This was the third year of the Tahoe Rim ride, and my third year attending it. Here’s my ride stories for the first year, and for the second year. Tahoe Rim is definitely the prettiest ride I’ve ever done, and if you’ve got a horse that can do 50 miles, I highly recommend it!
I rode the last two years, but this year I volunteered instead of riding. Logistically, this is a monumentally difficult ride for management to put on. Base camp is the smallest area I’ve ever seen, on Nevada Forestry land. There’s space for 20 rigs, plus a couple of cars and two management trailers, and we have to leave-no-trace it to stay in Forestry’s good graces. That means bagging poop and hay, not scattering it. Yes, it’s dumb, but we play by their rules on their land.
The other logistical nightmare is the vet checks. The only feasible spot for an away vet check is at Hobart Reservoir. It’s only 18 miles by horse, but two hours by vehicle. It’s hard to get volunteers and vets out from the VC back to base before the front runner 50s come in, and it’s impossible to get a vet back in time for LD riders to complete and show for Best Condition. With such a tiny basecamp, they just can’t cram in enough riders to pay for a third vet, so they’ve dropped the LD ride. I know the lack of an LD was a big disappointment to a lot of people, but it’s just impossible on this route. Hopefully, if you’re wondering about some of the “whys,” that helps.
Because Adventure The Trailer is tiny, in good shape, and no-frills, I’ve let management use it as the rescue trailer every year. The road up to the away check at Hobart is, apparently, nightmarishly bad and too tight to bring a gooseneck. (I’ve never trailered up there or had to be pulled at Hobart, fingers crossed.) Bumper pull to the rescue! The past two years I’d just hi-tied Dixie to the management trailer, piled all her junk beside it, and waved goodbye to my trailer in the morning.
Last year — before I even got pregnant! — I magnanimously offered to run base camp, if I got to bring Dixie and tool around on her in the morning. The main crew has gotten their timing down to probably get back to base before the front runners make it back, but knowing someone is there to man the finish line makes everybody happier. It turned out to be perfect: I got to see my friends, ride a bit, take a nap, do Important Volunteer Stuff, and ride again on Sunday pulling ribbons.
On Friday I headed to the barn and hitched up the trailer, then went down to the corrals and grabbed Dixie. I always say the same thing to her — “You wanna go for a ride?” — but I’ve got some nonverbal tell that lets her know I mean An Endurance Ride and not a stupid boring-ass conditioning ride. She bounced along beside me up to the indoor arena, where I turned her out to roll. I always let her roll before I ride or trailer, and it usually goes like this: she flings herself down, rolls luxuriously two or three times, then she shakes off, sighs, and comes to stand by me, bored and half-dead. But if she thinks we’re going to A Real Ride, she does her best bronc imitation. On Friday she went bucking up and down the indoor, screaming nonstop, for five minutes. Eventually she came to the gate, quivering, and waited for me to lead her out.
The trip up went smoothly, aside from stopping four times in ~200 miles to pee. My son has reached the developmental milestone of kicking me in the bladder, and while I’m super proud of his coordination, I’m already over it. 😉 We made it to camp in plenty of time to get set up and settle in for the meeting. Afterwards, I spent a few hours wandering around visiting friends’ camps, then headed off to bed pretty early.What you see here is about 80% of the available space at basecamp.RM Sanne going over the trail.Our vets, Karen Hassan and Sue McCartney. (And my new white truck!)
I played the “but I’m pregnant” card and scored a spot on on a real bed in a gooseneck, woohoo! For some reason I thought one sleeping bag would be enough, but it wasn’t, and I nearly froze, and I laid there all night being too warm to get out of bed and go find another blanket but too cold to actually sleep, cursing my short-sightedness (and later, cursing my child for kicking my bladder, because to hell with getting up to pee.) At some point I got warm enough to doze off, and then it started getting light, and then it was time to get up and get going. I blame no one but myself for this idiocy — I’m a Cold Person, the kind who wanders around the beach in August in a parka, and being pregnant has made me even colder. Ladies who suffered through the third trimester in hot summers, I hear your pain and I understand it on an intellectual level, but I have the opposite problem. I am a lizard and I require a heat rock, thanks.
Dear G: I would very much like a proper subzero sleeping bag for my birthday or Christmas or even both. Please and thank you!
But that’s camping at 7000’ for you — the sun is gloriously hot, but the shadows and nights are cold. C’est la vie.
We got some hot water going for coffee and discovered that we had no cups, creamer, or sugar. But Folgers instant with some hot chocolate powder is surprisingly good, and everybody who came by scrounged up a mug or an empty water bottle to caffeinate, and the volunteers headed out to Hobart right on time at 6 am. I got Dixie saddled and got ready to start the ride at 8.
People who hate to get up in the morning and people who do these things at a good clip love the late start time. I hate it, because I can’t sleep much past pre-dawn anyway, and I ride slow as shit, and an eight am start time means an eight pm finish time, and that’s pretty close to dark. (Cold, cold dark.) There’s not a whole lot of margin of error for getting lost before you’re lost in the wilderness at night, and even if you make it in by cutoff, there’s not a whole lot of time to get your horse untacked before dark. (Cold, cold dark — where’d I throw that blanket, anyway?) I think next year they’re going to start the ride at 7, yay!
I got everybody’s numbers checked off and called the trail open at 8, then ran down, slapped my helmet on, and hopped on Dixie. I knew she’d be so unhappy to watch all the other horses leave camp without her, so I planned on riding drag for about 8 miles, up to Snow Valley, then turning off the ride course and taking a different trail back to camp. I made sure lots of people knew where I was going and when I should be back, and I knew that around the lake is the one fucking wilderness in the entire state of California where my stupid AT&T phone actually works, so I felt totally safe haring off alone.
I fell in with my three friends from Susanville. I rode TRR last year with Angela and Pam, and this year they’d brought Kim with them too. I’d thought I might start with Lucy too, but she went blasting out of camp mid-pack (and finished a very respectable 13th — good job, Roo!)Headed out!Looking east toward Carson City, NV.Looking west toward the lake. You can see the North Canyon Road down there.That’s about how I felt all weekend.This is the best sport in the world.Almost to the Snow Peak crossroads.Marlette Lake in the foreground, Tahoe behind it.
Dixie felt great, and the sun was up so I was warm and happy, and we powered on up to Snow Peak at 9200’ in an hour and a half. I kept going past the turn just a little further, hoping that the photographers were nearby, but they weren’t close so I turned back.Dixie was not thrilled. She doubted my navigational skills. She did everything she could to let me know that we were Off Course and we’d Lost The Other Horses and we needed to turn around again. I rode back to the crossroads and hopped off to run down to the North Canyon road, and it was a lot like dragging a cat on a leash. I’d jog for about fifteen feet and she’d slam on the brakes to stare meaningfully back up the hill. Eventually I quit even looking back and just jogged along screaming “Let’s go, come on, trot trot TROT!”
Out of all the places I’ve been, I love riding the high Sierras the most. Riding the high desert is a very close second, but the high desert is pure bleak beauty. All you get in the desert is scrubby little trees and rocks and miles and miles of views. The highest parts of the Sierras give you the same scrubby trees and views, but you also get pockets of green forests and breathtakingly blue lakes.
If you’ve never been out here, google image search Lake Tahoe. All the pictures look photoshopped, but the thing is, it really looks like that. Except for the days when it’s snowing, the sky and the lake are always cerulean blue.
I don’t think there are any horses this way so I don’t think we should go this way, human.I see something that could be a direwolf and you’re taking fucking selfies? What is wrong with you, human?
(I still just love her American Trail Gear custom bridle – thank you ladies!)So we headed down from the gnarled little trees and granite boulders, down into the aspens and big pines. Just like my phone camera can’t really capture the blue of the lake, it can’t show you the aspens as they’re meant to be seen. The air is so thin at that altitude and the aspen leaves flutter in the slightest breeze, snapping green and silver like living tinsel. Maybe this year I’ll make it back up there for a day trip at just the right time to see them turn fall colors.Anything could be lurking in those trees. Anything.
The road from Snow Peak zigzagged down and ended at a locked gate (with a well-worn path around it — one of those gates intended to stop vehicles, not peds) at the North Canyon road.
The TRR trail circles around this road. We start out climbing the Tahoe Rim Trail to the east of the road, do the flume roads and peaks north of Marlette, then head back toward basecamp on a scenic hilly singletrack just to the west of the road. As you well know, I love endurance but I get sick of doing endurance after about 40 miles, and every year I spend the last ten miles sulking along wondering why the fuck we’re on this stupid singletrack going up and down more stupid goddamn hills when I know for a fact there’s a nice flat wide sand road a hundred yards to my left.
Well, now I know why we take the stupid hilly singletrack instead of the nice wide sand road: it’s a bicycle interstate. I don’t care, and Dixie doesn’t care, and one horse can get along with hundreds of bikes on a wide trail, but it would be a disaster to run 30-50 horses down that road!
Anyway, at that hour of the morning, Dixie and I were headed along a gentle downgrade for about five miles, and every bike we saw was coming up the hill. She doesn’t mind bikes per se, and I don’t mind them either in those circumstances. (They scare the shit out of me when they’re flying down hills, silently overtaking us, unable to stop before they literally crash into us.) We just gaited along past the endless line of people walking their bikes, people gasping and drinking water, people wobbling doggedly uphill at half a mile an hour, and a few superhuman athletes pedaling steadily uphill. Everyone offered to switch mounts with me 😉The road meets up with the trail around Spooner Lake, and we picked up the ribboned trail to zip along the last few miles of the finish. We got back to camp at 11 am and I got Dixie settled back into her “home.”She was mildly disturbed to still be alone, but she ate and drank well in between long sessions of staring into the wilderness contemplating her own mortality. I propped my feet up on an ice chest and fell asleep in the sun for a while. Eventually I woke up, called to confirm the dinner delivery, and got the finish line set up.
Part of the away check volunteers made it back to the finish around 3. About 3:30, we started getting calls. Some asshole had sabotaged part of the trail ribbons at that campground up by Marlette. But the map had written directions on the back, and everybody eventually got back to the beribboned trail — disappointing, but not insurmountable.
I hung out at the finish line, bullshitting with a handful of other people, til the winners came in at 4:05. If I remember correctly, we had four riders come in within about 30 minutes, then a couple more by 4:45, but 9th and 10th didn’t get in until about 5:30 — don’t quote me on this; I didn’t think to take a picture of the finish sheet so you’ll have to wait for Official Times. Lucy made it in, riding with Jerry Z, before 6, for 13th and 14th. (Or 12th and 13th? I don’t remember; I’m a terrible source of news and gossip.) The Susanville crew came in right when I’d have finished, right before the awards at 7:30 or so. I do remember that we had 35 starters and three pulls at Hobart. Two minor lamenesses, who chose to hike five miles down from the vet check to the paved road, and one colic who stayed at the vet check quite late getting fluids and got an adventurous ride out in Adventure The Trailer. (And there’s your example of the other reason there’s no LD: if one vet leaves the VC in time to get to the finish for the LDs, but a horse needs treatment at the VC, everybody who needs to vet is going to have to wait for the horse that needs treatment, and it’s just going to be a cluster.)
Eventually everyone was in and accounted for, and awards were handed out, and the ride started to break up. One more shout-out to my awesome friend Beth K, who got Best Condition on the dangerously handsome Durango — it was his first BC and very well earned! First place got a custom embroidered jacket (and the first two riders chose to tie and split the cost to each get a jacket), BC got one of those cool English riding exercise blanket things (I am bad with words so here’s a picture), and all the completions got logo Tom Collins glasses. There was plenty of food and beer (and lemonade for women of a certain condition). An excellent ride!
Saturday night, I retreated back to my truck. My thermarest isn’t nearly as soft as a Real Bed, but with an extra sleeping bag on top, I was very, very warm and I slept great.
On Sunday morning, about a third of the camp was still there. We all crawled out of bed around seven, drank more ghetto mochas, and stood around blinking and scratching for a while. Eventually I hooked up my trailer and started test-driving it — Saturday night, the trailer wheels had locked up coming down the sand road into camp, and we were understandably paranoid that maybe there was a mechanical problem. I took it out to Highway 50 and headed a couple miles west toward South Lake Tahoe, and traffic was light enough that I could drive like a drunken asshole (slamming on the brakes randomly and staring at the trailer wheels.) Everything seemed fine, so I came back to camp and did donuts with spotters watching, and eventually we concluded that it was ok. I think the truck they were hauling with had a brake controller that wasn’t calibrated quite right and it was kicking in too hard on the sandy hill, locking the trailer wheels and making it look like there was something wrong.
Finally, the paranoid endurance rider consensus was that Adventure was still safe, so I got Dixie tacked and loaded everything else by 10 am. I made sure at least two people knew where I was going and when I’d be back, and with
a regal wave a rock-star \m/ Dixie and I left camp to go pull ribbons.I’d meant to go backwards up the trail, but Dixie blew right past the turn for Spooner Lake so we just headed out the normal route. It took about three ribbons for her to learn the new game: walk or gait briskly to a ribbon, sidle up so the clumsy human can grab it, and take off again.G says this is a cute selfie.
The local HS cross-country team came through in the opposite direction, so we pulled off the trail and watched as 30 runners zoomed by for about ten minutes.All cell phone pics at altitude are totally overexposed, but if you squint you can see the cross-country runners in the sunny trail. Dixie was quite interested, but not upset.Big granite at a scenic overlook.
We worked our way up the trail to the first pie-plate turn and I took the zigzag connector back down to the canyon road. I ran the nicer bits of the trail, and I was really pleasantly surprised at how good I felt at that altitude. Downhill running is about ten times easier than flat or uphill running, but still, I haven’t lost much condition. When the trail got a little more technical, I slowed down to a brisk hike — no point in risking a fall — and we popped back out near the end of the canyon road. I got back on and Dixie knew where we were, so we blasted down to Spooner Lake and started pulling ribbons again. Yesterday we were up top!North Canyon road. Boulders, trees, and bikes.Spooner Lake, the smallest of the lakes you’ll see at TRR.The trail around Spooner is quite lovely. Little meadows and aspens everywhere. Usually by the time I get to Spooner it’s twilight and I’m 100% done with everything, so I was really glad to see it fresh on Sunday!
Beth (along with a bunch of other volunteers!) had marked the trail. I think every ride is marked a little differently, depending on local terrain, but our rides usually have ribbons on the right, with three ribbons in a row warning you of an upcoming turn, and then a ribbon every so often as a confidence marker. The trail markers did a great job, but a couple of the turns didn’t have enough trees and they’d hung ribbons on bushes. I muttered “fucking Beth” every time I had to get off my tall horse to get ribbons from bushes — love you Beth! 😉 But Dixie was so good for me. I quit faffing around with the tie-rope and I’d just get off, grab ribbons while she grazed, stuff them in my bag, and hike off to the next bush while she followed me like a dog. We’d hike til we found a stump or boulder, I’d get back on, and she’d sigh and gait off toward the next ribbon.
Nothing in this world brings me to tears as fast as thinking about how far Dixie has come. She was such a head case when I got her. Everything scared her, and any question you asked was answered with a resounding “no.”
She’s still not very trained, but she’s broke. Start an endurance ride, go off trail, go down a bike superhighway, then take a nap alone? Sure. Go off alone, figure out the ribbon-pulling game, and follow the human around? No problem. She’s got such a good brain, and she’s so sound, and those are the two things you’d never have thought she’d have when I started with her.
I got back to camp at 1, texted people to let them know I was back, and got Dixie loaded and on the road by 1:15. I’d hoped to have pulled more ribbons, but the trailer brakes gave me a late start, and I had the Preggo Starvings by that point. Time to go!Goodbye base camp! Riders, on behalf of the sore and tired volunteers who have to finish hauling trash out, thank you. Everybody did a really nice job picking up after themselves.
I ended up going all the way to Auburn for In’n’Out, because all good endurance adventures begin and end at In’n’Out. I even had good traffic all the way home and made it to the barn at 6. Unloaded the Brave Endurance Horse and had a hell of a time getting her past (gasp!) a human, sitting in the hatchback of his car, with a dog beside him. Really, Dixie? Really?
It was a phenomenal weekend. I’ll be back next year, hopefully riding it again, but if not, the baby and I will just run basecamp again. If you’re anywhere within driving distance and you’ve got a 50 mile horse, you really should do this ride! It’s absolutely a Destination Ride.