First you have to understand that my husband, J, and I failed to realize that Patriot’s Day at Lake Almanor was an FEI event including a 75 and 100 miler. Last month’s ride found us wearing tie dye, having a great, social time at a warm, friendly ride camp at Dr. Lydon’s Hat Creek Hustle. This ride–well not so much. We arrived on Thursday to give the husband an extra day of fishing and BOY am I glad we showed a day early. There were probably 10 trailers already there when we arrived Thursday pm. Okay, not too bad I thought, its a beautiful area so people probably wanted to get there early and enjoy it.
We set up camp, J went off to fish at Lake Almanor for the evening and I took Blaze for a little ride and then dug back into Dance with Dragons. Here I must insert that the scenery was lovely, the base camp was a wooded area on the left side of the road and then a giant scenic open meadow on the right side of the road, with a stream running parallel to the road. A great view of Mt. Lassen and some nice green grass for the horses.
Also, LOTS of deadly red dusty dirt. Speaking of that, I have to tell you all about how our arrival at said base camp went. I know this is getting slightly out of order but I am still suffering from a bit of heatstroke (more on that later!) so please bear with me. The drive up was just fine, actually quite pretty for a while as we wound our way along the 70 in a canyon with dramatic boulders, waterfalls, and an active river alongside the road. We missed the turn into the base camp road because I was paranoid about all the people tail gating me and was going too fast and there was no pile of tires marking the entrance as the directions said there would be. Well okay, that’ll happen, I pulled a U-ey and we made our way back and into the right entrance. We rumbled down a dusty dirt road for a while, following paper plates reading “Base Camp” with arrows. Everything seemed to be going just fine! Then we passed a left hand turning with arrows in white and ribbons but the arrows seemed to be pointing OUT not IN. So we continued on with our little directions paper clutched in hand and then came to a fork with the left hand side marked with 4 water troughs and ribbons. We thought okay, hey, water troughs and ribbons are the only things in sight, that must be the way! As the road got narrower and narrower and we had to squeeze between the chainsaw cuts of a freshly fallen tree across the road (and I thought no way in HELL would those bigger rigs make that–and boy I had no clue just how big the rigs would be!) we began to suspect our left-hand choice had been incorrect. I managed to execute a perfect 2 point turn around (doesn’t happen often, didn’t happen 5 minutes later when I tried) and we headed back to where we had seen the last (pointing out) arrows and ribbons. The right hand fork we hadn’t taken didn’t seem likely since there was no plate or ribbon or marking of any sort on that side. We made it into that first turning option of the arrows and quickly saw it was NOT the way. Here I was getting stressed, Blaze was getting the dust bath of his life, and the husband was getting impatient with my driving. Also, the clutch in the truck seems to be suddenly going out, so that didn’t help the (hot) situation. J took over driving and we headed back down the road again to the left-for-last right hand turn option. As we pulled onto it we saw a paper plate reading “Base Camp” affixed to the right side of the tree, making it pretty hard to see when you are driving at the intersection straight on. I really thought we were paying attention and I heard some other people at camp complaining about the same issue so I am telling myself we didn’t just plain ole miss it. Who knows. Okay, we finally make it to base camp and we are hot, dusty, and hovering on the verge of pissed off at each other. So far our arrivals and parking at endurance rides seems to come with a bit of simmering temper. Hey, we’re new at this! 🙂 Blaze comes out of the trailer officially a horse of a different color, having had lots of wrong turns worth of dust coating him from tip to toe. He is a nice light chestnut where once I had a bay…Alright, here’s a jump, now we are back to Thursday evening where I ride, J fishes, and I read my book.
Sleep was the plan until a giant R.V. pulled in and wedged itself into the woods next to us and turned on their t.v. We did eventually fall asleep to the sound of sitcoms.
Friday morning rolled around and J was off early to get on his little rented boat and do some damage to the local fish population (not really, he released everything). Blaze felt the need to have an Arab flip out session after Josh roared away at 5 am so my morning started early. I tacked up and took him for a 3 or 4 mile meander on the logging road running parallel to camp and the great big meadow. I mostly only do long low walks with Blaze before rides but he had a lot of fuel in his engine so we walked a mile or so and then did a short trot and canter interval. Its funny because distances and activities that used to take something out of him and get him to quiet down or be tired are just not happening anymore, he is quite fit and feeling good and I better be prepared to last with him! I’m sure this is just a shadow of what it will be like when I have Desire in great shape and am doing my first 50s. When we got back to the trailer I settled into my camp chair to watch the supreme entertainment that is people figuring out where and then attempting to park their giant rigs.
As 3 horse trailer with living quarters after campers pulling living quarters trailers rolled by and wedged themselves into unlikely spots, I kept edging my “truck space saver” (the un-set up canopy) further and further out just to ensure J would even be able to park out of the road when he got home. I totally understand limited space and its all part of camping at a ride but I gotta say some people tried some really asinine parking styles! I was starting to wonder why there were so MANY giant rigs and why the atmosphere seemed a little less relaxed than usual. In general I am a smiling, happy fool at endurance rides (Except during the ride dear husband and then I just have to say sorry honey!) but more than two people didn’t even respond to my smile and “hello” *sulk* I was deep in my reading when Blaze started gnawing on the trailer and pitching a mini fit. He had gotten increasingly restless over the last ten minutes and I can’t really blame him since he has to stand tied to his trailer. That bugger isn’t used to captivity *lol* He has had quite a bit of acreage in his two years living with us. I think he does quite well being a standing-tied endurance horse and I try to walk him often. I caved and decided to take him for a hand-jog. That lasted until more campers started rolling in and dusting us out on the road so we headed back to camp. I read for a while and then when I got the call that the husband was on his way back I decided to go pick up my packet and see what time things were happening. It was only then, on afternoon of day two that I found out that there was a 100 mile race happening, and that this was an FEI event. Things suddenly became clear! Now, I have NO experience around 100 mile events or FEI but I had to figure if there were bigger rigs, unfamiliar people, and a strained atmosphere and the only new factor was FEI and higher distances..well there ya go. My packet was full of tourist brochures and “Things to Do In” packets. Ahhh, advertising to the tourists and foreign riders. We just hadn’t realized that this ride was a big deal! The husband returned and cooked up some steaks and then it was time to vet in. I had found a forest green pair of splint boots at the tack trailer for a good price so we snagged those on our way to the vet. Blaze came through with all As, an A- on gut sounds I believe I remember. The vet checked his legs and did a more thorough exam than usual which had me explaining his interference “bulb” on his left hind fetlock again. The cuts from him being shod have healed nicely but that bulb definitely draws attention.
When we were done there a nap was in order and then I dragged the husband to the ride meeting. We sat next to a wooden corral that contained a very mischievous mule who pawed the ground, gnawed the fence, and just generally made the ride speakers impossible to hear. I suspect I am slightly hard of hearing and I am tempted to get my own little mic system and bring it to the rides for the speakers because generally I can’t hear a damn thing they are saying. Explanation of the trails and loops (or phases as they called them) revealed that our 25 mile map directions were wrong so we had better just stick to the color coded ribbons. Alrighty then. J and I skipped out early when they launched into the 75 and 100 miler spiels as it was a good time to set up our ghetto camp shower and less folks would be around in case I was inadvertently giving a nudist show through said camp shower. It took us a while to rig it up but ended with the tarp wrapped around a couple trees and the tent rain fly making the third side to enclose it. There was one 1/2 foot gap on a side but I just hung my towel over it and got to it. Most of my modesty goes out the window when I am filthy-dirty with red dust, sweat, and there is a beautiful hanging bag of warmish water to shower in. I don’t *think* I flashed anyone and I felt so darn good afterwards who cares! I am a sucker for showers. The clean feeling afterwards is just heaven.
We walked Blaze and Georgia again and hit the tent pretty early.
I read Dance with Dragons as long as I could bear to hold the heavy thing over my head and then gave up. I was clean and the night was cool and the stars were coming out. And the lanky bay camped next door was a-screaming. All night. All morning. Right up until the rider hopped on and headed out on the 50 at 7:30 am.
Again, the morning started early and I put the pot we found at an antique shop on the drive in onto our camp stove to heat my shower water. Well, about a 1/3 of it, the other 2/3 was cold apple vinegar smelling water from our newly made 30 gallon water tank. Josh snagged a 30 gallon barrel for $5 at the feed store and drilled a hole and installed a trough drain plug. We snugged that puppy in the back of the truck with the camping gear and it was SO nice to not have to carry 5 gallon bucket after 5 gallon bucket of water for Blaze and various water needs. We bleached and soaped the barrel but it still smelled a little plastic-y after 50 rinses so we put some apple vinegar in there to freshen it up, if you can call adding vinegar to something even remotely “refreshing.” Blaze seemed to absolutely love the taste and sucked down more water at this ride than ever before. Score!
Anyhow I had a luke-warmish shower and was idling wasting time waiting for the 8:30 start time. Yeah, 8:30. I know, I know, they had to figure the logistics of starting 4 distances but I must say, 8:30 is way late for my preferences. The morning takes forever but more importantly it sticks us out in the heat later. Blaze was braided and dressed and I was in the saddle at 8, then we did some laps around camp waiting for the start.
Then we met Funder! I started following her blog the same time I started following Endurance Granny, and they really inspired me to start this blog. She had written on her blog that she was heading to Lake Almanor ride so I wrote a comment telling her to look for a short redhead with a little bay. She replied and it seemed we might meet! For the life of me I didn’t remember her actual name and thought I would get a pretty strange look if I yelled “funder!” at the wrong person. I hadn’t seen Dixie either. Then as I was wandering around waiting for the start I saw a gal with a chestnut mare and I sortakinda recognized her face. I decided to chance it and said “Are you Dixie’s owner?” and yep, it was her! Turned out we were both doing the 25.
She headed off near the front of the pack and I was hanging back with a lady who had asked around for a slow calm start and another woman on a big striking Saddlebred mix who needed quiet energy as well. Blaze does get excited at the start of races but he was feeling pretty mellow this time so I offered to hang back with them. True to his nature he was walking out calmly while the Saddlebred mix trotted (or whatever one calls that) nearly in place and the other Arab did a nervous little jog. I am really proud of how calm Blaze was at this start. Somehow we all milled around enough and the start was spread out enough (with only 12 or so riders in the ride itself) that he didn’t mind hanging back and walking with the other two. After a half mile or so we started trotting and the Saddlbred mix was soon gone. Blaze was feeling powerful but not too rushy so I let him trot along at a good pace. The other Arab was mostly behind us and then I looked over my shoulder a few miles on and they were nowhere to be seen. Blaze was feeling good and I wanted to continue and “Ride my own ride” as they say so I figured I would move on and look for her at the next water trough. Luckily I glimpsed her coming around a far corner behind us a few times so I knew she was alright back there. I can’t help but feel somewhat responsible especially when a person is on a nervous horse. I ran a mile or so of downhill and then we came to the first troughs. At this point we had already encountered some pretty rocky parts of the trail! I was really under the impression from the scenery and description that the trails would be nice dirt logging roads but there was plenty of rock to be seen early on. When the other lady trotted up to the water she said she needed to keep her pace slower and got off to let her mare relax and I headed off on my own. Blaze and I were trucking along at a nice strong pace, occasionally breaking into a steady canter. We wound through a short foresty track that was shady and fun and then suddenly we came out on a baking gravel road with the sun nearly overhead and no shade to be seen. That was my first moment of concern. It was only the middle of the first 12.5 mile loop and I was already getting uncomfortable in the heat on the gravel road. Blaze kept trucking at a good trot and only slowed to walk for maybe a half mile. We moved back off onto more forested trails and I started passing and being passed by riders from all the different ride distances. I tried to slow Blaze to give him a bit of rest but there was so much trail activity he got really agitated and I figured it was better to be moving forward with that energy than pitching a fit and getting virtually nowhere. We came out to a nice big stream crossing as the edge of the base camp’s giant meadow with three or four other riders and squeezed in for a drink. I am still a total inept dork with my sponge from the saddle so I semi successfully sponged Blaze while he mostly tried to socialize instead of drinking. He is such a curious fellow. And I know other riders SO appreciate him sticking his brown nose in their horse’s faces and distracting their drinking. So I do try to contain that behavior and figured we were close enough to camp that he could get to water troughs soon enough. The photographer was on the far side of another water crossing and he crossly informed me to move along when I tried to let Blaze drink from this water option since there were no other horses. Apparently I was interfering with his photos (no one was even riding up behind me yet). I have to say that while I enjoy getting professional photos at these rides I don’t enjoy photographers telling me what to do, whether its to smile or to move or whatever. In the end I want my horse to drink more than I want his photo. Was I a little testy in general this ride? It sort of seems like it as I record this whole experience. Anyway I can only say what happened and how I feel! After the photographer we got back onto the trail I had meandered on yesterday so I knew how far from camp I was. Blaze cantered for half a mile or so and we got passed by more and more people as we approached base camp. I hopped off at the In base camp sign and walked him in dumping the remains of my water bottle on his shoulders and loosening his girth. We had trotted and cantered hard to that point and I was pleased and a little surprised when we pulsed in at 54 (I was thinking 60) immediately. We got As and an A- for gut sounds (much better than usual!) and a “Looking good” from the vet which was great. Back at camp I pulled his saddle and sponged him all over while drinking Capri Suns, Gatorade, lemonade, and water as fast as I could. I wasn’t hungry at all but was so so thirsty. As usual we only had about 15 minutes actually IN camp and that time flies while trying to bribe Blaze to eat (he only seems to eat grass and carrots at halfway points) so we were saddled and back at the Out timer in no time.
Blaze generally shows a little reluctance to leave camp for the first half mile after a hold and this time it didn’t really help that horse after horse after horse was hauling ass past us in the opposite direction. The first part of the second loop was same as the end of the first so there was lots of cross traffic of different race lengths. Dr. Lydon went trotting merrily by and I also saw the lady I rode Whiskeytown Chaser with which was nice. Finally Blaze and I were back on the trail alone with less traffic and he was trotting along pretty well when the lady that camped across from us trotted by. I think she was doing the FEI 100 miler and MY GOD did her horse fly! It was a big boned mare with big hooves and she did a sort of effortless round shouldered crawl but she was covering insane amounts of ground with those giant strides. We turned right with that mare still in sight and were asked by a guy on a four wheeler and a worried looking rider if a riderless horse had been spotted. Uh oh, hadn’t seen a horse and never did hear but sure hope that horse made it home safe. From this point on the trail was 95% gravel road under direct overhead sunlight, absolutely baking and miserable. From the camp site and description you would really think that the event was held on nice dirt logging roads but at least in the 25 miler the majority of trail was gravel road. There were a few miles of woods trails still without shade and then it was back onto the gravel road. My head was boiling in my helmet and I started to feel dizzy but I was pouring water on my head and Blaze and not drinking all that much of it. I figured walking in the merciless sun wouldn’t be any kinder than continuing to trot so Blaze and I kept on trucking on a loose reined trot. We encountered the Saddlebred mix and her riding buddy walking with about 4 miles left and trotted on by with desperation in our eyes. Well mine, anyway. I needed water for Blaze and a vet for myself. A headache was starting and I was hot hot hot. There were troughs at the entrance to the ranch where we headed in to the finish and Blaze drank deeply. We trotted off as the Saddlebred mix and other gal came in to the water and Blaze relaxed into a nice, ground covering canter the last mile to the finish. Finish itself was posted on a tree before the actual base camp turn in but the pulses and vets weren’t until way down at the far end of camp so I’m not sure how that was a Finish, I guess just by mileage they felt they should put that. I called J and asked him to meet me with a bucket of water for sponging and pulled Blaze’s bit and hand walked him in like I had before. I was pretty hot at this point and running on pure determination. J misunderstood and lugged an entire 5 gallon bucket of water while I was hoping for just a little in a bucket so I could sponge him while we walked. We abandoned the bucket for the time being and I headed for the In timers and p&rs. My hot desperation was showing when I pulled my saddle and chucked it in the grass next to the pulse people, to be recovered later. I knew Blaze needed that thing off and I couldn’t face walking him all the way back to the trailer and then back for the vet. We pulsed through immediately and joined the Vetting-in line, where Blaze ate a little but mostly just tried to roll.
We vetted through with all As and were told to come back in an hour to show for Best Condition!!! This had never happened to me before and I pretty much assumed that they wouldn’t be giving BC for the 25 since its a big FEI event and 25s don’t really count for much in general it seems. The vets chatted for a while before deciding if they were even doing it, THEN told me to show for it, so that was that. We left my saddle again to use it for weighing in at BC. I weighed in 4 pounds under the limit of my weigh class, lol. I actually weigh a lot more than I look like I do and my saddle set up is a good 35 or 40 pounds. Anyway we did our first BC exam and Blaze was definitely tired and not very enthusiastic at the trotting out but he did it, bless his heart. He got a 7 1/2 and an 8 on impulsion and gait, which I assume is out of 10 and that’s fair, he was definitely tired and I know other horses the vet checked for BC had lots more go in them. It was still very exciting to get to do it and the vet gave us As and a “great job!” as we were leaving so that’s awesome!!
By the time I got back to camp my headache was really throbbing and I was so darn hot. I sat in the camp chair and held Blaze’s lead rope as he grazed and tried to cool myself with shorts and a cold damp handkerchief. I was feeling really nauseous which was a serious bummer. I tried eating some salty pretzels but was feeling pretty rough. Funder had seen us at the BC check and J told her where we were camped so she came over with her dog to say hello. It was cool to get to sit and down and relax and chat and J played fetch with her dog for quite a while.
Oh boy he wants a dog with as much ball/prey drive as her’s has, darn it Funder if we end up with 5 dogs I am blaming you! After a while we headed over so I could meet Dixie and my she is a big striking animal! I hadn’t realized how big Dixie was! Tall and stately. And yes, that mane was quite something people. J showed up and took the dogs to the creek to get good and muddy and then he and I said bye to Funder and headed back to camp. I was feeling worse and worse and barely managed to shed my shirt before passing out with a cool rag over my eyes in the tent.
J packed up the entire camp while Blaze and Georgia and I were snoozing and we were planning to stay for the 6 pm awards celebration but there were still 50 milers out on the trail and a general air of chaos over at the ride camp department so we figured the awards might not be until much later. We did a little begging and managed to find out Blaze and I finished 4th (woohoo!) and that they didn’t do ride t-shirts (What! Boo!) then snagged up our stack of pics from the photographer and hit the road. J drove us home while I sat in agony with my head pounding. Eventually one of my contacts got so dry and dirty it fell out so then I was looking out at the hot valley air with one eye blurry, my head splitting, covered in dirt from head to toe. Looking good, basically. We finally made it home, my sainted J put Blaze away with his vittles, and I showered and passed out. My headache was no better this morning and I actually threw up during the night. So yeah, I would say heatstroke got me pretty good at this ride. I get migraines but the head pain in this case was different and overall my skin is just so boiling hot, still! I didn’t get sunburned but I did get my sun rash and my forehead it about 110 degrees or so it feels. I stayed in bed til 2 pm today and after a second shower am still getting back to feeling normal. Blaze was reported to be peppy and eating like a machine this morning. Bless his heart. He really gave it hell on this ride and trotted and cantered 24 of the 25 miles in awful heat. I am impressed with his heart and determination and fitness for his size. Sure there were people going 100 miles and that’s crazy impressive but my little 14 hand guy gave it all he had and got me through despite my increasingly poor riding I’m sure.
So, my general feelings on the ride? Trails were ruthlessly hot and not very impressive though were well marked with ribbons and chalk. There was a rather surprising feel of disorganization for an FEI ride (this opinion was confirmed by Funder too). People in general were less friendly. And in conclusion: no ride t-shirts? That seals the deal! The first ride I have tried that I am deciding not to return to, at least not next year. It was still a good experience though and I am thrilled we showed for BC and Blaze did so well!
Some of the pro photos: