Thursday, June 25, 2009

Strawberry Fields Forever - Day 2

Sunday June 21 2009

If you want to know what the weather is going to do for the day, don't listen to the forecast (yesterday was supposed to be rainy, today was supposed to be the best day). Just look south out the door of your horse trailer when you get up to see what's headed your way.

Headed our way this morning was rain. Gray everywhere, dark clouds, and rain. It was already wet from rain during some of the night.

If you want to know what to wear, check out what Dave Rabe is wearing. Tank top with his shorts, and raincoat? If so, I only needed 2 layers. That's what I put on under the raincoat Sue loaned me. She offered me a bright yellow, stiff, body length raincoat, which would have kept me dry, too warm, and unable to bend my arms. So I opted for a 99 cent plastic job stored in her tack room door for emergencies. I left my camera behind though... didn't want to take a chance on getting it wet.

I don't think any of us 50-some riders in the 50 and 25 milers were bothered by the rain, especially since we'd gotten such a wonderful freebie good day yesterday. Khan was more relaxed starting out - no shaking while we saddled up, and only a mimimal of jigging. He felt very strong underneath me, and was very willing to move on down the trail. That's what you love to feel on a multi-day ride - your horse feeling stronger the next day.

The trails were more slippery this morning due to the overnight rain, but Khan was being very careful as we trotted along, watching where he was putting his feet, and never placing them wrong. Until, that is, we got passed. Three riders caught up with us and cantered by us on the camping road. Khan would have handled that, but then 5 riders ripped past us at a gallop, and that was it. The racehorse brain switched on, and the careful foot placement, and the collected trot and bowed neck went out the endurance window.

Then I had my hands full the next 7 or 8 miles, trying to keep my horse under control and not lose his marbles, and trip over a log in the trail, or slip on a muddy turn. He wasn't too bad, but I had to really pay attention. When we emerged from the tricky trail through forest into the Strawberry valley again, Khan was so worried about the line of horses he could see ahead of us, he didn't pay attention to the churned up footing coming to the Crick. Both his front feet got stuck in deep mud, and we almost went down. (Wouldn't you know one of the video guys was there filming - they were there to film for a hopeful reality show pilot on endurance.)

Vicki Gaebe of Park City Photography was also in the meadow, and, what exquisite timing she had - the sun came out just then ever so briefly, and I had Khan moving ever so nicely for this fleeting moment in the meadow. (That's Vicki's picture of me up top.)

Not only was it a bit nerve wracking with an inattentive horse going over technical ground, but after a while you start to worry about the horse, who's using up way too much energy, getting worked up for nothing. Khan was SO focused on going forward and going fast, that he wouldn't slow down to take a drink or a bite of grass. It wasn't bad at this point in the ride, but you don't want the horse spending his whole ride(s) doing that, or he'll do himself harm metabolically down the road.

Sue and I stopped at the edge of the meadow, and while her horse Al calmly ate, ripping up grass left and right, I hopped off Khan and kept him from walking in circles and tried to get him to concentrate on grass. He'd eat it if I plucked it for him, but he really wasn't interested in taking the time to do it himself - too many horses to catch! Sue and I hung out there a good five or ten minutes, waiting till all horses were out of sight, and Khan finally calmed down a little.

Then with only one horse in sight ahead of us, we started back down the trail, tucking in behind Sue and Al. Now I was back on a smooth calm, collected, attentive white horse, sailing the few miles to the vet check. It really helped Khan to bury his head in the food at the vet check during our 15-minute hold.

From there we trotted up the Beaver Staircase by Co-op Creek again, to Beaver Junction where we had hung up the Day 2 pie plate yesterday. This time we turned down a side drainage, along another Beaver Staircase - levels of beaver ponds and dams all the way down the creek. You really understand the term 'busy as a beaver' when you see all the work they do, chewing down aspens, gnawing them into dam-building-sized logs if they don't fall in the correct place, dragging them down to the creek, shaping sticks, and building some pretty spectacular dams and domes. One dam we passed on one of the creeks was 50 yards long.

I got off to walk down this creek because as usual my knee was killing me, and since it was muddy and rocky. Once I walk on foot for 5 minutes, my knee works itself out. At the bottom we turned onto another logging road, and began a steady climb again for a few miles, past the Corrals that would be used for tomorrow's vet check, and into the fabled Norwegian Woods.

I couldn't wait to see this, as Sue had been talking about the Norwegian Woods for weeks. How can one aspen forest be so different from any other aspen forest? Well, this one was, somehow, charming and alluring. A perfect aspen forest with a carpet of thick green, knee-high plants just on the verge of busting out in purple flowers. In one place the aspens stood perfectly placed and manicured guarding a big meadow; in another spot our trail dodged close to and around single aspens, like the old Star Wars movie Return of the Jedi where they flew through the Moon Forest.

Normally, aspens and wild rose (with thorns) hang out together and make for an annoying, not-so-friendly forest (see Golden Aspens), but these Norwegian Woods were free of roses and thorns and thickets and just made you want to get off your horse and stay a while. Even with the gray day and the rain it was enchanting, and it was the one time I really wished I'd risked bringing my camera today!

After the Norwegian Woods came the other feature of the ride I'd been hearing a lot about: Slick Snot Slope. A fitting name for a Man From Snowy River stomach-dropping hill if you went straight over it ... only this hill was coated with mud. We took the side slope ... also coated with mud and very slick. Fortunately our horses were quite coordinated, and I just didn't think about what it might be like if Khan slipped and went down. If I'd really thought about what I was doing, I might have gotten a little nervous. I sure didn't feel like any fearless Snowy River rider. My eyes were quite wide for the slide down Slick Snot Slope and I think I held my breath.

Our horses slid down on their haunches, big giant sliding steps that eventually got us to the bottom in one piece. Some riders got off at the top to lead their horses down - that would have been REALLY scary! Some of the riders slipped and fell, hoping their horse wouldn't fall slip and fall on them!

We had just a few more miles of trail into camp - a VERY slick muddy trail. Khan was very carefully placing his feet and adjusting for the surface with every step. What a good horse! It took a lot of concentration from both of us.

As if mud wasn't enough to worry about, I got WHACKED by a tree branch that almost tore me off my horse. Branches had been smacking me all day - Khan was a tall horse, but this was the first time i got it in the eye. Fortunately, I have not gotten around yet to that laser eye surgery, so I still have to wear glasses, which saved me here from putting my eye out. A good reason to keep putting off that surgery (or never getting it) and keep wearing my eye protection.

By the time we got to camp for our hour lunch hold, we were pretty wet, our raincoats - Sue's long oiled 'duster' and my 99 center - having let some of the rain through. Of course, for me that might have been because one whole sleeve had ripped apart. We fixed that right up with duct tape.

Heading out on Loop 2, I forgot that my fleece-padded saddle had briefly been out in the rain, so when I mounted, it was like sitting on a wet sponge. Oh, yuck!

Loop 2 was about 20 miles. We went back out the same way through the forest, cutting across the meadow sooner. Here we came upon a group of 6 riders, and before Khan started getting too wound up again, we decided to move on ahead of them.

After crossing the meadow, and debating several minutes about which way our trail went - yesterday's turn-off to the vet check was still marked, and no pie plate indicating we shouldn't take that one, and no ribbons indicating we should go straight - we decided the Willow Creek trail again was the correct way. Howard had said, "Bring your map!" We did, but we still weren't quite sure for a mile or two.

We trotted steadily along the creek, slowing for bogs, letting the horses stop for a drink when they wanted it, and stopping occasionally to let the horses eat grass. So much grass out there - and the cows were moving in on Tuesday to start mowing it all down. We passed over one very big bog that we'd done earlier in the day, and I'd had plenty of time to get quite nervous about it. Khan had been very good about picking the best way through them, so here I just threw him the reins and held my breath and hoped for the best. He got us through again, just fine, and we stopped for a while to graze on the other side.

We were now following the same trail as loop 1, which meant another jaunt through the Norwegian woods! Here we caught up with Melissa Margetts and her Paso Fino gelding Cabo from Colorado. You don't see too many Paso Finos in endurance, and in fact, Cabo is the first one to complete Tevis. Melissa and Cabo started their endurance careers together in 2006. Many people said they'd never make it through the tough 100 miles of Tevis, but they've also completed 2 other hundreds, including the Big Horn in Wyoming.

Melissa had taken a wrong turn - the one Sue and I had debated over - and though her horse argued and argued with her, telling her she was going the wrong way, she didn't listen, and consequently had added about 10 miles to their day. Cabo was quite cranky with her the rest of the day. Those two are entered in the Tevis again this year.

Then it was back to Slick Snot Slope... even more muddier and slippery after the passage of roughly 300 horse feet throughout the day. I just didn't think about it again, and held my breath again, and left the passage all up to Khan. He skidded for yards at some places, sat on his haunches at others, and we slid safely to the bottom of the hill. Then we followed the now REALLY slick trail the few miles back to camp (me successfully ducking at the Eye-Poker branch this time), and soon we were back in camp again for the finish. Perfect timing, because the other sleeve of my raincoat had now ripped out. (Get out the duct tape again!)

Our horses looked great at the finish, and trotted out sound. We unsaddled them, and fixed them up with dry blankets and lots of food.

The Bradleys cooked another human meal of marinated turkey and 'funeral potatoes' (pardon the pun, but they are to die for), which was served during a downpour. Some people crowded under awnings or tents to eat, but I was wearing the Big Banana Raincoat, which kept me dry, though it was still hard to bend my arms to put food in my mouth.

Howard had a brief meeting for tomorrow's ride; he decided to stick with his original plan of taking riders up to 10,000', through some snow, for a scenic ride. It was going to be "very technical," and more rain was predicted. "And guys, BE CAREFUL," said vet Kathy Bacchus. "We can NOT get to you up there if anything happens. Go slow, and take care of each other out there." This is real endurance, for the hard core riders.

That clinched the decision for me not to ride Khan tomorrow. He'd done enough these two days - being only his second and third endurance rides - and, while Khan was generally very careful, I just didn't want to take any chances on hurting Sue's horse. I'd help Sue and Al get ready in the morning and send them on their way.

And then sit and drink Starbucks all morning. : )


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