2008 A first for certain, or “To finish is to win!”
Endurance riding is a little like baseball, in that it’s always full of surprises; every ride has the potential for something to happen that never did before, be it good, bad, or otherwise. The DVVV ride in beautiful down town Livermore, California, had a few interesting twists this year. For one thing, it was a two day ride this time. I don’t know how many two day horses there were, but they sure got a work out. It’s a pretty difficult ride for a local 50 in the Bay Area, since the whole trail is either up or down pretty significant climbs all day. It never really lets up except for a couple of quick jaunts on a road alongside the lake for a couple of miles or so. There are a few 1000 plus foot climbs that go pretty much straight up thrown in for good measure. I like the ride, because it’s in my back yard, I ride here all the time, and it is put on by my good friends Bill and Jane Cloud, with assistance by Mike and Kirstin Bernsten.
I’ve had a weird year this year with Donnie that included starting out like wildfire- death valley, 20 mule team 100, and patriots day 100s with great results. I gave him the time off between Pats Day and Tevis, and, uh, well, no Tevis due to the fires. But lucky for me, or unlucky, or both, Mister D developed a quarter crack that I thought was a bigger issue, and would have kept me out of Tevis had it been held. That makes me lucky, or unlucky, I’m not sure, but neither was any good. As a result he did not get to do Swanton, either, darn it. The good news is the crack wasn’t a big deal, just a shallow crack on the exterior skin of his hoof, so the crack got better, but then he fell down in the pasture running his laps before breakfast. (He does this, you see. He just goes out and runs in the morning, all by himself.) The ding bat tweaked himself pretty good in the rear and had to spend a few weeks getting over that. He made his comeback at the quicksilver ride in October where we had a great ride and finished quite well, in the rain, no less, on the one day it rained in seven months. Of course. This is endurance.
Back to Livermore- Judy had to bail out of the ride at the last minute due to a shoe job lameness on Color, so I was on my own. My buddy Sally Abe was riding one of Laura Ferking’s horses, Ruby’s Tin Man, or Tin Cup as I like to call him. I started out the ride with Ace Bay Area rider and great guy Bill Coburn, but after a short while I hooked up with our friend Karen Bottanni on her veteran horse Movin ‘on Blues. Six for seven at Tevis, with five in a row? Yes, he’s a good horse. A little “surly” sometimes, but a good boy. The ride starts out with a controlled start right through a family campground, then dumps us out on an uphill single track trail called Valicitos trail that’s nice. A good climb up the twisty single track takes us to a long decent on a fire road, right back to the campgrounds, but a quick left sends us to an out and back check down a road to a spot called Deer Jaw, which they added to get the extra mileage needed, since they dumped the big climb up Rocky Ridge this year. Thanks guys- much appreciated! That’s a big pull up there and back. We hung a 180 at the smiling Bill and his ATV and backtracked all the way back up the downhill fire road we had just come down, down the uphill single track, (there’s a lot of that in this ride- go up and down the same hills all day), through camp, to the start, where we turn right up the arroyo, which is all river rocks. Serious rocks. Walk very slowly rocks. Lucky it is only an eighth of a mile or so in the wash rocks to the next climb on fire roads, and then the neat steep downhill single track to the creek that was totally dry this time of year. Another climb back up on trails to more fire roads, then more downhill single track on the zig zag trail through the trees. More roads now lead through some ranches and up a serious climb on a fire road to one of the highest parts of the park called the airplane hill. (They fly remote control gliders here. I used to, BH. (Before horses)) A well placed water trough is a relief at the top, then it’s, you guessed it, more down. Now you begin the 7 mile jaunt to the dam on the big, wide, all weather gravel road that we have ridden on a whole lot of times, as it is our standard winter conditioning location. There are bikes and hikers here, but on the road there is lots of room. This road is a roller coaster all the way with up and down climbs ranging from little to pretty big. The last hill near the dam drops down the other side to the vet check at the golf course, below the dam, for a 30 minute hold. If that dam broke, we would be swimming. It was getting a little warm, especially for the early season fur balls we called horses. Mister D and Blues made short work of the vet check and enjoyed a snack before starting back up that long hill. Now we head the 8 miles back to camp, but we get treated to the single track trails that criss- cross the road on the way back. You have to be careful, though, as these trails are a test bed of sorts, where the park allows horses, hikers, and mountain bikes on the single tracks. Most trails are okay, but there are a couple where I don’t want to meet a bike. (Barb wire fence, fall into the lake, that sort of thing!) The last trail dumps you out at the lake’s edge where we trot the flat access road back to the marina, and through campgrounds to the base camp. This is 30 miles; it’s a real 30, and not an easy one. We pulsed down right away and let the boys eat for 30 minutes and took them to the vet. It was here that I had my first ever “huh?” in a vet check with Dawn. He was 52 off the trail, and when we returned to vet in a half hour, Claude took the first CRI pulse he got 56. No, that’s not right, not after 30 minutes. This horse is a recovering fool. I trotted him out and back, and the second pulse was 40. Okay, much better. I think he must have just missed counted. He said, yeah, probably. The horse looked great. Whew! Back to eating and lunch.
We headed out of camp on time to go and do the final 20 miles, which was a bizarre figure eight sort of thing that made use of lots of already ridden trails. We had to go climb back up that first big climb and back down the cool Valicitos single track, turn right in the rock wash again, and up that same hill again. You have to love it when your horse just trucks on up these grinding hills, heading away from camp, trotting if you let him, and cantering if he can. I sure do! Back down the steep single track and up the other side of the canyon again, just like early this morning, but here’s the change- we hang a left and head back towards camp. Yep- check the map, we are on the trail, I know where this goes. But what’s this? A horse and rider coming towards us? This is no fun rider, this is a top horse here. We ask her where she’s going, she sighs, and reports she was leading, took a wrong turn somewhere, and came into the finish through the main camp, which was wrong. They sent her back out in reverse to go back to the turn she missed up on top and finish the trail the right way. Bummer, but she was a good sport about it. “Oh well,” she said, “this just happens sometimes.” We come down to the finish line spotter, a quarter mile from camp, who takes our number coming through the first time- she smiles and sends us back out to the marina and the road along the lake. I asked about the leader, she said, “yeah, she got lost.” As we get to the normal staging area near the marina a couple miles away, we see the next three leaders coming down the hill called squirrel gultch, come through a gate, and turn towards the finish. Uh oh, they are lost too. That’s not right. I know them, so I stop them and tell them “Hey guys, you’re going the wrong way. The finish is down the airplane hill, not back down through camp here.” They are focused and don’t believe me; they shoot out the wrong way towards camp, the way we just came. I yell after them and warn that we just saw the first place horse going back out to do it right, no, they are sure they are on the trail and scurry on. Nope, guys, you are messing up, but what the heck? I tried to help them. We shrug it off and continue on (after looking at the map ONE MORE TIME), I convince Karen we are doing it right. We pause at the water trough, where neither horse drinks a lot. Hmmmm, me thinks, he should drink here. We trotted the mile and a half or so along the beautiful lake on the dog run road, stopping countless times for hikers, families, strollers, portable BBQs on wheels, small boats, you name it, it is coming down the main lake access road. We pulled over at a camp site and whipped out my portable water bucket and offered the boys some water from the spigot. They both drank about 12 buckets each. That’s better- that trough must have smelled bogus to the both of them. We continue on over the nice single track that leads away from the lake, and turn right on the main gravel road for the long climb back up to the top of the airplane hill. Strangely enough, both Karen and I say at the same time, “I know where they got lost.” It’s a turn up ahead that was marked for the fun ride and took you down to squirrel gulch, to where we saw the three leaders heading for home the wrong way. It made sense! That’s why they saw ribbons- they were fun ride ribbons.
Up, up we go, trotting and walking ata great pace, with an occasional blast of canter, just ‘cause he likes it. We get to the turn in question, and yes indeed, I can see the confusion. The sign has two lines on it- fun ride, and below that, loop two. Big flour arrow on the ground, red ribbons going that way. I knew we needed to go back up to the top the way we came, but this was different. Hmmm. Loop 2? We had been following signs for loop 2 all afternoon. We went about a hundred yards to a water trough where they both drank. I was telling Karen we have to go up to the top of the airplane hill, since the map shows it right here. I also knew we needed to finish on that same trail we had come in before, and the only way was up this hill here. I thought perhaps the road ahead would intersect with a left turn that would take us back up on top. Just then Bill Cloud comes racing down the hill on his quad to fix the signage on that turn. He waves us back- yep, up this way, the same way we came. We chat with Bill and tell him I knew we had to go up- the map shows it clearly. He fixed the sign and we trotted up the hill to the top and the water trough. I looked over at Karen and told her- “You know what? We are the first two horses to not be lost. If everyone went the wrong way, that makes us first and second.” I thought we were in the middle to back of the top ten anyway at that point. She said, “No way, others must have done it right.” We cross the road, and hop off the boys for the long, long hand walk down the hill to the bottom. This is when I start playing Tonto and the Lone Ranger. “Kimosabe- There are no hoof prints going down this hill- they are all coming up.” Yes, we were the only horses going down so far. Hmmm. After walking down for a while, we look way, way down the hill and see three horses and riders heading up the massive climb, but at a slow walk. They can’t be fun riders, not after 7 hours, and it would not be much fun to have to climb back up this with an inexperienced horse. They were walking slowly, Karen thought maybe pleasure riders, but they were too far away to tell. As we got closer, I realized it was them! It was the three riders I had tried to warn about 45 minutes before. They were coming back up the hill to get back to the turn, to finish the trail correctly. Karen and I were not quite what to say, so we just walked on down, and finally met them in the middle of the hill. They were still steaming mad, and said WE were lost. I just smiled and thought “see ya” as we headed down the hill, leading our horses. I figured it would not make much sense to say “I told you so!” at this point. We only had about 2 miles to go, and I told Karen, we are in first and second. She was still not sure, but I was convinced. We trotted along the last roads, back to the spotter, who was indeed confused, as the other three horses had just passed her going the wrong way? We scooted on in towards camp, just across the road, and we hit the finish line, where the nice lady said, “Hey, first place!”
Yep- Donnie and I won the ride. Well, okay, it was a gift, and Karen certainly let us go in first, but hey, you have to finish to win, right? There was a lot of confusion at the finish about who was where, and who had to go back out, but it was clear that Karen and I had done the trail correctly, (we met the ride manager on the right trail at the top of the hill) and we were the first to finish, so we got it. That sure turned out neat- knowing where to go certainly helped, but it was pretty obvious that all you had to do was look a the excellent map, and no one else had. We were getting congratulations from everyone- pretty neat! We both went and showed for BC in an hour, and both horses looked very good, great in fact. I outweigh Karen, so heck, I have it in the bag, right? Not quite- Blues edged Donnie out by a couple of points on horse score, so she got BC! I was absolutely thrilled for her, since she and Blues have been a team for many years and many miles, and this was her second top ten ever. Karen had left, and when she found out that Blues had gotten BC, she could not believe it. I thought it was perfect; I got the win, and she got BC- it could not have ended any better than that.
What else happened? Who knows. I have had lots of top ten’s, but this was my first win in my 16 years and near 9000 miles in endurance, and it felt pretty neat. The ride time was not fast, as we were planning on a 7 hour ride anyway on this very difficult trail, and that’s what we did. Sure, it was a gift to a certain extent, but like I said, I’ll take it. This is a tough ride, and to have Donnie and Blues looking like they did at the end is all that really matters. Bill Coburn followed the right trail and sneaked in to 7th- he was pretty happy as well. There were about 40 riders on the 50 I think, with a few pulls. The best part of the DVVV ride is the dinner- Bill is a madman when it comes to feeding riders, and the dinner was no exception. I only planned to ride the first day, but there were only 12 riders signed up for the 50 on Sunday……….. No, take the boy home and let him eat and rest up and eat some more for next weekend- the Lake Sonoma 50, one of my favorite rides of the year. I turned him out in the arena at home, where he trotted across to his rolling spot. He rolls, gets, up, trots back to me as if to ask what’s next? A lot more, I hope. You are a good horse, mister Dawn.