January 17 2018
by Nick Warhol
The weather gods smiled on us last weekend. It rained like mad in the Bay area for a couple of days, as well as throughout the whole state of California; that almost never happens. The desert got almost 24 hours of solid rain. And then it stopped! I drove down from the Bay Area to Ridgecrest on Wednesday in perfect weather with the two horses and my brand new dirt bike. Fire Mountain ride manager Gretchen Montgomery and her husband Mike put me and my horses up at their place for a couple of days before the ride. Their house is a 3-minute walk to the ride camp. On Thursday morning the sun was out, it was about 55 degrees, and zero wind. I set out on the brand spanking new KTM with zero miles on the knobbies to help with the trail marking for the ride and was treated to about the best conditions possible. There is nothing like riding anything, be it horse, dirt bike, mountain bike, quad, dune buggy, monster truck, even a big wheel in the wet desert. It did not hurt riding the new bike that is VERY nice. I spent a few hours working on the trail, touching up the ribbons, and then just went riding. And just kept riding till it got dark. I was out there for most of the day just enjoying the stunning desert on the new bike.
Friday morning I had to grudgingly park the orange 2 wheeler and concentrate on the horses. In the morning Gretchen rode Donnie out with me on Sorsha for a warm up ride that went well. I went and did errands and moved my rig over to the base camp, a block from Gretchen’s place. Convenient! I took FEI gun Mike Tomlinson out in a side-by-side to have a look at the trail which he declared marked. Co-ride manager Brian Reeves and I did a couple of errands for Gretchen, then I walked over to get my horses and bring them to the camp. Just as I arrived so did Judy, who drove down on Friday with Kristin Ojala from the Bay Area with her spunky mare Lani. We vetted the horses in, and I had a little “airs above the ground” with Sorsha on my trot back- she was jumping around like a bit of a Lipizzaner. Hoo boy! We spent a nice evening in the party bus of Barry and Jennifer Waitte- that thing is seriously plush! For those of you who know those guys know that their wine is always pretty good! Bob Spoor, Shellie Hatfield, Jenni Smith, Kristin, and (sorry, I can’t remember his name) got treated to dinner. Nice!
The 50 started saturday at 7am- Judy on mister Donnie and me leading the big, brown (excited) girly horse on foot for a bit. She is still just too excited in camp and at the start. I hopped on after about a half a mile and then it’s all good. We were in the back of the herd as we went out on the green loop, the more technical of the three. The desert was in perfect condition- wet from a drenching rain meant no dust, no deep sand, no mud, just perfection. The trail climbs up a small range and through a short rocky section, maybe a half mile, but that’s about it for this ride. You get dumped back into the splendid wet desert for a while heading out towards highway 395, but not across it. An ever smiling Bill Gore was out snapping the pics. The trail turns back towards town and after a water stop, we head down what used to be called Nazi canyon, where idiots had spray painted all kinds of trash on the rocks. Gretchen recently led a team up there and cleaned off just about all the graffiti. Very nice! Its twisty and rocky for a bit but opens up into a nice, big, fast slightly downhill wash. At about mile 13 I was in front on Sorsha booming right on down the wide wash at a big trot when she spooked big at something that I sure did not see. She did not fall off of me, it was the other way around! Yes, I bit the dust at a pretty good speed. Whammo on the ground I went, landing hard on my left hip. I actually rolled at least once given the speed we were going, hitting my helmet on the ground. Sorry Abbas! (He gave me that helmet) She did not go anywhere, in fact somehow I still had the rein in one hand. I got up slowly and walked on down the wash on foot for a bit, then hopped back up and let Judy lead for a while. At least I wasn’t really hurt! That’s the first time coming off of her from a spook. Judy was behind me and said she just launched at nothing Judy had seen. We hit camp in just under 3 hours for a quick 30-minute hold. Both beasts looked great, so out we went on the second loop on orange ribbon. This is a cool 15 mile loop in that its mostly nice trottable desert trail, and some great single track. It winds up through the moon rocks south of town, out into the open desert, and then back through the rocks on neat twisty trails. Yippee! Judy and I traded places in front, but my big, brown, girly horse was done with spooking. I noticed my hip was starting to hurt pretty badly; the Advil in my camper was calling to me. We headed down into camp, but Judy noticed her right foot was hurting a bit from being kind of sideways on the stirrup. She could trot, but it was hurting her somewhat. I got my drugs and went to vet the horses while Judy rested up and wrapped her foot. Both horses were perfect. The hour lunch was nice, and even better when the Advil kicked in and I was not in quite so much pain. We headed out onto the best loop in the ride, the pink loop that consists of almost all nice trotting on rolling desert. We trotted out the first 10 miles or so, but I noticed that my Advil was wearing off. (I should have brought some with me) I could ride, but it hurt. Especially when walking downhill- there was some kind of little movement that caused a nice little spike of pain. We made the turn at the far end of the loop and headed back towards camp with about 8 miles to go. The sun was low on the horizon, and the trail headed due west right into the sun. It’s a great trail out here- single track across the dez on rolling ground. Judy’s foot started to bother her again, and I’m hurting- what a pair we made. We decided to slow down and do more walking for her, but it was actually better for me to trot. I’d hop off of Sorsha and lead her on foot until my hip was hurting, then I’d get back on till that hurt, then back off, etc, etc. The sun was now setting, and lo and behold, what do we have here? Ride management to the rescue! Brian Reeves and John Rice appeared in a side-by-side with glow bars. I didn’t really need them, knowing pretty much every square inch of the area out here, but that was nice of them to do for us. Especially since they did not have enough, and they started hanging them too early, so they actually went back to the ones they put up that were behind us, took them down, leap frogged ahead of us, and put them up back in to camp. Now that’s service!
We trotted a little, but mostly walked the last 5 miles or so into camp and arrived just after dark at about 6pm. I trotted Sorsha for Mike the vet, and that was a mistake. Not for her, but for me! Ouch! Brian came to the rescue and trotted Donnie for us. Both horses were perfect, Sorsha was 40 pulse at the finish. She’s ready for the 100 next month! (I will be!)
The idea of riding the next day sounds good until the next day came. I was very sore, and Judy’s foot was in need of some healing. We packed up and drove home, calling Saturday a success. Judy finished her second 50 on her comeback, and now Sorsha has 400 miles. Thank goodness I did not get really hurt, and that I have an Advil injury. Its three days later and I’m still sore but its improving. I’ll be ready to ride in a week after the ponies have had their break. Then its down to the 20 mule team 100 where I get to ride that superb new KTM for a couple hundred miles marking the trail before doing the 100. It’s the best weekend of the year!
Thanks to Gretchen and her crew- they put on a great ride that I recommend highly. It’s a fun ride, especially when the desert gods smile and make it wet out there. I hope we get the same next month!