Loop 1: 12 miles to the south across Hart Creek, to the Vet Check on Brown's Creek. Finneas and I start last of the 22 50-milers. He gets too competitive if he's got other horses in his sights, and since this is his first 50 of the year, I don't want him going fast and I don't want to fight with him. (Finneas is Connie's horse, but she isn't here to ride him because the poor gal had to go on a cruise up to Alaska. So she had me ride him.)
It's a cool, overcast day, just to our liking, with a good chance of showers in the forecast. We keep up a steady trot much of the way; the only thing that slows us down is the abundance of grass along the trail, which would be a sin for Finneas to pass up.
It's cool and breezy at the vet check, so our first hold is only 15 minutes. Then Finneas and I head out for the 25-mile Loop 2, going backwards. Steph and Rhett are riding up front in the correct direction to make sure the ribbons haven't been eaten by cows; and by riding this loop backwards, Finneas and I will check the Rock Corral trail I marked on foot, well before the riders going the correct way get there. That's where we are most afraid cows have sabotaged the trail markings.
Good thing we do, because the cows have, once again, eaten the turn ribbons at a hard-to-see trail. I put more out, and then we're able to move along faster. I have to pay attention to where we are going, since the ribbons are on my left and not always visible from my direction. I'm not sure exactly where the trail goes; so I bummed a map at the vet check to carry with me. I'd eventually find my way home if we got lost (and Finneas has a homing compass in his head)... but I don't want to spend our day wandering about trying to find the trail.
I am happy to note there is no hide nor hair of the Horny Jackass that attacked a friend's gelding last week and that I saw on the trail the same day. I don't know what Finneas would do with an attack donkey, but I sure don't want to be riding him if it happens.
In all my years of riding endurance, I can't recall riding an entire 50-mile ride alone. Finneas is a blast, willing and steady and not spooky (must be that part Thoroughbred or Appaloosa in him). Finneas does get a bit confused when we start meeting horses on the trail - especially Steph and Rhett in the lead. He is pretty sure, for a brief time, that we are going in the wrong direction and should be following them. After a dozen riders pass us, Finneas doesn't care anymore because he thinks he's going the correct direction and he's winning, and I don't disillusion him.
We meet a couple of riders at the old Crazy Woman Mine, where the grass is almost belly high, so we hang out for a spell so Finneas can mow some of it down.
It spits rain now and then, from the clouds playing hide and seek with the Owyhee Mountains. It's nice and cool and makes the day interesting. So far, no sign of thunderstorms (though I can't hear thunder), so I'm not nervous.
From the Crazy Woman Mine we follow a long stretch of cow trails/road to the lower part of the Brown's Creek drainage. Some ribbons have been pulled (or eaten by cows) so I have to keep an eye on the tracks on the ground to make sure we are going the correct way.
A water tub has been dumped - either by people or cows, which is a terrible shame because Finneas has not had a drink for 25 miles and he's now thirsty. Fortunately we are only a couple of miles from crossing Brown's Creek, and he's had so much grass along the trail, that I'm not too worried.
This really is God's country. It's amazing to ride by yourself far out here. It's spectacular. We wind in and out of washes, with cliffs and canyons dotting the landscape, and finally come into Brown's Creek where Finneas takes a long drag of water.
Refreshed, we climb up out of the canyon and onto a ridge, finally make a turn back towards the Brown's Creek vet check, on a road that seems to go on forever and ever. But the scenery is still awesome, the changing clouds are still fascinating, and there's plenty of grass for Finneas to snack on.
When we reach the vet check, to my surprise we aren't the last ones there. Finneas chows down on grain and hay and grass, while I stuff down the best hot dog I've ever eaten.
After our refreshing 40 minute hold, we start back home on Loop 3 - the same 12-mile trail we came out on. Finneas knows just where he is, and he cruises along. We start to play chase with the rain showers. Clouds are gathering with ferocity in the Owyhees, and dumping rain on random drainages and ridges. Up on the flats we get caught in one that spatters us with such stinging drops that Finneas is trying to trot sideways.
I'm trying to avoid worrying about the darkest clouds to our left because they just might be thunderstorms. I keep my eyes averted because I don't want to see lightning, and I'm babbling various tunes of "Good Boy!" to Finneas just in case there's thunder, which I would hear in this case because we are much too close to the storm.
I finally jump off to lead Finneas, both of our heads bowed against the raindrops, even while the sun hits us from one side. Finneas follows behind me to shield his eyeballs.
The shower passes (sans lightning and thunder!), and we both look like wet chickens. I climb back into a soggy saddle, but the bright sunshine quickly dries us off. I'm thinking we'll be home in an hour, plenty of time to beat that next wave of building clouds... but this wave is bigger, faster, and more ominous.
I refuse to believe there is any lightning or thunder in those clouds, and it won't matter anyway, because we're now on a ridge for a while - and instead I am mesmerized by the intensity of the storm that might hit us. We're going to get drenched, maybe blown off our feet. I look back from where we came and see streaks of a heavy downpour from blue-black clouds.
Finneas trots on unperturbed by the weather, and I just stare and marvel at this amazing country and land, still amazed that I'm lucky enough to be out here riding this horse in it.
We make it to our home canyon and drop down off the ridge just as the rain hits us - and the sunshine. We are wet and glistening at the same time.
The big black horse trots on in for a finish as the next storm begins building behind us.