Saturday, April 17, 2021

2021 Twenty Mule Team - Nick Warhol

The 20 Mule Team 100, 2021
Or- I need a vacation from my vacation!

by Nick Warhol

The fire mountain and the 20 Mule Team rides were canceled in the winter due to covid, but with the restrictions lifted, ride managers Gretchen Montgomery and Brian Reeves decided to do a combined ride on the weekend of April 10th with Gretchen’s rides on Friday and Sunday, and the 20-mule team squeezed in between on Saturday. It was a busy weekend for everyone!

I drove down a week early with Sorsha and her guest Reyos, the spunky gelding owned by my riding buddy Ines. I shuttled him down for her early so she could do a 50 at Gretchen’s ride. I rented a truck for 10 days since the Pony Tug is finally back with a new transmission (replaced under warranty since the new one I put in 22 months ago failed and had a 2-year warranty!) It won’t ever tow a horse again. My new truck won’t be here till July; I’m seriously looking forward to that showing up. I’ll hold the old one in reserve until the new one arrives in case we have an after hours horse emergency. Gretchen and Mike graciously gave me a room in their house a block from the ride site. That sure made it easier since I had no camper.

I got to work on the trail bright an early on Monday morning in serious wind. I mean really serious! It was so windy they closed the highways since semi-trucks were being blown over. I was out trying to put up highway crossing and other signs, but it was almost impossible. The wind was so strong that at one point, I was out in the open, and I could not open the driver’s door of the truck. I had to exit the passenger side! I got my 25 or so signs up, distributed hay around all the vet checks, and tried to mark the trail in town. Chalking the turns was not possible, and it almost took two people to put a single ribbon on a bush. One to hold the second person up without being blown over, and the second person had to somehow grab a branch that was whipping back and forth like windshield wipers on mach 2 speed. It was a very futile effort; I lost a half day of work.

The wind settled on Tuesday; I went out at 8:00 am on the bike to check and fix up gretchen’s 50 miles of trail for her rides. The wind had done a number on her ribbons; it had either snapped many off or it twisted them around the branches of the bushes making them hard to see. I was joined by my new friend Mike Caufield on his KTM 350 dirt bike. He’s a good rider who lives in Ridgecrest and wants to learn how to mark trail for the Valley Riders. OKAY! I sure appreciated the help. It took us most of the day, so when we finished, I tried to catch up marking in town and attempt to get back on schedule. I finished up about 7pm. Wednesday is the day to mark the 20 MT 35-mile night loop on the bike. That takes about 4 hours, plus the new 7 miles of the start for the 65-mile loop. I had a nice snag when Brian called me to tell me that some low life Ass^(%$ had emptied the water trough at the 395 south crossing and stolen it, along with the bale of hay there and my cache of trail marking ribbons. I can only carry so much stuff on the bike, so I put supplies in key spots on the trail in advance and “refit” when I get there. Val went into a ribbon tying frenzy to replace them. The same dork apparently also stole two more bales of hay from the 395 north vet check. At least I did not have my ribbons there yet! I then went out and checked the 15-mile blue loop that Brian had marked on Monday. I had to put down the chalk since it was too windy to do it Monday. I also got to go back and do chalking in town since the wind was moderate today. It was a good thing I did! The wind came back with gusto on Thursday afternoon.

Thursday is the long day on the bike when I mark the 65-mile pink loop. It’s an all-day affair, but Mike C came along again today to help. It was nice until about 1pm, but that darn wind started up again. I’d have to get back out at some point to do the chalk for the last 15 miles of the trail. There wasn’t a lot of time left! Ines arrived in the afternoon, so at about 4pm I took an hour and a half off to go ride Sorsha with Ines and Reyos in the strong wind. It was still way too windy to do any trail marking.

Friday was supposed to be my day off so I could rest a bit before riding the 100 on Saturday. The wind had stopped, thank goodness, so I went out in the morning to finish up the chalking I had not been able to complete. I also walked and marked the mile trail section that I can’t ride a bike on. I got back to camp and took off all the bike gear; I got a call from Gretchen telling me that people were getting lost on her second loop. The ribbons were down! It wasn’t a total disaster since the riders were able to find the trail after only loosing a few minutes looking. I told her I’d go out and fix it later in the afternoon so it would be okay for her Sunday’s ride. But then the leaders on the last loop were lost. It turns out that some of the guys who were marking the trail for the motorcycle race on Saturday had accidentally pulled our ribbons in a section about a mile and a half long. There are probably a hundred trail crossings and road intersections in that section, so Gretchen drove out to the spot to tell the riders what to do until I got there. I suited back up and went out and fixed it. While I was out there on the bike I went ahead and fixed the second loop for the guys on Sunday’s ride. I made it back to camp just in time for the riders meeting for Saturday’s 20 mule team rides. So much for my day off!

For some stupid reason I woke up on ride morning at 2am and just could not get back to sleep. I drug myself out of bed at 4:30 and got Sorsha tacked up and led her over to the start. She was fine, but got a little amped before the start. I got on to start the ride, but hopped back off and led her a block or so at the start. I hopped back on and once we started moving forward on the trail she was fine. I rode out of town on the new start trail with Gayle Penya and her friend, but went on ahead at the 10-mile water stop. I rode her alone having a great time for the next 9 miles to vet 1 at the sand dunes. I did have a weird semi-disaster with my eyes. A few miles before the vet check the wind started up and my eyes started burning like I had poured gasoline in them. I was riding with my left eye closed with tears streaming out. This was not going to work! I got to the check and poured water in them, but they were burning, and this was a problem. Sorsha blew through the check, and when I left, I hooked up with Lisa Schneider on the 65, and Michelle Rowe on the 100. We trotted up towards sheep springs chatting, and I told them my eyes were dying. Lisa opened up her portable medicine chest she carries on her horse and gave me 2 Benadryl tablets. (I saw a portable defibrillator in there!) 30 minutes later I had totally forgotten about my eyes. They were fixed! I obviously was allergic to something down here in April, which is two months later than this ride usually is. Thanks Lisa! I’m adding them to the Advil packets I carry. It was starting to get pretty warm outside, and there is ZERO shade out here. We rode along together all the way to vet 2 at the trees at mile 34, where I had the treat of the weekend. Ines, Brenda, and Cindy came out to crew for me. When I say crew for me, I mean it! It was actually kind of incredible. I pulled in, they sat me in a chair in the shade of a tree, grabbed Sorsha, and just took over. They did EVERYTHING and just made me sit and eat. I have not experienced that kind of plush treatment before. I could get used to that! It’s a shame the hold was only an hour, but eventually I had to leave. I left with Lisa and Michelle, continuing along together on the section I call the flats. It’s a long, flat, 5-mile section along the railroad tracks. Michelle thought for a minute we were going to be able to skip some of it, but no, I had to add in a couple of miles to make up for the nasty stuff I removed from the trail later. She said she hated this section. Okay, I told her, now this section is no longer known as the flats, it is now called “Michelle’s trail!” She groaned and said thanks. We trotted and even cantered a bit in the heat down the long, flat road until we reached the water at Goler road. The horses were drinking a lot today, thank goodness, and lucky for us Brian had put out extra water because of the heat. It would have been really ugly to find an empty trough, but there was no chance that would happen. Thanks Brian! We started up Rattlesnake canyon (I saw only one Mojave Green this week) and Lisa and Michelle were going a little faster than I wanted to go, so I let them go on ahead as Sorsha and I walk/trotted up the climb. We got half way up the canyon and turned right to take my new trail for this year. I removed 4.2 miles of hard, rocky and straight downhill roads in favor of the nice soft road that cuts through the pass at Laurel mountain. Boy what an improvement, if I do say so myself! Joyce Sousa and Jennifer Neihaus caught me before the water stop on top of the climb, and I rode with them for just a bit, but they were also going faster than I wanted to go, so I let them go as well. Jennifer was on a mission- she was trying for the “Ironman” award that I sponsored. One rider would ride 200 miles in three days on at least two horses. 50 Friday, 100 Saturday, 50 on Sunday. There were three people attempting the feat. If anyone can do it, Jennifer can!

The heat was starting to get pretty bad as we dropped down the canyon into the valley. There was no breeze at all, and the heat was pretty stifling. You could just not escape it. It was a little like riding in an oven, or at least that’s what I imagined it was like. Sorsha was being great and just kept on trotting along, with us being all by ourselves. It was a hot 90 minutes to the vet check at 55 miles, and the water sure felt good on my head. The 10 miles back to camp was hot as well, and it was sure nice to see camp at 65 miles. Ines was there helping me again, so I got to mostly sit and try and cool off. The temperature was dropping a bit, thank goodness, and a little breeze kicked up. Sorsha was eating well, so I let her stay a few extra minutes to chow down. I headed out in a tee shirt, and at the camp exit I saw a guy on a big grey getting ready to head out. I asked him if he’d like to ride together to give our horses company, and he said sure! His name is Buz Arnold, and it was the first 100 for him and his big horse Gus. Or Gus-Gus. Or Gussie. We rode out of town and into the desert on our last 35-mile loop. Gus was funny- on the way out of town he’d pause for a moment then go again. I think he was not sure this was correct! We were trotting along and caught up to Kassandra Dimaggio on her stallion. They were walking along, but once he got a look at my pretty mare, he instantly fell in love and joined us! He was a good boy, and he seemed interested in Sorsha, but Kassandra did a great job of keeping the big boy in line. It seemed to work best if she rode in front of Buz and I, with us side by side behind her.

We bopped along Boundary road together, and I noticed something weird- it was still light outside! Duh, in mid April there are a couple more hours of daylight than in February. It did not get dark until we were past the ridge summit and on our way down to the 395 south crossing. The air was actually cool! What a treat! I was still in a tee shirt. Buz snapped on his red glow bars on his breast collar, Kassandra did not have any lights, but I had my homemade battery powered blue LED strip lights on my breast collar. They work really well, casting a nice, soft blue light that lets you see the trail. Not to mention your crew can see you from miles away! It was totally dark out with absolutely no moon. Kassandra tried a couple of times to go ahead, but told us with a laugh that her horse was walking right off the road into the desert since it was so dark. She hung with us, riding the big boy in front of us in my light. Buz and I were taking it easy. It was his and Gus’s first 100, and they REALLY wanted to finish. I was in no hurry and just wanted a finish as well, so we walk / trotted the whole loop in the dark. Gus still had lots of punch left, and when we were on foot, Buz kept asking him: “why can’t you walk next to me nicely like that brown horse does?” Gus was puling on him, wanting to go faster. Good Boy, Gus! The three horses were drinking great from every water; we hopped off and led them in to the last check at 90 miles. Sorsha was at 44, typical, and big Gus recovered right away, both trotted great, so after our quick 20-minute hold we headed out on the last 10 miles towards home. We hopped off and led our horses for ¾ of a mile down the last downhill from the ridge. (that felt good on the old knees!) Once back on its just 2 miles through town to the finish. We sent Kassandra on ahead since her boy was going faster than us anyway. Buz and I trotted into the finish at about 12:40am, which was a pretty respectable time, for 9th and 10th place. I thought it was a decent time until I heard the winner finished at 8:30! Yikes! A tip of the visor to them. In this heat? I guess they were able to do some heat conditioning. I certainly could not. Both Sorsha and Gus looked great, which is all we could ask for. I led my big, brown, girly horse (who is now 3 for 4 in 100 mile rides) back over to Gretchen’s, gave her a ton of food, and crashed into bed. No problem sleeping tonight!

I woke up Sunday morning and thought about Jennifer. Would I go out and do a 50 today? Nope. Pass. Not her! She headed out at 6:30 am on the 50 after finishing the 50 on Friday, and the 100 just a few hours before. I did, however, head back out on the bike to clean up the pink 65-mile loop. Its just so much faster to do on the bike, and I felt good after about 6 hours sleep and a huge breakfast. I got back into camp on the bike at about 2pm, then went out and walked the section of trail I can’t ride on. I drove out and picked up all the signs, my bags of ribbons, etc, getting the whole thing done by about 4pm. We were going to go have dinner and lots of beer. I showered, and went back to camp and arrived just in time to hear that Dave Rabe had come off White Cloud and the horse had taken off across the desert. Oh boy. I hopped in the side by side and headed out to where he was reported to have come off. I found Dave walking slowly in the desert towards the main powerline road. He was hurt, but as he said: “I’m not dead.” (You have to know Dave.) He told me that his horse tripped or fell down, Dave came off, and the horse rolled over him. He had hit his helmet, and had what looked like at least a few broken ribs. He convinced me he was okay and did not need to go to the hospital that moment, and we needed to find his horse. We actually played the Lone Ranger and Tonto- we went back to the point where he came off, and we tracked White Clouds boot prints across the desert for about a half mile or so. We lost the track a few times but were able to find it. We got to the main powerline road that goes straight back into camp, but the horse had crossed the road and continued on into the desert. I knew where he was going. The tracks led straight towards the BLM wild mustang facility, about 3 miles away as the crow flies. There are a couple hundred horses and Burros there- that’s where he was going. Dave agreed we should go look there, and that’s where we found White Cloud. He was standing with his nose touching the fence on the other side of the mustangs. Dave was relieved, and being typical Dave, he asked me how far would the ride back to camp be. Ah, no, we are getting a trailer. I called Brian who grabbed Gretchen and rushed out to pick him and his horse up. We got them both back to camp, and our friends took over. Head vet Mike Peralez quickly inspected White Cloud and found him just scraped up. I think it was Kasandra who took him to the hospital where they confirmed 3 completely broken ribs, but no punctured lung or internal damage. Suzanne and Daryll Huff split up and drove Dave’s rig home for him. Endurance riders are good people.

Jennifer did indeed finish Sunday, making her the only person to complete the Iron Man challenge. That’s quite an accomplishment. Her award is a blanket of her choice, monogrammed with a bunch of stuff on it about her accomplishment. Just think- she will have the only one on the world! Congratulations Jenn. You deserve it.

We finally made it to dinner at a brew house and many beers. It had been quite a week. So much went on all week the 100 seemed almost like an afterthought. Not really! Sorsha is pretty amazing. I’m not sure what her next ride will be, in June perhaps, maybe Montana de Oro. I did get into Tahoe Rim which I love. What a great way to spend a week, even if it was a little busy at times. See you next year!

Nick Warhol
West Region

1 comment:

Unknown said...

OMG true endurance. Thanks Nick for the story