So this weekend Mel and I (and my baby human!) ride’n’tied Farley for 36 miles. Late last year, I’d just gotten into running and was doing a pretty good job moving up through the mileage (not that my speed was increasing, but who’s counting?) Mel was coming up on her last 18 months of vet school, which is all out-of-classroom practical stuff, and she needed to pick her one and only two-week vacation. I thought she’d pick Tevis, or some other hundred, but she decided she wanted to do the Ride and Tie championships… and she wanted to do them with me.
My longest run at that point was about five miles. Of course I said yes, I’d love to ride and tie 35 miles in the scorching hot foothills of Georgetown, CA, in July. It seemed so far away, and like such an admirable stretch goal, and so much easier than committing to a marathon or something truly foolish — if I got tired, I could just ride for a while! And we’d get buckles for finishing.
(I never wanted a big gaudy belt buckle in my entire life til I saw my first Tevis buckle, but ever since then I’ve wanted to earn a buckle more than just about anything. A Tevis buckle may be the pièce de résistance among my crowd, but any hundred — or hell, a long-course ride and tie buckle — is a fine, fine thing.)
Just look at it! Isn’t it amazing?
Anyway, so I had a Big Running Goal and Mel had her vacation locked down and we had two serviceable horses to choose from (although the short brown mare is vastly preferable to the giant spotted thing) so we were set.
And then I got pregnant.
Mel was one of the very first people I told, actually. I IM’d her in a panic. (I didn’t dig up our chatlogs; this is a dramatic recreation of my memory of them.)
“Oh shit dude, I’m pregnant oh my god our ride and tie!”
“Ok, so if you’re five weeks now then you’ll be…”
“Fifteen weeks. I already did the math. That’s like four months; I don’t think you’re huge at four months. I think I can do it but I might suck even more than we’d planned for. You should get another partner.” Inside, I was sobbing. No VC buckle and no R’n’T buckle, waaah!
“Nah. I mean, if you don’t feel comfortable, just give me like four days notice. There’s always people looking for a partner, especially runners who don’t have a horse. It’ll be ok.”
We did decide that perhaps it would be in our best interests to practice at least once. So that’s what we did — practiced, once, to teach Farley this odd new life skill.
Pregnancy has made me even more timid and even less motivated. Intellectually, I knew Farley would take care of me as well as Dixie does, but it was still an effort of will to swing up on a strange horse that first time. And the second time, and the third time, but after that I was too hot to care, and having too much fun to worry about it anymore. Farley is very sensible, very short-backed and bouncy, and a blast to ride.
Somehow I survived May (forever to be known as the Month I Slept And Puked Through). I felt better and better in June, and I had that great ride at Wild West on Dixie to build my confidence back up, and before we knew it, it was July and our big ride was upon us. I meant to go for a hot run the weekend before and test my cooling gear / ability to stay cool while pregnant, but I actually caught a cold. Yes, me! I fucking know, right? This suppressed immune system thing is bullshit, y’all. Anyway, I stayed home and got well instead of, you know, training or testing gear or anything.
But by Wednesday, we had gotten very serious about our adventure. We looked through all our technical gear and decided that our team color would be blue, because that’s the color we had the most of. Mel bought blue doodads to put on Farley, and I put blue in my hair. (This is arguably good strategy – you don’t want to ride blindly past your partner, or run right past your horse!) We talked about what to eat. Mel decided to glue hind boots on. I gave her yet another chance to ditch me and get a capable partner, but she stuck with me. Aurora volunteered to come wave at us, and then Lucy also offhandedly mentioned that she might stop by the away check, so we had some crew. Not that we’d need it or anything; it’s just an LD with a lot of running, right? Yeah!
I managed to find some ambition by the time I got to camp, but I was still kind of ehhhhhh on the inside. But I’d been ehhh about Wild West, too, and once I swung up on my horse I’d had a great time all day and felt really good afterwards. And I’d only gotten a t-shirt there. I had a buckle on the line this time, and a partner I couldn’t disappoint! Dru Barner is a lovely equestrian campground when it’s less than 110% full (like it always is for Gold Country.) We got set up right by the entrance, with a picnic table to spread all our crap on. Once Farley vetted in sound, we bedazzled her (well, Mel bedazzled her while I ate cherries and offered suggestions) and packed our crew bag. I made a strategic decision to start the ride in shorts. My biggest worry was getting too hot — the weather was moderate for the area, but that just meant the high was in the low 90s instead of the high 90s, and I’m a pregnant heat wuss from always-70s Oakland. I had a lot of evaporative cooling gear, and I’ve learned how to stay on the ball with hydration and electrolytes, and hell, my partner runs marathons for fun. If I could just do ten miles of this, she’d “only” have to run a marathon.
I did, however, send a pack of moleskin (the blister stuff, not the hipster notebooks) and a roll of duct tape and a pair of running pants to the away check. And Mel had a bento box full of everything the unhappy runner might need: various tapes and wraps, different electrolytes, creams and pills to fix rubs and bug bites and Bad Pains. And I had a secret weapon: Lucy. Lucy’s really good at taping up rubs to finish hundreds, and she was going to meet us at the away check, and she’d put me back together if the shorts Did Me Wrong.
(I suppose it’s worth noting that the shorts had Done Me Wrong the last (only other) time I’d worn them riding, too. I’d sunburned my tattoo’d leg and rubbed the other leg. But that was in my saddle, which only has fleece on the stirrup leathers and the seat, and Mel’s saddle has full fleece. And I really didn’t want to heatstroke out.)
After I had my obligatory Pregnant Lady Afternoon Nap, Team Hot Mess headed over to the ride meeting. I vaguely knew the trails, from riding the 50 at Gold Country in 2012 — and by “vaguely” I mean I remembered the last five miles vividly, and the away check at the Georgetown Airport less vividly, and two years later my overall impression was that it was a pretty ride. I described the bits I remembered, and we stared at the maps (loop 1, pdf loop 2) for a while, and we made some strategy plans about who would ride into the checks.
(One of the rules of R’n’T is that you have to “tie” at the vet check — if A rides in, B has to ride out. And you can’t ditch the horse with the crew; one of the riders has to vet the horse.)
Cowman was at the ride! You are either thinking “oh wow, cool” or “who?” Cowman is one of the first two idiots* to run Tevis, and to start the actual Western States run, and he used to stand up in the high country and wave at the Tevis riders as they ride by — in his cow helmet, natch.
*Of course I mean “idiot” in the most glorious way possible.
So here’s Susan Smyth, the ride manager, wearing the Cowman Helmet, standing on a stump. We actually had a full international complement for the 44th Annual Ride and Tie World Championships — some bold idiots from Canada had come down, plus some bold idiots from Virginia, and a lot of us West Coast idiots. It was a small ride; 23 starters in the long course. Mel and I had some hopes of winning money for the woman/woman team division — third w/w would get $50!
We stayed up long enough to enjoy the full moon, then turned in pretty early. I slept okay and was up before my alarm — the start wasn’t until 7, and it started to get light about 5. Aurora showed up, thank god, and we helpfully pointed out somebody she could follow over to the airport, since we didn’t have crew maps or anything. Then it was time to start.
The official start was maybe a quarter mile outside of camp, because the trail went down a steep-ish hill and they didn’t want cold horses and riders bolting down the hill and getting hurt right off the bat. So I ran off to the start at 7, and Mel planned to ride out of camp at 7:05, to keep Farley from getting racey in the start.I ran gloriously down to the start, but then of course the trail headed up, and there were spectators so I had to keep running til they were out of sight, and then I was quite done in so I dropped back to a walk-the-hills strategy. Farley came thundering along promptly, and I yelled “give me ten minutes!” and they were gone.
The more experienced teams probably have a different strategy, but we found that riding X minutes past the runner and then tying works well for us. Shorter ties are easier on the runner, but the more time we swapped the more times we’d have to mount the horse, and it’s just trading one kind of fatigue for another. I trotted along merrily past a photographer.A few minutes later I found Farley staring back down the trail at me.
“Get on! We need to go!” she yelled.
“Farley. Wait, baby.”
“Get on! Let’s go, I feel great, let’s go!” she said as she danced around me.
“No, Farley, I’m really sorry but we’re not going anywhere til you stand completely still for me to mount.” I patiently held her as she circled around me five or ten times.
Dixie is a giantess, y’all, she’s about 16 hands, and I’ve spent the last four years teaching her to line up by a stump or in a ditch and wait for me to get up there. I don’t have the muscle memory to swing up on a moving horse, and the only thing I was expressly forbidden to do was to fall off the horse. I probably could’ve hopped on up in the morning, but as I got more tired I knew that the odds of me flinging myself right over her and off the other side would just increase, so I figured we’d have to sort this out right away.
Eventually Farley remembered that I’m the special-needs human and she stood still for me to get on and wheeeeee we were off! She’s so much fun to ride when she’s zoomy — she has a pokey normal-horse walk and a 12 mph trot and not much in between. We cantered a couple of nice stretches and trotted briskly up the hills and trotted sedately down the easy downgrades, and just a few minutes later I’d caught Mel. I slithered off and Mel swung up and was away again.I ran past the second photographer, handed off to Mel again, and we got in the groove.Now we enter the point where there are no pictures, even though it’s a pretty trail and I was feeling perky. My riding setup is pretty conducive to taking pictures — I keep the phone in a front-facing fanny pack or a saddlebag, and we actually walk occasionally, so I can yank it out and take pics. But my running setup has the phone in my camelback, with the earphone cord threaded through the shoulder straps, and I can’t get it out without completely stopping, and stopping was never the name of the game.
We worked our way up a ridge, then along a shitty hard rock road that sloped gently down. There were some quite steep bits, and when I was riding I made Farley walk them, and then we were down in the trees again. There was some twisty singletrack along a creek, and a creek crossing. There was a water stop / aid station at 5 miles (and at 19 on the way back). Eventually we got to the last long climb up to the away check at the airport — several miles of switchbacks that leave you hoping you’re up, and then more switchbacks, and then when you’ve given up hope you pop out at the top by the airport and you’re almost there.
One of those early ties went horribly, horribly wrong for me. It was before the short-course trail veered off and left us, because Michelle and Jen helped me out and they were doing the short course. I don’t know, dude, I just grabbed the horse from the tree she was tied to and she would not fucking stand still and she would not stop slinging her head and then she stepped on my foot and I cussed her and Michelle tried to hold her too but she just wouldn’t fucking stand still and — Oh. Wait.
That shiny thing is her bit, on her cheekbone, and the thing in her mouth is the off-side cheek strap. The tie rope had gotten clipped to the bit instead of the halter ring, and she’d yanked the bit through her mouth.
I apologized to the poor mare, and all three of us held her and got the bridle straight and the bit back in her mouth, and then she stood pretty nicely at a bank for me to mount up and ZOOM we were off again.
(Here’s Michelle and Jen, from the previous night — they were victorious turtles on the short course.)Anyway, after that tack malfunction, we made it up the hill and to the airport. Mel rode up the last chunk of hill, which is no less than what she deserved, since she was running the majority of the time already. When I rounded that last corner and saw Farley glaring at me from her tree, I knew that only one thing in life was true: Mel loves me. I hopped on, passed Mel a half mile before the check, got off and ran Farley in the last quarter mile, and then, salvation.Because those shorts had, in fact, Done Me Terribly Wrong again. I had a quarter-sized rub on my left calf, and a stinging hotspot on my right knee, and a quite tremendously painful palm-sized rub low on my right calf. Most of the time I was running, I was so fucking grateful that I didn’t have to ride, and most of the time I was riding I was going like a bat out of hell so I could catch Mel and hand off the damn horse. But Lucy and the moleskin was waiting for me!
Lucy and Aurora were, in fact, both waiting for me. I fell upon the food like I’d not eaten in a week. Out of all the random stuff we’d brought, the only thing I wanted was this deliciously salty spicy braided mozzarella, and I ate the whole thing — probably half a pound of cheese. Mel, super-runner, appeared before Farley was even pulsed down, and she vetted Farley through and rode away while I was digging out the first aid kit. I changed into my favoritest REI running pants, then Lucy wrapped me up with a huge chunk of moleskin, an ace bandage, and a solid layer of duct tape on top. It felt heavenly.But eventually I had to go, so away I ran.
Farley was maybe a quarter mile outside of the check (because Mel loves me). For the second (and final) time she was a total shit about standing for me to mount, but after several minutes of patient negotiation she remembered that I’m the special-needs rider and stood still for me. We zoomed off … and a couple swaps later I couldn’t run anymore.
I wasn’t too hot standing still or riding like a bat out of hell, and I wasn’t too hot walking, even hiking up hills in full sun. But every time I tried to jog, even downhill in the shade, my brain started screaming warnings at me. Too hot gonna die too hot gonna heatstroke! Baby didn’t want to run anymore, so I didn’t. I telepathically apologized to Mel (who’d be running way longer than she thought) and just walked til I found the horse.
I think I also took the one and only trail selfie somewhere in here. Don’t I look thrilled?The blue thing around my neck is a bandanna-shaped shammy cloth, a Frogg Togg I’d picked up somewhere and had hardly used in years. It totally made this ride possible and I can’t praise it highly enough. Most of the time it was tied around my neck, keeping my brain-veins soggy and cool, and when I had to hike uphill in the sun I’d pull it off and wipe my face. Sometimes when I was walking I’d drape it over my head like a peasant. It stayed wet for about two hours at a time, unlike that orange cooling vest, which dried out in about 30 minutes and got stowed away promptly.
At the 19 mile trough, the volunteers had peaches. Mel was waiting there, and I handed off to her before I grabbed a peach and scarfed it down. While I walked, I ate most of an apple, too, before I found Farley again. I offered her the core, and she started taking very ladylike small bites, contemplatively chewing them thoroughly. I thought she was eating kind of slow, so I snuck another bite out of the apple, and oh my god I thought her eyes were going to pop out of her head. She does not approve of Indian-givers. (I think that’s an offensive phrase now, but Farley thought my behavior was extremely offensive.) She snatched the rest of the apple out of my hand and chomped it down twice as fast.
So eventually we made it back to camp, where Lucy and Aurora had set up right by the vet check. We were, in the crucial lying-to-yourself meaning of the phrase, Almost Done. All we had left was five miles out to the last water trough and then back to camp, no big deal. I fell upon the popcorn and pecans while other people did stuff with Farley. She vetted through great, and the others swapped out the annoying saddle pad for a less-annoying but less-optimal pad. Normally I’d feel a little guilty about not ever doing anything to help the horse, but, you know, pregnant. Needs food.Our dreams of a seven-hour finish had completely disappeared, what with my lack of running, but we all seemed to feel good still. I still couldn’t run, but I felt just fine walking and riding, and Mel was still strong. She was a machine all day.We started out together, through a bit of twisty singletrack, and down the ravine that I’d remembered so clearly from GC. It’s short but steep, and it’s like a mile from camp… so we’d have to hike up it after 35 miles. But after the ravine, it’s more fun singletrack (and unfun hills), and then a bunch of road crossings.
The only really technical questions that the Gold Country trails ask of you are the road crossings and a few of the creek crossing. One creek is best accomplished by a sharp left, a dip into the creek, and a sharp right back up onto the far bank — one of those little things that you don’t even notice on a seasoned horse, but might go wrong on a greenie. And the park road crossings are tricky because the roads are sealed with freakin’ Teflon — if you do not four-beat walk your horse across, you’re going to go Bambi on ice, even in boots. I shudder to think about getting a shod horse across those. There was one crossing with traffic, but we had volunteers stopping traffic for us. And there’s one scary bridge across a narrow rushing irrigation canal — it’s only a few strides long, but again, I was grateful to be on an experienced horse.
We rode and tied for about seven more miles, by our rough estimation, before we came upon a number taker in his truck. It was another one of those points where all three of us were together, and we were totally brokenhearted when he said we had seven more miles to go. He thought we’d come four. Surely he was wrong. Surely the 31 mile trough was just around the corner. It was probably the emotional low point of the day for me. I slithered off and Mel rode away, both of us kind of pouty.
But after she’d gone, I was on a nice bit of shady, gentle downgrade road, and I discovered that I could run again. Not very fast, because my legs were pretty shot, but my brain didn’t think it was too hot to run anymore. So I started making marginally better time.
And then we found the 31 mile trough less than a mile down the road. Yeah! Only five miles to go. Back to camp with no more detours. Mel was waiting at the trough again, and we talked to the volunteers and drank their water for a minute before she rode away.
Word had gotten around that I was The Pregnant One. One of the ladies at that trough rode Tevis when she was 3 months pregnant. (And her now-grown daughter wants nothing to do with horses, LOL.) Every ride I go to pregnant, I talk to more women who rode 50s or 100s at X months. It’s not common, and of course we don’t think everybody should do what we’re doing… but I’m far, far from the first idiot to do this stuff knocked up.
I don’t really know how I turned into this person, y’all, the one who thinks it’s a good enough idea to do endurance events pregnant. The transition is in this blog, somewhere, but it’s all happened so gradually that I can’t pinpoint it. But I do know a couple of things: It’s not exceptionally risky to keep doing what you’d been doing before you got pregnant, and it’s good to stay active, and I’ve definitely built up a hell of a tolerance for discomfort. I mean, you never know, maybe I’ll be in labor for 40 hours and throw in the towel and beg for a C-section, but probably? Staying strong and active is going to help me out.
So anyway, I hiked up this bitch of a hill — one that I remembered from Gold Country ’12, because Dixie was sure she was going to die on it — and again, Mel loved me and had left the horse at the top. We got back into the groove. The tenths of a mile slowly ticked by. Sometimes we’d all walk together, and sometimes Mel would ride ahead and I’d slog off to find the horse — but mostly I rode and she just Energizer-bunnied down the trail.
Don’t get me wrong, she wasn’t a particularly cheerful Energizer bunny. When I caught her at 3:45, she said she’d convinced herself that she could run until 4, and then she could walk until 4:30 and after that aliens would appear and take her away. At least that time I had good news to report — I’d noticed a trail sign a little ways back that said 3.5 miles to Dru Barner. Even at our end-of-day pace we couldn’t be more than an hour from the end.
Farley was also Less Than Thrilled. For a while I had to snap twigs off of trees to “beat” her into a trot — but once we got back on common trail, she realized that we were headed home and found a new reason to live. Every time we swapped, she gave us this look like “Will you fucking idiots please just decide who’s riding me?” For her, it was a long, slow, weird, lonely day. We were mostly alone after the first seven miles or so. But we weren’t the turtles!
I gotta brag on the turtles, y’all. Two husband/wife teams were slogging along behind us. I rode with the women for a few miles earlier in the day, and they admitted that this was the longest run and the longest ride they’d ever attempted. They were on a QH and a Paint, big leggy horses who were trying hard but weren’t nearly as fit as Farley. And they, too, had Buckle Fever. I bragged on Farley for a while (my friend’s Tevis horse) and bragged on Dixie for a minute, too — their non-Arabs would do just fine for 35 miles. The second loop didn’t have drag riders, but all the numbertakers knew how many of us were still on course, and I’d tell each of them that the last two teams were X minutes behind me. They finished, too, a little over an hour behind us!
Anyway, we crossed the roads and slogged up the hills, and I trotted off and left Mel on a switchback. At the top, I figured I was close to That Ravine, so I tied Farley (see, I love Mel too!) and took off at a dead-slow jog. All those fucking hills she ran for me left me determined that she deserved to ride up That Ravine! And then she zipped past me and I found Farley at the top of the Ravine and got on for the last time and caught up a hundred yards from the finish, and we came out of the woods side-by-side whooping at the top of our lungs and we’d done it. We finished at 4:47, for a shameful-yet-epic 9:47 ride time. I sat down again. Such a bad horsewoman!Farley looked great at the end. Turns out we were the fourth-place woman/woman team (a mere hour or so behind the third place w/w team), so we didn’t win our $50 in prize money. But Mel won the $50 gas money raffle, and she also won the $1000 vet-school scholarship again! So proud of her!
The whole thing was so, so worthwhile.
I stole almost all of these pictures from Lucy and Aurora, and I’m a little bummed that I didn’t take any pictures of them. We could not have done this without their help. One of Mel’s vet school mates came to the finish, with gluten free brownies no less, and she was awesome fun to talk to as well.
If you want to see my gnarly rub, click here. It looks even more disgusting today! And it hurts quite exceptionally badly indeed. If I skip Gold Country next weekend, it’s probably going to be because of this stupid rub. Shorts are the devil, yall. (The obvious lesson is “don’t try anything new at a ride” but that is, you know, more honor’d in the breach than the observance.)