Thursday, March 01, 2018

2018 20 Mule Team 100!

Lucy Trumbull photo

March 1 2018
by Andrea Maitland

It’s taken 3+ years, 3 attempts, a lot of blood, sweat, and a broken bone in lieu of tears...but I’m finally a 100 Mile Rider, and Lilly is a 100 Mile Horse! Time to recap our adventure of the Twenty Mule Team 100 :)

Thursday – Travel Day

Mike, Dogs, Stang, and I hit the road around 730 AM, and within a couple hours my trusty (and fast-driving) ride partner Kim Lipko had caught up with us on the I-10 near the California border. About half-way there we stopped and let the horses out to stretch their legs, and put Lilly into Kim’s trailer so she could travel the rest of the way with Nort. Those two dorks fell instantly (back) in love, and were pretty ridiculous together for the entire adventure. Lilly loves Nort. Nort loves Lilly. Seriously ridiculous. But they travel like champs together, and pace well together, so we put up with the When-Harry-Met-Sally-But-With-More-Romance foolishness :)
Ridecamp is at the fairgrounds in Ridgecrest, pretty smack dab between BFE and No-wheres-ville, but there’s plenty of space for rigs, a large arena for turnout, and easy access to life’s necessities like really good Mexican food and Walmart. Or just really good Mexican food. We got to camp mid-afternoon, commandeered two prime locations along the fence line that offered decent protection from the inevitable wind, our own private water spigot, and some safe space for the dogs to do their business. We quickly set up camp, turned the horses out into the arena to stretch their legs (and then spent 10 extra minutes trying to catch the lovesick fools who did not want to be caught), and then headed to the aforementioned good Mexican restaurant for a hearty dinner as no one wanted to cook. The winds were howling, and Kim kept us updated on the forecast for Saturday. Unfortunately the forecast changed about every 30 minutes, and really wasn’t going to change any of our ride plans…but we were hoping for a low wind type of day (Spoiler Alert – our hopes were dashed).

Friday – Prep Day and Check In

The horses ate and drank well overnight and we were all pretty refreshed on Friday. We turned them out into the arena again, and again spent an extra 15 minutes trying to catch them. I prepped my crew gear, including walking Mike through IN GREAT DETAIL his responsibilities. I even made him his own folder with several pages of detailed notes on how to prep the crew station for me, what to put out for Lilly, what to pack in the truck, etc. Mike then went the extra mile and did an extra level or organization to ensure he wouldn’t miss anything, as the first 3 vet checks were out on the trail. If it didn’t make it to the truck, it wasn’t coming – no pressure, right? Fortunately Kim’s husband, Garry, was also there to crew, and took Mike under his wing for the adventure. Mike and Garry crewed together at Virginia City, so Mike was somewhat familiar with the process. In VC though, Mike only needed to be responsible for my well-being, as I had a second crew member on Team Mustang who was in charge of Lilly. For 20MT, Mike was doing most of it. Other than tacking up and giving electrolytes, Mike was pit boss for the entire day. But I knew he could do it!

Kim and I took a quick pre-ride in the early afternoon, both Nort and Lilly got a nice massage from Kim, then it was check-in, vet in (Lilly pulsed in at 32, little superstar that she is), ride meeting, and bed time. My alarm was set for 4 AM, and despite the butterflies in my stomach and air of nervous anticipation, I actually managed to get a decent night’s sleep. Oh, and it snowed earlier in the day. Yikes.

Saturday – Race Day!

4 AM came early, and that 25 degree chill in the air was quite brisk. Lilly had eaten well, and scarfed down a couple pounds of carrots while I worked on getting dressed and prepped. Despite the cold morning, I opted to not start in fleece tights as I knew it would warm up to reasonable temps during the day and didn’t want to be bothered to change into lighter pants at one of the 3 out-checks. Fortunately there was no snow (or worse, rain) in the forecast, and only a light breeze to start us off. The real howling wind wasn’t due until later in the day (AKA too late to wuss out). Blankets off, tack and rump rugs on, and at 6 AM we were off! In addition to the 100 milers (which there were 30), the 65 Mile AERC and the 128K (80 Mile) FEI riders also started with us – big group! The plan was to take advantage of the cool morning and fresh pony legs, and set a nice brisk pace for the first 15 miles to get the edge off, before settling into the ‘100 mile trot’ for the rest of the ride. Like so many things, not everything went according to plan, but let’s not get ahead of myself.

Loop 1 Track 1, 0 - 15 Miles

No headlamps were needed as dawn wasn’t that far off, and we left the fairgrounds via a very calm and controlled start just after the main pack had left. Nort and Lilly walked out on a loose rein, with no jigging or ride start silliness. Always a bonus (specially with Snorty Norty) :-) After about a quarter mile we picked up an easy trot that led us through the outskirts of Ridgecrest and up into the foothills behind the city. Like most of the 20MT trail, the footing was excellent, mostly sandy (but not too deep) without many rocks to worry about. The 15 miles flew by easily, and before too long we were cruising into Vet Check 1. The wonderful thing about 20MT is that ALL vet checks are accessible by crew, and with the first 3 checks being out-checks, having crew to help is a bonus!
Mike and Garry met us at the check, and it mostly went off without a hitch. Mike was still getting his ‘crew legs’ underneath him, so I helped him vet Lilly through and get her set up at her station. It was only a 30 minute hold, so there wasn’t much time to rest other than to scarf down a PB&J, drink some Hammer Recoverite, say “Hi” to the pups who were pit-crewing from the truck, strap on the hydration pack, PEE, and swing on board to head out right on time!

Pro Tip: Keep track of your vet hold time, and be ready to hit the trail as soon as your time is up!

Loop 1 Track 2, 15 – 30 Miles

As it was still early in the ride, there hadn’t been enough time and miles to separate out everyone yet, so Kim and I found ourselves riding with other similarly paced horses on this loop, including the wonderful, amazing, indomitable, and AWESOME Lucy, and her equally AWESOME, handsome, and drool-worthy mount Fergus. Much more about Lucy and Fergus later, but (Spoiler Alert), they are the heroes of the story!

Although 20MT is known as a ‘flat desert ride’, there is some elevation change in terms of long graded hills. Not much in the steep stuff we normally think of as ‘climbing’, but definitely not terribly flat all the time. We spent some time on this loop doing more climbing, and seeing a few more rocks, but nothing out of the ordinary and still fairly easy terrain. Kim, Lucy, and I (and occasionally a few others throughout the loop) made good time into Vet Check 2, where our faithful crew was waiting for us. This was a 50 minute ‘tack off’ hold, so I helped Mike strip Lilly naked for her vetting, then made my way to rinse/repeat (with more rest this time) my routine of PB&J snacking, potty break, and pup petting.

Then – disaster struck! (well not quite disaster, but certainly extremely unfortunate and disappointing) – Nort was off during his vetting, needed a recheck, and was off again and therefore pulled. Drat! Up until this point Nort and Lilly were an inseparable husband and wife duo – she LOVES him. She doesn’t bite him. She actually nickers at him and winks at him (you horse people know what that means!). My first thought wasn’t “oh crap I’m heading out to do the next 70 miles without my riding buddy Kim” but “oh crap how am I going to convince Lilly to leave Nort behind at vet check??”…followed very closely by “Oh crap I’m on my own”.

Enter Lucy, 100 Mile Hero and Living Legend Fergus, Horse Extraordinaire. Lucy’s crew station had coincidentally been set up right next to us, so at the possibility that Nort was not able to continue, I asked her if she would mind if I rode with her, and she enthusiastically said ‘of course!’…whew! I figured I’d at least use Fergus to help pull Lilly out of the vet check, we’d hit the trail and go from there. I’ve ridden Lilly plenty of times on rides alone, but it is certainly comforting to hit the trail with the guidance of an expert. And with 5000 miles (including 12 100 mile completions, several of which were this ride), I couldn’t have been in better hands.

Loop 1 Track 3, 30-55 miles

This was the longest section of Loop 1, and though we started to head back towards ridecamp, both horses knew we were still heading AWAY and clearly being led out into the desert to die by the stupid riding monkeys. Much to my relief it was not difficult to get Lilly to leave vet check, and her beloved Nort. Fergus was NOT Nort, but she had been riding with him for the last few hours (and had actually met him back at Virginia City), so he was a barely passable replacement for her beloved. It took a few miles for her to get her mojo back and actually trot like her hooves weren’t made of lead, but eventually she and Fergus settled into a rather funky but effective pattern of traveling down the trail. Lucy calls Fergus the ‘worst pace setter ever’ and that probably isn’t far from the truth LOL – he’s terrible! But also adorable, affable, and super sweet, and Lilly really didn’t care that Fergus’ idea of pacing was blasting off at a 16+ mph trot for about a hundred yards, then dropping to a walk until Lilly passed him, then blasting off again. Although unconventional, this pace strategy actually kept both horses motivated to keep up with the other, and we ended up averaging a fairly decent pace for the 25-ish miles of this section. We were so fast that... previous ride partner-turned-crew Kim only saw us for 2 minutes at Vet Check 3 before we were out again! She had been expecting us to take about 4 hours or so to complete this section, but we did it in 3.5, and with only a 30 minute hold we were basically done before she got there. Bye Kim (and Mike, who once again did a stellar job at solo crewing during this hold), see you all back at camp!

Loop 1 Track 4, 55-65 miles

Last section of Loop 1! Only 10 miles, and essentially the same section we would ride again in the dark coming back into camp the final time (Vet Checks 3 and 5 were in the same place). This made it nice for the horses, as they got to see the trail first in the daytime, and would be familiar with the way home when it was dark, cold, and the riders were potentially sleeping (AKA Lucy a few years prior!). The trail was up and over a final ridge, then following the same route back to the fairgrounds that we rode out of in the morning, and into our second ‘tack off’ 50 minute hold of the ride. Kim was there to meet me, and thankfully took over ‘horse crewing’ duties from Mike and got Lilly stripped and vetted in while I trudged back to the trailer.

In addition to the ubiquitous PB&J, I added some caffeine to this hold (Pro Tip via Julia Lynn), stripped out of all of my current ride clothes, took a quick baby-wipe bath and then started adding layers. And layers. And. More. Layers. Up until this point the winds had been manageable – chilly but not too heavy, but they were starting to pick up and were expected to gust at 30-40+ mph into the night. My fleece tights went on, plus more top layers than I care to count, and I sent my heaviest ski jacket out with Mike in case I needed to beef it up even more at the last hold (Spoiler Alert – I did). And the crème de la crème, my fleece lime-green helmet cover which is the BEST thing EVER in cold weather. Bundled up, fueled up, and feeling refreshed, it was time to hit the trail and crank out the last 35 miles!

Loop 2 Track 1, 65 – 90 miles

We had made excellent time coming into the vet check, and hit the trail about 530 PM (Lucy commented that we were LEAVING vet check earlier than she had ever ARRIVED at vet check in previous years. I’d like to think it was the super Lilly/Fergus Terrible-To-Look-At-But-Effective Pacing Team that did it). There was still PLENTY of daylight left, so much that we were a good 5 miles into the stretch before we even noticed the glow of the glowsticks lighting the trail. The horses had lost their mojo again (and were once again convinced the dumb monkeys were leading them out into the desert to die), but faithfully walk/trotted along while we followed the trail east.

Lucy and I chatted and laughed, and I was thinking (probably a bad idea) that this loop was going to be EASY as I was feeling fantastic, I was warm and snug in all of my layers, Lilly felt great (if a little unmotivated), and I had excellent company to talk to…and then we turned south. Into the wind. INTO THE NIGHTMARE OF RIDGECREST WINTER HEADWINDS FROM HELL. All talking stopped (it would have been worthless as we couldn’t hear a thing anyway), the ponies dropped their heads and trudged on. And on. And on. But I was still warm, and my face was covered so it was just fine…until I made the very unfortunate mistake of trying to adjust my helmet cover and WHOOSH! There it went, bye bye Felicia.


Oh well, we still had 25 miles to go, so better suck it up buttercup. It really wasn’t TOO bad. I was still reasonably warm, but my face was getting a little nippy while we made the best time we could in the terrible winds. The ponies were troopers, and just kept putting one hoof in front of the other while we walked along the ridgeline (with absolutely no cover from the wind), before finally dropping down and getting some relief from the foothills around us. We also got some very pretty views of Ridgecrest at night, which is significantly more visually appealing than Ridgecrest during the day. It’s not as pretty as the view of Reno from Virginia City, but at least it gave some distraction (albeit minor) from the raging winds.

Lucy’s Super Crew Kaity Cummins met us at an unofficial check along the 395 for a Hot Chocolate Pit Stop – and sweet wonderful girl that she is, I got a delicious cup of it too. I love you Kaity! We then headed out towards Vet Check 5 (in the same place as Vet Check 3), for our final 30 minute hold. And more Hot Chocolate! Mike was there too, trooper that he was, but boy did he look miserable. Poor guy did NOT know what he signed up for when crewing for a 100. I gave him as many words of encouragement as I could, and told him it was ALMOST over…just one more finish line check to go, and it was only 10 miles away. Hang in there Mike!

Loop 2 Track 2, 90 – 100 Miles

Lucy and I took the final 10 miles slower than we had the first time through…mostly at my request. I really wasn’t hurting anywhere, but I could feel that I was definitely getting tired, and really didn’t want to have any unexpected dismounts that close to the finish. So we took it slow but steady, with dear Fergus leading the way and Lilly dutifully keeping pace behind. And, finally, the FAIRGROUNDS! We crossed the finish line at right around 115 AM (though it took about 10 minutes to get vetted out) in 17th and 18th place, with a total ride time of 16 Hours and 16 Minutes. Not too shabby for a first 100!

Mike still looked miserable, so I got Lilly set up on her high tie as quickly as possible and got the loyal husband shuttled off to bed in the LQ. Lilly looked great, if a little tired, but tore into her hay and mash like the trooper she was, and once I was satisfied that everyone was taken care of (including a final potty break for the wonderful pups) I went to bed too.

All was still well with the world the next day - I didn’t feel too stiff or sore all things considered, only got one small rub to show for my efforts, and Lilly looked perky and alert. We hung out in ridecamp until the early afternoon to give all of us a chance to rest a little more before heading home. In hindsight I probably should have stayed a full extra day for Lilly’s sake, as she was definitely more body sore and tired on Monday, but was back to her snarky self by Tuesday.

And that’s that! I can’t wait to do it again!!!! And although it may have been the wind making me hear things, I’m fairly certain I heard Lucy offer to ride with me at the Virginia City 100 this year…so that is what I’m going to believe ;-) But before that I’ll also be keeping an eye out on a very special 100 mile ride in July, if all things work out between now and then.

Next up, Lilly gets at least a month off to rest and relax, while I take Wyatt to Old Pueblo in 3 weeks to ride him for the first time this year. Speaking of Wyatt...

Race Report, Bonus Edition – Wyatt Goes to Wickenburg!

The only unlucky thing about the timing of 20 Mule Team is that it falls on the same weekend as the local Wickenburg endurance ride, so I don’t get to do both :( I love the Wickenburg ride – it’s gorgeous, well-run, and is loaded with all my Zonie friends. I feel it’s important to support our local rides whenever we can, so this year even though I wasn’t able to ride it myself, I was able to indirectly support it by sending Wyatt to (once again) be a catch-horse for horseless rider. He had some big expectations to fill for Ellen, as not only was he going to pilot her through her first 50…but it was going to be her first endurance ride EVER! Talk about pressure! But I knew both Ellen and Wyatt were up to the task. She had come out to my side of town a few weeks prior to the ride to take Wyatt out for a 35 mile test run, and both did fantastic. So before I headed to 20MT I left all of his gear out, plus a couple pages of instructions that mostly consisted of ‘he eats a lot’, and Lancette and Ellen picked him up on the way to the races. They all had a great time, and true to form, Wyatt took great care of Ellen and carried her to her first endurance ride finish – yay!
Next up for Wyatt will (hopefully) be his first back-to-back 50 milers with yours truly in 3 weeks at Old Pueblo, as long as the weather stays cool. If it warms up (like last year), then I’ll drop him to the LDs instead – only time will tell!

Go Team Mustang!

(As usual I took almost no photos, so I poached them from Lucy, Katie/Super Crew, and Mike)

2018 Ride Stats
Liliana “100 Mile” Vess, 6/6 105 LD Miles, 150 Endurance Miles 
Wyatt “Catch Ride” Earp, 6/6 105 LD Miles, 100 Endurance Miles

Happy Trails!
Andrea, Lilly, and Wyatt

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