I was right about one thing, earlier this year when I started planning my season: Virginia City is way, way harder than Sunriver. I had such an unfortunate experience in Oregon, but I'm glad I went - the trip was super fun with my Worst Crew and Special Auxiliary Worst Crew, and Dixie made such a good* show of it.
* By West "to finish is to win" standards, which is all I've ever cared about. Racing is awesome if you can do it, but there's plenty of good company wandering along at the back of the pack.
Endurance has really been an amazing journey for me. I just can't think of a way to talk about it that doesn't sound cheesy as hell - blah blah personal growth - but it really is. I had to learn to be brave to get started, and I had to learn to be a badass to push through 50s, and now I am learning humility as I try hundreds. It's hard.
It's such a deceptively easy concept: get your horse really fit, make sure your tack fits, and ride well for hours. Nothing to do once you cross the starting line except watch the clouds and make sure you stay balanced, right? But really, you're thinking very hard about a million things from the time you get to ridecamp til the time you unload the horse at home. As soon as you get the physical mostly nailed down, you switch to the mental part of the game.
And my horse just keeps bouncing back stronger. Dixie felt great, great, triple-word-score GREAT all day at VC. I'm pretty sure I could've asked her for more and kept riding and maybe squeaked out a last-minute finish, but you know... I've rehabbed a tendon. I want to never rehab a tendon again. She's an honest mare, and if she says she's tired I'm not going to push her. She didn't choose this life, and she's not out to prove anything to anybody, and I'd rather live to fight another day.
Anyway, you're here for tack and stuff.
I'm still loving the Specialized saddle. Dixie's so comfortable with it that she trots about 10% of the time, instead of the 80% she was trotting with the evil old saddle. I kind of wish I'd sprung for the full seat cover instead of seat + leathers covers, and I may pick up a used full seat cover at the convention next spring to try it out. I get (painless!) bruises on my thighs, just below the seat and above the stirrup leathers - not a big deal, but not ideal. A full seat cover would prevent that, I think, but sometimes a full cover makes the twist too wide and causes its own set of problems. I'm willing to try a used full fleece, but not really willing to shell out $$$ for a brand new one.
We're still rocking the discount pad and girth. I often think about buying Dixie a really nice pad, like a Supracor or a Haf pad or something, but her back isn't the slightest bit sore so I'm not going to change what's working. (Nothing says love like how much money you can spend on - wait, horses do not care about that. Horses want food, companions, and fun. They don't want status-symbol gear, unless that's the gear that's most comfortable for them.)
Most of my biothane is American Trail Gear at this point. Somehow I'm still using the same Zilco headstall I've used since I gave up leather, lo those long years ago. When I'm spending imaginary money, after I get a fancy pad I get a blue/purple halter bridle with stainless hardware, but again, the rope halter + snap-on bridle works well enough. Dixie gets sweaty and itchy with just that minimal amount of hardware, and I don't want to strap even more itchy bits of plastic to her head if what we're doing now works.
I'm getting the hang of the extra-long rope reins + running martingale. I really like it, but reins / tailing ropes are very idiosyncratic so you might hate climbing rope reins.
I don't usually ride with a cantle bag - I sored a horse with one once and I'm pretty paranoid about letting it touch the horse's back, and if you've got it strapped on tight enough to not touch the back it's almost impossible to get shit out while you're riding. But it's great for hundreds/night rides, to hold all your emergency gear and the spare boots you probably won't need but can't go without.
I still love/hate my Griffin's pommel bags. They're so big and floppy, ugh, but they're so big! They hold literally everything I could ever want. I can shove like two pounds of carrots in one side and still have room for my food, my camera, my vet card, the fly mask, etc. in the other. And they have velcro pouches to hold vet cards and powerbar wrappers and crap.
I'm pretty happy with the diabeetus socks, too. We were too tired to sock her directly after we pulled, and she got a tiny, tiny bit of fill in all four legs overnight. We socked her Sunday morning and I left them on til Tuesday morning with no problems. The front socks could be a bit smaller and they sank about an inch, but they're not so tight that they caused any problems.
I was really sore Tuesday, and I wussed out and asked Orlando at the barn to pull them, and he had no problem yanking them off. They really are easy to use.
I added gaiters at Virginia City. Dirty Girl Gaiters is a little shop that makes custom ultrarunning gaiters - these are not the clunky things that keep out goatsheads and rattlesnake bites, these are super thin and come in patterns designed to soothe the soul of endurance riders. They hook on to your shoelaces at the front, and attach to the heel of the shoe with velcro at the back. After I put them on, I literally never noticed them again til I was trying to get undressed the next evening. And instead of picking up a rock every time I got off to run, I got one tiny bit of gravel in one shoe the whole day.
I got way, way behind on hydration. I had the water, I knew I should be drinking the water, but it was so pleasantly cool all day that I just didn't drink it. Every time I saw Mel she was like "you're not drinking enough" and I was like "yeah yeah I'm on it this next loop dude" and I was so not on it. I paid the price, too, with the worst DOMS I've ever had. I know what wikipedia says, but for me, DOMS is very strongly correlated with dehydration. If I drink vast amounts of water and take my electrolyte pills, I'm just a little sore; if I badass on through without enough water, I'm crippled.
I did eat pretty well. Mel says I should have eaten even more, and I could've, so I will next time - but it felt like I was eating a lot, anyway. One of the nicest things about having crew is that you can spend virtually the entire hold eating without worrying about anything else, and Mel was constantly shoving tasty food at me. Except once when she shoved the nastiest Totino's-looking pepperoni at me, and I got the bag open before I realized it was the most disgusting thing I'd ever seen, LOL.
Things I ate:
- Almond Goo - this time I went with crunchy fresh-ground almond butter about 4:1 with nutella and salt to taste. Crunchy was interesting; I usually use smooth.
- Powerbars - Cliff Builder bars, chocolate peanut butter. They're AWFUL. They're vile. I hate them so much, but they go down and stay down and that's as good as it gets.
- Nuts - I think I had some nuts too. I hate nuts, but again they go down and stay down.
- Hard boiled eggs - shit yeah, as long as somebody's willing to peel them for me when I get too stupid to operate them.
- Freeze-dried strawberries. Unexpectedly delicious. Didn't realize the packet contained bananas too til I'd eaten most of it - I kept wondering why some of the strawberries were so UGLY, but I ate them anyway.
- Chocolate covered espresso beans - smart crew pours a handful in the rider's hand every time they head to the out timer. Rrrrrr nothing fires you up for the sleety SOBs like a handful of espresso beans!
- Hot food - when you've done your 50 miles and you think you can't possibly go on, eat something hot and get back on the horse.
- Mini Babybel cheeses - they're pretty tasty, and like hardboiled eggs, they are individually wrapped so they don't get too manky in camp. Pro: they are easier to open than eggs. Con: I bet they're reprehensible if they get hot.
- For all of my threatening and whining and complaining, I did not drink anything alcoholic the whole day. Nothing hurt so badly I wanted to take the edge off, and I didn't want to lose what few wits I had left. Like I said at the beginning, it's a really thinky sport at the longer distances. I was too busy thinking about Dixie to drink - was I pacing right, was she comfortable, how long can we stand here and eat/drink before she starts to cool down and stiffen up, etc. I reserve the right to drink the water-trough beers on 50s, however.
I was really, really happy with how Dixie's legs looked after VC. She's pretty badass and she's used to long miles on shitty rocky trail, but I think the cushioning effect of the squishy glue in the boots really helped a lot.