Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Twenty Mule Team Ride Story Part 3

As we quickly but carefully crossed the highway, it started to hail. Thanks again to the volunteer that acted as our crossing guard. Cars and trucks are not expecting to see horses on the highway, but especially in that kind of weather. We headed on up the trail for the next 8 mile leg. This part of the trail seemed to have more rocks and deep mud which made for slow going at first. I noticed a horseshoe in the mud and was so grateful Calico was barefoot. Then the rain stopped and we rounded the turn that mark the farthest distance from base-camp. Calico picked up on it right away, and I could feel her energy shift when she sensed we were headed back. We really started trotting and the trail got better and the rain stopped. At one point Robin noticed a rattlesnake, and Cali and I trotted right past it. Cali had been veering up on the shoulder to get to drier footing and I kept trying to steer her back to the trail. We just happened to be down on the trail at that moment; otherwise, we could have easily stepped right on it. Soon we were passing under the train trestle and a man came toward us to ask for our rider numbers. We let the horses drink from the stock tank and gobble hay. Calico decided this was a good place to stay forever. This time, even when Maggie started to walk off, she chose to stay and eat. The nice man said the vet check was just four miles away, so I let her grab a few more bites, then we trotted on and on. Selina had just call me on my cell before our brief stop, so it was very exciting knowing that she and Justin would be waiting for us when we got to the 2nd vet check. Here, the horse would have to meet their pulse criteria, then we would have a thirty minute hold before we were allowed to continue. Or should I say, before we were forced to continue. Just kidding. We walked in the last half mile or so. It took a few minutes for my horse to pulse down again; I just loosened her cinch and walked her around, let her drink and eat. Melissa Ribley DVM, kindly scrounged up some halters for us, so the horses could eat more easily. She also suggested, I might try putting my rider card in a plastic baggie next time. Standing around on a windy hill for half an hour made me realize how wet I was. It was freezing. Selina and Justin brought gatorade, peanut butter and banana sandwiches and dry socks. I had water sloshing around in one shoe, the other was bone dry. I remember that it was very hard to sit down and take my boots off and then get up again. I was aching all over. I let Selina hold my horse while I located the port-a-potty. Sweet relief. Then it was Robin's turn. I didn't notice or care, but she was gone for a while. When she finally returned she was laughing hysterically. Funny, I didn't remember seeing a big, cheap bottle of wine in the john, but something had her going. Oh yeah, she was wearing really tight, soaking wet Wranglers. She couldn't pull them down; and when she finally did, she couldn't pull them up again. She said she nearly screamed for help. 'HELP, I can't get my pants off, and I need to pee like a race-horse.' I was having trouble getting my horse bridled again. She was busy devouring some poor 100 miler's carrot cake; a lovely feed pan filled with grain mash with carrots stuck all over it like candles. I kept trying to pull her away, but she's a little stronger than I am. It was really hard mounting again, and saying goodbye to Selina. I knew she'd be at the finish. Once we started down the trail, I started warming up. I was glad to be off that cold, windy hill, and back on the trail. We crossed the highway again. Now we were trotting and cantering a lot. Calico felt so strong and refreshed. Her mane had completely dried out. It was cleaner than it had been all season, so beautiful. I felt proud of her. Toward the end of the ride, we slowed on the down hills, and I was able to get some video.

I knew we should go faster, but every step downhill was painful on my hips, and my left calf was bruised. When we were about two miles out, some 65 milers started passing us. That really messed with my mind. I started thinking that I had slowed us down so much that we weren't going to make the cut-off time. Calico wanted to do her extended trot and I started fighting with her. I'm not proud of the way I acted. I think so many different emotions were hitting me at once, along with physical pain and exhaustion. As always, Robin coached me through it. We walk the last half mile across the "finish". In endurance, the finish is a funny thing; I guess anti-climatic. My emotional outburst the mile before was my climax. I cry, what can I say. This is what I've been wanting to achieve with this horse since the first time I saw her in March of 2006. I didn't own her, and then I had a baby. When we got to the end, someone said, good job, you're done. This is not a spectator sport, no cheering, no crowds. I didn't even notice that someone else had taken her pulse. I was waiting my turn at the water trough. I loosened her cinch. Then Robin said, you want to ride in, there was still 500 yards to the fairgrounds, "Nope, I'll walk". She just laughed. We still had to go do our final vet check. When we got into the fairgrounds, I looked around for Selina. She and Justin were asleep in their truck. No cheering, no crowds. I got my horse unsaddled. You can see what was left of my rider card. The only printing left was my ride number, 308. We headed for the last vet check and the trot out.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Twenty Mule Team Ride Story Part 2

We called out our numbers as we walked the horses through the gate out of the fairgrounds. Thirty horses started out. We were toward the back of the herd. It was just barely raining now. I had put on every layer of clothing I brought, a tank top, a long-sleeved shirt, a polar fleece jacket, a corduroy vest and a down coat, not water-proof. I wore a neckerchief and a head band that covered my ears. That turned out to be the best piece of gear I had, my ears were toasty all day. I wore spandex breeches and pantyhose and thick socks. Before we left I told Robin we needed to put our rider cards in a ziplock bag before we put them into the saddle bags. She got the baggies out and put her card in it. I got busy saddling my horse. After that, I looked for the baggies but didn't see them, so I just left my rider card in my saddlebag; it was time to go.

The start was about like I expected, the horses were feeding off eachother's energy and were excited. Overall, it was a pretty relaxed start, only one horse in front of us was bucking sideways down the trail, and my horse was just doing her power walk. She'd try to trot sometimes, but I could always bring her down, and soon we let nearly everyone pass. She only bolted forward and took off once when another horse came up on us suddenly. It really made me laugh that she 'spooked' at another horse, but when you think about it, in a herd, when the horse in the back comes up fast, it is because it's being chased and that triggers the horses in front to run faster. No one wants to be last in the herd because they get eaten.

At this point, the weather was perfect, just a light drizzle and the desert smelled like chapparel. When I was a young child, six maybe, my grandmother came to visit us from New Mexico. She had me go out and pick a bunch of chapparel growing next door. Then she made an infusion that she used medicinally. It was my first experience with herbal remedies, which later would become part of my midwifery studies. Rain is so precious when you live in desert, and the smell of chapparel always seems fresh and clean and good to me. It reminded me, too, of my 30th birthday, when my husband and I did a trail ride together. It was a very happy day for me, and now I told Robin I couldn't think of anything better than this.

We picked up the pace and played leap frog with a couple of other newbies. Cali tried to dodge the puddles, but it was all puddles. Throughout the ride, we tried to figure out where our sweet spot was located. She did best, in my opinion, when we were in front of Robin and her horse Maggie. I would get tired and they'd pass us. When we tried to ride abreast, Cali would try to bite Maggie and push her behind again. If they were in front, Cali would get right up on Maggie's tail, I couldn't see what was coming up. It was often very slippery and Cali was constantly jumping the ruts to find the driest spot. We need to work on maintaining a steady pace over any and all terrain; the constant changing was exhausting. I lost my balance over and over. If I slowed her down to rest and Maggie got more than 15 feet ahead, Cali would lope to catch up. Many times we would get into a nice steady pace at a trot or canter, and I would be flooded with endorphins. That was wonderful. I reached into my saddlebag to get a protein bar and noticed it was covered with little bits of soaking-wet green paper, my rider card.

It was raining harder now, then soon we climbed a hill where we headed into fog. Robin said, "We're riding in the clouds!!!" I saw a truck up ahead and thought, please be the vet check. Nope it was the photographer. He said we should pick up the pace. I tried to smile for the picture. Just after that, we saw a guy on a mountain bike coming toward us, I was spooked, but my horse was fine. We were getting closer to the first vet check, we past some old mine shafts, and then it was a long gradual down hill grade. I could see the highway, so I knew we were close, but I was having a very hard time. When we were about 17 miles from the start (2 miles to the vet), I lost it. My body was aching with every step, and Robin, my horse and the photographer told me to go faster. I was so embarrassed about my rider card, and about getting emotional. I had a brief cry and some GU energy paste. I felt much better. Then I saw a tortoise, and he said, 'Remember, slow and steady wins the race', and I was happy again as we came into the vet check. When I told them about my ride card, they said it happened to a lot of people, but they didn't need it there anyway. It took a few minutes for Cali to pulse down, then it started raining hard, freezing rain. I had a little trouble mounting because my foot kept slipping. The shock of a cold wet saddle snapped me out of my stupor as we got ready to cross Hwy 395.

Twenty Mule Team Ride Story Part 1

Okay, the forecast for the ride was rain. I live in the desert, rain in the desert means a little drizzle in winter or a cloudsburst for a couple of minutes then sun. Well, all I can say is Thank God we spent a day working on water crossings.

We left LV at 9am Friday, so we could get in early, vet-in and check out the trail. At this point I still wasn't sure what saddle or stirrups I was going to use. The old Stonewall I got was painful to ride in, but that was what I had been using and I felt pretty secure in it. The other endurance saddle I had was more comfortable, but that's the one I was using when I fell, so I was superstitious. Robin just laughed at me, 'just keep your heels down and you won't fall'. I knew that 's what I was supposed to do, but it was hard making my body do it after not riding for a few years. This became the constant reminder in the ride,"Heels down!". I went with the more comfortable saddle and I'm glad now.

After the ride meeting, Robin decided we needed a bottle of wine. I was checking out lables, but she went for big and cheap. We got a little silly, I guess, because the the sixty-five miler camped next to us kept coming out to see what was bothering her horse. Some horses haven't been desensitized to cackling women, apparently. I don't remember what we thought was so funny; maybe it was the realization that the forecast was rain, and I hadn't packed rain-gear. I live in the desert; I don't own rain-gear. Did I mention, I was nervous? I didn't sleep. Around 2 am, the rain started. I finally dozed off for about an hour. I dreamt I was in the bathtub and the water was spilling onto the floor. I woke up when I heard Robin stir. She said 'I just dreamed of Michael Flatley'; I said, 'You mean River Dance?'. The rain kept on. I got up to watch the 100 milers leave at 6am and the 65 milers followed a half-hour later in the grey light and drizzle, Next, it was our turn.

Preparing for the Ridgecrest ride

I need to back up a little, before I go in to the story of the ride. Calico and I had been working on building my confidence to ride her again by walking, trotting and eventually loping in the arena. Then we did three trail rides out in, what used to be called, The Vegas Wash. Now after all the sewage goes through the water treatment plant and before it heads down the valley to Lake Mead, where the water runs behind Sam Boyd stadium, the water district and other city planners renamed the area Wetlands Park. They built a equestrian trail-head where you can park large trailers; there are hithching post and a round pen and restrooms. It's very nice; the trails are mostly gravel. The first time we went, we worked on mud and water crossings, and this was the first time Cali had gone out with other horses. Robin's daughter came along on her thoroughbred gelding. We also did lots of hills; up and down, up and down. The second ride we found a long gradual grade up into the hills and we did lots of trotting and loping. The third time we tried to cover more distance, and to trot for longer periods. So that was it. That was all the conditioning we did tor the 35 mile ride at Ridgecrest. You could say I was a little nervous. Luckily, we happen to be in the process of buying a house where I'll be able to have Calico in the backyard, so my mounting (no pun intended) fear about the ride was diverted by my excitement about a new home. That's another story.