Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Best Boys Ever

Wednesday August 30 2006

I just love my boys – we have the best forest service horses! Yesterday I took 3 dam forest service engineers (that would be engineers of dams) on horseback up to Green and East Lakes to look at the dams that need replacing. One man had ridden a bit before (in fact I took him in on this same mission 2 years ago); one man had ‘grown up on a farm” – but wasn’t sure how to bridle a horse - and the young man said to me, “I’ve never ridden a horse before.”

Ah, swell!

Well, I put him on trusty old Red Top, who’s old and slow, but who does nothing wrong – no spooking no bolting no nothing, because he’s old and it’s too much trouble to do anything like that. Red Top’s 22, and because he’s getting so slow, we don’t use him for anything hard, but he sure is a nice bomb-proof horse to put just about anybody on.

I rode my buddy Paiute – who tends to be a bit spooky in the lead, and he tends to want to be in the lead, since he’s the boss, which is why I don’t like to put inexperienced people on him. The other two men rode Zak and Tom. If Zak got ridden a lot, he’d make just as nice a riding horse as he is a pack horse. (If they’d pay me for my time, I’d do it.) He doesn’t steer that well with the foreign bit in his mouth, but, as long as he’s following along – just like he does in a pack string – he’s perfectly functional as a riding horse.

Tom is just a good horse. He’s big, if not 17 hands, then just under, so he might be a bit intimidating to some people, but the more he gets ridden, the better he gets. He’ll go out front or follow along, and he can go out by himself. He might get a bit nervous in a parade… but we only do that once in a lifetime. He’s got a great personality too, which adds to his charm.
I went out with the range gal a few weeks ago, looking at some of our grazing lands. She rode Paiute and I rode Tom; we clipped along some smooth roads. Paiute rolled along in his easy canter, and big Tom kept up easily with his huge pace (he’s a Missouri Fox-Trotter – they pace: instead of opposite front and back legs moving forward simultaneously in a trot, in a pace the same side front and back legs move forward at once). I was amazed at the ground he covered. Only briefly did he break into a canter, and that was nice and smooth also.

The dam engineers and I had a good day: cool (almost has that fall nip in the air already!) and breezy, and the lakes: beautiful views, in bowls surrounded by peaks, 1 with a long ribbon of a waterfall, and astonishingly dark crystal blue waters.

It was a good riding day and a good birding day.

As we rode up the trail, I had to stop and jump off once because I spied a feather. It was upside down, and when I picked it up and turned it over, my jaw dropped: a goshawk feather! We’d had no historical records of goshawks up this drainage! Further on, between to high country lakes I spied a female goshawk!

When we stopped for lunch at Green Lake, while we were sitting there, a bird flew up and checked us out. Bill and I first thought it was a Clark’s nutcracker, what with its gray body, and then it turned around on its perch so we could nicely see its long striped tail – a sharp shinned or Cooper’s hawk! And he sat there and watched us a good 30 seconds before he flew off! I’ve had red-tails fly over me and check me out, but I’ve never had a hawk fly in and sit in a tree and look at me – you’re always flushing hawks out of the trees away from you, not attracting them to you. Maybe he was entranced by the liverwurst sandwich I was eating?? (Liverwurst – um… I was hungry and it was given to me and I devoured it, but, maybe it would make better bird food…)

The ride out was just as pleasant; Paiute seemed to have a good time taking this fairly easy stroll up and down Green Creek, (of course, there were a few Horse-Eating Chipmunks that alarmed him) and ol’ Red Top kept up with us, and the non-rider completed his first ride on a horse. (Brenda the mule stayed home this time, which she did not complain about.)

I just can’t express how proud I was of my boys. Maybe about as proud of them as Nick Warhol is of his Forever Dawn", read any of his latest stories about his endurance horse), though he might argue that point with me.

And a quick postscript to the Raven Roost on the Hunewill ranch: the other day I went wading through the mucky cow pastures beneath the power line where the ravens gather and came back with a bouquet of raven feathers! Who needs flowers when you can get these!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Purist (Elitist?) Photography

Sunday August 26 2006

Yes, I finally did get myself a professional digital camera (a Canon 20D), and yes, I did wrestle with the ethical ramifications and subsequent guilt of that, and I still am, to some extent.

A friend and I were talking about this the other day: is digital photography true photography? Or is it cheating? Or is it art? Or does anybody else besides us care?

This discussion came up after we toured the gallery of a famous, awesome, landscape/outdoors photographer whose photos have appeared in countless magazines, and several of his own books. I won’t name names so I don’t piss off any fans.

You walk in the gallery, and all you can say is – WOW. Dramatic photographs – stunning settings, exceptional timing, and brilliant colors. And it’s the brilliant colors that got us talking. The colors in some of the photos are not natural. They are unquestionably dazzling, perfectly coalesced and composed, something you’d want to see in nature, but they are not what the human eye sees, or what the camera sees – they are better. They are better because they have been manipulated digitally post-shutter.

One question is: is this better? I think that just depends on your taste. Is it prettier to you enhanced like this, with better colors? Or do you just want the untainted photo?

The other question is: Is photography with digital manipulation true, pure photography?

There is no question that if this photographer had not digitally enhanced the processing of the photos, they would still be brilliant, for the composition and the timing. Photography is part skill, part timing, part luck. But the pictures do look more dramatic and vibrant touched up, and even so, I wouldn’t mind having several hanging in my house.

But are we photographers losing something when we alter pure photography – when we have to do something after taking the picture to attain almost perfect photography?

Here’s another aspect: with film cameras, I think you have to carefully think about what you’re after, (unless you’re rich and can shoot off 24 frames in 12 seconds without a care for cost), carefully compose each shot, and wait for the right split-second timing to get the shot you want – otherwise, you waste frames and film and money. The time you wait to see your developed shots adds more value to the perfect shot you hopefully got, for the anticipation you built up waiting for it.

With a digital, all you have to do is start shooting, hold your finger down on the shutter, fire off 30 photos, immediately look down and delete the 29 you don’t care for, and start firing again.

This was me shooting at the Breeders’ Cup a few years ago: I was leaning over the backstretch rail rubbing elbows with all these famous big-shot photographers whose work I greatly admire (or, rather, I was kind of standing behind them or kneeling underneath them, as the big shots deferentially get the best spots) - me and my little film cameras and my little lenses. I was one of only about 2 photographers still shooting film. And I was one of the few who didn’t have assistants staggering around lugging their huge cannon (not Canon, but cannon)-sized lenses and bags for them.

Anyway, we were all on the rail this morning, watching horses exercise, waiting for Breeders’ Cup gallopers to come by. Here came one around the turn – you could tell by the purple saddle cloths they wore. All cameras went up and pointed to the horse, and 10 digital cameras started firing away like machine guns in a trench… and here’s me, waiting, timing it so another horse is not in the frame, waiting for the horse to get to the best background I’d picked out, waiting for the horse to hit that stretched out stride when he’s just the right size at the right spot in the frame, and – CLICK – while the machine gun shutters are still firing around me. After the horse passes, they all look at their viewer screens, delete the 19 not-so-good photos, and watch for the next horse.

Do we lose anything doing this?

Now that I have a digital, I haven’t shot any races, but I expect when I do I will take advantage of this rapid firing shooting, to make sure I get some good shots. I will try to compose all my shots, but, since I can, I will probably shoot many extra shots, and immediately delete the ones that aren’t good – which means it’s okay if I shoot too many, since I will have many backups, which means that I won’t be carefully composing my shots since I don’t really have to, which means I have lost some artistic integrity there.

When I’m not shooting on assignment, I really do make a conscious effort not to shoot at random, and I still try to compose every single shot, and not waste it, as if I were still shooting film.

When I load the pictures on my computer, I don’t do any manipulation except for removing dust and scratches and adjusting auto contrast (is this cheating?) if necessary – only what would be done at a photo lab in developing. I might crop a bit – also what a photo lab might do with a negative. I don’t, however, manipulate color in any way. To me, that would be photography plus computer manipulation. Which maybe isn’t bad – it just isn’t what I do.

There isn’t really a right or wrong – and I don’t know if many would agree with me on the old school photography thing. (By the way, I still have an old manual Canon AE-1 that I still shoot black and white film on.) And who knows, maybe one day I may change my tune. But, when I get my book(s) of horse photos published, they will all state that the pictures were all done the old traditional way – pure photography, no computer enhancement.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

A Disappointment of Ravens

August 24 2006

Five of us drove out to the Hunewill Ranch to watch the raven invasion. We got there around 7, and waited, hoping they'd be there tonight. There were smatterings of ravens in the cow pastures all around, doing raven things - like a general milling about before the doors to the rock concert in the big arena open.

At 7:09 a raven flew up and toward the pole line... he alighted on a pole, sat there for 10 seconds (early to the party, no one else there yet), and he flew off.

The pasture ravens went about their raven business, those in further out pastures flying in a bit closer, many sailing around, visiting different groups, maybe looking for a last minute meal.

At 7:20 a group of 4 ravens flying in from the north flew directly to the pole line and alighted - doors are open! Let's go! Raven party started! Whoo-ahh! Let the raven works begin! By 7:25 there were 40 ravens on the poles and lines. By 7:30 there were 60. By 7:35 there were 80. By 7:40 there were 150. Big black ravens cascading onto the power lines and poles, big beautiful ravens coming and going, swooping and swerving,diving and dancing, squawking and cawing (oh, for a microphone under those lines! - closest ravens were about 1/8 mile from us), a river of shiny black flowing lumps. They'd come by 1's and 2's, 5 at a time, landing on a wire and knocking 5 off, who'd fly down and swoop up onto another spot, making the wires sway, and 30 raven tails flip up in the air as they balanced themselves. A group of 10 flew in from the west, groups of 2's and 3's from the north, the upper end of the valley. (Hardly any from the south).

Flying way up high, 30 ravens flapped onwards with purpose, never slowing for the Hunewill party, bound for somewhere else, like maybe the Bodie Ghost Town party.

And all this happening, by the way, in a spectacular sunset.

7:45 there were about 250 ravens - a big "disappointment of ravens" - as a flock was called by early Europeans, who took a disliking to ravens (as well as crows: a "murder of crows"), whose images suffered as they feasted on dead bodies from medieval battles.

I beg to differ! There's nothing at all disappointing about watching ravens - the bigger the raven party, the better. And who created those dead bodies anyway? Not the smart ravens!

And then right around 7:50, 30 minutes after they started, the activity visibly slowed. The ravens were quieting down, getting situated for the night, except for a few here and there who forgot they had to go to the bathroom one last time, or raid the fridge for 1 last quick snack.

We left the ravens to themselves at dark. I went home to have raven dreams!

Monday, August 21, 2006

...And the Ravens Shall Inherit the Earth

MONDAY August 21 2006

A friend and I have figure it out: after we humans destroy the world and each other, the Ravens shall inherit the earth. They are clever, funny, fun-loving, daring, noisy but not homicidal, and just plain beautiful. One of my two most favorite photos is a raven sitting 3 feet away from a bald eagle in a bare tree in a snow storm, cawing right in the eagle’s face. My other favorite photo of all time is a close-up of an eagle, wings in a V-shape, feet and talons extended downward as he swoops toward some prey – and right above and copying him is a raven, same position.

I once saw 2 birds flying companionably together – what? I did a double take – it was a red-tailed hawk and a raven - and watched them. I expected the raven to be harassing the hawk, which he did, but with what looked to be minimal, obligatory enthusiasm. He made a half-hearted dive at the hawk, who barely had to alter her course; the raven made another lackadaisical lunge at the hawk, then flew alongside her. Then after one more lazy, well-missed swipe the raven continued his turn 180* and casually flew away east in the opposite direction, apparently having lost interest, but in no particular hurry to go anywhere fast. The raven had flapped about 50 yards away, already off in his own little world, when suddenly the hawk banked a sharp U-turn and zoomed east after the oblivious raven with obvious intent: to get him!, With hawk claws extended forward to grab those black feathers, a split-second before contact the raven tumbled downward, the hawk just missing him. The raven flapped onward east, now with a little more haste; and the hawk turned 180* to flap back west in the direction she’d come from, revenge completed – but suddenly she banked back again 180* toward the casually fleeing raven and swooped after him again! 60 miles an hour, claws extended, and the startled raven again tumbled away at the last second. The hawk then turned back 180* to the west and flew on, back on her original mission, and after a few beats the raven banked around 180*, picked up speed west after the hawk, caught up with her, and they appeared to fly companionably then, into the sunset, as far as my eyes could follow them.

I once watched groups of ravens in the Grand Canyon, playing, tumbling, twisting, diving, in the air currents. I’ve seen pictures of them playing in the snow – ‘bathing’ in it, flying to the top of a slope and sliding down over and over. Tell me they aren’t having fun.

I have 2 stuffed animal ravens, and a couple of times I’ve put them out in the open where ravens are flying about. They always come to investigate, calling their companions in also, either flying above or landing, often within a few feet. One raven in Death Valley walked right up, within a foot, of the smaller one I put on the ground.

Saturday evening after the endurance ride, just as it was about dark, I was driving home, passing the Hunewill Ranch, when – holy cow! I hit the brakes (luckily, nobody behind me!). There must have been 200 or 300 ravens, maybe 400, on the power poles and lines, as far as my eye could see in the dimming light. The last couple of weeks, morning and evening I’ve seen a group of 10 flying around my house, and I’ve heard of raven gathering to roost – but this was astonishing! Do they do this every night? Why? How do they decide where and when to congregate? (I hadn’t been by the Hunewill Ranch this particular time of night). Where can they all possibly go during the days? Bernd Heinrich has written some good books on the behavior of ravens.

Tonight near dark I jumped in my car with the 2 great gray owl girls I work with and we returned to the scene of the ravens – they were there again! Maybe only a hundred or 150, but they were there, on the same lines and poles. I think this will require more research this week!

So, since ravens are so smart and they will inherit the earth, I plan to come back as a raven in another life.

And, by the way, I ride every endurance ride with my little stuffed animal raven. He rides in a little pack attached to my saddle. He’s now completed 2200 miles!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Good Day Bad Day

Sunday August 20 2006

Well, it was a good day yesterday, because Raffiq finished the 50-mile Eastern High Sierra Classic ride, and he didn’t have to save another horse’s life from colic while doing it. It was a bad day because Spice did not finish because she colicked during the ride on the last loop at the vet check. It was a bad day because Buddy did not finish because he went pretty lame on his first limited distance ride. It was a good day because both Buddy and Spice are fine.

Gretchen and I were going about our usual pace mid-pack, on fit horses on trails they regularly trained on and knew well, and after arriving at the last vet check at about 43 miles, Spice took a few minutes to pulse down to the criteria 60 bpm pulse (which is not unusual) – she was at about 64. After she came down, she drank, and ate a few bites (just like she’d been doing all day), then suddenly she started pawing the ground (not usual), and had a dull look in her eyes – like she was uncomfortable. Gretchen took her to the vet, and they decided to pull her and trailer back to base camp. Gretchen unsaddled her and started to load Spice in the trailer, where she tried to lay down. They took her out, gave her banamine and kept her walking (she tried to lay down a few times), and were going to load her up as soon as she didn’t act like she wanted to go down.

Gretchen and I weren’t too worried – though a metabolic problem had never happened with Spice before, she didn’t look terribly stressed or in pain, and we were right at the vet check when it happened, and this was NOTHING like Zayante’s terrible episode last year (when Raffiq saved his life getting him 6 miles back to the vet check) where it looked to me (and others) like Zay was going to die. Raffiq and I went on to finish the ride, but as I waited back at base camp, 1 ½ hours had passed since we left Spice and Gretchen, and they weren’t back yet…

Another hour passed before they returned – Spice had to have more drugs than the banamine, but they didn’t have to hang fluids on her, and, unloading from the trailer back at base camp, she looked like the same Spice from this morning and at lunch, looking normal and alert and bright and wanting to eat everything in sight.

Who the heck knows what makes horses colic? We didn’t do anything differently than we’ve done at other rides (Spice has been doing endurance for 2 years now), didn’t feed anything different, didn’t ride any faster (this EHSC ride has a lot of hard climbs, and a lot of it is spent walking), Spice didn’t act any different than she does on other endurance or training rides…

A friend’s horse I was riding last winter starting acting a little funny on an easy routine training ride I’d taken him on – he got the runs on our way back, and I kept an eye on him at home, and sure enough, that turned to colic. He hadn’t eaten or done anything differently than he’d been eating or doing the last month I’d had him.

A few years ago when I worked on the trail crew, we’d work 10 days and have 4 off. One day I got back from a 10-day tour, hiked out back to see my horse Stormy, and there he was, in the middle of having a bad colic. Caused by what??

Zayante last year – 10,000 endurance miles and never a metabolic problem – carrying a light rider, in great shape and going a moderate pace, had a terrible colic in the middle of this EHSC ride, and no explanation for that.

Horses! Such big strong animals – and so fragile.

This changes the plans again for our training – I was going to take Spice to next week’s 50-mile Tour de Washoooo ride, but now I’m not. The Virginia City 100 is 4 weeks away… and right now that’s pretty debatable. Was this just a bad day for Spice and she just got a belly ache? Happens to humans – stomach flu, mysterious illnesses, and we’re fine after it passes. It happens to horses, and most of the time they’re fine after it passes. In fact, after discovering my horse colicking that one evening, I suspect that often horses colic when we don’t ever see it, and they just get over it. I guess we’ll just see how Spice does next time we take her out.

Buddy – well, he’s progressed a lot since Gretchen first got him, but he’s never really given any indication that he’d make an endurance horse. He’s too slow-gaited (he can’t walk fast, and he can’t trot fast, without wanting to break into a canter to keep up), and heavy footed, not real athletic. He’s supposed to be part arab, but you don’t see or feel any of that in him. He has gotten fit, and much more sure-footed over the year, and we thought he’d be able to do the 30-mile ride. Nope. He was pulled at the ~15 mile vet-check for lameness, even though he was doing his regular moderate pace. He will make someone a nice trail horse - just don’t put endurance horse on his resume.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


Thursday August 17 2006

Busy weeks at work hiking: looking for birds, looking for historical ‘trash’ with the archaeology crew. Saw: a bear, 3 coyotes, 2 goshawks (but no nests), 3 big bucks, historical cans and glass (historical being older than 50 years old – depending on the type of can, most can be dated pretty accurately), old mines, equipment, and structures that hadn’t been recorded by anyone yet, obsidian flakes (could be 100 years old or 10,000 years old). Hiked to 10,000’ twice this week – anybody up for Mt Whitney later? (kidding, already done that).

As of today (though plans change) I’ve got 3 pack trips scheduled in September into the Hoover wilderness with our Forest Service pack horses. All the trips will be to Piute cabin, and I plan on taking all the horses again, whether I need them or not. Good exercise for them, and ecstasy at the end of the trail!

This Saturday is the 50 mile Eastern High Sierra Classic endurance ride here in Bridgeport. Gretchen and I will ride Spice and Raffiq; Sue will ride Buddy on the limited distance (30 miles). Last weekend, Sue successfully got Buddy across the last of the creek crossings he will face in the ride – hooray for Sue and for Buddy! He’s definitely not afraid of water, he can just be stubborn. Gretchen hasn’t done a ride in months, and I haven’t done one since March – I’m having withdrawals!

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Here Kitty Kitty Kitty

Wednesday August 9 2006

Cougar alerts! One guy from our Forest Service office probably saw a cougar early Sunday morning south of Bridgeport on the Green Creek road – he saw a long tail slipping through the sagebrush. Another guy from the office probably saw two cougars early Monday morning northwest of here at Lobdell Lake. They were too far away to tell for absolute certain, but they were definitely not deer or antelope, and they loped when they ran, didn’t spring like deer. A definite cougar was sighted last summer early one morning just 4 miles north of Bridgeport – on a road I often drive and ride! I’ve often driven the Green Creek road, and hiked quite a bit last year around Lobdell. All those places I’ve thought of as cougar habitat. I’ve seen 4 cougars in Washington (1 definite, 3 probable), and definite tracks north of here far down Desert Creek (maybe not coincidentally, Desert Creek originates in Lobdell Lake).

I’ve started a map marking Maybe, Probable, and Definite cougar sightings in the area for my own amusement.

Today I went goshawk/nest hunting in the general Green Creek area. Looking for birds, but keeping my eyes open for a big tawny smooth loping beasts with long tails!

I saw: tracks! But they were dog or coyote. I smelled and saw the bulldozing evidence of sheep (canine tracks were probably the sheep dogs). I saw 1 bear track (a day old?) and lots of old bear poo. I found 1 flicker feather and 2 woodpecker feathers. I saw a goshawk! – soaring above the aspen canyon I was hiking, but incomprehensibly, there was no nest anywhere in this perfect habitat. I also came across a big suspicious – but not distinct - footprint. Not a bear, and bigger than the dog tracks, and not shaped quite canine-like. Hmmm… Now, maybe I just have cougars on the brain, but, it could have been a cat track…

Some places you hike, you just know there has to be a cougar. Some places, you feel it. A couple of times in the Pacific Northwest, I was spooked. I felt a cougar – it was there, it had been there, was going to be there. I walked very cautiously, very alert, looking everywhere, around me, behind me, especially in the trees I was passing under; I’d jump at any sudden noise. Maybe it was my imagination – or maybe not.

I don’t know what I’d actually do if I came across a cougar on foot (my 4 sightings were all in my truck) – would I be scared? Would I want to touch it? One of my bosses once drove up on a cougar on a logging road. He stopped his car and got out, and the cougar sat there watching him. Dale got out his duke (fake mouse on a string, for getting birds’ attention), and tossed it at the cougar, and reeled it in. The cat watched the duke. Dale tossed it out at the cougar a few more times, till he suddenly realized he was standing outside his car, mousing a cougar that was a few feet away. He reeled in the duke and got back in his car and watched the cougar till it got up and strolled off.

I complained to my ranger friend Tim once that there were no cougars in the Hoover Wilderness. He said they were out there. “Well, I haven’t seen any.” “No, but they see you.”

Keep that in mind that next time you’re hiking in the forest, or sagebrush, or desert, or even some urban areas…

Friday, August 4, 2006

Tevis - Just Another Trail Ride

Friday August 4 2006

It’s like one big trail ride… or is it? If you can forget there’s almost 200 horses and riders here, you can’t miss the atmosphere – there’s a little something extra here at the Robie Park ridecamp. A little more excitement, a little more activity, a little more nervousness maybe… at the ride meeting, everybody listened to the speakers, and everybody cheered when each speaker concluded with, “See you tomorrow in Auburn.”

196 humans and horses will wake up about 4 AM in Robie Equestrian Park on the Western States Trail tomorrow – if they got any sleep at all – and, about an hour later, in the dark, in the dust, in the chaos and excitement, they’ll face west and start heading 100 miles down the Tevis trail.

There’s the young (7 junior riders) and old riders, young and old horses (oldest horse is 26), first timers and 27-timers, the rich and not-so-rich, the scared and not scared, locals and foreigners (3 riders from Japan, 1 from Canada, 1 from Australia, 1 from England), fast riders out to win and slow riders out to just finish; they all have the same goal in mind: McCann Stadium in Auburn within the next 24 hours.

A few statistics to keep in mind: there’s approximately 19,000’ of climbing and 22.000’ of descending to contend with. Just over 50% are likely to reach the finish line. Auspiciously, the temperatures have fallen from the killing digits they were just over a week ago, so the hot canyons will be a bit kinder to horses and riders.

I had to ask the question to a few people: Are you nervous?

The answers:

“Yea, a little nervous.” (Tom Noll on Frank; it’s their first Tevis)

“Heck no. I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be fun.” (Nick Warhol on Forever Dawn GA – Nick’s completed twice; it’s Don’s first 100)

“I’m scared. There’s some hairy places out there on the trail.” (Quenby Dunlap on RC Lazeer – Quenby’s 3rd attempt; Buzz’s first Tevis)

“No! I never get nervous. I’ve been riding horses my whole life – it’s just another trail ride.” (Robert Ribley on Riptyde)

A few people to watch:

Bill Maiche on Holy Smoke. Bill was told, after his terrible car accident in 1982, where he spent 26 months in the hospital, that he’d never ride again. He’s here today for his first Tevis on Holy Smoke, the oldest horse in the ride, at 26. If Bill and Holy Smoke finish, Holy Smoke will tie the record as the oldest horse to complete Tevis.

Seiichi Hasumi, from Japan, riding Fames Baydal BL, has completed Tevis 3 times in a row and is going for number 4. He plans to one day own 10 Tevis buckles.

Quenby Dunlap is riding her crazy horse RC Lazeer (Buzz). She must have nerves of steel to ride this horse on this ride.

Barbara White on JAL Sebastiano is going for her 28th Tevis buckle.

Wild West, or “Willy,” fell off the Tevis trail 3 years ago – fell 500 feet down at Kaput Springs (the trail at the spring went kaput; the spot is also known as Willy’s Falls) and survived. You can still see his scars. Willy and Don Bowen are back to try again, along with Pam Bowen and Whyatt, 3 time finishers.

Tom Noll and the ever popular Frank (who was once maybe Wayne Newton’s horse), Idaho’s Tough Suckers, are Tevis first timers.
Tune into for many stories and photos!

Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Tevis Cup Fever

Wednesday August 2 2006

Coming up this weekend: the 100-mile Tevis Cup endurance ride – “100 MILES – ONE DAY” is what your silver belt buckle will say if you complete it. It may be the best known 100-mile endurance ride in the world; that belt buckle is one of the most coveted ride awards, and the ride itself is undeniably one of the most challenging. Started in 1955 by Wendell Robie, the Tevis Cup, also known as the Western States Trail Ride, is the oldest modern day endurance ride. It follows a rugged wilderness trail over mountains and canyons and rivers, starting near Truckee, CA and ending in Auburn, CA, 24 hours later.

It is the ultimate challenge for a horse and rider team: riding in the dark, and daylight, and likely dark again, intense heat, hazardous trails, 19,000 feet of climbing and 22,000 feet of descending. And you’re in the Sierras: temperatures can range from 40* F to 120* F. Much of the trail passes through inaccessible and rugged wilderness, reached only by foot or horseback or helicopter, so for much of the ride, if anything unexpected happens, you are on your own. You and your horse need to be fit, and you need to know each other. Even so, your chance of completing the ride is just over 50%. Despite these odds, one horse won the ride 5 times (with the same rider). Five riders have completed the Tevis Cup at least 20 times (20 times!!). One horse who won the ride twice is blind in one eye. The most number of finishes by one horse is 13 times – and that was a quarter horse mare!

Vet checks are stationed along the way to check the horses and determine if they are “fit to continue” down the trail. If not, the horse is pulled from the ride. The horses must rest an hour at 2 stops; they may stop for water and food at any of the other 10 stops along the way.

I’ve never been to the Tevis Cup, but I’m going this weekend to cover it for I am not (yet) obsessed with riding Tevis – and that is because my chances are slim to do it: I don’t have my own endurance horse, and I couldn’t afford to lease one – but of course I would unquestionably not turn down the chance if it arose, on a well-conditioned horse that I knew. We’ll see if I catch the fever watching it.

Several friends will be attempting the ride, and I’ll be following their progress throughout the day. Jane (a two-time finisher) will be there riding Scamp, his first try at Tevis. Quenby is making her 3rd try, this time on Buzz (his first time). Either she has nerves of steel, or she is as crazy as her horse is. Buzz is a nutcase, a spaz, can’t stand to have another horse in front of him. I shudder to think about some of those narrow, steep cliff trails they will be on, with Buzz thinking only of catching the horse in front of him, and not where his feet are falling…

My endurance hero, Julie Suhr, who has finished Tevis 22 times, will not be riding this year, but she will be crewing for her daughter Barbara, who was finished Tevis a record 27 times!

Nick is riding his beloved gelding Forever Dawn (aka Don, or Princess). Nick has completed Tevis twice before, and it will be Don’s first 100.

There are 204 entries as of August 1 – including 2 riders from the UK, 1 from Canada, 1 from Australia, and 2 from Japan.

Good luck to all horse and rider teams – may they return home fit to continue with silver belt buckles and buckets of carrots!