Washoe Valley 2007
The best ride stories are the ones where everything goes horribly wrong right from the start. Unfortunately for you, this isn't one of those stories. Nothing really went wrong until the very last half-mile, and even that wasn't that bad (the effects just lingered longer than I anticipated).
(Click on photos to see larger image)
Going to rides once the weather warms up is much easier, preparation-wise. The prospect of trying to figure out how to wash a pone when it's cold is never a good one - either the pone will hate you, or it'll shiver pathetically for an hour and you'll worry about putting it in the trailer wet, or you'll try and wash it on Thursday, knowing it'll do its best to roll in as much mud as possible.
Warm weather: much better. Load up the horse feed, hay, and water during the previous week, so come Friday morning all that's left to deal with is Lucy clothes, people food, and pone washing - which gets done last, so that said pone gets maximum amount of time to eat and digest his breakfast in peace. I've even got it down to the stage where I figured out to wash the pone, hang him on the trailer to dry while I run in and shower off all the transferred-crud so the pair of us are both clean and fluffy ready for the journey.
I know that this preparation will take hardly any time at all and that I'll be ready to go by 10 am... which I why I'm never ready to go before noon, bundling myself into the truck, stuffing breakfast in my mouth while negotiating my driveway.
Washoe Lake is about two and half hours away - an easy drive up I-80 over Donner Summit (at least, "easy" so long as there's no snow forecast). It's about 30 minutes south of Reno, nestled at ~5000' at the foot of the steep east side of the Sierra in the shadow of 9600' Slide Mountain. It's an excellent spot for a ride - snow-capped mountains to the west with the lake below; sage-brush stippled desert mountains to the east.
Ridecamp was at the equestrian area of Washoe Lake State Park - this is a series of loop dirt roads that you have to parallel park along, so the effect is of tunnels of horse rigs. Not a tremendous amount of space, but we all fitted in. Roo and I managed to grab a nice spot not too far away from the vet area, but far enough away from the start that I wouldn't have to play "tack-up the moving target" in the morning.
Vetting was supposed to start at ~3 pm, but the vets were evidently held up, so a long line started to develop. I suspect most of these people were just using it as an excuse to graze their horses on the grassy strip next to the vet area, but in any case, Jamie Kerr who was riding volunteered to step in and start vetting people in the interim.
Roo vetted with a B on gut sounds, but was otherwise looking good. Interestingly he stayed at B on gut sounds all weekend, so whether this is "just him" I don't know. Either way, I was very careful the entire weekend to make sure he was properly fuelled and by then end began to feel rather like a chef producing dish after dish to tempt Sir's palate only to have him turn his nose up because it wasn't "special enough".
EZ Boots - When my farrier came on Tuesday, the first thing he said when I told him which ride I was going to was "Do you want pads?" <gulp>.
I'm not a fan of pads - I've never used them on a horse I've been competing on - it seems that when I see shoes that have fallen off, most of the time they have pads attached to them, so I opted instead to go with EZ boots over shoes. Despite being toed-in, Roo travels pretty cleanly and although he doesn't always wear EZ boots, I've trained with them some and knew they worked OK for him. Trouble was, on Friday when I came to put them on him, I realised that he'd practically gone through the toes on the pair I'd intended to use for the next 100 miles. Hmm. A quick trip to the omnipresent Henry at Griffin's Tack produced two brand new size 0 boots (luckily Roo doesn't wear 1s, since he didn't have any of those) which I immediately set about butchering - cutting the backs out of the boots, and the heel-straps down by at least half. Doing this with a pair of kitchen scissors worked OK, but I wasn't able to smoosh the teeth on the sides with my pliers, so left them sticking out. My Phillips screwdriver that lives in my trailer was MIA, so I couldn't tighten the screws which worried me a little until later that night when I talked to Patrick on the phone and he reminded me that the Leatherman I always carry in my saddle had a Phillips screwdriver on it, so I was able to squat next to Roo in the dark with my LED headlight, and get them all nice and tight.
Saturday - Getting Ready
The ride started at 6:30, so I dragged myself out of bed at 5:15. I am not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination and usually sleep like a dead person, so I try to ask someone camped next to me to make sure I'm awake the following morning. My cell phone has an alarm clock on it, but luckily I seem to have developed a "wake up once an hour" tendency at rides, which means I'm conscious by the time it goes off with it's cheery morning fanfare.
Having learned my lesson at previous rides, the first thing I did was put on Roo's splint boots. He doesn't interfere, but wearing EZ boots they are good insurance against him whacking himself and getting pulled for some minor, avoidable lameness. Attaching these to his legs once the early birds start going past warming up their horses can be result in a lot of bad language, so I'm sure to put them on before I do anything else.
As it turns out, stumbling out into the early morning light, I was just congratulating myself that I'd gotten up at the same time as top-ten rider Chuck Mather who was parked opposite - until he went around the back of his trailer and produced a fully-tacked up and ready-to-go George. So much for that. Chuck and George disappeared into the sagebrush to limber up, leaving a rather worried Roo to peer after them, wondering where they were going and why.
The previous afternoon, I'd spotted Peggy Eaton vetting her Dakota (Peggy got a bit carried away putting LSD base on Dakota in 2005 and won the LD national distance championship with him) and asked if she wanted to ride with us. She was also planning on doing both days, so it seemed like a good combination. They were due to start taking numbers at about 6:20, which is when Peggy and Dakota appeared at my trailer - and I was actually more or less ready. Hopped on, using the handy mounting-block rock (I told you I got a good parking spot) and off we went.
Except at this point I realised that I hadn't got my pad on straight - the gullet of the pad wasn't lining up with the gullet of the saddle, causing the whole thing to be squiff and no amount of wriggling and twisting in the saddle would fix it. Uh oh. I managed to jump off in the warm-up area, loosen his cinch, re-settle the pad, get his cinch back tight again and scramble back on from a handy post - all just seconds before the ride started. Awk.
Roo isn't a bad horse to start rides on, but he can be a little too filled with happy feet, which was the case this morning. He alternated between little rears and bucks while I clutched my hunk of mane as we followed the controlled start up a nice sturdy hill thoughtfully placed at the beginning of the ride.
At about two miles in, we slithered down a steep hill, passing Gretchen Montgomery on foot towing Raffiq, and her friend Margaret Wood who was doing her first 50 with Spice. True to tradition, Spice tried to kick Roo when we scrunched up a little too close (Spice tried this when I was riding Zini with her during Gold Country in 2005, so it's obviously traditional). More about Gretchen and Spice on Sunday.
Everything seemed to be going swimmingly until I happened to notice one of Dakota's Bosana boots go spiralling off his foot. Although Peggy said she'd never had a problem with them coming off before, apparently because he was a bit long there wasn't enough shoe poking out the back of his foot to hook the boot onto. We pulled over into the brush and Dakota stood obligingly while Peggy wrestled the boot back on again as what seemed to be the entire 101-pack passed us.
Off we went again and managed another mile at a speedy trot before I glanced down and saw the stupid boot was missing again <grrr>. We turned and went back and were pleased to meet Dave Rabe coming along with the errant boot. At this point, Peggy decided to abandon the boot idea, since it was clear they weren't going to stay, so she pulled the other one off and tied them to her saddle, and off we went again, opting to go slowly over any rocks (easier said, than done).
At about eight miles, we came across a water trough with a big long line of horses around it. I was wearing far too many clothes (sun-shirt, sweatshirt, fleece vest) and beginning to bake so was pleased to see Joe Larkin and Gene Myers playing crew, so we could off-load our extra junk on them. Roo shoved his way to the water and drank deeply - which, to my delight, he'd continue to do for the rest of the weekend.
Two miles further on, we found a pond (Roo drank); then less than a mile, another cattle trough (alarming because of the gushing water, but worth drinking); then less than another mile, another pond (more drinking). He peed three times on this loop, and then again as soon as we got back to the trailer, so I would guess he was well hydrated. We clambered through a narrow rocky canyon (not so much a trail, as a creek bed) before finally getting to a water/hay stop up at the top of the grade at the Old Reservoir. Thinking on Roo's "B" for gut sounds, we stopped for nearly 15 minutes, letting them eat hay, as well as the baggy of LMF that I'd brought along on the saddle.
The second half of this loop was interesting - we rode along a dirt road, high above the lake until we came upon the three infamous "SOBs". I'd heard about these through descriptions of Virginia City 100 (which shares this section of trail) - do you get off and risk slipping over and sliding down on your back, still holding tight to the reins and hope the horse doesn't fall on you? or do you stay on top and rely on the fact that your horse has four legs? We went for the four-legged option and pretty soon Roo figured out that switch-backing back and forth across the road was the best bet. Smart pony. He wasn't terribly keen trudging up the other side, but did it with the good humour he displayed throughout the entire weekend.
The rest of the loop was a trot-shuffle-trot down a rocky dirt road back to the valley floor. At one exciting moment, Dakota spooked a rattlesnake that was trying to get out of the way, which woke us up.
There was an hour hold for lunch at the end of this first loop, and I took Roo back to his trailer to take his clothes off and let him munch a little before going back to the vet. The vetting was uneventful and we retired back to our trailer again to finish eating. Roo did much better than I - I didn't really feel like eating much, but forced down an Ensure, some bits of cheese and ham.
For some reason I thought Loop 2 was going to be easier. It certainly started out promisingly enough with a brisk trot across the flat sagebrush to the north of camp. We slowed for some "deep sand" before pausing at the water trough (come on, we'd come a couple of miles by then - it was definitely time to drink again). As we crossed the road, we met some of the top ten riders coming back in having already finished this next 20 mile loop.
The rest of this loop took us into sand-dune city - up and down we went in the sand - sometimes it was like riding in marshmallow - the horses were sinking past their fetlocks. We didn't have much choice but to go really slowly. At one point we came to a very steep short section where the trail sort of went straight up through the bushes. Roo got about a third of the way up and stopped to puff. Then he went another 10', and stopped to puff again, another 10' and stopped - only this time he didn't go again. I got off and tailed him up the rest of the way (still stopping every 20' or so - thank goodness - by then I was puffing as badly as he'd been). At the top we stopped for a few minutes to catch our breath. A hill horse he isn't... in fact, he's disturbingly close to my own mindset when it comes to overexerting himself ("Gah, why should we make such an effort to get up *this*??").
Half-way around the loop, having seen no-one for hours, we came upon the water stop and I nestled down in the hay pile at Roo's head to ease my back, while he enjoyed refuelling himself.
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