Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Lessons Learned: Fire Mtn Edition

When I really sit down and think about it, two years seems like a long time to be out of the ride saddle. In a way, it's not -- I've not been totally removed from the environment, between volunteering for rides and working my job -- but enough time to get somewhat out of practice.

Growing up in the saddle served me well -- I have a lifetime of muscle memory for the saddle, which is probably what got me through the fact I wasn't exactly in tip-top ride shape. And while my riding muscles might not be super-tuned, I'm in the best overall shape I've ever been. The weight drop I've done over the past year and half made an enormous difference, and I felt like I had good stamina to keep trucking down the trail. There were a few moments of burning muscles and the sight of an endless stretch of trail in front of me that made me want to cave to my inner desire to just stop and rest...but I didn't. This was one of my most successful times in pushing past the discomfort and continuing on without being a hindrance to either my horse or my riding partner.

So, with that in mind, I offer up my bullet points of what worked, what didn't, and some random lessons and observations along the way.
  • Food: If nothing else, this ride just reconfirmed my belief that in reality, rides are just a really good excuse for me to eat. I did well the day before...although I could have done better with hydrating.
    • Ride day breakfast: My one and only "sticky" spot when it come to eating. I just flat out don't like to eat early in the morning, even here at home. That said, I managed quite well. Staying in a warm camper, where I'm shivering around every other bite, was probably a help. I managed: a hard-boiled egg, a banana, yogurt, and coffee.
    • Ride day lunch: The only thing that kept me from hoovering more at lunch was the fact it was only a half hour hold. That said, I still managed: a salami-cheese-spicy mustard sandwich, tapioca pudding, Kerns nectar, coconut water, a few chips.
    • During the ride: Food fail. I could have done a lot better, since there is apparently a direct correlations between the faster I go, the less I eat. Obviously, multitasking is not a strength, at least when it comes to trotting along, digging through saddle packs to find out what I have to munch. The fact that it was a 30, and that I had a good breakfast and lunch, probably helped. I managed: apple-banana sauce, one pack of energy blocks, a chewy granola bar, Succeed Amino sports drink, water.
  • Meds: I only took two Aleve halfway through the first loop. True confessions: While I'd like to chalk all of that up to just feeling that good...fact is, I lost the little pack I use as the "mini medicine cabinet." I can only conclude that when I stuffed it back into my pack after digging it out the first time, it either didn't go where I thought it went, or somehow bounced out along the way. Of course, I didn't discover this until I went hunting for it on the second loop. My saving grace was the fact I had my electrolytes in a separate little baggie, so they were still in my pack. Taking those regularly seemed to help a great deal as well. I took two Aleve before bed that night, and then that was it for pain meds for the rest of the weekend. Lots of getting up, moving around, up and down steps in and out of the camper kept me from getting too tight.
  • Stirrup buckles: Well, those were a no-go. The sorest part of me was the thigh area right where the stirrup buckle hits. On my saddle, the stirrup bars aren't recessed, which means the bars of the saddle don't curve inward and create pressure points on the horse. The problem is, it creates pressure points for the rider. I switched back to the Wintec Webbers once I got home and covered them in fleece covers...I think that'll work. The fleece makes them a little more stable.
  • Stirrups: I'm still not a happy camper in the stirrup department. I went back to my old EZ-Ride stirrups for this ride...although I popped the cages off of them. They worked...although I still don't love them...and they make a really annoying squeaking sound if the side of my Terrains rubs against them when trotting or cantering. I wasn't comfortable using the Flex-Rides, especially riding in my Terrains, since they're narrow enough to catch my foot if I bounce or let my foot slip too far forward. They're super-light, but what I've learned bout super-light stirrups: they don't weigh themselves down enough. And I hadn't ridden enough in the composite irons I'd been testing to be comfortable doing a ride in them. And I suspect I'll have the same problem with them being too light. Verdict: Stick with what I know mostly works, for now.
  • Southern California high desert is different than my desert. It's much, much drier. To the point where I actually experienced the dried and cracked knuckles effect. (Ouch.) Aquaphor Healing Ointment is a good thing and has since been added to my supply list.
  • I have to resign myself to the fact that the minimalist approach and I are never going to get along. Specifically, I'm referring to saddle packs. "Pack mule" is probably the best descriptor. This ride, I had front pommel packs with water bottle holders, plus a rear boot bag. I should have used the second rear boot bag as well. I ended up with too much stuff crammed in my packs, so I had a hard time knowing what I had in terms of food, and had to dig too hard to find stuff. And for a 50, I'll either need to add rear packs for more water, or carry a Camelbak.
  • The buddy system is still the best way to get through a ride, preferably a buddy you really enjoy spending time with, and can giggle like a couple of hysterical loons through the boring or tough parts.
  • I got a hands-on lesson in outside-the-box Renegade fit and function. Kody wears his pastern straps even longer than recommended: a good 3-4 fingers under the strap. The standard 2 fingers makes the strap too tight for his long pasterns. A case in point of "YMMV" (Your Mileage May Vary) when it comes to boots, and another tool added to my recommendations arsenal.
  • I didn't end up using my newer Ariats yet. Again, I haven't put in the kind of conditioning miles with them to know whether they're work for sure or not, and they're snug-fitting enough (at least at this point) for me to suspect they'll be better summer boots and probably too snug with thicker winter socks. So, the old standby Terrains got pressed into service yet again.
I think that about covers it...for now...at least until the next ride.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Review: Crazy Legs Tights

I have another favorite source for my riding tights.

Last year, I started buying my tights from Crazy Legs Tights. Owner/designer Diane Stevens is an endurance rider, so she knows exactly what makes for good tights for distance riding.

I got my first pairs last fall and wrote about my initial impressions here. I still stand by that early review: the craftsmanship is excellent, with superb attention to details like making sure seams are as smooth as possible, and gripper elastic around the ankles that actually grips.

I got another pair just before the Fire Mountain ride, specifically designed as more of a winter-weight tight. Living in Arizona, I don't have much call for "true" winter riding tights. Riding at a distance pace, there is enough body heat generated that thick, fleece-lined riding tights will turn into a toaster oven in short order. But there are enough times where thin lycra just won't cut it, no matter if you're wearing half chaps and multiple layers on top.

Enter creative Diane and her array of custom options. After brainstorming back and forth a few times, she offered up a new performance fabric she had found: a matte lycra top with a brushed lining...not thick enough to be called fleece, but definitely more substantial than standard tights material.

They were exactly what I was looking for.

showing off the latest pair of Crazy Legs
And how's this for attention to detail? She even lined the printed lycra side stripe with a slightly lighter weight version of the same performance material, both to insulate the thin lycra as well as keep the tights the same thickness all around.

I'd been really happy with how my previous pairs had been holding up to the casual use I'd been giving them...but there's nothing like an actual ride to put them to the test. 30 miles in Ridgecrest, all three gaits, and they were awesome. The weight of the performance fabric was perfect, and even as it warmed up in the middle of the day, I didn't feel the need to change at the lunch hold and I never got overheated, even doing the death march slog up some of the afternoon climbs.

Of the four pairs I have, my favorites are the matte black lycra with the orange floral side stripe.

Also put to use at Fire Mtn: Friday's pre-ride
The two pairs of printed lycra are super-comfy and super-lightweight...they will be excellent for AZ summers. The fabric itself is a little slick in the saddle, but I do ride in a full sheepskin and with half chaps, so that tends to minimize the slippage effect.

Those are the tights. Let's talk about getting them. As mentioned, owner/designer Diane Stevens offers up a ton of custom options. If you can imagine it, she is usually able to try her hand at making it. Knee patches, no knee patches. Padding wherever. Different widths of side stripes. Custom sizing.

And a plethora of fabric options. There are options listed on the website, but if you either check Crazy Legs' Facebook page or contact Diane directly, she will probably have even more choices to offer. (I've got my eye on one of the really funky patterned fabrics she recently put up as my next pair.)

It always makes me happy to support a small business, especially one that offers a product I like so much!

So, in short, I love my Crazy Legs Tights! If you've got some pairs of tights that are starting to look tired, start the 2013 ride season off with a new pair of Crazy Legs! (And tell Diane I sent you.)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Ride Story: Back in the (Ride) Saddle: Fire Mountain 30

After not doing a ride for roughly 2 years (January 2011), and with somewhat negligible saddle time over the past six months, I survived the Fire Mountain 30 this past weekend. Actually, more than survived: I had a blast!

I got an invitation to come ride from friend Kaity, who is working with a mentally-young greenie this spring. It would be said greenie's first ride, and would I be interested in coming out to ride her seasoned endurance horse Kody and act as a chaperone/babysitter?

I had to think about that one for all of two seconds. I shoved aside that annoying little voice that reminded me of how little saddle time I've had over the past six months, and what time I've had has not been high intensity distance training. Shut up, little voice. I capitalized on the fact I am still somewhat young and stretchy, and bounce back quickly. That, and a few Aleve tucked into the saddle pack.

My trip started on Thursday, driving out to Kaity's house in the Southern California high desert. It's about a 6-hour drive and it passed uneventfully. (File that away for later.) I-10 isn't my favorite drive, since it's 1) boring and 2) a main thoroughfare for big rigs, which aren't my favorite thing to share the road space with in areas that are only two lanes in each direction. Ah, well. At least I wasn't hauling a trailer.

Thursday afternoon was spent packing and food shopping, since both Kaity and I view endurance rides as a really good excuse to eat.

Fire Mountain was being held in Ridgecrest, so during the drive up, I got an overview of the rides in the area, and major highlights and landmarks pointed out to me, including areas covered by Death Valley Encounter and 20 Mule Team. (And since the plan is for me to crew 20MT at the end of next month, I got to preview proposed crew spots...in daylight!)

I got really spoiled over this ride weekend with the chance to sleep in luxury: Kaity's friends had brought their camper for us to stay in. Bathroom, running water, fridge, HEAT!!! That was most excellent and greatly appreciated.

We went out for a pre-ride Friday afternoon, where I got my first riding introduction to Kody. I've known and seen photos of this horse since Kaity got him as a fuzzy little baby. He's 9 this year and has grown up into a really nice horse. Kaity has done a wonderful job of training him and he was an absolute delight to ride all weekend. Soft, responsive, no pull, no spook.

I'm going to try a slightly different approach and go with a picture story this time. Enjoy!

And a shout-out: My tights in the photos were made by my friend Diane Stevens of Crazy Legs Tights. I wrote an earlier initial review on them, but this is the first true ride test I've put them through and I couldn't be more thrilled. A proper review in a separate post to follow.

Post Friday pre-ride, getting tack all sorted out and ready for the morning.
Saturday morning. Kody is definitely more awake and ready to go than me.
Start time was 7AM...for a 30. That was early.

Heading out on the first loop. Kaity and Ani's golden halo.
We left at the back of the pack, stayed there all day, and the greenie did very well.

Rock garden. Or rock nursery, whichever you prefer.
The first loop went through, around, and back through this. Very fun.

It's maybe 30 minutes into the first loop and I'm riding along  one-handed,
with a loose rein. I think I'm revealing my show ring background in this one.
(And the blue and Renegade orange don't look half bad together.)

First climb of the day completed. Kody isn't sure about this
"follow along behind the greenie" business.

Dueling cameras.

Obligatory "pause and gawp" at the desert scenery.

Long stretch of endless desert. Excellent for speed work.
Just don't think too hard about the fact the horizon line isn't getting any closer.

Looking back the way we came.
Ridecamp is *way* down there at the edge of where civilization begins.
It was a deceptively long, slow, gradual climb to this point.

It's not a ride without ear tip pics! Kody has really
cute ears that are very engaged and tuned in to
his rider.

Nomming hay at a water stop. Lots of water and alfalfa everywhere at this ride.

Kody has a great little downhill "dib-dib-dib" gait.
Pretty sure he's displaying it here. Really easy to ride
and covers ground without flying too fast.
Heading back in one loop one for our lunch hold.

Back out again on loop two. The nice trail of the
earlier loop deteriorated somewhat on this loop.
Kody had front boots only, and Ani went 30 miles barefoot. 

Big climb to the top of some mining roads. And what goes up...
must also come down. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The mine climb. Kody suggested this might be a good place
for a carrot stop. Since he hauled my butt up, who was I
to argue with him?

And back down the other side. Some really fun twisty canyons
and interesting trails through this section.

Once through the rough stuff, there were some
sections we were able to make some time.
I had my "quintessential endurance experience" here,
cantering through the desert.

That was the last of the photos of the day: We had to really make time on that second loop and I don't quite have the art of "speed trotting and cantering on a strange horse while taking photos" down yet.

Day two, Kaity rode Kody on the 50 while I stayed with Ani in camp. Ani got to experience "buddy leaves and comes back" multiple times and he held it together well. Taking him for multiple walks around camp helped.

Sunday morning.
Sunrise on the Sierras.
Ani is wondering why Kody got to go again.

Kaity and Kody trot out during their second hold vet check.

Kody doing what Kody does best.

Heading out on loop three.

Finished and looking great!
Another 50 miles in the bag for Kaity and Kody.

Since Ridgecrest is only about an hour and half away from Kaity's, we did decide to head back to her place that evening. Something about me having to head back on Monday, work the rest of the week, et cetera.

(Although the really awesome thing was this was in part a work trip: When I wasn't riding, I was available as a Renegade rep, and ended up meeting with several people over the course of the weekend. Way fun, and I'm finding out just how much I'm enjoying expanding my network and meeting new people. Plus it's always awesome to get to chat with like-minded horse people and pick the brains of endurance people with waaaaayyyyyyy more experience than myself.)

And Kody rode in Renegades all weekend. No problems whatsoever. He's an example of how you don't always go by the book: His long pasterns require much more clearance on the pastern strap than the standard two fingers. But that's what works for him and the boots stay on.

Completion awards for the weekend:

I think wine glasses are an awesome idea. I love my ride t-shirts, but I'm liking this idea of expanding the awards repertoire even more. After all, you can only wear one t-shirt at a time. Although technically I guess you could wear a long-sleeved shirt, with a short sleeve over it (or under, depending on fit) and a sweatshirt over the whole thing. And a hat on top. Then carry a wine glass in one hand, and a coffee mug in the other, with a water bottle stuffed in a pocket and a bucket hanging from your arm. And a halter on your horse. And blanket. And sit in a chair.

Okay, stopping now.

Anyway, I wasn't in too much of a hurry to head out of there. If I left too early, I would probably run into SoCal rush hour down the hill in the great freeway jumble. And if I left at a semi-reasonable hour, I would hit Phoenix rush hour. So it was about 1pm by the time I found myself reluctantly pulling out of Kaity's driveway. (We've known each other since we were young teenagers -- we used to show in POA together [read: against each other] and then did NATRC, and then endurance -- and we really don't get to see each other nearly enough. Truly amazing good friends are hard to come by, and she's one of them.)

The trip back started out equally uneventful. I was making really good time, traffic wasn't too bad, and the audiobook was being a sufficient boredom buster.

And the all havoc broke loose.

I'd noticed the suburban had been a little twitchy in its handling for the last half an hour or so. I chalked it up to the fact it is 14 years old and has over 202,000 miles on it. I would have been surprised if a long road trip like this hadn't caused a few new rattles and rumbles.

So I'm clipping along at 75mph...roughly an hour and half outside of Phoenix at this point...not too far off from Tonopah...and I hear the most horrendous banging noise coming from the rear end of the 'burb. It sounded like something exploded back there. Simultaneously, the rear end started wobbling...fortunately, it's a heavy enough vehicle that it takes a lot to make it truly fishtail. 

Unfortunately for me, I was in the far left lane at that point, since I'd just passed a line of semis. Fortunately, there was a little shoulder plus a wide dirt median right there, safe enough for me to at least get out of traffic.

My first thought was something mechanical, that the rear end had fallen off, or I'd dropped the transmission or something equally horrible.

Not quite.

Just the most epic tire blowout I've ever seen on a passenger vehicle.

Want to know what 10-ply, Class E tires look like when they blow?


At that point, the tread was still attached. It was still daylight, although I was rapidly losing the light, and I was at a place on the highway where I could see back several miles. I was able to wait until there was a huge gap in traffic, thump-thump-thump my way across two lanes, and pull way over onto the right shoulder...at which point, the tread completely came off (in one piece) and lay neatly next to the (very) flat tire.

I probably turned the air around me blue from my mouth in the next few minutes as I went through the thought process of:

- I can change it. 
- I've never changed a tire.
- It'll be okay, I think I can manage it.
- Where do I place the jack?
- I'm losing the light.
- Changing a tire on the side of the highway in the middle of nowhere as a young woman, completely alone, is a dumb idea.
- This is the first flat the Burb has ever had on the road. 
- The spare tire has never been used. In 14 years. I've never aired it up, either.
- *$#%*#&@$*&%&!!!!!!!!!!!

Long story short, I do have ER roadside assistance through my car insurance. I made use of it, as well as my tax dollars by calling DPS out there. Roadside assistance aired up the spare, changed the tire, packed up my oversized souvenir, and sent me on my way. The whole thing took about two hours...which isn't bad, considering just how out in the middle of nowhere I was.

I missed Phoenix rush hour traffic. :)

I still have no idea why the tire blew. They are 60,000-mile tires with about 34,000 miles on them, and in the last month, have had two different tire places have occasion to see them and have them deemed "looking good!"

So who knows.

It's not a road trip without some kind of adventure...and I'm going to learn how to change a tire.

Next time: Let's discuss the ever-popular "Lessons Learned" and what did/didn't work. Also, how my pony managed to pick the one weekend I was gone to injure herself. (Nothing too serious, fortunately.)

And Saturday's completion netted me my first LD mileage patch for 250 miles. :)

Friday, January 11, 2013

Winter, or Something Like It

Weekend Forecast

Updated: Jan 11, 2013, 3:10pm MST

TonightJan 11

52°FObserved High2:05 pm
WSW at 6 mph

SatJan 12

Partly Cloudy
Partly Cloudy
SSW at 6 mph

SunJan 13

N at 4 mph

Would you look at that. Something resembling winter, here in Arizona.

(Gotta love it: We heard all about how 2012 was a record year for heat, nationwide...but somehow, that turned into winter storms apparently being "so bad" that they are deserving of their own names. I'm starting to think the media isn't happy unless there is drama occurring...and if none if forthcoming, they take something ordinary and spin it into drama.)

I know everyone currently buried under a couple feet of snow (or rain and slop) are probably brandishing snow shovels at me as I write this...but to a native desert rat, anything below 60* is practically arctic. 

It's all in what you're used to...conversely, this means I can stand around in the full sun in the middle of the day at Tevis and not completely wilt.

Yes, I'm more of a summer girl. I take better care of myself in the heat: You have no choice but to drink, and take electrolytes, and try not to be too stupid in the heat of the day. In the winter, I do a rotten job of taking care of myself. I know I don't hydrate well enough. Funny enough, my pony has the same problem. (We liked warmer weather rides better than cold, winter-time rides.)

Oh well. I did finally break down and get some winter riding tights, anticipating needed them for some upcoming ride plans. Never thought I'd end up needing them for around here!

Yes, I said upcoming ride plans.

I'm going to a ride next weekend!!! As in, to ride. Not just show up to volunteer, not just for work...but I get to ride again! More details forthcoming...probably after the ride...but I'll be riding a friend's experienced endurance horse as a "babysitter" for the greenie she's currently training who will be doing his first ride.

It's the Fire Mountain ride in Ridgecrest, CA. I'm quite excited about it also being my first out-of-state endurance ride. I did quite a bit of out-of-state travel for NATRC rides, but not for any endurance. (Tevis doesn't count, since it's crewing, for one...and two, it's TEVIS. Nothing else is anything like Tevis.) It'll be curious to see differences in regions, as well as a different kind of desert.

Apparently this ride can be notorious for bad weather...I've been stalking the 10-day forecast with bated breath. As of right now, they're calling for highs in the mid-60s and lows in the mid-30s for the Fri-Sat-Sun I'll be there. Perfect! And more importantly: 0% chance of rain! (I've decided I can actually handle snow better than I can cold rain. But my preference is neither.)

This'll be my weekend to dig out all of my ride stuff...put my saddle back into "ride shape" (including excavating the contents of my saddle packs...ugh)...find all of my cold-n-wet-weather clothing I have (just in case)...shopping for favorite ride snacks. I also have to finish sewing "stay put" straps onto my saddle pad that likes to migrate. (When it doubt, always order saddle pads with billet straps or some kind of attachment strings...)

Just...don't tell my pony my plans. She considers me riding any other horse other than her some form of cheating and she gets quite pissy. If she learns I'm doing an actual ride...well, there'll be no living with her. (At least until I bribe her with a peppermint. Then all is forgiven.)

Monday, January 7, 2013

the buzz from Bumble Bee

(That was horrible. I apologize for starting the new year off with cheesy, punny post titles.)

I had a blast at the "Lead, Follow or Get Out of My Way at Bumble Bee Ranch" ride (henceforth referred to as the Bumble Bee ride) this weekend. Attending rides is the absolute highlight of my job -- I love interacting with riders and had such a great time meeting so many new people this weekend, or finally putting faces with names of folks I've either spoken to over the phone or emailed.

Bumble Bee was a new ride, put together by the same management team that does the "Lead, Follow or Get Out of My Way" ride at McDowell Mountain Park in November. I hope Bumble Bee becomes an annual event, because it's an absolutely gorgeous location with a great basecamp and, from the little bits I saw along the way and based on what I heard from riders, fantastic, beautiful trails.

Friday was my "work" day, being available as a Renegade rep to answer any questions people might have had, check boot fit, make boot adjustments...pretty much anything that pertained to Renegades.

Saturday I was volunteering, which started with me heading out at 0-dark-thirty, navigating via headlights over a 4-wheel-drive road to man a gate that riders would be passing through fairly early on into the ride (within half an hour of the start...not the time to be getting off and wrangling a combo of a gate + fresh horse). I like doing gate work -- it's fun to say hi to all the riders and watch them pass by.

After gate duty, I went scuttling back to camp to start my job as one of the Master Timers. This is the third ride I've had that job, and I really like being in the thick of all of the vet check action. Plus, my organized little brain actually enjoys tracking all of the data. Weird, I know.

(I think my ride stories are probably more interesting than volunteer stories...there's a lot more drama and entertainment as soon as the four-hooved factor gets added in.)

All in all, it was a really fun weekend. I'm really enjoying still being able to go to rides and socialize and reconnect with all my endurance buddies.

Slacker photographer-r-us this weekend, but I got a few pretty pics of ridecamp and such.

The pavilion where dinner and ride meeting was held.
The bucket in the foreground was the P&R area.
The sign really says it all...

Gate duty Saturday AM. Killing time between riders,
jumping up and down trying to keep warm in 30*.
Driving in to ridecamp late Friday morning.
Yes, this is still Arizona.
At least it didn't involve rain or snow.
Sunrise Saturday AM. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

How to Start 2013

My morning: Wake up. Realize the forecasters were right and it did get below freezing overnight. Annual reminder of just how cold 29* really is. Realize that there is no way the pony will be happy to get out in this weather. Luxuriate around the house until noon time, the sun is bright, and it is over 50* out. Then go down to the barn.

A horse friend once shared one of her superstitions with me: "Whatever you do on New Year's Day is what you'll spend a lot of time doing the rest of the year."

Read between the lines: Any excuse is a good one to saddle up and ride, right? For years, we had a tradition of riding on New Year's Day, with a potluck gathering at the trailhead with friends afterwards.

Maybe it wasn't the long-ride-and-expansive-spread of yore, but I did ride today.

And I've got the tights to prove it:

Full-seat tights. Great for bareback riding.
Not so great for staying clean.
I've been taking it pretty easy with the pony, sticking with just bareback for now in an attempt to ascertain whether or not my saddle is the cause of her mysterious, tripping-out-on-one-hind-leg incidents that have been occurring since late summer-ish. 

Always happy to get out, even if it's a short ride.

And I came bearing the last of the seasonal treats: leftover peppermints from some of my holiday baking. Mimi loves peppermints. They're probably her favorite treat ever. Just a crinkle of the plastic wrapper and she will mug you endlessly.

Peppermint kisses!!!

"More peppermints for the cute pony, please?"
I love this pony. It's hard to believe she's going to be 20 years old this year.

Herding me back out to the pasture.

Looking forward to a bright 2013 with some new and exciting adventures on the horizon!

Pony Luv!!!