May 27, 2012
There isn't much better than going to a ride for the first time, especially a new 100. There are not that many around, and I'm trying to do as many 100's as I can on Donnie while I can, so it seemed natural to pack up and drive fourteen and a half hours to Idaho for the Owyhee Fandango 100, located at Steph and John Teeters, about 50 miles south of Boise. We have known these guys forever it seems, and have visited their place in the past, but without horses. Their ranch is in the middle of basically nowhere, next to open space, near nothing really, except more empty land. Sounds like the perfect recipe for a ride!
We decided to try driving up in one day, giving the boys 2 full days to rest and recover in the glorious sunshine of Idaho before the ride on Sunday. Mistake number one of two. It was a long, long, drive. Too long, in fact, and we won't be doing that again soon. (The two day drive coming home was a world better) We stopped twice for them to get out for a half hour every four hours, and for fuel, and food, but it just droned on forever. Mistake number two of two- assuming the great state of Idaho has glorious sunshine all the time. Well, this particular week Nevada, Oregon, and Idaho all shared some pretty crappy weather. It was okay till about 4 hours from the end, but then the rain came down, hard at times. It got down to 36 or so degrees outside, in fact the truck helpfully warned us there was possibly ice out there! We had not seen that warning before. Great! We slogged through the wet and finally arrived at the ranch about 9pm. Set up camp, say hi, go directly to bed.
The ride was a three day of sorts over the Memorial Day weekend. It included no less than: a 50 and 25 on Friday, a 50 and 25 on Saturday, and a whopping 30, 60, 80, and 100 including an elevator option on Sunday. The overall turnout wasn't what Steph hoped for; I think on the first day 23 started the 50, and 11 on the 25 in the rain. Judy and I worked the finish line on Friday in the on-and-off rain and wind. (We got to stay in the camper during the rain in the morning!) We went for a ride in the late afternoon, but Judy noticed that Color was a touch off in the front. Hmmmm. She found a little eucalyptus acorn in his foot wedged into the shoe. We could not make the lameness re-appear, so we let it go until the next day. The first day ended with soggy, but generally happy riders.
The rain came down during the night, and continued all Saturday morning and into the early afternoon. We thought about those guys out on the ride who were really wet. We played cards, read books, napped and killed time in the nice, new camper. (It has a pop out!) The rain finally let up a little in the late afternoon, allowing us to go for another ride in the light rain. Color seemed fine, but then not, then fine- very inconsistent. We could not make it show up trotting him on the hard ground. We went to vet in for Sunday's ride, and on the pea-gravel he was off. Slight, but consistent. Judy could not start. We joked that Color just wanted a trip to see his 'native' Idaho, being an Appy, but that's the way the sport goes sometimes. Donnie was splendid, and felt very strong. I went to bed hoping the weather would calm down for ride day. I'd go out in a monsoon, but would sure rather not.
I didn't have to! The Idaho endurance gods smiled on all of us, providing cold, breezy, and dry weather. It was overcast on Sunday morning, but no rain. The rain had done us a favor- the sandy terrain was now wet and absolutely perfect. I call it 1-800-Traction; you can't buy footing like this. At 6am I left poor Judy and Color and headed out in the cold air. The 100 started out down the main ranch driveway for a half mile or so. We turned left at the water tough and onto the trails that were so perfect. A couple of little single track climbs up and down little valleys dumped us onto a few miles of prime roads and trails in the high desert. It was slightly downhill a few miles to the highway crossing, and once across, there were more washes and more perfect, single track trails. Donnie and I were riding alone, but he decided he'd rather go catch up with a pair of horses a little ahead of us. We boogied on up and hooked up with two riders, Trish Frahm and Kathleen Edman, who were both doing their first 100s via the 80 mile elevator option. We rode along pretty quickly through a section of an off-road vehicle area that looked pretty cool. We rode along for a few miles on more nice roads and trails across rolling terrain, then at 15 miles we hit the first vet check at the Sierra something or something Sierra ranch. This place was really neat- a big, modern, adobe ranch house, miles of grass or alfalfa fields, a lake- just beautiful. The owners were very nice to let us in and enjoy it. A quick 30 minute hold and we left and rode right onto the Oregon trail. The actual Trail. It's a tight, twisty, uphill climb up a little draw that was about a half mile long. It's a neat feeling riding on a piece of history, just like riding on the actual pony express trail at Fort Schelbourne. We trotted along for a while with Bruce and Nance Worman, talking about Charles Manson and outlaws who used to terrorize possys in this area. Why? Who knows? Suddenly we crested a little rise, and right before us lay the Snake River canyon. Wow! A mile across, a half mile deep, like a little Grand Canyon, and almost as pretty. I could not believe the view; we stopped and took some pictures. The trail hung a left, and we got to ride along the top of the canyon to the, well, left, for several miles. You could look down the canyon and see the river far below. We trotted across a couple of miles of flat meadow with green grass tufts that we let the horses stop and eat on occasion. We continued along in perfect footing until the turn! We hung a right and headed downhill on a gravel road for a mile and a half or so to the river. I mean right to the river, as in we got to stop and drink from it. Well, the horses did. Now we are in the bottom of the canyon with the walls going straight up for a long ways. The Snake is a real river- deep, swift, swirling, wide, and very cold. (In Las Vegas, where I grew up, moist ground is a creek, standing water is a stream, and if it moves it's a river.) It was Memorial Day weekend, so we saw quite a few campers and fisherman on the other side, quite a ways away. We started trotting along the river's edge and continued to do so for about 15 miles. On nice little two track roads, single track, up and down little hills, sometimes right next to the water. The trail took us through a section of original Indian petroglyphs that were as good as they get. The 60's turned around here and headed home on the same trail. We continued on along the river and into the half mile section called the boulders. Yes, they were. It was a very rocky section that only people or horses could get through. Slow, careful walking through here. It was a little like parts of the Granite Chief Wilderness on Tevis, but not as nasty. I called parts of it Dicey, but only if you tried to hurry through it. Once clear, we found nice, trotable single track for a couple of miles to the radio stop and water. We turned right as the river bent that way and rode another four miles to the bridge. Steph said we were going to cross the river on a bridge to the vet check. This river is a few hundred yards across, and I'm imagining a rope swing or something. Nope- it's a real, old, unused railroad bridge converted for people and horses. Donnie led the way across the long bridge, a long way up from the river. Very cool! Off the other end and a quarter mile to the vet check. We all pulsed down and spent 50 minutes eating and enjoying the scenery. There were still some dark clouds patches far away, but we had not seen a drop of rain. We heard a rumor that some riders had been hailed on, but how could that be? Not soon enough for me we headed out and back across the bridge. Now we just had to ride the same trail backward, back the 40 miles to camp. Just fine with me! I got to see all the stuff I missed going the other direction. We rode back through the nasty rocks, along the river, back through the petroglyphs, and all the way along the river to the climb out. We walked up it, with Donnie tailing me, all the way up. Once on top it was full trot back across the open plains and towards that amazing view spot. I realized something- it was warm! The sky was blue and it was warming up. More miles of nice trotting back to the Oregon Trail again and down to the ranch for another 50 minute hold. Dennis Sousa was there with a pair of good looking horses- both Jennifer and Joyce had been pulled for lameness. Bummer! That rarely happens to those guys. He helped out crewing as he always does, allowing me to eat my hot dog that the ride provided. The ranch owners had opened up a field of grass for us to graze on, so while I grazed on my hot dog Donnie got to eat for 45 minutes in a field of grass they were probably going to harvest soon. What a treat!
The weather was actually getting warm, so I peeled down to a tee shirt and tied the other layers around my waist. The three of us left the check together, but Trish's horse Sahara was slowing down a little. Kathleen held back with her, so Donnie and I trotted off alone for the 15 miles back to base camp. We cruised along at our nice consistent trot, gobbling up the short miles back to camp. We came back on a different trail that was a little faster; we got to ride up on top of the ridge along Stephs little valley. Back over the two little ridges on single track, then we trotted on in, getting back to camp at 80 miles at about 6:55 pm. Color was happy to see us, well, Donnie anyway, and the two whooped and hollered. I vetted through quickly and let the boy eat during his third 50 minute hold. Judy happily took care of my horse while I ate- thanks sweetie! (until she found out that I had finished the meat balls. Then not so happy!) My out time was 7:45, 20 miles to go, and there was still lots of daylight left. We said good bye to Judy and the bellowing Color and trotted back out the trail the way we had come in. We had to backtrack about 7 miles on the trail we had just done on the way in. We saw Meri at the water trough on the way out, and I said we were going it alone. She said yep, but it will just be you and him in the cool evening. (She wished she could come!) Donnie is so good about this- he just goes along at a nice trot, not caring that we were all alone and going back out. The evening was coming on, the weather was perfect, the footing great, the trail fun, the scenery just spectacular, me and my horse just bopping along- you can't ask for much more. Except maybe more miles.
We trotted along on nice, soft, two-track jeep roads that led to the highway crossing; once across I let him graze for about ten minutes, then we continued down the 3 miles or so of flat, wide, gravel road heading away from camp. We trotted along to the huge ranch at the end of the road, said hi to some ranchers, and then made the right hand bend back towards camp. This road was a nice, rolling, sandy two track that wound around a little in some small hills before making the actual turn towards home. The sun was getting low in the sky as we headed back towards the other highway crossing heading back. We saw the nice guys there taking numbers, had another drink (there was lots of water on the trail) and headed out to the most fun I have had on my horse in a long while. I'll set the stage: the sun was setting with a beautiful sunset, it was cool out, no wind, we were going across the open desert on single track trail through the sage brush that smelled so good, about 7 miles to go, mild rolling terrain, the footing was perfect, just him and me together, and my horse felt as if I had just gotten on his back in the morning. We were trotting fast, and broke into a canter. Donnie and I ran the couple of miles of this wonder trail, jumping bushes, weaving in and out, just flying across the desert the way the old cowboys made it look. I was just grinning the whole time. It was so much fun it's impossible to describe. That few minutes of riding made the whole trip worthwhile. If someone asks why in the world would you do endurance, this is why. To feel like this after 90 miles; I get goose bumps thinking about it. Am I weird? I hope not.
All and far too soon we ran out of desert to canter in. The trail dumped us back on the main driveway to the ranch which we trotted down for a couple of miles. There are cattle guards on this road, but not too worry- we hung a left and headed across the little valley towards the foothills that line the, well, one side of the valley. I noticed a glow stick for the first time since it was starting to get a little dark. We trotted along on a long road / sandwash behind the hills, still heading in the direction of camp. I knew at some point we had to climb up to the right and over the ridge to get home, but we went further than I expected to get to that turn. Donnie was sure camp was to the right- he was correct, but we sort of needed that trail to progress towards home. Finally we hung the right, and Donnie just jammed up that climb of a few hundred vertical feet. Whoa horsie! He cantered up and took off on the single track that rolled up and down a few hills, all on single track. We were cooking along, and finally after the little downhill we saw camp. Donnie called out to Color as he always does, Color responded, and we suddenly had the horse philharmonic going on. What in the heck are they saying to each other? We actually had to pass camp completely by a quarter mile or so and then come back to the finish. You would think we were going to Barstow! Horses, you guys are waking the dead! Those in camp sure knew I was coming! We crossed the creek and trotted briskly back to the finish camp in 7th place, ride time 13 and a half hours, where the two horses finally shut up. It was about 10:15 pm or so and getting cooler out. The D horse said something to Color at the finish water trough, drank a ton, and vetted out great. I wanted to go back out and do that section of desert again, but sleep sounded better. We put the boys to bed, I had a hot shower and retired for the night.
Monday morning dawned with the nicest weather yet. Cool, sunny, slight breeze. The ride provided a superb breakfast, (quiche, bacon, sausage, French toast AND pancakes!) and after the awards we began packing up camp. We said good bye and left around 9:30 and drove the 7 or so hours to Winnemucca to the fairgrounds for the night. There was a huge mule event going on the next weekend, and already the long eared beasts were showing up. I put the horses in the sand arena- Donnie rolled probably 10 times, jumped up, and then took off trotting. We were out of place with our spotted horse and my little Arabian pony compared to these giant mules. The people there were complementary- He did 100 miles? But he's so SMALL! That's what they all say. The fairgrounds at Winnemucca is a great place to stop for the night. We walked to downtown and had a nice vacation dinner at a Mexican place that was actually very good. Poor Judy- some vacation. 29 hours in a trailer, 3 days in ridecamp, and a Mexican dinner in Winnemucca. That's okay- there's next time. On Tuesday morning we drove on home, arriving in the afternoon. The two day trip is the ticket, and will be for future long distance events.
Suzanne Hayes and Sue Summers tied for the win with a ride time a hair short of ten hours, and Sue's horse Mag's Motivator (great name) would get the BC. Sixteen started the 100, 12 finished, and Kathleen did elevate up from the 80 and finished her first 100. Special thanks to Steph and John for putting on the ride. It was a great trail and a well done ride, and would make a great first 100, especially since you can choose to do the 80 and elevate to the 100 if your horse is looking good. If the ride were only a little closer to something, like California, say. The turnout was small, but all rides had excellent finishing percentages. No horse problems that I'm aware of, great trails, incredible scenery, plenty of water on the trail, (it would be kind of hard to have a ride full of horses drink the snake river), excellent vets and ride management- what else is there? Oh yes- the horse. It helps to have a horse like I do. He's sure fun to ride, and I hope to keep doing it for as long as possible. Next stop: Wild West 3 day, then Tevis.