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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. (pic stolen from Kaity)
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!
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.
Next month, we’ll go ride the NASTR 75 in those big blue mountains!
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!
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.
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.
When the ground firmed back up and turned into a sand jeep road, we came to a T-junction.
“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.
More people passed us. They were also having fun. We were having less fun.
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!
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. There’s a gas station in that little cluster of buildings.
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.
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:
And here’s the Kaity’n’me pic:Thank 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.
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!