Friday, March 02, 2018

20 mule team 100, 2018 Ridgecrest, CA - Nick Warhol

March 2 2018

I have always said this is the best week of the year for me. I get to spend a week in my beloved desert doing my two favorite pastimes- riding Endurance and riding my dirt bike. This year was my 19th time at this ride- that sure seems like a lot! I have been working on the trail since 2001 on the bike; I go down early and mark the trail for two and a half days, doing a couple hundred miles on two wheels, then do the ride on Saturday.

I brought Donnie and Sorsha down to Ridgecrest on Tuesday with an uneventful 8 hour drive and checked into the Montgomery Hilton again- thanks Gretchen and Mike!

This year I got some great help on the trail- my buddy Dino Trefiletti came up from Las Vegas with his dirt bike to help me out and get a chance to ride in the area. Dino and I were racing buddies in the 70’s which seems like a lifetime ago. We had a really fun time out in the desert on the bikes marking the trail, (I only crashed once!) with one exception that turned into a benefit! On the way into town I stash gas for the bikes, lunch for us, and additional ribbons and chalk at the second vet check on the big loop so we can resupply along the way, just like in Master and Commander. (Refit at sea, right?)

On Thursday about noon we pulled into the 30-mile vet check on the bikes and went to get my hidden supplies. The gas can was there, but somebody had opened up my bags and taken all the food, water, Gatorade- basically anything to eat or drink. They left me the ribbons thank you very much. Groan- what kind of idiots do this? Dino came up with the right suggestion- since my new KTM is street legal, we jumped on the highway and rode up to the tiny town of Randsburg and had a really great lunch in the only place open in town- a funky bar. We had these amazing homemade burritos, and the beer sure tasted good!

On Friday morning Gretchen and I had to go out to distribute hay to the water stops and mark the 6 miles of trail on bicycles that we can’t use the dirt bikes on anymore. A sign of the times indeed. Dino helped me a ton by going back out on Friday morning and pre-running the orange and blue loops to be sure they were still marked okay. He did have to fix some ribbons that were broken off by the wind and re-do some chalking on turns. He came back sounding like me- “This place has some GREAT trails!” He was pretty blown away by the whole concept of endurance riding. He made me laugh on Friday afternoon when we were in line for the vet in. I explained what we were doing- the vets making sure the horse is okay to start the ride. His response? “Oh, right, just like tech inspection!” Yep, exactly! Once a desert racer, always a desert racer. Thanks Buddy!

Judy drove down on Thursday to try the 100 on my Donnie, her first attempt at a 100 in ten years. It would be Sorsha’s first attempt at a 100, and I looked forward to the company and mentorship of my best boy for my big, brown, girly horse’s first attempt. She still can get a little amped at the start, but is slowly improving, I think. The darn horse keeps getting stronger and stronger! That’s a good thing. Mostly. Except at the start. She has a LOT of horsepower, this brown one. Judy and I led the horses over from Gretchen’s to the fairgrounds on Friday afternoon in a small but quick blizzard! Well, not really, just a few flurries, but it was actually snowing on us a bit.

Judy and I started out on the 100 Saturday morning at 6am in about 38 degrees, but no wind. It was actually pretty nice once you get trotting. The desert was beautiful- just as perfect as it gets in the early morning. We started out at the back of the pack with me leading on foot for a half mile or so until I hopped on the brown horse. Once I’m up and we are moving she is really good. I followed Donnie for the first few miles at a moderate pace, but unfortunately Judy was feeling pretty poorly. She was not sick like having the flu or a cold, but she was feeling really nauseous. We are not sure what it was, but she felt rotten and was not comfortable. We slowed down and made it into the first vet check at 15 miles as the last riders. She thought about continuing for a while but eventually decided to stop here, a good choice. She could not eat, and that’s a requirement. You might be able to tough out the last 15 miles, but not the next 85.

Special thanks to Laura Fend who, when she heard Judy was sick, drove out to the check to wait in the cold with Donnie for the trailer so Judy could get in a warm car and back to camp. That’s good Endurance People!

Sorsha’s pulse was 36/36 and she was EDPP. (that’s eating, drinking, peeing, and pooping for you non endurance folks. It’s what you want!) I hooked up with Brenna Sullivan, who I rode with last year, who was riding her new gelding Ranger on his first attempt at a 100 as well. He was happy to have my girly horse as a buddy- we rode at a nice moderate pace up past Sheep Springs and through the El Paso mountain pass, across the one nasty rocky section, then down in to the second vet check on Garlock road. The two ponies were going along well together, but man, they were sneering at each other! When riding side by side it was like an ugly horse face contest. For hours! You would think they would get tired of that. It made me want to tell them both that “If you keep doing that your face will freeze like that!” I bet their ear muscles were sore on Sunday morning! I kept apologizing for Sorsha’s attitude, but Brenna kept telling me that Ranger was egging her on. Maybe he has a crush on her! She is pretty cute!

We rode on down the two mile downhill to vet 2 on Garlock road, the site of my felony lunch theft. Gretchen on her mare Coquette was about 13 minutes ahead of us here in the check, so she waited a bit and joined Brenna and I for the duration. Her hubby Mike brought out a huge bag of McDonalds breakfast burritos- I ate three. What a treat! The wind was starting to pick up as we left on the flats and headed east along the railroad tracks towards the infamous “Rattlesnake Canyon.” I call it that since I have seen Mojave Green rattlers in there 2 of the last 5 years. None this year, thank goodness, probably too cold.

It’s a long climb trot/walk/trot/walk to the top and water, then its down back into the main valley and towards the third check at the 395 north crossing at 55 miles. The weather was strange- when the wind was at your back it was quite tolerable, but when you headed into the wind it was cold! I hopped off Sorsha to walk the last quarter mile to the check and landed in a Creosote bush that ripped my tights and jabbed a huge hole in the back of my leg. That felt good, blood and everything. The bush was probably getting even with me for all the ones I ran into as a kid.

After an uneventful vet check we trotted on down through town and made it to base camp at 65 miles just as the sun was setting for our hour hold. Well, 50 minutes. I was not crazy about the change in hold times. I like those extra 10 minutes in the long holds, and prefer the 15 minute short holds at the others. We tacked back up in the dark, bundled up, and headed back out into the wind for the last 35 miles. Sorsha was a bit nervous as we went through town in the wind, so I followed my buddies, but she settled nicely as we entered the desert.

The loop headed east for a few miles with the wind at our backs, and I was comfortable wearing 2 layers and a ski jacket. It was about 39 degrees when we left with a strong wind. I KNEW that in just a bit we would be making a u-turn and head due west, right smack into that wind for a couple of hours. And we did. Yuck, that was cold with the wind in your face. I wisely wore a pair of dirt bike goggles out from camp, and I was not sorry. The wind would have killed my eyes. I was actually comfy except for cold toes. (those vented trail running shoes, don’t you know.)

Sorsha really came into her own at night- she quit being spooky and led our trio a whole lot of the last loop. She is SO forward! She just leaps back into her trot- I love that! It was at about 70 miles that I started noticing my problem. She spooked me off at Fire Mountain about 5 weeks ago and I whacked my hip pretty hard upon landing. It is not healed yet as I woefully discovered. The motorcycling and the first 65 miles did not bother me, but now it started to hurt, and Advil did not help this time. About halfway down the long, long, ridge-top Boundary road I discovered that I could not keep trotting. A half a mile was about it before It hurt too much. I’d have to stop and walk for a few minutes, but walking on foot helped the most.

We crossed the highway and continued on up into the neat canyons, doing more and more walking. By the time we got down into the main valley again I was down to about a quarter mile of trotting until it hurt too much to keep up the trot. Sorsha was great- she wanted to go, now, all day and night. I’d get off and walk a quarter mile every now and then- that really helped, but it slowed us down. We rolled into the last vet check at mile 90 at about 1am or so with only 10 miles to go. It was a long, cold, 30-minute hold that I wish was quicker. The horses had blankets, but I didn’t! Susan McCartney took Sorsha’s pulse- 32. Wow is all I can say. My buddy Dave Cootware said “Maybe you ought to slow down some!” We were all pretty amazed.

Its normally about an hour in from the highway, but it took us about 90 minutes due to the walking I had to do. Now I was down to a couple hundred yards of trotting before my hip lit up. My riding buddies were great and very patient with me the lame-o. We eventually made it back to town, and down the last streets into the fairgrounds and the finish before 3am. We all made it! The horses all looked great!

I quickly put my girly horse up for the night and hit the warm camper. Sleep, sleep, sleep. I got up at about 7:30 for the best ride breakfast in existence (catered by a local Mexican restaurant) and the awards ceremony. Brian and Val Reeves and their crew do an amazing job at this ride- its so much work you can’t comprehend it. I hate to sound like a broken record, but my horse looked barely ridden. She’s pretty amazing.

I had a good ride, although I will admit that I don’t like it when I’m the weak link in the team. I’m not used to that happening. We could have easily finished a couple of hours sooner had it not been for my stupid hip. Oh well, its part of the game, as is aging, I guess. Both Sorsha and I will get a month off now and with any luck I’ll get better. Congratulations to Jenni Smith who got third and BC on her Super Size. He looked so cool at the BC showing. Totally relaxed, almost sleepy looking, yet super strong! Kristin Ojalla finished her first 100 on Lani (first for both of them). Brenna’s horse Ranger finished his first 100, and Coquette finished another one, her third or fourth I think. Dean Moon also finished the 100 on his horse Cassie’s first 100. Gary Fend got pulled when Frosty came up lame at 35 miles on the 50, Frost’s first pull I think. That’s unfortunate, but also part of the game.

This ride really is the best first 100 for horse and rider I have ever seen. We work hard to make it a good experience, and this year it went off really well with the weather mostly cooperating. (I have seen it a LOT worse!) As I told Brian- the glow bars were perfect! And now my big, brown, girly horse has her first 100 under her saddle pad, so Tevis is coming up.............

Nick Warhol
West region

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