Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Tevis 2011* It’s always an adventure! - Nick Warhol - Full Story

October 13 2011

(* The Tevis with an asterisk)

This ride just seemed like it did not want to want to be held. It was supposed to happen in the summer, but there was too much snow in the Sierra to allow it. Something like 10 feet was still standing in and around Robinson Flat in August, and Squaw Valley had a reported 700 inches this winter, which is something like 60 feet of snow? That’s a bigger snowpack than a lot of ski lift towers are high! It sure would not work for the horses. Rather than cancel, those dedicated WSTF people made the call to move the ride to October 8th- a very daring move to say the least. There were concerns about the fewer daylight hours, the campgrounds, the cold, and perhaps would it rain? Yeah, that turned out to be the biggie. Not only did it rain all over northern California, but it snowed, again, in the Mountains. Not your nice, light, fluffy dusting of powder. No sir- this was a storm that dumped between 2 and 3 feet at the upper elevations. In October? It’s the Donner party all over again. At least that’s what I thought when on Thursday afternoon I nervously looked up at the ski runs at Squaw Valley that were covered in snow, just begging for skiers, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Lucky for me I was really sick the weekend before the ride. So sick that I would not have been able to go if it had been a week later. Sometimes my luck works out in the right direction! I felt a little funky on Wednesday, but not enough to keep me away from the ride. (I just wired up a box of Kleenex and a bottle of DayQuil on the front of my saddle.) Donnie and I are having our best ever year and he’s in splendid shape. My wife Judy once again “volunteered” to crew for me and my Donnie on my ninth start, Donnie’s fourth. He’s three for three here- twice under me and once under Judy. The deal is if Judy crews for me at Tevis I get to crew for her at 5 other rides during the year (if I don’t ride) It’s a fair deal, since crewing at Tevis is more work than riding it. Our best buddy Becky Glaser also joined in to provide the much needed second vehicle, as well as giving Judy a hand. It’s SO nice to have a crew, especially these people with such experience. They just know what to do.

We tried to pack up and leave for the ride Thursday morning as we usually do, but we found ourselves watching a movie in the house while the rain poured outside our home in Hayward. I wasn’t packing up in this. I kept looking at the road conditions- highway 80 was still open without chains amazingly enough. (I ordered some for the trailer a couple of days before we left, just in case. You know- If you have ‘em you won’t need ‘em.) At about 10:30am it let up and blue sky appeared. We tossed our stuff in the rig, loaded up the boy and set forth in the mighty Pony Tug wondering what we were in for. The trip up was completely uneventful until we started climbing the Sierra. It was blue sky and clear all the way, with roads open, but the snow on the ground in the mountains started about 3000 feet. It kept getting deeper and deeper, until at the Donner summit there was easily 2 plus feet on the ground. It looked like the dead of winter. There were small walls of plowed snow on the edges of the highway. All I could think was “there is NO WAY the ride is going to through this snow.” This is 7000 feet; the top of Squaw is above 9000. It sure was a nice day, though. We rolled down through Truckee and down highway 267 to the turn for the entrance to Robie Park. It wasn’t marked, but we turned in to the forest onto the narrow paved section. Uh oh- here comes a rig from the other direction. And another. A third. This can’t be good. We pause at the tow truck, and see a rig turning around in a spot that worked. The driver, Leigh Bacco, stopped and rolled her window down as she passed us coming out and told us it was a no-go. A rig had been stuck ahead of us, and the tow truck driver had apparently said it was a thousand dollar tow job, and that there was no way he was going back in there, so we were on our own. Leigh had made the right call! She said she was planning on driving over to Squaw Valley and hanging out there until we knew what to do. It took about a half hour to get to Squaw, but we were sure wondering out load what in the heck would happen with the ride. Start at Squaw? Um, no, not with all this snow. We pulled in and found a nice place in the parking lot to set up the rigs. We unloaded the boys and put blankets on; it was 4:30pm, but under 30 degrees and getting colder. Donnie and the other horses happily stood and ate while Judy and I, Leigh, and Matt Scribner all threw on ski parkas and sat around enjoying Bloody Marys and Gin and Tonics that Matt graciously made. They were great! We were waiting for the decision that would be announced at 5 pm. Smart phones are wonderful- sure enough we saw the announcement that Robie Park was out of the question and we should all head for Auburn. There would be a ride! Of some sort. The boys had been in the trailer for too many hours straight, so we walked over to the local Sushi restaurant and had a fantastic dinner and really enjoyed ourselves. Just like being on a Ski vacation! With my horse? It was that cold! After dinner we trundled the boys back in to the trailers and drove on back to Auburn. I was quite relieved, since I had already made up my mind I would not start if they intended to head up over Squaw Valley. We found a nice spot in the grass field by the finish, put up the horses and went to bed by 10:30 pm.

Friday morning brought all kinds of speculation. There would be a ride, but where? How? It seemed pretty unlikely that anything could be done. I chatted with Barbara White in the morning and she gave me the straight scoop- a hundred miles, out backwards on the trail to Foresthill, to Chicken Hawk, then an out and back loop, then back on to Auburn the way we came. A Tevis lollipop ride! The mind reels! What about the start? On the finish single track? Come on! Two way traffic on the California loop? You have to be kidding. What about the river in the morning? Would it be lowered in time? These WSTF crazies re-did the ride in 24 hours that it had taken them a year to plan. Who would be where, when, I can’t believe how much they must have gone through. The ride meeting was pretty funny. Poor Chuck Staley probably had not slept in 2 days, and Tony Benedetti tried to explain the start. What pens? All we had to do was walk along the railroad tracks, go to a field, muster there awhile, head through a gate under the underpass, through the skateboard park, down a paved road for 10 minutes, hit the field at the bottom, not enter the ditch on either side, only enter the lower pen in one spot, circle around, and they would release us at 6:30 am when we could at least see. Right. Everyone was really wondering how this would work. I tried to calculate a start time that would get us just to the start just as they left.

It turned out to be unbelievably good. I mean REALLY good. Like better and easier than any Tevis start I have been on...

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