Saturday, February 17, 2007

Eastern Mojave Day One

Saturday February 17 2007

At 1 AM it begins: WIND! The cab-over was rocking around, the vents flapping. I got about 10 minutes of sleep the rest of the night.
It was still blowing in the morning, not the hurricane like Death Valley Day 1 that Gretchen and I wimped out on, but merely Blowing Like Hell winds. It was only 56* but the wind made it a bit cooler.
An astounding 129 horses started the ride. Of course we started out directly into the wind, which was howling from the northeast. Gretchen and I fell in behind about oh, 60 or 70 riders, which meant we got the dust from 240 to 280 hooves kicked up and blowing in our faces. We walked a long way, so our horses would stay calm (no fun bucking in the wind), and because there were plenty of horse traffic jams. No need to run up on heels of excited horses. Dick Dawson’s horse got double barreled right in front of us and Raffiq (the Drama Queen) wigged out. The Duck insisted later that the winds were only a steady 20 mph, but I beg to differ. He was sitting in his jeep with his windows rolled up, while the wind was blasting in my face. I couldn’t hear anything but roaring, and I kept my eyes closed half the time. It was disorienting, and was making me rather crabby. Raffiq just puttered along, even while I was battered around on his back. An hour we headed into that wind, then finally turned south, along the base of the Mescal Range. That sheltered us somewhat from the wind, though when we passed drainages, the wind howled down those and knocked us sideways. (20 mph! Right.)
We wound down washes, toured through fantastic forests of Joshua trees, barrel cactus, cholla, and dozens of other cacti. Not a place to fall off!
Raffiq felt strong, especially when we turned west after a nice corral water stop – he thought we were headed home. When we turned back south, the pace slowed considerably. There was some heavy sand in a long, soft road, but we joined some other riders on the side of the road, weaving in and out and through the brush and cactus. Raffiq loves these little weaving runs, but you had to be a little careful to avoid the hidden cholla, waiting to grab horse legs.
By lunch time on top of Cima Dome, the wind had died somewhat, and the horses chowed down the entire hour. Leaving lunch, winding up around the south side of Cima Dome, we toured through some absolutely fantastic Joshua tree forests, some of them towering to some 30 feet high and multi-branched as a thick fir tree. That had to be a very very old forest, unbothered by humans and untouched by fire for a long time. We had some great views of distant mountain ranges, layered gray and red mountains dotted with the green flora of a healthy desert.
I am a tree hugger, but wouldn’t stop to hug a Joshua tree – they hurt. In fact, 3 years ago when I did this ride, I got speared in the knee. This year, I got clubbed twice, but fortunately the spines were all going the same direction I was. I narrowly missed kissing some cholla with my legs when Raffiq chose those choice times to spook from the wind goosing him in the butt.
We wound through some artistic rocks and boulders, passed a few old mines – Copper King mine and Evening Star Mine. Then we turned towards camp, and Raffiq and Spice picked up speed. In fact, the last 10 miles, I was hanging on Raffiq because he was having a great time, especially when we went back to weaving in and out of the cacti, ducking under Joshua tree branches. I felt like Luke Skywalker zooming through the forest, leaning left and right. We had to abort a few times when he got going so fast I was afraid we’d crash into cholla.
Last stretch the wind had let up quite a bit, was holding the dust cloud we kicked up right with us. It was like morning in that I had to keep my eyes mostly closed and hope Raffiq knew where he was going.
We pulled into camp at 3:30, in mid-pack, in the 60’s. Only three people pulled, and two of them turned back this morning when the wind proved too fierce for their horses.
At the evening awards/dinner, Carol Hoeft had a special thanks for Rebecca Jankovich – she drove all the way out here to bring her champagne and a cake. A few years ago, Rebecca went through and survived breast cancer; and she helped Carol go through the same thing. Without Rebecca to talk to and lean on, Carol felt she would not have made her way through her ordeal. Endurance riders are just one big family at times like these.
A successful ending of Day 1 of the Eastern Mojave Scenic: another 50 miles down for the Raven!

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