Still Fighting Inertia

I was going to write a post about my last ride, but I think I’d rather use my limited time to talk about motivation and running instead. I’ll stick the pics from last weekend in here instead — Mel and I took our trusty steeds out to Cache Creek for a very pleasant four hour conditioning ride. I have pronounced Dixie ready for a slow 50 at the Nevada Derby next weekend, god willing and the creek don’t rise.IMG_4324So I signed up for a half marathon. It’s trails, of course, in Tilden Park (very similar to my own Redwood Park) on May 9th. IMG_4330I’d been talking to my friends, and Ash was nervous about her upcoming ultra. Mel said she wouldn’t be nervous if she hadn’t signed up in advance, so we were debating the merits of spur of the moment entries vs. signing up way in advance — if you sign up way in advance, you’re guaranteed a shirt that fits, and you have a goal to train for. I started thinking about how it’s been a really long time since I had a running goal, and I went poking around the local trail running organization sites, and one thing led to another and suddenly I was on my iPhone on laboriously entering my billing info for this run. Happy Mother’s Day!IMG_4328I really didn’t feel right racing — even at my pitiful speeds — while I was pregnant. I just felt so tired and my heat tolerance was even weirder than usual, so I didn’t even try to race after the epic adventure of the Ride ‘n Tie. And without any goals, my running gradually slacked off until I wasn’t running at all by the end of summer, and then I just quit for the duration. IMG_4334I made myself start running again when I started riding again, but I quickly ran into the same problem: I hate to exercise. Dixie, I understand you, I really do. 

She is the most sluggish, awful, bad-tempered creature if I ask her to go train alone — it’s basically just exercise to her, and what’s the point? If I can get another fit horse or three out there with us, she’ll get excited and actually train hard, and of course when we go to a real ride, she has a great time. IMG_4349I’m not quite as bad as she is. I feel better immediately after a run, but I still need an externality (a race entry, and impending humiliation) to get me out there. And oh my god, yall, like it’s not bad enough being an uninspired and very slow runner — it really is even harder with a baby.IMG_4342I know I deserve time to myself. There’s no doubt that G loves the kid and is entirely competent to take care of him. But I’d made excuses every Tuesday for a month straight, and it took the impending humiliation of this half marathon to get me on a trail this week. IMG_4339I’m going to do this thing on two days a week of training. Of course that’s not ideal, but it is what it is. But only having two days a week to run means I really cannot fuck around and miss a run, and that’s the only thing that got me out there. IMG_4338Anyway, so I’ve got all the usual mental inertia, plus I was in a hurry to get back to O. Because I have that mental inertia, plus a baby who’s iffy on car trips anyway, I hadn’t actually scouted where I was going to run — I knew there was a jogging path right between I-80 and the Bay, right as you approach the Bay Bridge, and I thought that would be a great place to run. It only takes me ten minutes to drive to the dentist, near that trail, so I should be able to drive over, run for 40 minutes (hopefully running 5k or close to it) and drive back in an hour. And I definitely deserve an hour to myself!IMG_4335The problem is that I go to the dentist during the day, and I run on Tuesday evenings at rush hour. The dentist is ten minutes away when I can hop on I-80, but more like twenty when I have to fight traffic on the surface streets (and at least twenty if I’d gotten on the interstate!)IMG_4352As soon as I realized that it was going to take more than eleven minutes to get to the trail I started to freak out. I missed the baby already. The baby was already starting the 5 pm fussy phase. My husband had worked (from home) a full day and he shouldn’t have to deal with the fussy baby for more than an hour. Maybe I should just cut my run short?IMG_4357But that’s dumb. G is at home; he’s going to hear O fuss regardless. The hard part about getting out to run isn’t staying out for another ten or thirty minutes – it’s getting out of the house to begin with. IMG_4354So I pushed through. I missed a turn, got the shakes, pulled over in a parking lot, texted G and told him my stupid thoughts, and kept going. Eventually, I got to the trailhead parking lot and started running. Right off the bat, I got passed by a skinny twenty year old who clearly had not just had a baby, and I let my unworthy, sullen rage fuel my run. But as soon as I’d finished, I felt fantastic.So here we go. I think I’ve found just enough motivation to accomplish one more goal. The plan is ever-longer runs, with or without Dixie, on the trails every weekend, plus shitty tempo runs, with or without Cersei, on Tuesdays. Seems legit!

Kings Canyon ride

(One of the main problems that’s slowed down my blogging is how precious time on the laptop has become. I can whip out a blog post inside of an hour and spend another hour attaching the photos, but you can see how often I have two solid hours to spare! I’ve managed to do almost all of my normal computer stuff on my phone (shout out to Evernote, Dropbox, and 1Password for keeping me “productive” and Kindle/iBooks and all the social media apps for keeping me sane) but there’s no Scrivener app. But I’d really like to write more, and it doesn’t look like I’m going to have blocks of computer time available in the near future, so I’m trying out writing on the iPhone. This was banged out in an afternoon with Werdsmith, and it did the job pretty painlessly.)

For last weekend’s ride, I wanted to do something other than yet another loop around the perimeter of Redwood Park. I though about trailering out to Briones Reservoir – it’s a 14 mile loop around a gorgeous lake, and one of my favorite conditioning rides – but that would take entirely too long. I’d be gone for at least five hours, probably six, and that seemed too long.

G loves to spend time with his kid, and Orion is really an easy kid – but he’s still just two months old and pretty needy. But more importantly, if I’m gone for that long, I would totally need to pump or my boobs might explode. I just got a portable manual pump, for just that reason, but I didn’t want to try it out so soon.

Surely I could do more than ten miles without trailering? (Yes, there’s a lot more than ten miles of trails in Redwood Park, but most of them are singletrack, and the park’s so busy on the weekends you can’t go anywhere near conditioning speed on the singletrack.)

Fortunately I remembered the San Leandro EBMUD trails. You can enter the northern end of the trail system from Redwood, and I’d never explored more than a few miles of the EBMUD trails. I sat down with the maps and plotted out a ride: a couple of miles in Redwood to get to the EBMUD entrance, then down to the Kings Canyon loop, then back home the way we’d come. About 13 miles all told.Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 3.22.40 PMOne of the reasons I like riding Dixie so much – why I’ve logged so many hours on her and I’m still not bored with it – is because it’s almost meditative. I can stop thinking about everything else in my life (even Orion, and that’s quite a feat) and just ride. I can’t daydream too much; she needs an active rider. But I can get in the rhythm of working with the horse and the hours and miles just fly by.

We headed out, up to the ridge and along and down into the canyon, then up and over onto the next ridge – where we started chasing the jogger last week. A third of a mile up that trail, we turned off to the right, out of Redwood Park and down into another canyon.

Ironically, as soon as you leave Redwood Park you enter a redwood forest. I tried, for the hundredth time, to get some pictures in the redwood forest, but there’s just not enough light to take cell phone pics in motion, even at a walk. One day I’ll remember that, halt, and get some decent pics.

We climbed out of the redwood grove and popped out into the rolling grassy hills of the East Bay. California’s still in a drought, but we’ve gotten enough rain for the grass to grow. It’s just violently green right now.IMG_3998

I don’t appreciate the non-mountainous parts of California like I should. (In another few weeks all this grass is going to turn brownish yellow, yuck.) But in early spring, even I have to admit this place is stunningly beautiful.IMG_4001The crowds of people in Redwood mostly disappeared over in the EBMUD land. There’s no bikes allowed, dogs are allowed on only a few trails, and you have to pay a nominal $10/year fee for a trail pass. Those few restrictions mean that EBMUD trails have about 20% of the traffic of Regional Parks trails.

Dixie and I got in a lovely groove as we worked our way back to the MHA horse pastures just past Valle Vista – the furthest we’d ever gone. We popped through the last gate and set out across a meadow toward the oak-covered hills.IMG_3999Almost all of the KC loop is on fire roads like this. Very wide, hard but good footing, nonstop gently rolling hills.IMG_4007We got our first view of the reservoir at the top of one of the hills. Dixie is entirely unimpressed and wants to know if we can turn around yet.IMG_4008Technically, we’d already seen the north end of the reservoir, up near the MHA pasture, but it had been dry for so long it was just a semi-marshy meadow.IMG_4010I told her it was a loop trail and insisted she keep going.IMG_4014As we headed south, we started to see more water in the lake.IMG_4018Eventually we turned back to the northeast, and finally left the lake behind.IMG_4020Nothing but green grass and blue sky.IMG_4021IMG_4022The eastern part of the trail runs near the small hovels carelessly thrown up along Camino Pablo.IMG_4025And then we started to climb. I found this elevation chart someone did, and the trail climbs 400+ feet in half a mile. It’s straight up a fire road, no switchbacks – I’m sure Trailmaster Aarene is shuddering.IMG_4026Only the first half is in direct sun.IMG_4028Poor unfit Dixie was a trooper though. I’m not gonna lie, she was well into the “death march” part of the day, but she plodded on up that monster hill with only a couple of brief pauses.

We made it to the top and walked less than a hundred feet before the road plunged straight down the other side of the hill, just as steeply as before. I slithered off the horse – she’d done plenty and deserved a break, and I was more than ready to walk. About halfway down we popped out of the forest back into the grasslands, and suddenly I could see for miles.IMG_4029The little white and brown dots on the hills right center are the MHA horses. The brown open area to the left is the dried-out northernmost tip of the reservoir. You can see the white gravel Valle Vista parking lot with the gravel trail leading up to it. And to get home, I needed to get past VV, over the forested hills in the left foreground, and up and down two more canyons – another five miles or so. We’d been out for about 2:50 at that point. So much for my quick jaunt!IMG_4030IMG_4034There was nothing to do but keep going. We walked the whole way down to the gate, and by the time I remounted Dixie had perked up and we trotted for home.

Back through the redwood forest and across the road and back up to Redwood Park. I hopped off to open the gate and ran about a mile, then got back on for the meadow full of people and the last monster climb. Dixie plodded up it (another un-masterful 400′ of climb in a third of a mile) and trotted along the ridge, then I got off and we ran down into the canyon where the barn is.

We got back in just under four hours ride time. My tits felt like they were going to explode. I couldn’t even manage to rinse my poor horse – bad Funder. :( I got home to my frazzled husband – and my new manual pump! – six hours after I’d left. Sigh!

Horse stats: 12.83 miles in 3:58. I kept Dixie trotting where I could, but we don’t trot training downhills and I can’t convince her to trot many training uphills, and that trail had a lot more ups and downs than I’d anticipated. It was a good challenge for her, and she should end up a lot fitter for it.

Dixie was barefoot and did just fine. I’m still paying a trimmer to do her feet, and the woman is doing a nice job. She had nice even sweat patterns and no obvious soreness when I pulled her tack. She wore a breastcollar but no crupper (but I’d definitely use a crupper for an endurance ride!)

Human stats: I ran about 3 miles, plus the long walk down the big hill – I’m calling it 3.5 miles.

Tragically, my feet got a size and a half bigger when I was pregnant. In February, the only shoes that fit me were sandals. I decided to make the best of it and change shoes completely, so I bought some Altra Lone Peaks. They’re zero drop but nicely padded, and I have decided I really like them. I felt really good running and riding all day in them, and today my feet don’t hurt at all! My quads are stiff – that’s definitely the most work I’ve done this year – but overall I feel good.

Briones, and the Tour de France

Last weekend was so fun — and my girth is expanding so rapidly — that I decided to make riding a priority again, while I still can. Yesterday I headed out to Briones.

I got a late start, which meant that I wouldn’t be able to ride the whole 14 miles around the lake at a leisurely pace before I starved to death. I decided I’d just do the Bear Creek trail, which is the 3-4 miles of deeply wooded singletrack on the south side of the lake. Much of my best thinking happens at Briones, and yesterday was a good thinking day.

Dixie and I had some glorious centaur-like moments of bliss, and some equally fun “you don’t tell me what to do!” / “oh yes I do!” moments. When she’s in the mood, she is smooth as silk and responsive to the smallest shifts of my weight… and when she’s not, she’s got the roughest, most “I’m an overused rental horse” trot. But she’s safe, and she’s brave (for a horse), and she’s got so much personality.

When I wasn’t focused on riding her, I thought about the things I’d really liked about my childhood, and how to implement them in Young Ekthorp’s life. (His current “call name” is Young Ekthorp, due to me spending too long in Ikea the other day while thinking about baby names.)

I was a pretty free-range kid, and I spent hours every day in the many acres of woods behind my house. When Maxx moved in next door, he joined me, but most of the time we were completely alone, running around like children being raised by wolves. We weren’t in any danger (we knew to hide from any strange adults, because they’d yell at us, not because they’d abduct us), but obviously in 2020 I’ll get thrown in jail if I let my 5 year old out of my sight for ten minutes. Sigh.

But aside from spending all that time alone out there, my dad took me on a hike every weekend. Literally every weekend, from when I was three til I went off to college at fourteen. I loved it at the time, and it’s one of my favorite memories now. So that’s what I’m going to do with my kid.

And we’ll take Dixie. He doesn’t have to ride her if he doesn’t want to (but she’ll be there if he gets tired and wants a pony ride back!) She enjoys hiking and jogging with me, and if there’s grass she’ll happily stand around and let Ekthorp poke ants’ nests or eat bark or whatever he wants to do. It’ll be our thing.

G’s dad was in the Navy, so they didn’t have that kind of continuity. I hope he invents his own thing to do with the boy. I don’t think I’d have cared one way or the other if my dad wanted to sit and watch an old movie once a week with me; it was more the routine itself than what the routine was. So maybe they’ll watch an MST3K every Tuesday or something, or maybe they’ll get a 3D printer and make weird plastic things, or who knows.

Anyway, I did take a couple of pictures. The reservoir is so low!IMG_2795There’s the dam. IMG_2796And there were goats. We almost died. Hundreds of bloodthirsty devil-goats, barely contained behind a flimsy fence, just waiting for Dixie to let her guard down before they charged and devoured us. It took quite a lot of pony-kicking to get past them and gait along the dam, and almost as much kicking once we’d turned around and were headed for home. Oh, horse.IMG_2798Baleful stare.IMG_2802So I was feeling better about my prospects as a parent when we got back to the trailer. I’d brought some cheese and a soda, so I scarfed some food down before I loaded Dixie, but really I was thinking longingly of the leftover GF pizza in the fridge at home. I was tired and hungry and I had just enough time to get home, eat pizza, take a shower, and maybe even wedge in a little nap. A successful day.

I drove to the barn and unloaded Dixie. Our driveway is a one-way semicircle, and when I started to park the trailer (in a line of trailers, perpendicular to the driveway — tricky but not super hard) one of the lesson people got in her car to leave. Damn. I get performance anxiety when there’s somebody waiting for me to just park the trailer and get out of the way already, so I pulled out of the driveway, went fifty yards up the road to the wide spot, and turned around. Three cars went by downhill, and then there was no traffic, so I pulled back out and coasted down to the barn driveway.

As I turned left into the driveway, I heard little tires screeching and looked over into the mirror in time to see the fucking Tour de France piling up into the back corner of my trailer. I had just enough time to think “please don’t go under my tires,” and then I finished the turn and got the trailer out of the road and jumped out to see if they were ok.

They were not ok. One dude just had road rash, but the other dude had a really obviously broken wrist. Their two friends were a little further back and managed to swerve or ditch it. Broken Wrist wanted 911, so I took the blond uninjured one up to the barn — we’re in a little valley with no cell reception for anyone, but the barn has a landline. (And right beside the phone there’s a laminated emergency sheet: 911, park police phone number, barn phone number, address, and directions to get there. I applaud whoever put that there.) 911 took their info and put him on hold, so I went back down to the trailer and dug out my first aid kit and gave Broken Wrist an instant ice pack. (You do have instant ice packs in your trailer, right? I’ve used them three times now and they’re the bomb.) The park police showed up, then the fire truck, then the EMTs, then finally OPD.

It was a very calm and controlled accident scene. The bikers were upset that they’d gotten hurt, but not pissed at me — they were going way the fuck too fast to stop and we all knew it. It was exactly like if I’d ridden up on something strange, like a person wearing a tutu leading pack goats, and gotten thrown — “well, fuck, this sucks, but it’s not your fault.”

I gave my info to the park police, but there wasn’t much for me to do. After giving the bike guy the ice pack, I sort of retreated to the front of my rig while they gave statements and the EMTs got to work. Various people from the barn wandered down the driveway and kept me company — Tiempo’s new owner brought me a Coke, yay. Eventually the injured ones were carted away and the uninjured ones headed off to finish their ride (as one does). OPD came over and talked to me. Definitely an accident, definitely their fault if it was anyone’s fault. He gave me the accident report number, but I shouldn’t need it — steel always beats flesh, and all they did was smudge my trailer’s dirt.

Then I got in the truck, parked the trailer on the first try, and headed up the hill to let G know why it had taken me two hours to drop the horse off. Tragically, I didn’t have time for my snack or my nap, and I barely finished dinner before I was too tired to stay awake any longer.

Young Ekthorp had been soothed to sleep (or jounced to unconsciousness) by the ride, so he made not a peep during the whole accident scene. He kicked me once as I was parking the trailer, just to let me know he was ok.

I ate the pizza for breakfast today.

2014 Ride and Tie World Championships

So this weekend Mel and I (and my baby human!) ride’n’tied Farley for 36 miles. buckles grinsLate 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! buckleIsn’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! IMG_2179Dru 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. IMG_2177I 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. whole team at start

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. IMG_2185We 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.mel at startI 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.IMG_2197A 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.IMG_2202I ran past the second photographer, handed off to Mel again, and we got in the groove.IMG_2200Now 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.)IMG_2180Anyway, 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, walking farley to vc1Because 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!me vc1

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.gnarly leg vc1But eventually I had to go, so away I leaving vc1

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?IMG_2188The 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.whole team refueling vc2 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 eating vc2Our 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.mel out after vc2We 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.finish line photo  farley finishI sat down again. Such a bad horsewoman!me sitting finishFarley looked great at the end. mel and farley at finishTurns 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.yeah we rock

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.)

2014 Wild West II 50

So last weekend’s camping trip went quite well, but it was camping. I wasn’t pre-riding Tevis, no matter how slowly; I was just out there to relax. I was in no hurry to wake up and saddle Dixie that Saturday (or Sunday!) And Dixie was, as you may have gathered, her usual irritating self. I’d sort of planned on doing at least ten miles at a good clip, just to see if I still had an endurance horse for Wild West, but Vacation Brain got me. Dixie certainly wasn’t eager to go trot off alone with Roo and show me what she’s got, and we ended up doing almost no miles. We’d deliberately done nothing in April after Derby, and then we’d done almost nothing in May, what with the pukey exhausted pregnant rider, and I really didn’t know what I’d have for Wild West.

And honestly? It had been so long since I’d done a 50 I wasn’t sure if I really truly wanted to. But I knew that this was a great chance for me to get in a ride, and if I don’t ride this summer and can’t ride this fall or winter or next spring I’m really going to regret it, so off we went to Wild West.

It’s staged out of Skillman Campground, just east of Nevada City, CA. I’ve been there twice — once “horse camping minus horses” when Mel and I wanted to get out but both of our horses were broken, and once last year with Sanne when it was too smoky to preride VC. I knew it was a lovely area, I knew the ride management was great (the Ribleys also run Twenty Mule Team), and by god we were going.

It’s always a big ride, and it’s not the biggest campground, so I wasn’t really surprised to see this:

Nowhere to park at Skillman from Funder on Vimeo.

I ended up squeezing Adventure in a little alley right by the highway. It was four thousand miles from the vet area and the water faucets, and I spent the whole time I was parked there worrying about whether or not I’d be able to back out of the spot, but at least I wasn’t forced to park on the side of the camp-road like so many others.IMG_2089 IMG_2090

I started with the hi-tie, but Dixie circled around and got her lead hung on that giant stump so I ended up tying her to the back corner of the trailer.IMG_2092

She certainly looked good! This is, sadly, the cleanest she looked all weekend. I groomed her really, really well, braided her mane, and led her over to grab my rider packet and vet in. Vetting was in a big open dusty area, and as I was leading her across the open area to the hitching post, she flung herself to the ground and rolled in the silty dust. Sigh.IMG_2094

I tied her and got my rider packet and got distracted talking to people, and every time I’d glance over to make sure my horse hadn’t untied herself and gone walkabout, I’d think, “whose palomino is that? Oh dammit.” Yeah, it was my palomino. But we vetted in fine.

I am really, seriously, no fucking around going to try to fix my water tank and/or buy a wheely cart to haul water. Carrying jugs of water from the decorative yet barely functional hand-pump up to the trailer at RF sucked a lot, and carrying jugs of water from the hose to the trailer at WW wasn’t much better. You’d think I’d bring more water from the barn, but you’d be underestimating my skills at procrastination. I always think “ehhh too much trouble; I’ll just get it in camp” and then I always end up like a half a mile from the water.

The ride meeting went smoothly, and the Saturday ride was easy: red ribbons all day, pink and black arrow-signs marking the turns. Two highway crossings (eek), one “very steep” downhill to a creek then “up a hill that might have a bear.” For a boot user, there’s just nothing more exciting than a creek followed by an uphill — it’ll destroy glue-ons if you’re not very lucky, to say nothing of mere strap-ons. And maybe a bear too!

It was 20 miles (plus creek, hill, bear, and highway crossing) to the away check. First hold was 30 minutes, tack on, 60 pulse, then a 15 mile loop and back to the same check. Hour hold, tack off, 60 pulse, then 15 miles back to camp. 68 (64?) within 30 minutes of the finish, then vet out, tack off, within the hour.

I checked on Dixie, then headed back over to the campfire. It wasn’t literally all of my endurance friends, but it was almost all of them, and I had a blast talking to people. There were marshmallows too! Baby wanted marshmallows. Using the baby as an excuse to eat stuff is both funny and true — I am not a sweets person, and normally I probably wouldn’t even bother with marshmallows, but little Lemongrab (the nom de semaine) really did want marshmallows.

Literally everybody I talked to was excited about the baby and cheering for me to keep riding. I heard so many stories of “I rode til X months” and “my mom did 50s til X months before I was born.” I wouldn’t catch-ride, and I wouldn’t jump, but I’m certainly comfortable that Dixie will keep me safe.

When it got dark, I stumbled back to Adventure, filled up one more hay bag and mash pan, and crawled into bed. I wasn’t even cold, and I slept pretty well — but I couldn’t sleep past daybreak and I ended up wide awake and tacked up far too early.

Dixie knew what was up, and she was ready. She gets the shakes when she’s excited, but look at how contained she was! She was not screaming and pacing in circles, just quivering and ready for me to get the hell on already, human.

Dixie is so excited she’s shivering from Funder on Vimeo.

We spent about fifteen minutes walking around camp, then let the frontrunners start while we walked some more. About 7:05 we headed down to the start and got underway. I had the finest of intentions to ride with my friend Angela (of the bear video, above, and most recently my ride buddy at Derby), but it was not to be. Dixie took off with her Big Walk and we didn’t see Angela (and Kim, doing her first 50!!) the rest of the day.

My strategy, as such, is to let Dixie go along at a dull roar in the early morning, when it’s nice and cool. We’ll do the first 15 or 20 miles in two or three hours, and then usually she slows down and we plonk along for the rest of the day at 5 or 6 mph. This is not a smart racing strategy; I hear that one should do negative splits and get faster as the day goes by. But we’re never racers, so we go fast in the morning and slow in the afternoon. Except this time…

I took selfies so yall can see my descent into sullenness.* IMG_2101*no sullenness occurred

So away we went, down some fire roads for a while. There were some nice views, and the footing was good but hard.IMG_2103 IMG_2105

Dixie was actually passing other riders at the big-walk. I wasn’t letting her trot faster than the other horses, but when we’d get to an uphill or downhill where we’d all slow to a walk, Dixie just walked straight past them and kept moving. I got to some slightly steeper downhill and got off and ran for a while, then when it evened out I got back on and kept riding. Eventually we got to the “steep downhill,” which Robert had promised was very obvious, and I got off to lead down again. I’d lost a boot — damn! — so I tied her on the side of the trail, slammed the boot back on, and raced on down the hill. It was, as advertised, quite steep — as steep as my training hill at home or as steep as the worst SOBs in Nevada.

We ran down to the creek and I hopped back on. There was an old mining claim along the creek, and I got a not-very-good picture of the old equipment.IMG_2106

Dixie was still in no mood to slow down, but I was determined to make her walk up the (long, monster) hill so her stupid boots wouldn’t slip off her wet feet. We kept picking ‘em off at a walk on the way up, until somebody (Hilary and John, I think!) went trotting past us on their very fit horses, and Dixie broke into gait for a second and flung another boot off. I kept riding (with people helpfully pointing out the boot was off) until I found a wide spot with a stump, and I got the boot re-seated. Then back on and up up up some more!

I don’t know why my first-loop pictures all came out like shit, except that it’s proof we were moving at a blazingly fast clip, lol. Up the hill!IMG_2109

The view back down the hill!IMG_2110IMG_2112Eventually the hill got less steep and we entered civilization, of a sort. Lots of houses back on these dirt forest-service type roads, with colorful characters watching us go by and walking dogs and stuff. I want to live there.

There was no bear. I don’t know whether to be relieved (I’d have lost all four boots for sure) or disappointed (I kinda want to see a bear!)

We popped out at the highway, gave our numbers to a number-checker, and got across safely. Then we ran along a beautiful Gold Country Trails Council trail, right beside the highway, for maybe 3-5 miles, past both the photographers.

I’d lost yet another fucking boot right after the highway crossing. Dixie and I don’t generally have the same fears in life — she’s very worried about puddles, sometimes scary rocks, hikers, and getting separated from all the other horses and dying alone. I’m worried about falling off cliffs and getting hit by cars. So losing a boot on good footing right beside a busy highway was suboptimal. The boot was still there, firmly attached by the gaiter, and Dixie gave zero fucks about the whole thing, so I kept going past the first photographer. (Hi Rennie!) As I passed and was passed, people kept helpfully pointing out that I’d lost a boot. I got more and more irritated about it. Finally, one incredibly sweet and well-meaning woman said she thought the boot would chafe, and if I’d just stop she’d get off and fix it for me, and I snarled something about fixing it myself and took Dixie charging off through the forest away from the road in search of a tie spot. (I’m really sorry, lady; I know you meant well but PREGNANT RAGE.)

I tied my darling horse to a tree and got the boot off her back foot, then my sweet angel did that thing where she squirms around (without crashing into me! She does not invade my space!) and ends up on the other side of me, screaming for the horses who are passing her on the trail, and I lost it. I screamed “I FUCKING HATE YOU!” at the top of my lungs and hurled the boot at Dixie from five feet away.

I missed.

Dixie gave me this look, like, what did I do to deserve getting stuck with such an incompetent human?

I started giggling and went to find the boot. Jeremy trotted by and yelled “Are you ok?”

I yelled back “Pregnant lady with a mare, this is as good as it gets!” I slammed the boot back on the suddenly very cooperative horse, leapt back on, and took off to the second photographer. (Hi Bill!) So these gorgeous pictures were taken moments after the boot-hurling.IMG_2153 IMG_2154

We came screaming into the 20 mile vet check at 10 am. I got Dixie pulsed down in a couple minutes and she vetted through just fine. B for gut sounds (hardly surprising) and A’s for everything else. Rob Lydon vetted me, and he asked (as he always does) how my ride was going. “Can’t keep the damn boots on her, but she’s on fire! She feels so strong and she’s going so good!”

Zach’s Mom was there, and she helped me out — thank you again Karen! While my sweet angel boo bear ate, I pulled her rear boots, taped her feet and slammed the fucking boots back on yet again – I’d only lost rear boots, and I desperately hoped the tape would help. Then I settled down and destroyed half a bag of cheetos (baby wanted them) and some nuts. The hold went by fast and I got out within a minute of my out time, ready to slow it down a bit and enjoy my day.IMG_2114

But Dixie wasn’t ready to slow it down. We tore off down the trail, holding our place in the pack pretty well. I am not gonna lie, I was ready to slow down, but I could not get her to ease up. We gaited everywhere the other horses trotted and we power-walked everywhere they walked. The second loop was exceptionally pretty, alternating singletrack through old-growth forest and fire roads with views.

Let me go, human, there’s room for me to pass.IMG_2115IMG_2118We can walk so much faster than them downhill if you’d just let me barge past.IMG_2119Why won’t you let me go, human? That other horse gets to canter!IMG_2120IMG_2121I hate you too, human.IMG_2124Eventually she’ll slow down, right? Right?!IMG_2125They’re getting away!!IMG_2126I lost a fifth boot on the second loop. A front one for a change; at least the tape worked on the rears. Perhaps I should re-measure her feet and/or consider powerstraps.

Karen had asked when I thought I’d be back. “Oh, three hours,” I said. “Can’t be sooner than two and a half.” Hah! At 12:20-something, less than two hours after we’d left, we were back for the second hold. I stripped tack, sponged for a few minutes, and pulsed in at 12:28. Rob vetted me again, and again he asked how my day was going. “She’s still pulling like a freight train,” I wailed. “I can not slow her down but she really feels good?”

He agreed that she looked great. Again, a B for guts (I’d gotten her to stop and eat one mouthful of grass, and I’d managed to feed one carrot from the saddle), and A’s for everything else and a good CRI.

As I led Sugar Angel Horse back to our little shady rest spot, she flung herself to the ground for a half-roll. I groaned. There goes at least seven minutes of my lunch — I’d have to give her a sponge bath before I tacked her back up. I yanked and prodded and got her over to her pile of hay, then went and flopped down by Connie.

I’d been riding maybe a minute ahead of Connie all day, at the tail-end of a group of four SoCal riders. They were nice enough, but they weren’t My People, and I wanted to spend some time with Connie. I asked if I could ride home with her, and she agreed. Gina and Carolyn showed up a few minutes after us — they were on their baby horses, not their seasoned mounts, but still — me? Ahead of them? What madness is this? We sat together and munched Cheetos quite happily. The Nevadans all had beer, and not gonna lie, a beer would’ve tasted really, really good. Lemongrab: see, I tried to be a good host.

I did almost have a meltdown when I went to refill my camelback. I hadn’t done a great job hydrating on the first loop, and during the second loop I made sure to drink the whole thing before I got back to the check, and then there was no more people water! I went wailing off to the volunteers in a tizzy. I am more like a snail than a camel and I will totally shrivel up and die if I have to ride fifteen miles with no water. My friend Joanne gave me a half-frozen Vitamin Water (delicious!) to shut me up, and the volunteers assured me that more water was on the way, and I settled back down. (And I apologized. I’ve volunteered a bit, and I’ve seen asshole riders who don’t even realize they’re being assholes, and I try to be on my best behavior in checks!)

I woke Miss D up from her nap and sponged the mud-dirt-grime off of her, then tacked back up. Lost a minute stupidly making two trips to the trash bag, but I still got out one minute after my hold (and two minutes after Connie’s). We set off down that lovely trail beside the deadly highway yet again, walking slow for a couple minutes to let SoCal pull ahead of us. Eventually, we had our bubble, and we took off at a trot.

This time we rode probably 8 miles down the highway. I was more inured to the danger, and of course Dixie could care less about the traffic, or the few bikers and hikers we saw, so I was a little more relaxed. Eventually we all bunched up at the crossing, waiting to get back to the south side of the road. We got across and headed for White Cloud — the people-campground I’d been at with Mel a couple years ago.

Dixie finally quit pulling and offered to slow down. We can walk more if you want, human.IMG_2128Oh no, my princess. That ship sailed a long time ago. Let’s just trot for one more hour and get this done in style, okay? Okay.

We headed down onto the trail beside the ditch, and Mike and Phyllis caught up to us. We talked it over and agreed that the mysterious ditch has to be a very old disused irrigation ditch. I remembered the natural water and pointed it out when we got to it, and the other horses drank happily. Dixie didn’t want to drink, but I’d been trusting her to drink when thirsty all day so I didn’t push it. Away we went again, to the overflow parking just two miles or so from camp. But instead of staying on the perfectly lovely trail beside the road, we had to detour down into a canyon and up Hallelujah Hill. I don’t know how Sanne and I missed it last year, but I think we took a wrong turn onto a different trail.

Still smiling, only looking slightly demented.IMG_2129Lovely trail, thick with dogwoods. It would be great to get out here earlier and see them in bloom!IMG_2131Everyone agreed that it’s cruel (but sadly not unusual) for ride management to detour you away from camp and make you finish with a hill. I was expecting another climb like the one out of the creek that morning, and I really didn’t know if I had enough horse to keep up with the other three. I decided I’d make D keep trotting all the downs and flats and walking the uphills, but if the others outwalked us on the uphills, I’d let them go. I didn’t want Dixie to think she can pick her pace all day, but I certainly didn’t want to hurt her.IMG_2130So away we went, down one more canyon. I was holding my breath at the bottom, but the creek was dry — and the climb up was surprisingly easy. I mean, it was steep, and it switchbacked on and on and on forever, but it was a nice new trail. We hit a patch of bees, and maybe one of the horses got stung, but the rest of us just hustled through at top speed and it wasn’t bad.IMG_2134Honestly, I was pretty fucking done at that point. I was tired of riding fast and riding well, and my horse was a little tired, and every time we’d start up from a walk to a gait my legs would scream in protest. (And every time we’d slow from a gait to a walk my knees would scream in protest — whacha gonna do?) But Rob had promised me that it was two miles from the top of the hill back to camp, and it’s not like I had to go back out for another fifty miles that evening, so we soldiered on.IMG_2136 After one more lovely stretch of singletrack, we popped out on one last fire road. We all slowed down a bit and walked on in, finishing at 3:28. My ride time was just a hair under seven hours, plus an hour and a half in the holds. Amazing.IMG_2137

We got our finish times and walked on in to camp. My brain was fried so I walked straight over to the vet. God bless Rob; he really knows how to talk to road-stupid endurance riders. He checked Dixie’s pulse (probably like 90 bpm) and spoke slowly and clearly to me. “So you need to go to your trailer and pull all her tack, then sponge her neck, then bring her back in thirty minutes, ok?”

I mean, I’ve been doing this long enough that I probably would’ve figured that out on my own. What is horse pulse? Too high! Make horse cool with water! Take saddle off! But he saved me all the mental effort. I had a task!

So back down to the trailer we went. Fresh mash for Dixie. All the tack came off and went in a pile. The helmet and camelback came off. The ride card came out of the saddlebags and got shoved in the my pocket (brilliant, if I do say so myself). I found the sponge and sponged the horse and checked her pulse and she was down, so we trudged back up the road. A quick pulse, a quick trot-out, and we were done!IMG_2139Dixie really, really did me proud. Boot-flinging moments of rage aside, I truly adore that horse. We pretend that we don’t like each other very much, because we both think we’re bad motherfuckers without any squishy ~feelings,~ but she’s my girl. We’ve got each other’s backs.

Music and dancing after the awards/ride meeting. IMG_2142I hung out til dark again, laughing and talking with my friends. Baby needed another marshmallow, too. As the sun set, I realized it was the summer solstice, and I cannot think of a better way to spend the best/worst day of the year. I was awake, outside, and hanging out with my BFF Dixie for every hour of the longest day of the year. Woo!

Post-ride condition pics. She’s a little tucked up in the flanks but looks good!IMG_2148 IMG_2151Two more things that I really want to mention:

First, horses can just keep improving. If you look at our ride record, Dixie’s never been a fast horse. Our first fifty was 10:15 at a tough ride, and our best times have been over seven hours at easy rides. This was not an easy ride. I’d say it was easier than Tahoe Rim, sure, but it was no stroll through the park. Probably 30% of the trail was flat and the rest of it was heading up or heading down. I’m not pushing Dixie, and I’m not trying to make her something she’s not, and she’s just rocking along at the back of the pack looking great. So if you’ve just squeaked through your first few rides on your off-breed, and you really don’t know if this is going to work out for your horse, don’t despair. If they like the sport and you can keep them sound, they can keep getting better and better at it.

And second, get your shit together and get through your holds on time. If you have a lot of short holds, and god forbid if you have a lot of short holds that are tack-off, you might not get to do more than pee and refill your water before you have to get back out there. You can eat in the saddle. Every minute you spend waiting for the frontrunners to start and waiting to pulse down at the holds is a minute you’re going to regret in the afternoon. I will wait up to two minutes for a friend whose out-time is later than mine, but no longer, and I don’t expect anybody to wait for me. I have squeaked in to the finish with less than ten minutes to spare too many times, and it’s not fun! Dixie and I lost fifteen minutes at this ride — we started late, we took maybe three minutes at each hold to pulse down, and we were two minutes late leaving the second check. It’s shocking how fast it adds up. Again, it gets easier the more you do this, but you have to make getting out on time an absolute priority!