Monday, August 24, 2009

Tevis Epilogue

Monday August 24 2009

Now that the dust of Tevis has settled (haha!) I can sum it up in one word - if that's possible - Amazing. (Well, maybe two words - Amazing, and Dust. : )

There is nothing easy about the Tevis, not from the moment you start at 5:15 AM, until you finish - wherever your finish may be. Every endurance ride has its challenges and difficulties, but the Tevis Cup has 100 miles of it. It's extreme, challenging, relentless, frantic, exhilarating, heart-breaking, exhausting, exasperating, insane, exciting, treacherous.

Yes, the Tevis trail is dangerous. However, though the Tevis has many (many) miles of perilous steep drop-offs and cliffs to ride along, many endurance rides have treacherous trails. You don't even have to have a dangerous trail to have a human or horse accident. You don't have to ride endurance to have a human or horse accident. Heck just being around horses can be dangerous. Anybody who owns a horse knows that even if he is just standing in a padded stall, he can find a way to kill himself. As for humans, just walking out your front door can be dangerous. You can die sitting on your couch. Everybody has to go some way, so you might as well not fret about it, and do what you enjoy doing.

We choose to take our horses on endurance rides, and hopefully, they do get some enjoyment out of it. I know my horse did. We put their lives at risk riding them, asking them to do things... but any horse is at risk, be it the most pampered pet horse or a wild mustang. Every horse has to go some way too, so it may as well be something he enjoys doing or excels at. Most riders tackling something monumental like the Tevis have some sense of what they are doing, and have prepared their horse well.

The death of Ice Joy was a tragedy, but neither his rider Skip Kemerer (over 4000 miles) nor Ice Joy (nearly 3000 miles) were inexperienced. May Ice Joy rest in peace, and may Skip eventually get some peace.

There's no certain winning formula for finishing Tevis. The best horse and rider combination is not guaranteed a silver buckle. (Although, if you study Hal Hall - 32 starts, 26 finishes - and Barbara White - 39 starts, 29 finishes - you'll learn a thing or two.)

And regarding experience on the Tevis trail, I am proof of the following points.

1) Ignorance is not necessarily a bad thing. By being somewhat unenlightened about things, you spend a lot less time worrying about things - which really gets you nowhere anyway.

2) Pre-riding the trail is not necessary for every rider and every horse.

Pre-riding the trail may help you mentally and it may help your horse... or it may not. One person once pre-rode his horse, who wasn't fond of river crossings, over the trail, taking him through the American River where he'd be crossing during Tevis, to get the horse used to it. The water was high, the horse got a little nervous, but they got across. During Tevis, the horse, remembering his previous experience, got uptight during the crossing, and tied up afterwards. Another person this year got lost in the last 4 miles; pre-riding the trail may have helped him not take a wrong turn in the dark. As for pre-riding the cliffs on the California trail... do you really need to do that? I preferred to see them for the first time during Tevis, because they weren't going to change at all, and you just had to keep going anyway.

What Tevis REALLY is all about, IMO, is Luck. Luck plays a part in any outcome with horses, and Tevis Luck plays a huge part in every horse's and rider's result.

It was good luck that the unfamiliar saddle I rode in did not bother my knee at all - or else I'd have had serious problems. It was great luck that this was possibly one of the coolest Tevises on record - or else I would have had really serious problems. It was luck I was riding a horse that had completed Tevis already, who knew the trail and was unintimidated by anything, was fit, and that I got along with. It was luck I was riding with some people who knew the trail. It was luck my horse didn't fall down when he tripped big time that one time in the dark. It was luck we spent just the right amount of time at vet checks. It was luck that we finished with 19 minutes left. It was luck we finished. The Tevis Gods were smiling on me that day and night.

Everything about the ride was absolutely amazing. The trails were amazing. Just the thought of crossing the Sierra Nevadas on a horse, just like so many pioneers did over a hundred years ago, on some of those same trails, with the same views, the same difficulties, was awe inspiring.

The volunteers were unbelievable - there to help you at every vet check/trot by. "Food, water, hold your horse, do anything else for you?" There are 6-800 Tevis volunteers - a statistic that is in itself astounding. Friends were amazing: some showed up to cheer me on, some showed up at different crew spots to help us and other riders.

My Idaho crew and fellow Idaho riders were amazing - I couldn't, of course, have done it without them. I know now I sure don't want to CREW this ride, because it was a very stressful job for them (3 crew, 5 riders) - especially that first vet check at Robinson Flat! I wouldn't have known how fast to ride my borrowed horse; and of course I wouldn't have had a horse to ride in the first place without Nance. Quinn was all ready to go for Tevis, ready to just hop on... which is literally what I did. Got on him for the first time Friday, for 30 minutes, and the second time Saturday for a hundred miles.

And speaking of my horse Quinn: he was utterly amazing. Nance said, "Oh, he'll perk up when the sun goes down." He was never NOT energetic. He got stronger as the day went on; I even had to put gloves back on leaving Francisco's at 68 miles. The power that was coming up from those legs, mile after mile after mile of challenging and demanding trail, was simply astounding.

It deserves to be said again that thanks go out to Tom Noll who cancelled, to Kevin and Julie who absolutely had no doubts (like I did) about me riding and finishing, to my crew Bruce and Chris and Gentry, and fellow riders Nance, Kara, Laura and Chandler; and most of all, thanks to Nance, who just gave me this horse to ride, and to Quinn, who did it all. (Really - I just sat in the saddle.)

Three weeks have passed since the 2009 Tevis Cup. Every night I pull out my silver Tevis buckle (when I can get it away from the Raven) and look at it and think... Did I really ride in the Tevis? Did I really complete it? Still can't believe it.

I don't think I need to ride the Tevis again. I'm not obsessed with it. It took my friend Judy 9 years to want to ride it again, and heck, the oldest finisher was 80, so I have a couple years to go yet before I have to think about trying it again. Besides, I really am proud of my 100% Tevis completion rate. That may well have been 50% Luck, 50% Horse, but nevertheless, it's MY Tevis record.

Then again, I HAVE already been offered a horse for next year...

And then again, there's always new challenges on the endurance trail. Like the Bighorn 100...


Carla said...

Wonderful Tevis stories, Merri. Gee, you two sure look a lot "cleaner" in the photo with your buckles than you did on the trail :)

Hey let's ride the Big Horn 100 next year, I'm going for it, let's ride!


Anonymous said...

again.. wow.. especially your perspectives.. thanx again for the reminder.. get out of my head more and hit the trails together

happy ones
cid and gazi