Thursday, December 28, 2006

Death Valley Day 1

Thursday December 28 2006



There’s the N word Michael Richards inexcusably used recently. A little longer ago, there was the language of Mordor that Gandalf would not speak aloud.

Here in the Mojave Desert, in winter, during the ride season, it is the W word. It is the Thing that rips roofs off sheds; it is the Thing that flips 18-wheelers over on the highway; it is the Thing moves big boards as you are trotting by so that your horse spooks and almost throws you, it is the Thing that drives billions of painful sand particles into your poor eyeballs and sand-papers your face.

Usually, the heavy W season starts in the late winter into spring. On this, the 15th or 16th or so anniversary of the 4-day December 28-31 Death Valley Encounter, it was said a quickly-moving storm was coming, would hit Wednesday when everybody would be arriving, be W…y and R….y (you do not speak the wet R word, either), Wednesday night, and it would be nice Thursday for the first day of the ride.

I did not utter the W word, and in fact, was quite confident we’d have great weather for the ride. Evidently I was concentrating on the wrong word. HURRICANE is another word that should be avoided.

That was the current condition for Day 1 of the 2006 Death Valley Encounter. Wednesday was quite Windy (I might as well say it now), though you could catch glimpses of a growing ride camp through the bouts of dust that swallowed it. It optimistically eased up to just breezy by ride meeting time; Dave the Duck, co-managing the ride this year with Jackie Bumgardner, said the latest weather report said the winds would pick up again at night, sustained winds of 40+ mph with gusts up to 80 mph, and die down to a reasonable 20 mph by 4:30 AM.

Well the time mentioned was right… except the winds picked up at about 4:30 AM – the hurricane winds, and they didn’t stop.

Lights came on inside and outside trailers in camp at about 5:30 AM, but they soon went back off. People started peeking out of their trailers at 6:30 AM, but nobody was saddling up yet. The Duck said we’d have the ride anyway, but the start would be delayed at least a half-hour till 7:30, to see if the winds would ease up with the rising of the sun.

I’d already decided I wasn’t going. I can do rain all day; I can do wind; I just don’t do hurricanes. Besides, today is the anniversary of my big accident. Tomorrow just sounded like a better day to ride. Gretchen was undecided. Nance Worman, from Idaho, who parked next to us, was undecided. It’s hard to not ride – after all, this is the sport of Endurance, not the sport of Pansies – especially when you’ve come from so far away.

Well, it really couldn’t get much worse, and it could really only get better (right?), so people started saddling up in the gale force winds. Gretchen took Raffiq’s blanket off to brush him, but she didn’t get very far before she put the blanket back on and decided to ride another day. Nance chose to pass up today also.

Down near the starting line, where people and horses were warming up, clouds of dust so thick ripped through camp, obliterating everything. If you were walking into it, you had to stop because you couldn’t keep your eyes open.

Then Ann Nicholson announced on her megaphone, “You can start!”

A tough, die-hard, non-wimpy group of 60 or so riders headed out on the trail, (about 15 sat it out), headed out across the Fremont Valley (where the north hurricane winds should be gaining some speed) toward the old mining towns of Johannesburg and Randsburg, hopefully following ribbons that have not blown into Utah by now. (I heard last night Highway 395 was closed in both directions due to wind.)

Instead, we pseudo-endurance riders went back and had hot coffee and a good warm breakfast in our warm trailers rocked by the gales, and traded stories of previous stormy rides, while our fellow riders braved the hurricane winds on the trail.

At lunch, all riders streaming in weren’t complaining about the wind (endurance riders usually don’t complain, once they’re out there), and in fact said the wind was worst in camp. Certainly, the dust was worst here.

The wind howled all day; it seems like our mountain range had the worst forecast of all, sustained winds of 40 mph, gusts up to 60. (Only 60!) Michelle Rousch finished first in the 50, and I believe all but 3 or 5 riders completed the ride.

Winds are supposed to calm down for tomorrow, really!

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