Red Rock Rumble 50, 2020
by Nick Warhol
Back in the saddle again! In 29 years of riding I have never gone 8 months between endurance rides, not even when I had my knee surgery 15 years ago, and Donnie had 10 months off. Finally, the long, covid caused draught is over. My last ride was the 20-mule team 100 in February where Sorsha had to stop for lameness at mile 80. This past weekend I went to the Red Rock Rumble, about 45 minutes north or Reno, with one goal in mind. Do a nice, moderate paced 50 and get Sorsha through sound. She picked a great year to get injured, (no rides, fires and smoke!) and has healed quite well from the slight bone damage she suffered in her right front hoof thanks to Dr Marty Gardner and the wonder drug Osphos. ($$$!) I have been riding her regularly for the past 4 months and she’s looked great so far.
There have not been many rides around the west, at least in my part of California. They thought the ride would be big- they were right! Ride manager Tami Rougeau and her gang did a heck of a job dealing with all the Covid rules. Quick summary from my point of view: 1) I missed the ride and awards meetings. 2) I liked the no rider card. That was nice! 3) the social distancing and masks were not an issue. 4) Not having a meal was bad, but heck, if that taco truck was at every ride, I’d be happy! That post ride taco truck meal was incredible! Just for grins, Tami decided to offer an additional 75 and 100 mile ride to boot, providing a 25/50/75/100 mile choice. There were 150 total riders spread over the four rides, and more who wanted to come. As Lisa Schneider said: (who, along with Catfish Moe, drove 2 days from Socal to get here!) “It was like the rides in the old days. So many people, and everyone just thrilled to be out there.” Lisa was right- there was this general positive, happy feeling all through camp. People were so excited to be back at a ride, myself included. Well, okay, there was a little challenge getting everyone into camp. The base camp was in a good spot, with local water and good parking for 50 or 60 riders, but with 150? Boy, it was packed. Tami asked me (and I asked Gretchen to help me) if I could help get people parked, and I said sure. Gretchen and I had a great time spending Friday afternoon getting about 30 rigs parked in the space that should have held about 10. We used a special packing and compression algorithm that we made up as we went. There was a constant line of rigs coming in, so we asked each one the key questions: When are you leaving? How many horses? What side of the trailer do they have to be on? Can they be on the same side of the trailer? A portable corral? Oh boy. (we even crammed them in) We asked each rig that was already parked when they were leaving so as not to block in the guys who needed to leave on Saturday afternoon. We even got a parked rig to move for us! We had the non-horse side of the trailers 3 feet apart, and trucks bumper to tailgate. We actually got a lot of trailers in there, and the rest had to just go park in the sagebrush outside of camp.
Gretchen and I went out for a warm up ride and found no rocks. Huh? This is Nevada! Apparently the Red Rock area and the trails around Virginia City are in two different states. The roads were soft sand, but not deep. We rode the first few miles on the trail and returned. There was no ride meeting, but there was a quick trail briefing with everyone socially distanced. We really did not need it since they had sent us everything we needed in email before the ride. Oh yes, our rider packets mysteriously appeared in our campers as if the ride management elfs had delivered them. They did!
It was cold Saturday morning, but very clear and no wind at all. The bad air from the fires that have plagued the area for a while was not an issue at all. The 50 started at 7am, so we headed out about five after and had our only real issue all day. Literally a hundred steps at a walk into the ride a woman was getting on a horse in the desert, just off the trail. She got up and the horse flipped out. It came at us, bucking and out of control. The horse pushed Gretchen and Coquette out of the way and ran into me from behind, I mean literally ran into us! The woman was clearly upset and apologetic, but had no control. I did what I had to do and just jumped Sorsha off the road and out in to the desert to just get out of the way. Once I was off the road, the horse took off at a run, not a canter, a full run down the road, scattering horses as it went. The woman was screaming “Runaway horse! Look out!” we watched as the riders in front of us on the road scattered like bowling pins as the runaway horse ran up the road. Wow! At least neither Gretchen or I had any real problems from the event. I heard that some one up the road a way, Dave Rabe or Dennis Sousa stopped the horse somehow. Nothing like a little excitement to get the day under way.
We took a breath, reset, and started out trotting out from camp. The route headed out from camp on a nice soft dirt road for a mile or so before turning right and heading down hill for a couple of miles down a canyon into the big valley below. It was a nice road we trotted all the way down. Sorsha was asking me if we could go a little faster? She likes to move out. It was already starting to warm up, so off came the jacket that I needed at the start. Once into the valley we hung a right and trotted on level roads past Bill and Diane, the photographers, for a few more miles on more level, soft roads and hung a left and headed up into the first of several climbs in the day. It was not long or steep, but was trot/walk/trot a couple of miles to a perfectly placed water trough at the top. There was also a truck tire buried halfway for a mounting block. The trail headed back to the east, I think, up higher in the valley on the edge of the forested hills on a nice, soft, road that did have some whoops in it from the off-road vehicles. It was not too bad, and gave us a really nice view off to the left. The trail was marked really well, something I appreciate. Off to the left we could see the 15 mile vet check way, way down there, looking like a little city from an airplane. We took a soft wash-like road down from the hills to the valley, and hung a right on a long flat road across the desert for a few miles that took us to the check. There was no crew allowed due to covid rules, but we did not need one. There were some ride helpers, one guy in particular, who was amazing. We walked in and he jumped over and got our crew bags for us, went and got hay, got us water, and kept coming back to be sure we did not need anything else. Nice! Sorsha was perfectly sound, yay, so after a quick 30-minute hold we headed out on some level roads until we crossed a big, flat, long, dirt road that spanned the valley. There was water there, and after a drink we crossed the big road and headed cross country on a cool trail towards our first really big climb. The first 17 miles of the ride had been really easy so far. That would change! We were walking up the start of the climb, about a half mile past that road when we saw a full race side-by-side who thought he was racing in Baja or someplace like it. That rig was going probably 80 miles an hour down that road, and it was loud! Boy, I hope the two horses behind us were not at that water stop when he went by.
The climb continued up a long, moderate hill that we walked up for a half mile, but it ended at a seriously steep climb that went straight up for a while. I hopped off and had Sorsha tail me up, and I was wiped out at the top. Dave Rabe laughed at me and suggested I carry the horse up! We found another perfectly placed water trough at the top, thanks again ride management! The horses drank so much I knew that with all these horses those two troughs would be empty soon. We wound along the top of the ridge for a while, on nice, soft, non-rocky roads, then turned right on a down hill trail that was worth the price of admission. It was a soft, sandy, (but not deep sand) single track that was trottable just about all the way down to the valley floor. It was a couple of very fun miles of floating downhill, winding through the big sagebrush bushes like a slalom skier. Boy that was fun! The cool trail ended too soon and dumped us out into a neighborhood of ranches on Red Rock Road. We stopped at one big one where Meridith Mayeroff was there taking numbers. There was water for drinking and cooling- very nice. The weather was warming up, but still quite nice, maybe mid 70s.
We then headed into the green pastures section of the ride that caused some issues. There were green fields with some water and mud to cross, but nothing too bad until the deep one. There was a spot that had trail marking ribbons showing a way around it, but unfortunately you could not see them unless you turned your head backwards. Another ribbon was visible down the way a little, past the bog, but unless you saw the bypass you would just assume you should go straight. We got to the bog, looked at it, though “hmmmmm,” and saw Dennis Sousa and daughter Jennifer taking the bypass to the left. That looks better. We avoided the bog, but unfortunately it caused problems for a few horses and people. The trail continued along the wet area for a while with no issues, past several big ponds, but then started yet another pretty long climb up to the left, back up to the top of the ridge. It was a long, steep walk, but after trotting for a mile or so on the top we saw base camp and headed down in to the stop at 30 miles for our hour hold. Sorsha was great, but even though Coquette got to the pulse criteria, unfortunately her pulse was fluctuating up and down more than Gretchen liked. It was still doing it after 40 minutes, so Gretchen pulled. After our hour stop Sorsha and I headed out all alone to do the last 20 mile loop. We trotted out of camp back up the road we drove in for a mile or so, then turned out in to the desert on a soft road that dumped us onto yet another stellar trail. It was another perfect single track through the bushes, down a long canyon, just winding back and forth at a fast trot. We zoomed along all by ourselves to the bottom having another hoot. It’s so funny- most times the horse can read the turns and does not need steering, but once in a while she would just blow through a turn and go straight. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line! The trail then got onto a long, wide, hard dirt road that headed down back into the big valley. Ho hum, I’d like that trail back, please. We trotted along, and trotted some more, and kept trotting, then trotted some more, ……. The only good thing was I caught up to Dennis and Jennifer and rode along with them for an hour or so. We went all the way back across the big valley to the road that we had headed out in the morning, and turned left, heading back towards where camp was. It was a nice, trottable uphill road, but after a couple of water stops, it was time for the last climb. We turned right and went up and up. And up. The we continued up. It leveled out at the first false top for a while, but then kept going up. It was not super steep like the first monster climb, but long and consistent. You would get a break and get some level, then more up. I ended up scooting away from Dennis and Jennifer since Sorsha, well, she does not know hills exist. She just powers up them as if they were level. Its kind of incredible, and sure fun to ride! I hooked up with a couple of other riders, then went on ahead and found some more riders, and finally, together we hit the summit, where we had been earlier on the first loop, and did indeed find those two same water troughs dry. Bummer! You feel bad when the horses drop their heads in to drink and frantically wonder where the water is. They know! The trail continued on top of the ridge for quite a while, rolling up and down several long hills. We saw the guy in the water truck coming slowly up the hill to fill those troughs, but every rider that passed him going down the road, including us, stopped him and got a bucket of water for each horse. He said at this rate he will never get there! He was a great sport, and the horses sure appreciated it. As we headed up the climb to what looked like the last possible ridge, I was sure we would be able to see the camp in the valley. Sure enough, as we crested the hill the camp appeared down in the valley about 2 miles away. Down the hill we went, back to the valley floor and in to camp on the road we left on at the start. We trotted into camp at 5:05pm for a ride time of 8:35, almost exactly what I was shooting for. The final vet check was a breeze- Sorsha had a CRI of 40/40, and the trot was perfect. That’s all I wanted to see! I was very relieved! I got a meal from the taco truck, and along with my pair of IPA’s, that was the best thing I have eaten in a long time. But as someone said, after a ride, a cardboard box with catsup would taste great!
One issue with no ride or awards meeting is I had no idea how many riders there were on each ride, who won any of the rides, how many finished, who got BC, etc. That’s okay- it’s the ride that matters, and I had a stellar day. A lot of people were commenting on how tough the trail was, but I didn’t notice. I just rode the horsey girl through it, and she did not really notice the effort. I had an absolutely perfect ride, other than the little mess at the start, and the fact that Gretchen did not finish. Her horse got right back to normal about 30 minutes after she pulled, but she did the right thing by being cautious. Some of those single-track trails were just splendid, and I liked the fact that there were almost no rocks all day.
Thanks to Tami and ride management for all the work they put in to make it work. I sure had a blast! Next stop is 2 days at fire mountain in January, and then, of course, back to the 20 mule team 100 in February.