Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Valley of the Sun Turkey Trot 50

A day late and a dollar short, or so the saying goes.  Well, this is more like six weeks late, and it's definitely not short...but here it is, as promised, my VotS Turkey Trot 50 ride story.  Enjoy, and as always, I love hearing your feedback.

Valley of the Sun Turkey Trot 50
November 21, 2009

In many parts of the country, November can mean snow flurries, cold rain, and generally unpleasant riding conditions. In the Southwest Region, and particularly in Arizona, November typically means bright sunshine, cold nights, and pleasantly warm days – perfect ride conditions.

A brief moment of background for those just coming in:

The players mentioned herein are myself, Ashley, and my father, Vern. Our mounts are, respectively, Skip Me Gold (“Mimi”) a 14hh, 16-year-old POA (Pony of the Americas) endurance pony mare, and Brahma PFF (“Beamer”) a 10-year-old Shagya Arabian gelding. Mimi and I are former show ring princesses…the pony who couldn’t cross a cavalletti without clunking, and the rider who was afraid to venture outside the enclosed arena. What a team…of what, I’m not quite sure. We spent seven years in the show ring, and the last seven embarking on various distance riding exploits.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

The VotS Turkey Trot offered two days of rides – a 50- or 75-miler on Saturday, and a 50-miler on Sunday. We chose to wrap up the season by doing the Saturday 50. One of the nice things about the VotS rides is that they’re held at McDowell Mountain Park, which is only about an hour’s drive from the barn. That means I have time in the morning to pack the coolers, finish packing the truck/trailer, and drive down to fetch ponies, all without having to get up at oh-dark-thirty in the morning. Very civilized.

Despite being so close to ridecamp, we still like to get there early. We left the barn around 10:00, late enough to avoid the worst of the traffic. We ended up detouring back to home to pick up a couple things inadvertently left off the packing list, and eventually pulled into ridecamp around 11:30…still one of the first dozen people to arrive.

Camp setup gets easier and easier as I continue to tweak the layout and arrangement of how I pack the truck and trailer, and we were set up within an hour. After that, we took the ponies for a walk, and grabbed our rider packets along the way. The vets had stepped out for a moment (apparently they have to eat lunch just like everyone else), so we used that time to stand the ponies in front of the water trough and convince them that pre-hydrating was a good idea.

The vets for the ride, Gene Nance and Rick Poteste, are both experienced, knowledgeable vets with the kind of miles and hours in the saddle I can only hope to some day achieve, and I was very happy to have them vetting the ride. They were both back in very short order, and we quickly vetted through, all As for both ponies.

We went back to the trailer, quickly tacked up, and headed out for a short stretch, stopping to socialize with several people along the way. Between this being the last ride of the season, as well as offering a 75-miler, a lot of people had shown up, and there were a lot of familiar faces milling about ridecamp. We eventually got out of camp and took a short ride up what has by now become the “infamous” sand wash of McDowell – a 2-mile-long stretch of deep sand that is the only way in and out of ridecamp, and that gets traversed four times over the course of a 50-mile ride (six times for the 75).

I suspected I might be in for an interested ride when I nearly got dumped on the way back after Mimi spooked, scooted, and tried to bolt at someone riding up behind us. *sigh* This, after falling off for the first time in several years the previous Sunday when she spooked at…a piece of cardboard next to the trail. Yeah, she’s fit, and definitely needed 50 miles to take the edge off. That’s the part nobody warns you about: there is a distinct correlation between their fitness level and their excitability level. My 16-year-old, formerly docile show pony was showing previous unheard of stores of energy, and seems to be regressing in age the more miles we get.

We did make it back to camp in one piece, and had plenty of time to untack the ponies and start throwing large amounts of food in front of their faces before the ride briefing and accompanying pizza dinner started. I used this time to further socialize, and to spend time touching base with Kirt and Gina Lander of Renegade Hoof Boots. We’ve been using the Renegades now for about four years, and in the past year, with Kirt’s guidance, have ventured into doing our own hoof trimming and maintenance.

As someone that is relatively new and self-admittedly inexperienced with trimming, it’s always nice to be able to get Kirt’s feedback on how we’re doing, something we’d be able to do later that evening.

Ride briefing did what it says on the tin, and was finished before the pizza even started to cool off. Then we headed back to the trailers to start packing things for the next day. There would be one check at the halfway point back in camp, which meant that I didn’t have to have the behemoth crew box packed, as everything would be there at the trailer. However, spending 25 miles out on a trail with very little by way of natural grazing (this is the desert in November, after all) meant that we needed to be carrying some pony sustenance in our saddle bags.

I had made up a batch of flax cookies, and divided up the pieces into Ziploc baggies…one bag for each of us for each loop. There were also the requisite carrot chunks, and Mimi’s pre-filled electrolyte syringes. Rider sustenance was also helpful, so I prepped the piles of energy bars, GU, and other little snacks that would suffice for out on trail.

In the meantime, I was also heating spaghetti for a second dinner with Kirt and Gina…more time to sit and catch up before doing some final hood work on the ponies. By the time everything was said and done for the evening, it was about 10:00 by the time I finally got to bed…a bit later than I prefer for a 4:30 wake-up.

The promised wake-up did indeed come at 4:30, and it was chilly enough inside the dressing room to encourage very quick dressing in several layers. Ponies got their breakfast while Dad and I got our breakfast coffee, and I engaged in my typical pre-ride ritual of seeing how long I can make one piece of toast last. The answer: ad infinitum, as I always end up throwing away at least the last ¼ of the piece when it’s time to go tack up.

Tacking up is the fastest part of our morning routine…boots on, splint boots on, saddle on, accoutrements (breastcollar, crupper), anything extra that needs to hang from the saddle, bridle, good to go. Last minute rider prep (no, don’t lock your keys in the dressing room, you’re going to need those to get back in…), and we were both in the saddle by 6:40, with plenty of time for a decent warm-up before the 7:00 ride start.

Ride start was a very long controlled start this time…the entire way up the 2-mile sand wash. It was very slow-going at times, but the enforced slow warm-up was nice, and I was supremely proud of how Mimi handled it. She can be fussy about being crowded , especially from behind, and has a tendency to lose her focus on the trail and worry about how close other horses might be. We were fortunate this time to be surrounded by experienced, courteous riders who gave us plenty of space and made navigating the most crowded part of the start much easier on all involved.

The trail was identical to February’s ride, and as I already when into extensive detail during that write-up, I’ll try to stick to the highlights this time around.

We made good time into the first water stop at around 10 miles. Took about 7 minutes there to let the ponies drink, for both of us to use the facilities (“hello, dense creosote bush…you’re just what I’ve been looking for”), e’lyte Mimi, and break out a couple flax cookies and some carrots. They munched gratefully – the flax cookies were a huge success.

Within a couple miles of the water trough, we got our space bubble for the ride, and would continue to maintain it for the rest of the time. From hereon in, we took turns leapfrogging who would lead and who would follow. There was another water stop at ~20 miles, and from there, it was another 5 miles back to camp, including the two miles back down the sand wash.

We met several 75-milers, as well as some of the Top Ten 50-milers, coming up the wash as we were heading in, but aside from having to watch for “oncoming traffic,” we were able to make good time heading back into camp. Back at camp, both ponies drank and pulsed down almost immediately. They both vetted through without a hitch, although I think I remember (six weeks later as I write this) a couple of Bs for each…most likely gut sounds for both, and gait and/or impulsion for the eggbeater pony.

The hold was for an hour, and both ponies set about to trying to rub the paint off the trailer from all their itching while I got lunch ready. The menu for the day: honey-barbeque roasted chicken lunchmeat slices, sliced fontina cheese, grapes, and bowls of the Never-ending Salad.

The one problem with back-at-camp checks: my comfortable chair is at the trailer, readily available for me to use, and I’m always reluctant to get up once I’m so comfortable. However, there were still things to do, so after indulging in 20 minutes of sitting and enjoying my lunch, I finished off the rest of the hold tasks: e’lyting both ponies, topping off water bottles and my Camelbak waist pack, restocking on pony and rider snacks, and reattaching the saddle accoutrements (removed for ease of pony “head to the ground to eat” maneuvers) – a compromise to full untacking, which is not my favorite thing unless absolutely necessary.

We were about five minutes late out of lunch, as the vet wanted to see Mimi trot under saddle before letting us go back out (Eggbeaters ‘R Us). Out of camp, and back into the sand wash, and the ponies’ lowest point of the day. Mimi decided this would be a good time to go potty…and procrastinate the inevitable of having to go up that *^#! wash again. Five minutes later, after dragging her feet and being peddled one step at a time, she finally found the perfect sandy spot and peed. Then the real fun began.

Both ponies had to be peddled, coaxed, encouraged, and nudged up the wash. Needless to say, this does not inspire rider confidence. Beamer hadn’t ate that well during lunch and he hadn’t had much to drink, either, causing some consternation on Dad’s part. We finally made it through the wash (we had given up on peddling partway through and were resigned to trudging) and onto solid trail, and lo and behold…lively ponies! They both shot out of that wash and offered up a springy, cheerful trot…*&#^ sandbaggers.

Almost immediately after getting on the trail, it crossed through a staging area with a large water trough. Mimi hustled over and drank, then Beamer made up for lost time. Thus fortified, we set off again, heading for the one significant hill climb of the whole ride. On the backside of the hill, we lost the breeze that had been keeping us cool, and thus lost much of our forward enthusiasm. Back to trudging.

We trudged up the hill, and finally reached the top of the ridgeline, where we were able to employ the “trot ten feet” strategy. It does work, and makes faster time than just straight walking. Mimi was still sandbagging, as she spooked at a bench on top of the ridge, nearly repeating the same move that had me on the ground the previous weekend.

Some of my sympathy vanished at this point, and for the next mile, insisted that we trot whenever it was feasible. Beamer, behind us at this point, had gone into “conserve mode,” obviously resigned to the fact that we actually were going to do the same trail from February, and he was in no hurry to get to those upcoming miles.

It was at this point I was feeling pretty swamped with overwhelming tiredness. I hadn’t slept well the previous night, waking up just about every hour, unable to get warm, and now it was catching up to me. I rummaged around for a caffeinated GU, which helped a bit, and at the water stop at the bottom of the hill, I hopped off and walked for a bit.

After the walking break, Dad and Beamer took the lead and set a smart pace, which helped wake all of us up, and once we got to the wider service road part of the trail, we broke things up by mixing in some stretches of cantering.

We saw a couple of the wild/semi-wild/loose ranch horses again…we’re 3/3 now for horse sightings while riding at McDowell.

The trail eventually looped back around to the second water stop from the first loop, where both ponies drank, then had to be peddled back out – a longer, more roundabout way around, versus the direct-to-camp way of loop one. Both ponies knew what was coming, and neither were thrilled, but they went.

It was seven miles back to camp at this point, and we could pretty much walk the whole way if needed. The ponies still had plenty left in the tanks, however, so we still stuck with the “trot when you can” tactic, breaking it up with stops every five minutes or so to let the ponies grab a clump of dry grass just off the trail. This grazing method really helped keep them perky on the way home, and probably contributed to keeping their gut sounds going. The flax cookies had been doled out earlier, and were gone by the last water stop, so it was nice to have something for them to munch, even if it was sparse.

It was nearing dusk by the time we left the last water stop, and we ended up riding the last five miles in the dark, which was actually great fun! I’ve ridden Mimi twice in the dark before, and Dad’s never had Beamer out in the dark. There was an almost-full moon, which helped, but no glowsticks. Fortunately, the five miles back in was all familiar trail, traversed earlier in the day.

The lack of light didn’t slow the ponies down one bit. One of my favorite parts of the ride was trotting through the final two miles of sand wash in the pitch black. Everything seems to be quieter and more muffled in the dark, and there’s this sense of isolation and peace, being out there almost entirely by yourself in the dark. I had one of those “moments” with Mimi at this point…the kind where I felt totally in sync with her, I knew I wasn’t interfering with her in any way, I couldn’t see but a foot in front of me, and I totally trusted her to find the trail and know the way home.

There were a couple of times where I attempted to direct her to what I thought was the trail, only to have her blow me off and keep going her own way. Curious…until I looked at where I had wanted to go and they were just dead-end little spurs off the main wash, or an odd gap in the bushes. Ah, so that’s why people say “just give them their head” when it comes to finding the trail in the dark. That served to further increase my confidence and trust in her as a smart trail pony.

We finished at about 6:15, and immediately vetted through. Beamer was back to all As, and Mimi had a couple of Bs – gut sounds and impulsion, if I remember correctly. Then we whisked them back to the trailer and tossed fleeces on them immediately, then untacked and unbooted them.

Another great ride in Renegades! I put them on in the morning, and only touched one of them at lunch to loop a tailpiece of Velcro back under its o-ring keeper. Her feet looked great – no rubs, and no twisting problems in the deep sand. While the vast majority of the trail is pretty smooth, there were some rocky sections I was glad to have the hoof protection, and I was super-glad to have the additional protection and shock absorption from the concussion of trotting on some pretty hard-packed trails. Beamer’s boots were great as well – on in the morning, off at the end, and I didn’t see Dad put one finger on them in between.

That wrapped up the ride season for us…150 miles for me and Mimi, 175 miles for Dad and Beamer…and all in Renegades.

We stayed overnight, despite home being so close, as both ponies are such good campers, and seeing it takes us a couple of hours to pack up, it would be close to 1:00 in the morning before we’d get home, so it was better all around to stay until the next day.

We eventually left camp Sunday…afternoon. Sunday morning was spent slowly packing up the trailer, and spending a good deal of time catching up with friends, comparing notes, and talking horses.

Good ride, friends, good ponies…a perfect way to wrap up the 2009 ride season. Onward to 2010!

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed reading your account of the ride. I don't know that I'll ever do an endurance ride, but I love reading about them. My girls and I like long casual trail rides.