Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Tevis 2010- a comeback ride and always an adventure!

Nick Warhol
This ride! It’s been 4 years since I was able to enter, and that’s way, way too long. Follow my math logic- if I want to equal my hero Barbara White and get myself 30 buckles, and if I enter every 4 years, (add the three, carry the seven), I’ll be about 153 years old if I keep at this pace. I guess I either should have started sooner, or, darn it, enter every year. Tevis 06 was my Donnie’s first 100, and he romped through it. The next year I was recovering from my ACL replacement surgery, so Judy rode the D man to a great completion. In 08 was the fire and the canceled ride, and last year my boy was recovering from an injury, so no go for me. I have been pondering the 2010 Tevis for the past 18 months while Donnie healed up, and as my luck is occasionally good, the endurance gods smiled on me and he’s better. We made his comeback ride at Washoe in April, did all three days at the Wild West ride in May, rode the beautiful but tough Mendocino Magic ride in June, all just fine. It’s a hard thing to be off of your horse for so long, but its part of the game, and it just makes it so much sweeter when he comes back.

This year was also special since my long time riding buddy Sally Abe (pronounced Ahh-Bay) got the chance to start for the first time! Two of her three horses are retired, and her endurance horse Phathom is now an ex-endurance horse. He’s just not up to it anymore, (she needs number 4!) so she has had to wait. My friend Jackie Bumgardner stepped up and loaned Sally her superb mare, Odessesy, for the Tevis. 5000 miles with only a couple of pulls, completed Tevis before- perfect! We went to Bridgeport to pick up the mare and Sally got to know the horse as she completed the Mendocino ride in great shape. We were ready! Yahoo! Judy enlisted our friend Karen Bottanni to help with the Crewing duties, and Sally had her friends Alair Davidson and her fiancé Phil Hartley come along. Sally’s riding friend Shawn-Dei Linderman also came to help and see the circus. Phil’s my shoer, so that sure can’t hurt! We drove up on Thursday afternoon as usual and staked out our secret spot in the gravel parking lot. No dust, and a straight shot for the crew out forest road 6 in the morning- it’s worth the 7 minute walk to the start area. In the afternoon Sally and I went out for a ride down the start road for a few miles, and stopped to look up, way up, at the peaks of Squaw Valley. We’d be up there in a day and a half! Sally was very excited. It’s so pretty here at this point- quiet, peaceful, no dust. Just wait!

Friday morning was nice and cool. The weather in northern California has been so nice this summer. In fact it was the coolest July in our parts in something like 100 years. That’s just fine with me. I like it like this. We walked over to Robe Park to take in all the activities. I always see so many of my friends here. Steph Teeter is here, riding her second Tevis. Her first was in 97, as was mine. (Kind of a gap, there, Steph!) Kathy Meyers is here from New Mexico riding Blue, a horse she rode a long time ago when she lived in Cal. We did some shopping, signed up with Calstar Helicopter rescue, (oh yes, every year!) and I got to see the new horse safety vests. These things are an air bag for a rider? Apparently if you get launched, something senses that and flips a switch and inflates the vest with air to cushion you before you whump on the ground. What will they think of next? I wonder if it works? Who wants to test it? At 11:00 or so we moseyed back to pick up the ponies and wandered back over with our tack to the vetting area. The ride has it worked out pretty well. The vetting went smoothly; we got weighed, sorted, stamped, and bar-coded. Well, almost. They put a yellow hospital-type Tevis arm band with rider info written on it. Except they covered up the writing with the other end of the band. I got my band, walked away, and had a small anxiety attack. Well, as much of one as I am capable of, I guess. I’m one of those people who have a problem with wearing jewelry. It took several years for me to be used to the wedding ring, and if you put a watch on my right wrist I’ll yank it off, screaming! They stuck my new yellow band on my right wrist, and it was too tight. I walked away, but in a moment I started to get light headed, dizzy, and passed out- well, okay, not really, but I had to go back for a redo. The nice lady gave me another one that was nice and loose. Whew! Crisis averted. If this was my biggest problem for the weekend I’ll be happy! Sally and I went out for a little longer ride and had some excitement. We were paused under some giant pine trees, letting the horses graze on the nice, green grass in the serene forest. Suddenly a huge pine cone the size of a football comes crashing down through the tree towards us, causing an avalanche of pine cones to rain down on us. The horses jumped a bit- that was fun!

The ride meeting was very good this year- the WSTF guys have this figured out as well. (It used to be WAY too long) Into bed at 8:30- I slept fine, but I think Sally was pretty much awake all night. 3:30 am Saturday morning is dark, but the trailer lights take care of that. The horses are nice and calm as we tack up; Judy and her gang have everything all set and ready to go. We walk out of camp like we are riding up my driveway at home. It seems like it should be more exciting to embark on the journey, but that will come. We walked over to the entrance of Start Pen 2 and went on in. The WSTF guys almost have the start figured out. The pen concept works great, but Pen 2 wasn’t very good. The last time I did this we were in Pen 3, in the vetting area, and everyone just walked in a nice, big, quiet circle until we were routed out onto the road. Pen 2 was like a crowded airport- horses and people just moving in every direction at random, bumping into each other, helmet lights flashing, riders trying to find their friends, one guy got tossed off: it was sort of controlled chaos. Ride suggestion number one: why not use the old Pen 3? Or if not, make Pen 2 the roads that circle that part of the area. Get everyone walking in one direction- it would be much better than the milling about. We finally got released and hit our first bottleneck- the number taker. Why single track? Why not 2 or three lanes, just like the Bay Bridge toll plaza. Maybe we can use Fastrack? Ride suggestion number two: more number taker lanes. It would be much better. Past the number taker jam up and onto the road at a walk- we were all spread out nicely and lookee here- we hit the actual start at 5:17, only 2 minutes past the 5:15 start time. Pretty darn good. Off we went at a trot, and right over the crazy little ditch that caused the big hubbub 4 years ago. You just never know. The pace was fast as we trotted along the fire road for the first 3 miles or so to the single track. We did not slow down, but just kept sailing along. No riders had fallen off, no horses tied to trees, no carnage at all- nice! A great start. We really moved along on the single track full of horses all the way to the highway crossing before Squaw Valley. They were right about this when they warned us about the crossing at the meeting- they were doing road construction and had it all goofed up. We had to walk along the road, cross under it, walk in the other direction, turn around, walk back, turn again, then finally up the embankment. Great for the spectators- they saw our profiles three times! Now the climb starts up the long, twisty climb up the side of Squaw. The group of riders I was with were going a perfect pace- trot up, but walk the really steep stuff. Perfect! Sally and O hung in behind Donnie and me as they had done since the start. We cruised on up, with no yellow jacket bites, thank goodness, and before long we dropped down to the main ski run. Up some more, and left turn off the wide road onto the single track. Yikes- here’s the rock Gloria Vanderford’s horse slipped down on a few years ago when I was behind her. Yuck. No problems, but as we headed along I looked down to the right and way down below us, on the ski run, were horses. Pleasure horses from Squaw Valley? At this hour? (we got a little closer) Riding kind of fast? (closer yet) With numbers on their rumps? Uh-oh, someone missed a turn. It seems a bunch of riders missed the left onto that single track and took the ski run up to where we joined them. They did not cut any mileage, but had a little smoother run up that mile or so. All together now we worked our way up the ski run to the water stop at high camp, then up and over the tippy top of the peak, past Watson Monument, and down the super cool soft trail that takes us to the Granite Chief Wilderness. This is the most amazing part of the trail, and has some of the trickiest rocky sections. The trail was in very good shape, and for all the snow around there wasn’t much water in the bogs. The little waterfall we have to jump up was only a trickle. Both horses made it through the rock fields just fine, and Sally said something to the effect of “I don’t think I’ll look at a trail with rocks on it the same again.” A rocky, dusty road took us towards the trot by at Lyon Ridge, but the vet check had moved locations since I had been here. We hung a left down a tight little trail to a very nice trot by area with much more room for the horses than the old intersection. Good job on the trail! Much better than every other time I have done it. A quick trot for the vet and back towards the old trot by on the rocky jeep road. A left turn takes us climbing up the long, rocky, dusty ridge trail that winds its way a few miles to cougar rock. There were not many horses about, and as a result the dust was almost non-existent. I was leading Sally as we approached Cougar Rock; we were taking the bypass as usual. There was a rider going over, and one rider in line waiting for her chance at the famous climb. Donnie and I started down the trail towards the bypass trail. It’s a tiny little thing blasted out of the side of the rock on the riders left with a steep drop to the right. There was a photographer up on the top of Cougar rock snapping photos of the woman going over. He took a step backward and stepped into air. He fell down off the top of the rock, a fall of at least 20 feet, and landed smack on the solid rock of the bypass trail, just a hundred feet in front of Donnie and I. Donnie stopped quick, and I could not believe what I had just witnessed. I thought he was dead. How could he have survived that? The rock emptied of people who rushed down to help the poor man. I had to back Donnie up on the tight little trail- there is no way to turn around on that tiny thing. Good boy, Donnie. Tom Johnson was the ride official at the site- he quickly made the correct call to close the bypass trail and send all the riders up over the rock. I got back to where Sally was- she had been behind me and had seen it. We were in kind of a state of shock. The lady in front of us headed up and over the rock, but had to abort half way up and jump off her horse to keep him from backing up. We led our horses over the top, and once up over it, stopped for a minute to stop shaking. It was absolutely one of the worst things I have ever witnessed in my life. It was the sound of his body hitting the rocks that sticks with me. Consider this- had it been 20 seconds later, he would have landed right on top of me and my horse. He did survive; they had to get two helicopters to get him out of there. He ended up with both wrists broken, a broken leg, broken nose, a concussion, and more scrapes and bleeding than I want to remember. Egad- what a way to ruin your day.

We trotted on down the trail- what else could we do? Past Elephant’s Trunk, and back on the dusty trails that wind their way to Red Star and our first real vet check. We arrived a little later than planned, but spent about 10 minutes cooling the horses. Donnie was down to 48 in a couple of minutes, but Odessey was taking a little longer. There were people getting pulled everywhere, and lots for not recovering. Odessey came down, and the vet even commented that we must have been there a while, as her pulse was 52. We trotted on out the 7 mile road to Robinson flat, past the two empty water troughs (bummer) and reached the crazy stop at about 11:00 am. Our crew was there to meet us, and whisked the tack off as we headed down to the pulse takers. Donnie was down, but Odessey was having some unusual issues. She took about 10 minutes again to drop, but at the vets her pulse was bouncing a little: 56, 72, 56. Nope- that won’t do. The vet staff is very careful about anything even resembling a metabolic issue, so poor Sally was pulled. They gave the horse fluids as per their normal practice. Sally was pretty disappointed, but was thrilled about what she had seen so far. She got to see the best part of the trail, and although Odessey is an amazing horse, it just was not her day. This ride can do that to the best. Donnie vetted through very nicely and started his eating binge. Time for my biggest problem of the day so far- we could not find the bread, so I ate Sally’s fantastic egg salad with a piece of cold grilled chicken breast as a spoon. Worked great- just bite off the spoon! The bread was found, and I was saved again. The crew is just great; the riders are spoiled at this ride. I sat in the shade as I finished my lunch, washed the dust off, and tacked back up. Donnie and I headed out on the trail up the mountain behind the check, which leads to a nasty section of rocky and dusty trail. (I liked being on the road out of Robinson a lot better.) This finally ended with the downhill into Dusty corners and some water, then on to the cool single track trail that ends up at Pucker point. This trail can be really dusty, but Donnie and I did the whole 4 or 5 miles all alone- what fun. We ended up at the vet check at last chance, where we vetted through with a moderate vet line, maybe 10 minutes. I hate to lose those precious minutes, but Donnie got to eat, so it’s a good thing. I led my boy down the first canyon to the swinging bridge, then tailed up to the top of Devils Thumb. About three quarters of the way up there is a rider sitting on the trail, her horse is down below, having fallen off the trail. Oh no, oh no. It’s a good thing it was in a switchback, and the horse was stuck a bit under a down tree in a little canyon about 50 feet down the trail. Boy, it could have been a lot worse. There were some people there: I helped out a bit, and took the riders number up the trail and reported it in Deadwood. Some volunteers were able to cut the tree and lead the horse back up the incline to the trail. Yuck- thank goodness it turned out okay. I vetted through in Deadwood and kept on moving down the trial, hooking up with the one and only Barbara White. We rode together out of the check and all the way down the second canyon. I started tailing up into Michigan Bluff, but darn it, I could not quite make it all the way. I hopped back on Donnie who liked trotting up the steep climb. Up to the water (and a huge drink) at Michigan Bluff, and on down the road to Chicken Hawk and the next vet check. I walked in with Donnie down, but ended up getting stuck in a long vet line that cost me probably 15 minutes as well. I was using up more than my allotment of dawdling credits; I don’t like being anywhere near the cutoffs, and I was flirting with 30 minutes. Time to pick it up. I trotted quickly to the top of the Volcano canyon trail, then hopped off and ran down it on foot, pretty fast, doing my best imitation of Chris Knox. Right, uh huh. Donnie trots along behind me down the tight switch backs to the creek at the bottom, then we boogied up the last couple of miles uphill to Foresthill. I caught Robert Ribley right on the road in, so we cruised on in together into the teeming throng of people. Its still fun to come in to all that cheering and happy stuff. My crew was there and stripped my horse; he was at 52 when we got to the water on top. A quick trot for the vet, Dr Laserschef, who is a miracle worker. He was looking at Donnie’s feet, and I pointed out a cut that I noticed while tailing. He leans down and pulls a stick off the horse. There! Fixed! Just like that. What a guy! Judy and Karen took care of my horse while I ate and cleaned up. They had a nice parking place, but a poorly parked car in a turn made it tough for big rigs to make the turn on this little downhill turn out. One guy in a big living quarters snagged a rock and busted out his septic tank, which dumped all over the road right in front of us. Nice! Peeyeuu! Karen did not like the trucks coming so close to my horse when they swung wide for the turn, so she packed him up and moved to a new site out of harm’s way. What a good crew!

I put on my white shirt, picked up my little flashlight, and headed out into the dusk. I have often told people that all you have to do is survive getting to Foresthill, and from there the ride gets fun. I could not have been more accurate. I hooked up with a rider who was riding for her first time, both her and her horse. She asked if she could follow, since she said she was not sure where to trot. We mostly walked down the steeper trails and rocky sections towards the river, then made the right hand turn and took off. The moon was out, the night was nice, and I was on my boy. This is the best part of the ride bar none. We scooted along and hooked up with three other horses that were going our great pace. When we caught up to five more, it was too many, so I held back a bit and we went on by ourselves again. Its three and a half hours of absolute joy on the way down to Francisco’s. I was making up time, and got in and out of the check, but not before scarfing sandwiches and lemonade. The ride workers are the best ever here, but I had one little issue that I have to report since it was so silly. This wonderful volunteer came up and held my horse for me while I got food. She asked if she could fill my water bottles- Yes! They were bone dry and I had forgotten to fill them. I told her they were the ones on my saddle. She returned with three bottles of fresh, clean water. Three? Two clear, and one red. Uh oh. She was so happy to help, until I said that the red bottle on the back of my saddle was the one with my electrolytes in it. She had emptied it out and filled it with water. She was heartbroken! If there was a samurai sword available I think she may have committed Hari-Kari! I told her it was okay, don’t worry, but she was so upset that she had done that. I told her I’d borrow some, and the first person I asked gave me some of the kind I use. It was a non event, but it shows the dedication of those great people down there.

Out of the cool check and down the trail to the river’s edge and past all the sleeping campers who probably wonder why horses keep clomping by their tents all night. I followed a small group of people down to the river crossing; we rode along in silence, me just loving it. I crossed and got my feet all wet- Donnie isn’t very tall, and the water was high. I joined back up with Barbara and rode along with her down the few miles along the river to the vet check at the quarry. It’s lit up with generators like a Caltrans night work crew down there. I vetted next to Barbara, but her vet said he saw something in her horse’s right front. He told her to take it easy, walk in, all the usual stuff. He told her that every horse that had been in there had something going on. My vet looked up at me and said “except this one!” That was nice. I usually just get in and out here, but the D horse was really hungry, so I let him eat out of a 50 gallon mash for a while. Probably a bit too much for him to finish in our allotted time, so we headed out down the flat road along the river all by ourselves. I started singing again, as is my ridiculous habit when I ride by myself at night, until I caught Robert again. He was walking, so I trotted on by and crossed highway 49. The highway patrolman there helping said my horse looked great, but I was certifiable. Maybe, maybe. We walked over to the downhill that leads to no hands bridge and hoofed it down. I led my horse across, as I usually do, because I like leading across it, and staring at that moon as I go across. The moon taunts me when I get pulled, but once again this year, I beat it. Robert came trotting by, but slowed up and we walked a bit together. You have to love Robert- the guy really knows what to say. He looked up at the night and said- “Ya know what? This is just one tough-ass ride.” He hit the nail right on the head. Yes, it is exactly that. It’s one of the things that makes it so special. I bid the talented Mr. Ribley adieu and Donnie scampered on down the road towards the finish. Riding along the moon lit river right here for a bit is a special treat, and is probably my favorite point of the ride. We hung a right turn and walked up the long climb up to Robie Point; that street light up there looks pretty good when you summit. I heard Tony Benedetti and another rider talking just ahead of me. Donnie thought we ought to go smoke by them, but I thought, no, let’s just ease on in. Two miles to go and all is perfect. We trotted quietly along on the roads and walked the last climb (the climbing just keeps on coming!) up towards the finish. Once we heard the people there, I gave Donnie a tiny squeeze and he burst into a canter across the finish line. Oh yeah, he’s the man. He’s cantering across the finish line on his own. Judy and Karen were there, as was Sally. I had not seen her since we separated in Robinson Flat so many hours ago. She’s such a good sport, and there is always next year. She will get that buckle as sure as I’m typing this. We vetted at the finish, where I always remember being pulled on my first Tevis. Not this time! My Donnie zipped back and forth for the vet, who said wow, he looked good. We went down and did a victory lap for the bunch of guys the ride must have hired to be a cheering section. Pretty funny- they whooped and hollered for everyone who finished. Nice touch! Donnie trotted at high speed, and broke into a canter just under the finish banner. Ho hum, when can we go riding again? Ya gotta love it. Back to the barn and food for the boy. Odessey gives him a nice greeting, but eating is what he has on his mind. This year the horses have to go back for a post ride metabolic check between 1 and 2 hours post finish. A very good idea, but I wasn’t going to make it that long. To the camper and sleep. Judy and Karen took care of my boy and the final vet check while I crashed for about 3 hours. That’s a long day.

The awards BBQ was yummy, and the ceremony is always fun. I got up to get my fourth completion, (five finishes) out of 8 starts. Hey- I’m back to 50% now. My Donnie is quite a guy- he’s three for three here. I’m more than thrilled he has come back, and even stronger than before. He loves his job, and I’m glad he landed with me. Thanks again, Barbara and Ron. Thanks again, Judy, Karen, Shawn-dei, Alair, and Phil. I couldn’t do it without you guys.

Sally will be back, and that first buckle is waiting. Not finishing has probably made her even more ravenous for it. I feel bad for the poor photographer, and for the lady whose horse fell down, and all those people who tried it and did not make it. I’ve been there, too many times. But not this year. Donnie and I beat the moon again this year. And we’ll be back, every time we can. Why? Robert said it best- this is one tough ass ride. But it’s the best there is.

Nick Warhol

Hayward, Ca

Nick's story page

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