|Sunday's ride on "Frenchy"|
photo by Steve Bradley
|photo by Steve Bradley|
Yes, the mane is as ridiculously long
as it looks.
And the matching boots and tack were
a happy coincidence.
So, let's rewind a little bit back to Saturday afternoon. Rocco and I successfully finished his first 50, and he was still looking at me like, "That was fun." He was a little "Ergh...whut???" when I hugged him, but he figured out soon enough I wasn't actually trying to strangle him.
After taking care of him and getting him re-situated in front of a large amount of food (Rocco says, "Food is good. Endurance = food. Therefore, Endurance is Good."), I scampered over to retrieve the horse I would be riding the next day: Frenchy, who belongs to my friend Nick.
I now firmly believe there is a conspiracy afoot designed to try to break my attachment to my "go-cart ponies." It's true, I have an affinity for anything 14.2hh and under. They're smaller, handier, easier to get on. So why is it that everything I've been riding this year has been 15hh and over? Apparently someone is trying to improve my mounting skills...or something.
Anyway, Frenchy is a big boy, hitting nearly 15.2hh. Stretch, Ash, stretch. He vetted through fine, being somewhat of an "old hat" with half a dozen rides under his girth. I also got him fitted into Renegades for the next day. (Not much of a switch, as he is already barefoot and used to going in boots...but using any other boot is somewhat of a conflict of interest.)
A note on my decision to do this: I had the owner's blessing to ride in whatever boots I preferred. The horse was already barefoot and accustomed to boots. I was confident in how they fit him and how they looked on his hooves to trust I wouldn't be spending the next day jumping off and retrieving boots the entire ride. Maybe some would call it a leap of faith...I call it confidence in knowing that a reliable product works. And I was right. We didn't have a single boot issue all day long. I put them on in the morning and took them off after we were done. No rubbing, no twisting...and they got a serious workout, both from the horse and the terrain.
Incidentally, they were the same set of boots I used on Rocco on Saturday. (Convenient. Must endeavor to find horses with the same size of hooves...) And they did excellent on him as well, including sloshing through a mud-lined stream. Put on in morning, take off after finish. I was always impressed with how Renegades have done on my boot-challenged pony, despite not fitting her all that ideally. So to put them on horses that they do fit ideally...I didn't think it was possible to love these boots any more than I did. Well, apparently it is, and I do. Stay tuned for some more news regarding Renegades coming up soon...
And back to our regularly scheduled programming.
I wrapped up Saturday night with an impromptu boot party in the back of Steph's trailer, happily "talking shop" while swapping out some boot parts for some other people. I'm actually loving this "work at the ride" aspect. It allows me to socialize, yes, and I really do like doing hands-on troubleshooting and customer service.
Another restful night on The Most Comfortable Mattress in the World, and I woke up feeling really good. I took one Motrin the previous evening, but that was it. This was the best I've ever felt the day after a ride. Typically, I'm all crunchy muscles and whiny body. This time? Nope. Some soreness in the upper shoulder area, but I think that was more a side effect of the unaccustomed wearing of the Camelbak the previous day, combined with...err..."upper body baggage." Doesn't matter how padded the sports bra straps are...
But I was able to quite cheerfully (for 5AM) slither out of bed and dress, cram down a near-repeat of the previous day's breakfast, gather up all of my last-minute gear, and be over at Nick's trailer to start tacking up.
I had a brief moment of "What the heck am I DOING?" nerves as I scrambled off the mounting block onto my rather tall target, not helped by briefly getting stuck on the water bottle on my cantle pack. (Like I muttered multiple times over the weekend, I wish I could be one of those riders who survives the ride on a water bottle and a grapefruit. But I'm not, so I always have to remind myself of how to fit between all the stuff on my saddle.) Frenchy was good, though, and we had a nice calm walk up to the start to check in with our numbers. (No greasepaint butt numbers at this ride...dang, means I actually had to remember my rider number[s].)
Things briefly got...interesting...when we walked away from the start. Seems Frenchy didn't want to leave in the opposite direction of all the action, so I got treated to a bit of a temper tantrum display of head tossing and some hopping up and down. He responded to a few cross words, and we went back to walking a nice warmup loop around the backside of camp before heading out towards the tail end of the pack.
Both Frenchy and Nick's horse Moon walked out of camp politely, and a couple minutes out of camp, we picked up a nice working trot. Ooo, Frenchy had a nice trot. A bit strong and eager, but responsive to my requests to keep it to a dull roar.
The Sunday trail is my favorite of the Sonoita trails. It heads roughly northwest out of camp, crosses under the highway, picks up the Arizona Trail and follows it around for a while before breaking off to complete what is basically a giant lollipop loop that rejoins the same trail close to the highway before heading back to camp...only to fake you out when you're literally within a couple miles of camp and take you on a dogleg mini-loop of another handful of miles before spitting out back out on the same trail within sight of camp.
Sunday's trail also has a lot more up and down and climbing. GPS stats report approximately 3100' of climbing and 3800' of descent. (Hah, my bruised shins are vindicated knowing it was a "downhill" ride.) But it's a great mix of terrain: Lots of single track, with a lot of it being the kind you can still make good time; some sand wash; some rocky areas. Lots of good practice in "trot when you can" on some of the more technical areas, but with some good service roads thrown in where you could really open it up.
Like I said, Frenchy was a strong, eager horse, so I kept two hands on the reins the whole day and didn't get photos. (Also, I discovered on Friday afternoon driving down that I'd forgotten to charge my camera battery. That, or I had charged it and the charge isn't holding anymore.) Sort of a shame, because the area is gorgeous. The areas we were going through still had patches of unmelted snow ("Scary," says Frenchy) and an interesting mix of high desert/low mountain foliage: junipers, prickly pears, oak trees, ocotillo, yucca, and lots and lots of other plants whose names I don't know.
Frenchy would like to take a moment to point out the extreme horse-eating-monster-ness of downed oak trees and stumps...of which there were plenty.
You know what else there were plenty of at this ride? Gates. Lots and lots of gates. However, when you are the shortest person riding the tallest horse and riding in the company of chivalrous men, you typically don't have to get off and get the gate. :) I'll admit it: The only time I got off Mr. Tall Thing, aside from the vet check, was to go under the highway underpass. Something to work on...but I wasn't confident in my ability to get back on him without a large rock or stump close at hand.
I was somewhat familiar with Sunday's trail, although the last time I had ridden it, the Arizona Trail was mostly running through washes and service roads compared to the beautiful, interesting single-track that now winds through the area. This ride -- this trail, this day -- was my first attempt at a 50-miler, 7 years ago, riding a friend's horse. It was also my first pull after the stirrup leather on the borrow saddle torqued my ankle around so badly as to leave me unable to actually put any weight on it, so I RO'd at the vet check. I'd not made it back to this ride since, and it's been one of my own personal challenges to come back and successfully complete this day.
One of my goals after the past couple of years hiatus had been to enjoy the ride this time around. In the past, I've gotten more hung up on finishing the ride and "getting it over with" in a way...I just wanted a successful completion...that I forgot the appreciate the whole process.
(Okay, not entirely sure how much I'm supposed to enjoy getting somewhat thrashed and battered the way I was feeling partway through Sunday...but just think, I could be sitting inside doing something like a crossword puzzle instead of out out enjoying perfect weather, good company, and a fun horse. Bruises fade...and in the meantime, make great war wounds stories.)
I feel really good about how much of the ride I was able to appreciate and enjoy along the way, even though Frenchy and I did have some disagreements about speed: He wanted to Go Faster and Tailgate. I preferred he Back Off and Watch His Feet. We compromised by leapfrogging who was in the lead off and on all day and that seemed to keep both of the horses happy.
In contrast to Saturday's multiple checks, Sunday had one out check. I did hop off and walk the loooong downhill into the check...a relief to get off and stretch at that point. Frenchy was already down by the time we reached the check, so we vetted through right away and grabbed a spot for them to start happily munching away on foodstuffs.
45 minutes for a hold passes way too fast, although I had plenty of time to refuel, rehydrate, and go visit the tall shrubbery. I did take an Aleve at this point, but that was it for the whole day. Back out after lunch, it's not too far before the big loop ends up rejoining the trail from the morning and starts heading back to camp. (And I reliably overshot the same turn to the highway underpass that I overshot while doing the LD on Mimi six years ago.)
Off Tall Thing to go through the highway underpass again, and successfully remounted on the other side off just a little ground berm without embarrassing myself or looking like a flopping platypus. The trail goes back though the same (scary) oak trees and the submerged cow tanks. Interesting concept...sink standard stock tanks into the ground so that only the top two o three inches of lip stick out. Supposedly this is to keep people from shooting them and draining the water? The horses were not fans of the concept...and I can't say I was either, since it ended up feeling like you were going to do a header into the water.
Then we had the evil fake-out loop that abruptly departed from the direct trail back to camp. Once you got past the, "Excuse-me-what-the-this-sucks" attitude of both horse and rider, it was a really fun little loop. Lots of single track, a chunk of it which traversed the same really fun single track from the previous day. Frenchy, who had typically slowed down earlier in the day when put in the lead, found a few extra gears and did quite a good job of leading through a lot of this section, including bravely cantering along in the lead through some really fun, twisty-turny, beautiful trail.
Advantage of this little loop was after a certain point, it was all repeat to anyone who had done the previous day. So I knew exactly where we were, that it wasn't that far back to camp, and I could survive one more downhill trot.
The horses wanted to race back into camp. We made them walk. Again, pulsed down and able to vet through right at the finish. Frenchy finished well, with mostly As. And Sunday's finish put me at 300 miles, which means I'm technically Tevis-qualified. (Not that I'm going to do anything with that yet...this year...)
We came in 15th...I think we were done around 2:30 or so. Both days of the weekend were definitely the fastest I've ridden, although I think the average moving speed was around 6.5mph on Saturday and 6.1 on Sunday. More thoughts of pacing and speed in another post.
Because home wasn't too far away (3 hr drive, approximately), Steph and I headed home that evening. I managed to pull everything out of her trailer, load it back into my suburban, drive home, and still have energy to start relating some of my weekend tales to my parents. And then I wanted a shower and bed.
And I woke up on Monday rather stiff and crunchy. But that's what I was used to feeling like after a one-day 50, so I'm pleased it took two days and two different horses, one of who was quite enthusiastic and vigorous in his movement and forward go-button (a lot like riding the pony on one of her extreme go-days, only 6 inches taller...), to make me feel that way. A couple of days of slathering arnica on my shins took care of the bruises, and I was back to walking normally after a few days.
All in all, an extremely successful weekend in which I hit major milestones, conquered some personal demons, and a good time was had by all.
Stay tuned for the always-popular "What Worked/What Didn't/Lessons Learned" post still to come.