Friday, August 31, 2007

AERC NC. A Mule Story

Max Merlich, Reba and Junior

Ona made us promise last night to write a ride story. Patti and Jay had a nice send off for them at their house and we toasted to their new adventure and planned to try to ride Bighorn next year. It is only a day’s drive for Ona and Dale but two full days for us from Oregon.

We hauled over traveling together with Karen on Tuesday and arrived at Teeters in the early evening. PJ had a spot reserved for us in the “pervert section” and that is where we lit. Lynne Fredrickson and Carla Stamper soon showed as well. Wed was spent messing around and getting ready for the 55 on Thurs. Lynne and I had plans to ride that one, everybody else was going to do the 100 on Sat. Karen, Lisa and I went for a ride in the afternoon and Rebba managed to shrug off Lisa, she got me for the first time the week before as well. As she is getting stronger she has been becoming more of a handful. Lisa was okay but pronounced her mule riding days over. She was not riding as Dunne is recovering from a heel cut. Ina showed up and word came that Lois, Darlene and Mona were on the way also.

Thursday Lynne and I started at dawn without much incident. There was a big rush to the front and within a few miles we were pretty much by ourselves, it was nice and like that for most of the ride. VC1 was made in 14 miles and we got our first taste of FEI and high profile ride vetting. Lots of paperwork and protocol, less time to eat. We were out of there pretty fast and started the climb over Toy Mt. It is about ten miles to the top with the first five being rolling country followed by steep climbs. Rebba did not do well on the long hills, she is going through this thing where she wants to canter the hills and then walk, or if you hold her in the trot, she will trot further but still want to walk. Going away from camp when your are out 20 miles or so does not help either so Lynne had to wait for us on some of the hills. She drank out at about 22 miles which is early for her. We topped Toy and began the pleasant trip on top in the high country looking down into Jordon Valley in OR. We rode with Trish for the rest of the ride at that point as well. The mule picked it up as we were now going in the right direction. At 32 miles we hit the gravel crew road and trotted on into the 34 mile check. There, sadly we found our team mate Karen and Jakar had been pulled for lame. That was a bummer for sure but it did not look like anything serious and has proven so far not to be. We vetted out of there well and began the climb back to the top and down the old wagon road. The climb to the top was nice trail and some small stream crossings were welcome. Once on top though we began about 5 miles of serious downhill on a very rocky wagon road. Lynne and I got off and ran some but soon got back on and just walked it. No way to make time here, we just enjoyed the views. We hit a creek at about 4 miles that was mostly dry but had potholes with some water that all the critters got into. In a mile or two we hit the ridges and the wagon road became excellent two track and we were off cantering.

Here I ran into some big adventure. The plastic vest with our numbers and sponsers came loose from my tie job for the second time. This time there was a 20 knot breeze going in our faces as well as cantering and it made a noise that Rebba did not recognize. She is well broke to plastic and slickers but this was different and it was making a lot of noise. I reached up to rip it off and she ran away with me, downhill and wide open. I sat down on her hard with the reins which had no effect at all and knew I was in trouble. I yelled at Lynne and she turned and got off the trail just before we ran her down. I think she ran about a half mile, hit the level and started uphill maybe a little and I saw one ear come up and signs she might break gait. I ripped the vest off and of course she shied and out through the sage we went but since I had expected that, I managed to stay on and get her into a one rein stop. All I will say about that whole thing is I was very happy to have lots of good trail, a good seat and that the mule can run. I left the vest where it lay and we went on into VC3 at 50 miles.

Things went fairly well here, we had exit CRI’s and the vets told us not to race in. We were not sure who we would be racing but we agreed that was a fine idea and soon we were off. We finished without fanfare, we had met Mary McGinty and Hellbent’s Affinity walking a couple miles out and Mary said she could not get back on as her knees were too sore. Lynne bailed off and boosted Mary on and we came in together. It was a good trip for us all, I think we did it in 8 hours or so and were pleased with it all. We had LOTS of great help from Lisa, Darlene, Ina, PJ, Mona and Carla, it made the VC’s pleasant and easy. It was not really all that hot, maybe mid 80’s as well with a nice breeze so the ride was fairly cool for Oreana August standards. My good friend Tom Noll was in camp with Frank tied to his trailer and it was good to see him. Rebba laid down in her pen flat out and snored in the dirt as usual and caused passerbys to prompt me to call the vet. This snoring went on all night. Had a good dinner at Teeter’s and a nice local band.

Next day was spent getting ready for the 100 and word came it was going to be hot. Lynne’s 100 mile mare managed to hurt her leg in her pen and sadly Lynne had to scratch in the 100. That left Tom and I unsupervised but with more good crew. Word came it would be hot as well. Junior did not want to leave his sister to go vet in and created a big fuss and lots of hee-hawing and baulking on the way to the VC. A big crowd had gathered to see Heraldic and Bogus Thunder vet in but Lois, Tom and I arrived in time to be first to vet. Lois and Tom pretended not to know me as the mule continued to be an ass, hard to vet and hollering. He vetted in at 64 and bucked and cantered the trot out and the vets were not impressed. Especially the Malaysian and South African vets who seemed to be distancing themselves more and more from the mule. Pretty embarrassing but when he has a lot of time before a ride and all that good feed he starts getting wound up.

Tom and I stared at dawn near the rear of the 30 starters. We were just behind Terry Benedetti and Warren Hellman and in front of Lois and Kim Hoffmarks and sort of with PJ and Nance. We had a good trip out to VC1 and the critters seemed to settle, knowing it was not a 50 mile pace today. Every animal had to be untacked for every VC and exit CRI’s were the rule out past VC1. This with the extra paperwork and protocol of the FEI ride made it a little stressful and added several steps that we were not used to in the VC. However there were 4 riders to every vet so we never waited long. Out of there and we began to climb Toy again. Junior is twice the mule his sister is right now, he took the hills in stride easily and tailed up and led down like a champ. He drank early at 25 miles and all was well. We rolled into VC2 at 34 and it was hot. Out of there and back over the top and down, we were catching PJ at times and were caught by Lois and Kim at the “dry creek” water hole. There was a little water but Jr had to stand on his nose to get it which he did. Soon we were back in the desert and on into what had been the 50 mile check the day before, today just a water stop. All six of us met up there and cooled off. PJ and Nance left and soon after we all did. I managed to dunk all my electronic gizmo’s and blissfully rode on without any of them bothering me anymore. At camp, 57 miles, I got by Rebba in her pen with only minor bellering and our crew had a nice set up for us at the VC area. It was HOT. Sadly again, Nance and Kim were both pulled but the bonus to Tom and I was we got to ride with Lois. PJ left in front of us alone as we were all struggling a bit with all the FEI stuff. Junior ate 3 bowls of mash and Karen dosed him again with probiotics which seem to be working to stimulate his late day appetite.

Out of there and up on the ridge we met John Crandall and Ms Dell coming in. Heraldic is just an awesome horse and it was very inspiring to see him coming in with the early evening light on him. At that point they had 30 some miles on us so I had to break the news to Junior I had waited too long to turn him loose and see if he could catch them. They were in as good as spirits as us and we high fived them and felt pretty darn good about the whole thing for being last anyways. On the way out to Del Rio ranch we ate alfalfa at every water stop and took ten or 15 min to do so and it really seemed to pay off. Junior had a big rattler buzz beside him about dusk and woke him up but we did not go back to investigate his size. Rusty continued to shy and Frank was still pulling on Tom and all was well, we arrived at the ranch at dark. Here we had a good feed as the ranch had opened up a field that was waist high with grass and alfalfa. Dennis Summers had gotten pulled here but we vetted through fine and headed out in the dark. The next 25 miles were the best of the whole ride for us, it was nearly a full moon and cool and surreal in the desert. Tom and I knew the trail well and where we could move out and where to watch for the gopher holes. Junior came alive and was pulling on me to go faster, a new experience for me to see one get a second wind. It brought powerful feelings alive in me to know that after 9 years he is truly a 100 mile mule. You had to have known him earlier to know this was not a forgone conclusion. But now he knows how to take care of himself and me as well and get the job done. He is not going to outrun many people on 100’s but we were in front of 11 horses that had buckled for one reason or the other! Into camp for a short hold, still some crew left but the smart one’s had gone to bed. We untacked and tacked and CRI’ed and did paperwork again and soon were off. I thought I might have trouble getting him out but he went out willingly, Rebba was asleep and he knew he had one more leg. I tailed him up the ridge and soon we were on top on the flats in a stiff breeze and the moonlight. Lois and Rusty were ahead and still spooking down the trail with Lois calling him several new names. The 8 miles went fast and soon we were a mile from camp and ran in to PJ and Issac. They had just passed 3000 miles for Issac and PJ did not want to mess that up and wanted to walk in. None of us could hold our horses anymore so we trotted on in, vetted through and called it a night. Lois called Rusty “honey” which I had to comment on that was not what you had been calling him for the last 43 miles! Junior had a good pee and a roll and went to bed after we wrapped his legs. It was a fine ride and with great company, great crew and great animals it does not get any better for me. Lois had met her goal of 3 100’s this year as well. I wanted the same for Junior but we were 2 out of 3 and I was fine with that as well. Tom commented that this was the easiest 100 he and Frank had ever done because most of his have been the Bighorn and Tevis. And this ride was not exactly easy with Toy Mt thrown in.

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