Sunday, April 17, 2011

High Desert Classic April 2011

We did it. I can hardly believe it, but we did it. Dixie and I both seem so ill-suited to anything like endurance, but we've done it. She is an absolutely outstanding horse.

So! ~C and I had been planning to go together to HD, but Dig was a little back sore after a training ride last weekend. ~C lent me her trailer, assured me that we were ready and we could do it, and sent me off alone. Packing was easier - I'm finally getting the hang of it. Dixie was easier, too! I came home with the trailer, loaded everything, went to buy ice, then came back for the horse. When I pulled up and parked on the road, Dixie walked halfway to the gate, stopped to pee, then met me at the gate. I was so touched - she never gets in the trailer for something easy, like a trip to a green pasture. It's always "hey let's get in the scary box of death and go camp and ride a trillion miles," and here she is meeting me at the gate. Awwww :)

I learned something new on the way - Dixie only gets mad and starts thumping the trailer for unnecessary delays, like stop signs. When I parked and ran in at a gas station, she stood very calmly and watched the people in the parking lot around her. As soon as I got back in and started up the truck, she started shifting around again - let's GO.

Camp was about 100 miles away, on the edge of Stillwater Wildlife Refuge in the Lahontan Valley. The trail goes up in those mountains east of the valley, with a view over into Dixie Valley. (Great name!)

Camp was lovely and flat and green! (Please try not to laugh, non desert dwellers.)


It's really hard to take pictures of white horses, as some of you well know. I was pleased with this one. This is after an hour of braiding and de-hairing - note the gobs of hair in the grass.

Sadly, the ride wasn't very well attended. Just over 30 riders total. A lot of people cancelled because their horses weren't ready - we've had a really snowy spring. Hearing that was my first clue that perhaps this wasn't the easiest ride I could have chosen.

The trail was pretty simple - 15 miles up into the hills, 15 minute hold at an away check, then 20 miles in a loop around the check, then an hour for lunch, then 15 miles back down to camp. All the ribbons were pink, and there was only a mile or so of overlapping trail! Glory hallelujah. The more colors there are, the more confused my poor overloaded brain gets.

I saw people I'd seen before, but nobody I'd ever talked to before. I made a concerted effort to be outgoing and talk to people. Of course I forgot most of their names, because I'm really terrible with names. Dixie ate well as soon as we got there, and I got her braided up and ate dinner and socialized for a while. There was a considerable amount of drinking going on, but I thought tying one on the night before my first 50 was not in my best interest, so I headed to bed pretty early.


I woke up at 5:15 and had oodles of time to get myself and Dixie ready. She was quite calm about everything, even though I had to adjust the pastern strap on one of her front boots. I ziptied it on, though. Got her elyted, got my crew box ready and dropped off, then walked her around and let her graze. On the way I heard that the start was delayed a couple minutes - the RM had gone to get a horse for Dave Rabe to ride and was hauling ass back as fast as possible. I waited a few more minutes before I mounted up and started warming up at the walk.

Eventually, we started. I let the frontrunners go, got sucked into mid-pack, and pulled off and let people pass me for a while. We jigged for a mile or so with me wondering what strange sounding but even gait my horse was doing before someone passed me and pointed out that I was missing a boot. We headed most of the way back before we met someone who'd stopped to pick it up - he tossed it to me and kept going. I looped the reins over my shoulder, cut off the ziptie, got the boot seated properly, and amazingly the pastern strap fit exactly like usual. Pro tip: If you're doing something different to one boot all of a sudden, you probably didn't put it on right. Sigh.

Back up and we jigged on away. Dixie fought me like a fish on a line for three and a half miles before she settled in to a nice working walk. Dave Rabe appeared out of nowhere behind me, but he wasn't going much faster than me so we settled in with him. I gave him the Condensed Version of Our Endurance History, and he told me that the horse he was on was out of shape so he was going to ride super slow too.


That poor mare. Her humans had loaded up the trailers and left her behind on Friday - she was off the hook again! Time to graze and nap in the sun and pin her ears at the other horses. Then Saturday morning, before she even had time to eat breakfast, her human showed back up, shoved her on a trailer, zipped her off to camp, and slapped a human on her back. She was having a Very Bad Day. Her name is Fena, which I only remember because I thought if I bought a Fena I'd rename her Xena.

We trotted up into the foothills. The leading LD's caught us embarrassingly fast.

It was a good ride for boots. The footing looked like this for a lot of the ride...

... except for where it was worse.

We plodded along, up and up and up endlessly. About a mile from the check, we came up to some LD's who were having a Bad Boot Day - one of the horses had gotten cut or rubbed bloody by the screws on one of his easyboots. I tossed her my multitool to get the other front boot off and we hung out til they got ready to walk in to the check. We got in to the check at 10:42 and out at 10:57. Painfully slow - but my horse was eating, drinking, and not too tired.

The second loop was where the utter despair overtook me. We had to climb this epic peak - I think we ended up on the right one in this pic.

Here's Dixie Valley!

Baby death-defying trails. Dixie seemed to like to stay in the outside wheel track, so I got to practice breathing, staying centered, and not looking down as we made the switchbacks. It's not like we'd DIE if we tumbled over the edge, we'd just break something.

On the far side of the peak, we found the ruins of historic La Plata, Nevada. After about 150 years, this is all that's left: a mystery building.

Dave kept us all moving along as fast as we could (not very). Fena was spectacularly uninspired about the whole ride, and Dixie was going absolutely as fast as she could without overtiring herself. I was just following him to keep him company, because I was pretty sure at that point that we'd go overtime. I mean, we were crawling. We hadn't even done 25 miles and it'd taken like 7 hours. There was just no way we could finish. I couldn't decide whether I should RO and get the Trailer Ride of Shame at lunch, or if I should tough it out and walk my horse in hours overtime in the cold dark stormy night. Eventually, I decided that honor dictated that I do whatever Dave did - he was obviously not going to run my horse into the ground, and he hadn't ditched me even though he almost certainly could've, so the least I could do was not ditch him. Fortunately I hadn't whined any of this out loud, and he said he doesn't even have a computer, so he'll only get a second-hand account of what a pussy I was. :)

He was pretty confident all day that if we kept trotting where we could and walking where we had to that we'd complete. Fena was pitifully starved - you can see from her pictures, rolleyes - and she stopped and snacked often and showed Dixie how it's done.

Both horses drank ok all day, but not quite as eagerly as we hoped. At one point, Dixie drank pretty well at one cattle tank, then couldn't bring herself to drink at the next - it was (gasp!) attached to a working windmill! The next two tanks we found were dry - one was bone-dry, and one was about 4' deep in the ground with a couple inches of scummy water waaaaay down in the bottom. We humans knew that there was a horse trough full of fresh clean water just another mile down the road, but Dixie didn't know that. My heart absolutely broke for her - she was very thirsty, she wanted that little bit of water, and nobody could give it to her. I had to drag her away and kick her to get her moving down the road again. I really hope that experience made an impression on her and she'll drink whatever water she comes across whenever she comes across it now! And yes, when we slogged on down the road to the next tank, she drank very very well.

We got to lunch at three twenty five. Both horses got A's and B's and settled in to eating and drinking like hogs. I will say, the nice thing about being turtle is that you can let your horse eat all the leftovers without a trace of guilt. Dixie disdained her grain, a banana, and an apple, but she ate like half a quart of soaked beet pulp, all the carrots she could find, and a bunch of very fine grass hay. (Normally she hates beet pulp.)

She was clearly not going anywhere, so I just left her parked in a haypile and concentrated on eating my food as fast as I could.

And socks! I had totally forgotten that I'd packed dry socks - they were absolutely amazing! No pics of my grungy feet, but I did make a face and take a picture of me for yall.

Fena had her own haypile and she wasn't going anywhere either.

The last of the volunteers and the last pulled rider headed out as we finished our hold. Dave reassured me that we only had a couple miles of uphill left, then it would be all downhill and we'd absolutely make it in time. Climbing back in the saddle was the physically hardest thing I've done in a long time - my poor butt. Sadly there was nobody left at the check to offer me Vicodin or liquor, so I had some Motrin and some lemon-lime electrolytes and worked through it.

Through the mountains for a couple of miles:

Then down the valleys:

One was particularly majestic. I pushed "enhance" on most of these pictures, because the iPhone just doesn't do well with bright skies and dark ground. This one I really played with the levels to bring out the cliff wall - we rode down into the canyon at the base of that cliff. Amazingly beautiful.

At the last water stop, both mares drank pretty well. You could see camp, the Stillwater lakes, and 20 miles across the valley floor to the mountains by I-80. Sadly, camp doesn't show up on the picture.

We trotted steadily down out of the hills and onto the valley floor. The trail used to head toward camp, then zigzag away from it down a gully, then head back in. This seems like a cruel and unusual trick to me, and apparently management came to their senses and changed it - the trail still comes off the road, but the gully it goes down now pretty much parallels the road. We popped back on to the road a mile from camp with plenty of time to spare, so we hopped off and walked in.

Both horses were pulsed down at the finish. I very seriously begged Dixie to not limp or flinch and we headed off to get vetted... and we passed! A's and B's. Completion in 11:30 or so. GPS data here.

I started crying while leading Dixie back to the trailer, thinking about what we'd done and what an absolutely amazing mare she is. This is her "I'm done" pose. Standing as far as she can from the trailer, sleeping instead of eating.

Post-ride and analysis in a separate post - this one is way too long :)


  1. You GO, Girls!!! I can't even imagine doing that!
    It was nice that you paired up with Dave--from what others have said, it sounds like he's got lots of experience, and was able to help you pace yourselves, as well as keep you motivated. It probably would have been an entirely different experience if you two had had to do it all by yourselves.
    Now you've got that first 50-miler out of the way, the sky's the limit!

  2. :D Thanks, yall!

    ES - Dave Rabe has just over 50,000 miles. Him turtling this ride was the perfect thing for me and Dixie.

    We wouldn't have finished if we were alone. I was totally brain-fogged and I didn't know the trail and I was sure we couldn't complete in time. It's so hard the first time!

  3. Congratulations - having an experienced companion was really great!

  4. I'm catching up here, and all teary eyed WITH YOU. Now let someone dare tell you that your mare can't! We'll kick their .... Personally I've always believe that you could, and you would, and you freakin' did! If you think short little fat ladies can't dance you should see me now ☺


  5. Congratulations on making it through the ride!

    I'm going to show this to DR later today!

  6. This is from Hosebag Dave!

    I enjoyed riding with you and thought you did a good job with your horse! Glad you stayed with me and made it through the ride. Keep trying and have confidence in yourself. Good luck on your next 50!

  7. Hahahah Hosebag showed up, yaaay! I was hoping Karen would show this to you :)

    It'll get so much easier now. Thank you again!. We've done it once and I KNOW we can do it again. I'm starting to get the hang of pacing and she's getting the hang of taking care of herself. :D

  8. So HAPPY for you both. Way to pull through and reach a goal.. not an easy one either..

  9. Way cool. So glad it was successful. What a trooper Dixie has become; I'm not sure my butt even wants to think about 50 miles in a saddle!

    Congrats on a first.

  10. Well done to both of you.

    What lovely wild open terrain to ride through too.

  11. Congratulations!

    That said, did he seriously ride 50 miles in shorts?

  12. Thanks, y'all. Smazourek - he rides 99% of his miles in cutoff jean shorts. It's legendarily snowy or rainy if DR actually puts on long pants.

  13. I bow down to you and Dixie! That is absolutely amazing and I can feel the emotion you described when the two of you finished.


  14. Oh Fund, I am so crying toomfor you after reading all of toally GREAT!! Your mare is such a super mare!
    I love that country and would LOVE to do that too..wish I was self wealthy, I'd so come with you and train and ride!!

    DAVE was a God send... really perfect!OOHHHHWA! I am so pleased for you!


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