Thursday, July 25, 2013

25th annual Vermont 100 Endurance Ride and Run - Nancy Sluys

June 20,2013
   Last Wednesday Bill and I and my horse Zanie (FYF InZane+) left on a journey to the  25th annual Vermont 100  endurance ride and run.  After doing the ride with cracked ribs last year (thrown from my youngster 2 weeks before) I was looking forward to a much easier time of it but as we know there are no easy 100s!!  Just the trip up there was a feat of endurance, the temperatures climbed to over 100 degrees in Pennsylvania as we drove for about 9 1/2 hours from North Carolina. We stayed over at a nice horse hotel just over the NJ border   where Zanie had a pasture and run in shed.   Another 6 ½ hours the next day and the heat was still high, even when we arrived at the ride camp in Vermont.  We had taken Zanie off to rest and graze several times during the trip and she came off the trailer looking great.

  The area had been receiving way too much rain and the camping fields were muddy but ride management managed to tuck everyone in somewhere.   We were happy to find ourselves camped near several other friends from North Carolina, Mike and Ruth Anne Everett, Vic Stine and Leigh Ann Pauley.   We totally baked in the heat setting camp until a big storm came and cooled things off a bit, although it blew things around camp and made the fields even more slippery.   
  The next day Ruth Anne and I took a warm up ride and our horses were getting along very nicely and seemed very well matched in pace. We made a decision to ride together as long as it was working for both of us, if not we would split. We both have the same philosophies of pacing and we both wanted to go home happy with a completion. Riding as a team sounded like a good way to share a good time and help each other along the way. Our husbands Mike and Bill could help each other out with the crewing too.

   We got our horses vetted in and headed over to the runner tent to check out the scene and get some t-shirts. Later at the ride briefing it was discovered that several of the hold and pit crew areas had been changed at the last minute due to the wet weather. The weather report for race day was to be in the mid to upper 80s with 60% chance of severe thunderstorms. It would be a bit cooler than the previous days, but still quite hot, especially with the extremely high humidity.  We would have to be careful and not let the heat build in our horses.  

  We had another big thunderstorm in the night that broke up our sleep. The 3:30 feed time came all too soon and as the runners were leaving out at 4AM there were fireworks shot off from across the valley to celebrate the 25th anniversary.   Another round of fireworks for the horses at 5AM and the 100 mile riders were off down the road. Ruth Anne and I settled near the back at the start so as not to get caught up with the front runners After a mile or two on the road we headed single file onto a dark woods trail as the sun came up , the horse in front of us was cantering and Ruth Anne’s horse, Jax, was getting a bit excited on the narrow trail so we backed off and tried to get some space.  About this time we started to catch up with the slower runners. We broke out into some fields and then eventually to a paved road that took us right into the town of Woodstock. After we crossed a big steel bridge we had a 10 minute stop and go hold at mile 14 at the Billings Farm Museum parking lot and our crews were there to meet us. Zanie and Jax were relaxed and even ate a few bites and drank.  We continued down the paved road out of town and turned onto some gravel roads past some beautiful New England farms. The scenery was just like a movie!

   Our first vet check hold at 19 miles was in an open field at Galaxy Hill Farm. Vic and Leigh Ann arrived shortly after we did and looked like they were having a good ride, they had no crew but seemed to be handling it. Our horses recovered immediately and we wasted no time getting to the pulse timers and the vets.  Leigh Ann was not so lucky as her horse had developed a bad rub from the clip of an Easyboot she was carrying in her cantle bag. Sadly she decided to pull so as not to make it worse. After she returned her horse to camp however she switched gears and crewed for Vic for the rest of the ride who then hooked up with Dawn and Dean Hilliard so her horse would have some company.

   Jax and Zanie were pacing well and we took turns taking the lead as we headed down a dirt road after leaving vet check one. We turned into the woods and started climbing on a steep jeep trail, which soon broke out into open meadows. This was the place they call “Sound of Music Hill” where the Sound of Music was filmed (I think). We took our time through this section of beautiful open vistas and took advantage of the meadow grass to graze our horses while we enjoyed the view! It was so beautiful to watch the runners and the horses climbing and descending through the fields against the backdrop of the Green Mountains. It is said that this is one of the highest points on the course at 1,946’. I took lots of pictures here! After leaving the high point we had a really steep descent for a couple of hundred yards where the horses had to hunker down and slide on their butts down the slippery, muddy trail. We also encountered several challenging bogs throughout the morning, making slow going.

   In addition to the vet check holds there are a number of designated pit crew locations throughout the course where your crew can meet you with supplies. Also along the way the local folks put out water tanks for the horses and some even offer to hose your horse off which was most welcome in the heat of the day.  Runners aid stations offer fruit, drinks and other goodies along the way so you are never far from some kind of support. At this point in the ride we start realizing that we keep passing the same runners over and over again. They do not have mandatory holds so will pass us only to be overtaken again later when our hold is over.  This developed a comradery among the runners and riders. When we rode through one of the designated crew areas for the runners there would be people lining the road for almost a half a mile and they would clap and shout “good job riders!!” Some even had cow bells, it was like being in the Tour De France!!
   It was 23 long, steep up and down miles to Vet Check #2 at 42 miles, which had been changed to the GMHA (Green Mt Horse Assoc) parking lot because of mud at the original location. There were 2 pit crew stops in between at 34 and 38 miles where Bill and Mike were able to meet us. They were a welcome sight when we turned onto Grassy Lane after a tough 15 miles.  We hung out for 10 minutes or so and recharged the horses and ourselves. It was late morning but the sun was getting hot already. Since the horses had drank and eaten well and it was only 4 miles down the trail we decided to have the guys skip the next pit crew stop and go right to the hold at GMHA instead which was only 7 miles away.  We had a lot of challenging trail on this section but then we came out onto a paved road for a short way and across a real Vermont covered bridge. Jax wasn’t too sure about it but Zanie remembered it from last year and walked across with no hesitation giving Jax courage to follow.  A spectator took some pictures of  me and  Ruth Anne with my camera for us, it was a real tourist moment!  We caught a good view of the river before continuing up on some more steep gravel roads. We started to regret our decision to skip that pit crew spot! We took time to graze the horses several times who were getting hungry. We finally made it to the vet check and the boys were happy to see us as it had taken more time than we had expected to cover that tough 7 miles. There was lush grass at GMHA and Bill and Mike grazed the horses the whole time while we took care of ourselves.

    The next hold at “Mitchells” at mile 60 was 19 miles away and this leg turned out to be our low point of the ride. It was reaching mid afternoon the temperatures were rising. There was a stiff breeze but it was like a blast furnace drying out our horses and our selves. I couldn’t drink enough and I was developing a slight headache. There were long boggy sections where we could make no time at all and a long uphill road in the open sun called Agony Hill for good reason! The horses were taking it slow and conserving in the heat of the day, it seemed like we were just inching along. A pit stop seven miles in was well needed. Later on the rider trail deviated from the runner trail onto a woods path and we thought that it was the trail to vet check #3. It went on for several miles and was boggy the whole way further slowing our pace. When we came out to a gravel road we realized that we were not there yet.  

   Things started to seem like they were changing for the better when a light rain started to fall, cooling the air to a comfortable level until the sky decided to open up and dump on us. I got my raincoat out but by the time I had it on I was already drenched. The wind got cool and I worried that it might chill our horse’s wet muscles so we tried to maintain a trot as best as we could with the challenging terrain. The shower only lasted about 20 minutes and it cooled things off but we were drenched to the bone and still weren’t to the vet check yet. We started to question if we had missed something back a ways. There were no ride maps so I did not have a visual of the course or even a written description, only my dim memories from last year and it felt like we should have been there. We were on a gravel road but had not seen any street signs for a long time so we were a bit disoriented. Ruth Anne had the smarts to ask a runner what the mileage on her GPS was and she said 60 miles. That was a relief as our next hold was at 60 and the runner’s mileage is a little different than ours since we have different stops. We came to an intersection of Puckerbush Road and I remembered that from last year so I knew we were close and that the vet check would be on the left. We were so glad when we finally saw it!  It had taken us 3 1/2 hours to cover that 19 miles and I thought that wasn’t bad considering all the obstacles we encountered. We had ridden it as smart as we knew how, trotting where we could and walking where we had to and allowing the horses to graze along the way. The heat and the mud had slowed us down but we were still making steady progress.  The horses were looking good and getting all As on their vet cards, we were doing a good job.

   It seemed to take forever to change out of my wet clothes in the front seat of the pick up truck, my tights sticking to my wet legs when I tried to pull them off, putting on a dry pair was no easier.  Dry socks felt like heaven and so did a dry pair of boots. We were refreshed and ready for our trek to the next vet check. It was a short leg of only 10 miles and was mostly dirt roads so we decided to pick up the pace just a little. By now we have figured out that Jax likes the roads and Zanie is best on the technical trails so we would put the best horse for the terrain in front, Jax led most of the way through this part. We came through another big runner crew area and got the cheers again with some people recognizing us from earlier in the day.  Those folks really know how to party, a bit further down the trail we came to an aid station called Margaritaville where they serve margaritas (mostly to the crews I would guess). We rode through some high dollar farms and past Tuacknback where the vet check is normally held on an expansive green lawn but due to the wet weather it had been changed to Spring Brook Farm just down the road. 

   A lot of folks had trouble at this vet check as it was just at the end of the hottest part of the day and the horses were showing signs of stress. There were several pulls and they held my card because the vet thought Zanie’s gut was a little slow. She had been eating great all day but we had not taken the time to graze on that shorter 10 mile loop and were now paying the price. Back at the truck Zanie was eating like crazy and I wasn’t worried about her gut at all. We later re-presented and she passed just fine. As we left Spring Brook Farm the sun was getting low in the sky and we knew we were over the worst of the day and looking forward to the night riding.  We rode through some beautiful woods trails and some fields with the setting sun peaking through the trees and the nearly full moon rising in the sky. It was a beautiful moment I’ll remember. The horses had picked up energy and were eager to move forward. A bit of trail and some more roads and we came to a pit crew stop at Smoke Rise Farm, Steve Rojek’s farm, which we rode through after our men crewed for us. The owls were hooting and some other bird unknown to us was calling as we rode into the darkness. The next crew stop was another 5 miles down the trail and was right near the ride camp and we thought our horses would think that they were finished but after that you turned away and did 22 more of some of the toughest miles. Zanie remembered the course from last year and readily turned away from camp without a moment’s hesitation. The horses were picking up energy with the nighttime and we made sure to stop and graze periodically to keep the energy going. Jax would lead on the roads and Zanie would lead in the woods, we worked like a team, it was unspoken. The horses were becoming stronger and stronger. We came on some other riders, the first we had seen in many hours, but their horses were tired and we went on by. The moon was high and beautiful by the time we rode into O&H Farm for our 5th and final hold. Zanie was back to all As on her vet card and was looking great. My headache was gone but I hadn’t been able to eat in a while and was fearing for my stomach.  The hold was only 30 minutes and soon we were ready to go back out and finish it up we were told that we were in 5th and 6th place and that gave us some incentive. “Take me home Zanie” I said and we set out for our last 12 miles. We climbed and climbed and climbed some more but the horses were strong and they offered to trot up the hills  at least part way, they could feel the pull of camp. On the flats (what little there was!) they cantered and trotted. At one point my stomach started to feel really bad, we had followed and then passed a bunch of runners who were wearing red blinky lights on their backs and it had made me feel a little woosey for about a half an hour.  Then we came to a woods trail and I put Zanie in front, we both remembered this turn as the trail to camp, I felt better. We passed a sign that said one mile to go and we knew we were going to finish this thing! The last mile was really rough and washed out and you had to be really careful, one bad step here and all dreams will be shattered. We were so close, we would be careful.

About 100 yards before the finish line we came around a corner ran smack into #3 and #4. Our horses were ready to pass but we held them back, no racing allowed at this finish line, too congested with people and horses. We accepted our place and happily tied for 5th. Ruth Anne smiled at me and said, “it’s just nice to know how close we had come to the front and that we rode the perfect ride!”  “Yeah, I know!” I said and it was the perfect ride! We saw a lot of great scenery, met a lot of great people, took great care of our horses, paced a good great and came in looking great! What could be better?
Happy trails, Nancy Sluys & Zanie  (FYF InZane+)

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