Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Virginia Highlands Endurance Challenge

Sinwaan: Journal of my quest to be an endurance rider

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Sleeping in the back of the truck wasn't all that bad. I had a pillow and a sleeping bag and the seat was fine. I was a little tall for the width of the truck however and found that I could stretch out one leg by curving it around and the other leg was bent. I woke up off and on throughout the night and felt... damp. Just clammy. Yuk. Well what are you going to do? At about 5:30 am I woke up and although it was dark I could see my camp neighbors were packing up their SUV. They were being pretty quiet but if they were up that must mean that it was about time for me to get up (never-mind that they were 55s with a start time an hour earlier than me). So I got up and put on my boots and tromped on down to the porta-potty.

Coming back I wasn't sure what to do because if Kim was sleeping I didn't want to wake her up. So I walked down to the water trough and hauled back two buckets for the boys. Red drank a little which I was glad to see. I took off my boots and crawled back into the truck to see if I couldn't get another 30 minutes of rest. Well not 10 minutes went by and Kim was up. So I got back out of the truck and Kim asked me if I knew the horses mysteriously had water. I said yes, I hauled it up for them. So she went off to the porta-potty (so much for her fancy personal toilet I guess) and I fed the horses, brushed my teeth and put up my hair.

Kim came back and we had cereal (the good kind with strawberries and blueberries) which we topped off with a fresh banana for a breakfast of champions. After that there was enough light to see by so I did some final packing of my saddle bags and we got the horses tied to the trailer and started tacking up. Kim was ready to go in no time flat, I couldn't believe it! I had to get a little help from her on Red's girth, it was a leather western style one.

Well Kim had everything color-coordinated, from our helmet covers to the plates we ate off of, I have never seen such a thing, it was really fun.

We were ready to go right on schedule so we mounted up (I had to use a bucket, Red is taller than I am used to, and I had adjusted the stirrups pretty short). Red doesn't wait around so it was a bit of a jump to get on him as he walked off. We walked the horses down to the start and asked if anyone was taking numbers. They weren't ready so we walked some more circles back towards our trailer and Kim put Falcon to work since he was acting fairly co-dependent on Red. Red didn't seem to have a problem with leaving Falcon so I told Kim for the trot-out she should go first. We went back to the start, it is 7:50 or so and they are still not taking any numbers. So I told Kim we should walk the horses towards the registration table at the other end, she wanted to get out of the crowd of horses that had gathered.

Red's walk was no-nonsense, we are going some place which was nice to ride, a ground-covering rocking stride. We warmed up and stopped at the big water trough. I was glad to see Falcon drinking but Red wasn't interested. By the time we got back to the start everyone had left and they told Kim to trot out. I waited for her to get ahead of me a little because at the ride meeting they had specified ONE AT A TIME. Not two seconds later and the out timer said "The trail is open, you may go" so I don't know if there was anyone there even checking the gait of the horses. We caught up with Kim quickly and the horses were eager to go. We had a short canter and coming back down to a trot I was able to get Red gaiting for about a minute before he broke back into a trot. It was awesome. Kim said I was lucky to get a minute from him.

We followed the trail as it went up on the jeep road and then went to single track. In the start, Red did a fair amount of leading, but we had horses not to far away from us and he was chasing them. We got on the trail that started up the mountain and we were MOVING, I remember a very fast trot and sometimes a canter as we wound around some sharp corners. It was incredible. The trails were beautiful and great footing. We came to a dry river bed and it had some big rocks but Kim commented that this was nothing, the trail was much better than she expected. Well, famous last words, right?

We reach highway 94 (6 mi) at just about an hour into the ride. We were at the tail end, although there was a lady on a leopard appaloosa not far ahead of us, and a gal on a really pretty chestnut Arab behind us (I can't let you get behind me because I am competing for the turtle award, she told us) After crossing with the aid of the fire department we reach a nice water stop. Kim dismounted and sponged both the horses (bless her!) Red still would not drink.

Onward we went, climbing the hills and walking our way through the rocky sections (which were becoming more frequent). Every so often I would pull out the camera and try to get a photo of the trail or the view. We were both having such a good time, it was a blast to finally ride with Kim as an adult. She has been my inspiration for endurance riding and now finally we have the chance to do it together. Her first competition ride and my fourth this year. She was great company!

We passed a group of people going the opposite direction and the man said to us "You better step it up or you aren't going to make it in time." I grumbled at him in my thoughts, it made me mad that he said that. We are out here doing this and we are doing fine on time, how dare he tell us how to ride. (As he says this we are walking through one of the worst rock sections)

The vet check was right about half way and I had heard that if we didn't make it in by noon we would not complete the ride on time. We pulled in about 11:20 I think. Crews were allowed on the left side of the road only. Our crew bags had been delivered and were on the right side of the road. We had dismounted to walk them in and were trying to figure out what the next step was. I think we lost a couple minutes just trying to think at that point in time. Finally I told Kim to grab the crew bag and set it on the left somewhere so we could dump the tack and go down to vet through. It was hard to find a spot, it looked like some places were reserved for... who? 55s coming later? Well we squeeze in a place and it looked like it would work. Ok! This ride said tack off for all vets. We then took the horses down to the water tanks. Falcon drank, Red did not. Geez! 13+ miles and still not thirsty? I was starting to worry about him a little bit. I asked for a pulse and a friendly man came over and took it. I think he was down to 60 and the criteria for this hold was 64. The man asked me how he was doing. I said he seemed a little tired but I thought he was ok. We chatted a couple minutes while I waited in line for the vet. In the meantime I let Red graze.

The vet checked him out and scored him high on everything but a B on gut sounds. We did our trot out and no problem there either. I noticed Kim was going through with Falcon at the same time at the other vet so I let Red graze nearby since no one else was waiting at the time. Well Falcon did not like his vet, he would not stand still for her to listen to his HR or gut sounds and worked himself up trying to get away from her. It took a significant amount of time to get him vetted through. Finally he passed but scored a C on gut sounds so the vet told Kim to come back and get rechecked before we headed out. They told her to feed him everything he would eat in the meantime so we headed back to our crew area for our 40 min hold.

Kim had their grain/e-lyte mix all ready to go in their tubs and told me just to pour some water on it so I used what was left in the bottles in my pack. Sure enough he slurped it right down. I ate my PB&J sandwich, it was so good. I also downed a whole bottle of fruit punch gatorade and it was still partially frozen. Yum! I swapped out the water bottles in my pack and that was about all I had to do. We weren't sure if the vet wanted to see Falcon before or after we tacked up, so we decided to go back down there before. We stopped again at the water tanks and this time, FINALLY Red decided to drink...and drink...and drink. Wow, he was not messing around. So I let him drink as much as he wanted and in the meantime Kim had made her way over back to the vet. This time they gave Falcon a B on gut sounds so back we went to our crew area to tack up. I held Falcon while Kim got her saddle on and then she held Red while I hoisted up his saddle. I had her girth him up for me again because she is faster and better at it and he blows out and she does real well with him on that. Kim put our crew bag back in the pile for pick-up and then we walked the horses down back to the vet before re-checking the girths and mounting up. Well I had to lead Red over to the side of the mountain to get a leg-up on him. Off we went. On the ride out Kim mused that we never got our ice cream, never even saw any of the ice cream. Oh well, it would have been just another thing to fuss with and we had our hands full as it was.

The trail out was good footing for awhile and then it turned to rocks. Rocks, rocks, rocks. Slow going for quite a while. I was keeping an eye on the time and figured we were ok. Kim was watching her GPS but the milage was shorter than it should have been. Oh well. We passed that group of people, again going the opposite direction, and again the man telling us to "step it up if we were going to make it in time." This time Kim told him we were just taking it easy with first-time horses. We had someone catch up with us and pass us and about then we caught up to the gal on the pretty chestnut who wanted the turtle. So we passed her and rode along, trying to "never hurry, never tally" like Stagg had told us.

After awhile we got onto a private gravel road and saw a lost boot. About a minute later I saw a man on foot leading his horse. I asked if he lost a boot, he said Yes and we pointed back to where he could find it. Then the road turned and went up the mountain. The plate sign on a tree said "1 mile climb" so onward we went. At the base was a woman walking her horse, she said they were ok but waiting for a trailer to come and give them a ride back to camp. I think the gal following us knew her because she stopped and talked with her a while. At the top of the climb was a water tank. The horses drank and Kim went off in the woods to pee. I ate a fig newton. Falcon acted like he wanted some so I gave him one and he spit it out. Kim came back and mounted up and off we went again. Just then the other gal appeared, on foot, leading her horse on up. Said they were doing good. We rode the ridgeline for awhile and trotted as much as we could, knowing we were getting short on time now. According to the map, we had a 'lollipop course' today meaning we would ride out and back in on the same trail, and the outer trail was a loop around with the vet check in the center. We made it back to the stick part of the trail and eventually made it to highway 94 again. I knew we were 6 miles from camp and we had made it up in an hour, so giving ourselves an hour and a half to get back down should be no problem.

We get a move on and trot trot trot. Sometimes Red canters short bursts on the uphill but I was unable to get him to gait anymore since that one nice moment on the way out. I forgot to mention I had seen someone at the vet check with a New Promise Farms Crew t-shirt on on a gaited horse and I talked to her a little bit and she gave me some pointers- sit deep in the saddle, ask the horse to collect and squeeze with your legs and he should go right into it. Well I tried and tried but never was able to get it from him. Part of the problem was his trot was so big and so fast that it threw me right up out of the saddle and "sitting deep" at the trot was just about impossible.

Well we are cruising around and up and down and not remembering all these uphills. We are looking for the switchbacks, knowing they were fairly early in the ride. On and on and on we went and Kim is convinced I have my time wrong and we are not going to make it. Maybe she is right. Well we finally get to the switchbacks and I made the mistake of looking down on a sharp turn. I immediately felt sick to my stomach and lightheaded. I just focused on breathing and looking ahead (and not down!) oh wow, I have never felt so sick on a horse before and this is all my own fault. I am a bit scared of heights. Well we made it past the knee-knocker trees and down the mountain and still have a ways to go. When we made it back to the jeep trail, some 55s came cantering past us. Red suddenly realized he was close to home and now he had someone to follow! So he took the lead and just ran his heart out. It was glorious. He had tried bucking with me a couple times this ride but now that was the furthest thing from his mind has he happily ran towards 'home.' I heard Kim wait "Wait for us!" and I pulled him down to a trot until she caught up and then off we went again. We ran and ran and ran. The 55s lost us and then we slowed the horses down to a trot. We got back on the gravel road and saw the finish line. I started tearing up. We had made it. I looked back and smiled. I tried to say "now is when I get all emotional" and Kim said "I can't even talk right now!"

We dismounted and walked the horses back to the trailer. We dumped our saddles and walked them to the vet check. I glanced at the time and we had about 10 minutes to go until cut-off time (3:15 pm) Red walked over and pulsed in at 48. (WOW!) Kim asked for a courtesy check on Falcon and he was still up there, about 86. Michael told her to get the hay out of his mouth and not let him eat since the very act could be keeping his HR up. I had never heard that but within 5 minutes he called for time on number CO. (Forgot to mention, Red was number CN) I think he pulsed in with only a minute to spare. Vetting through, Red did excellent, mostly A's from what I can remember, maybe a B on gut sounds and muscle tone. They let me keep my vet card so I will try to scan it in when I get back home.

This was a fabulous ride and one I shall never forget. I know I have left out a lot of little details so will try and put them in later as I remember them.

After we vetted through we put the horses up with water and hay and sat down with some food for ourselves. We had boiled eggs from Kim's chickens, potato salad Kim had made, more frozen gatorade (Kim said "I think this is the best thing I have ever had") chips with salsa Kim had made. I am sure there was more but I am forgetting what. We rested and reminisced and once we had the energy we got up and took the horses for another walk. We hand-grazed them probably about an hour and then I got tired of Red dragging me all around so we put them up and I don't remember what after that, I think by then it was about time for dinner. So we took our chairs this time and walked back down to the meeting area.

They were just opening up the tables for dinner, and MY what a spread! They had a table for meat eaters and a seperate table for vegetarians - bless them! There was chili beans and chips and lettuce and tomatoes and onions for a make-it-yourself taco salad. They encouraged me to take two plates so I could fit all the food that they were about to give me. A woman told me "honey, you ain't lived until you've had this cornbread salad" so I tried that too. There were fresh canned green beans and fantastic off-the-cob-corn; potato salad, pasta salad and rolls. Seems like there was even more of that, I just could not believe ALL THAT FOOD! The ladies really outdid themselves and I have to say a huge thank you to them for that wonderful meal.

I sat down and started in on my first plate. I got through it and then looked up to see my dad and Matt and Levi walking up. Yay! Levi was hungry so he ate a fair amount of my taco salad and green beans and corn. Later I also shared my cake with him too. There was about 12 kinds of cake and one was even in the shape of a horse! The chocolate kind I selected was so moist and good. There were a number of igloos for juice and tea and I saw one labeled sweet tea so I had to take some of that. I was a little disappointed though, it was warm and not sweet at all. Oh well, can't really complain, everything else was soooo awesome. Kim said "this is the south, and they FEED you in the south!"

Awards seemed to start a little late and my dad pulled his car up close and sat in it at the back since we only had the two chairs. They started out by calling out the last people completed - Kim and I, and mispronounced both our names. I expect that with my name - Shana - most people get it wrong, but Kim Patton - they said Payton I think, but no bother. Don said he had put out the award for rider most traveled and I won that since I came from WA but he also said he expected it to go to the person who brought their horse the farthest, and if anyone was there who thought it could be them to let him know and there may be a free ride entry in it for them. The award shirts were cute - a cartoon sketch of a horse and rider with their thought balloons overhead.

As for the turtle award - there was none! But Kim would have won it being the last person in. The other gal ended up pulling at the finish, she said her horse was a little stiff and and off at the end.

We left shortly after and Kim stayed the night with the horses and got home safe on Sunday. Be sure to read the Falcon blog in my links section for her version of the story (and maybe additional photos)

posted by Shana @ 7:48 PM

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey, Shana - not that people fight over the Turtle award, but had there been one, it would have gone to my horse, who came into the In-timer at 3:12 and was pulsed in at 3:15. And I WAS disappointed that there was no turtle award for the LD. Maybe next year!