Friday, August 10, 2012

Da Blow By Blow

Now that I'm finally fully recovered from my Tevis adventure I will share the blow by blow account, starting with the short ride we took with our campsite neighbors Mary Kay and her daughter down the first 3 miles or so of the trail and back, in the heat of the day on friday, getting back about noon.  I sponged Sweetie off and she promptly rolled in the fine Sierra dirt coating herself well, just in time to go to the vet check-in.  Needless to say, I had to sponge her off again.  The good thing about check-in is we didn't have to lug all our tack over, take it off, dump it on a tarp, trot our horse out, have someone hold him while we picked it all up again and got on a scale to weigh in, then put it all back on the horse.  The ten year weight study they were conducting is finally over I guess.  There used to be a 165 lb. weight requirement for top ten and both cups too, but it was thankfully dropped in 2000.   So no more messing with tack at check-in.
Vet Check-in at Mansfield Arena

Me, Sweetie and Sue Posing for the BLM Guy

It went off without a hitch and we got a goodie bag full of free samples of horse products and a baseball cap with "Tevis Rider" written on it on the way out.  We also got interviewed by the Bureau of Land Management people who manage the wild MuIstang population and were on hand with an information booth in the vendor area.  They were tracking all the BLM Mustangs that were on the ride.  They wanted to know what herd management area she was from (Ravendale, near Susanville in northeastern California) and other details about her.  One of their spokespeople came over to our camp to interview me further for an article on their website and take pictures.

Sue and I and all our campsite mates then settled down for another gourmet dinner cooked expertly on campstoves, and then headed for the ride briefing.  It was held next to an alpine meadow and the Barsaleau Pavillion, named after Dick Barsaleau, the first Tevis Vet and inventor of the modern vet check, as well as a multiple Tevis finisher and cowboy poet.  It was all the usual info, nothing much had changed since the last time I rode in 1999, except for a couple of extra vet checks.  

Tevis Ride Briefing 

Becca, Me and Sue in foreground with Diva, Sue's Brussels Griffon Terrier

I was to be starting in Pen #2, an area where we were to assemble and warm up our horses until getting the go-ahead to start.  Pen #1 was for the faster riders, and you had to apply to get in.  Pen #2 was for the rest of us.  It was right across the dirt road from where we were camped, so it would be very convenient to get to in the dark.  After the briefing I made sure I had everything in my saddle packs that I would need, and assembled my riding outfit so I could wear it to bed.  The 3:30 AM wake up was not going to be easy for me, not being a morning person, and the less I had to do in the morning (if you can call it that) the better.  Like I said before, we really refer to it as "damn dark thirty".  

I finally settled down to bed at about 10:00 in the pop-top camper and tried to fall asleep, which was not easy.  I was way too excited to sleep despite being tired from all the day's activities, but finally dropped off.  In no time at all it seemed, I was being awakened to get ready.  I downed some of my green hemp protein smoothie from the cooler and also sucked down a double caffeine powergel to wake up.  Then I started tacking up Sweetie who was having trouble standing still in her portable corral.  I finally had to tie her to the trailer to get the rest of her tack on and adjusted.  

I got on using the mounting block we brought up, which also had doubled as the stairs into the camper.  Sweetie was raring to go, and I said goodbye to everyone and headed across the road to the warm up pen.  In no time at all it was time to start down the trail behind the control riders.  This start was so much smoother than the last time I started in '99, when we would all just assemble in the clearing around the trail and start out en masse, all 200 or so of us.  Every year at least one person would come off at the start to the shouts of "Heads up!  Loose horse!"  so they devised the current method which seems to work well.  We actually started out at a walk until we got the the spot where the trail split off the dirt road, and picked up a trot.  

In the old days, for my last two or three rides on Shatir in the early 90's, he would work his way up shortly after the start until we were at the very front, and maintain this for about 20 minutes, having delusions of grandeur at a hand gallop.  You could almost tell he was thinking, I'm bad! I'm bad! I'm gonna win!, etc. until he got tired and remembered how far he had to go, and finally thought better of it and slowed down to a saner pace and let the hot shoes pass.  It was fun while it lasted.

Soon we got to the Highway 89 crossing and it was now light out.  We traveled on a one lane trail on the side of the mountain above the valley floor of Squaw Valley, site of the 1960 Olympics.  Ahead of me was Karen Chaton, an active blogger who documents practially every ride she does, and she was snapping away with the digital camera that was around her neck.  As a result I got a few extra pictures that she had later posted on Facebook.

Soon we were climbing up towards the top of Emigrant Peak where my old friend Cowman was cheering us on.  He is one of the original runners of the footrace held on the same Western States Trail as Tevis since the 70's.  He and another man, Gordy Ainsley, started running it during the ride to see if they could run it in under 24 hours.  One year Cowman even went over Cougar Rock riding a stick horse.  He wears a buffalo head complete with horns, thus his nickname.  His real name is Ken Shirk.  He is in his late 60's and still enters the run every year.  He made it 20 miles this year, before he got pulled for being overtime.  As you can see in the picture, there is still a patch of dirty snow visable.  

I made good time for the next several miles until I reached the trot-by check at Hodgson's Cabin at the 20 mile mark.  It was 8:00, meaning I had made it in 3 hours at 7 mph.  That was pretty fast!  If I could have maintained that speed for the rest of the ride it could be winning time!  I took a little extra time to get off and go in the woods and answer the call of nature, and when I got back on, all the hot shoes I'd been riding with were gone.  I wanted to slow down anyway.  Eight miles later we reached Cougar Rock.  Sweetie climbed over it without a false step in her usual fashion.  It was much craggier than I remembered it, it had gotten much more worn down in the 13 years since I last traversed it.  

A few miles later I noticed a couple of lost glue-on boots lying on the trail, and then I could swear I heard loose boot rattling noise coming from one of Sweetie's front feet.  I was sure she had a boot about to come off, and thought, Oh no! I'll have to stop and put on one of those EZ Boot Gloves I had packed.  Then I realized the rattling I was hearing was only my pills rattling in the plastic pill box in my pack.  My imagination was running wild.  I breathed a sigh of relief.  

Soon we reached Red Star Ridge, the first full vet check.  It was crowded and Sweetie drank well while I started cooling her out with the scoop.  I asked for a courtesy pulse check and she was a little high, 64, and the criteria was 60.  I put her in front of some hay and continued to put water on her.  I asked for another check and she was still high.  It was getting really crowded with riders, there must have been 60 people in at once, all vying for spots around the water troughs.  She was required to be down in 30 minutes and I was starting to run out of time.  I felt her heartbeat with my hand and was sure she was finally down, but when the   pulse person took it, it was still high.  I decided that her eating was raising it and put her in the shade and started working her ear points with T Touch.  Finally I went up to one of the vets because I only  had 3 minutes left, and he took her pulse and she was finally down, thank God.  I was thinking it might be all over for us at the first check!  I trotted her out and he said she was just a little exhausted.  She got all A's and B's and I told him I would take it easy into the next stop, a one hour hold at Robinson Flat.

I rode for awhile with Lucy Trumbull, who was riding another buckskin horse who looked a lot like Sweetie, a half Arab half Tennessee Walker.  We got to a water trough, but it was almost empty, only a puddle at the bottom.  Then a young woman on another big mare, bigger than Sweetie caught up with me, and she said she was half Arab and half Friesian and weighed 1,300 lbs!  She had Sweetie beat by 200 lbs.  We walked into Robinson Flat together, the two big chunk mares side by side.  

Trotting into Robinson Flat

I was met by Becca, who started sponging Sweetie off as I got off and walked in, grabbing my time card from the timers as I passed.  I told her we needed to really work at getting her pulse down after the trouble I had at the last stop, but by the time we dropped the saddle,  I discovered she was down, thanks to the help I got getting her pulse reading by a lady who happened to be passing by with a hand held digital pulse taker.  By the time I got to the official pulse takers she had dropped to 48!  I was relieved.  She passed her vet check with flying colors and we went to the area Becca had set up.  

She was supposed to have help here, but the second person hadn't shown up.  She went and filled up the water bucket and finished sponging Sweetie off while she ate hay and grain and beet pulp.  I sat down in the chair to relax and ate some of the sandwich I had packed in the crew bag.  In no time at all it was time to start tacking her up again as my hour was almost up.  As I made my last minute preparations to leave, Paul and Molly arrived.  Paul sat down and took off his shirt, putting his cooling vest back on, saying it worked much better on bare skin.  I said I'd have to pass on that and started off for the out timers, thanking Becca for all her help.  

We took off with a bunch of riders for the next leg down a very dusty trail, fine red dirt clouding all around us.  The next stop would be Last Chance, an old gold rush ghost town at the top of Devil's Thumb Canyon.  All that's left of it is an old cabin and a broken down 40's sedan.  It was called that because it was the last chance to get water and supplies before the arduous journey down 32 switchbacks, across the swinging bridge and back up the other side of the canyon.  On the way to Last Chance we took the Pucker Point Trail, with the scariest drop off into a deep abyss of the whole ride.  Not for the faint of heart.

The Abyss at Pucker Point

photo by Karen Chaton

Part Two tomorrow.  Stay tuned.


  1. How fun!! And from Facebook and watching the Tevis on the site almost all night I know who your talking about. LOL I even thought one of those big buckskins was Sweetie in the pictures. Thank You for posting this, and I wait with bated breath for tomorrows.

  2. I'm so impressed by you and Sweetie! Loving the long version of the ride story, can't wait for more!

  3. Fergus (the "other buckskin") is half arab/half Tennessee Walker.

    You did a great job with Sweetie, Judy!