2014 Year-End Review

I guess it’s time to do the year-end wrap-up thing. It definitely feels weird, because the year isn’t quite over and I’m still pregnant so my biggest (har har) project is still unfinished, but maybe if I go ahead and post this I’ll go into labor, right?

Last year’s goals were to ride Twenty Mule Team 100, Washoe Lake, and the Nevada Triple Crown (Derby 50, NASTR 75, VC 100). I wanted to volunteer Nevada Moonshine and Tahoe Rim, and I wanted to run a 10k.

No plan survives contact with the enemy. But you know, in retrospect, I didn’t do too badly.

First: I ran that 10k.2014 resolution 2Mel ran the 10 miler – she finished in about the same time it took me to “run” 6.2 miles, but whatever. It was a beautiful day and running endorphins are gooooood.2014 resolution run

In February, Miss Dixie and I headed down to Ridgecrest and finished Twenty Mule Team 100. It’s still the most amazing thing I’ve ever done (maybe “giving birth” or “being a parent” will be more amazing but I wouldn’t know because I’m still pregnant, grrrrrrr) and I still think about that day several times a week. Kaity and Jaya, I’m honored to have shared the trail with you both!

In March, I gave Dixie some well-deserved time off and got a small, tasteful tattoo to memorialize our achievement.desert tolkeinOk, it’s huge and gaudy and takes up my entire calf. I don’t care. I feel like the size of the tattoo is commensurate with the effort involved.

I kept running, too, upping my longest run to 9 miles. 2014 Canyon Meadow 2April was when my endurance season was kicking off for real. We started off the month at the Nevada Derby. The Derby was one of my yearly goals, but it turned out to be a substitution, too — I’d been really hopeful that I’d get to ride the Washoe Lake ride, but the ride ended up not happening. Instead, the Derby got moved from Palomino Valley, north of Reno, down to Washoe Lake south of Reno. They used pretty much the same trails, so I got to ride Washoe Lake anyway! Good enough.

The next weekend, I lazed about, drinking and having sex and sleeping late. As one does. The weekend after that, I ran 14 miles. I did a 10k run to get a t-shirt and then paced Mel on her first ultra. We didn’t precisely run the last 8 miles, but we maintained steady forward progress, and we finished, woo!2014 aprilDude. Look how hot I was. Look how skinny I was.

The weekend after that, I felt rather peculiar and discovered that I was with child.IMG_1841-2However, earlier that year, Mel and I had hatched a plan to do the 2014 World Championship Ride’n’Tie Long Course. All you had to do was finish to get a completely bomb-ass silver buckle! And Mel’s an ultramarathoner, and Farley is a short horse, and I wouldn’t even be very pregnant by then, so of course I couldn’t back out and let Mel find a more competent partner. Of the three of us, only Mel had ever done a ride’n’tie before, so we met up at the end of April and had a short practice session. Farley was an angel.

In June, I was still hardly pregnant at all, so I went off and rode a day at Wild West. It’s a ride I’ve been meaning to do for years now, and I knew I’d want the memories to tide me over til 2015, and Dixie was certainly in good shape. Turned out she was in such good shape that we did the 50 (and it’s not an easy or short 50!) in just under 8 hours. A really fun day, and such a rush to ride such a fit, forward horse.

I’d originally hoped to Do Something at the Nevada Moonshine ride, but sadly, it got cancelled due to base camp problems.

In July, Mel and Farley and I did the R’n’T championships. We were pitiful in all ways, except that we did finish and we weren’t even dead last. Almost all pitifulness was due to me — I thought it would be a good idea to wear shorts, so I got a huge and gnarly calf rub in the first 14 miles, and then I started to overheat and just couldn’t run anymore, so Mel had to run twice as much to make up for me. I mean, I did my fair share of hiking, but I was going half as fast as Mel so she just ended up doing more miles. But we didn’t piss off our phenomenal crew (<3 Lucy and Aurora 4 ever) or each other, and the buckles were totally, totally worth it.buckles grinsI wanted to do one more 50 at Gold Country, but my leg was not at all healed enough to ride on. I still have a huge scar where the rub was — I suppose it’s cheaper than getting another tattoo. Scars are souvenirs you never lose.

My big adventures in August were crewing Tevis, crewing Mel’s first 50-mile-no-horse-involved-ultramarathon, and volunteering at Tahoe Rim.

I did not realize until just now that I never got around to posting a Tevis crew story. TL;DR: I split my time in the Sierras between volunteering for the webcast again and crewing for Lucy. The benefit of voluncrewing, especially while pregnant, is that no one person expects all that much of you and you get a good amount of time to nap and snack. I saw old friends and made new friends. I talked to living legends and crazy people. I really needed those naps, because I didn’t actually get to sleep for more than four hours at a time. It was stressful and wonderful, and I can’t wait to do it again, either the long way down the trail or the even longer way driving the crew road.2014 TevisJaya and Asali, on their way to their second hundred of the year! 2014 Tevis 3Lucy’s crew, aka Team Lurgy, hard at work at Foresthill.2014 Tevis 2I got a new truck. It doesn’t make mysterious, terrible noises, and it has a step.

I still love Tahoe Rim the best of all the 50s, and I’m really hoping I get to ride it next year. Either way, me and The Kid will be back at base camp — I just hope the usual endurance stars align and I’ve got a fit, sound horse ready to ride then, too.

And I may have my sights on a trail marathon out at Golden Gate next year. Me, the one who swore up and down I’d never run that far without a horse. (But the Golden Gate hills are so pretty! And it’s cold and foggy, so I won’t overheat! And I have to run marathons so I can pace Mel when she runs Western States in a couple years!)

In September, I crewed Virginia City for Lucy. It was extremely bittersweet — riding VC was the only goal that I just couldn’t achieve this year, and it really hurt. Don’t misunderstand, I’m delighted to (almost! soon!) get to be a mom, and I can’t think of a better reason to miss VC… but I really wanted to come back and conquer the ride this year, and I just couldn’t.

VC fell smack-dab in the middle of the “my grass is so emo it cuts itself” second trimester. Everything sucked, and I felt terrible, but I didn’t even look very pregnant so I felt like I didn’t deserve to feel as terrible as I did, and people were mean and I cried the whole time. I could look back now and be mad or feel silly about all the crying and whining, but what’s the point? My feelings were legitimately hurt and things sucked and my rider didn’t even finish!

October was boring and emo. I finally started to look pregnant, at least.2014 octoberAnd I kept riding til the last week in October, when I realized I wasn’t flexible enough to ride (or fall) properly. Sigh.2014 october 2I can’t possibly be serious and do those silly Pinterest things with chalkboards and heart-shaped hands on my belly, but I can make skeptical faces in the produce department.

Finally, in November, all the good hormones started kicking in. The uncontrollable weeping and black moods and furious raging have been slowly fading away for the last two months, and I’m usually pretty zen and incredibly sleepy. And huge. And awkward.34 weeksI can’t breathe very well, and I have horrendously bad acid reflux for no less than 12 hours a day, and my poor feet have swollen to hobbit-like proportions, but I don’t really mind any of these things. It’s really cool feeling my baby moving around, and I really can’t wait to meet him, and every day now I inform him that he can come out any time he’d like.2014 dec 2“Grown locally.”

Dixie has been amazing. She knows I’m pregnant, and she’s so sweet and gentle with me. What with the never-ending rain, she’s not getting out often enough, even just to stretch her legs in the arena, but she is really calm whenever I do manage to handle her. I try to go out every other day, even if it’s just to groom her and scratch her itchy spots for half an hour, and she’s never pushy or spooky.

I never talk about my husband on here, by his choice, but I have to tell you guys how amazing he’s been, too. He’s totally supportive. He’s far nicer to me than I probably deserve, and he’s going to be an outstanding dad.2014 DecI have absolutely got to get my hair cut.

Anyway, that’s all the retrospective warm fuzzies I can muster. Forward!

2015 Goals:

  • Have baby (any day now would be fine. Tomorrow is good, little guy. I don’t even care if you want to come out on Christmas.)
  • Go to AERC convention with adorable and “easy” baby and husband in tow. Show off baby to Reno, out of town friends.
  • Get back to running. Run at least a half marathon, preferably a marathon at Golden Gate.
  • Do Tevis — webcast volunteer slash half-ass crew again? Maybe possibly if everything is perfect, ride?
  • Ride Tahoe Rim 50 and Virginia City 100.
  • Do not drop baby, especially on his head.
  • Write more.

Anything else is bonus.

2014 Tahoe Rim Ride – volunteer

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.IMG_2625What you see here is about 80% of the available space at basecamp.IMG_2628RM Sanne going over the trail.IMG_2630Our 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!)IMG_2640Headed out!IMG_2646Looking east toward Carson City, NV.IMG_2650Looking west toward the lake. You can see the North Canyon Road down there.IMG_2652That’s about how I felt all weekend.IMG_2662This is the best sport in the world.IMG_2665Almost to the Snow Peak crossroads.IMG_2672Marlette 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.IMG_2679Dixie 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.

IMG_2682I don’t think there are any horses this way so I don’t think we should go this way, human.IMG_2685I 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!)IMG_2687So 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.IMG_2688Anything 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 😉IMG_2693The 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.”IMG_2696She 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.pulling ribbonsI’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.IMG_2720G 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.IMG_2731All 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.IMG_2700Big 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. IMG_2751 IMG_2752Yesterday we were up top!IMG_2763North Canyon road. Boulders, trees, and bikes.IMG_2778Spooner Lake, the smallest of the lakes you’ll see at TRR.IMG_2782The 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!IMG_2787Goodbye 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.

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, salvation.me 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 ran.me 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 food.me 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!

2014 Nevada Derby I 50

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nevada rides often have a few rocks.
IMG_1674
IMG_1672
At the top of the mountain, I was thoroughly sick of riding. I’d gotten off to run two or three times already (oh my god I can’t believe it I’m actually doing the thing! I’m running 10% of my endurance rides!!), and I was ready to run again. Diego was having none of it and he flew off down the hill, leaving Angela and me chugging along.IMG_1678

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

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

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

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

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

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

We headed out up the park again, and the mares drank at the trough again. We crossed the road again and turned north, up to Jumbo Grade (which is the name of a road, the name of a NEDA ride, and a climb up a mountain, just to keep it confusing!) We got to Jumbo Grade The Road on familiar trails, then took a brand-new  “trail” through the sagebrush, headed further north. (This is the bit of Mel’s story where she had to get back on Farley to spot the green ribbons on the green sagebrush!) I sort of vaguely remembered riding these hills at NEDA rides, and when we came over one low hill to stare at a really big steep fucker of a climb, I definitely remembered it. You go up a SOB-quality hill, pop over the top, and you’re in hock-deep sand.Mini-SOB
It doesn’t really look that bad in this shot, does it? It’s a really steep climb!
IMG_1689
Get it, LUV!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I spent a lot of time thinking about lead dogs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was tight, but we made it.IMG_1713

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

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

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

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


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