Just back from Red Barn/AHA Championship. If you looked at the techno-color weather
channel graphics, yep, that was us. Weather.com said it was going to rain 2" or so
Thurs, 1-2" Fri. have tornados and hail with rain Saturday. Then I had to make the
decision whether to just say, "what the heck?" and go or actually say,
"This is insane; why would I drive TOWARDS Armageddon? Well, for one thing we couldn't back out since Josie had been offered a ride on an FEI horse to get qualified for Young Riders and we couldn't stand the owner up. So...decided it was just one of those days you hope they're wrong and go.
We headed out Thursday morning. When I got up the wind was so strong the house was
popping and moaning. I had to lean into the wind to do my chores. It died down by 9 AM
but we drove I was getting constant updates from all sides on my cell phone, people
telling me the "convection index" was extremely high and climbing. That's
apparently something that tells you if your chances of joining Dorothy and Toto in Kansas
are good. At one point as we were driving through Atlanta in a blowing rain I said,
"So, what should we do? Turn around? and Bill just laughed and pulled out his
wallet and handed me a quote someone had posted on ridecamp which was a forward from
It said some stuff about how as humans we need to place themselves in spots where the unexpected can ambush us. " It said "On a subconscious level, we need these mishaps. We understand that they pack powerful medicine. They're antidotes to the quiet desperation of modern life, reminding us that we as individuals, as a species-are survivors, showing us how truly extraordinary it is what humans can endure. How much we can outwit, outflank, or with clenched teeth, simply withstand." Then it ended with, "Sometimes we have to set out-presumably innocent of our interior motives-and go have a really bad time".
It seemed so appropriate at the time I just decided what the heck, let the bad times roll.
We drove through rain almost till we arrived. When we pulled it it was clear, and the ground was dry! They were supposed to have a couple of inches of rain but all they'd had were high winds. We hurried desperately trying to get a ride in on the borrowed horse to set stirrups, etc. It's not every day an 18 year old gets to ride one of Valarie Kanavy's horses and we were pretty overwhelmed by even the prospect when she offered. Managed to get in a pre-ride, set up camp, and still no rain! Went to bed expecting al heck to break loose any second. Nothing. Friday dawned with a light rain at 5:30 AM, but it stopped in time to saddle. We couldn't believe our luck when the ride started in the dry. All day reports came in that the "big storm" was hitting in an hour or two, then nothing. Finally some HIGH winds came through and rain for an hour and a half but considering what we'd expected it was blissfully wonderful weather.
I've got to throw in now that the camp and management for this ride were something I hadn't expected. WONDERFUL!!!. The name "Red Barn" made me picture cow pastures with a big red barn. Nix that. Try a summer camp setting, lots of TALL pines (lots of picket line opportunities) a lake, cottages, WONDERFUL. Also, management was unreal. The FOOD!! Would you believe racks of bbq ribs & all the fixings? I couldn't believe how well everything worked out. Then, Josie's borrowed mount, My Wild Irish Gold was an absolute DREAM (OK, she can throw a heck of a spook but lets herself get caught again thank you Megan Savory & Kyle) and came in 3rd and took BC! We'd worried how Josie would handle two days, but she rode a 50, came in and did a pre-ride with Cade & my borrowed mount Bailey, and then was good to go for Sat. All was well Friday night. We were still getting all the dramatic weather predictions but I'd pretty much decided this place was charmed. All the wild violent stuff was just splitting and going north and south of us. I went to bed to a warm peaceful evening.
Saturday morning I was out at 5:30 and saw flashes of lightning in the distance. Ugh. The 100's & 75's rode out in a controlled start at 7 AM with thunder rolling and the lightning coming closer. The treetops were unmoving against the dark sky, no wind at all, whatever it was was coming slowly and would probably hang around. The 50's were supposed to start at 8:00. As the thunder and lightning picked up I got Josie to come out and saddle early and figured we could walk them thirty minutes to warm up and maybe get back in the trailer during the worst of the storm and hope it blew over quickly. We made one trip across camp and a huge KRACK-BOOM!! sent me hustling back to put the horses on the picket line and jump inside the trailer. The rain started and the lightning increased. I thought a lot about how stupid it is to get yourself killed but how much worse it would be to see your kid hit when it had been your call. Josie got all mad and was saying, "Let's just GO!" but I saw no reason to start on time when I'd just heard from the timer that we were catching the tail end of the worst of the storm and after that we'd be all clear. Why die for a top 10 muck bucket?
Might throw in here that I was not riding my own horse. Buddy Lynda Webber had a small skin cancer removed from her forehead this week and her Dr. wouldn't release her to ride fearing an infection. I needed a mount and her Bailey is a doozy so we both agreed I'd put a fifty on him to help her get him ready for the 100 at Biltmore. I figured I had plenty of horse to go fast later since he was BC at Hahira so what's a few minutes?
It died down enough to feel a little less INSANE to get on a horse and we left camp 8 min. late but walked a full 15 min. to warm them up before beginning to trot. 30 min or so later we were on 2 track going through the woods coming up on a dirt road crossing and I saw a chestnut horse running full tilt with no rider down the road. It was almost past us when for some reason it just hit me to do my best horse whinny. I used to be pretty good at that when I was a kid. Amazingly enough, the horse slammed on the brakes and took a hard left and trotted towards us in the woods. I jumped off Bailey and with both horses blocking trail managed to catch the mare. Josie had a hay rope in her pack and after a couple of tries we got her caught, tied and ponying down the road behind us. We could see she was a 75 miler so had at least an hour and 15 min. lead on us so figured it might be 10 or 15 miles before we found the owner. A mile or 2 later we saw a rider running across a distant field, staggering in the mud, waving. Josie said it looked like the love scene in an old movie. >g< I rode out to meet her and it was Eva DePaulis. She mounted up with her new blue hay rope reins and did the rest of the loop with us.
The rest of the story is, RAIN, THUNDER, RAIN, LIGHTNING, Why do you speed up when you see a bolt snake across the sky ahead? I dunno. I guess we figure a moving target is harder to hit. The trail held up pretty well CONSIDERING. I mean, things can always get worse. The sound of that ride was SPLASH, SPLASH instead of clip-clop. The trail had a current. The worst part was circling huge plowed fields. Those got bad. Management stayed so calm it was amazing. No snippiness. No panic. Just calm concern for us and appreciation for our sticking it out. Gary Sanderson made a run to town and came back with cups of Raman noodles and hot drinks. He was dishing it out. Honestly, the cup of soup he put in my hadn when I finished that ride was HEAVEN! Everyone was smiling all day. Something about doing something absolutely STUPID makes people smile. You just had to laugh at the rediculousness of it all. There was actually a tornado WARNING for the first few hours. In other words, one was on the round somewhere near. The trot out area was a swamp. It was pretty funny to watch riders and horses slogging along and imagine anyone telling what we were doing. The horses were doing great. We actually made good time overall after you averaged in the firm footing roads you could FLY on, and they were down when we got to the checks. We slowed down at the end since it was easy to be going along on firm ground then suddenly hit super soft sand that just gave way and almost do a nose dive. Pat Oliva passed us 1/2 mile from the finish line and knocked us out of top 10. Oh well, considering how we started the ride it was amazing to be that high up and honestly, who wanted to hang around for another hour and stand for BC when you could stay in the trailer and put on dry clothes! :-))
I think I read a typo that said the completion rates were low. I think starting rates were low. Half the 25 milers didn't start. Something like 17 out of 33. Only 17 50's started out of twenty something signed up. I think 10 out of 15 75's started and around 20? 100's.
I was so wet that I may as well have jumped in the lake to get the sand off. It was worse at the checks where you were near all those metal tent frames and freezing. I'd rather take my chances with lightning going down the trail keeping warm. Finishing was BLISS. I know I'll enjoy my next thunderstorm when I'm snuggled in a warm bed 10 times as much as anyone who didn't do that ride. :-) I can only imagine how those in the longer distances felt.
Kudos to Eric Reuter who ran a computer and handled sorting out probably a record number of different rides including AERC, FEI, AHA, and CT and never getting short tempered!!! He was amazing.
Nobody would ever have dreamed there was an FEI going on so far as being trouble by it. It was as down home a ride as any Million Pines you've ever been to. I can't say enough about the place & people and will definitely go back, despite the forecast again. Thanks to all involved!