Death Valley XP 2016: What I did Right

For every list of things that you might want/need at an endurance ride, there’s a crusty old timer who rides 100s with no water bottles, a bandanna, and the saddle they were given as a kid. I like to fall somewhere in between, acknowledging that not “all the things” are necessary, but at last fully aware of my own struggles in staying healthy at/through rides, and therefore I’ll persist in sharing what works for me, in the hopes that others can pick up something that might work for them.

Basically, I’m a pale skinned redhead who can overheat in 30 degrees (yes Fahrenheit), gets dehydration migraines, has a squicky nervous stomach at events, and has a rebuilt metal right ankle (I work,walk, run, and ride in hiking boots with ankle support). I spent my first few *seasons* of endurance sick as a dog after every ride, no matter the weather: headaches, endless dry heaving, the whole 9. It’s been a journey of pinpointing problems, running experiments on myself, and harvesting ideas from others, but after being on the road at Death Valley XP recently from early Monday to late the next Sunday in someone else’s rig, sleeping in the back of a horse trailer, caring for 6-8 horses, taking zero showers, AND riding 4 days in a row at 175 miles total for the first time ever–I felt great and like I could ride another day. I’ll never call them Must Haves for anyone but me and it’s not a complete packing list, but below are some highlight items that really made a difference.


the kit

Delicate Flower Survival List, December Desert Edition 😉

  • Granola Bars in Your Pack: Possibly the single biggest revelation for me regarding sporting self care came last November while crewing a 100 mile run for Ultra beast Mel, who had a timer going on her watch throughout the event to remind her to eat on trail as appropriate. To be clear, I wasn’t that organized, and I’ve always carried snacks in my saddle bags, BUT–for the first time, on this event I forced myself to eat something as soon as I started to feel off at all, whether that was 20 minutes into the day or just after lunch. In the past I would acknowledge feeling crappy, think about food and feel crappier, and the downward spiral began. This time, I opened my saddle bag and crammed a granola bar down my gullet before I could think about it. TADAHHH, my stomach instantly felt better. And it worked, over and over, each day (day 4 pre lunch was a stomach low, but I queasily ate a carrot, didn’t barf, and resumed granola bars after a good salty lunch). I carried Chocolate chip Quaker bars and Strawberry Nutrigrains and both stayed palatable all week and were approved by my other buddies who got hungry one of the days (bonus:easy to cram shareable amounts in a small saddle bag)
  • Drink Water: I drank 6 1 pint bottles a day at least. And Very minimal alcohol. Your amounts and tolerance will vary, but everyone needs to drink some water okay.
  • Baby Wipes (=shower): One of the biggest things on my mind was the potential for chafes. I rode 4 different horses in different gear, none of which was mine, and I’d never ridden 4 days in a row before nor am much of a runner, so my anti chafe game isn’t strong. I never did use any lubricants, but I was sure to clean delicate areas (bra line too!) and feet twice a day and had no bra/feet chafe issues, despite finding a few little toe blisters throughout the week that I ignored.
  • Pocket knife: Besides the obvious, you can trim your nails, use it as tiny pry bar–and you can also cut off your underwear in 2 swipes. I have not yet figured out the underwear thing and I’ve also sworn I’d never ride commando as many do–well, ride 4 days in a row and you just might try it too.
  • Sudafed & Ibuprofen: Sinus pressure turns into nasty headaches for me and ibuprofen is god, no big explanation needed there.
  • Redmond Relyte Cramp Eliminator: I’ve had these salt capsules around for a while and have never managed to reliably use them through a ride til DVE. In a bid for survival of this saga, I started tossing them down about as often as I changed diagonals trotting, which really boils down to when it occurred to me. I did use them throughout each ride each day, and aside from the Day 3 LD on the bounciest Arabian ever born, my body amazingly never felt sore or crampy
  • K-Tape ProMy buddy E taped my right (metal) ankle for Day 1 50 and after walking through ankle turning rocks and down a mountain, I suddenly realized my right ankle felt amazing and my left supposedly good ankle felt a bit wobbly and tired. Cue K tape for the left side too, leaving it on both for the entire ride, and the strongest, unrolled, non sore ankles I’ve ever had 175 miles later. We double checked application methods on google, so this was  by no means scientific but entirely magically successfully. GET SOME
  • Caffeine/B Vitamins: I don’t drink Coffee, I know, shocking. I was raised on black tea and still often enjoy a cuppa in the morning, and definitely did while in the desert in December. Since that does appreciably nothing caffeine-effect wise, I take 5 hour energies when I’m dragging.  I won’t pretend they’re technically good for you, but a happy side effect that I discovered is that they’re full of B Vitamins, something women (especially on their periods) can be deficient in and the deficiency of which can cause nasty headaches. I am still SO STOKED I didn’t have a single headache during or after this trip! 
  • Neck Cozy/Buffs: Once I pilfered a neck cozy from and made by E, I pretty much never took it off again, morning or night. It’s shaped appropriately to fall comfortably whether extended up under your helmet strap for maximum warmth or tugged down loose when you’re running hot. Comfortable for riding or bedtime, affordable, and made in fun fabrics, I am absolutely adding a few more to my wardrobe. As for Buffs, my helmet doesn’t even fit correctly without one on, as I always wear a Buff and almost always dunk it in cold water to assist in cooling (yes, even in the desert in December). You can also whip off these items for impromptu wound care if needed.
  • Tiny packs of tissues/Chapstick: Noses run in the desert, and I get cold sores. These two little items were GOLDEN and I sprinkled them throughout my gear.
  • Skin Moisturizer: Nope, not even close to a necessity, but when you’re in the desert for a week and showering with baby wipes, your skin will thank you
  • Emergen-C and Cough drops: Even if you don’t end up needing them, likely someone else will, and if you start to feel crappy it’s sure nice to have an option
  • Lens Wipes: When you’re filthy, wear athletic fabrics, and use glasses and phone screens, these handy little wipes will clear your windshields while your buddy is still trying to find some clean cotton somewhere to wipe theirs on. Sharing is caring!

Having fun at DVE

Other Smart Decisions that I made:

Choose Your Bedroll Spot Wisely: This goes back to knowing thyself. If you get cold a lot, by all means pack tons of layers and blankets and choose the warmest possible spot. Personally I’m such an overheater that I only wore an actual real jacket for about 2 miles one day of the entire week (vests rock!). I was also offered a bunk spot in a very warm wood-heated tent, and as tempting as it was on a chilly afternoon when offered, my number one challenge is keeping myself and my core cool enough. I build up an immense amount of heat when I sleep and would have been miserable in that cozy tent; I was entirely warm enough and happy with my sleeping bag and a blanket on a cot in the back of E’s uninsulated horse trailer. People think I’m weird, but it works for me.

Follow Your Gut:  This should probably be in large letters at the top of this post, but it fits nicely here and will hopefully still have some impact at this position. As I mentioned, I was in a friend’s rig riding borrowed and relatively unknown horses, as in we hadn’t sorted out horses or saddles going out each day until the night before. It was exciting, and a little scary, and it’s easy to lose oneself amongst the pressure and excitement and wanting to do well for everyone. In our pre-ride day in camp, we took out two rounds of horses and on the second go I rode one of the Mustangs that I hadn’t yet been on but was supposed to ride one of the days. Briefly, my afore mentioned metal ankle was achieved 8 years ago by getting spectacularly dumped at high speeds, after mounting a newly bought horse–and resulted in a life flight and surgery. I’ve been in pursuit of lost immortality ever since, and have real fear issues about the mounting, settling, and moving off moments with a new horse. The mustang that day at DVE barely let me mount, then started reversing at high speeds in the tight camping area. My mind screamed to bail off this death ride while E calmly told me to flip him around and back him my way. E was entirely correct, I survived a short ride, and I also resolved to NOT ride that horse in an event, no matter the cost to pride or reputation. E cowboyed up and rode that horse on Day 3, and he didn’t give her a lick of trouble until the 28th mile when he suddenly and unpredictably launched her into mercifully soft sand. She jumped up to ride not only him but another unknown green Mustang the next day–all my respect, truly. Me? I’m still proud of myself for saying No.


DAY 4, with E and Jo, photo by Steve Bradley

So there it is, to be laughed off or learned from. I had an incredible time at this ride and a big part of the enjoyment was feeling as good as I did! Happy trails out there!

9 thoughts on “Death Valley XP 2016: What I did Right

  1. I think the blog ate my first comment so commenting again just to make sure. I love my nickname so much I laughed out loud and I’m so glad the eating worked for you. This is a great post and I’m totally including it on my link love next month.

  2. Great read! Glad you had a good Death Valley Encounter. It sounds like you have cracked the code for getting good outcomes in the absurdly difficult environment of endurance riding!

  3. Pingback: 20 Mule Team 100 2017: Endurance, All Ways, All Days | Redheaded Endurance

  4. I love your blog! This morning I saw a quote “Make someday today” so between this quote and your blog with great experiences I would love to have ‘someday’ …. now sounds good to get started. Thank you!

    I grew up getting horribly huge cold sores…so I feel ya! When I was in my early 20’s someone told me about Lysine. It is an amino acid you can get from almost any vitamin counter. I get mine at Walmart since it is close. I went from having several a year that covered my whole mouth (no joke!) to having one or two small ones a year. I am in my early 50’s now and am still a believer. I take a couple a day with my vitamins. If I feel a sore coming on I pop several a couple times a day for a couple days.

    Thanks again for sharing your life with everyone,

  5. Pingback: Death Valley XP ’17: Lessons from the Trail | Redheaded Endurance

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