Tuesday, May 17, 2016
May 14 2016
The record would have been reached at the Eagle Canyon ride two weeks ago, but that one turned out to be too muddy for us to ride.
So it was the 55-mile Owyhee River Challenge where Jose Viola (affectionally alternatively known as José, Hose B, The Hoser, Josie, Sneaky Pie Brown, Little Bunny Foo Foo, Mister, or Buster, and formerly known as Joseph Coat of Many Colors [seriously!]) would go for his 4000 mile AERC mark.
Steph gave me the honors of reaching the 4000 miles on this 15-year-old, mostest sway-backedest gelding you've ever seen in an endurance horse. Seeing as his back could become an issue, Steph wanted to retire him when he's on top of his game, and this 4000-mile ride would be his last.
He's carried 11 different riders, and one Raven, over his 10-year career, with only 2 pulls in 85 starts. Jose and I and The Raven share over 2000 miles together. He's one of the most intelligent horses I've ever been around. He's fun and forward and easy to ride and extremely trustworthy - in other words, just the perfect horse, in my opinion. He's just The Best.
The whole Pickett Crick gang came to the ride; Linda and Ted were riding the LD, and Steph/Smokey and Carol/August and me/Jose and Connie/DWA Saruq and Sarah/Dessie came to ride the 55. Start was at 6:30 AM, and we were sure hoping it wasn't going to be as hot and still and muggy as it was on Friday as we vetted in.
The horses were all feeling good and zipped along in the golden sunrise, with cliffs of the Owyhee River canyon behind us. We climbed up to a plateau where we had some good footing, beautiful scenery, and biting gnats that tried to suck the tastiest blood around your ears and hairline.
After a while, Steph and Carol and I caught up with Connie and Sarah and rode with or near them for most of the rest of the ride. Up and down hills and draws we rode on this single big loop ride, making our way to the Owyhee River where we could water our horses. We went beneath a giant aqueduct, that Smokey wanted nothing to do with, and came around a corner to some spectacular rhyolite cliffs where the river did a bend.
Jose has no trouble with water crossings. In fact, he loves water. Any time I'm giving any other horse a bath, he comes up for a hosing. In fact, I can hold the water hose stream still, and he will turn himself in circles to give himself a bath.
But Jose wanted nothing to do with this Owyhee river. In fact he was highly suspicious of the water canals we rode alongside, and he did not like the sight of those tunnels where the water disappeared underground! I had to work on seriously convincing him to go into the river, but he was not taking a drink out of this thing, no sir, no way Jose. We did stop at a safe little water crossing a short distance away where he quenched his thirst.
Back onto some washes and road, hills and more washes and roads, and back alongside a suspicious canal, we came to a fork in the 2-track road, but no trail markings. We knew the vet check was somewhere fairly close up ahead, but there was no indication on which fork in the road to take. For lack of a better choice, we followed the people ahead of us, who were also guessing which way to go, though we were always wondering if we should turn back and go try the other road, to see if there were any ribbon markings on that one.
Turned out we were on the correct one (at least one person ahead of us had taken the wrong turn and went miles out of his way), and we could soon see the vet check below us along the river. We descended the road and crossed a concrete bridge over the river, a miniature Owyhee version of No Hands Bridge without railing, and we had our hour hold vet check at about the halfway point.
Around 8 of us left the vet check and rode more or less together along the upper canal. After a mile or two, Smokey suddenly spooked at something to the right. Steph looked to the right, and saw a ribbon! It turned out to be a trail turn-off that wasn't marked! We were lucky Smokey spooked, because we would have blown by the turn. (Although, in hindsight maybe we were unlucky that we saw this turn.)
We hollered at the 2 riders ahead of us that they missed the turn, but they didn't hear us and kept going. Well, it turned out that everybody in front of us had missed this turn, because there were NO horse tracks on this loop. I am experienced at reading tracks, because I read them all the time for amusement in the desert terrain where I live; and leading the way up this first wash, I could clearly see there were only cow tracks in the wash. Jose and I were covering virgin trail, it appeared. In fact, our group almost turned around several times because there were no other horse tracks, though we did see the occasional trail marking that indicated this indeed must be the correct way.
We lost the trail a couple of times but one of the six of us would luckily find it again. Good thing we were all together because it often took one of the 12 human eyeballs to find a painted rock or piece of baling twine. Sometimes we just had to guess where to go, and we'd eventually luck out and find a marker. When the trail came out onto a dirt road, ALL of us clearly saw that there were ZERO horse hoof prints on this big climb to the power lines. We still kept wondering if we could possibly be on the correct trail, since nobody else had come this way, and since we couldn't find any more markings. One would think this would be easy to mark with an ATV if this were correct. We split up several times looking for ribbons or hoof prints in other directions, but it wasn't until Tamara caught up with us again that she indicated that this was the correct way to be going.
I was with a group of riders with over 50,000 combined miles of endurance experience - including international riders, Hall of Famers, and National Champions, and it was pretty safe to conclude that when there were NO TRACKS, and no horse poop anywhere on our trail, indicating everyone in front of us had gone off trail, and by AERC rules they would either have to come back out and make it up, or at the finish go out and make up the mileage they missed to get a completion, this put us in the lead of the ride, oh my!
Same thing happened to me and Steph at the Eagle ride a couple of years ago - the three riders in the lead went off trail, and that left Steph in me in the front as the leaders, and ultimately the winners of the ride, AND Jose Viola got Best Condition.
Same thing happened to me at one of our Owyhee rides, only it was me who was off trail. A friend and I finished first in the LD, but we had to go back out and do the last little loop correctly, and we lost our placing. It happens. Them's the rules, and that's the luck.
Wasn't it cool that we now had a bit of a chance for that to happen here too, a win and a/or a BC, on Jose's last ride before his retirement!?
But there was no racing amongst ourselves yet to sort out who might be the winner, and anyway the finish line was a long way away. We still needed all our eyeballs to keep on a trail or find trail markings. Sometimes we could trot, other times we had to walk. We still had Tamara to at least tell us what direction we should be riding; and, still riding in front on Jose, I sort of took a mental compass bearing and headed that way. Occasionally I would see a broken branch of something that had once possibly been painted, so I kept heading that direction.
We got to a canal that Jose did not want any part of and he threw in a big spook, which he rarely does. This canal had another one of those black tunnels that sucked the water in a noisy scary whoosh down to Hades, and any intelligent horse in his right mind with a great imagination would be wary of that. I calmed him down enough to get him close to the canal where I dismounted, and after a couple of other horses took a drink, he decided it was safe enough to drink, too.
From there we didn't know where to go because nobody could find any markings, and again Tamara was able to at least tell us what direction to go. We were headed back down to the road below us - the one we had left to go on this flagged loop that everybody else had missed - and as we made our way down to the road, oh my, there were all the hoof prints that were missing from our trail. Every one of those riders had all just stayed on the road, cutting this 2 to 3 mile detour out and doing an easy half mile to this point. How unfortunate, in so many ways. I'm sure none of them knew they missed the turn.
But anyway. Horses were going great, weather was great. Cool, overcast, breezy, threatening rain but not raining, slight chance of thunderstorms, but no lightning or thunder!
And then I said, "Wow, I just felt a big raindrop on my arm!" But as it turned out, it was not a raindrop. It was one of the greatest things ever happened to me on an endurance ride. As we rode onward, Jose zipping along merrily at his happy trot, I happened to catch a glimpse of my arm, upon which there was a big white splotch. Like, a big white splotch with black splotches in it. Whoa! BIRD POOP ON MY ARM!!! WHAT ARE THE ODDS!!!! How lucky was I to be at that exact right place at the exact right time??? And the poop probably even came from a Raven!!!!! That was just the best luck ever.
Our horses clipped right along - all of us, I'm sure, wondering in the back of our minds now who amongst us might win the ride since the others were off trail and we were in front - along single track trails through lush grass and flowers, over 2-track roads, up and down hill and dell, through some scenic mushroom rocks, over more hills and dells, then to the series of big steep hills, down and up, down and up. They were the Owyhee version of the Virginia City 100 SOBs (Sonsabitches), though these were rather pleasantly long and steep, and the weather was pleasantly breezy and cool, unlike in the Virginia City 100 where it's also bloody hot when you hit those short, very steep gnarly hills. The horses grabbed grass as we worked those hills. I jumped off Jose for every downhill but let him have the honor of carrying me up them, since he's the finely tuned athlete, and I am not.
After more hills and miles and pretty scenery, we climbed the last hill which would take us into the vet check. Connie and Sarah were ahead of us and were going to win their first ride. In fact, we 5 Crick People were going to going to have the first Crick Sweep ever! Steph pulled out her camera to record Jose and me and The Raven cross the finish line for his 4000 miles. And in 3rd place to boot! Steph and Carol commented that The Raven and I both had the same happy expression.
The other 7 riders ahead of us who had missed trail and mileage had already finished, and some had shown for BC already, or would be shortly. The ride manager was not in camp but was instead out doing the ride near the back of the pack, and there wasn't a day manager appointed who could address the issue. But we trusted that it would be sorted out correctly, and several of us decided to show for BC.
I waited for Jose's 10 minute CRI to do my completion exam, and when Robert confirmed Jose had finished the ride, we all gave a big cheer, Steph and I shared a hug, and then I gave my most amazing pal Jose a big big hug for all the wonderful miles he's given me over the years. He is just one amazing horse.
And when Jose's CRI came up as 44-48, I knew Jose had a shot at BC! Though my light weight is always what foils me. Well, in all the 3 or 4 times I've ever showed for BC in my career.
Connie and Sarah had never won a ride before. Sarah was thrilled. And since neither they nor I hardly ever show for BC, we had fun with it. Steph showed also, and after we brought our horses back for the hour BC judging, then we remembered we had to weigh in with all our tack. (Like I said, we rarely do this, so almost forgot to weigh in.) So, much to the amusement of the vets and the people at the finish line, we had a Hillbilly Weigh In, where I stole Regina's truck, we loaded up all our tack onto the truck, drove back to the finish line, and weighed in. I could not believe I weighed less than Junior Sarah! My tack sure felt heavy.
In the end, the results of the ride were not changed, even though few people involved were questioned. Which is very disappointing, since my horse/our 6 horses all worked hard in doing all 55 miles of the sanctioned 55 mile ride. Yes, in hindsight now, it is indeed too bad Smokey spooked where she did, and too bad it caused Steph to see that ribbon, because had we also accidentally blown by that extra hard several-mile loop, it ultimately turned out that would have been acceptable. It was rather bittersweet, knowing we had done everything right and yet it felt to me like we were penalized for doing the correct trail and mileage.
Jose did not have a shot at BC and retire in an extra big blaze of glory. However, the day will be forever remembered in that Connie and Sarah had their greatest Un-Win ever! And it was the greatest Crick Un-Sweep ever!
And anyway, it was all about The Hoser. This ride will also be remembered as the day that Jose, this wonderful, smart, fun, funny, incomparable Jose Viola, crossed the AERC plateau of 4000 miles, something less than 500 endurance horses have ever done.
You're the Best Jose, the Best!
More photos at http://www.endurance.net/international/USA/2016OwyheeRiverChallenge/