Monday, July 16, 2012

2012 Gold Country 50: Easier and harder than I thought

When I pick rides, I look at the main things most people look at, I suppose. How many weeks is it after my last ride? How far is the haul? How many of my friends say they'll be there? Have I heard any particularly relevant gossip about the RMs or listed vets? I don't consider piddling technicalities like "bus plunge road to camp" or "trail may combust."

So three weeks ago I sent in my entry for Gold Country. Then on Wednesday a raging wildfire broke out north of Foresthill, but it was in a totally different valley, so I packed up my junk and away we went on Friday. It was actually the easiest packing I've ever done. I just sort of threw a bunch of food in the cooler, slung the cooler and a box of camping gear and a bale of hay in the truck, and hit the road. The drive up really wasn't bad, except for the bus-plunge Highway 49.

I gotta admit something, yall: I cried when I saw No Hands Bridge. The Sierras are the most beautiful place I've ever been in my life, even with the terrifying roads and nonstop fires. I cannot wait for Tevis and then the Tahoe Rim ride!

I got safely to camp outside of Georgetown. Highway 49 was horrifying, especially when I crawled around one hairpin turn and came upon a wreck in the other lane. One car had gone off the road entirely and only the trunk was visible in the trees, and the other had slipped off the road and was canted off the edge at a 45 degree angle. The fire trucks had just made their way up the enormous backed-up line of traffic and were still evaluating the scene. But we did not plunge to our deaths, and my truck did great.

Bird summed up the ride meeting: "long, sometimes painfully confusing as 8 people ask the same question at different times and occasionally get different answers ... by the end I was cold and hungry and had concluded that my ride strategy was much the same as it had been before the meeting: Ignore Babble, Follow Ribbons." By the end of the meeting, I was sleepy instead of cold, but otherwise I had the same impression. All pink-and-black ribbons, all on the right. Walk your horse across the paved roads, dammit.

Ride meeting

The 50s left at 6 am. We rode 12.5 miles out to a teeny weeny little Piper Cub airport for a vet check and hold, then the same back to camp for a vc/hold, then off on another loop for 18 miles and a vc/hold, then 7 miles back to camp. The weather wasn't quite as hot as the earlier predictions, but it was still in the 90s.

I wore my snazzy new helmet cam for the first loop. It made my head surprisingly hot - I think it pushed the helmet down onto my scalp - and when we started going under low hanging branches it got dangerous so I took it off.

Gaiting down the trail on Dixie at the Gold Country 50 mile ride from Funder on Vimeo.

We came plinking on in to the first vet check at 8:30 or so and pulsed down in 10 minutes, which is about normal for us. It was SO SMOKY. The whole trip, I never got a view of the high Sierras, just the up-close foothills.

We headed back, and I happened to look at my phone and I had four bars of 3G reception in the absolute middle of nowhere, so I put a picture on Facebook.

We made it back to lunch in good time, still running an hour or so ahead of cutoff, and again I got Dixie pulsed down in about 10 minutes. I was hot and grumpy when we rolled in, but I drank some chocolate milk and ate a fist-sized chunk of cold steak and recovered my good spirits. Dixie vetted through well and ate pan after pan of hay pellet / beet pulp mash.

I left right on time after the lunch hold, but I'd only gone 50 feet down the trail when I realized I'd forgotten to put my camelback back on. Back to camp, jump off, find the camelback, remount, leave again.

Dixie clearly felt that 25 miles was long enough on Saturday and she did not want to go back out again, but she was doing great metabolically so I insisted that we go on. There was quite a bit of shade and good footing.


We were mostly alone for that third loop. We'd been mostly alone all day - there were plenty of people in the back part of the pack with me, but Dixie didn't pace with their horses and I don't try to force it. She goes faster than most on downhills, slow and steady on the flattish bits, and bogs down going up hills. All day, I leapfrogged with some people I really liked and some people who grated on my nerves like fingernails on chalkboard.

Shady road and a creek on Gold Country 50 from Funder on Vimeo.

(She drank at the next set of tanks. I did not drop my phone in the water all day.)

Dixie and I had kept up a 5.5-6 mph pace since lunch, just toddling on down the trail at our usual slower-than-dirt yet steady pace, but we hit the Big Hill and she just quit on me mentally. It was only about a 700' climb over 5 miles, but it was unrelentingly sunny and hot. We'd given up on the idea of trotting that stupid hill, and we were just plodding along achingly slowly. I'd been running an hour+ ahead of cutoff times, it was hot as hell, I knew we could make time on the downhill side and the shady flats, and I just wasn't worried about time. (I had no idea where we reeeeally were on the trail because my GPS was having a hard time staying locked on the satellites and I kept bumping it and turning it off and on.)

Eventually, we made it over the hill. Some obnoxiously chipper people had passed us on the climb up (Things you really don't need to say: "Wow, you sure are taking it easy! We stayed an extra half hour at lunch and we still caught you, ha ha!") and Dixie recovered from her funk and chased them on in to the last vet check.

I got Dixie pulsed down in 10-12 minutes and presented her to the vets. Melissa Ribley vetted me that time, with mostly all A's, and she said Dixie looked good but warned me that we'd have to hustle to make it back in time. Our out time was 4:48 and the ride cutoff was 6 pm, and the VC was 7 miles from camp. Shit.

Two riders I'd leapfrogged with all day (not the Extra Half Hour people) came in just behind me, and I asked if I could ride in with them. They said sure, and their out times ended up being 4:50. By that time the reality of "seven miles in an hour and ten minutes" had sunk in and I didn't think there was a chance in hell that we'd make cutoff, so I figured another 2 minutes wouldn't matter!

When we came in, the volunteers had two lameness pulls and two rider option pulls waiting to get a trailer back to camp. The three of us were the last riders out of that check - there were four more people on the trail behind us somewhere, but they would get pulled for overtime at the check and they'd have to get a ride back to camp too. The trailer showed up while we were there and loaded the two lame horses for the trip back to camp. So I looked at the two-horse trailer that was shuttling horses back to camp, I looked at the two RO's waiting for a ride and (metaphorically looked at) the four riders behind us, and I figured if I pulled and waited for a trailer ride it'd take me longer to get back to camp than if I rode, even if I went overtime.

So we went. I was sure we were going to go overtime, but by god we'd go down fighting. I didn't want to let Dixie hurt herself, but she had looked really good at the vet check, with a nice CRI and good hydration and gut sounds. We might as well try.

I felt pretty dumb for getting so far behind. How could I have fucked up my time so badly? But both the horses I was with had finished Tevis, and Les and Jill Carr were somewhere behind me. (Les's Tulip currently has 22,000+ miles, and Jill's Walker The Mule has an entirely respectable 3,200.) It wasn't, like, a bunch of newbies on unfit horses going overtime.

E led the way on her perky chestnut gelding. Dixie tucked in right behind. S's experienced older grey fellow had been tripping on the downhills, so she yo-yo'd behind us, falling way back as we barreled down hills and catching us up on the flats and uphills. My GPS battery gave up the ghost a couple miles out of the vet check. None of us could remember how far any particular landmark was from camp. But E's gelding recognized the trail and he just flew down it to get back to camp, and Dixie was NOT going to let him get out of sight. We crossed the paved road for the last time and BAM popped out at camp. I whooped when I saw the glint of trucks through the trees, and E whooped too, and we both rode in, arms over our heads, yelling. Somehow we'd done it at 5:49 pm.

(Thanks for the pic, Lucy!)

I let Dixie eat and drink for 30 minutes, then vetted out. She got a 48/50something CRI and a very charitable B for attitude and impulsion, with A's for everything else. I think. When the vet came up to me at the check I said "please take it real slow with me, I'm extremely dumb at this point in the ride!" So I might be misremembering vet scores!

Dixie got a well-deserved roll in the dirt, then more mash and hay.

I got a huge fresh strawberry crepe!!! and a plate of fresh corn salad, salmon, pork loin, and chicken drumsticks. I had a wonderful time talking to friends at dinner and after. And I slept like a freakin' log overnight.

I taped the helmet cam to my dashboard and got a 15 minute video of the delightful Highway 49 between Cool and Auburn, but it's HD so it's 1.3 gigs. That vastly exceeds my Vimeo limit, so I'm putting it on Youtube, but it'll probably take fourteen years to process. Anyway, I'll post when it's up - skip ahead to the end, you will not believe how smoky the American River ravine is.

edit well that didn't take years at all.

Next: what went wrong? (Well, we completed, so nothing went TOO wrong, but 11 minutes from the time limit is cutting it too close!)

My flaky little GPS clocked 44.1 miles and 7,661' of elevation gain in just over 8 hours of moving time. The tracker info:


  1. woohoo! I knew it would be hot and smoky, and I sure feel it in your pictures and description, I was sending everyone good vibes. That canyon drive is still scary (and I live there!) The helmet cam footage is great, but I did wonder about low-hanging branches. 11 minutes to spare is still finishing, but is a long time on trail. Great job.

    (And if you ever want to ride down to No Hands Bridge from Auburn, no driving the scary canyon, just let me know!)

    1. I thought about you on the drive out! I think you're near-ish to Folsom and when I saw the signs to Folsom I thought of you!

      Hah, riding down to No Hands is probably just as scary as driving it. ;) I'd love to sometime!

  2. Congratulations on finishing! Great story. You had me right there with you as you did those last seven miles. Yay for Dixie and you doing another successful fifty, setbacks and all.

  3. Good job you and Dixie! And DAMN, someone has ridden 22,000 miles on the SAME horse?! Color me impressed!!!

  4. As always, you have me itching for the long rides of my past...

  5. Melissa, Tulip has 22,000 miles, Les (the rider) has about double that!
    Funder - great job. That ride is a hard one & you did great.

  6. It was good to see you again - on the trail! Sorry we had two-way traffic but thanks for being so super polite and letting me come down the hill first :) Next time I'll come and find you in camp and tell you all about why you don't need to bother with poultice and wraps and instead should teach your horse to stand in a bucket of (ice) water, or just use cold wraps, and also keep her moving to prevent the stocking up... Congrats on finishing - even if you cut it close!

    1. Looking forward to it, Ines! I agree, great seeing you even if it was just for a minute on the trail.

  7. I love those videos! I think it's super cute how Dixie's ears are up all the time. Congratulations on your finish!!

  8. way to go you 2, and 48/50something CRI is awesome!
    - The Equestrian Vagabond

  9. Lucy's pic of you guys at the end is incredibly sweet. :)


Feel free to comment!