Monday, May 7, 2012

2012 Washoe Valley II 50 miler

Yall. Theoretically, you're supposed to give your horse her last meal of "grain" three hours before the ride starts, so that it's in the right place in her guts to do her the most good while you're riding. But that's 3 am, and NOBODY wakes up at 3 am thinking "yep time to feed the horse." But I did! I woke up at 2:30 because it was so cold I needed to turn the heater back on, and I made the ultimate sacrifice: I got completely out of the sleeping bag, put my shoes on, climbed out of the tent (yes it was even colder outside), and dumped the pre-soaked beet pulp / hay pellet / grain mix for her. I am the champion.

My alarm went off at 5 am, and HOLY SHIT IT WAS COLD. I was seriously reconsidering my choice of sports. I turned on the truck to charge my phone, made coffee, checked the horse (yep she ate all that 3 am grain and licked the pan), slathered ICE COLD Butt Butt'r on my ladybits, and generally felt very sorry for myself. Eventually, with some coffee and some blessed heat in the truck, I felt up to the challenge.

I pulled Dixie's cooler, tacked her up, and threw the waterproof blanket on top of the saddle. Her cooler is a fleece job with a closed chest, so it slips over her head like a sweater and fits snugly. The blanket fits more loosely, and it's got an open chest that closes with velcro and some buckles, so it's easier to drape it over a saddled horse. Everybody does this, and I've done it at almost every ride before.

At 6:20 it was time to mount up, so I undid the belly straps, un-velcro'd the chest, and pulled the blanket off my horse. Except it didn't come off completely - one of the leg straps caught on the pommel bag and OH MY GOD, HOLY SHIT, THERE'S A PURPLE MONSTER ON MY ASS I'M GOING TO DIE Dixie started flailing around like a 3/4 ton marlin on a line.

Horse people know exactly how horrifying this is, but I have a couple of non-horse readers: this is seriously bad. This is exactly how horses kill themselves and cripple themselves. It's the second worst possible outcome - if her halter, lead, or hi-tie had broken and she'd RUN THROUGH CAMP WITH A PURPLE MONSTER EATING HER ASS it could possibly have been worse. The only thing I could do was stand at the corner of the trailer talking loudly but calmly to her, telling her what a good girl she was and how it was ok. About five and a half hours later, Dixie slowly started to calm down and looked at me and stood still. She was literally shaking like a leaf.

I just stepped up and started scratching her neck telling her what a wonderful brave amazing horse she was. Her muscles started to relax a tiny bit. I told her she was outstanding and I'd save her if she'd just hold still, and I slowly ran a hand back and unhooked half the blanket, then I ducked around and started scratching her neck on the other side and slid down and unhooked the blanket. She darted away from it. I picked it up and rubbed it on her nose and told her how silly she was.

Then I bridled her, led her around to make sure she hadn't gone lame, and mounted up. We walked pretty calmly up to the start gate, let the hotshoes roar on out, and then I was cold and I thought maybe if we trotted I'd warm up so we went out mid-pack.

Dixie's brains fell out her ears for the second time that day. It was horrible. I was so cold I couldn't feel my feet or my hands. It was all I could do to hold her to a fast gait - she kept trying to bolt and I'd yank her back with my numb hands and she'd start bucking/cantering in place and I'd let her go and she'd gait for a hundred feet then try to gallop. Rinse and repeat over and over.

I felt very sorry for my dumb ass.

But then the sun peeked over the hills and this beautiful fog started coming up from the valley. We hit the water trough at the top of the park, maybe 2 miles in, right behind a guy. He stopped, so I manhandled Dixie to a stop, and two more people came up behind us. I didn't even make Dixie stand at the trough, but I did insist she not run off til all the horses declined to drink. We walked across the road, I let her gait off, and the worst was over. She was still chasing the horses ahead of us, but she wasn't trying quite so hard to gallop after them.

A couple miles further along, we came across the ride photographers, and Dixie and I took the World's Worst Ride Pictures. I have this utterly terrified death's head grin on my face, and my head's down at a funny angle so I have a double chin, and Dixie looks completely freaked out, and in one of them she'd just tried to bolt so I was hauling on the reins and her mouth is gaping open like some Don't Do This You Asshole educational photo. It's bad. I might post it anyway, it's that hilariously bad.

But! Man we look sharp! Everything except my breastcollar is blue and purple, wheee!

At the bottom of Jumbo Grade, we finally caught the horses ahead of us - it was our friends B&D and another rider I didn't know. I gladly let them "tow" us up the big hill at Jumbo, and we all hopped off to walk down the back side. We all walked the horses down a waterfall-of-rock trail, and when it leveled off a bit B&D mounted up and headed off. The other rider, L, asked if I'd like her to wait while I got on, and I said YES PLEASE, and we hopped on up and spent the rest of the ride together.

Dixie did a great job as lead horse. She headed out with her Big Walk, and L's mare walked the rocks and trotted the nice bits and kept up just fine. L had ridden Saturday too, and she was also looking for a nice easy 10 hour finish. We wound on down through some lovely views, and when it leveled out we hit a water tank and both horses drank. While they were finishing, M and a couple other new people showed up, so I said hi but our horses were done and off we went. Dixie trotted off strongly, and L was sure our pace was good, so we stayed in the lead and zipped along the flat bits. There were two railroad crossings, but Dixie just took a good look at the ties and rails and walked calmly over them. ET and somebody else passed us, but Dixie somehow managed to stay cool about the whole thing.

We lost sight of all the horses ahead of us on a rocky powerline road through the hills, but then M and the other new person, C, caught up and we all slogged on through the rough bit. We climbed up the hills outside of camp, then decided to hop off and walk the horses down the steep grade to camp. C was trying to find a pocket by herself, so she took off a little bit ahead of us. The three of us stuck together quite happily.

The road down the hill toward camp is quite steep (-14% grade), hardpacked sand dust over solid rock. I slipped, twisted as I fell, and slammed my knee down. I cussed, got back up, walked like fifteen feet, and fell AGAIN, on the SAME KNEE. FML.

M and Info the Mustang, shortly before I fell.

My Kerrits winter tights get an A for durability. My knee was crusty with blood but they didn't rip. I like to think that the half-chaps protected my shins from damage, but I didn't really fall on my shin...

Sand over rocks.

So I gimped on into camp after the first 25 mile loop. We had an hour hold. Dixie vetted through just fine - B's for mucous membranes and gut sounds, indicating that she needed to eat and drink, but A's for everything else and a good CRI, so she wasn't too tired. At the trailer, she dove into her mash and hay and carrots, and I spent a little while taking care of myself. I slathered on more Butt Butt'r, glared at my knee wound, and ate a quarter pound of ham and an apple. I gave Dixie another half-dose of electrolytes. I refilled my knockoff Camelbak, which was performing adequately if not superbly, and then realized I had a good 15 minutes to spare. I pulled the rain fly off the tent, rolled it up, and shoved it in the tent bag, then packed a couple of things from inside the tent, then decided it was time to mount back up. I went to pick up my gloves and there was only one glove.

After 5 frantic minutes of searching, I realized I must've rolled the left glove up with the tent and shoved it into the bag. I was now out of time to look for it, and I only had one spare right glove in the trailer, so I headed out like some demented white-girl Michael Jackson. The only drawback to biothane reins is that they get slippery if your hands are at all damp, and I dunno about you, but when my horse starts yanking on the reins trying to bolt off, my hands get damp, and that's when I need a good grip on the reins. So gloves are not essential, but they sure are nice to have. Oh well.

I met up with M and L at the out gate, and we headed off merrily together on the second 18 mile loop. We were all sort of planning on a 10-hour ride, and we'd gotten in after the first loop an hour and a half faster than we'd thought, so we were in no rush. We'd looked at the map, and M and I are pretty familiar with the area, but I didn't know exactly where we were going (and I don't think she did either). All we knew was this loop went "up and up and up."

We plinked along some really lovely singletrack beside Eastlake Boulevard, the main road. Horror of horrors, the mild weather plus the lake equalled flies. My poor princess has not had an insect touch her glowing white hide in almost a full year, and she reacted poorly. These stupid slow black flies drove her NUTS. I don't think they were biting flies, but they were touching her face and she could not stop slinging her head. I felt so bad for her. I would smash them with my whip whenever they landed on her neck, and she appreciated it, but it wasn't enough.

At some point I took the lone glove off and looked less retarded.

L was happy in the middle or back, and M's Info only has two gears currently: a 3 mph walk or a 13 mph trot. So Dixie ended up as lead horse again. I kept telling her that if she'd walk faster, the flies might not get her, and she did a pretty good job. We caught up to C for a bit, then she took off again. The trail was pretty nice, only rocky in bits, and we were having a grand old time - til we popped over a rise and saw the water tanks at the crossroads and realized where we were going.

We climbed that hill.

There's a gravel (?) mine in that extinct volcano mountain. It's an active mine, so there's a very nice truck-quality gravel road that switchbacks up to the mine, then some jeep trail leading up to the top. We had to go up that hill, circle around behind it, and come down a different trail that went like 50' from the big gravel road. We could see horses slowly marching up it and horses gallivanting down the trail on the other side.

C was off her horse at the water tanks, feeding him hay. We rode up and joined her. She was flinging hay into one of the tanks, then fishing out the wet stuff and offering it to him, so we all stood around for 15 minutes feeding wet hay to each others' horses. Of course our own horses didn't want stupid soggy hay from our hands, but they wanted the delicious wet hay the strangers had. Everybody ate a lot of hay and drank a lot of water and eventually, reluctantly, we all remounted and headed on the death march.

C was riding a "formerly paint" grey NSH/Arab (exactly like Phoebes, I think) who had a great walk, so I sicced Dixie on him and we plodded up the road at 4.5 mph. Then 4 mph. Then 3 mph. Then M and L caught us at 2.8 mph. I checked Facebook. I responded to a lady who emailed me about my Craigslist "goat for sale" post. Dixie was SO UNAMUSED.


We kept getting excited when we'd make it to a turn, but there was just MORE HILL behind every turn. We checked out the riders behind us who were glaring at the hill from the water tank or slowly death-marching up behind us. It was 2.2 miles of hell with 1100' of Everest climbing.

Approximately four thousand hours later, we hit the top and found another water tank. The horses drank great and grazed for a while and we headed for home. C took off again - still looking to ride alone, poor thing - and the three of us stuck together.

Here's the really cool bit: A billion years ago, in 2009 when I'd first come to Reno, I rode this bit of trail. I had gone camping with two decidedly not endurance riders, and we just went exploring in the hills. We found this long rocky switchback down to the lake, and as we rode I noticed some old dolomite dots and a ribbon or two hidden under the sagebrush, and I deduced that it was an endurance ride trail and it must be from the Washoe Ride. And like some little kid watching the Space Shuttle launch who said "I wanna be an astronaut!", I said "I wanna do this ride some day!" Three years later, I did the ride.

It's a beautiful trail in early May. There's tons of desert peach just starting to bloom, and it's not nearly so rocky when your horse has boots on, and it's not nearly so long when your horse is in great shape and you've got great friends to hang out with. It was pretty special.

I think we rolled on into camp for the last hold at 3 pm. The shorter second loop took HOURS longer than the first loop. It was, in fact, up and up and up. The second hold was just 15 minutes - I wanted to change clothes, but Dixie said she was hungry so we just stood at the vet check and she ate hay and grass for the whole time. She carried me up Death March Hill; the least I can do is be uncomfortable for one more hour.


C and L headed out of the last hold, but I could see M walking up so I waited for her. She hopped up on Info and I pointed Dixie at her buddies trotting off and said "go get 'em!" and she did. It was another amazing moment that made the hell of the morning totally worth it: my horse had done 40some miles, but she had gas left in the tank. We caught up quickly and roared up this amazingly fun twisty singletrack to the top of the park. We hit the tank at the north end of the park, let them graze for a few minutes, and trotted off again - west to the lake, then southeast back to camp. C and I ended up together again with the fast-walking beasties, and we decided we needed to trot to the finish. We trotted up to the big white finish line and both horses slammed on the brakes - they knew they were done. We were finished at 4:10 pm.

Dixie was clearly still very hungry. I took her back to the trailer, pulled tack, and let her devour another pan of mush and some hay. When she slowed down, I took a deep breath and lead her over to vet out - and she was SOUND. She PASSED. She got A's and B's for everything with a kickass CRI (like 56/50 or something, just outstanding numbers for us). She had cold, tight, sound legs and loose muscles and a perky look in her eye.

As always, the hardest part was packing up. I really don't mind riding cavalry, without any crew, but trying to leave after a ride is brutal. The boots, which did not budge all day, also did not budge when I tried to get them off - I ended up sitting down, slowly yanking them back and forth off of each foot. Then I took down the tent, packed away the million things I'd brought, packed up my trash, scattered the manure and hay and leftover mash, stowed the hi-tie, loaded the horse, and went HOME. I had the best shower in the universe and slept in the best bed in the universe in a gloriously warm house, and I felt remarkably good today.

My girl looked great this morning, too. Cold tight legs, a little tucked up in the butt but not too bad. A little "oh don't even THINK about coming over here," but generally in a good mood.

And that lady I emailed came and picked up the goat today. He's gone to live on a hobby farm with a llama and some chickens. Dixie's hollered a few times for him, but mainly she's eating and chilling out at the fenceline with her horse neighbors.

To steal Aarene's line: Life is good.


  1. Yay!!! Big congrats to you: She's BACK!! What a great stars to both of you for a great rehab and successful return!

  2. I absolutely love your writing voice, by the way.

    And this was one of the best (if not the best) blow-by-blow descriptions of a ride ever. GO BOTH OF YOU! :)

  3. Dixie is a ROCK STAR! (She even trashed her "room" before going onstage...)


  4. Life is good...YOU two ROCK! Look how far you've come!

  5. I want to see the ride pictures! Although I think I already imagined them quite well from the hilarious description that had me LOL! Awesome prose and story. I will forgive you the cliffhanger. Sounds like you two totally rocked it. Congrats!

  6. Butt Butt'r or anything else that needs to go on the skin when you're in a cold tent needs to go in the sleeping bag... I have struggled into a frosted wetsuit when I was white water kayaking... I did have warn, dry thermals underneath but still... I was nuts!

    1. OH MY GOD why did I never think of that?! You're BRILLIANT. Thank you!

    2. I was going to suggest exactly the same thing!

  7. LOVE IT! Yay Funder and YAY Dixie! You guys totally rock, I'm in awe of you :D

    Your truck camper, do you set it up on the bed of the truck or in the trailer? (for some reason I thought you had made some mods to the trailer to camp in there)

    You get extra gold stars for being such a good horse momma and crawling out of your sleeping bag to take care of Dixie ;)

    OMG I have been fortunate enough to not have that exact horse freak out moment but its scary as hell (my colt had a bad reaction to an injection and seizured, he was fine within a few minutes but it was Scary. As. HELL.)

    ALL my barrel racing pics look as bad as what you say your ride pics look like. Seriously I think there was ONE where I liked how I looked and in that one my mare had the dumbest look on her face and her tongue hanging out **eyeroll**

    The railway tracks, are they still active? Just wondering what it would have been like for a train to come along...

    OMG that hill sounds brutal. I hurt just reading about it.

    1. The tent sets up in the bed of the truck. I think it's nicer to camp in the truck bed instead of in the trailer - but the tent isn't great for really high winds and rain and snow. That's when I use the trailer (or cry and stay home).

      Tracks are still active, yup. Dixie's ridden near trains before.

      ROFL glad you have AWFUL BARREL PICS too!

    2. Can't remember if you read my blog or not... but here ya go. These are the best of the worst. Basically the only barrel pics that I've made public (the bay is my mare Cessa, she was put down at the ripe old age of 30 last fall. The appy is Applejack aka Raincloud)

    3. I do, but I haven't read all the way back! Thanks for the link - Cessa had such a sweet face! I'm a huge sucker for bays :)

    4. Me too, I miss the hell outta that horse :(
      Kinda creepy how much Lefta (the new girl) looks like her, bigger & thicker though.

  8. Thanks for the chronicle of the whole big grand thing! (Pictures in other post were very funny - and you guys don't look bad although D looks pretty up.) Sounds like you guys actually ended up having fun.

  9. I'm trying the butt Butt'r. Hell... I'll try anything these days.

    Your ride story was awesome. Your ride morning sounded... not so fun... but as a consolation it was entertaining to read. Rose freaked out at her saddle at LBL, acted like the damn think was a monster and bucked it off. Some days you tried and true pony wakes up brainless... sometimes they leave it behind at the vet check. I think we all have those days.

    Glad to hear Dixie is back and ready for action. She sounded like a trouper and it's always fun to read their 'opinions' on everything during the ride. Honestly... that's a good bit of my fun during the ride.

    Question... and maybe this is just different training styles... why walk the hills up? Do you walk down or what's the hill strategy? We usually trot or canter up but walk down, get off and walk down with them if the hill is steep or technical.

    1. They're really big hills. Only the people who are trying for Top 10 will trot or canter everything. (My friend got 1st and reserve BC, and he got off and RAN up the Death March hill to spare his horse.) People usually walk down the steepest parts, then trot the less-steep downhills.

      About 2x a week I made Dixie trot nonstop up the hill behind our house, and that's made a huge difference in her conditioning. When she's fresh, I ask her to running walk up the steep hills, and she can pass Arabs left and right walking up then walking down. When she's tired, on the second half of the ride, I just let her mosey up the hills and only ask for speed on the flats.

  10. Wow--better you than me--but a great story. Yay for both you and Dixie. I'm off to ride for two pleasant hours through the redwoods--my sort of trail ride. But I admire your guts And Becky is so right. You have a wonderful writing voice.

  11. Excellent writeup! The blanket incident and the first few miles had my heart in my throat! If you can survive that in the beginning, maybe that's as bad as it gets. Until you fell, damn! And that is one hell of a death-march hill, I love the description of your speed getting slower, and slower... OK, I just felt like I was along for the whole ride!

    Great job to you and Dixie, so glad she is sound and happy (her face in that last picture, leave me alone, I'm eating!)

    1. Yep, in three years that's the worst start I've EVER had. Next start I'll work really hard on making sure I've got her attention and it should go better.

  12. Very cool that you made it back to the place your found years ago... just when you are getting ready to leave again. But what an exit! I am so happy for you and your Dixie mare. I saw the pic with the power strap so I know what they are now.

    So, when in California... new goals? More of the same? 50's? 100's? Tevis?

    1. More of the same. I want a solid season of no-injury 50s before I think about setting my sights higher. Maybe a couple of nonconsecutive multidays, like Friday and Sunday. :)

  13. Very cool, congrats! Great ride post, so glad that Dixie is back at it, getting er done on the 50s!

    Your photos were great too

  14. Absolutely amazing!! Congratulations to both of you... you make a great team!

    When I was reading about the trailer incident, I couldn't help but worry that after all your efforts to get out of bed at 3am to feed Dixie so she'd have plenty of gas in the tank, that she might have used up all her energy trying to get away from the purple monster. I'm glad to hear the two of you finished strong! :)

  15. Wow! Great Story! Looks like it was a tough ride! Hated flies... lots of climb, some beautiful views & really great ride time! Super management of your faithful steed too I might ad! So you fell - what did I miss there? Hope you're all better by now! Mare looks GREAT! As I write this Khari is tearing up my front yard!

  16. Oh yea... the blanket "thing"... could have been worse, thank heaven it wasn't - you used your head but in the right way! Khari hung herself up at HOTR one year & while I was trying to free her, she cold-cocked me on my head with hers.... I saw lots of pretty STARS I can tell you!

  17. You guys are awesome. Sounds like it was quite hard but you guys managed it fine :)

    Love the way you wrote this btw.

  18. What an awesome ride story!!!! I didn't know you switched to gloves --> guess I need to do some catching up. It's sounds like an amazing, tough, totally worth it ride. You made me crack up like a million times --> you just have a way of totally capturing what it's like to be IN the ride.


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