Gather round, dear readers, for the extremely long (yet exciting!) tale of Team Fixie’s attempt at the Virginia City 100. The tl;dr: pulled RO at 70 miles or so, horse ran out of gas but she’s just fine, human took a fall and is less fine but will recover, and we’re absolutely going back next year.
I drove up on Thursday. Hooking up and hauling from the Bay to Reno just takes 6-7 hours, and it’s something I’ve finally made my peace with. Easier for me to schedule the extra time than to keep pretending it’s as quick as driving over without a rig, and leaving Thursday gave us a whole day to relax and eat on Friday.
The last time I checked the weather, Saturday was supposed to be cool and breezy, with a 10% chance of scattered showers. I should have known better, but living in Oakland has made me soft – I can go weeks without checking the weather, because it’s always in the 70s here. Anyway, cool and breezy, I can handle that – I threw two extra tops in my clothes-crew-box and made sure I had a couple extra trash bags. I stopped at Green’s Feed in north Reno, and the guys in the yard were hella impressed, and they were like “and it’s gonna be cold!” Yeah yeah, cold is excellent for Team Fixie.
Dixie came off the trailer, looked around, went “yep looks like a ride,” and dove into her food. I got my little camp set up, staked out spaces for Sanne and Lucy/Kaity, and dove into the bourbon. I drank a rather ill-advised amount that night, but at least I passed out and slept like a log on Thursday night.
Camp started filling up fast around noon on Friday. Last year they had a pretty good turnout with 43 starters, but this year they smoked it and got 49 entries – camp can’t hold many more rigs than that, and it’s an astonishing turnout for a hundred-only ride. Some yelling and glaring held my friends’ spots, but shortly after they arrived we got boxed in – there was just no room in camp to do it any other way. The wind kicked up pretty hard, but the day was sunny and pretty.
Tami glued boots on Miss Thing in the early afternoon. Boots/hooves was my biggest worry the week before the ride – no point in worrying about fitness or disasters or anything, but what if I hadn’t done enough to her feet or done too much or she was a total spaz about standing still for the glue to set? Ahhhh! But Dixie loves Tami, and with me feeding her choice bits of hay, Lucy holding another leg up to keep her still, and Tami slapping gluey boots on like the pro that she is, we got it done. (I know a couple people are interested in the concept of glue-ons, so I’ll do a whole separate post on them later, ok?)
We spent the afternoon strapping our gear on our saddles and checking all our packs, then headed out to ride through town. The wind was quite brisk – gusts would shove you off balance if they caught you wrong – and the horses were snorty and spooky. Virginia City is a totally awesome historic town, well worth a visit if you’re in the Reno area, and it was amazingly fun to ride through it.
I wanted to get more pictures of it, but even after we’d turned around at the cemetery the horses were still up, so I only got a few shots.
We pre-rode down D Street, which parallels C Street / Hwy 341, the main drag, so this is the back of the bars and museums lining the main street.
Ancient truck advertising the Mark Twain Saloon. It was across the street from a small yard sale with a loose tiny dog, medium dog, and huge dog. The owners were all “ehhh it’s ok if they get kicked” and we were like, ugh, but we don’t want to fall when our horses spook. But all was well.
Back at camp, we pulled tack and vetted the horses. Dixie pulsed in at 40, which is the lowest she’s ever pulsed in anywhere. Maybe true “standing in my favorite spot in the pasture” resting heart rate is genetic, but let me tell you, vetting-in resting heart rate does go down with fitness and experience – we used to vet in at 56-60, and it’s been creeping down fast this year. When the vet called “40!” I looked at Dixie and said, “Are you dead?”
Roving iPhone photographer extraordinaire Lucy got a couple of good vet-in pics of us. She’s so pretty, and I’m so… purple.
Yes, I am shamelessly reliving my youth with that plaid flannel. Where’s my grunge rock mix tape?
The Nevada Dutch Oven people were the food vendors again – if you went to Tevis this year, it’s the same people who served food at Foresthill. They’re amazing professionals with food as good as anything you’d get in a restaurant. Friday night was pasta, garlic bread, and cobbler – nothing but sadness for me and my gluten intolerance – but I ate two plates of veggie-meat-red-sauce and was stuffed.
Mel had a test Friday afternoon, and as soon as she got out she hauled ass over the Sierras and got to camp about 7, during the ride meeting, to assume her duties as Worst Crew Ever. I’d been over the ride in my head, and I’d been over the ride with Lucy’s amazing annotated map earlier that day, so I slipped out of the meeting and waved Mel and Tess over to the Ice House.
So after the ride meeting, which goes like all ride meetings, NASTR (the organization that runs VC) breaks out the open bar and has a calcutta. Everybody bids on each rider, and if your rider comes in top-three in his/her weight division, you win – a lot if it’s a sleeper like me, a little if it’s an obvious contender. They started with featherweights, so Mel and I had some time to kill before Middleweight 405 Funder. We went over to my camp and I showed her my new and somewhat improved gear boxes – we’re getting the hang of crewing, very slowly. Then back to the Ice House for the middleweights.
When he called my name, I screamed and waved my arms like I’d just been called down to The Price Is Right, and thus tricked Jaime Kerr (ride vet) into paying thirty dollars for me. Sorry, Jaime, I owe you some beer! 😉 I was pretty proud of myself, til John Brain rode his
Rushcreek QH into the bar and totally overshadowed my little display.
(Edit: Not a Rushcreek – last year, he rode Redheaded Endurance’s new Rushcreek in VC, so I thought he was riding another one. That’s a freakin’ quarter horse, and yes, he finished. Amazing.)
Lies, Funder, I hear you say. Pix or it didn’t happen.
I’ve even got video.
How badass is that?
I think we managed to trundle off to bed at 11, for all the good it’d do. I laid quietly with my eyes shut for most of the night, and definitely managed to drift off to sleep twice. At 3:30 I woke up from a very strange dream (a baby rattlesnake had bitten me, and I’d pinned it, but this guy would not help me kill it because it’s just a baby, but I killed it and went to punch the dude and woke up and whew might as well stay awake now.) I saddled up in the cold wind and was ready to ride at 4:40.
It takes 15-20 minutes to get from camp to the start at the Delta Saloon a few miles away, so a pack of riders poured out of camp at 4:40 and we all walked quietly through town. The sheriff had the road blocked and was sitting in front of the bar with his lights on, and we all milled around quietly for five minutes before he led us out.
That has got to be one of the most awesome, surreal experiences of my entire life. Fifty utterly badass top-notch equine athletes, lit up with strobing red and blue lights, just circling quietly and waiting for their riders to point them at the trail. Nobody had a hissy fit or dumped their rider (that I’m aware of) – these are all horses who know the game. Most rides have a couple horses that are just too nervous, starting their first LD or first fifty, and there’s almost always somebody getting dumped or a little bucking, but not here. These guys – including Dixie!! – are pros.
The sheriff led us down to the cemetery and we were off. Sanne and I had found each other in the dark – she has a neon tie-dye rump rug, and I have a spotted cow – so we started off together, about mid-pack. The moon was still pretty high and the horses could see perfectly, so we just flew along in the magical darkness. I had one little fight with Dixie early on, when I wanted her to walk up one short canyon and she’d have preferred to have galloped it, but after I won that fight she rated just fine for me. Dixie and Taz locked in together and a few people passed us, but we’d found a pocket and we stayed in it for an hour or so. East up Long Valley, then north toward the Virginia Highlands, all in the dark.
We started working up through some canyons and the sun crept up. The sky was pretty clear, with just enough clouds for a good sunrise, and the sky went pink-orange-gold-silver-blue all around us. I kinda wish I could’ve taken pictures, but you really have to be there to believe it. The trail was rough and rocky, but our glue-ons weren’t budging and our horses were picking their way along like deer. We ended up close behind Connie and Pam and decided we shouldn’t pass them. A couple of homeowners had put out water troughs for us and were grinning and waving as we trotted through their backyards, and we saw a couple of mustangs grazing on a hill beside the trail.
We hit the Highway Crossing trot-by, 19 miles if I remember right?, just before 8. Dixie was moving ~tolerably well~, don’t you think?
Rene Baylor outdid himself getting amazing pro shots of us!
We drank at the trough and started down Geiger Grade, another beautiful new-to-me section of trail.
This was our first good view of the Sierras, and this was the first point where I started saying really stupid shit like “golly gee that sure looks like snow over there.” The burned trees are from that horrible fire early in 2012 that tore up Washoe Valley so bad.
We took it pretty easy down the three-mile descent. I got off and ran for a bit because it felt like someone was stabbing a knife into my right knee. My chiropractor is slowly straightening me out, but my muscle memory hasn’t caught up yet and sometimes I ride braced in a weird way that hurts that knee. A little jogging and a little more mindful riding fixed it, and I didn’t get knives-in-knee again all day.
At the bottom of the hill, we started down paved roads toward the first vet check at 24 miles. I thought that we went off the road into a sand trail before the vet check – I’m not sure why I thought that, but I was quite sure I’d know when to slow down – so I was shocked and appalled when we turned a corner and the vet check was right there. We were running hot and fast and oh shit there it is.
It was too cold to sponge, so I just let Dixie drink and eat for a minute, then got her pulsed down maybe five minutes after we roared in. She vetted out ok and Mel started cramming food into me. Lucy had brought Starbucks, and Mel had hard boiled eggs and freeze dried fruit and my best food idea ever, dark chocolate covered espresso beans. Before I knew it I was back on the horse headed back out.
Sanne had pulsed down before me, and I wanted to slow it down a notch, so we headed out a few minutes after her. Connie and Pam were just rounding the first corner when we popped out of camp so I hooked on with them for Bailey Canyon.
Things I knew about Bailey Canyon:
- It has rocks.
- It takes an hour.
- No one has ever offered to pre-ride it or ride it for fun with me.
That’s about it. It’s like three miles of “trail” up a dry streambed. It looks like this, or it looks worse – the “worse” bits I didn’t want to maybe unbalance D by flailing around with my phone.
Trail like this makes all the barefoot stuff worthwhile. Dixie knew exactly where her hooves were and she moved like a gecko in those glue-ons. She just calmly put her feet down where she wanted them and moved along those rocks perfectly. She took exactly one bad step and her back leg slipped and got stung by a rock, but there was none of that horrible scrabbling for balance you sometimes get with shod horses.
Eventually we popped out of Bailey into something I recognized from a NEDA ride a couple years ago. Dixie recognized it too, and she went from businesslike professional horse to unstoppable freight train. We’re going to Washoe and we’re doing it right now!
I refused to let her blow past Shardonney, no matter what, but all three horses were locked on to getting down to the lake and we flew through the hills. Rene was down on the singletrack in the park, and he got more amazing pics of us.
I thought we had to pulse in at Washoe, so we had another big fight about walking in to camp, but amazingly we didn’t have to! Ehh, either way, she was close to 60 when we got in. I surprised Mel by showing up early, but there was just no slowing that horse down on the way down from Jumbo, and I knew she’d settle when we headed out for the big climb back up to VC. I was busy running her, but the vets thought Dixie was moving better at her Washoe trot-out than at the first hold, yay! Dixie ate and drank, I ate and drank, and our fifteen minutes were up.
We went straight up out of the park and climbed half of Cinder Mine – the death-march climb at Washoe, past the black gravel open pit thing. I thought we had to go the whole way up and around so I let the others pull ahead of us and made Dixie walk it. But we only went halfway up, to a water tank, and veered off the mining road onto a trail headed to the SOBs.
There were two little paths leading up from the road to the trail, and I stupidly sent her up the right fork of the trail, beside the giant boulder, and of fucking course Dixie slammed my knee into the boulder, hard. It ripped my tights, scraped my shin, and crunched my knee. It was my fault, but I called her an asshole anyway, cause she didn’t have to go quite so close to that rock. Asshole.
The SOBs are three very steep canyons. They’re short, but they’re brutal. Real Endurance Riders tail their horses up, but posers like me slither down on foot and make their horses carry them up, lol. (I am not the only poser, but watching Carolyn tail Okay up the canyons was pretty intimidating!)
And then the sleet finally started as I was leading down. I got soggy and my fleece got soggy and my leg was throbbing a bit and I wasn’t remotely badass enough to hike up. But Dixie’s a good girl, and we grabbed bites of dry grass on the way down and she carried me bravely up each of the SOBs. There was some more climbing, with some extra-wretched hard rocky footing, and eventually we made the little “aid station” at the top. Two awesome volunteers had hay and water and carrots for the horses, and water, beer, electrolytes, and homemade cookies (wahhhh) for the humans.
I knew that after the water stop, we’d pretty much head downhill to Virginia City again. It was a deceptively easy grade running four miles down a mining road, and it’s a great way to thrash your horse’s front legs if you’re not careful. Connie and Pam took off at an easy trot, but their horses are absolutely more badasser than my horse, so I told Dixie we’d have to walk.
When Dixie’s only friends in the whole world rounded the corner, she had a moment. She stuck her head straight up in the air like a llama and started screaming her loneliness to an uncaring universe as she jigged faster and faster. I was like, dammit Dixie, and I was trying to get her attention back because I knew she wasn’t paying attention and she’d trip. Then, in slow motion, she tripped.
Yep, she’s going down, I thought.
She went down.
Yep, I’m coming off, I thought.
I came off, over her right shoulder like I always do.
Don’t you dare step on me, asshole, I thought, as I rolled over and came to rest on the ground in front of Dixie as she scrambled back to her feet.
She did not step on me.
I got up and looked at her. One more tiny drop of blood on her back leg, but she was paying attention to me again and she was moving sound, so I took off jogging for a while. The road wasn’t even gravel, it was solid rock with bonus gravel on top, but I felt fine. I came upon Tinker and someone else waiting to crew Zach (8th place! amazing job!), bitched about my horse, and kept jogging. When I was tired of jogging, I rode again, and when I could see camp I hopped off and ran her down the last bit of pavement, across the highway, and into camp, exactly when I was supposed to get there.
She pulsed in and vetted through fine, and Mel shoved a styrofoam box of hot food at me and I ate like I’d never seen food before. Those Dutch Oven dudes, yall, they are the BEST cooks. I had a hamburger patty with cheese and grilled veggies and a fantastic sausage, but then I was stuffed and I couldn’t even try the stew.
I wouldn’t be back at camp til well after dark, so this was the Night Gear check. Crysta brought me some lucky fleeces and a hat that was thin enough to go under the helmet. We ripped off the sun visor and strapped on the emergency headlamp, checked that the glowbars were still strapped to the breastcollar, and re-secured the rump rug – there’s not a rump rug in the world that’s got a chance against 50 mph Nevada winds, but running it under the crupper helped keep it mostly on her butt and not flapping off to the side like a sail. I didn’t bring any fleecy tights, because I don’t actually have any fleecy tights, so I slipped on a pair of sweats and duct taped the ankles down. I looked like a cold mess, but I was ready.
After you’ve ridden 50 miles of rocks and mountains, you head back out for another thirty miles of rocks and mountains. The last loop is actually easy, flat, good footing, but not the 50-80 mile bullshit. I rode out a few minutes behind Connie and Pam, but we almost immediately dropped down into a smaller canyon to get down to the valley where Dayton is, so I got off and powerwalked her down down down down. I managed to catch the other two – my horse walks really fast so I have learned to walk really fast too – and we hopped back on to do the Mine Tour.
The sleet started again, and I realized I’d forgotten Dixie’s fly mask back in camp. It’s super fine mesh, with ears, and it would’ve blocked most of the horrendous sideways sleet bullshit, but that only lasted like 20 minutes. The poor horses piaffed sideways but we had to keep them moving. The trail winds sort of aimlessly along through historic mines, deserted post-apocalyptic 70s and 80s mines, and active new mines. We got lucky and didn’t see any of those monstrous big mining trucks when we crossed the active road, and we didn’t see the V&T train as we crossed and recrossed and recrossed the tracks. Eventually we started climbing again, headed back up to the Evil Cookies water stop, and Dixie got tired. We walked and walked, while Pam and Connie walked and trotted, and they slowly disappeared ahead of us.
Dixie got tired and stopped to catch her breath, and I noticed she was a little shaky, so I got off and started leading. I knew we had to climb a bit more to get to the hay stop, then a bit more to get over Mt. Davidson, but after that was only little hills! We could do it!
I suck at climbing hills, but my horse needed me to do it, so I did it. I’ve read a lot of books about climbing Everest and the other 9ks, and the secret is to never entirely stop moving. I would pant for four breaths, then walk for at least four breaths, then stop and pant some more. The steep bits were 4/4, the less steep bits were 4/8 or 4/12. Eventually we walked into the water stop and took a break.
The volunteers up there said that Kaity was still behind me, but the other riders behind her were going too slow and were going to get pulled. I checked with at least two of them, and they both agreed: Connie and Pam, me, Kaity, no more. Okay. Maybe we can do this, maybe we can’t, but let’s keep going.
Dixie really didn’t want to stop eating, but it was time to go before she got chilled and cramped up. Kaity and Kody came in, looking ridiculously fresh and happy, and I made sure they’d be ok if I left. I filled up my saddlebags with carrots and rode part of the way up the last climb to Davidson, then walked some more, then we were over YAY! I got back on, Dixie started trotting along pretty perkily, and we went through that long valley where the trail goes right by the mine. When we started up the next little hill, Dixie was like “fuck this shit” so I got off again. The sun had set on the last climb, and we just had the fading sky for light.
Kaity caught us and tried to get me to tail off of Kody to get up the hill, but I wouldn’t do it. I knew that I could pant/walk/pant literally all night, if I didn’t push myself too hard, but if I charged up that hill I’d exhaust myself. She really didn’t want to leave us. I insisted.
“Go tell Lucy and Mel that maybe we’re done but we’re walking out. I have a SPOT, a cell phone, a light, plenty of water and food, and two emergency blankets. Go!”
She went. We were alone. We walked and walked, with Dixie trailing behind me like a tired puppy. She was happy to stop when I panted but pretty happy to walk when I walked. I realized pretty quickly that we were done – we’d go overtime if I insisted on going back out to Cottonwoods, and I wasn’t going to ask Dixie to even try. I walked for a while and thought about turning back – if I walked back to the water stop, the volunteers would be gone, but I could turn left and take the long rock mining road back to camp, the road where we’d fallen earlier.
I was very tired and quite stupid, but I tried hard to weigh my options and I decided to keep going. Kaity was going to report that I was moving slowly along the Davidson trail, and if I turned around and took a different road into camp and something went wrong, no one would know where to look for me. And it’s just a few more hills, and it’d be about the same mileage to walk to camp as it would be to walk to the highway crossing and beg for a pull trailer. So we kept going.
My chest started to ache, and I realized I was finally running out of adrenaline after my fall. Ow. But my knee didn’t hurt, so that was good at least.
It got dark. It started to snow. I stopped long enough to pop my glowbars and make a poncho out of my trash bag and kept walking. I was chilly before I got the poncho on, but that blocked the wind perfectly and I really wasn’t cold the rest of the night. I’d been all alone for a solid hour in the dark, and Dixie was following me pretty closely, sort of “don’t you want to get back on yet” perky again, and all I needed to do was find a rock. A big rock.
I found a small rock, but I couldn’t get my foot any higher than my knee, and it didn’t work. I gave up and turned on my red light, but rocks look exactly like sagebrush in red light, so fuck it I turned on the white light. We walked and walked. I heard somebody far behind me say something, but there couldn’t possibly be anybody back there on top of a mountain in the snow at that hour so I had to be imagining it. I heard it again, and I turned and looked back, just stupid as all get out, and somebody was yelling to please turn off the light.
I was like, and now my goddamn hallucinations are telling me what to do. This can’t be real, but whatever, there’s clearly no rocks for miles. I turned off my light and kept walking. We went over a few more hills. I kept waiting for the hallucination to pass me, but obviously it never did, because I’d imagined the whole thing. I started yelling back over my shoulder, but the only thing dumber than hearing stuff is talking back to it, so eventually I gave up and turned the light back on.
I never found a rock, but Dixie was trying to pass me and we found a hill that was steep enough. I parked her sideways and she stood like an angel while I slowly hauled myself back on her. I turned off the light, turned her down the trail again, and she just carefully carried me all the way back to the highway crossing.
I’d gotten reception again at some point, and I texted Mel and Lucy asking for a pull trailer. There wasn’t one available in camp, so Lucy grabbed my keys off of the trailer tongue (look, I did something smart: leave keys to rig where anyone can find them!) and arranged to bring the trailer to the crossing. They kept touching base with me, but texting was wrecking my night vision, so I tried to keep it to a minimum.
It was kind of magical, actually. I was in an utter black pit of depression, with no idea why I’d ever thought this was a good idea or what the hell I was trying to prove, but we were essentially ok: horse was completely sound and completely happy to walk very slowly along a trail I couldn’t even SEE. There were enough dolomite marks and glowbars to reassure me that she did, in fact, know where she was going, and we just toddled along in the dark for a million years.
I hummed along to whatever songs popped in my head, and I tried to sing our song
to Dixie, but I can’t carry a tune for anything so I didn’t torment her too long. I had a few carrots left, so I doled them out to D at the bottoms of the little hills and we just plonked along, admiring the views, cussing the wind and clouds and snow.
It was close to ten when we finally made it to Geiger Summit. The trail pops out onto a private road, and the private road runs parallel to the highway for a quarter mile or so, and I got to watch my rig arrive to save me right as we finally made it to the paved road. I got off, waited for traffic, and jogged across. Dixie was not entirely sure that she should load in a dark trailer, but she went in on the second try, and I just tried not to bawl. I was the Worst Rider Ever.
We made it back to camp and I slugged down two cups of hot chocolate. Somehow the tack came off the horse – surely I didn’t manage that? I think Mel did? and I cried on Dr. Hassan’s shoulder for a while, then got a volunteer to trot Dixie out for her RO pull. She trotted out great, CRI of 60, low gut sounds but otherwise fine (and starving!) We gave her all the food and tied her out of the wind to Lucy’s trailer, and I started the slow spiral toward bed.
I crashed hard for an hour, then woke up kind of confused. Lucy was walking by and I got her to give me a powerbar and some cheese. I ate the cheese and passed out again for another hour, then I woke up feeling decidedly better about everything. I wandered over to the Ice House and stood by the stove, listening to the vets and volunteers talking. The Dutch Oven people were still cooking, but I wasn’t ready to handle more food, so I just drank a lot of lemonade. Right as I got tired again, Kaity crossed the finish line at the cemetery, so I stayed up til she and Kody made it back to camp, and then I was down again. I ate half the powerbar in my sleeping bag and the last conscious decision I made was a good idea– I tossed the stupid powerbar out of the bag so I wouldn’t roll around on it in my sleep. Also Lucy gave me a hot water bottle and I cuddled it like a tiny precious baby in my sleep.
When I woke up I found out I hadn’t hallucinated the other rider. There was somebody else out there, a friend of mine (former friend now, probably) and her horse had spooked and gotten away from her and she spent the night looking for him and I am, possibly, the worst human being in the world. I feel so fucking bad about that. I never would’ve turned on the white light if I wasn’t completely convinced that I was totally alone. I’m so sorry. They’d found the horse that morning, and he was fine, so at least I didn’t fuck it up any worse than that. Still – I am such an asshole.
The Dutch Oven people finally packed up and left, but the Storey County Jeep Posse had showed up to cook steak and eggs for breakfast. I had an entire ribeye, about six eggs worth of scrambled eggs, and a bunch of potatoes. I was filthy and it hurt to move and damn if Tinker wouldn’t stop telling funny stories and making me laugh and oh god, it hurts so bad to laugh.
Dixie looked great. Her legs were ever so slightly filled, but she was perky and eating and drinking. Mel and I slowly flung all my gear in my trailer, dropped off all my borrowed items with the right people, and then I decided to make a break for it. Awards were going on, and it would’ve been awesome to stay for them, but then I’d have gotten stuck in the traffic jam getting out and I had a long drive home.
There was still a bit of snow over Donner.
I got home about 6. G made me go to the doctor Monday, but my rib isn’t broken, just bruised. Not gonna lie, it does not feel good at all, but it’s getting better. Dixie looks phenomenal. I begged for the barn farrier to help me get the boots off; hopefully he’s out this way today and we can free her feet.
Congratulations on reading this far. Analysis to follow… eventually. Behold my amazing mare:
Not back sore. Not lame. No galls or lumps or anything that I can find. Not even pinning her ears when I appear – she was listening to the horse outside the barn in the second pic.
Virginia City was the hardest thing I’ve ever tried in my life. It was also the coolest thing I’ve ever done in my life, and I’m definitely going back next year. Right now I’m not even ashamed that my horse ran out of gas – that was incredibly hard, and she’s smart enough to say she’s done before she hurts herself, and somehow I’m smart enough to not try to push her. She’s sound, I’m, well, kinda sound, and we live to ride again. You go, mare. I don’t know how I deserve to own you.