Dixie walked out of the trailer lame.
I always wonder if I'll ~know~ lameness when I see it, cause gaited horses already move a little funny, but the second she hopped out of the trailer I knew something was wrong. She was off, somewhere high up in her left rear, and I could see it before she even got that leg out of the trailer and on to the ground, and I FREAKED OUT.
It was probably a cramp, from the twisty stop-and-go trip up Hwy 50, but holy shit! Do I try to walk it out and start the ride? But it's such a hard ride! Do I just give up and not even start? But I love this ride so much and I came so far! We got the horses and gear situated at Sanne's trailer, where they'd be spending the weekend, and I took Dixie straight to the vets with my little hands flapping helplessly in the air.
She was already moving better. Dr. Hassan and Dr. McCartney watched her trot (step-pace) out and said yes, probably a cramp. We talked about how it's 18 miles to the vet check and a long trailer ride back to camp, and I said I'd ride five miles out and if she was moving funny I'd hike her back to camp, and I was cleared to start. B for gait, 42 pulse.
The ride started at the leisurely hour of 8, which is nice if you're a fast rider but left me thinking about sunset times. Nothing for it, though - the vet check is fairly inaccessible, and it takes the volunteers something like two hours to get from base camp to the vet check. Nobody would help if they had to get up at 4 to do it!
Dixie was ready to get it done. Put the bridle on and get on already, human!
Lucy and I started out toward the back of the pack. I can't remember, but I think there were ~20 people in the 50? We trot trotted a bit, and when the horses weren't quite so fresh we dropped to a walk. I knew we had a lot of climbing to do, from camp at 7000' up to above 9000'. We leapfrogged a bit with my friends Angela and Pam, and they ended up behind our little parade as we came out of the forest onto the "singletrack with exposure."
We tied Dixie and Roo to the same tree, but that didn't work out quite so well. Dixie ate her mash, and some of her hay, then she ate some of Roo's hay while glaring balefully at him, then she shoved him out of the way and dove into his mash. He backed up and licked the outside of the bucket while staring adoringly at her. We had to leave a human at them at all times to save him from his new love.
The second loop is short, only 12 miles, and we zipped along at our usual slow-but-steady speed. This year the second loop was the same course, but run in reverse from last year, and everybody agrees that it works better this way. We climbed back out of the vet check, up a pretty singletrack (instead of climbing back up the boring rocky road.) Our group met up with one of the bike rescue guys. There are two different bike patrols out there, I think, and the equestrian and bikers are trying really hard to work together and share the trails safely. Somebody had lost a sponge on the trail, and one of the bikers passed it up to me to take back to camp.
We went back up to where the photographers had been. The horses were quite cheerful - we were headed back to camp! YAY CAMP! But then at Snow Valley we turned left, away from camp, and the horses fell into a sad funk. I got off and started running downhill, dragging my horse like a reluctant cat on a leash, and we made it down the alpine slope to a little meadow in pretty good time. The Dedicated Turtle (I'm sorry, I've forgotten your name!) dinked along behind us, and we leapfrogged with a lady on a beautiful black MFT. The horses topped off their tanks on good grass, then we got back on and trot-trot-trotted along the flume trail back to the vet check.
The sky was SO BLUE.
The third loop is a long, gentle climb up the flume trail, up and up and up til your horse is utterly sick of trotting up hill, and then there's a quarter mile of very steep horrible bullshit. We finally slogged up the last bit (well, Dixie and I slogged. Roo and Luv gleefully cantered it. Nikki was happy behind Dixie, slogging away.) A quick drink at the troughs at the top, and on to Twin Lakes.
It's really hard to pick a favorite section of such a beautiful trail, but I especially like Twin Lakes / Herlan Peak. It's not as high as Snow Valley, near the pro photos, but it's very quiet and majestic and forbidding. The lakes were gone this year, so we skipped riding through the little valley and tackled the singletrack up to the top of Herlan. I took a few pictures...
Our time was getting tight, but we talked about it and agreed that if the guy wanted a ride down, we'd put him on a horse and someone would walk him out. You can't just leave people, not late afternoon at 8000'.
We climbed and climbed, and eventually we came upon the injured guy. His brother was with him, walking the bikes down, and the injured guy was mobile (but quite unhappy) - more likely a dislocated shoulder than a broken one. He didn't want a ride down, but again, none of them had reception. Angela still did (WTF!) so she called Crysta again. Crysta gave her the number for the bike rescue patrol, and she called them and everyone pitched in to describe the situation. Angela passed her phone down to the brother and they got a plan together. He got the bike patrol number, for when they got reception, and two more bikers showed up - not sure if they were all riding together or if they'd just met up on the trail. But they seemed to have things under control, and after much discussion, we headed on our way.
We'd lost at least fifteen minutes, possibly as long as thirty, helping out the injured dude. I don't think any of us were resentful about stopping - it was absolutely the Right Thing To Do - but we really had to hustle if we were going to finish in time / finish before dark.
Eventually, we made it over the peak. I wish there was a little sign at the top or something, because you climb and dip and climb and dip and then suddenly you're dipping more than you're climbing and you realize you're on the other side.
Roo and Luv disappeared around the corner at one point, and when we popped around the bend a few seconds later, Angela was climbing on a rock to mount back up. Whuuu...? Luv had just clotheslined her on a tree branch, but by god she kept a hold of the reins and she hopped right back on with just some bruises and rope burns and away we went again.
We zipped past a campground, eventually dropping down to the valley floor and booking along a wide sand road headed to Marlette Lake. Luv had decided that Dixie didn't deserve Roo's affection (and really, Dixie was that really hot abusive crazy ex-girlfriend) so Angela's in the rest of the pictures!
It was getting dark, so I took Dixie's fly mask off.
I am not gonna lie, the 4.5 mile singletrack between Marlette and Spooner is the longest four point five miles of my life. You cross a few bridges, the kind that definitely contain trolls, and climb up (JFC, up again? seriously?) and drop down and climb up and drop down.
Dixie and I ended up behind Pam and Nikki - they were tired and Dixie said she couldn't trot up any more hills, ever. Roo and Luv, little energizer Arabs, trot-trot-trotted away and our two just watched them go rather wistfully. Nikki started pulling on poor Pam, who was really tired, and I put Dixie in front to give her a break. We walked the up and finally started down, and I started trotting the pretty bits and walking the boulders and trees again.
I fell into a black mood. At this pace we'd finish at like 8:30. Maybe I could whine and get miles-only completion, cause we'd stopped and helped that biker, but I didn't want miles-only. I wanted to finish properly, within my 12 hours, and get my proper fit-to-continue-in-the-allotted-time finish. I wanted to finish in the daylight. I mean, shit, here we go again just like Sunriver: my almost-worthless GPS had run out of battery somewhere back there. I had nothing but a cell phone for light and absolutely no extra clothes. (Oh, vanity, thy name is Funder - but those pictures were so worth it, dude.) At least I knew exactly where I was, and I knew ride management would come look for me.
We finally came out of the rolling singletrack onto some flatter stuff and I looked at my horse and said, "This is it. If we don't trot-trot-trot all the way to camp we won't make it, so I need you to start trotting and never stop." Dixie flicked an ear back at me like, "oh, sure, ain't no thang" and she took off at her lovely step-pace and we flew along the trail. Her ears were up and she was quite happy.
When she let out an enormous bellow, I knew she'd smelled her BFFs, and sure enough, a few minutes later we caught up to Roo and Luv. Lucy and Angela just blinked at us in surprise. "We were through trotting hills," I explained, "but not quite through trotting in general."
Everybody grazed for a minute, then I said, "Come on, Dixie, let's get this shit done" and away we went, back in the lead, trot-trot-trotting to the lake. We came up on a couple groups of people with dogs, and we slowed to a walk long enough for them to grab the dogs. We didn't want to blow past them like total assholes, but I explained "we're sorry we're in a hurry but we have 25 minutes to get back to camp or we lose our race!" They grinned and waved and we were off again.
We got around the lake and Dixie was like, whew, close enough, time to walk. Roo took over again for a bit, then Luv took the lead and freakin' cantered up the last switchbacks to the road into camp. We finally pulled them up there and walked the last quarter mile in. Our new worry was getting the horses pulsed down fast enough to vet through before they got cold and cramped up - it was very dusky and chilly, and we didn't want to come in so hot that their pulses would hang.
We finished with 11 minutes to spare. Worse than last year, but all things considered, a good showing.
Lucy and I headed back to our camp at Sanne's trailer. We yanked tack, threw coolers on, and let the horses stuff their faces while we anxiously waited for them to pulse down. We didn't dare sponge them, but they came down to the 68 pulse to finish quite quickly - maybe 10 or 15 minutes? (You have one hour after the finish to pulse down to 68, so that's entirely normal.) Back up the vets, a quick trot-out and exam, and we were done!
The last three riders - poor Pam, who we'd ditched so callously, the black MFT, and the Dedicated Turtler made it with four minutes to spare. I'm so happy that Pam finished - she was very, very tired and sore and she really had to dig deep to put on that last burst of speed and get it done. They vetted out and everyone was finally done with a long day.
I know there was one pull, one rib-cracking fall, and some LDs who took the wrong trail and did 38 miles instead of 30, but surely you're sick of reading this post so I'll wrap it up here. Gear, videos, explanations, future plans (Virginia City!!) to come.
Go Dixie! I'm so proud of her. She is slow as molasses but she's surefooted and she's got heart and she just does not quit. She never took a bad step all day. That is the hardest 50 we've ever done (twice!), and it's harder than the 80 miles we did at Sunriver, and words just can't describe how I feel about my horse.
edit oh here's the post-ride photo. Dixie was extremely angry that we'd stopped on the way to her stall, with her dinner, for stupid human photos. Dirty, yes; angry, yes; poorly, no. :)