Monday, November 13, 2006

Top Ten

Monday November 13 2006

6 AM, away we go down the trail on the Git R Done 75 miler! At the start, just before dawn, just light enough to see, Gretchen on Raffiq and me on Spice hooked up with Nick on his beloved Don (aka Forever Dawn, aka Princess, aka Ned of the Desert) doing the 100 miler.

The whole ride was a flat trail, 3 25-mile loops, (the 100 milers would repeat loop 1), the biggest hill of which was about 7 feet high up and over railroad tracks. The footing – dreamy! Soft jeep roads, maybe 20 yards of rocks in the entire 100 miles. The weather – dreamy! Not too cold, high diaphanous clouds to keep the sun visible but the burning rays away.

As we cruised along at a nice steady trot, Nick reminded us that there were 11 horses in the 75 miler. “You’ll be racing each other for Top Ten so you can show for BC!” That’s Best Condition – any horse that finishes in the top ten can show for BC, and the horse with the highest score, based on vet score, weight carried and finish time, receives the award. Some might say that’s a better honor than finishing first. Which we definitely would not do – our horses just aren’t fast horses. We trot along and do our thing, and usually end up mid-pack. I think I’ve finished in the top ten twice before. This time – one of us would Top Ten if we finished!

After about a mile – we passed a 75 miler mule! Now we were 9th and 10th!

Another 10 miles went by and we passed John Parke on his little Norwegian Fjord pony – now we were in 8th and 9th! Our horses coasted easily along, seeming to enjoy this ride – soft footing, easy elevation (2600 vs 6500+), and no hard mountainous climbs! Even with our vet check and 30 minute hold out on the loop, we finished the 25 miles in 3 ½ hours.

Another hour vet check in camp and we were on our way. Debating what to wear, we looked up at the Sierras just to our west. There were darker clouds behind them, and, I’m not kidding, 3 minutes later I looked again and now there were definitely rain clouds above them. Rain in the desert!? Nick said “Oh no, it’s not going to rain down here,” and he stayed in his one layer long-sleeved Tshirt. Gretchen put a vest on over her short-sleeved Tshirt, conceding a little to the cool wind that had picked up a little. I didn’t think it would rain on us either, (I mean – rain in the desert!?), but I opted to carry an extra layer along (lessons learned from pack trip misadventures).

Spice didn’t eat as much as she usually does at the vet checks, and her poop was not firm, but it had been that way since at least yesterday, and she felt strong beneath me. On this second 25-mile loop though, she had to stop more often to poop. She’s one who has never learned to poop on the go, so while stopping was the norm, this was getting to be a bit much, and the poop sure wasn’t getting any firmer. So, was this just the way it was today, or, was something bothering her? I don’t like it when I’m worrying about a horse I’m riding.

About 3 miles out of camp it was definitely raining over the Sierra peaks, but, as usual when that happens, the rain stayed over the mountains and that darned Mojave Desert wind kicked up on the desert floor. Hmm… I think I would rather ride in rain than wind, because I HATE the wind.

It howled from our right side, so at least we weren’t going into it (yet). But of course with the wind suddenly comes a gazillion Horse-Eating Things, blowing in our path and catching on the big fence to our left, flapping alongside the road we were trotting. Ned of the Desert was up front, spooking occasionally at Horse Eaters. Being in back (having to stop to poop, then catch up), Spice wasn’t as spooky, as horses in back tend to be, since the horses in front are the ones likely to get eaten by the Horse-Eating Things.

There was one big bed-sized thin piece of flexible something-or-other up ahead to our left, about 10 feet off the road, and I saw the corner of it moving, but fortunately it wasn’t flapping. Until, of course, when we had just passed it. A perfectly timed bigger gust whipped through right then, must have lifted the Horse-Eating Thing off the ground to come attack Spice, because she braked and whipped around so fast I was hanging off her left side before I knew what was happening. I do remember thinking as I was falling off, Damn, I really hate to hit the ground, it usually hurts, and here comes the ground…I could feel it… and it was either my wrenching hard on the left rein to stop her spinning, or she just stopped herself, or it was my intense loathing of hitting the ground that stopped things, because Spice did stop moving and I was able to wrestle myself back in the saddle without kissing the ground. Whew!

We continued trotting our way south, and south, forever it seemed down this straight road, until we came to a water trough where we finally turned west toward the mountains.

And then came the really bad warning that things really were awry for Spice: her pee was brown. Not good – brown urine indicates some kind of muscle tie up. Keep going with that, it’s possible to kill a horse. That, with the runs, and the having to stop often, made me suddenly very worried, and through my head flashed the different bad scenarios I’ve been around or heard of.

A few years ago one horse we knew died the night after completing a 100 mile ride, and her only indication of something wrong was one incident in the middle of the ride of the runs – she was fine before and after that. My buddy Zayante suddenly colicked and almost died on us in the middle of a ride last year. Spice colicked suddenly in the middle of the Eastern High Sierra Classic in August.

Gretchen and I told Nick to go on without us; Gretchen walked with us for a while, and when she and Raffiq picked up a trot and Spice didn’t, that was it. I told Gretchen to go on; I’d walk Spice in and pull her from the ride. We had maybe 12 miles to go to get back to camp, but at least Spice wasn’t in distress. I got off and started the long trek back, leading her on foot. Raffiq screamed in the wind till we were out of earshot (he’s the Drama Queen); Spice neighed a few times but didn’t really mind being left behind.

After 3 or 4 miles, we got to a spot where a ride volunteer was checking numbers, and just as we arrived, our trailer-ride back to camp arrived! What service! Gretchen had requested it for us when she rode through.

Safely back in camp 10 minutes later, Spice dove into her food and ate like she should have at the last vet check; later her pee got lighter, and by evening even her poop had firmed up.

So, I was very glad Spice was going to be fine, and, I was glad we pulled… and I was a little stung with disappointment. Pulled from a ride! Every ride I do is precious, because I just don’t get that many opportunities to do them. And this, an opportunity to Top Ten (okay, so there were only 11 starters, and, at least one of these would elevate up to 100 miles, so there were at the most 10 starters) – gone. A whole ride – gone. No, the 35 miles or so we’d done didn’t count unless you finished the whole thing.

I’ll any day happily opt for not possibly killing a horse, and I never felt I made the wrong decision about pulling Spice, but, there I was, sitting in camp, feeling a little sorry for myself, while Gretchen and others were out enjoying themselves on the rest of the ride.

Well… maybe not enjoying so much. The wind was now blowin’ a wee littl’ gale (as they say in the Scottish Hebrides, when a person can no longer stand upright in the wind), and I really, really hate the wind. I moved Spice to the leeward side of the trailer (where she continued to contentedly pig out), and I sat outside bundled up in layers so I could keep an eye on her. The sand sandblasted my face and sandpapered my eyes – in ten minutes they hurt like hell and I had a headache. I chased a few things down from peoples’ trailers and anchored them down.

Nick and Ned came in for their next hour vet check then headed out on their 3rd loop. Gretchen and Raffiq came in (Raffiq screaming till he saw Spice) for their hour hold, then headed back out into the howling sandstorm.

Okay, so I was let down about having to quit, but then, I had to admit, the stinging sand and blustering gale took quite a bit of the sting out of the defeat. Have I mentioned how I HATE THE WIND??

Nick and Ned arrived just before dark for their last vet check, then headed out for their last 25 miles. Ned was looking great and his vet scores were great. Gretchen and Raffiq finished (with flying colors) about an hour later. They finished, not just in the Top Ten, but 5th!

Spice was now looking pretty fine, and Raffiq looked fine (and had fun despite the wind) after his TOP TEN FINISH, and by now I was too sandblasted and tired from being sandblasted to be so disappointed in my finishing fate.

There’s always the next ride, and Spice will be hale and hearty for it!

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