A Nice Day for a Long Trail Ride (Tevis 2007)
Imagine you had a booked a 4 day scenic horseback riding vacation with Wrangler Bills Western Rides. But when you got there, Wrangler Bill came up and started talking to you. " Well Pardner, we had a mix up with our new fangled compooter and got ourselves in a heck of a fix. We can't take all four days to go over the beautiful trail we promised in the brochure, and have to get er done in 24 hours. But don't you fret, cause Ole Bob will still have the chuckwagon at the stops we planned. He will have some some of the gals and ranch hands there to help take care of you and the horses. We will have grub and cool drinks. We had to get Doc Brown to show up at our rest stops and look over the horses to keep the PETA people of our butts, but it ain't no big thang. You will still get to see all the beautiful spots we advertised in the brochure, but we just have to cobver the ground a mite quicker. Oh, by the by, the danged compooter also messed up the reservations so bad that instead of 4 other riders, there will be 185 in your group. Kinda a cozy little gathering."
So you say to yourself, " Dang, if we are going to ride that far in one day, I had better ditch the Stetson hat and blue jeans and wear a helmet and tights. Wrangler Bill and the other cowboys may poke fun at me, but that's better than getting rubbed raw." When you show up the next morning there are 185 other horse and riders waiting to head out at the same time. Some are wearing shorts and tank tops, ( Dave Rabe, you know who you are), some are wearing blue jeans and Stetson hats, but most are in tights and wearing helmets, so you don't feel too far out of place.
That is Tevis. For a few dozen who have a realistic chance of winning or even finishing in the top 10, it is a Race, For everybody else it is just a very long trail ride over really pretty countryside. Some riders don't seem to realize that and get stressed over it. I knew that Top 10 wasn't going to happen for me, so we just came out to have fun and complete.
Before my Ride Story, I would like to mention one of the finest examples of Sportsmanship and Horsemanship I have ever witnessed. For me Tevis was just a ride, but for some top riders it is a much coveted win in a historical ride. For a rider to mention they finished first in the So and so Barn Burner LD is nice, but winning at Tevis conveys serious bragging rights. Last year, John Crandel III amazed the endurance world with his sweep of the Old Dominion and Tevis. This year, two horses had a rare chance to duplicate this feat. Since Stagg Newman had tied for 1st at the OD, he was in a position to establish himself and his horse forever in Endurance history. During the ride he was up with the leaders, and in position to win. At Deadwood, the vets passed him through, but he knew his horse wasn't quite right. Super and He have accomplished a lot in their careers together, and with the tempation of a historical win right there in his face, Stagg chose to Ro-M. When faced with that choice between a possible permanent place in history or possibly damaging his horse, Stagg chose to take care of Super.
His actions are a great example to all of us in this sport. If you ever wanted to know what kind of person he is, this showed you. After his pull, he patiently waited for the horse trailer ride back to Foresthill and then on to Auburn. He was greeting other riders from back east as they came in and offering them encouragement. Later that evening, instead of sulking in his trailer, getting drunk and kicking a dog as lesser people might do, he was at the finish line until the wee hours cheering in the other riders as they completed. He may have had a bad day riding in a race, but as far as I am concerned, he had a world class day as a Sportsman and Horseman..It was truely something for our sport to be be proud of.
Last June, my horse Piper and I had just completed Top Of the Rock in Indiana. It was our first 50 mile ride. Later that evening, I wandered down by the vet tent and sat in listening to the folks visit about rides. Dr. Jim Baldwin who has vetted Tevis and completed it as a rider was telling some stories about the ride. The next day, Piper and I completed the LD and so we had done 80 miles in 2 days. That evening I asked Dr Baldwin if he thought that someday my horse and I could complete Tevis. He said it would be no problem as long as I thought of it as a long trail ride and just rode vet check to vet check. That sounded reasonable to me, so I started making plans. See how easy it is to be led astray by evil companions?
Last year and early this spring, while riding with him on a few loops at different rides, Ron Chapman from Tennesse had offered to crew for me if I decided to try Tevis. After Piper and I finished the Old Dominion and Piper came out of it happy and healthy, I called Ron to see if he still wanted to come crew. He was excited and ready to do so. He was planning to try it in 2008, and wanted to see it beforehand. But after we talked, I realized he and his horse were ready this year. I offered to let him bring his horse and do the ride too. He was hesitant about this because he had committed to crew for me, and didn't want me without assistance out there. He finally agreed that if I could find a suitable crew within 7 days he would ride too. The next morning I called him and told him we had a crew. He started getting ready and packing. See how easy it is to be an evil companion too and lead others astray?
Our plan was to not get stressed out and plan for as easy a trip as possible. Instead of basing in Auburn at the farigrounds, we were so fortunate that I had met Dovie and Bob Pickering last year while out here on vacation. They were unbelievably gracious and wecoming to us at their place just outside of Reno. BEsides letting us keep our horses there, they opened up their home to us and fed us great food every night. We got here 8 days before the ride, so our horses had pleny of time to relax from the long (2000 miles) trip. We went down to Auburn on the Sunday before the ride to preride the last 6 miles of the trail . We were very lucky to meet up with a couple of trail riders there headed out for a nice Sunday ride. One of those riders was Leonard Davis, who has 10 Tevis buckles. He was very helpfull with trail details and good advice. We had a nice leasurely ride and came back to Reno to relax. On Wednesday we drove back to Auburn afor the welcoming BarB Que, and slipped into Robie Park on the way down to check it out. We picked out a couple of areas in the back away from the excitement to park when we would come there on Friday. It amazed us that there were already over a dozen rigs there in the heat and dust. Horses were hollering. It didn't seem relaxing to us.
THE CREW: Pam Bowen had posted several times about two women who had flown in from Florida and Minnisota to crew for them last year, Debbie Parsons, and Chip Jack. Pam had mentioned several times that somebody needed to connect with them to crew this year as they were coming out again. Amazingly, nobody had lined them up, so we contacted them and arranged to meet. We met up with Debbie at the BarB Que, and Chip didn't get in until Friday at Robie. Here is the Good News. They were amazing!! Everything Pam had said about them and more. Positive low stress attitudes, self suffuicient, reliable, responsible, full of initiative to do what you needed done but forgot to ask for. Both of them are experienced endurance riders and knew what was needed and what was not needed. We spent zero time having to show them what had to be done. Doive Pickering came down from Reno on Ride day, and they all hooked up at a rest area on I-80 to swap supplies from the big rig to the crew vehicles.
NASCAR drivers can only dream about having such a fine tuned expert crew. That's the Good news. The Bad News is that after 2 years of crewing, (and a 100% completion rate!!!) They probably won't be available next year(:,, Debbie is planning to try the ride herself. I like to think that Ron and I had something to do with inspiring her to do so. If two old .... excuse me... middle aged , still in our prime, farts like us can do this, then she probably can too :). When she saw our level of equitation, fitness and horsemanship, it surely helped her realize that she could do this too. It is a good feeling when you can help othere reach their dreams by example. It is like being an evil campanion leading people astray, but less proactive.
Ride Day came. We were camped and tucked away in the back, away from the starting area with all the noise and dust. We had a nice relaxing evening and a good meal. I went out to feed at 3:30 AM, and two riders were roaring up and down the road in fast flying trots. .. An hour and a half before the ride starts and they are already rocking and rolling! Wow, I was impressed. Since I am a fairly new rider, I didn't know that was what we needed to do before a 100 mile ride like this, so I went back to bed for a little longer. Debbie and Chip managed the camp packing up, Ron and I tacked up around 4:30 and walked done to the start. We were both in Pen 2. There were about 70 fast horses in Pen 1. It was surreal to see horses circling in the predawn darkness kicking up a fog like cloud of dust. About the Pens and the start. This is an excellant and fair way to manage having close to 200 horses hitting a narrow trail at the same time. It really didn't matter which pen you wound up in, as there were traffic issues and wrecks enough to slow down about everybody. We got off on time and away we went headed for Auburn. We left the camp in the capable hands of our crew and took off knowing that they, and our needed stuff, would somehow magically appear at Robinson Flat later that morning, and then reappear later at Foresthill. It did.
Just like in Los Angeles, it isn't the terrain that slows down your drive time, it is the traffic. If you can imgine LA traffic crammed on to a one lane country dirt road, you are prepared for Tevis, The hills were long but not too steep, There were rocks, but less than we train on in the Ozarks. It was warm but not as warm and humid as we ride in at home or other mid-west/southern summer rides. The dreaded canyons were long but mostly very ridable. There were only a couple of places I tailed up, and a few more that I got off and walked down. There were steep places to fall off and get hurt or killed, but as I told Jeanne Waldron a few days earlier, if you fall 40-80 feet off a OD trail bluff you are going to get seriously injured or killed, so what difference does the extra 500 or so feet of falling make? It just gives you time to scream more and empty your bladder on the way down. The trick is to stay on the trail and not fall off. Remember this as good advise. Stay on the
trail and do not fall of cliffs of any size.. If you follow this guidance, your endurance career will be more fun. Trust me on this one.
Piper was his usual reliable self. The rational part of me realizes that he is an average horse in physical abilities. He has his strong parts and less strong parts. We have developed a team that makes the most of his strong points. His heart and brain are well above average, (in my proud owner/rider opinion), and that is what has made him/us do so well. To do Tevis, I firmly believe that you need a horse sound in mind as well as body. There are stretches of trail that you do not want to "ride". You just want to stay in the saddle and let the horse pick its way down the trail. Riding in the dark between Foresthill and Francisco, you are on a narrow (3 foot?) trail with drop offs of 200-500 feet. The wrost thing you could do would be to try and steer your horse through those tricky moonlit shadows. You should just sit back and enjoy the views of the moon shining on the river way down below you. I realize that Piper is not a world class type of endurance horse, but I wouldn't trade him for Heraldic, Super, and Sunny, even if they offered a lot of cash to boot. I was able to ride Piper the entire 100 miles with just a cheap nylon turn out halter with a soft cotton lead rope/reins for head gear. That involves a lot of trust and communication between the two of us, and to me that is what it takes to do Tevis or any tough endurance ride. He is not just a horse, he is my friend.. at least as long as the carrots hold out:)
So we rode. We had traffic jams, ate tons of dust, had equipment issues, Ron fell off about 4 miles into the ride, but all and all we had a nice ride. My back muscles were still sore from hurting them tailing at OD 7 weeks earlier, so I was brought to you by the makers of Motrin, and then later in the evening by the makers of Aleve. The labels mentioned something about not operating heavy machiney, but fortunately said nothing about riding a horse for 100 miles in rough country on the side of cliffs in the dark. I carried a small DVD recoreder and shot videos while riding on trail. Mostly I focussed on taking care of my horse and myself, and enjoying the beautifull views. There was some excitement of being part of this big event, but given the choice I would prefer to take a couple of days to leasurely ride this trail to really get the time to appreciate the scenery.. The only really special thing to me about being a part of the organized ride was the unbelievable warm and
hospitable responses we got from the Volunteers, Ridemanagement, and the Vets. Also going through the little towns of Michigan Bluff and Foresthill where the populace come out to line the streets cheering us on was special. Coming in the vet checks with the trail lined on both sides with calling and encouraging people is not something we endurance riders often experience. It was a very special moment.
All day long Debbie, Chip and Dovie had taken care of us and our stuff at the vet checks. They foccused on taking care of us and the horses so well that all we had to do was sit in a chair and eat and drink until it was time to ride out again. After having done the Old Dominion as Cavalry, this was a nice change and I felt as pampered as I could be. Ron and I had been riding fairly close together timewise early in the day, so at Robinson Flat they had two riders to crew for at the same time, but by Foresthill we were almost an hour apart. We arrived in Auburn and they cheered us home and took care of our horses. As always the very helpfull and postive Volunteers guided us through the final steps. Ron and I completed and got our buckles.
For those who might have considered trying Tevis, but have been intimidated, you should just relax and give it a shot as a very long pretty trail ride through tremendously scenic countryside. You don't have to be a super veteran rider on a super horse. All you need to do is get both of you fit, do a little studying, come up with a game plan, and send in your entry. This ride now gives me a grand total of 560 lifetime AERC endurance miles. It was Ron's first 100 mile ride, and his first nighttime ride. He is 64 years young, and this ride put him over the AERC 1000 mile mark. Neither one of us have any real equitition training.
Several people asked how Tevis compared to the Old Dominion. The Old Dominion was a tougher trail, but Tevis is equally as hard a ride due to the number of people on trail and the dust. My belief is that continualy starting and stopping is very hard on a horses body and brain. It is like how in a vehicle "city" miles are considered harder on a car than "highway" miles. I saw two riders fall off due to traffic congestion causing their horse to do something that helped them have a wreck. If the OD had 185 entries, it would have an even higher pull rate.
We are still in Reno recovering from the ride and enjoying the Pickerings hospitality. Tommorrow we head back east for home. Somebody asked me how I would wear two buckles now that I have a Tevis and an Old Dominion pair. Well now a days lots of men wear earings, and I guess I am not too old to get my ears pierced:) Would they be too obvious and gaudy as earings?
Piper (510 AERC miles including the Old Dominion 100 and the Tevis 100.. Not too shabby for a unsuccesful show horse)