Friday, August 7, 2009

2009 Tevis Cup: Phase I

Saturday August 1 2009

I'd been given some good Tevis advice by friends who'd finished: ride Vet Check to Vet Check. The start was at 5:15 AM; I figured we could plan on finishing (if we were so lucky) around 4:45 AM, 23 1/2 hours from now, if we went the same pace that Nance did when she finished in 2007.

The ride could be divided into three Limited Distance rides. From the start to Robinson Flat, the first 1-hour hold, was 36 miles. This should take us around 6 hours. The second LD was from Robinson to Foresthill - the second 1-hour hold after another 32 miles. Hopefully we would arrive around 8 PM - another 8 hours down the trail. There were some wicked canyons - thousands of feet of ups and downs between the two. If we were lucky enough to make it that far, we were 2/3 done with the ride! Only one more LD to go: 32 miles to the finish, about 8 hours of riding.

To break that up, there were a number of either water stops or trot-by or pulse-down vet checks in each LD ride, with 4 to 17 miles between each. If any of that was overwhelming, long-time endurance rider Dot Wiggins suggested, "Don't ride to the end of the trail, just around the next bend, or to the top of the next hill. You can always get that far."

Thinking of riding a hundred miles, over 24 hours, and 18,000 feet of up and 23,000 feet of down, is rather overwhelming. Just riding to the next hill, one step at a time, makes it easier.

But I wasn't able to think much of anything when I got up at 3:20 AM to the alarm, because I could NOT get my s*** together. I had made a pile of my clothing to grab and put on, but when the alarm went off I could not find my tights. They weren't in the bag, they weren't in my bed, (the table/bed in Bruce and Nance's horse trailer) they weren't on the floor. I must have spent 5 minutes fumbling around for them. Then I couldn't figure out what to eat, or how to make coffee.

When it came time to saddle up Quinn, I could NOT get the saddle to fit right. It had fit just fine yesterday, but now the breast collar was too tight, and the crupper under his tail was too tight. This was not possible, but this is how it was. I had to loosen both, which did not make sense... and I knew that not far down the trail they would both be too loose. Then I couldn't get the front brushing boots on - they were new, and the three velcro pieces on each boot kept sticking back to itself before I could stick them through the buckle.

3:30-4:30 AM is not my best time of the day. And I had a loooooooong day ahead of me.

I double checked that the Raven bag, with the Raven and the Tevis Guardian Angel inside, was cinched down tight... I didn't want to have to backtrack a hundred miles of Tevis trail looking for the Raven!

It was time to leave, and head for the start. I had to pull Quinn's head out of the hay bag. Good sign, he was tanking up for the long day! As Nance and I waited for our three Idaho friends in the dark, I got one little twinge of nervousness. Oh, this would not do! I remembered this was just another endurance ride, (one starting way too early for my taste), and miraculously, that twinge went away.

Our crew followed us with flashlights in the dark to Pen 2, where our horses waited calmly (hooray! Good boy Jasbo! He can be quite naughty at the start sometimes) until someone yelled it was time to start walking up the road. We called out our numbers as we left the pen, escorted by claps and cheers from onlookers, and, "See you in Auburn!"

The 10 minute walk down the road became a 300 yard trot - then a 10 minute stand-still. Unbelievably, our horses, and all the horses around us were standing quietly. Kara's horse Jack stood like a model, legs straight, toes slightly pointed daintily outward, his head bowed, looking out from under his eyelashes, as if he were in a halter show. But he was no prissy horse - Nance called him the 'Energizer Bunny' and he'd be zooming along the trail later in the day ahead of us so that all we saw of him at times was his dust.

Finally, the mass of horseflesh started moving, we were moving, and we funneled off the main road onto the wide trail - we were off on our Tevis adventure!

The first 'LD':
Robie Park to Squaw High Camp - 13 miles - Water stop
Squaw High Camp to Lyon Ridge - 8.5 miles - Trot-By
Lyon Ridge to Red Star Ridge - 7 miles - Gate and Go
Red Star Ridge to Robinson Flat - 7.5 miles - 1 hour hold at 36 miles

This phase might be summed up as: the ROCK and DUST phase. Not that there weren't rocks on the trail for a hundred miles, but there were a lot of rocks underfoot along this stretch. A. Lot. Of. Rocks. And Dust - pervasive, invasive, horrible, torturous dust.

The dirt road we started on was a wide two-track that eventually narrowed to a single track. There wasn't too much passing or pushing or shoving going on, nobody's horses balked at the little ditches we went over, nobody got bucked off, and nobody yelled too much. A very orderly start considering, around us anyway, something which I hear does not always happen, and something I was a bit worried about. We 5 Idaho spuds even managed to stay right behind each other.

The line of horses - 169 horses long - moved along at a good trot. Usually in such a long line, you have the annoying accordion stops that squeeze back down the line, but a slight sense of urgency, that would plague riders in the back all day (us), and get stronger as the day went on, remarkably kept the whole line moving at a good clip most of the time.

The trail wound around in the forest, along the side of a mountain, up and down and around, but mostly down, about 6 miles to the Truckee River. Once in a while the trail would widen to a two-track, where some impatient people would sprint ahead, only to cause a jam up with everybody trying to funnel back down to single track. If your horse slowed to a walk anywhere - like, say, to put his head down to negotiate some tricky rocks, you might get yelled at by the one guy behind us who was impatient and perhaps should have started closer to the front part of pen 2.

Much of the Tevis trail was like this - long single-track - where there was no place for anybody to pass. You could go on for miles behind, or in, or in front of, a string of horses - and on the last phase this would be us - and you went with the flow of traffic, and if you didn't like it, you lumped it.

As we zipped along, I was adjusting to Quinn and his methods; he was adjusting to me. He liked to be right on Jasbo's butt - i.e., where he couldn't see the rocks his feet were landing on - and I preferred him to be back a little bit so he could see where to put his feet. We eventually worked out a compromise, but it took a while, and we did some stumbles - though I'm sure every horse was doing that. Fortunately Quinn was smooth, and though the saddle and my position in the sports saddle felt unfamiliar, it was comfortable. And, so far, no screaming from my knee!

This area was slightly damp from the rain/hailstorm/thunderstorm that hit Robie Park on Thursday, but you could tell the boundary of that, because it quickly became dusty.

Ah... the dust. What would eventually become for me a major misery of Tevis was just beginning. I could imagine a long snaking line of dust being kicked up, that could possibly be seen from outer space. From the couple hundred hooves in front of us, already the dust reached over the tops of the fir trees like a heavy cloud of fog. Fortunately I'd worn a bandana just for breathing in, and I whipped that over my mouth and started using it right away.

Then we were down at the Truckee River, where we crossed under the highway - and here were three members of my Fan Club. Krysta, and Dick and Carolyn Dawson cheered when they saw me - all 10 seconds of it. Carolyn had a cool vest for me to grab and put on - just in case I'd need one, for the hot canyons ahead - but I yelled that I had one. We flew onward, calling out our numbers, me waving over my shoulder like a queen of the Tevis parade, the little crowd of spectators cheering everybody on.

Trotting along fast, flying over the rocks hidden by fine silty dust, we dropped down to the Squaw Valley ski area, onto a nice easy dirt road, where, still in a long line of people, I noticed that the trail veered to the left off the road - our group of 5 had just crossed a white line across the road indicating plainly, "Don't go this way!" It gets easy just to follow people blindly - which over a dozen riders had already done, going far around the corner and on down the road.

I yelled, "Wrong way! Hey guys! Trail goes off this way!" I pulled back to let those in back of me take the trail first, and to wait for my Idaho spuds (Quinn and I were in the rear). As they turned around and came back, Mr Crabapple - who hadn't even noticed he'd blown by the turn - followed them and said bitingly, "Well I guess that's what the yellow ribbons are for!" I guess it was! We made sure he passed us so he could go yell at someone else.

Back to flying at a fast trot along the dusty, rocky trail (I may as well now just drop the "dusty" and "rocky" descriptions - how about if from now on I mention if the trail suddenly was NOT dusty or rocky), on a steep slope, Laura was in the lead, when her horse hit some slickrock, and fell right down. It happened so fast, I couldn't even yelp. El Din's feet whipped out from under him to the downslope, Laura sort of fell off into the upslope; El Din was able to scramble right back up, and he stood there while Laura jumped back on. And quick as that, we were back going at a trot.

Something happens, you just keep going, because you have a line of people behind you.

From Squaw Valley the trail climbs 2500' toward Watson Monument amidst the ski lifts. Less than a mile from very the top there was a water stop at High Camp. Quinn and Jasbo didn't want any water. It was only 13 miles into the ride, and it was still cool, but you sure would be happier if your horse took a drink now, with 87 miles ahead of you. He didn't want any grass either, and Nance said he was a good eater. Hmmm.

Something to file away and worry about later, but not yet, because my horse was feeling awfully strong. He was more interested in jigging than walking, so we trotted quite a bit of the uphill pulls. Some guy in front of us got off to walk the last steepest part: whoa! That's one thing I wouldn't be doing. I might get off to walk some downhills, but for the rest, Quinn would be carrying me. I was too out of shape to walk uphills fast at altitude, and I don't tail horses anymore.

We crested the ridge at the Watson Monument atop Emigrant Pass, at 8700', with shiny blue Lake Tahoe in the golden sunrise at our backs to the east, and the Granite Chief Wilderness spread out before us to the west.

From here to Robinson Flat, our route mostly followed the historic route of the Placer County Emigrant Road built in 1855. Sure made you feel sorry for those emigrants! Ahead lay the Granite Chief wilderness, and some REAL rocks. They don't call it Granite for nothing. Jasbo was wearing four boots for the first time ever, because of this section. Quinn was wearing four boots just for this section. Miles and miles of rock to negotiate: leg twisting rocks, rocks hidden under dust, slick rocks in streams to slip over, rocks hidden in bogs, (the bogs were supposedly not so bad this year), rocks to just plain knock you over or cut your legs. Sometimes we plowed through tunnels of overgrown willows, so thick it was almost dark, and so thick I'd lean over my horse's neck to get through, as he picked his footing.

When you didn't walk, you had to trot as fast as you could - over rocks. There's no dilly dallying on this trail. You have to constantly keep moving, pushing your speed limit dictated by the terrain.

To our left a wide and deep canyon yawned, with granite rock faces sticking up out of thick forests. I mostly kept my eyes on the trail though - when I could see through the dust - and both hands on the reins, ready to yank Quinn's head up when he tripped at our fast trot. When we had to walk, I gave him his head because he was very good at picking the best way through the perilous footing.

I'd been concentrating on Quinn's footing and my balance with him when I looked down and saw that his saddle pad was slipping back! The left side was already completely under the front of the saddle, and there was just a quarter inch sticking out on the right side. It had taken me this long to notice it!

I hollered that we'd have to stop at some point so I could readjust the saddle pad, and Nance said she'd take Jasbo's boots off. She thought we'd be out of the wilderness soon; and anyway, there really was no place to pull over. After a few more miles I said "I really have to stop now!" because I could picture the saddle pad flying out from under the back of the saddle, and me arriving at Robinson like a numnutt without my saddle pad. I had wondered before how on earth somebody wouldn't notice their saddle pad flying out from behind the saddle - and it could have happened to me here!

Laura came to a place that had only a bit of room for the five of us on a slope and pulled over, and I jumped off and quickly loosened my girth. It was almost impossible to pull that @#!*&@ saddle pad, a heavy, wet-with-sweat-Skito pad, forward underneath that saddle without taking the whole shebang off. I ran from one side of Quinn to the other, 2 or 3 times, heaving and grunting and cursing it - you feel the minutes ticking away - before I finally got it pulled forward enough. I quickly tightened the girth, and crupper a notch, and hopped back in the saddle, panting with the exertion, but Nance wasn't quite done with getting Jasbo's boots off.

Three riders were coming up behind us, fast, and zoomed past, "Are you alright?" Not that they'd stop to help unless we were dying - because you had to keep moving. We'd have done the same thing, asking but hoping they didn't need any help - and in fact we already had done the same thing, flying by a group putting on an easy boot.

Nance was done, she hopped back on, and we were quickly flying down the trail again, trying to make up for those minutes we'd lost there.

We passed out of the Granite Chief wilderness, and the rocky footing improved slightly. The trail continued up and down to Lyon Ridge - a trot-by check (a vet is there; if you're obviously lame or are having problems, you can pull here), where there were a lot of horses and a whirl of chaos, swirling around water troughs and flakes of hay.

Nance and I stopped and tried water - our horses didn't want any - and then jumped off to electrolyte our horses - but we didn't have our system down yet and we lost time here. Nance had the water bottle of electrolytes and pulled out her syringe, Quinn and Jasbo about knocked us both over trying to scratch their heads on us, between us we couldn't siphon enough electrolytes out of the bottle, Quinn clamped his mouth shut for his dose, Nance tried to fill the syringe then electrolye Jasbo, I was trying not to get run into by another horse's butt, Nance lost the lid to the electrolyte bottle, I shoved her syringe in one of my bags, we jumped on, looked for Kara, Laura and Chandler, didn't see them, pushed our horses through the mess of horses, and took off. I was out of breath!

We weren't sure where our other spuds were, but nothing to do but continue trotting hard on down the trail. The famous Cougar Rock was coming up soon. Nance said, "Are you going up?" I said "I'm following you! (I was riding Nance's horse; I was doing what she was doing!) What are you doing?" "I'm going around. I'd rather finish the ride than get an awesome picture." "Me too!"

As we approached it, we caught sight of 3 yellow shirts just going over the top of Cougar Rock - several photographers standing on it, and a line of horses waiting to go over - and we zipped around the side of it, ending up right behind our gang.

We followed a very scenic ridge, deep canyons on both sides of us, and came to (I found out later) the Elephant's Trunk - a slight dip then very steep, sharp incline over loose lava rock, that got our horses puffing hard. Then it dropped down into the forest - back into heavy silty dust, and rocks underfoot. The dust reached to the heavens and hung heavy in the air - sometimes I had to close my protesting eyes it was so thick. I blinked tears which became mud running down my face. Quinn followed the others, stumbled, coughed, plowed through the rocks and dust. Great light for shooting, but I left my little camera in its bag and held onto the reins with both hands to steady my horse, and inhaled through my bandana.

We had a respite in a few miles of logging road coming into Red Star Ridge, our first Gate and Go vet check. If you knew you needed to save time, and your horse's pulse was down to 60, you could breeze right in, get his pulse taken, go straight to the vet, and onward.

Once again there was a big cluster of horses here; fortunately one of the volunteers with a stethoscope took on our group. Quinn finally took a drink - not a big one but a drink, and we sponged them off and pulled over to the side where they dove at some hay. Another volunteer filled our water bottles. Quinn, and Kara's horse Jack, just wouldn't come down. The volunteer took Quinn's pulse, we sponged him, took the pulse, sponged him, and did it again. He was hanging around 64, and it probably didn't help that he was eating - but he was so hungry, which is the lesser evil? Let him eat because he's starving, or make him stand there and not eat till his pulse is down?

I walked Quinn back to a water trough amidst all the other horses but he didn't drink. Another volunteer took Quinn's pulse, and said it was 80. 80! I knew that couldn't be right, so I went back to our own volunteer. She got him still at 64. More sponging. We were losing time here. It worried me a little bit - it wasn't the hot part of the day yet, and Quinn's pulse was running high.

Finally, both Jack and Quinn were pronounced to be at 60. We moved on to the vet, and fortunately didn't have to wait in line there. A quick overall check, and trot out one direction ("OK! You're good!") and we mounted up and kept going.

We left Red Star 15 minutes after we'd arrived - and were far enough at the back of the Tevis pack that several of the vets were just now leaving and heading to Robinson Flat. It was three vets to be exact, because we got completely dusted out by each of their 3 vehicles. "Sorry about the dust!" they each yelled... but what could you do but keep clipping along, breathing through your bandana.

As we trotted along, Nance pulled out the cut-off time notes, and Tom Noll's notes that he'd given us. Robinson Flat - the first hour hold - was 7.5 miles away. Tom had arrived there at 11:18. Recommended cut-off guideline was 11 AM. The cut-off was 12 PM. We looked at our watches. If we were lucky, we might hit Robinson around 11:20.

We played leapfrog with Bruce Weary, of Utah, on his Tennessee Walker, John Henry. This was Bruce's sixth Tevis, trying for his first completion. Bruce had on an awfully clean white long-sleeved shirt - how did he manage that?! My borrowed light yellow long-sleeved Idaho shirt was already a light shade of black. "Hey Bruce - how come you look so CLEAN?" It wasn't just black clothes we had on, but our faces. Nance and I cracked up at the raccoon eyes under our glasses.

We seemed to be absolutely flying along at a trot. 15 mph it felt like, though maybe I was exaggerating in my head. I was slightly worried about Quinn's pulse taking so long to come down at Red Star (though it probably wasn't more than 5 minutes), and was wondering if we were going too fast for him, but, he was pulling on me, and Nance didn't say anything about his speed, and she knew how fast they went in 2007, and Jasbo was keeping up or pulling ahead of us. And we had to keep pushing. If we arrived at Robinson at 11:30, we were only 30 minutes ahead of cut-off time.

I'd settled into a comfortable rhythm with Quinn, finding myself breathing in time with his pace, like I do when I'm hiking, balancing over his center as he negotiated rocks in the trail, sometimes slightly shifting my weight just before a foot fell as if we were precisely placing the foot down together.

"Anything special I need to know about Quinn?" I had asked Nance yesterday. "Well, last year at Deadwood (at 55 miles), he laid down at the vet check." He what!? "Well, he RAN up that steep canyon, and at the top, at the vet check, he just laid down. He wasn't colicking, and he wasn't hurting, he just laid down because he was tired, stretched out like a cat, and laid there and ate a while." A vet kept an eye on them - Nance told him that Quinn had done it one or two times before - but Quinn apparently was just resting. When it was time to go, he got up, they went on, and they finished Tevis (and the other rides he'd done that in.) We debated on this stretch if Quinn would lay down today. Gee, I hoped for my heart attack's sake that Quinn didn't do it today!

We had a little break from the dust here, my knee wasn't hurting, it wasn't too hot yet, and suddenly, we came upon a pink sign: "Robinson 4 miles." Whoops and hollers from us, and the horses picked up the pace. Quinn was on a mission, because LUNCH was ahead!

"Robinson 3 miles" then 2 miles, then 1 mile, followed by signs, "No crewing this side", and a glimpse of a trailer through the trees - we had arrived at Robinson!

We had arrived in Chaos Central, is where we were. Lots of people, horses, crews, more people... horses squeezing in beside each other at water troughs, horse butts in your face, horses knocking into you - Quinn didn't drink - no sponge handy - one sponge between Nance and me, and Bruce had it in his hand when he went to fetch a bucket - we walked onward into the tumult, dodging horse bodies - Gentry ran up with a bucket and quickly sponged all our horses as we walked - we stopped somewhere near the gate to the pulsing area - take saddles off? no! - where are my other riders - "yes, saddles off!" yelled Dublin Hart, directing traffic into the ring - we hesitated, not sure what to do first - I finally got my saddle off - "boots off too!" - Quinn wouldn't hold still because the others were - somewhere - Bruce grabbed him - I got the boots off and went into the pulse ring...

I hoped Quinn was down, because we weren't riding with heart rate monitors or stethoscopes (I can't hear a heartbeat anyway), but by the time Quinn's pulse was taken, he was down to 56 (criteria 60). That was a relief!

We'd lost some time in that mayhem, and though we now had a 'time in' at 11:27 - from which our hour hold began, as long as we passed the vet check - we had to stand in a long vet line. Chris had offered me a cold Dr Pepper as soon as we walked in, but I had turned it down - MISTAKE! - so I stood in the vet line, thirsty and hungry, hot, holding my horse for about 20 minutes. At least Quinn was chowing down on hay the volunteers kept handing me, but I was famished, and suddenly feeling tired.

By the time I finally got to a vet and trotted Quinn out and he passed, I never had time to worry if he'd trot out sound or not. He was fine, and we left the vet ring and wove our way through camp and horses to get to the spot where Bruce, Chris, and Gentry had set up for us.

But no time for me to sit and rest: had to get the horses eating - they didn't want their grain, so Nance and I tried mixing something else - made sure they had plenty of hay because that's really all they wanted - worried about that a bit - ran to the portapotty which was clear back at the vetting area - ran back, MUST get a cold Dr Pepper, MUST grab something to eat - but couldn't sit and rest because I had to refill my water bottles, mix up one bottle with electrolytes, get a Gatorade, find my butt pack to put 2 extra waters in - oh god, I must soak my Cool Vest for the canyons! - but we didn't have enough water so I went to fetch that but Bruce said he'd get it and I sat down for 2 minutes. Just enough to make me realize how tired I was already.

Bruce came back and I jumped up to soak my vest, then I fetched a bucket of water for Quinn because he had not been drinking enough (skin tenting was a B-), then, crap, it was 20 minutes till our time out, and we better get saddled right back up, because we had an exit exam and the line was going to be long.

Lunch was almost up already! I choked down the rest of my half a sandwich, saddled up Quinn, (my knee was fine, so I kept the sports saddle on), slipped on Quinn's hackamore and put on my wet Cool Vest and butt pack, wet bandana and helmet - and off we went to the other vet line near the exit.

We all vetted through there again and had a few minutes to spare before our out time. I stood beside Quinn, instead of sitting on him, and just then realized that was the least restful hour vet check I'd ever experienced in my 12 years of riding endurance, and I also realized - we'd all five successfully completed the first third of our journey towards Auburn!

But - no time to stop and reflect - have to keep pushing onward.

"#197, you're out!"

Next: Phase II

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