The Frenchman Lake area is stunningly beautiful. Well, honestly, I haven’t seen a lake in the Sierras that isn’t breathtaking, but this one is breathtaking and relatively deserted. Ridecamp was on private property just a couple miles from the lake, at a former eventing center. There was horse water pumped out of the creek and a surprisingly nice little outhouse, with potluck BBQ’s both nights. Surprisingly good turnout, considering it’s not a cart-friendly ride.
I camped beside the creek, looking out over the cross country field into the mountains.
I got Dixie set up in a pretty good sized corral, maybe 15×15, for $10 a night. Well worth it! She traveled well and set in to eating as soon as I turned her out. Smart girl. I got my camp set up, then saddled her up and took Cers on a short ride to see how rocky the trail was.
I’d washed her right before I loaded her, so she was very white and shiny. Rocking the viking war braids, of course.
We meandered about a mile up the trail, just far enough for me to decide that I’d definitely boot the next day. The ride flyer said the trails were good with “some rocks”, but that was wishful thinking. The trails were that fine Sierra dust with many fist sized and larger rocks, and many stretches were all rock.
I felt pretty shy the first night, so I sat by my rig and read a book (Glen Cook’s Garrett PI series) til dinner time, then crashed out shortly after that. I did stay up long enough to catch a gorgeous sunset!
About 11 I had a vivid dream where suddenly it started to rain. Some higher level of my brain began sounding alarm bells and I went from dead asleep to wide awake in about two seconds flat. Yep. Raining. Raining right through my tent. I decided that since it wasn’t supposed to rain, it couldn’t possibly keep raining, so I shoved my cell phone and kindle deep inside my duffel bag and went back to sleep. Getting the rain fly on the tent seemed like more trouble than it was worth.
I woke up to more rain twice more. I did get to hear coyotes yipping every time I woke up, at least.
About 6 I decided it was really about light and I might as well get up and make coffee. I ate a Clif Bar for breakfast. It is not the breakfast of champions, just the breakfast of lazy Funders who are sick of burned scrambled eggs on a camp stove. It sufficed.
NEDA rides start at 9, so eventually I got Cersei set up for a day at the truck and saddled Dixie. Her hooves were a bit long and I was worried that the boots wouldn’t fit quite right, but they seemed to go on well. The ride meeting had super nice color laser topographical maps, which were really handy. The trail was two loops with a lot of lollipops, but they promised it was well marked.
I was planning on riding with John and we hung out at the start. But a couple headed out just before us over the start line and HOLY SHIT A HORSE EATING CART WAS HIDING BEHIND A BUSH! The guy’s mare went sideways and over and he came off. No harm done to anyone, but I saw an opening to get around the mess and took off just ahead of John, just to get clear of the wreck.
We gaited along briskly and passed a couple of obvious pleasure riders. Hmm, lemme explain that.
NEDA rides, like most AERC rides, have a short distance fun ride too. AERC staggers start times so all the 50s start together, all the LDs start together, etc. NEDA just has one start time, so the NEDA racers and laid back pleasure types all head out together. Usually people in jeans are just doing the 10 mile ride, and usually people in gaudy endurance gear are doing the longer distance.
So I passed an older gentleman in jeans and a cowboy hat, then caught up to a guy in tights and a helmet. We zipped past, got past the photographer (who got one of the best pictures I’ve ever seen of me and Dixie). I told him that Dixie is not a good fearless lead horse and he should feel free to pass me, and he did pretty soon. We slogged on a bit further and caught up with two more riders, and I stayed with them for most of the rest of the loop. They were all very friendly and I’ve seen them before. Another woman on a big racing Arab hung with us for a while. That horse had a bigger butt than Dixie and top 10s 50s regularly.
It was exactly the kind of ride I like. Outstanding scenery, very technical trails. The trail had a lot of potential to be very confusing but it was extremely well marked.
The first 10 miles went by VERY fast, probably 6 mph. Dixie felt strong and I thought it was the kind of trail where you should go as fast as you can when you can, and I was right. We went up over a mountain – you could see the whole Chilcoot/Vinton/Loyalton valley from the top.
Then down a huge switchback to a river, then back along the river for a couple miles to a spot where we could ride the horses in. They’d warned us about it – there was a 6-8″ dropoff, but the footing once you got down into the water was very firm. Dixie scrambled right in after one of her new buddies and ate some grass, but didn’t drink. Sigh. I patiently explained that there was no more water on the way back, but she didn’t listen.
We headed back up the hill, over common trail part of the way and new trail part of the way. It was rugged and beautiful and HARD on my fat Walker. She hung in there with the Arabs for about 18 miles, but when she started to get tired I let them motor off ahead of us.
Close to camp we hooked back up with the woman on the racing Arab. Her BF was the guy who got dumped at the start, and he was doing the 10 mile ride. She waited for him at the common trail for both loops, and the three of us ended up riding in together. We agreed to ride the second loop together. (She was, obviously, not racing this ride.)
When we got back to the creek crossing right outside of camp, Dixie drank really deeply and I used up the rest of my horse water on her neck. I’ve started carrying about 1.5 liters of water in my bags, just to squirt on her neck, and it definitely helps her. I stopped at the trailer and sponged her pretty heavily, then took her over to the pulse check and she was down to 60. She ate some oats and carrots and quite a bit of hay while I loved on Cersei and scarfed down some leftover steak. Cold steak is the lunch of champions, let me tell you. I’d drank all my water so I mixed up two more liters of electrolytes and refilled my camelbak, then we were ready to go.
We did the first 20 miles in about 3:30.
R and I headed out on the second loop. Her horse was 100% go, of course, and Dixie felt pretty good to me. We climbed a big ass hill, scrambled down the other side, and passed two ladies on beautiful palomino mustangs. We started along some rather nice road curving along a hillside when R’s horse stepped on a rock funny and started gimping. She double checked with me, and I saw a bit of head bob too, so she immediately turned around. We were at 23.4 miles. If I’d headed back, we’d have done about 28 miles, but I thought Dixie could keep going alone, so I pressed on.
Dixie was, of course, not very happy about being all alone. Then a pair of deer sized us up for dinner – we came around a curve and there they were. Two little this-year’s mule deer, about 15′ up the slope. They bounded another 10′ away and watched us. Tiny things, couldn’t have weighed more than 150 lbs, and super curious. No fear at all. I talked to Dixie while she quivered and stared and they just stood there, staring back at us. Eventually I had to gently urge Dixie to just get past them (i.e. kick in the ribs and cuss) and they still didn’t run!
The trail wound around to a cattle guard with a wire gate, then kept going on the other side. I missed the turn for the water stop/turnaround, but only went about a half a mile before I decided there just weren’t enough hoofprints for me to be going the right way. There was a lovely cattle tank when I doubled back. I dumped the rest of my horse water on Dixie and filled her bottles back up while she tanked up.
On the way back we saw a dead redtailed hawk in the road. I don’t know how I missed it the first time! When we got back to the wire gate I noticed that one of Dixie’s boots was un-velcroed at the toe. Completely. Nothing at all was holding it on. Renegades are great boots if they fit your horse’s hooves, yall – that boot could’ve been undone for a mile and it never budged. I got it back on and rode up the hill away from the gate, and then Dixie was done.
She just gave up. Gonna die, out in the woods, all alone. I knew we weren’t the last people on the trail, because my vet was out there riding turtle, but I figured we were next to last. We were past 25 miles so there was no point in turning around. I parked Dixie in the shade, watered her neck, and let her cool down. Then I got off and started dragging her up this monster hill, up this thing that even a mountain biker might not consider to be a trail. It was slippery shale with a tiny bit of mountain dust on top, and the area had burned a couple years back so there was no shade, and I got hot. It was at least 90 with a disgusting amount of humidity – remember, I’ve been living in the desert for two years now. I cussed that horse and dragged her up the hill, then I cussed that horse and dragged her down the backside of that hill. The backside had a bit more shade, but in one place the trail was just a 45 degree waterfall of small boulders.
Eventually we made it back on the normally rocky jeep road and I got back on. Dixie perked up a bit when we hit the common trail and managed a nice slow trot across the XC field to get back to camp. I was feeling slightly more charitable by the time we got back to camp, but I was absolutely shocked when the in timer said we’d finished 6th. My GPS said 31.9 miles in 7:15 – subtract out about 15 minutes at lunch and you’re still looking at three and a half hours for the 10 (11 with a detour) mile loop. I was still trying to process that 10 minutes later, when John came in. Behind me. I’d started just ahead of him, but I was sure I’d just missed him at lunch or when I took my little detour at the end of the second loop. Honestly, we were both shocked that I finished ahead of him.
Again, Dixie had a big drink at the creek, some oats and carrots, and started chowing down on the hay. Her legs looked and felt identical, and she was totally sound. She was tired – but that’s what I wanted. I wanted to push her on the 30, to see if she’d hold up to a challenge. She definitely did!
A lot of people quit after the first loop. The guy in the cart quit – I don’t know if there’s any way he could’ve done the 10 mile loop. Those of us who finished got a super nice crew bag at dinner. I watched another beautiful sunset, hung out with R and her friend, talked to a lot more people, and put the rain fly up before I crashed about 10. After all, I had a different horse to ride on Sunday – I needed to rest!