April recap

I’d meant to post something sooner, but then the end of the month snuck up on me and I decided to just wait and do a big wrap-up post. So here we go.April 2014After the Derby, I had some lingering saddle fit issues I needed to work on. I’d finally gotten the chance to talk saddle fitting IRL, with the horse and saddle in question right there, so I finally felt like I had a plan. I borrowed a bunch of pads and headed home.

I still wanted the Woolback to work, so that’s the pad I tried first — and it’s the pad that failed me completely. Now I remember why I sold the first Woolback in 2011: it wouldn’t stay put under the saddle. I don’t know what magic was happening at 20MT, but it’s gone now. I shimmed the saddle, slapped a Woolback on, and headed out for a quite leisurely 6.5 mile walking ride up and down some steep hills. If it hadn’t been such a leisurely ride, I would’ve had to drop out of the group, but as it was, the ladies I was with didn’t mind that I had to stop, get off, undo the girth completely and reseat the saddle pad four times. Four times. In six and a half miles.

So the Woolback is dead to me. (For the record: I used one I’d borrowed from Aurora, not the ripped one I’d taken to 20MT. Thanks, A!)

Next, I tried an Equipedic I’d borrowed from Mel. The Equipedic is kind of the opposite of the Woolback — I don’t really want to like it, but I’ll be damned if it’s not working quite well for us. I did a 4 mile walking ride and she wasn’t sore, so I hauled out to Briones and did 14 miles with it.

I love Briones Reservoir so much, but I hardly ever take pictures out there or blog about it. I think it’s because it feels like it’s my secret, and if I don’t tell anybody, it won’t end up too popular. There are deer and turkeys all over the place, and sometimes I see coyotes or snakes. Of course there are tons of waterbirds, scavengers, and raptors, too. Now that it’s spring and the grass is in, the cows are out on about half the trail. (Over the winter, there was a herd of goats — wearing bells, natch! — out on part of the trail, and the goats were slightly more terrifying to Dixie.) I usually see one other group of humans, but mainly I go out there for 3 hours of blissful solitude.IMG_1758The reservoir is filling back up.IMG_1754California poppies everywhere.IMG_1760Turkey vultures! There were eight total; the rest were hanging out near something dead in the grass to the right. IMG_1759IMG_1768 IMG_1769OH MY GOD COWS WE’RE GOING TO DIE. Bellow, snort, etc.

Anyway, on the 16th Dixie was in heat like woah, poor thing. It was so very hard for her to concentrate on anything. I ordered her some chaste berry and raspberry leaf when I got home that day, actually. And the Equipedic did ok. Her back wasn’t sore, and it wasn’t too hot, and there was a damp-not-dry patch where I’d shimmed the saddle.

That weekend was the Great Day of Running, and I didn’t get around to riding again until Tuesday. I swapped out the medium shim for the narrowest shim I could find, threw the Equipedic on her again, and went for a quick test ride: all seemed ok. So away we went to Briones again.

I meant to use the Equipedic again, but at the last minute I grabbed the Supracore instead. I had another truly lovely ride, right up until we were about 3 miles from the trailer. We’d made it past the guy loading the bulldozer on his trailer right as I was tacking up, and the Bad Spot, and the cows (including one cow who lurched up onto the road, mooed at us and didn’t want to move, then finally dove back off the trail at the last minute), and the doe who just watched us trot by.

Dixie hadn’t actually trotted much all day; she’d been doing her smooth little step-pace pretty much exclusively, and I felt like I had the saddle right. I don’t post, per se, but I don’t sit her gait either. I do sort of a mini post, where I rock up maybe an inch and then back down, and I’ve never been able to do it on both “diagonals” — except that day, when I could effortlessly switch between diagonals.

So we’re “trotting” along, and she came down in a small hole. I felt her front end go down about 2” further than it should’ve, which is no big deal, except that’s the exact moment when one of those big creepy turkey vultures launched itself from a tree 20’ in front of us. Neither of us had seen it there. Dixie spooked left, realized it wasn’t actually a dragon, swung back right, and kept trotting. And then a half a mile later she didn’t want to trot anymore.

Either the hole or the vulture would’ve been fine, alone. But she’d caught her left leg on the edge of the little hole as she spooked away from the vulture, and I think she just torqued the whole leg. By the time we got back the trailer, her LF fetlock was puffy and a little warm, so I put a compression sock on it and vet-wrapped an instant cold pack to it for the ride home. (And I checked her back — wonderful, perfect sweat patterns, yay!)

So I got her back to the barn and let her eat and drink, then iced the leg again and buted her. The next day, she was still lame and it was still puffy, and I managed to hold the line til late afternoon, when I freaked out and called the vet. Friday, in the rain, I hauled out to the vet and had a pretty expensive yet unsatisfying visit — the vet was plenty experienced, but he isn’t an endurance vet and he wasn’t seeing what I was seeing and we don’t remotely speak the same language. “Back to work” means wildly, completely different things in other disciplines.

Anyway, Dixie was predictably 100% sound with cold, tight legs on Saturday. I think she just needed me to spend money on her, sigh. I don’t think it was a terribly serious injury, but I am trying to treat it as such anyway. I took her for a handwalk on Monday (she managed to snatch a 3’ long poison oak branch and I screamed helplessly as she waved it around, trying to get it crammed into her mouth, GAH HORSE) and today I’ll take her out for a 2-3 mile hand-run.

I’ve saved the best for last, too: Dixie’s custom halter-bridle from ATG is here! Of course it arrived in the mail the day the horse broke, but look how gorgeous it is! I love it!IMG_1805 IMG_1811 IMG_1807In April, Dixie got out for just over 101 miles (competition, riding, and in-hand.) I ran/hiked a truly astonishing 33 miles. Go us!

14 Miles at Mt. Diablo

That’d be fourteen miles without a horsefor the record.IMG_5130

Well, the running thing is still going quite well, and of course I saw endurance parallels, so bear with me through the “run story” to the lessons learned!

I don’t even remember whose brilliant idea this was, but back in February or something Mel and I decided that we should do the Diablo Trails Challenge run. She wanted to move up to a 50k, which is the shortest (commonly offered) ultramarathon distance, and I wanted to head closer to my goal of half-marathons. (It is worth noting here that I am bad at math and I enjoy lying to myself.)

Diablo Trails offered the usual shorter distances – 5k, 10k and half-marathon – as loops, and a 50k (31 miles) as a point-to-point. That means that all the shorter races started and finished in one staging area (Castle Rock, in Walnut Creek), while the ultra started 31 miles away in Round Valley and ended in Castle Rock. There were two points on the 50k course where pacers were welcome to join the ultra competitors. I paid absolutely no attention to the logistics of the thing when I decided that I’d run the 10k, then pace Mel for the last 8 miles of her 50k.

Eventually, with a week to go before the race, Mel was like “so what time are we meeting” and I was forced to do math and make plans. After I ran my race out of Castle Rock, I’d need to teleport over to Curry Point, whatever that was, to meet up with Mel.

After consulting with some maps, I realized it was only about 5 miles as the crow flies, or 8 miles on foot, or 21.2 miles by car. I could’ve gotten in my truck and driven over to Curry Point, but there’s not a lot of parking available at those little turnouts in the park, and, worse, it would be backloading my day — after running all day, I’d have to pile in Mel’s car and we’d have to drive 21 miles out of her way to pick up my truck. I needed a helper.Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 11.26.40 AM

Asking for help used to be like the hardest thing for me, y’all. All I want is to be completely self-sufficient in all endeavors. But riding endurance has slowly beaten that form of pride out of me, so I just emailed the first person I thought of: my friend K. She lives in Oakland, she has a car, and she’s an endurance newbie so she’s up for crazy shit like this.

At some point I realized that 10k + 8 miles is 14 miles, but I didn’t let myself dwell on the distance. I’d have an hour or two in the middle of the day to rest and eat. Mel would be tired so she probably wouldn’t run off and leave me. It’d be fine.

So race day rolled around, and it went exactly like you’d think a Funder Adventure would go. I drove out to Castle Rock, in really unusually heavy traffic, and eventually I realized we were getting close to the park. After all, I’d been there once in my life, last year, so I did kind of recognize things. I saw a minibus on the side of the road, with people in spandex boarding it, and there was some open parking just past it, so I pulled off. I grabbed my camelback, some almond butter, a powerbar, my phone, and my headphones. I leapt out, locked up, and jumped on the bus. Everyone on it was wearing spandex and the driver didn’t ask me for money, so I was really pretty sure that it was taking me to the race.

Sure enough, the bus dropped us off at the entrance to the park. There were a lot of people there — over 1,300 finishers in all distances, plus whoever DNF’d (Did Not Finish), plus all their friends and hangers-on and all the volunteers and vendors. I got my race packet and sat on the grass for a while, watching the spectacle, and eventually I dropped my sweatshirt at the drop area and headed over to the start.

The only problem was that I was really not in the mood to run. I managed to break into a passable jog whenever I saw people with cameras, but that meant I ran about 50 yards out of the first mile.DSC_8126Not even pretending to run.IMG_2294Definitely pretending.

After a mile of brisk hiking, I felt a little more inclined to run, but then the trail headed up. Mile 2 had about 400’ of climb, up a never-ending singletrack, so I kept walking.

The race had self-seeded very well by that point, so I was surrounded by people who were going about the same pace as me. Gradually, the hikers in front of me got tired and started stepping off to rest, and I just kept walking. I still can’t run up a hill to save my life, but by god I can walk up a hill like a champ.

We got to the top around Mile 3, and that was awesome, and I decided to run. I ran downhill for a mile, and then we started up again. (No, of course I hadn’t looked at the elevation chart — you follow the ribbons, and you go as fast as you can, and why should I worry my pretty little head about what’s in store for me?) This second climb was only a half a mile, but it gained nearly 400’, so it was steep. And warm. And the trail was baked mud, full of half-fossilized hoof prints, and I really missed my horse.

I fell in with two experienced slow runners and leapfrogged them for the climb — they walked a little faster than me, but they kept stopping briefly to say hi to the volunteers at the trail junctions, so I’d pass them and then they’d pass me. They warned me on the last big climb that it looked like the trail was going all the way up the hill to the east, but not to worry. We’d turn west and start down after the last hundred yards of climbing.

I think that was the point in the day when I remembered that everyone near the Bay Area comes to Mt. Diablo for Tevis training. It’s hot and it’s hilly and it’s the closest thing we’ve got to the Tevis canyons. And I’d forgotten to bring my horse.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, indeed.

But they were right, and after that last slog, it was all downhill or gently rolling stuff. I let my HR come down a bit and started slowly jogging down the giant hill. I felt pretty good at that point. I mean, everything hurt, but not Bad Pain, and I was tired but not Too Tired. About halfway through the 10k, I got a mild side stitch, which is usually a sign that my electrolytes are off, and that’s when I remembered what I’d forgotten to get out of the truck. Oh. Whoops.

The 10k trail was a lollipop, so the last mile and a half was familiar to me. I leapfrogged with a lady named Charmayne and eventually we just fell in together and finished side-by-side — she’s a mountain biker who runs as her secondary hobby and she was fun to talk to.IMG_5129Near the finish, and finally hitting my pitiful stride.

My minimum speed to maintain self-respect is 3 mph, which is a brisk walk — if I can’t finish a 10k in two hours, I’m clearly not trying hard enough. I did the first half of the race in an hour (but there were a lot of hills) and managed to turn on the afterburners and do the second half in 45 minutes. I finished at 11:45 and immediately ran into a problem.

I was supposed to meet K just down the street from the park at noon, but I didn’t have any reception and I needed those electrolytes out of the truck, which was a mile from the park gate. And wizard needed food, badly. And I needed to grab my sweatshirt and pee and somehow accomplish all this in 15 minutes. I ended up skipping the BBQ, grabbing my sweatshirt, hitting the portapotty, and stumbling onto another minibus shuttle back to my truck, where I had enough cell phone bars to text K. She drove down and picked me up and we set out on the great circumnavigation of Mt. Diablo.

We chatted about horses and the drive flew by. I shoved some electrolyte pills down the hatch and ate quite a bit of almond butter in tiny nibbles. I know that I’m supposed to eat during a run if it’s longer than an hour or something, but I just can’t take anything seriously if it’s only two hours, so I’d gotten behind the curve on calories and electrolytes. I’d gotten a text from Mel earlier, so I knew she would be at Curry Point closer to 1pm than to noon, and I had enough time to fix all my problems.IMG_1781Look, I took a picture. This is where the wildfire was last year.

K stayed with me til about 12:30, then she headed off to do more horse stuff and I walked over to the vet check aid station. I introduced myself to the volunteers as a pacer waiting for her runner, and they offered me a chair, but I just sat on a crate of water in the sun and dozed off.

This is the point where I started really noticing the similarities to endurance. I had just done “the first loop” of my day. I passed my personal vet check (nothing was Bad Hurting), I ate for a while, and now I was taking a power nap, just like a horse. After a while I sort of woke up, because I was kind of maybe hungry again, and I downed another powerbar. Right as I finished the last bite, Mel appeared.

Of course the first thing she said was that she wanted to pull, because that’s just how she and I roll. I told her she couldn’t pull because K had gone and we had no way to get back to our cars, and we’d just go walk for two and a half more hours and get this stupid thing done. Mel hmph’d and staggered off to drink gatorade. One of the volunteers pulled me aside and said “you know we can give you a ride—” and I was like, “Hahah, no, that’s not what we need to hear!” They laughed and let us go.

I think we left at 1:15 with 8 miles to go. The next vet check aid station was 5 miles away. I had actually briefly glanced at the 50k elevation chart, and I knew that Mel had already done the hardest climbing on her own, so it would be easy going or something.

It wasn’t, really. There were plenty of hills left. It was about 80, quite sunny, and moderately humid. I didn’t wilt, and we both managed to jog/walk for a couple miles of downhill, and then we had to climb. And climb. And climb. Mel said that her something or other, maybe her IT band, was not working anymore for uphills, so she slipped her head-scarf-thing around her thigh and used her arm to drag that leg forward for the steepest bit. (I was quite impressed that she didn’t fall over when she stood on one leg to put the scarf-thing on the other leg.)

We decided that we had to trot the downhills, but we were allowed to walk any uphill, no matter how minor. And as it got hotter, we decided that we were also allowed to walk in the shade and trot the sunny bits. And yes, we did refer to our faster speed as “trotting,” and we called the aid stations vet checks.

There were some really majestic rocks, and I saw a deer but I couldn’t get Mel to look in the right spot to see it, and we both saw two turkeys who were harassing a parked Mini Cooper. We passed no one. A few people passed us. When I got entirely too hot, I made us stop very briefly in the shade, but mainly we walked. And eventually, I realized that I wasn’t as tired as Mel, and I managed to keep our little Worst Team Ever going.

The next vet check was like heaven. We staggered in and a bunch of really energetic happy volunteers took care of us — one lady squeezed a sponge of cold water over my head and I screamed like a porn star, and honestly, the whole day was worth it just for that sensation. One of the volunteers filled up my camelback, and one gave Mel a Coke that she shared with me.

Again, I really understood what our horses feel like. I looked over the snack table and needed a rice krispie treat. I ate about 3/4 of it and suddenly I was through, so I tossed it and grabbed a handful of gummy bears and we were off again! Only three miles to go, no more climbing, and eventually we’d hit the common trail that I’d already run twice that morning.

I kept getting really thirsty, drinking a lot of water, feeling sloshy, and remembering that I needed electrolytes too. I’d dig out a few pills, take them, feel great for 30 minutes, and then I’d be thirsty again and the cycle would start again. I never got queasy, and I never got too hot, and nothing ever gave me Bad Pains. My big toe joint on my left got sore, and I started unconsciously compensating and something in my right hip started to get sore, so I spent a couple miles focused on moving correctly and it never got worse.

Eventually we hit the common trail and I turned into a tour guide. “We go through a bunch of little bitty creeks, and the one that’s closest to the finish has a log in it, so when we get to that we’re really close.” A mile out: “They took it down already, but there was a vet check here, and it was really awesome!” Half a mile out: “This is that last stretch of hot sunny sandstone with the little cave I was telling you about.” And finally, the tree that Charmayne had shown me: “We have to run again, the finish is just around the corner and we have to run over the finish line!”IMG_1785Like a pair of BOSSES.

We finished, if I remember right, around 3:45. We didn’t even turtle; Mel was 20th from last. She went off to get her finishing goodies and I managed to beg some food from the BBQ guys — you were supposed to show your race bib thing as your meal ticket, but I’d taken mine off and left it in the truck (because I didn’t want to completely confuse the volunteers by being a 10k on the 50k trail), and I told the food guys that I hadn’t had time to get my meal that morning and my wallet was a mile away and I was really, really hungry and could I possibly just have a hot link? They obviously took pity on my delirious state and gave me a sausage and some cole slaw.

I slipped in to a picnic table and waited for Mel. There was a black guy there too, older than me, wearing a sweatshirt that said Sierra Nevada Endurance Race, so when Mel showed up I started talking.

“So tell me about your shirt! Because Mel here just finished her first 50k, and Western States is on her bucket list, so what’s Sierra Nevada like?”

He made a dismissive noise and gave us both the once-over. “Oh, this thing is old, they don’t run this one anymore. But you want to run Western States? And you just finished the 50k here?”

Mel nodded, and they started talking running-talk. I mainly listened after that, because I want to ride Tevis, not run it! But you know what his advice all boiled down to? It’s the exact same conversation I’ve had with more experienced endurance riders. It’s the exact same advice I give, over and over, to new riders. 

Seriously. It was freaky. The secret to the hot rides runs? Well, stay hydrated. Take your electrolytes. Carry a spare water bottle and pour it on your head if you overheat. Make sure you’re eating enough calories! Pace yourself — walk those uphills, trot run the nice bits, never hurry but never tarry.

As it turned out, I’d ended up sitting down next to an incredibly experienced runner. Errol Jones is actually 64, but he looks like he’s in his 40s. He’s been running 100 mile races for 32 years. Thirty-two years, dude. It’s the ultra equivalent of plopping down next to Barbara White and announcing that I want to ride Tevis. (Which I have also done.)

And just like a multi-decade endurance rider, he was more than happy to talk to us — after we made the first move, and after he understood what our experience levels were.

I don’t spend a lot of time on the various endurance newbie (“green bean”) groups on Facebook. I love to help people, but I enjoy helping from a more detailed level. The Green Bean groups (like every other intro-to-X group in the history of time) have a lot of people wandering in to ask the same question over and over and over. Yes, X breed can do endurance. Yes, people ride endurance in your brand of saddle. Yes, people ride endurance bitless. Yes, people use your brand of hoof boots / shoes. You don’t need to do a 10 mile training ride in an hour to be ready; you do need to do it in less than 3 hours. Your mileage, quite literally, may vary from mine.

I will happily talk about horses for hours and hours, but the level that I speak to depends on the listener. If you don’t know much about horses, I’ll just babble on about my amazing horse and how amazing she is. If I’m talking to a trail rider, we talk about trail rider stuff. If it’s somebody getting ready for an LD, I’ve got some points that they should really keep in mind, stuff like “Stay hydrated, and make sure you both get some electrolytes, and maybe carry a spare water bottle to dump on the horse’s neck if she gets hot, and don’t forget to eat.” And with people who do 50s or 100s, it’s a whole different level of comparing training strategies, and let’s whine about how hard it is to ride balanced for that long, and would you rather ride in the snow or in 100 degree temps, etc. Most other endurance riders are the same way: we’d love to talk to you, but we’re not going to launch into advanced horse psychology if you’re still working on getting your first double-digit training ride done.

One of the criticisms that I sometimes hear from new riders is that they don’t feel welcomed at ridecamps. I got introduced to the sport by a real-life mentor, so I fast-forwarded through the awkward stage, but I did go through it and I do remember it. It’s so hard when you’re alone and everyone around you is talking to their friends. They all look like they know exactly what they’re doing, and they have the right gear, and their horses look fitter yet act better than your hairy wild creature. It’s really hard, and you haven’t even mounted up yet!

But once you get through the first crucible, whether it’s an intro ride or an LD, you’ll have an easier time of it. Before I finished my first LD, I didn’t even know what questions to ask. I remember people telling me stuff like “just go slow and steady, not too fast” and I’d think “but how fast is too fast?” Or they’d say “I pulled here last year because my horse was too tired and not quite right,” and I’d think “What the hell is not quite right? Nothing about this feels right and my horse is obviously exhausted!”

But I finished my first LD30. And Dixie wasn’t quite as tired as she thought — she managed to trot into camp. And on my second LD, I had an idea of what the minimum speed felt like. I was starting to get a feel for where to trot versus where to walk. She quit on me at a 20 mile training ride, and I stared at her face for the long walk back to camp, memorizing what “too tired, on the edge of a metabolic problem” looks like. I was starting to learn the language of the sport, and once I had some “words,” I could actually talk to more experienced riders.

So newbies, I’m not promising that everyone’s going to be nice to you and share all their secrets. I’ve had people act like dicks to me (and most of the time, later on down the road, we’ve gotten to be cool with each other.) I’ve talked to plenty of people whose training strategies are 180º from mine, and we have no useful knowledge to share with each other. What I am promising is that once you pass through the first couple of tests — do an intro ride, finish an LD, hell, even pulling at an LD will teach you so much — you will start to learn our language, and you can ask us questions and actually get information you can use in response.

I guarantee you that if I’d finished the 5k and sat down next to Errol, we’d have ended up talking about the weather. Not because he doesn’t want people to enjoy running, but because if I’d never run for longer than an hour, I wouldn’t understand anything he was talking about. But I’ve been through the first couple of gateways, and I’m starting to speak the language of endurance running.

And I’m more impressed than ever by real ultramarathoners, and I’m so proud that I got to pace Mel as she hit that milestone. You rock, my friend! Go Team Worst!

2014 Nevada Derby I 50

Sorry for the posting delay; I’ve been hanging with the incomparable Liz Stout!

Last Friday I threw everything I owned in the trailer and headed over to Reno. It was rainy when I left Oakland, and it was rainy when I stopped in Yuba City and stole a little bay Arab named Farley. We headed for Nevada and the hope of sunshine.Farley in trailer
Derby is one of our early-season rides and almost everybody I know in the area was going. My phone was blowing up all weekend with updates from all my friends, and Aurora was the first over the pass. She reported that the rain stopped and the pass was dry, and there were blue skies in Nevada. I was second over the pass, about two hours behind her, and it was not dry.IMG_1653
It was, in fact, snowing. But Caltrans had salted the roads, and it wasn’t sticking, so we just roared up and over without any problems. IMG_1657
I was briefly sad when I started the big climb from Auburn to Truckee, because my truck just didn’t have as much power as it used to. Poor truckie, you’ve only got 80k miles, are you really losing power already? And then I remembered my extra passenger — it wasn’t towing worse, it was just towing an extra 800 lbs. Simmer down, Funder.

Lucy and Patrick were next, another two hours behind me, and they hauled in slushy snow, fingers crossed that they wouldn’t have to chain up, but they made it too. Mel was the last one over, just before sunset, and she almost had to chain the Corolla, eeek!

Nevada was beautiful as always. I was starving, so I stopped for a burger, then pushed south to Washoe Valley. Right as I passed the 7-11 gas station* in New Washoe City**, the “50 miles to empty” warning display came on, but I was almost there so I ignored it. Hah, stupid truck, my horse has a lot more than 50 miles to empty in her tank. Ain’t nobody got time for you.IMG_1659
Crysta and Kaity had saved a huge spot for us by the arena, and we got the horses settled and my camp set up. I checked a bunch of us in and discovered that there were holy crap 92 starters in the Saturday 50!

I think I shanghai’d Kaity into helping me turn the mares out to roll in the arena, and they were fine together. Dixie thought about squealing at Farley, but I bellowed at her and she decided she’d rather roll. Then I grabbed T and he vetted Farley while I vetted Dixie, and we were ready!

Of course it snowed on us, but my friends in Minneapolis just laughed when I posted a snowflake picture on Facebook. It really didn’t snow all that much. More drama than danger.IMG_1660
The ride map wasn’t quite the same as the Washoe Valley ride trails, but it was close enough. We’d do 25 miles, have an hour hold, do 18 miles, have a 15 minute hold, and do the final 7 miles in the park. Derby 1 map
The first loop had a controlled start across the road. Climb up the big hill, pick up the power line trail and circle down around by Carson City and Moundhouse, then up a long climb to Jumbo and a long descent back to the valley. I’ve done that loop many times on different NEDA, AERC and training rides, and it’s not easy, but it’s very familiar. The second loop looked new to me. We’d head up to Jumbo Grade, but instead of looping east or south, we’d go north, all the way up to the highway, then come back south along the lakes. After the short hold, we’d just zip around the park perimeter and be done.

I’m finally starting to get a feel for the subtleties of the sport, and I decided we’d go at a brisk pace. Last May, we did two days at Washoe on similar trails in 8:20 or so, so I figured we’d try for an 8 hour ride time. This isn’t Dixie’s first ride of the year, and it’s “just” a 50, so I didn’t need to hold her back like I’ve been doing on the longer rides.

Mel arrived at the end of the ride meeting, and when it broke up, we all headed off to drink and boot our horses. You’ve already read about Mel’s booting experience, and mine went similarly. I trimmed quite a bit more than I thought I’d have to and then none of my boots really fit.

Last year Dixie went in 0.5’s and sometimes 0’s in the front. Seven months ago, we glued 0’s all around. Two months ago, we glued 0.5’s in the front and 1’s in the rear. I was so surprised that the 1’s worked, but I shrugged and bought a pair. Last month I shoved a brand-new 1 on her rear foot, cussed, and pulled it right off — they were laughably too big. So I brought them to the ride and swapped them out for another pair of 0.5’s (thank you Dave!) The 0.5’s went on entirely too easily, but I shrugged again and packed some 0’s in the cantle bag and went to bed.

It was quite cold that night. I ran the truck long enough to warm it up and was rather dismayed to realize that it took ten miles’ worth of gas to get the temperature inside from frigid to cool. Hrm. Oh well, still ain’t got time for that. I snuggled up in my sleeping bag, wearing my parka and hat, and pulled a comforter completely over my head, and I slept well enough.

The next morning everyone headed out at 7. I was worried about such a big start, but I didn’t see or hear about any wrecks, and everybody self-seeded nicely. I left with Crysta and Angela, near Mel and Aurora and Kaity, just after the first big group went out. I stopped at the first scenic vista for a look back over the lake. KT derby 1(pic stolen from Kaity)IMG_1667
Crysta was also going for an 8 hour 50, and Diego has really blossomed into a little powerhouse. Angela and I stuck pretty close to her for the first 15 miles or, all the way up the back side of the mountain. Diego led a lot of the trotting, and Dixie led a lot of the powerwalking up the hills — good ponies! Angela’s LUV thinks she wants to lead, but she gets spooky and balky as soon as she’s in front. It’s hard to lead, and she decided being behind the big white one was acceptable!IMG_1670

Nevada rides often have a few rocks.
At the top of the mountain, I was thoroughly sick of riding. I’d gotten off to run two or three times already (oh my god I can’t believe it I’m actually doing the thing! I’m running 10% of my endurance rides!!), and I was ready to run again. Diego was having none of it and he flew off down the hill, leaving Angela and me chugging along.IMG_1678

Next month, we’ll go ride the NASTR 75 in those big blue mountains!IMG_1679
The horses were not drinking. I didn’t even care until the nice little mustang trough at 15ish miles, and then I allowed myself to start to worry. Stupid horses.

We zoomed down Wildcat, which is truly lovely but I never manage to get pics of. I hate going down Wildcat; for some reason I always end up doing it a little faster than I’m comfortable doing it. It’s a balancing act: if I slow Dixie down too much, the horses ahead of us are “leaving us” and she freaks out and quits paying enough attention to where she’s putting her feet, so we have to go the same speed as whoever we are with. On the way up the last hill, Angela and I had fallen in with somebody else, a rider from Ridgecrest, so we had good conversation, but then they took off down the hill and LUV stuck to the grey gelding like glue and bam, there I was again, fifty feet back and trying to keep Dixie from wildly galloping down the canyon to catch them.

At the bottom of the canyon, she threw a boot, but it was hanging on by the gaiter pretty well. We had less than a mile to get to the water trough in the park, so I just left it. At the trough, Dixie drank really well while I re-booted her, and we zoomed down the singletrack to camp.

Dixie pulsed in without any assistance in about 7 minutes — probably would’ve pulsed a bit faster, but I was letting her eat and watching for a break in the pulse box. She was in the high 60s or low 70s when I pulled her off the hay and took her over to the pulsers, and she was down to 60 when they checked. She’s shed out, and it was rather cold, so I didn’t sponge her or pull tack. I think we pulsed at 11:10, which meant we’d done the first 25 miles in just over four hours. Perfect!IMG_1680
We vetted through fine, with quiet gut sounds, and headed over to eat. Dixie dove into her hay and mash, and I chowed down on my food. I slathered some more butt butt’r on, refilled my water, and just stood there twiddling my thumbs for ten minutes. It’s such a nice surprise when I’ve got my shit together and I’m not crunched for time! I’d been cold all morning, even with four shirts on, but I was finally starting to sweat a bit. I tied the hoodie to the saddle and headed out in only three layers — a flannel and two undershirts.

With 12 minutes to go, Dixie had eaten all she wanted, had a power nap, and I was bored. I led her over to the pavilion and got Patrick to hold her while I snagged a bratwurst from the provided lunch, then I mounted up and we were ready to go again.

Crysta had at least ten minutes on us by then, and Kaity was probably thirty minutes behind us, with Lucy and Patrick another fifteen behind her — we all saw each other at lunch, but we weren’t in positions to ride with each other. It would be Angela and me on our brave mares again!

We headed out up the park again, and the mares drank at the trough again. We crossed the road again and turned north, up to Jumbo Grade (which is the name of a road, the name of a NEDA ride, and a climb up a mountain, just to keep it confusing!) We got to Jumbo Grade The Road on familiar trails, then took a brand-new  “trail” through the sagebrush, headed further north. (This is the bit of Mel’s story where she had to get back on Farley to spot the green ribbons on the green sagebrush!) I sort of vaguely remembered riding these hills at NEDA rides, and when we came over one low hill to stare at a really big steep fucker of a climb, I definitely remembered it. You go up a SOB-quality hill, pop over the top, and you’re in hock-deep sand.Mini-SOB
It doesn’t really look that bad in this shot, does it? It’s a really steep climb!
Get it, LUV!

I think that’s the point where we both gave up on our dream of an 8 hour 50. Nine or ten hours sounded much more reasonable. It’s a lot of hill, and then that sand is so deep you can’t even get off and walk it if you want to. (I am the idiot who tried it, at one of our first NEDA rides, and we went half as fast with me trying to lead, and I couldn’t get back on for a mile, ack.) So we let the horses go their own speed marching up the hill and slogging down the sand.

But oh my god is it ever beautiful.IMG_1685 IMG_1688 IMG_1686
When the ground firmed back up and turned into a sand jeep road, we came to a T-junction.IMG_1690
“Left is back to the trailer!” Dixie said helpfully.
“Yes, but the ribbons say go straight,” I replied.
“But — the trailer? The food? Naps?” She was a little despondent.
“I know, but the ribbons, we have to follow the ribbons.”

She let out a big drama-queen sigh and we walked on. It was totally trottable at that point, but both mares were in mid-afternoon doldrums and both riders were only slightly more enthusiastic, lol. Beth and her buddy zipped past us, looking like they were actually having fun, and we just watched them go.IMG_1693
Bye, guys!

More people passed us. They were also having fun. We were having less fun. IMG_1694
I call this self-portrait “Questioning My Life Choices.”

We got to a long downhill, and we knew there was supposed to be water somewhere ahead, so we decided to get off and walk it. There was actual honest-to-god green grass along the road, so we ended up letting the mares graze the whole way down. Grab a bite, walk til you’ve chewed it, grab another bite. Eventually we got tired of walking, so we found rocks and got back on. Apparently Kaity was behind us the whole time, hollering and trying to catch up, but I don’t think we ever glanced behind us. Woops!IMG_1695
This is Little Washoe Lake. Later in the year, it’ll be a dried-out mud puddle, but it’s quite full right now. Washoe Lake, where the trailer-food-naps waits, is just visible to the south, on the left. IMG_1696There’s a gas station in that little cluster of buildings.IMG_1697
We took off down the last little hill, got across the road, and made a beeline for the trough by Little Washoe Lake. There was a flake of peed-on alfalfa, and after the horses drank, we let them eat — and Kaity appeared on Kody!

She was even worse off than us. I offered to buy her horse (I think we settled on $50) and suggested that perhaps if she ate something, she wouldn’t hate life so much. So everybody had a snack and some water, and we set out again.

We were warned / promised that there’d be a buffalo somewhere along the way. Looking for that damn buffalo was the main thing that kept us moving down a never-fucking-ending straight sand road, sandwiched between the houses and the lakes. We saw people, dogs, ugly horses, pretty horses, cows, an alpaca, and a llama, but no buffalo! We were cheated! (And none of us took a single picture, so you’re cheated too.)

After approximately seven thousand years, we made it to the north end of the park and the horses tanked up at a trough. We were on the home stretch! Everybody took turns leading. The footing in the park is either great hard sand or shitty deep beach sand, so we trotted the nice bits and walked all the deep stuff and made camp at some point.KT 3 KT 4
Both of these are stolen from Kaity again!

Angela’s friends were going to ride the Sunday LD, so they were waiting for us at the end of the second loop. We got the horses pulsed and vetted in about five minutes, then Angela’s friends held the horses while we scattered to take care of people business for the 15 minute hold. They fed me tangerines and I love them forever for that!

Kaity informed me that Kody was no longer for sale. 😉

I decided I was finally not cold anymore, so I dropped my hoodie and my flannel and just headed out for the last loop in two technical long-sleeved shirts. I was immediately cold, but it was such a nice change from being too hot, and I can be cold for seven miles.

I think we kept rotating leaders for the whole last loop. The horses all had their “anchors out,” trotting as slowly as possibly when we insisted that they trot, and whoever had a little more horse had to lead the way. LUV had stepped up to the plate and decided she could trot in front – good girl!

I spent a lot of time thinking about lead dogs.

This year I fell off into watching the Iditarod pretty closely, and I read two books about long-distance sled racing. It’s fascinating, really, the similarities and differences between endurance riding one horse and endurance racing 8-16 dogs. One of the main things sled racers worry about is their lead dogs. Not every dog has it in her to lead the pack, and only the best of the best can lead for a thousand miles straight. Most teams — even winning teams — rotate between several lead dogs. If your lead dog quits on you, he’s probably not tired, he’s just mentally tired from being in front, and he needs to just run with the pack in the middle for a couple (hundred) miles.

So that was perking along in the back of my mind all day. It’s hard to be the lead dog. When Dixie and I were leading, I noticed that I had to concentrate much harder to make damn sure I was on the right trail. Can I see a ribbon ahead? When’s the last time I saw one? How’s the footing ahead, should I slow us down, don’t forget to signal when you slow down! What do I remember about this section? Can we walk for a quarter mile and get to better trail, or is this a section where you trot ten feet and walk ten feet and trot again?

The horses are the same way. And they’re herbivores, not brave predators. The lead horse has to watch for rocks and pick her footing; the horses behind the lead horse just step exactly where the lead horse stepped. (You’ve seen this — you know that if the horse in front of you stumbles over a rock, there’s a 90% chance your horse is going to stumble over the same damn rock.) It’s hard to be the lead dog for a horse too!

And I kept that in mind all afternoon as we swapped out our lead dogs. They’d all recovered fine, they weren’t lame, and Dixie and Kody are both hundred-mile horses. They weren’t tired; they were tired of leading. I didn’t get mad at Dixie, and I didn’t fall into my usual “she’s just not cut out for this sport we should give up” pit of despair. She did really well and she was really honest!

Here’s the Crysta’n’me ride pic:IMG_1721
And here’s the Kaity’n’me pic:IMG_1723Thank you Bill and Rennie!

We finished at 5:23. First leg of the Nevada Triple Crown complete. Ride time of just over 9 hours: entirely good enough. At the last moment, Dixie surged ahead with her big walk and beat those other two by a couple lengths. My racehorse! 😉

When we vetted out, I told Dr. Hassan that I was using a new pad, and she did a little more back-poking than usual. B+ with the Supracor, a little wither soreness, but no dry spots. (Much more to come in a later post.) I parked Dixie in front of her hay and staggered around in my usual post-ride daze, hugging people and congratulating them and generally being quite happy with life.

Completion award was another lovely stemless wine glass. I heartily approve of the new west-coast trend of giving drinkware! I’m trying to convince G to take up drinking wine, but he’s pretty stuck on beer. Any West rides doing beer steins this year? We might be convinced to come get him a new beer glass! 😉

I managed to make it til like 9 pm before I crashed — no more partying. I ran the truck again and was down to 28 miles or something, eek, then snuggled up in my nest and slept pretty damn well. At 5 I woke up, stuck my head out from under the comforter, went “nope,” and went back to sleep. At 6:20 I woke up again and staggered out to see Kaity off — she was riding her fiancee’s horse in his second 50 on Sunday. Mel crawled out of her car and I somehow convinced her that she should go look for coffee at the pavilion, and if she was getting coffee she might as well bring me one too. :smug grin:

But long before she wandered back, Rob and Jana woke up and invited me into their RV for coffee. Mel eventually came back from her mission and joined us, and I ended up drinking like five cups of coffee and laughing with them for hours. At 10 we decided we really had to go, so Mel and I burst out of the RV at high speed and started flinging shit into the trailer and the Corolla.

Lucy and Patrick appeared and packing screeched to a halt again. The horse was right there, so we did an impromptu Dixie-saddle-fitting clinic. She glared hatefully at us the first few times we threw different pads on her back, but she figured out pretty quickly that it was just stupid human tricks and I wasn’t actually going to ride her. I now have something like three borrowed pads and two pads I own to try, and some saddle fitting ideas to test. Finally, at 11:30, I got serious about leaving and we got the last of our crap packed, and our horses’s crap scattered in the sagebrush, and we hit the road at noon.

Because I was hauling Farley back, Mel was just going to caravan with me. I reminded her that I’d burned up most of my gas trying to stay warm, so we’d have to stop at the 7-11 gas station in New Washoe City. Remember those asterisks earlier? Yeah. Here we go.

There’s a 7-11 gas station on the road to Virginia City, and there’s a 7-11 in Washoe City, and I always get them confused. The one in Washoe City (which has like 3,000 residents, so it’s not much of a city) is just a 7-11. No gas. I drove slowly past it, quite sadly, with 17 miles to empty. We pulled off and I whipped out the phone. That gas station on 395 was only 4 more miles away, so that’s where we headed. (Nevada friends, are you laughing yet?) We got to that gas station and it’s closed. In fact, today, I kind of vaguely remember that it was closed when I left Nevada two years ago. Damn. Let’s see if we can make it to the Maverick at the 341/431 intersection.

It was tight, but we made it.IMG_1713

Then up to the ag station, where they didn’t even glance at our meticulously assembled paperwork — just stamped it, took our info, and sent us on our way.

My trailer brakes slowly shit themselves in the mountains. The brake controller had flashed short a few times on the way over, and I was hoping that they were just wet, but nope. On the perfectly dry run down the Sierras, they gradually gave up the ghost — sometimes they’d work, and sometimes they’d flash short or overload. But the truck is rated to tow 10,000 lbs, and even fully loaded with two horses my trailer is under 5,000 lbs, so I just kept a huge buffer between me and the traffic ahead of me. The transmission braking in the new F-150s is really good, so I never ride the brakes going down 80 anyway, and we made it just fine.

I dropped Farley, hugged Mel, and headed for the Bay. Literally a mile after I got back on 80 we hit the first traffic jam, and it was stop-and-go the entire way to Fairfield. I was sick of that shit so I took 680 down to Walnut Creek, went through the big and not-scary new bore in the Caldecott Tunnel, and got on the last stretch of highway over to the barn… and the motherfucking truck started making the goddamn mystery noise again. I eased down the twisty little road to the barn sweating, listening to the noise, and staring at SHORT! OVERLOAD! flashing on the brake controller. I unloaded my perfectly-fine much-loved horse and started trying to park the trailer and I could not fucking get it in the space. I tried at least ten times from different angles. Finally I just put it in park, halfway jackknifed, put my head on the steering wheel, and bawled for a few minutes. Then I tried three more times, got it wedged in in a halfway acceptable place, unhooked the broke-ass trailer from the broke-ass truck, and went home to take a shower.

Angela took a bunch of helmet-cam videos and somehow she’s already edited them down into a really fun 14 minute video. If you’d like to admire our amazing Nevada trails and/or laugh at my shitty riding, now is your chance!

Next up: Saddle/biomechanics, or My Visit With Liz Stout, but said visit has not yet concluded so it may be a few days on either post!