Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Friday: Getting Set for the Tevis Trail

Friday July 30 2009

There really is nothing like waking up from a good, deep sleep, outdoors in the forest of the Sierra Nevada mountains. How could this not be a part of the good signs and luck on this ride toward the Auburn finish line?

I woke up before the others, when the sky was getting light, and crept around camp with my cameras, catching the calm before the storm. I was riding, yes, but still working! A few people were walking their horses;
vendors were stirring. I stopped by Susan Favro's Healthy as a Horse. I must have looked like a little starving waif (possibly on purpose) because she made me coffee and fed me breakfast. : )

On the agenda today:
Register for the ride (I could still back out!).
Go for a ride (try out my horse Quinn for the first time, get acquainted very quickly, adjust his saddle to fit me).
Fit my backup saddle to him that I brought along (in case my knee was killing me, I could switch saddles at Robinson Flat, at 36 miles).
Pack food and clothing and whatever else for the two vet checks (Robinson, at 36 miles, and Foresthill, at 68 miles - our crew would be meeting us there with everything).
Set aside my essentials for the morning (tights, shirts, Cool Vest that Bruce gave me to wear!, Cool Bandana!, bandana for breathing through, gloves, chaps, helmet and helmet bandana, sunscreen, lots of lip chapstick).

I did get plenty of exercise, and time to visit with people, walking the long road back and forth from our campsite to Mansfield Arena, ridecamp central. The Tevis Tension rate appeared to be comparable to the Tevis Completion rate: about 50%. About half the people wore smiles and half didn't smile or meet your eyes. I expect that had to do more with nerves than disappointment or unhappiness at being there, though I wouldn't know, because I still had no nerves! I knew down the trail at some point I would be tired and sore and sleepy, exhausted and fed up and maybe sick, possibly hurt or lost or disappointed. But now I really was having a good time at this endurance ride. I wondered if the frowning people were annoyed with me?

A smorgasbord of horseflesh was assembled here for the ride: Arabians, Arabian crosses, a couple of mules, morabs, Thoroughbreds, pintos, a mustang, a Kentucky mountain saddle horse, a Paso Fino, and a Tennessee walker. Riders from 18 states and 4 countries (Australia, Canada, England, Japan) were here. Anton Reid of Australia had loaned Christoph Schork one of his horses to ride in the Tom Quilty a couple of years back - and Anton and Christoph tied for first place. Now Christoph was returning the favor by loaning Anton a horse. Seiichi Hasumi of Japan was returning for his 6th Tevis ride - so far he was an outstanding 5 for 5.

There was already a line of people at Registration when I got there at 10 AM. Those who were pre-registered were picking up their rider packets. I got sent to the back of the tent to Jo-Anne, who oversees the registration. "Oh yes, I remember you!" She typed my information into the computer, but couldn't give me a number yet because her husband had driven off with her purse, which contained the thumb drive with the current registration information on it. (I could still back out!) "Come back later to get your number." Jo-Anne put her head in her hands a few times that morning, trying to keep track of everything chaotic going on in there, but she was working very well under stress.

Every trip I made back to the trailer, I spent some time packing. Or, rather, moving piles of things into different piles, hoping I would be needing them further down the trail. Let's see... full set of clothing change for Robinson and for Foresthill. No, wait, these tights here, those tights there. No, wait, I'll start off in these tights in the morning, put those in the Foresthill bag. I'll start off wearing this. But wait - will it be cooler or warmer tomorrow morning? How many layers should I start out with? I can't stand to be hot when I ride, and I had a feeling there wouldn't be much time to stop and strip and tie things to the saddle, or put on layers on the trail. Maybe extra layers for the evening in case it gets cold? What about raingear - I have a rule to never go into the Sierra Nevada wilderness without raingear (learned from a bad experience).

Doing a 50 mile ride, you can get away with not having everything you need. Doing a 100-mile ride, that will likely take me close to 24 hours, things would be a bit easier if I had everything I needed to stay a little more comfortable.

After going back to registration and getting my number - okay, it was official now! - we all decided to go vet in. Kara knew her horse would probably be calmer, and therefore have a lower pulse rate, if we vetted in before we went for a ride. The thirteen of us - five riders, five horses, and crew Bruce, Chris, and Gentry with our tack - paraded down to Mansfield arena and waited for our turns to go in the vet ring.

This was the first time I'd ever trotted Quinn out for a vet, and I remembered Bruce saying that Quinn didn't ever trot out great for him. So, when the vet asked us to trot out "to the grass there", I said "OK Quinn, let's go," and started myself off at a trot. I ended up yanking on his head, which he yanked back (obviously I was not asking him right), before following me a little awkwardly, and screeching to a stop at the grass at the far end, plunging his head down, and starting to graze. Oops! I pulled his head up, turned around, and tried again. This time I smooched to him. He threw up his head, bolted to a canter, and it was several strides before I got him back to a trot. Oops! That was obviously not the correct way to ask him either!

The vet asked us to trot out again. If I'd had any nerves, that would have made me nervous - being asked for a second trot-out at the very beginning - but we just turned around and did it again, no smooching from me this time. Quinn trotted out perfectly (Quinn thinking, "Good, I got her trained right already!"), and everything was fine. The vet checked Quinn's heart rate again: "36" (!), and the vet scribe handed me back my vet card - we were now officially in the 2009 Tevis Cup!

Someone drew a big number 197 on each side of Quinn's butt, Bruce fastened my rider ID bracelet on my wrist, and I weighed in with my saddle, hackamore, and horse boots - and now, we were really, officially in the 2009 Tevis Cup! Who woulda thunk it!

We were all five in, Team Endurance from Idaho!

Back at the trailer, we saddled up to go for a ride. Just as we were leaving, Karen Chaton appeared, taking photos and notes... and bearing a gift for me. It was a Tevis Guardian Angel. And it was made of glass! "Put it in one of your saddlebags!" But it would break! "No it won't. I've carried mine through Tevis and the XP rides. She'll help you along the trail. Put her in the Raven bag!" So, in with the Raven she went, my Tevis Guardian Angel, my two good-luck companions for the hundred-mile journey on horseback across the mountains from Robie Park to Auburn.

We had just a short warm-up ride on the horses, down the road to the start - exactly what we would do tomorrow morning in the dark - and about a half-mile down the trail (this was the extent of my 'pre-riding the Tevis trail'). It took us a while to just get out of camp, because we kept running into people we had to stop and talk to or get off and hug - Becky Hackworth taking down statistics on tack and rider gear, Gretchen and Jackie come to watch and help out, Dave Rabe and Connie Creech come to ride the Tevis. Nance and I finally got left behind when the other three gave up on us ever getting out onto the trail for a ride!

We finally did get going, and had to pass a long line of horse trailers and cars stacked up still pouring into Robie Park. Quinn and Jasbo reluctantly moved away from camp - thinking their buddies were back there, until we got onto the real Tevis trail, where they figured out their friends were ahead of them. We did a bit of trotting, a bit of spooking, and a bit of almost-bucking (naughty Jasbo!) when our friends passed us coming back. Quinn fed off Jasbo and was becoming a bit animated also, but once we turned around and got closer to ridecamp, they calmed down.

I had to change my stirrup length a couple of times - couldn't quite tell in that short jaunt which length was best, or which would be most comfortable for my knee. And I probably wouldn't have time to jump off during the ride to adjust them! It was a Bob Marshall treeless saddle, an unfamiliar one that put my legs out wider and more forward than I'm used to. I detected a possible spot that might rub just above my chaps, and figured I'd better stick either an ace bandage or vetwrap in my saddlebags that I could wrap my legs with if I started to rub. Otherwise - that was all I could do, and I hoped I had everything right for a hundred miles of trail!

Back at our camp, it was back to packing:
Water bottles in the freezer - there's nothing ickier and less thirst-quenching than hot water to drink.
Mix up Gatorade, put those bottles in the freezer. (And don't forget to move these to the ice chests in the morning!)
Food snacks in each crew bag.
Knee brace in each crew bag in case my knee was killing me.
My butt pack in the Robinson crew bag, so I could carry two extra water bottles with me through those hot canyons, in addition to the three I was carrying on my saddle (Max told us he downed SIX bottles of water over that stretch in 2007).
A little medicine bag for my saddle pack: human electrolytes to help keep me hydrated, antibiotic cream, eyedrops (I knew I would need them for the dust!), body glide (nothing worse than chafing for a hundred miles!), antihistamine for bee stings (I am not completely sure I am not allergic to them), Acetaminophen (the only thing that works for certain killer headaches), Ibuprofen (for other headaches or muscle or broken toe pain).
A few snacks to carry on the trail in an extra little saddlebag. And stuff a syringe for the electrolytes in there too.
In my little breast collar bag went my vet card and checkpoint info card with the cut-off times, and my little camera.
What about an Easy Boot in case we lose a shoe? I had no more room in my saddlebags. Did Nance have room?

What else could I be forgetting?

And I still had to figure out what kind of food to bring tomorrow for lunch and dinner. I remembered now, from the two 100 milers I rode back in 2002 and 2003, that I do not like to eat during a 100, but I must eat. What might I possibly be able to force down my throat that wouldn't make me nauseous?

I still had all the info in my rider packet to read - instructions on the start, vet checks and finish line maps, what to do if your horse is pulled - but no time to read it all anyway. Tom Noll had given us notes and time cheat sheets from his 2006 ride for us to study.

3 PM was the Mini Clinic for First Time Riders - I'd already missed the beginning of that, and, in keeping with my already-decided-upon course of ignorance, I was pretty sure I preferred to not know what they had to say!

It was easier to eat our own food and continue packing, instead of going down to the Pre-Ride dinner at 6 PM, but we stopped what we were doing to go down to the Pre-Ride meeting at 7 PM.

I couldn't put my finger on the overall mood of the riders and crews - was it excitement? nervousness? - mainly because I was just having a great time! I still couldn't believe I was here to ride the Tevis.

This year I lucked out: it was possibly going to be the coolest Tevis on record (though 'cool' and 'hot' is a relative term, interpreted very differently by different people). And there was nowhere close to the limit of 250 riders. If I'd get nervous about anything, it would be milling around with 168 other swirling, anxious horses in the morning waiting to get on the trail.

I have to clarify that I have never had a burning desire to do Tevis - mostly because I just never imagined I'd have the opportunity fall into my lap. But now that the stars had aligned and it was here, thanks to Nance and Bruce (and some other people), by god, I really wanted to finish. Of course everybody wants to finish, for their own particular burning reasons, but my reason trumped everything: this year's Tevis ride was dedicated to Julie Suhr.

Julie is my hero, my inspiration. I am in awe of her, what she has done, what she still does, the way she writes, the way she encourages, the kind of human being she is. I wanted to finish this Tevis ride, because it was my first one and because it was dedicated to Julie.

And when it was announced that Julie would be handing out buckles to the finishers on Sunday, well that about did me in. Julie handing me a hallowed silver Tevis buckle, me, who never expected to have the privilege of trying the Tevis, well, that squeezed my insides and choked me up. I didn't know if I would help or hurt my chances by thinking ahead to Sunday around noon where Julie would slip a buckle into my hands, and say "You did it!" or if I should not think that far ahead. Was it good luck to think positively? Or was it bad luck to be cocky? I didn't know the Tevis Gods or what they preferred! So I did both - thought about it a little and totally tried not to think about the finish at all.

The meeting ended efficiently after about an hour, and people departed with hugs and good lucks. Nobody knew exactly what was ahead of them on the trail tomorrow, other than, no matter who you were, or how good you or your horse were, half would be lucky tomorrow, and half would not.

It was getting close to dark, but we still had work to do back at the trailer. Last minute equipment adjusting, last minute bag packing. We still had to mix electrolytes with probiotics in applesauce for the horses. Some of it went in each Robinson/Foresthill Vet Check bag. A bottle went in our saddlebags for the stops on the trail in between. We mixed more for one dose tonight, and one dose tomorrow morning.

We walked the horses once more, fed them more grain and hay.... then it was near 11 PM and time to get to bed to try to get some sleep for the long journey ahead in the morning. The day had flown by; if I'd have any nerves, there would have been no time to get nervous anyway.

Alarms set for 3:30 AM. UGH!

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