We did it! We finally FINALLY did it! I think it’s actually starting to sink in the enormity of what Cora Lane and I accomplished in completing the infamous Big Horn 100 Endurance Ride. To be quite honest, I didn’t think we’d even make it through the vetting in the night before, let alone finish the ride. Ever since City of Rocks the beginning of June, Cora and I have been plagued with gremlins. I’ll leave all those fun little details out so as not to bore the non-horsey folks out there, but I can see my horse friends in the back ground nodding slowly in solidarity. All y’all know all the things that can and do go wrong and boy did they.
Anyway, we vetted-in the evening prior with all A’s on our card and a few scribbles noting Cora’s apparent new bug allergy (😳😭🤷🏼♀️) and then sat in on a rather entertaining ride meeting where the particulars of the trail and expectations from the vets were shared. If any of my riding buddies ever get the opportunity to go to a ride where Dr. Irena’s vetting, do it. The woman is hilarious. Serious and a no-nonsense vet, but hi-larious. Afterwards, we finished packing everything on the crewing list into the truck and headed to bed around 9:30. Praise the good Lord for unusually cool weather in Shell that let us get a couple hours of decent sleep.
3:00 AM—Get up, dressed, Pooper Pony fed and saddled and to the start.
4:00 AM—Trail opens and I hear Karen B calling my name in the dark. She and I start out together across the desert in hopes that our horses will start quietly and reasonably.
4:01 AM—Pooper Pony Cora Lane gives a little chubby mama rodeo which is quickly ended with a swat to her backside.
(I’m thankful these episodes are really uncommon)
4:30-5:00 AM— Cora Lane and her new friend Rio are happly trotting across the Wyoming desert towards the base of the mountain and our first vet check (a trot-by to assess soundness) of the day which is about 12 miles into the ride.
6:40 AM—We arrive into the trot-by 40 minutes later than we really should have and realize we’ve gone over 16 miles instead of 12. Regina and Steve both give me the look that says we’re way way behind where we should be and I know it. After a shortened pit-stop to eat and drink we hop back on and buzz along the road leading up to the forest access that serves as the entry to the Dugway Climb. I look behind me and Karen and Rio aren’t there. Figuring they’ll catch up and knowing we’re down on time I keep going. Every so often I look back to see if I can spot them and eventually I do— a mile and half or two miles behind, but still coming. Good. They’re okay, just slowing down.
It’s time I ride my own ride.
We begin the Dugway Climb and Cora is chugging along happily. We pass a pair of riders and let them know that they’re more than welcome to pass us any time if they catch up (which I’m certain they will). 22 miles or so into the ride I’m gleefully celebrating the fact that the Renegade glue-ons Cora’s wearing have stayed on her feet as long as the set I applied to my good buddy Rueben last summer. Maybe glueing them on instead of nailing composites was a good idea after all!
Then her hind end slips on a rock and I hear the tell-tale rip of the glue. I look down and sure enough, her right hind boot is only attached to about half her hoof. I’m glad I have spare strap-ons on my saddle. We stop at the next creek crossing for a drink, electrolytes and snack so I take the opportunity to go ahead and pop the shell the rest of the way off and get her strap on boot on. No biggie, I think, but deep down I just know we’re going to start losing the other glue-ons.
As I’m climbing back in the saddle the pair or riders we passed at the start of the climb catch up and pass us by. Cora Lane does not particularly appreciate this and we spend the next several miles through the canyons section an absolute hot mess. I refuse to let her chase down the other horses even if that means we walk the remainder of the miles into the first hold. As if riding a hot, snorting, prancing pony through canyons with loose trails, rocks and drop-offs is not enough, both my front and rear saddle bag zippers start splitting apart. 😐😳
Ohhhh boy. Now I have to get off The Dragon and gather up everything that’s falling out of the packs and cram my pockets full (Thank-you, Ride Boldly, for amazingly large pockets!). I’ll spare you all the details of that fine 15 minutes and just leave it at, I got everything picked up and safely back in the saddle.
Despite making her walk (prance?) what seemed like forever, we eventually catch and pass the pair of horses she was so concerned about catching and almost everyone else who started the ride. Satisfied with herself, Cora settles right it as if she was never worried and gives no more fuss.
10:00 AM—We make it into Horse Creek (vet check one), pulse and begin our hour hold. My wonderful, incredible, amazing crew met us there and may or may not have laughed at my bulging pants pockets. A little finagling has the saddle bags packed back up with essentials and zipped shut. I express my concern along with everyone else over the added mileage that popped up so early in the day. Horse Creek was supposed to be 25 miles into the ride and my GPS is reading 34.99. We’re told the trail is being adjust ahead of us to account for the added miles.
Regina keeps a close eye on the commotion.
11:00 AM—As soon as we’re released from the hold we’re whistling Dixie down Hunt Mountain road—Regina’s instructions to make time there while we can sit at the forefront of my mind. Cora happily moves out, stopping regularly for big bites of grass along the way. My wonderful, incredible, amazing crew stops and opens each of the gates going down so we can keep on moving along.
At the base of the Antelope Butte ski area we meet them again for a good drink and a mash and I hear that the trail we rode up the hill took us right past a little bull moose that Cora Lane and I totally missed but that they could see from the road—I was a little sad about that. After a little break with them there we head on through the trot-by at Antelope Butte and then on to the Ranger Creek Guest Ranch (vet check two).
2:58 PM— We make it to the ranch, pulse and begin our second hour hold. Cora vets through beautifully and parks in the shade with my wonderful, incredible, amazing crew who attend to her every need and mine. While out on the last section on trail I heard her hoofboot making more noise than usual. On inspection we found that part of it had somehow folded up underneath her hoof and was broken. Hey! At least it stayed on!
Knowing we still had 50 miles to go, I opted to nail on a composite we’d brought along instead of chancing it with the only other spare boot I had. I gave the three remaining glue-ons a once over just in case they needed replaced while I was at it but they seemed fine(!!🤞🏼🤞🏼!!) so I left them be.
I’m not a great shoer by any stretch of the imagination, but somehow I managed to get the dang thing on and back in the saddle in time to leave to hold at the end of our hour. Regina let me know that the next section through Boulder Basin would be a long, slow haul so I wanted to make sure we left as soon as we were able. Never hurry, never tarry.
Regina was right (isn’t she always?). The trail around Shell Reservoir and through Boulder Basin was a slow, frustrating stretch with boulders as big as cars and plenty of missing ribbons to slow us up. In three different intersections we had to stop and hunt for the hoofprints of the only horse and rider ahead of us so that they could lead us to the next markers. Slowly but surely, we made it out of the basin to where my wonderful, incredible, amazing crew was impatiently waiting. Cora chugged and ate while I relayed my tales of woe and Steven informed me that Regina had left a map with them for the remaining 6-7 miles or so of trail into Battle Creek (just in case there were missing markers in the dwindling light). Determined to make it into the next hold for a good break for us both, we high-tailed it down the trail.
9:15 PM— We make it into Battle Creek and it’s getting dark (vet check three)—Cora is ravenous and I’m freezing cold. I was warned that it’s typically chilly once you drop into Battle Creek, and everyone who warned me was right. As we pulled in Savannah handed me a jacket and Jesse covered Cora with a warm blanket. The vet came right over and informed me that the hold had been reduced from an hour to 30 minutes due to the cool conditions. I told him I’d chance staying a little longer because my horse was absolutely starving and needed time to eat and rest before heading off the mountain.
About 40 minutes after arriving we headed off into the dark to begin the last 23 miles off the mountain and to the finish line.
I can’t tell you even now how long it took, or what happened along the way (except for the group of baby skunks that turned into shiny bowling balls which turned out to be a bunch of sage brush 😳), but the 16 miles off the mountain into Trapper Creek felt like an absolute eternity. Time stood still. The temperatures climbed and I regretted the jacket I was wearing but couldn’t bear the thought of losing it to the night. Every section we slowed to a walk I found myself nodding off and slipping sideways in the saddle. The rocks slipping down the mountain underneath her feet felt like riding a waterfall and I thought that the riders behind us would catch up, but they never came.
Somewhere, far below us, I could see the lights of Shell and what looked like a pickup truck spinning cookies near Trapper Creek. What’s Steven doing spinning cookies in my truck this late at night? I’ll have to give him a talking to when I get down there. Will I ever get down there?
Oh. That’s not a truck. That Suzy’s headlamp ahea of us. Way way far away.
Eventually, sometime in the wee morning hours Cora Lane and I make it off the mountain and meet our wonderful, incredible, amazing, GIGGLING crew at Trapper Creek. They have food and water for Cora which she gladly cleans up and they force water and electrolytes into me.
Seven miles. Just seven miles to the finish. I know those seven miles well, and I know they’re just miles, nothing hard no more downhills. Just miles. We’re almost there.
Regina mans the gate and cattle guard at Trapper and offers a few parting words of encouragement. What were they? I don’t catch them but I’m thankful for them, for her, for my crew, for my horse....seven miles and we’re done.
More quiet darkness. Seemly unending quiet darkness. I’m pretty sure Cora Lane is following the lights on her own now, thundering along as if she could go on forever. Some mythical creature of the night. Next thing I know, I’m sick. So sick. A mile and a half or two miles from the highway crossing in Shell, and I’m sick. I contemplate trying to get off so I can be sick in the desert and maintain some shred of dignity, but then I think I can make it to the highway. My wonderful, incredible, amazing crew is there....I can make it.
It takes far longer than it should to get there but we make it and I keep from upchucking in front of everyone.
“You’re only two miles from camp!” Savannah exclaims happily.
“One mile” I reply. “It’s actually closer to one and a half, but right now I’m gonna call it one mile.” I hear Regina at the gate behind them and I’m so happy to hear her voice. Of course she’s there, she’ll stay until the last horse and rider come through safely.
Crossing the highway Cora Lane spooks at the lines and I can’t help but laugh. 99 miles into one of the toughest 100s in the nation and she’s spooking at lines on a road.
We get across the highway and follow the ditch a short distance to the gravel road that takes us into camp. One. More. Mile.
I’m not feeling better but Cora Lane is happy to pick up a big trot and whistle right along. A massive trot. Strong. Capable. Ready for whatever’s next. That instant was the most amazing feeling I’ve ever had on a horse and absolutely indescribable.
And then there they were. My wonderful, incredible, amazing crew standing there at the finish line, smiling the biggest smiles and laughing.
I hear a distinct “Congratulations!” from a shadowy figure bundled up in a camp chair in the dark as I dismount.
“Let’s vet through for our completion, and then I’ll take the congratulations” I replied, a little fearful that something would be wrong at the final vetting and she wouldn’t pass.
Still not feeling super fabulous, I sat on the water tank while Cora was unsaddled and Steven took her over to Dr. Irena for the final check. Heart rate? Good! Trot out? Good! Hydration and gut sounds? Good! Congratulations. Your horse is fit to continue.
So, in the early morning hours of July 11th, Cora Lane and I finished the Big Horn 100 with a ride time of 19 hours and 59 minutes, second place overall and first featherweight.
I can’t begin to express the gratitude I have in my heart for our wonderful, incredible, amazing friends, Jesse and Savannah and their girls Brielle and Sonia. For my husband, Steven, or for the incomparable, Regina. Without each of you there with your smiles and encouragement, advice and helping hands, I’m not sure we would have made it to the finish. It sure as heck wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun!
Not to be left out are Cindy Collins and Vickie Hogen—who weren’t there in person, but rode in my heart all those long miles. Without their encouragement I may not have ever tried again.
Lastly, but most important of them all, Cora Lane. You carried me more bravely and more brilliantly than I ever could’ve imagined, hoped or expected. Are there more words I owe you? Yes, but everything I come up with falls miserably short. So, I love you Chubby Mama.
“What they had done, what they had seen, heard, felt, feared – the places, the sounds, the colors, the cold, the darkness, the emptiness, the bleakness, the beauty. ‘Til they died, this stream of memory would set them apart, if imperceptibly to anyone but themselves, from everyone else. For they had crossed the mountains… “