Tuesday, June 14, 2011

My Old Dominion - Nancy Sluys

June 13 2011

Whew, I have just returned from an epic weekend at the Old Dominion 100 mile Endurance Ride in Virginia! I went there with my 7 year old, Zanie, to do the 55 but once I was there I decided at the last minute to bump up to the 100! I’m not sure what came over me but I just couldn't bear the thought that I would be missing the best part of the trail and really the “Old Dominion” IS the 100 mile ride. Zanie had finished the Biltmore 75 mile ride easily 5 weeks earlier and a slow NATRC ride 2 weeks later where she had a perfect vet score and had been resting for 3 weeks since then. I felt like the time could be right for our 1st 100.

I came by myself and had no crew, I contemplated riding in the cavalry division but being Zanie's 1st 100 and not knowing what all she would need I decided to send my crew bags to the vet checks instead, as management had offered to take a separate bag to each vet check if you would pile it in a certain location. In hindsight I should have ridden cavalry (where I would have all my stuff with me on my saddle) as there was a mix up with my bags and I ended up with no supplies for most of the ride :-(.

The weather preceding the ride was extremely hot, it was 99 degrees on the trailer ride up there but on race day the temps were a little better with the high expected to me in the mid to high 80s. A big storm the night before had cooled things off a bit but did play with the humidity. We got started in the dark and by the time we reached the first peak the sun was just coming up offering spectacular views of the sunrise over the Shenandoah valley and foothills to the right and the peaks on the WV border to the left. It was pleasantly cool as we made our way to the first vet check at Bird Haven around 17 miles into the ride. When I arrived I found all my crew bags had been delivered there. Being a bit nervous about that I went ahead and sent the 3rd vet check bag with a friends crew just in case.

By the time we made it to the second check at Laurel Run we had already had a number of fierce ascents and the temperatures were climbing as well as the humidity. I was using Easyboot glue ons and had been having great luck with that at other rides but had lost 1 of them on the way to this vet check. I replaced it with an Easyboot Glove that I had in my saddle bag. I now had no replacements if I lost another but miraculously there was a lady there who was an Easycare dealer and had a whole truck full of boots who would sell me one, what good fortune!! Laurel Run was a “no Crew” check and they had hay and grain there for the horses but I did notice that my vet bag had not been delivered there but I still had one dose of electrolytes that would get me to the next check. It wasn’t a big issue then but we would be returning to this same location in the middle of the night and I was hoping that my bag would make it there.

We left Laurel Run and began a long climb up a gravel road in the heat of the day. I had been riding primarily by myself all morning but I was now hooked up with Karen Bell on her horse Sammy. We took it easy walking most of it and when we got to the top where we entered a single track trail. Karen’s friends Shannon and her daughter Morgan had caught up to us and we headed down the narrow trail single file. By now it started raining and everyone took this as a blessing as it cooled the horses off immensely and us to! The weird thing was that it was the exact spot in the trail where it started raining on my 1st OD in 2008, the only difference was that time is was a 3 inch downpour and this was a pleasant light to medium rain. This part of the trail is absolutely beautiful with profusely blooming laurels on either side of the trail. Sometimes they were so lush that it seemed like you were traveling through a flowery tunnel! The going was slow at first but after a while there were places to move out a bit, you just had to play the terrain. We made into the Buck Tail Vet Check and I looked around for Robby Doll who had my vet bag that I had sent. I was really glad to see it as it had my people food in it, I couldn’t eat the sandwiches at the last check because I am allergic to wheat and I was getting pretty hungry. Buck Tail was our long hold at one hour and I was glad for the chance to relax a bit. I went ahead and sent the remainder of my crew bag stuff with Robby in case I needed it later and we went on our way.

The next section of trail went pretty fast comparatively as it was a wide sweeping grassy forest service road that you could really move out on well. I was still with Karen and company and we saw several other riders on the trail as well. By now we were well past the 50 mile mark and Zanie was getting hungry. We grazed a little and she also got really good at snatching grass as we were walking and sometimes even at the trot! The Waites Run Check was just a stop and go so as soon as we pulsed down I let Zanie eat some grain that was provided and we continued on our way. The Waites Run Check was at the farthest point on the big loop and as we left the trail made the turn towards camp (40 miles away!) I could feel Zanie’s energy pick up as she trotted down the mountain, in fact she was on a mission. I discovered on this ride that she is very good at downhill trotting and it seemed easy for her. We passed several riders and she just kept on going over rocks and everything, it felt like she was just floating over all that bad footing. Down and down we went eventually passing another group of riders one of who was Diane Doll who came along with us. When we hit another gravel road I had my “why did I just do that” moment. We stopped at the side of the road to graze when Zanie suddenly snorted and started shaking her head. I thought she had sucked up a bee or something but then she humped up like she was going to buck. Diane, who was watching all this, called for me to get off my horse, which I did. She humped up then buckled and tried to roll. We were both scared that something was really wrong with her. I walked her for a few minutes and she seemed to calm down but when I tried to get back on she started to go down again. At this point Diane took off to the vet check, which was about 2 or 3 miles away, to notify them that there may be something wrong with my horse. In the mean time I tried to figure out what was going on, her eye didn’t look especially bad and she wasn’t sucked or cramped up or anything but she was clearly uncomfortable in some way. Her neck felt pretty hot so I thought maybe she had become overheated coming down that mountain fast so I stopped and sponged her with water in the ditch next to the road. That seemed to do the trick and she started to calm down. I was pretty nervous but we continued on foot. She drank from the water and ate grass voraciously and seemed to come back to normal so I eventually mounted up again and continued down the road and she acted like nothing had happened. About this time one of the vets came driving up in a truck to check on me but Zanie was fine. We walked and slow trotted into the Big 92 Vet Check much to everyone’s relief!! She got all A’s on her vet card except that her back was sensitive. I was puzzled at that because she has never had a single back issue to date. I started to put some things together in my mind about the incident. Zanie is a horse who is always very itchy when she is exercising hard and she can be a head shaker at times which I’m still trying to figure out. I think she got overheated on the trip down the mountain and when we hit the gravel road it was the hottest, stillest part of the late afternoon and the blood rushed to her head and also her back due to friction of the downhill trotting. She just went crazy with itchiness and tried to roll. The sponging cooled her and stopped the tingly feeling. In hindsight I really should have not let her trot down that whole mountain but she felt so good! That, however, may have been my undoing. Why do we have these moments during rides that we think we can perform feats that we have not trained for? I should know better but I’ll put that in the live and learn department and hope I don’t make that mistake again.

Once I vetted through and she was fine I looked around hoping that my crew bag for that check had made it but alas it was not to be. At this point I just about lost it, I felt like I was working at such a disadvantage not having my supplies.

If I had only ridden cavalry I would have had what I needed with me. By now the bag I had sent out with Robby was depleted of feed and electrolytes and all my night time stuff was in the missing bag. I was starting to feel a bit weak and sick to my stomach from not having quite enough of the right food for me and I came really close to pulling at that point but Zanie had recovered so well from the incident and was looking like she could make it so I sucked it up and got back on my horse.

I had bummed some feed, electrolytes and a head lamp and had found an old energy bar I had stashed in my cantle pack for me plus a banana someone gave me and headed out for our return trip to Laurel Run 8 miles away mostly on gravel road. Pretty nervous still about Zanie’s condition we just walked and walked the gravel road. By this time everyone I had passed was well ahead of me and we were alone again. It was an incredibly beautiful evening with a 3/4 moon shining bright and the whip-o-wills calling loud as can be. I kept the head lamp off to conserve the batteries and had no problem seeing in the moonlight. At one point I became very sleepy as I had not slept well for days before the ride due to insomnia I’ve been having. I got off and walked on foot for about 2 miles and found myself with my eyes closed, napping while walking. I didn’t know I was so talented! This gave me some energy and I got back on and I felt bounce and purpose in Zanie’s step, she was getting stronger too.

After a while I noticed her flicking her ear back a few times and knew someone was catching up to us. It would be good to have some company for the final journey to camp. In a few minutes Jennifer Sapira and Linda (oops I forgot her last name) joined us. The coolest thing was that they were our team members (OD had a team competition ) and we had not seen them all day. Our 4th team member was a woman named Juliette who was riding Cavalry and was behind us somewhere. At that point we were all still in the game.

With renewed energy we made our way to Laurel Run for the second time. The pickings were meager for me and Zanie as others were running low on supplies as well but there was good grass there and we took advantage of that. I knew

my pile of vet bags were all (hopefully) at the 1st and our last vet check so if I could just make it to there I would have some things to help me out. Someone did give me a half a dose of Lyte Now to help us make the tough 13 miles to the last vet check at Bird Haven. Jennifer, Linda and I traveled together and kept each other company, I even sang them the song I wrote called “the 100 Mile Ride”. This part of the trail was really slow as it was mostly single track through rocks and now we had mud to contend with since the rain. We trotted every step we could but that was only a few at a time between lots of walking. Our minds started playing with us and we wondered if we would make the cut off time. Suddenly we came up a little hill and it looked like a landing strip in front of us as we came on the Bird Haven Vet Check. There were lines of light sticks showing the way in and out and big portable lights for the vet area. A surreal sight after miles in the dark with shadows dancing!

I vetted Zanie through as soon as we arrived and once again all A’s except for her back which had gotten no worse but no better either. Cat Carter had come out after the 55 to help the 100 milers and I was so glad to see her! She held Zanie while I looked for my bags. The place looked so different in the dark and I got pretty disoriented but finally I located them and found some feed for Zanie and a bunch of stuff for me. My shirt was wet and I had been wearing my rain coat to keep warm as it had become chilly but it was damp too so I was catching a chill. I was able to change into a wonderfully dry long sleeve shirt and it felt like heaven. I replaced the head lamp I had borrowed which was now dead and downed some yogurt and energy drink and a swig of green tea and I was revved and ready for the last 6 miles. Our team forged ahead into the night.

Six miles, “piece of cake” you say. That was the hardest, longest, muddiest, rockiest, darkest six miles you will ever travel! On and on we went trying to make headway. At one point we hoped we would make it in on time but once again that was just our minds playing around again. We came into a clearing with a big radio tower or something and we knew we were close. We started sniffing around for that turkey crap odor that would signal our return to the road to camp. Sure enough, we caught the whiff and before we knew it we dropped down onto the gravel road. Our horses picked up a strong trot as they knew where they were too. A half a mile and we see the lights of the finish line. A small but hearty group of folks were there to welcome us home! We did it, the Old Dominion 100 Mile One Day Ride with 45 minutes

to spare! I went right over to vet out and Zanie looked really great, bright eyed and animated. She got a completion

and I have another 100 mile horse!

As we walked back to our trailer I heard the remaining riders cross the finish line with just a few minutes to spare but they had made it!

I learned a lot on this ride as I always do. One is that I need a lot less stuff than I think I do to make it through. Another which is one that I seem to have to learn over and over from time to time is ride like you train, if something seems like too much it probably is. You may get away with it but why take the risk? At the pace I had been going which was sensible and steady I would have finished several hours earlier than I did but by hurrying down that mountain I lost all that time and more trying to recover and finish safely. I also learned that I have an incredible horse that takes very good care of herself, is efficient and can trot down mountains (I’ll add that to my training!) and looks better at the end of 100 miles than when she started! I think I have something here!

Happy trails, Nancy Sluys and FYF InZane “Zanie”

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