

This was one of toughest rides we've done and probably the most satisfying.
Willy is incredible and I am blessed and privileged to ride him, after all,
God takes care of addicts and alcoholics! Willy is now 6 for 6 in 100
milers. The Ride Management was really great and I felt they were really
there to help us finish. The whole time I was there I felt like I was
family. Thanks Uncle Tom, Aunt Jeanette and the rest of the families for
keeping this ride going. I will never forget the third night at ride camp
when after dark we heard the howl of the wolves in the mountains around us.
Thanks to the Big Horn Mountain range for that!

Don Bowen
Wild West, better known as Willy, "the flying horse"

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