Monday, August 13, 2012

Da Blow by Blow, Part 2

Another View of Cougar Rock

At the Robie Park Vet Check-in

We arrived at the Last Chance vet check, the halfway point of the ride, where she drank well while I doused her with my scoop.  This time she recovered her pulse in about ten minutes and again passed with all A's and B's. I dunked my cool off vest in the water trough and  left the stop 17 minutes after arriving, joining Linda Reznicek on her Tennessee Walker for the trip down Devil's Thumb Canyon.  When we got to the bottom I thought about going down to the river to dunk Sweetie, but none of the people I was riding with were heading down there, instead heading across the swinging bridge.  I had to make her wait because there were three people on it and you are not supposed to have more than that or the bridge will swing too wildly.  She didn't seem to care about the movement.   I had decided Sweetie would only pitch a fit if I tried to split off and go down to the river, so I followed the rest,  instead stopping at the creek on the other side and dunking my sponge on a string in a few times and cooling her neck with it.  I later regretted not getting in the river.  When I looked across, there were a group of people all belly deep on their horses and Sweetie would have gotten over not following her friends with these other horses there that she could have latched onto.  The herd instinct is strong with Mustangs, it means survival to them and its hard to argue with them.

We toiled up the other side, it seemed to take forever to get to the top.  Just when you think you are finally getting close, you round a bend a find there is still a ways to go.  The lady ahead of me had a shirt that said "TROT TROT TROT" on the back, and a patch on her helmet that said 15,000 Miles.  It turned out to be Tammy Robinson who makes the Trail Rite Magical Ointment that cured Sweetie's raging case of scratches that she picked up at the Wild West Ride. I didn't realize it was her at the time or I would have thanked her. Finally at the top were a bunch of water troughs, and I got off and started dousing Sweetie, scraping the water off as fast as I could pour it on to better cool her.  The water can heat up on her skin and form a barrier to cooling in these conditions, holding the heat in.  She was panting like a locomotive and it took her awhile to recover to normal breathing.

All of a sudden she took a flying leap forward, just missing landing on my foot.  Apparently she had been bitten by a bee.  The people at the stop were very helpful and filled up my water bottles and gave me a cup of lemonade.  Finally I climbed on and continued the mile to the Deadwood stop at 55 miles.  She recovered fairly quickly to criteria and I trotted her out for the vet.  I dunked my vest again and started down El Dorado Canyon, the second deep canyon.  It was not as steep or with as many switchbacks as the last canyon, thankfully.  At the bottom the humidity was stifling.  I had never felt it like this in all my 15 times through this section.   It felt like more than the 60% they said it was.  On the way up the other side I met up with another rider on a Mustang, Charles Cowan, another Pacific Northwest rider who had joined all the rest of the PNER riders at our campsite for dinner a couple of nights before.  He was also riding a Mustang, but one born in captivity, not BLM.  He exchanged nasty faces with Sweetie (the Mustang, not Charles) on the way to the next stop at Chicken Hawk.  When they get tired and cranky they tend to take it out on each other.  We passed through the town of Michigan Bluff, the former site of the one hour stop, and stopped briefly to let them drink before pressing on.

At Chicken Hawk, the 64 mile point, it again took a long time to get her down to criteria.  It was down to the wire to get her pulse down, I mean down to the minute.  She just hung at 72 and finally came down after having gallons of water poured on her.  The whole area around the troughs had become a regular mud bog, and my running shoes were a nasty mess by the time I left.  At this point I was having doubts as to whether I would make it to the Foresthill one hour stop by cutoff time.  I had spent a total of 38 minutes at this stop.  Charles unfortunately got pulled when his horse cramped up in the hind end and could not join me.

I started down the third canyon, Volcano Canyon, not anywhere has steep, long or deep as the other two.  I was all alone for a change, and I started singing songs to cheer myself up.  I do this when out training alone too.  I think Sweetie likes it.  It was approaching 8 PM and finally starting to cool off.  Cutoff at Foresthill was 8:30 and I hustled along on Sweetie who was luckily starting to perk up with the cooler temperature.  We hit Bath Road, the last stretch to the stop, and a couple of other riders caught up.  People were lining the road now, cheering us on.  Soon I spotted Becca and Sue's daughter Sarah, armed with a pail of water and a sponge, and I instructed them to start sponging her as I walked in, as there was no time to stop.  It was 8:15, and I got off and walked her in to the timers.  I did not like riding this close to cutoff with 30 miles still to go.

Sue's daughter Sarah

Cooling out Sweetie at Foresthill

(notice she hasn't lost an inch of that crest)

Becca sponging Sweetie

while she drinks

Sweetie dropped to criteria quickly this time, and I had Sarah trot her out for the vets.  The vet thought she saw a little bob on her right front but it was inconsistent, so she told me to keep an eye on it.  I saw it too, but think she might have just taken a few misteps.  She does not like to trot for the vets and thinks its a waste of time.  She has to have a good reason to exert herself, like following other horses, running to the barn at feeding time, etc.  I had to really drag her and yell at her at the last couple of stops to get her going, she is so stubborn.  She trotted out much better for Sarah, so I think she just had my number and was taking advantage of how tired I was.  I was cursing myself for not being in better shape aerobically.

We parked her in front of her hay and wet down grain and beet pulp and removed her saddle.  I sat down to eat something but kept jumping up to direct everyone.  Sue came over with some rice and lentils and some blackberry cobbler.  One of the people who had come with Darolyn, Megan, offered to give me a shoulder massage, as she was a massage therapist.  I had a really bad knot in my left shoulder and she really helped it. I had already taken a few ibuprofens for it.  I instructed her where to massage Sweetie too.  I am certified in sports massage for horses, and told her it was the same strokes, just the muscles were bigger.  I showed her where on her hamstrings to work on her, and also on the junction between her neck and shoulder, the muscle that helps pull the front legs forward.  It was a bit tight from all her efforts.

In the midst of all this I was approached by Linda Glazier who was in charge of this stop, asking if I would sponsor a junior for the rest of the ride.  It was a 15 year old boy whose mother had been pulled.  I said sure, that would insure I would have company in the dark.  One year I ended up alone for a couple of hours in the dark in that section, and it was not fun.  The horses get depressed when they end up alone, especially one like Sweetie who needs other horses ahead of her to keep her interested in going.  He introduced himself as J.J.,  and showed me where his crew place was so I could find him when it was time to go.     

By the time it was time to go it was dark.  I had never left this stop so late.  The weather was cloudy and we couldn't see the moon.  It would be very dark going for us.  The light sticks on my breast collar didn't seem to be enough.  I had an LED lamp on my helmet, but usually saved that for emergencies as I didn't want to interfere with my horse's night vision.  We left the out timers and started down Foresthill Road, where crossing guards guided us across in a couple of places on the way towards downtown Foresthill.  There were people out on their front porches still cheering us on at this late hour.  We turned down California Street towards the trail head to the California Loop section.  There were light sticks all along the way to guide us.  We passed a house on the corner where a big party and barbeque was going on, and they all cheered loudly as we passed.  It was a regular Tevis Ride party in our honor.  Nothing much happens in this little town until ride day, so its a big deal.  

We were joined by Jan Conner, one of the ladies from Georgia who I had taken down to the river crossing the week before.  At this point J.J., who was leading, turned on his helmet light as we were traveling down one lane trail in the woods where it was hard to see with the moon behind the clouds.  He seemed to have more horse left then Jan or I, so he was our rabbit.  After awhile we dipped down into a gully and crossed a creek.  We were about 50 feet ahead of Jan, and she suddenly yelled out that she couldn't see where to go.  I looked back and saw her and told her to just aim for the light stick that was at the bottom.  She couldn't seem to see it and it was too narrow and dangerous for me to turn around.  I wasn't sure what to do, when I spotted a bunch of light stick Y shapes coming down the trail uphill from her.  These were light sticks attached to the center of the breast collars, thus forming Y's.  From a distance they look like UFO's.  I yelled that there were other riders coming and to just wait for them and they would get her across.  I never saw her again after that, and it turns out she got pulled at the next stop.

We continued on in the dark with J.J. shining our way.  After awhile we caught up with a couple of riders, one of which told J.J. to turn out his light, that we were not supposed to use white lights, only red ones, hadn't we listened at briefing, and that it was interfering with her horse's ability to see.  We hadn't noticed any change in either of our horses' way of going, and didn't want to turn out that light with no moon visable.  J.J. just turned it sideways a bit so it wouldn't shine on her, but she continued to complain.  Occasionally, J.J. would look back to make sure I was still behind him and the guy who had caught up behind me yelled at him to stop looking back.  Boy, there sure were a lot of cranky people on the trail!  We were all running the ragged edge of cutoff, so it made for a lot of irritability.  

Finally a bunch of riders behind us passed and took off ahead, saying we were going too slow and we weren't going to make cutoff.  There was some disagreement as to what the cutoff to Franciscos was.  The card we got said 1 AM, but other riders said it was really 1:45.  I hoped they were right, or we weren't going to make it!  Finally Franciscos came into view, and the first thing I asked the in timer was, "Did we make cutoff?"  She assured us we had.  It was 1:24.  We spent 20 minutes there cooling out horses, letting them eat some hay and trotting out for the vets.  Sweetie had been very difficult for me to trot out and I was really tired, so I asked if someone could trot her out for me.  One of the vet ladies obliged and trotted her out  and I thanked her.  I needed to conserve what little energy I had left.

J.J. and I took off out of the check right at the cutoff time to arrive, 1:45, and made time at a trot towards the river crossing.  We were soon joined by some other riders, and in no time arrived at Poverty Bar to cross the river.  The crossing was marked with light sticks lying on the bottom, glowing green like something otherworldly.  The river was lower than it was a week ago, due to the floodgates being closed upriver for the ride.  I mentioned that my horse lived only a few miles from here and might try to turn home instead of down the trail.  At the first opportunity to turn home Sweetie ignored it and pressed on.  There were now about six of us trotting along on the two track road towards the next stop at the Old Quarry.  She seemed to prefer to stay with the herd.  At the second junction she did try to turn right instead of left, but relented and kept going in the right direction.

I kept looking at my watch and doing the math in my head to figure out how fast we needed to go to make it to the next stop by cutoff.  We pretty much had to maintain 5 mph., which meant trotting as much as possible.  The average walk is 3-4 mph.  Sweetie led the way for a change, since this was a very familiar section for her.  The lights of the Old Quarry came into view in the short distance, and I knew now that we would make it in on time.  It was a flurry of activity, and I put her in front of a water trough which was full of floating alfalfa hay.  She both drank and slurped up wet hay.  I thought this was a good idea.  It was like that at Franciscos too.  I remember back in '93 getting to that stop with two other riders in 4th, 5th and 6th place, with the usual famished horses, and one of them bolted his hay so fast he started choking.  The other two of us had to leave without him, but he later recovered and continued, but finished out of the top ten.  If that hay had been soaking in the trough it probably wouldn't have choked him.

Sue's neighbor Ann Blankenship, a volunteer, helped sponge Sweetie, who was still running hot.   Her pulse recovered and we trotted out for the vet.  This time she trotted for me a little more willingly.  I think she knew it was almost over.  We had only six miles to go. While I was in the vet area I heard someone say he had lost a shoe and the vet said to go to the farrier to get a new one.  For a horrible second I thought it was J.J. but it was someone else with a horse that looked like his.  I knew we would never make it to the finish on time if we had to take extra time for the farrier.  I doubt that guy made it, J.J. and I turned out to be the last ones to leave the Quarry who made it to the finish on time.

It was now 3:50 and we had an hour and 25 minutes to get across the finish line.  I figured that was plenty of time as long as we trotted all the flats.  There would be some climbing on one lane trail from No Hands Bridge up to Auburn, including The Black Hole of Calcutta, a deep drop with railroad tie steps down to a creek crossing, them back up the other side.  After the flood of '85 it never seemed as deep or dark as my first two rides through it.  I think the flood filled it in a little.  It used to be so dark down there you literally couldn't see your hand in front of your face.  I just hung on and trusted my horse.  Now it wasn't so bad.

J.J. led the way and disappeared around the bend a few times, causing Sweetie to pick up the pace to catch up.  It seemed to take forever to get up the hill after crossing No Hands.  We reached Robie point, site of the old finish line and continued past it.  The finish line this year had been moved about 1/3 mile down the trail to Pacific Avenue, and when we passed the turnoff to the old finish line at the Overlook, Sweetie looked up at it remembering it from the American River Ride, and wondering why we weren't going that way.  I had been pushing the light button on my watch constantly to check the time, and it was now approaching 5 AM!  Where is the finish line??, I kept asking myself.  It was nerve wracking to say the least.

Suddenly the canopy and finish line crew appeared in front of us, and everybody cheered for us.  It was 5:05 and we had made it with 10 minutes to spare!  J.J. asked if I wanted to cross first, but I said no, you go, I'll be tail end.  We grabbed our time cards and headed under the over pass and down the railroad tracks towards the lights of McCann Stadium for our victory pass.  The dim light of the sun approaching the horizon was starting to appear.  Of all my 14 finishes, this was definately the latest.  We dropped down the short hill into the fairgrounds and turned into the stadium.  J.J. picked up a trot and I followed behind.  The announcer, Pete Occalini was still there, having talked all night long for the audience who was now largely absent.  I was so out of it I don't even remember hearing him announce my name.

Getting Congratulations

Eating alfalfa soup after the finish

Sue, Sarah and Becca were there, and Sue was ecstatic.  I got off and led Sweetie towards the water trough where she drank well and ate more floating alfalfa, while we unhooked her tack and took it off.  Sue gave me a big hug.  Becca and Sarah sponged her, and after awhile I decided her pulse was down and led her towards the vet check area accompanied by Sarah who would trot her out for me.  The lady vet from Australia checked her over and asked for a trot.  I watched with baited breath, but she looked fine, just tired.  The vet turned and shook my hand and said congratulations!   Then she said, come back in an hour for a recheck.  This was something new they had added, and I thought it was a good idea, but didn't like the idea of having to wait around.

We didn't have a stall reserved as we were just going to take her home.  So my crew got me a pillow and a horse cooler and I just curled up on the grass next to the stands and fell asleep while Sweetie continued to eat next to the trough.  I think I managed to take off my helmet, but that was it.  It was completely light out when I woke up.  I got up, learned she had done her recheck, and headed for the bathroom and then the rig to head home.  Sweetie was loaded along with my tack, and six of us squeezed into the crew cab for the ride home.  Talk about a long day!  That is the mother of all long days!

Well it looks like Sarah is going to attempt another finish on Sweetie next year.  I am going to be busy getting my little Mustang, Sulphur's Nataqua started under saddle on the way to him hopefully being ready for Tevis 2014 or '15.  He is about 4, possibly 5, though he doesn't look it.  They are late bloomers.  Now that I have the Tevis bug again I am itching to do it again next year, but don't have a mount.  Any riderless Tevis horses out there?  I'm available!  I only have 6 rides to go to get my 2000 mile buckle complete with rubies.

Sweetie and I were featured on the BLM website for being the only Mustang to finish.  Here's the link:
There is a nice article with pictures.  I got to be first in line at awards to get my certificate!  That is one advantage to being dead last!  To finish is to win!!  

I am going to continue blogging about the ongoing training of my own Mustang and future Tevis mount Sulphur's Nataqua.  Stay tuned!


  1. Very cool, very stressful and good job on bringing the junior across!! Good luck on your 2000 mile buckle!!

  2. Thanks! I'm looking for a mount for next year.