Saturday, May 30, 2009

Owyhee Fandango Day 1

Saturday May 23 2009

How could that alarm be going off already - I was still exhausted and I didn't remember sleeping at all! Well, no matter - up and out of bed, drink a cup of coffee, force down some breakfast, and get ready for a 50-mile ride on Jose! It's always a good day when you get to ride Jose.

Seventy-six riders hit the Owyhee trails today. That might have been a record. The 75 milers started at 6 AM, Jose and I (and the Raven) left at 7 AM with 50 other horses and riders, the sun already up and starting to warm up the earth. The LD riders left at 8 AM.

Jose was raring to go - he'd had a hard hilly ride at the Eagle Extreme two weeks ago, and here he was on flat ground and here he was on home turf, and he wanted to go! Fast riders and FEI horses were up front and moving out fast; we tucked in afterwards with Gretchen and Spice, my old riding pals from Bridgeport, California, Mickey and Dally, another old pair of riding pals from my winters in Ridgecrest, and local riding pal Nance and Quinn. Up a wash onto the northwest flats, the 15-mile loop followed the rim of Bates Creek Canyon along a nice single-track and two-track (dusty) trail. We crossed Bates Creek road and worked our way back along a ridge to the head of Pickett Creek Canyon, and back home into basecamp.

Sometimes it's a blessing when you are on your home turf, because your horse knows every step of the way. Sometimes it's not a blessing, because he knows every step of the way, and isn't going to slow down or dilly-dally around to do something as unimportant as taking a drink in the flowing Bates Creek or the nice water troughs put out by neighbors Rick and Carol. Sometimes the home horse just wants to cruise right back home to camp, with his friends and his piles of hay and beet pulp.

Jose ate and drank the whole 40-minute hold, and when we headed out on the 25-mile second loop, I thought he would be more casual. Wrong! He was really revved up now. We stayed with Gretchen and Nance till I just started fighting him too much, then we moved on ahead.

Jose thought he knew the way, but Steph had flagged a new route, partially due to a new fence going in > : ( and partially for variety. We headed down to Hart Creek (also flowing with water), crossed it and did a loop to the southeast in the Brown's Creek drainage.

Some of the trail was common trail, and some of the front runners coming back passed me yelling, "Were you one of the lost ones?" No, not us... but a half-hour later, Bob Stellar caught up with me. He's usually riding in the front - and he had been in third place today, till his little group got lost somehow. We were on the orange loop, and some of the ribbons were orange-and-black... and Steph hadn't mentioned that, and some of the riders thought they were on the wrong loop. I myself had to pay attention when I was on Jose, as it was new trail to me, but Jose and I had no trouble. Jose seemed to enjoy the new trail and the new perspective of the Hart Creek Rim we rode under. Bob called me "the Bird Lady," and I called him "the Bird Man." We'd talked birds the previous night at dinner after he heard me mentioning screech owls.

On one part of the trail by Hart Creek, we spotted a horse coming towards us. Wait - I knew that waving tail, it was Rhett! Connie was out riding Rhett, flagging the last bit of trail for Day 3. Jose was a bit confused when we parted - why wasn't Rhett going our way??

We had a nice breeze to cool us up on the flats, but down in basecamp it was still and hot. I moved Jose to some shade for his 40 minute hold. I kept dunking my bandana in the water troughs to keep my head cool.

We had one 10 mile loop left, along our scenic Hart Creek Rim Trail. Jose left camp at a more lazy pace now, and Dian Woodward and Deborah Whorf of Moab, Utah caught up with us. Deborah's legs had been bothering her a lot on the second loop because of an unfamiliar saddle, but they changed at the last vet check, and though she was still hurting, she was (like most crazy endurance riders) gritting it out to the finish.

Our trail along the rim led us towards the Owyhee Mountains to the southwest... where a biiiiiiiiiiiiig dark cloud was building, with poofy cumulonimbus clouds around it. Most of you know how I feel about riding in lightning (if you don't, I'm TERRIFIED), so I was keeping a suspicious eye on those growing clouds. I know a building thunderstorm when I see one! It wasn't a question of If, but when. We reached the fence where we turned around to head for home, with those clouds at now our back, but steadily moving to blot out the sun.

As we moved along at a steady trot, I kept peeking over my shoulder to make sure no bolts were falling out of the sky. Most of you also know I can't hear thunder unless it's right on top of me (i.e. Way too late). Finally I couldn't stand it, and asked Dian and Deborah if they'd heard any thunder. "No, haven't heard any." When I ride with people and ask them this, I never really know if they are pulling my leg or not. I hear them saying "No, don't hear thunder," and picture them whispering, "Let's not tell Merri it's thundering!"

Jose isn't afraid of any dark clouds. We cruised on in down Pickett Creek Canyon as a trio for the finish, just as it was getting dark - and thundering! Even I heard it now. But we finished before the lightning - it was a good day on good trails on a good horse. (I love Jose... have I ever mentioned this?).

The skies stayed dark and stormy, with thunder booming all around, and whirlwinds of dust whipping through camp, blasting the vets and the riders trotting their horses out and the volunteer in timers, but the rainfall missed us altogether. Nobody came in screaming to the finish line, so either there were no lightning bolts up there, or else nobody else gets as scared as I do.

This is what's so great about endurance: you can do it at any age. Today we had the oldest and youngest riders on the trails: 7-year-old Spencer Falk and his mom Jannelle Wilde rode a 15-mile trail ride; 9 and 11-year-old sisters Burkleigh and Kennedy Yost rode the 50 with their dad Gentry, and 79-year-old Dot Wiggins rode the 25. Steph said at the awards dinner: "As far as I'm concerned, when you ride endurance when you're 80, all ride entries are free!"

Head vet Mike Vanzwol was surprised at the number of lameness pulls today (9 in the 50), several of them more than a one-leg lameness. The finish percentages were still great, however: all 18 horses finished the 25, 39 of 51 finished the 50, and 5 of 7 finished the 75. The only treatment today was "a horse who tried to open a barbed wire fence by himself" - one of the hazards of riding out here in the Wild West. Once the horse got back to camp - he was about 5 miles out - and got cleaned and doctored up, he was okay.

Ginger Head won the 25 on JLA Slew, crossing the line together with Amy Palmer and Navaar, and Rick Glass and DA Al Rasan. She's a local who just started endurance riding this year... our April Owyhee Tough Sucker was her first one!

Cody Boysen was the winner of the 50. Another relative newcomer to endurance, he did his first ride in 2007. He did some showing, then was about to get into cutting, but found endurance instead. He hauled in a couple of horses from Iowa to the Fandango, and hadn't planned on winning, but only moving out fast the first loop when it was cooler. But his mare was moving so well, she just kept going fast all day.

The turtle in the 50 was Carla Richardson from Colorado, venturing out here to our Owyhee rides for the first time. Carla's been following some of my stories, and she knew all about the infamous Dudley (who's always getting into trouble). I couldn't wait to point out Dudley to her, but she'd noticed him as soon as she arrived - and who could miss him. He was front and center pen at the Teeters, tossing his head in circles, (think Angus Young of AC/DC), sticking his head through his gate and trying to lift it off, banging his feed trough, reaching a big barrel through his fence and pulling it in closer to play with, then of course knocking it over - in general annoying everybody within earshot (especially the vets in the vetting ring) ALL WEEKEND. I believe I was not the only person yelling at him, or throwing things at him all weekend.

Jeanette Mero of Mariposa, Caliornia, was going for a win in the 75... and she got it, with her horse Maksymilian. Jeanette is a veterinarian, and started riding endurance in 2003. Maksymilian had 18 finishes in 20 starts before this ride, including a 10th place finish in the Tevis in 2007, and first place and BC in both the Californios 100 and the Swanton 100 in 2008, so she knew he was capable. Jeanette was very athletic in high school and college, and with endurance, she's able to combine her love of horses with athletic events. She used to do some showing, but likes endurance because it's so objective: you aren't paying for someone else's opinion, and it all falls on you to take care of your horse and get the best out of him. Her goal (like many of the FEI riders) is to ride in Kentucky in October, with a long-term goal of the WEC in 2010.

Turtle in the 75 was Tinker Hart, who brought 3 horses here from Minden, Nevada. "If I'm going to drive this far, I'm riding a horse every day!" Her ride time was... well, "It was really really long," Tinker offered, when Steph couldn't come up with it at the awards dinner. She got a cool colorful wooden turtle Steph brought home from Malaysia.

Things seemed to run pretty smoothly all day, on the trail (except for the few who got lost, and the Barbed Wire Fence incident), in camp, in the vet checks. The Blue Canoe dinner was great as usual, and my friend Tracy had caught up enough on most of the ride paperwork (though people were still arriving today, and some were changing mounts for tomorrow) so she got to actually sit down and have some real dinner.

My day wasn't over after my ride; I still had pictures to take, people to talk to, horses to feed and water and check on, (including one of Steph's mares, Princess, due to foal yesterday), Jose to give treats to, dinner to eat, shower to take, things to get ready for tomorrow (I was working, not riding), pictures to upload, and, a glass of wine or two to help things along. (And Brian Malkoske brought with him from Canada a batch of homemade Klondike bars that his wife Darla made, so I HAD to eat some of those too.)

Steph and John's day wasn't over either... between the paperwork and officials and paperwork and people asking questions and trying to get results done to have a ride meeting and organizing things for tomorrow's 4 rides (with two out vet checks at the Sierra Del Rio ranch), all I saw of them was a blur. I wouldn't call it a relaxing weekend for any of us. Not complaining... just an observation. And this was only Day 1.

It was an early night for most people, with an early 5:30 AM start scheduled for the 75 and 100-milers tomorrow. It was a quiet night in camp, with the crickets chirping and the screech owls tooting and Pickett Creek running in the background - one would never have known there were some 130 horses in camp.

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