Monday, April 8, 2013

Owyhee Tough Sucker I: Riders on the Storm!

April 6 2013

There's always something tough about the April Owyhee Tough Sucker rides, and it's usually the weather.

And there are always tough suckers that come prepared for anything, usually the weather!

The Owhyee Tough Sucker I didn't disappoint in the elements department nor in the rewards. The 50% chance of rain and cool breeze didn't deter the riders, but it did keep the gnats away, which is always a bonus feature in the spring months. A heavy cloud cover kept the desert cool all day (convenient for those horses who hadn't shed all their winter coats yet) while steel blue storm clouds flitted to the east and west and overhead, scattering rain showers, painting the desert different moods, and testing the veracity of raincoats.

With John on the Dramatic Sunny, and Steph on the Amazing Flying Rhett (almost 22 years old, and 6000+ miles, and as Rhett as ever!), I tagged along on Steph's wonderful Jose for the 50 mile ride.

The trails were familiar, but they still always feel like you're still seeing them for the first time. The Hallelujah Trail along one of the rims of the Badlands never gets old, offering a sweeping view from the Owyhee Mountains (under a wind-churned tablecloth of a snow cloud) to the black bluffs of Wild Horse Butte along the Snake River to the north, where we'd be riding on Loop 2. The striated yellow hills and lines of sediment still show where this land used to sit under water.

Off the rim trail, the Hallelujah Wash (which you wouldn't want to be near in a flash flood!) led to Hallelujah Junction where you could imagine an old stage stop as the horses partook of water and hay. Climbing up the Hallelujah Badlands trail in a light rain shower, we emerged on the flats and into the breeze which dried us off by the time we reached camp for the vet check, where Robert the vet and volunteers were bundled up against the steady strong wind.

Loop 2 and the familiar jaunt around Wild Horse Butte still looked different under the blue gray clouds, the Snake River a silvery sliver beneath the imposing volcanic cliffs. Rounding the butte on the historic Oregon Trail, we followed an intriguing new cow trail back out through the maze of gullies and hills, just as one of those blue-black clouds found us and let loose with desert rain! The real desert rain where the dark clouds faded to a white haze of rain, real rain. We hunched down in our raincoats as the tough horses bowed their heads and tried to throw their butts to the drops, while still keeping up the steady trotting, until the footing went south along with the trail.

Emerging at Hallelujah Junction again for a water and hay break, the desert rain continued, puddles started collecting and the trails became little streams that turned the footing to Owyhee Gumbo. Just a little rain damps down the dust; just a little more and the ashy sand turns to clay that sticks like glue to feet.

We all turned into wet chickens as the horses slogged along at a careful walk, some handling the footing better than others. Hallelujah Badlands was pretty nasty by the time we slid our way up it (it "turned to snot", Steph accurately described it) and out onto the rim. (Once we got off the Badlands trail, Steph pulled off Rhett's Easyboot gloves because he was slipping the worst; they weighed about 5 pounds a piece!)

By the time the footing got better (harder two-track roads), the sun had come out and with it the stunning beauty of the desert: the Hallelujah Badlands to the west were spotlit in gold, the Snake River cliffs to the north were splashed in purple and black beneath yet another fierce dark blue storm cloud. Just a little bit of renegade lightning and thunder to the south kept things… interesting… but not scary. Horses and humans dried off again, then the clouds came again and we arrived back at camp at the finish at the start of another lovely rain shower.

It just doesn't get old - the wonderful horses, the awesome trails, this sport of endurance and the Tough Suckers who do it. There were 4 new riders, two juniors, and a few horses who successfully completed their first rides. Ride manager Regina's waiting hot dinner and the ridiculously tasty desserts (one by Carrie) during the awards were additional rewards for the Tough Suckers who braved the Owyhee Storms.

Tough Sucker II is April 27: bring it on!

An imaginative Owyhee trail marker

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