disclaimer: my faithful crew-husband didn’t come to this ride so the usual fantastic photo evidence is somewhat missing..I did my best but could really use the “shaky hand on moving horse” camera setting!!
Another successful AERC LD ride in the books for Blaze and I. This ride was a different experience for me in a couple of ways. First of all my dearly beloved crew-husband couldn’t come along so setting up camp, photos, and looking after myself was all up to me..hey, that last one is more difficult than it sounds! Reminding myself to be calm and eat–these things usually fall under the husbands purview. The other huge difference was that I was essentially back on “home turf” since I grew up in Mendocino and worked for Lari Shea at Ricochet Ridge Ranch for a couple of years; the ride was based at Lari’s beautiful sea-side ranch Simcha and held on trails that I used to guide trail rides on when working for her. Since I was going to this race alone it was really nice to know exactly where I was going and have at least a vague notion of the trails (its been about 5 years since I rode there). I didn’t remember exactly how steep and non-stop hilly the terrain was but thanks to the cool weather that wasn’t too much of an issue. Little Blaze certainly worked his butt off up those hills though!
To begin from the beginning: Blaze, Georgia, and I set off Friday morning and a relatively uneventful, if long, drive over to the coast. It takes 4 hours in a car, took me about 6 hours all told. I had to make a couple of stops along the way (Wal-mart for a new Igloo marine cooler since ours finally gave up the ghost, gas, food supplies etc) but there was also road construction, a car accident on Hwy 20, and just when I was really on edge and ready to get to ride camp already the Skunk Train pulled through Fort Bragg. Hwy 20 between Willits and Fort Bragg was a long slow stretch as well, I don’t know how loaded log trucks fly through that stretch so quickly but then they don’t have live cargo in the back so that probably helps. I pulled over at least 10 times and reminded myself that Friday is really not the day to be getting to the coast as there is endless traffic. We finally got into ride camp around 2:30 in the afternoon and it was already packed with rigs of all sizes. They had it pretty well organized with signage directing large, medium, and small rigs to go to their respective spots.
I pulled into the small rig area which was in Lari’s large stallion paddock…on a hill. Not that great for those of us looking to set up tents and of course I was having a bit of an anxiety attack about backing my trailer into whatever small hilly spot I ended up choosing. The only flat place I could see for my tent was next to the water trough with a rather abrupt drop in terrain and I thought my trailer hitch might grind on the ground if I backed in so I just pulled in (phew). It wasn’t ideal but I thought I could make it work until the guy parked next to me brought his horse back to his porta corral and informed me that the one and only flat spot was his gate in and out of his corral, then proceeded to open the corral panel out and tie his horse half in, half out so that every time I went in and out of my truck I had a horse butt swinging around next to me. I admit I’m kind of a push-over about these things so I figured I would just be sleeping in my truck and screw the tent. Georgia and I headed over to get our ride packet and find out times for everything and luckily enough I found my friend, former schoolmate, former co-worker E who was riding but also being an assistant to the ride managers (who own my mare Desire’s full brother Blazunhaat Pico, btw). E is a high energy problem solver and when I told her about my camping situation she swung right into gear trying to figure out how to cram me in next to her rig behind Lari’s barn in the “VIP” section. We got the okay from the ride manager for me to pull in and E took pity on my frazzled nerves and backed my truck out of the ghetto hill spot and then backed it in next to her rig. Her gorgeous black Arab/mustang (you would never guess that, he is over 16 hands and built more like a rangy Tennessee Walker w/ an Arab head) was in porta corrals next to her trailer and Blaze got to hang out right next to him when tied to my trailer. There was ample flat space for my tent and I got to camp among friends! Thanks again to E for making my camping experience a much better one with the relocation.
I had assumed E would be riding the 50 miler but turns out she was riding one of the ride manager’s horses in the 30 on Sunday and her young friend, A, was coming down from Eureka to ride E’s horse in the 30 for her first ever endurance ride. Saturday was also going to be extremely crowded with something like 150 riders and a 30, 50, and 75 miler happening. Apparently people showed up without calling or entering the ride and expected to be able to ride so the ride manager was calling around looking for an extra vet, volunteers, etc. I quickly decided switching to Sunday would be much more fun since I could ride with E and A and things would be calmer with much fewer riders that day (I believe there were only 60 or so total riders on Sunday, with a 30 and a 50 happening). E got the go-ahead for me to switch days and got me a new vet card and easy as that we were entered in Sunday’s 30 miler. I got camp set up pretty quickly, luckily our tent literally only takes two poles and its up so I survived that situation, though never had great luck inflating the matress with our ghetto little blower machine. Needless to say the husband usually sets up camp…Friday evening E, A, and I took a little ride up the hill to keep the horses loose and then pulled together a mini potluck for us and A’s dad from our respective coolers.
I slept surprisingly well Friday night, the thick flannel-lined sleeping bag that is usually my nemesis at inland rides was so incredibly cozy on the chilly foggy coast! The registration table and general center of operations was behind the barn right across from where we were camping so there was some late night commotion and chatting going on but I fell asleep pretty easily and only woke up once when some mystery bird was calling reptitively and obnoxiously from about midnight to 1 am. Eventually that stopped or maybe I just fell asleep through the rest of it and I was still in my cozy sleeping bag at 7 am Saturday! That’s unheard of for me as I usually sleep horribly at rides and am ready to give up attempting to sleep around 5 am. I heard the head of volunteers (a lady I used to ride with when I first got into endurance as a teenager and wife of my first-ever farrier) calling out looking for E so she could lead the brigade of vets and volunteers out to the vet check meadow so figured that was my cue to be getting up in a hurry. We were all rousted and dressed in a couple of minutes and packed into E’s truck with a couple of vets following behind. The vet check meadow was a spot we often used as a lunch rest for guests when I was a trail guide so once again I was back on familiar territory. E was a vet scribe all morning and I did P&Rs with A manning the official P&R clock. It was pretty funny being on the other side of things, I had never volunteered at an endurance ride before but having ridden at plenty I knew the riders would be taking their P&Rs pretty seriously and we better be on our game. I certainly knew how to take the pulse reading with a stethescope and watch but was a little nervous that I get it all right and do so quickly. I couldn’t even find the heartbeat on the first horse (now you’re all rolling your eyes but after taking at least 100 pulses on Saturday there were some very very quiet heart beats and some very loud obvious ones) and my heart was in my mouth for a minute as the head-of-the-pack 75 miler rider was standing (im)patiently at his horse’s head but I quickly got back on track and got him through and from there things got easier. There was some general math issues when adding the 30 minute hold time to their pulse down time which was pretty funny as well. The pressure of getting the riders through quickly got to all of us at one time or another but overall it went pretty smoothly. It truly was all about confidence, if you swaggered up to a horse and took the pulse authoratatively there were no issues even if it took you a minute (not literally) to get a good pulse reading; it was the more timid, nervous approach to doing it that seemed to irk people. There were a couple of riders who were kind of obnoxious when things didn’t go as speedily as they wanted but to them I say without volunteers there is no ride, so take a chill pill or six. There’s no big cash prize waiting for you at the finish line and the extra 5 seconds it takes a good hearted volunteer to do some math on your vet card isn’t the end of the world. We finished up with all the riders around 11 and headed back to camp to take P&Rs for the 1 hr lunch holds, then around 2 E was being dispatched to break glow sticks for the 75 milers who would be riding after dark. I’m always up for riding some horse somewhere so I got to tag along on the ride manager’s fun mare who has 3,000+ race miles. We flew along the 15 mile loop from one glow stick to another and had lots of fun and were back in camp by 5, then it was time to vet in our own horses for Sunday. Blaze gave me a good laugh when we vetted in, he did his best arch-necked, snarl-nosed, fire breathing mini endurance monster trot out and even the vet was chuckling at all that attitude packed into Blaze’s 14 hand frame. Blaze’s motto is definitely “I am small but I am MIGHTY!” We vetted in with all As and then went to the ride dinner with E so she could eat and put together a used Free n’ Easy saddle she had for sale that I wanted to try out on Blaze. I know I know, don’t try new gear on rides but I have been having an endless fruitless battle with my saddle the last couple of weeks that ended in the conclusion that one of the panels is broken. I went into this ride with a sort of blind faith that it would work out somehow as I really wasn’t keen on using my saddle on him for the race itself since it already put one wear mark on Blaze’s back. E was recently in England at the Free n’ Easy factory (or whatever one calls it) and built her own saddle from scratch so she tore the used saddle she had apart and custom fit it to Blaze’s back Saturday night, bless her heart. I did a test ride in it as it got dark and the panels left perfect even sweat marks on his back. After the saddle fitting E was well and truly beat so she headed to bed and A, A’s dad, and I headed to the Purple Rose Mexican restaurant at the edge of town so we could get inside and be warm while we ate. It was very chilly and foggy Saturday evening and the promise of a warm restaurant was too lovely to resist. The food hit the spot and we all headed off to bed as soon as we got back.
I got about 2 hours of sleep that night, there was a lot of action at ride manager headquarters into the wee hours of the morning and I started to get a headache around midnight but luckily it was curtailed by a dose of Excedrin I dug out of my first aid kit in the truck. No sleep I can deal with, a migraine on ride morning I cannot deal with. The 30 started at 7 am but I was sick of lying around awake and needed to move my pommel bag and gear onto the Free n’ Easy so I was up early messing with all that. I also gave into my longtime desire to bedazzle a horse and painted hearts in green glitter on Blaze’s flanks 😀 They weren’t writing numbers on the horses so I figured I would spruce it up back there and we got lots of compliments on the glitter all day. E, A, and I set off from the start a couple minutes after 7 and were at the back of the pack with only two other riders left starting behind us which was fine since it was A’s first ride and we were planning to take our time with all the steep hills.
We started to pass people about halfway through the first loop and by the time we came into the one hour hold back at ride camp A’s dad said we weren’t far back in the pack at all. We had pulled bits, loosened girths, and walked down the long hill to ride camp at the bottom and the horses pulsed right through. A and E went to pull their tack at camp but I ditched my tack at the P&R station and went right to the vet where Blaze got all As. His back was looking great and the Free n’ Easy was so much lighter and smaller than my giant saddle, it was really nice to be riding in it and not obsessing every second on how his back was doing.
E and A got a nasty surprise when they trotted A’s mount, E’s horse, out for the vet and noticed a big rub mark on the horse’s back. It was well back toward his hindquarters and we all thought it couldn’t be from the saddle that far back and upon investigation it turned out it was the easyboot stow bag attached to the back of the saddle that had done it! It was really nasty looking and sore but A iced it the whole hour of the hold and then got the re-check and okay from the vets to continue since it was well back from the saddle and without the pack wouldn’t be irritated again. E and A were a little behind because of dealing with that so I left the hour hold a bit ahead of them and rode the last 13 mile loop alone. Blaze did really well on his own as usual, we passed five or six horses heading the other way and he trotted right by without batting an eye which was awesome.
He was really huffing and puffing up the steep hills but caught his breath quickly and was back to jogging the downs and trotting the flats in no time. Towards the end of the ride is the Steep Down trail which is, true to its name, an insanely steep downhill stretch. I mean so steep you get off and edge sideways down it so you don’t face plant down it instead. Blaze was following me down it gamely but looking at me like I was nuts by the time we got to the bottom.
Luckily right at that time a gal came down the hill behind us and passed us and that revved Blaze’s little engine right up again. We followed her in the last five miles or so and Blaze felt as strong and fresh as he had at the beginning which was great. The gal admired our glitter and was quite friendly and when we really caught up to her in the last half mile we chatted for a minute or two. We came into the finish behind her and turns out she was 1st place on the 50. Yep she was taking first place on the 50 as I was getting 3rd place on the 30–haha! I had a great ride though and Blaze was a true champ to go out on the last loop alone and take those endless steep hills so well. It definitely helped that it was cool and gray all day, I can’t imagine doing that ride if it were inland and hot. We had trotted right up to the finish line because I wasn’t exactly sure how far away from it we were so it took Blaze a minute or two to pulse down but I pulled his tack right away and he took a couple long drinks and then was down below 60 bpm. The final vet check went well, for whatever reason the vet that checked him was rather secretive about what grades he was giving but when I trotted Blaze out I heard him saying a couple of As and A- s so I assume it went well. Not sure what the point of being secretive was but whatever floats the vet boat! Blaze’s back did great in the Free n’ Easy and I’m pretty sure it has a home in my tackroom in the future since it fits him so well, is lighter, comfortable, and a great price. What a relief!
E and A came in not long after I finished and said they had a fun last loop as well and there were no more issues with the horse that got the rub from the boot bag. I cleaned up Blaze and packed up camp and headed for my parent’s house to get Blaze settled at the boarding spot next door and get myself a hot shower! Oh boy oh boy was that a great shower! My brother came and picked me up and we headed back to ride camp for the dinner and awards which was good fun and great food and we got a nifty foldable water scoop with the ride logo on it for completing. All in all it was a great time, beautiful scenery, great weather, well marked trails, and so nice to be home camping and riding among friends! Tomorrow I am taking Blaze out for an evening ride on the beach with a good friend and former co-worker–it will be Blaze’s first time at the ocean (that I know of anyway) so fingers crosses it goes smoothly!