Wild West ride
June 22-24, 2012
Robert and Melissa Ribley held the 14th or 15th or thereabouts annual Wild West 3 day Pioneer Ride at Skillman horse camp, out on highway 20, about 15 miles east of Nevada City. The ride has always been held over Memorial Day weekend, but the weather that early in the year can really be a factor. It is always really nice or really bad- not much in between. I have ridden there in the choking dust, pouring rain, wind, and snow many times. (Usually not at the same time!) They moved the ride out a month this year to help with the clearing of the trails. Robert does most of the trail clearing himself, and that’s a lot of work. This ride is a single track bonanza, and wouldn’t you know it, single track is my favorite.
Judy and Color could not make the trip, since Color’s sore hoof is still on the mend. I took Donnie up on Thursday morning by myself and found a nice, quiet, secluded spot in the woods to camp. Right! The place was absolutely packed. Melissa is the parking cop, and woe be it to you if you park someplace without her blessing. She stuck me in a nice spot, with enough room for Gretchen and Jackie’s rigs when they got there. Gretchen showed up in a while, but Jackie would not come until the next day. So much for her parking spot. I probably could have sold it for a ton of cash! (I would not do that to poor Melissa!) We used up every inch of space- at one point there were 3 rigs blocking me in. Full horse camps, the works. They were great- they approached me and said they would do what it took to get me out of there when I had to go. You always get to see and hear parking disasters here- the crunch of metal on trees is far too common. (And the cursing that always follows!)
We got a real treat when guess who pulls into camp with a horse- Julie Suhr was riding! The last ride she had completed was in 2008, so this was a pretty neat thing to see. (She has 30,000 miles!) She and Barbara had been doing a lot of riding, so she was going to give the 30 mile ride a try on Friday. Even though she tried to play it down, the camp was buzzing with the news- “Julie’s here, and riding? Really? Fantastic!” They parked in a temporary spot next to me that turned out to be their permanent camp. (Who’s going to evict her? I would have given her my spot if I could have gotten out!)
The weather on Thursday afternoon was nice- a little warm, perhaps 80 degrees, but very, very dry and dusty. That’s one downside of the date change; Sierra Nevada trail dust in the summer is the pits. On Friday morning at 7am Gretchen and I rode out of camp on the first of two loops on the 55 miler. We had a road warrior loop first, which consisted of lots of fire roads for about 20 miles. It was nice enough, and wound around through the forest, but it was only roads and was pretty dusty in spots. (At least we got to avoid that monster climb that used to be on the Scotts flat ride) We had a quick 30 minute hold before setting out on the second loop, the pink loop that was talking us to the meadow. This was the second year we got to go to Bear Valley, which is as nice a vet check/lunch stop as there is in all of the state. The second loop left lunch on single track, but then headed over to Omega road. Yuck. Three and a half miles of really hard pack gravel. It will be over soon. After a long, clomping trot we hung a right on the bear trail (I call it that ‘cause I saw a bear here once) and climbed back up to the highway rest stop (“Can we pet the horsie, please?”) then back across highway 20. Now we get the deluxe single track for about 10 miles out to the meadow. Really nice, but dusty for the people behind. Sorry Gretchen, but you know how much Donnie likes to be out front......... She put up with following my horse for most of the day. A long, downhill, switchback trail leads down to the one hour hold at the
meadow. It’s two way traffic, and can be a little hairy when you come across riders coming back up, but this year we had absolutely zero issues. Everyone was very good about giving way where they could. Once at the meadow we got to spend the one hour hold in the beautiful meadow in lush, green grass about three feet high. My buddy Rob Lydon vetted us through, and all too soon we were on our way back to camp and the finish. We missed a turn thanks to a pink forest service ribbon, but after wandering around for a bit got that figured out. The return trip was 12 miles or so of 100% single track. Oh yeah! We had to climb back up the long hill from the meadow, but once at the summit it’s a nice, slight downhill all the way to the finish. We finished at about 4:45 or so for a long day, but way more than half the ride was still behind us. The first thing I did was to ask about Julie’s ride- Melissa reported she finished just fine and had a wonderful ride. How cool is that! They had already left the camp, but their prime parking spot was quickly taken by a lucky rider. Every parking spot was full and then some. It was packed! Jackie had shown up during the day but was wedged tightly into a spot between some trees. A beer, a hot shower, dinner, walk the horses, ride meeting, and go to bed in that order. I went to bed before 9pm, and was sleeping soundly until about midnight, when I was awakened by, what is that? Yes, rain. It was raining, and reasonably hard. I hopped outside to give Donnie a better blanket, and in the morning I was glad I had. It was still raining lightly as we tacked up for day two, but it was more of a mist than rain. Okay, it was rain, but very light. It was in no way muddy or slippery, but just enough rain had fallen to make the footing perfect. Oh yummy!
Day two is a neat day that has a little of everything in it. We start out on forest roads for about 3-4 miles, then I hop off to lead down the gonzo downhill single track that every time I go down I’m thankful we don’t have to go up it. It’s long, twisty, and straight down through the trees. Really steep in spots. It ends at the river where the horses drink, then its straight back up that climb on the other side on a very long, steep uphill jeep road for a couple of miles. Donnie was blazing up the climb; I had to remind him to walk please, which he does. We pass by houses in the boonies that are accessed from this road, and finally arrive at the top and a water trough right across the highway. Big drinks all around, then it’s time for the wonderful single track that parallels the highway for about 5 miles. This trail is a blast, and the footing was perfect. We had somehow ended up with a pack of about 7 horses following me, which is a lot. We were going really fast, with me leading, just flying down this trail, when we came across Bill Gore taking pictures as he always does. The group flashed by, all smiles, but it turns out the woman who was in the rear of our group had her horse slip and fall right in the turn where Bill was. She hit hard and injured her shoulder and probably got a concussion. Bill helped her out and brought her back to the vet check to get help. That’s what good people do. I never even knew it happened until after the ride! We got to the vet check for our 30 minute hold, and once done, we decided to split up. It’s just too hard to ride with a group that big. I went with Jackie and our new friend Marina from Canada, while Gretchen joined up with Cassandra DiMaggio. We went and rode the next loop that takes you downhill to the spotters and water, more single track and forest roads for about 12 miles, back to the spotter, then back up to the vet check for lunch. (I showed Jackie where Zayante had been stuck in a bog one year- yuck) The weather was perfect and the footing great. The trail now heads back to camp along the several miles of single track along the highway, which is fun on its own, but then we get treated to the flume trail. This baby is a tight, narrow, single track on an elevated ridge in the forest that runs alongside an old logging flume. It’s a tight, twisty, knee knocker as you slalom along between the trees.
Some people don’t like trotting on this trail, but, well, trot we must! This goes for a couple of great miles, then it’s up the beautiful halleluiah hill single track to the final couple of miles of single track to the finish. (another bear trail) It was faster today- we finished around 1:45, except poor Gretchen and Cassandra, who were behind us, took a wrong turn at the top of the hill and went out on the orange loop for a long while before turning around and making it to the finish. Tonight was the pot luck dinner, which is always good. Our neighbors brought this homemade chili that was excellent. More walking of amazing horses, the ride meeting, a few minutes around the camp fire, but then back to bed.
Sunday morning brought more perfect weather, but some of the trails in the sunlight were getting dusty in spots after only one day. Today for our first loop we got a forest loop, then back out to the meadow again on the second loop. Gretchen, Jackie, and I headed out at 7am on single track right from the start for about 3 miles over to the overflow parking at the overlook, then climbed back up over the top of Halleluiah hill and to the water stop. From here we usually head out on some roads and to a mix of trails and roads for the loop, but this year Robert had something else in mind. He had said in the meeting “I hope ‘yall like single track- the orange loop is pretty good.” He went nuts! Once we dipped into the forest we were in a maze of single track trails that even I could not figure out. I have ridden here a lot, and we went places I have never been. Left, right, between bushes, over bushes, trees, up, down, bike trails, horse trails, no trails- we were on a deep forest adventure that I could not believe. We must have made a hundred turns in that 7-8 miles. It was somewhat slow going, but was some of the neatest trail riding I have done. (With the exception of the surly bees that attacked us a bit!) How do people find these trails? They joked the map was a “generalization.” Right. I’d challenge anyone to map that trail. Most of it was on trails without names, and if you used a GPS and did a plot it would look like the track was made by a drunken fly. It was really, really fun. We left the trees and lush forest behind and had an hour lunch at camp. I told Robert that he better never, ever, change or remove that orange loop from the ride. So what if it took a month to clear and mark? (Thanks Robert!) The last loop was modified a bit for the better. Robert removed the almost pavement like Omega road, so the trip to the meadow was 100% single track all the way out and back. This day really is the single track day. We rode out up the Pioneer trail again, heading up to the high country. The trail down to the meadow was quite a bit more beat up than it was on Friday- I was a little surprised how trashed it had become with the rocks buried under the silt. The dust was back after only one day- sorry Gretchen. Her horse Spice is not really thrilled to be out front- that’s my rationalization for being in front all weekend. (Donnie’s favorite spot!) We spent our hold letting the horses eat that lush grass in the meadow, then moseyed back up the long trail to the summit, and then re-traced the trail all the way back to camp. Bill Whitlock had been riding with us for a lot of the day; with about 8 miles to go he went in front and whoosh- gone. He reported having a lot of fun blazing in on his still fresh horse. We trotted the whole way back in and to the finish of the third day.
Donnie looked like he always does- ready to keep going. (Robert- maybe a 5 day?) Its nice when you are done- toss the tack in the trailer and forget about it. Let the horse roll (10 times!) Have several beers, kick back at the dinner, and then when the awards are over, sit and listen to the musicians they had come out to entertain us around the camp fire. Not a bad way to spend an evening.
Do I like this ride? I’d say so. After this year I am 24 for 24 at 50’s here, and Donnie is 15 for 15. Not too shabby. Melissa is so cool- last year I jokingly griped that I have way too many 3 day sweatshirts in my closet, so she asked what I wanted instead? I said, half-jokingly, “a crew bag”? “Sure”, she replied. She got me a nice, big, red, crew bag with the Wild West logo and Donnie’s name embroidered on it that I now use on every ride. Is that neat ,or what? This year I said, “Ho hum, another sweatshirt”, half fishing for another nice prize. She said “What do you want this year?” “How about a hay bag”? “You got it.” This is great! Next year it will be a monogrammed 911 turbo. I will be here next year. (If not only to get some more of those cool etched glass giant beer mugs!)
Next stop- Tevis number 10.
Nick Warhol Hayward, Ca.