Tuesday, February 25, 2014
2014 Twenty Mule Team 100
So last weekend Dixie and I finished our first hundred. What a ride. What a horse!
I think I have to start back in January, when my truck started making a Very Bad Noise. You know how when you vacuum up a screw you hear that metallic racket as it works its way through the guts of your vacuum? Kinda like that. Extremely loud, metallic, and intermittent. The first thing I thought was oh god I have to fix this before 20MT! So for two weeks I shuttled Ron (I think the truck’s name is Ron Burgundy) back and forth between two different mechanics. Both of them eventually heard the noise, but they couldn’t reproduce it in the shop and they couldn’t find out what was making it. They handed it back to me both times with a shrug and a “whatcha gonna do?” look. Exploratory surgery on vehicles ain’t cheap.
I despaired, and I gave up on the ride. Took the ride entry off the fridge and threw it away. Posted that I wasn’t going. Cried and felt really, really horrible for days.
And people came out of the woodwork to offer me help. “Trailerpool with me,” “I will come down there and haul you myself,” “come borrow my truck” from multiple people. It was really astonishing, and the more I thought about not doing the ride, the worse I felt. I decided to go.
I was going to borrow my friend Kristin’s truck, but that fell through through no fault of hers, so I was going to borrow Mel’s from Davis. I sent in my entry, confirmed that Mel was really, truly serious about the truck, and started packing.
And the noise stopped. It had been making the noise every few days, then every day, then twice in one day, then… nothing. It sounded exactly like it always has. At the last minute, I decided I’d just take my own damn truck, and if it broke down, I’d beg USRider to haul me to Ridgecrest and do the damn ride and send my hundred-mile horse home with one of the other Bay Area riders and get Ron fixed out there and I was just going to do this thing come hell or high water.
Then my shoulder got a tremendous muscle spasm. I’m sure I have no idea why such a thing could have happened — it’s not like I was stressed about anything — but it did. I could barely move my neck last Saturday, and Sunday wasn’t much better, but I gimped on out to the barn for a boarder’s farewell party. My friend Rebecca (who is also Dixie’s masseuse) said, “You owe me a drink for this. Sit down and tell me if it hurts too much.” She did about 15 minutes of excruciating deep-tissue massage, yelled at me about my shitty, shitty posture while I ride, and told me to go kick ass.
By Wednesday I was 95% improved. Full range of motion in my neck, and as long as I kept my back straight and my shoulder blades back, the evil knot stayed quiet. I loaded everything in the truck and trailer and got one more glorious night of sleep in my glorious bed. (It’s memory foam! It remembers me!)
Thursday I loaded the Dirtiest Endurance Horse and we headed south.
"Wait, you want to go how far?"It’s only about 400 miles, but it’s a pretty damn long 400 miles. We left the coastal redwoods, fought our way through the Bay traffic, got on I-5 and roared through the angry republican drought-stricken industrial farms of the Central Valley. Eventually we headed east, to Bakersfield, then up Tehachapi Pass into the southern California high desert. I love seeing new climates, and I love any kind of mountain and or desert climate.
... I don't know? Manure piles?
Almonds, I'm pretty sure.
Headed east outside of Bakersfield.
Ron purred right on over the pass. Outside of Mojave we turned north, past Red Rock Canyon (not to be confused with “my” Red Rocks north of Reno), and onto a rather ominous looking little desert road. I’d been re-checking my phone map app all day, like “are you sure this is the way, phone? Are you really sure?” but shortly after I turned onto the little road (Red Rock Randsburg / Garlock Rd) I saw another rig ahead of me and I knew I was safe. (Or that we both had iPhones and we were going to get lost together, but misery loves company?)
It's dangerous to go alone! Take someone else with an AERC sticker with you.
Eventually we made it over to Hwy 395 and I started looking around. I knew from my friends’ ride reports that we’d cross the highway several times, and that we’d go “up the mountain past The Golf Ball,” but I didn’t really know what the hell they were talking about. Is this some tourist trap creation like the World’s Largest Ball of Twine? Is it a giant satellite dish? Is it just a half-dome mountain that’s kinda pockmarked like a golf ball? It is a mystery!
Not too far outside of town, I recognized the golf ball. I started whooping and yelling at Dixie (who couldn’t even hear me, of course) that we’d be riding there on Saturday and she’d better pay attention! We cruised on into the fairgrounds just before dusk, after 7.5 hours on the road, with a happily purring truckie.
Of course when I started talking about doing 20 Mule Team, back in September, I managed to convince like five or six different people that it would be a great idea to come down and ride it with me or crew me and threaten to beat me if I wanted to pull RO. Attrition had whittled our numbers down to just two: me and Kaity (and Kaity’s sainted family, who were coming to crew her). Kaity told me that her friend had staked out a triple space with a white cabover camper “by the grass,” and since there’s really not very much grass anywhere near Ridgecrest, I found it pretty quickly. No one was home, so I moved the bucket and flagging tape and parked by them. (Quite poorly, actually; so poorly that I unloaded poor D and tied her to a tree and tried again. Except that I managed to park just as badly the second time, so I threw my hands in the air and set up camp.)
Snug under our blankets, we both slept pretty well. The next morning, I braided Dixie, then Tami and Dave tag-team glued boots on her. After the glue had set for a while, I actually washed my horse — well, rinsed at least — and we were “ready.” I spent the rest of the day slowly sifting through my stuff, making an Away Checks pile and a Food Pile and a Manure Pile and a Pile of Crap to Tie to the Horse. Unbelievably, this took me an entire day and merits at least one additional post — I took a lot of pics of my gear, and Dixie’s feet have drastically changed shape yet again, so that’s coming later this week.
We vetted in with a 36 — yes, thirty-six — pulse, all A’s, and so much impulsion that our trot-out was a buck-fest. I threw her back on the hi-tie and headed over to completely zone out through the ride meeting, as always. Hundreds start at 6 am. Pink ribbons, then glow sticks. 60 pulse, 64 at the finish, maybe 64 at the 91 mile check too? Don’t lose your meal ticket, and don’t leave it stapled to the ride card!
Kaity’s mom cooked actual hot food for us and we had a lovely dinner with lots of laughs. I hadn’t seen her mom and sister since Tevis last year, but I remember thinking they seemed cool back then, and I was right. They’re hysterically funny, terrifyingly competent crew, and just great to be around. We all headed off to bed pretty quickly, and before I knew it, it was 4:30.
Rather sullenly — I’m always rather sullen at 4:30 — I managed to change into my ride clothes plus some sexy, sexy sweatpants and a hoodie and a parka. I choked down a stale powerbar and half a red bull and got to work on the horse.
Dixie knew exactly what was up. She tried to keep her shit together, but by the time I was ready to bridle her and get up, she was high as a kite. I took the parka off, but I couldn’t bear to part with the hoodie, and I honestly forgot I was wearing the sweatpants. One last “I’m not entirely sure this was such a good idea” post to Facebook and I was up and headed for the start.
Kaity and I left in about the same spot we’d ride at all day — near the back, but not last place. The horses were jiggy and fresh, and we just kept it to a dull roar as we worked out way through town and up the first ridge. (I’d heard a few stories about 20MT and “riding through town” and it’s not quite what I’d expected — you do ride a couple miles in town, but they’re rural desert sand roads, not paved roads for the most part. Two paved crossings, I think, and you cross 395 a few times during the ride, but it’s not like riding through Virginia City.)
Very quickly, we made it to the top of the ridge and went past the photographers. Bill and Rene got great pictures of us, as always, and it’s a shame I look so frumpy and un-purple, but hey at least I was warm!
Not long after the pictures, we saw Mr. 420, The Possibly Phallic Monkey Rock. I don’t know what else you could possibly call it, and I am somewhat at a loss for words, so here’s some pics.
We zoomed down the other side of the ridge and along the singletrack beside the highway, then got ready to cross. There was a volunteer at the side of the highway — probably a number-taker or somebody to help us wait for a break in traffic — except she was wearing purple riding tights and a helmet and oh shit that’s Jaya! Sans horse. We stopped and checked in with her: are you ok? Do you know which way Asali went? Did anybody tell ride management? And then we went on our way. Kaity called her mom to double-check that somebody’d gotten the message to ride management and we headed across the flats — not much else we could do right then.
Dixie wasn’t interested in water at 9 or 12 miles, and I refused to let myself think about it. If she doesn’t drink by 18 miles, I start to worry very much, but a large part of this journey has been learning to trust the horse about some things. If she’s thirsty, she drinks; if she’s hungry, she eats. We rode along a dead railroad track for a while, then cut under the trestle bridge, chatting the whole way. Before we knew it, it was 8:30 or so and we were at the first vet check (I’m going to call them VC1, VC2, etc — I haven’t suddenly switched gears to talk about Virginia City.) We’d gone 16 miles, I felt quite perky, and Dixie was ready to start drinking.
We pulsed down in one or two minutes, passed the vet check, and let the horses eat for the 20 minute hold. The Best Crew Ever (I’m really sorry to all my previous crews but I don’t love y’all anymore, holy crap Kaity has her family so well trained, y'all gone have to up your game now) shoved a grande mocha in my hand and I sucked it down and ate two boiled eggs and kicked off the sweats and managed to push the right buttons to turn on the spot-tracker and shoved a granola bar in Dixie’s face and popped an electrolyte chaser in after and got back on and whoosh we were gone. It goes that fast - you spend years of your life dawdling down these stupid boring-ass gravel roads, but you get to a vet check, and you’re in and out in about twelve seconds.
We chugged on up a pretty good — and extremely scenic — canyon climb. Jaya reappeared behind us, mounted on Asali, her
Rocky Mountain, (edit: woops, not a Rocky, a Foxtrotter? definitely gaited!) this time. She was hanging with the Nevada Riders, and we leapfrogged their group for a bit before they slowly drew ahead. Dixie felt really, really good — not “I will buck you off” good, and not “I am going to set a new speed record” good, but Dixie Good. Strong and sound and very rateable and very interested in going with the other horses down the trail at a completely sustainable pace.
Jaya in purple, Dave Rabe, TJ (?), and I think Connie was just in front of Jaya.
Your glamorous blogger with Kaity.
About an hour after leaving VC1, we came to The Forest. I’d been warned to pay attention near here, lest I miss my one chance at seeing trees, so I was ready for it. Behold!
Also, Robert Ribley had told us to keep an eye out for petroglyphs (the ancient native kind, not the modern spray-painted monkey-face kind) on the rocks near The Forest. I’d already put my phone up, and it was far too early in the day to stop and backtrack for pictures, but we did see the petroglyphs. Kaity spotted them, on a boulder behind some kids camping in The Forest. If you’re going south up that canyon, look on the right fairly high up as you pass the trees, and you’ll see them!
We worked our way up. For a while a pickup followed us, quite slowly, and we thought he was a rather ambitious driver - a nice late-model dually on a narrow, incredibly rocky and steep off-road road. We kept waiting for him to turn, and he kept following us, but he never got close enough for us to move out of his way and pass, so whatever. People in the desert get weird, but they’re usually harmless.
We caught up to some other riders at a water stop, and the pickup pulled in behind us, briefly. He had a generator and two flakes of hay in the bed of the truck, and he offered us hay, and then he drove away again, and we sort of shrugged and went on. I still don’t really know.
At about 25 miles, we crested the mountain and started a long gradual descent. We’d been making good slow-but-steady time all day, trotting the bits that weren’t too steep, too rocky, or too deep. We weren’t precisely tired of riding, not like when I used to make a heroic effort to ride 25 miles and then fall on my face for two days, but it was a good point to get off and jog slowly with the horses. Kaity is also a trail runner, and like Mel, she assured me that it’s not that I’m such a sucky runner, it’s just how normal people run trails. Perhaps I’m not the Worst Runner Ever :)
So we slowly ran the not-so-steep downhill bits, and we walked the steeper bits, and when we got bored with being on foot, we got back on and rode some more. Kaity told me what she knew about the formation of this mountain range — it’s volcanic, and there’s some cool outcroppings of striated lava and some epic lavabombs and it’s just very, very cool if you’re a high-desert nerd like me and Kaity are.
We worked our way down out of the mountains (the Goler Heights, according to one of Lucy’s maps) and onto a big flat desolate plain. Kaity pointed off to the left where some tiny vehicles were sparkling and said that must be the vet check — this year, they moved the “dry lakebed” check a mile down the road, to The Other Forest (more than one tree is a forest, yes?) We trotted on over right around lunch time.
Dixie was a little hot and sweaty and sullen, and it took her four minutes longer than Kody to pulse down. I sponged her neck and whispered sweet nothings in her ears, and she came down from the 80s to the 60s and then down to 60 criteria pretty well. Like a lot of things that day, it wasn’t ideal, but it wasn’t unexpected. But once she was down she vetted fine — even had a CRI in the mid-50s after her trot-out.
We had a whole hour at this check, and the horses dove into their slushy mashes (and each others’ hay) while the riders set to stuffing their faces. Not only did I have enough time to sit down while I ate, I had enough time to order snacks for the next check. I decided I’d rather like a lemonade-y drink and we got ready to ride again. We screamed our thank-yous to everybody helpful in camp, clambered back on our patient horses, and headed out to conquer Golf Ball Mountain.
But first we had to ride for three years down a stupid boring road beside a stupid boring railroad track.
One of the things Dixie and I just have a hard time doing at our barn is long trotting. We can’t trot for more than five minutes straight in our park without encountering some other Trail Users, and most of the other Trail Users aren’t cool with an endurance horse trotting quietly and politely by on the other side of a doubletrack trail, so we have to slow down and say hello and quietly walk past and then pick up the trot. (Usually we make it a hundred yards down the trail, turn the corner, and find another professional dog walker trying to corral seven Labs and two pit mixes and we have to stop, completely, yet again. They are probably as annoyed by us as we are by them, but you know what? This is an endurance horse blog, not a professional dog walker blog.)
Anyway. I got a little distracted there. The point is, we haven’t done any serious no-stopping long-trotting sets in quite a while. Now that I am also a runner, I understand how fatiguing it is to trot nonstop if that’s not what you usually do, so I taught Dixie to count. I didn’t mean to, but I really think I did.
Kody happily trotted along down the never-ending Road to Nowhere. Dixie and I would walk for twelve steps, then we’d break into a little trot and catch up to Kody, then I’d let her walk for twelve steps again. Ten seemed parsimonious, and sixteen let Kody get too far ahead for me to talk to Kaity, and somehow I ended up settling on twelve walk steps and then a short trot. After a while, she started to anticipate me, and she’d just trot on her own after 12 steps - and when I got bored counting to twelve and started trying 10-step walk sets, she got really angry if I’d ask her “too soon.” I know that she might have just been keeping time in her head, but I really kind of think she can count to 12, and you cannot convince me otherwise.
It's just a RR mile marker... but it says 420, so you know I had to get a pic.
But this too shall pass, even if it’s a never-ending Road to Nowhere beside a railroad track, and eventually we crossed the tracks and started the climb to the Golf Ball. I suppose at this point I have to admit that it’s not quite as cool as a tourist-trap World’s Largest thing, but it’s still pretty cool - it’s an observatory. We worked sloooowly up a long, long sand canyon climb, with occasional glimpses of the Golf Ball.
We leapfrogged with our teammates on this climb — they did a team thing at this ride, and Dixie and I (and Kaity/Kody, of course) were part of Team Slow. Spoiler: we lived up to our team name, but we all got ‘er done. Cheri and Helen, riding an Appy and an (Arab?) stud, were near us all day and all night.
My best Golf Ball pic.
Somewhere near the top, we got to a very welcome water trough. I hopped off and pulled Dixie’s bridle and rode the rest of the day bitless — I didn’t think I’d really need brakes again, and she’d got a very good one-rein-stop anyway, and I thought she might like not having that thing in her mouth for all those hours. All the horses slurped up water while I strapped the bridle down in my intricate lacework of bungees on the cantle and got the reins swapped to the sidepull rings, and then I did not fall in the water tank when I used it for a mounting block and we were off again!
The hillsides were dotted with Joshua trees. I’d never seen them, not in real life anyway, before this trip, and I had to double-check with Kaity that they were, in fact, Joshua trees. (No, I did not sing U2 — I’d already subjected her to a couple lines of Talking Heads, back down on the railroad trail, and I really didn’t want her to run away from my terrible singing voice.) They are totally crazy looking, and they were just starting to bloom, and there were quite a few of them.
Mine tailings and a Joshua tree!
We found some dirt bikers along there, too. A couple of them were zooming around further up the mountain, and a couple were hanging out on our trail, waiting for their friend to get his bike started. We said hi, and Dixie thought about giving them the stink-eye, but I kicked her and called her a fool so she ended up walking quietly by.
On the long slow shitty-rocky descent back down to the common trail, we abandoned the rest of Team Slow and started making good time again. It’s a rocky power line road, and I kept us both amused by guessing wildly about where we were. “Is that Ridgecrest over there?” “No, that’s Inyokern.” “Hmmm. So camp is this way?” “More like the opposite of where you were pointing.” I was so lost, all day — usually I have a good sense of direction, but I could not get this ride straight in my head. I figured if I just kept the pink ribbons on the right I’d eventually find a town again.
Kaity spent the whole descent from the troughs looking for, talking about, and pointing out the railroad trestle we were going to go under. We’d gone under one already, and we both love a good railroad trestle, and as the miles slowly ticked away and the trestle grew closer we got more and more excited… until… the trail turned. They’d rerouted it, and we weren’t going under the trestle, we were just going over the rail-to-trail. Boring!
But then we rejoined the morning trail and we were headed toward the 56-mile VC3 check and everything was pretty good, even without a good railroad trestle. We let the horses trot a bit and walk a bit and even canter a bit. On one of our little trot sets, less than a mile from the check, Kody quit paying attention and almost wiped out — he tripped over an invisible boulder and went down on his knees. But he adores Kaity, and he pulled up before he went all the way down or she came off, and he staggered back to his feet. She leapt off, checked his scraped knees, and let him walk for a few minutes. He walked sound, so she trotted him in hand and he trotted sound, so she hopped back up and rode him into the check.
Both horses vetted fine. This vet check was set up near the highway, at the spot where the 9-mile water troughs had been in the morning, if that makes sense? On our way out, they were 9 mile water troughs, on our way back on the 65 loop they were the 56 mile hold, and we’d stop by one more time at 91 miles, in the queasy cold darkness.
But this was at like 4 pm, and it was only a ten minute hold. Dixie was quite hungry, and Jaya had put some alfalfa in one of the troughs, and after Dixie drank some she marched over to the alfalfa-water and started munching. I checked in with Jaya, the usual “how’s your ride going?” stuff, and she headed out with her group, just a few minutes ahead of us. I needed to vet Dixie and shove food in my face, but I did not move an inch until Dixie had eaten her fill of that good soggy hay. When she came up for air and started looking around, I dragged her straight over to Sue and got her vetted, and then, finally, we went to the Greatest Crew Truck and I got a snack.
I don’t remember what all I ate at which holds, but I’m pretty sure this was the chocolate pudding stop — Brenna offered me a pudding, and it looked amazing, so I ripped it open while she looked for a spoon. She was abysmally slow at finding a spoon, so I started licking it out of the container, and when she admitted that perhaps there were no spoons, I just scooped the rest of the pudding out with my fingers. A guy wandering by was like “… that looks so wrong” and I was like “but it tastes so right.”
God, I love endurance.
And then back on the horses, nine more miles to camp and our dinner hold and the end of the 65 mile loop and the beginning of the night ride! We’d already done this part of the trail that morning — across the highway, then up the singletrack beside the highway, turn left just past the Ridgecrest billboard, up by the Possibly Phallic Pot Primate, down the long sand draw, and through town.
I have to admit I had a few momentary thoughts about how I had, in fact, ridden a very long time and it was quite respectable if I just— no. Hell no. After every damn thing I’d gotten through to get here? Hundred or bust, Funder. Harden the fuck up.
So we were trotting slowly and happily through town, just a mile or so from the fairgrounds, and some guy came out of nowhere and went blasting past us at a gallop and we looked at each other like… was that Brandon? Did we just get lapped by the hundred front-runners?
Yeah, it was Brandon, who finished first and Best Condition. A few minutes later, Diane cantered by - she’d grab second place. We “caught up” to her at the finish-line trough, about a quarter mile from the fairgrounds, said congrats while our slow-but-steady nags tanked up, then headed on into the dinner check at VC4 about 6 pm. We had felt like were plugging along quite well, but actually seeing the people who’d ridden thirty five miles farther than us in the same time was a little disconcerting, honestly. Good job, y’all — what you do is even more amazing than what I do… but I still don’t want to do it. ;) I mean, really: you didn’t get to ride a single mile at night, and the whole point of riding hundreds is to get the magical nighttime part of the ride!
We got the horses pulsed down around 6 and vetted through right away, then back to the trailers in the deepening dusk. I have no idea why but I hadn’t put glowsticks on D’s breastcollar the night before, so after I got her mash set up I dug out the glowsticks and taped them down. I had an entire bag of mini-glowsticks that were too dim to be useful, and six of the nice Coleman camping ones, so I picked out the three “best” colors (i.e. brightest) and taped them down. I pulled the visor off of my helmet, taped down my nicest headlamp, discovered the batteries were dead again on what I’d previously considered to be my nicest headlamp, ripped the tape off, threw the headlamp somewhere in a rage, and taped my second-nicest headlamp to my helmet. (Death to that damn headlamp; I think the on-off switch is far too sensitive and I’m running the batteries down that way.) I slipped out of the silver stripe tights and into the blue and yellow fleece tights, changed socks, added a flannel, and tied another fleece on the pommel. In between all these little time-sinks, I shoved food in my face as fast as I could.
About five minutes before our out time, Jaya appeared with Asali, looking a little sad.
“Are you guys going out soon?” she asked. “I was with Dave and Connie and TJ, but Connie got held for a recheck and they haven’t left yet and…” she trailed off.
I didn’t even ask Kaity (sorry, babe!) I just said, “Of course! Do you have glowsticks on your breastcollar?”
She had a headlamp, but not glowsticks, so I gave her my last three and apologized for how dim they were going to be — it was, like, two blue and a purple, so the dimmest and weakest of the chemical glowsticks, ack! But we got them taped down and I shoved one more mouthful of M&M’s in and we were off into the night, just a few minutes behind.
The thing is, whether or not you think it sounds really, really cool to ride a horse a hundred miles in one day seems to hinge on whether or not you like night riding. Yeah, if you go fast enough you can do it all in the daylight, but the general consensus is that nighttime is when the magic happens. It’s a huge bonding experience with your horse and your group of riders, and it’s wonderful and terrible.
So you think to yourself, hell yeah! I love to ride at night! I mean, one of my favorite things to do, back in Memphis, was saddle up the horses at dusk and go night riding with my partner James. He would ride SSB (the spotted horse I rode in October) or Rascal, and I’d take Champ or Dixie, and we’d go out til it got dark and then amble back. We saw deer and coyotes, and we talked about life for hours, and it was amazing. I love to ride at night, I really do!
But taking a fresh horse out on a summer evening for a stroll isn’t quite the same as taking a tired horse out to trot through the night. It was harder than I thought it’d be to trot off into the darkness, honestly. Dixie was, understandably, rather demotivated for the first six miles or so — she did not buy in to the idea of finishing the loop until we were almost at the water troughs on top of the ridge.
We caught up to Helen and Cheri and the five of us loosely trailed along together for a while, then the three of us started drawing ahead of them by trotting the nicest bits of the downhills. Trotting around in the dark is absolutely where the magic happens, dudes, and it is beautiful and terrible.
The moon wasn’t coming up til 1:24. There was actually quite a bit of light pollution from Ridgecrest and Inyokern, but I could still see thousands of stars, with maybe the faintest suggestion of the Milky Way. I was so glad I’d taken my visor off so I could watch the constellations slowly wheel across the sky. I saw four shooting stars that night, and I think Jaya saw four as well — there must’ve been a meteor shower. I think Kaity (who hadn’t pulled her visor) missed them all, sadly.
Anyway, so it’s very, very dark out there, but you’re going to be out til fucking dawn if you don’t trot, so you just screw all your courage together and let your horse trot. We hung our glowsticks very low on the breastcollars, and the horses had enough light to see their footing, but the humans couldn’t really see where the horses were stepping.
We all talk a lot of shit about how we trust our horses, but for me, every little trot set was a test of that trust. Dixie’s a very efficient mover, so when she gets tired, sometimes she doesn’t pick her feet up quite high enough and she stumbles. If I catch her with the reins, she doesn’t go down or seem bothered by the whole thing, so I just had to let her trot though the night and be ready to catch her if she stumbled… for the next seven hours.
And the other cool thing was the way Dixie listened to me all night. When we walked out of the gate at the fairgrounds, she had her ears twisted back, listening to me, and they stayed that way til we were back at camp. She wasn’t upset (well, a little pissed those first few miles); she was just focused on me.
So we climbed up the ridge and trotted along the ridge, taking turns leading. Kody knew the way, but Asali and Dixie walk almost twice as fast as he does, so we were bumbling along in the lead quite a bit. Kaity saved us from walking into the mine, like she’d almost done one year — there’s one spot up on top where you’re standing at glowstick A and and you can see glowstick B off in the distance, but if you walk straight between them you’ll walk straight into an abandoned mine. The trail takes a gentle curve to the right around the mine and then a gentle curve back to the glowstick, but the trail doesn’t look much different from the rest of the ground!
Kody watched out for his mares all night, y’all. If he was leading, he knew where to go. But the mares led at least half the time, and Jaya and I would lose the trail and sort of blunder along, and then Kaity would yell up from the back. “Kody’s getting nervous! You’re off the trail, he thinks it’s to the right.” (This system worked really, really well up until we got too tired to remember which way was right and which way was left.)
Before I knew it, we were curving down toward the highway crossing. A numbertaker was waiting at the trough, and Kaity’s crew had brought hot chocolate for all of us. I sucked down the hot chocolate, and then Brenna offered me some rum and diet coke.
Ugh, diet coke. I never drink artificial sweeteners. But (don’t read this sentence, Mom and Dad) I learned to party when I was underage at a women’s college, and I know all kinds of handy tricks like “if you don’t stop to breathe you can’t taste it,” so I hit that R&DC pretty hard. Then we were back on the horses, across the highway, and into the darkness again.
We trotted when we could and walked when we couldn’t. Dixie stumbled a few times, and I caught her every time, and my seat stayed really secure. Dixie and I were doing our usual thing, yo-yo’ing behind Kody as he trotted along, and I kept a very close eye on how far away he was. If I let Dixie lag too far behind, she’d want to canter to catch up to him, and I was hanging in there ok but my nerves could not under any circumstances take cantering a tired horse in the darkness. I just couldn’t.
And then I got quiet, and I started wondering why, and I slowly realized that I was queasy. Really, really queasy. Perhaps a light, haphazard dinner, a handful of chocolate covered espresso beans, a hot chocolate, and five gulps of rum and diet coke wasn’t the best choice. Perhaps staring intently at the way Kody’s breastcollar lights flashed through his legs as he trotted in front of us (but it was so pretty!) wasn’t the best choice either.
Jaya and Kaity (who are both nurses) noticed I was quiet about the same time I figured out that I wanted to puke, so we discussed my unruly body the rest of the way to the next water tank. Another numbertaker was there to cheer us on and reassure us that we were only an hour or so from the next vet check. We started off again, and my nurses were lamenting that they didn’t have any anti-nausea drugs with them. Zofran, or something else, or even some Benadryl.
I roused myself from my misery long enough to mention that I did, in fact, have Benadryl on my saddle.
“You have Benadryl?”
“Yeah, I have two vicodin and some duct tape and some benadryl, in case somebody breaks a bone or gets stung by bees! I’m not ready for anything, but by god I’m ready for a broken finger or a wasp!” Or apparently nausea. Who knew? Not me!
Kaity doled out half a benadryl to me and I slurped it down with a bit of water and we rode on. I think we trotted a few more times, but the footing was relatively bad (for a moonless night) and we were playing it safe. Eventually, we made the turn back onto the trail we’d ridden twice during the day, and we saw the lights of VC5 on the horizon. A few careful trot sets got us to the 91 mile check shortly before midnight.
The awesome volunteer there fed me a peppermint, and when that went down well she loaded me up with a whole pocketful of peppermints. Kaity yanked off my second-best headlamp and replaced it with her mom’s headlamp, because mine was white light only and Carol’s had a red light. Sue McCartney vetted us through and we let the horses chow down for maybe ten minutes, then we somehow got back in the saddle and headed out again.
The Benadryl and peppermint had me feeling a bit better, and I’d realized my mistake and stopped staring at Kody’s glowing legs. Kaity also had me turn on the red light and point it at Dixie’s neck, to give my brain something “fixed” to focus on. One or all of those things really worked, and I was ready to trot back to camp.
We trotted away, just a short way up the trail, then turned to cross the highway. Traffic was pretty light, but the trail goes singletrack and parallels the highway for maybe half a mile, and every fucking time a vehicle came roaring along with its brights on, we were all blinded… and the horses didn’t care. They were locked on to the fairgrounds, trotting steadily.
It was extra-scary for me. I just worked on holding my good seat and not telegraphing my fear to my horse. You say you trust her, Funder, now fucking trust her.
A quick left, a short climb up to the Pot Monkey ridge, and we were dropping back down into the valley where Ridgecrest sits. We started down, and Dixie stumbled one last time, and I caught her but it took literally all of my strength, and I was done. I had completely run out of courage.
“Kaity?” I called ahead. “I’m so sorry, but I can’t do this anymore, I just can’t let her trot downhill, I’m so sorry but I’m so scared she’s going to fall—“
“It’s ok!” Kaity called back. “I know, it’s so hard to catch them downhill. Here’s what we’re going to do: we’ll walk down into town, and then we’ll trot a few more sets on the nice flat level roads, so you’re not left with the fear of falling, okay?”
I could’ve cried (and yes, I’m crying writing this). I was so, so scared we’d fall. Sure, I didn’t want to come off, cause that sucks. But I just kept thinking about Dixie staggering back to her feet lame, after we’d come so far, and I couldn’t do it. And somehow, despite my monumental failure of will, my friends weren’t going to leave me. (I know, it’s not a very monumental failure, but at the time it felt like I was a disappointment to the entire world.)
So we walked for about … four thousand fucking years. I was so tired of walking, but it gets steeper right before it levels out and I don’t think we’d have trotted it anyway. Jaya started to get queasy too, so I passed her a peppermint and we made Kaity promise to give us the Heimlich — or at least kick us in the stomach til we started breathing again — if we fell off and choked on mints. Eventually, somehow, we made it down.
And we trotted again.
It was so hard, y’all. But it was absolutely the right thing to do, and I knew it even then. Maybe I can’t trot downhill on moonless nights after midnight, but I can trot the right spot on the trail. And of course Dixie didn’t stumble again, and she was actually quite strong in the sidepull, and we started passing houses we recognized, and we were actually going to make it. Right as we turned to go north to the fairgrounds, the moon popped up in the east, a stunningly beautiful fat crescent lighting up the entire world.
Kody was getting stiff and Kaity was worrying about him. “Funder? I’m really sorry but do you think—“
“Oh my fucking god,” I yelled back. “Do not even! Don’t you dare apologize! You two tucked us under your wings and dragged us along all day and took perfect care of us and of course we won’t leave you, of course we’ll just walk in!”
The only problem with walking Kody in is that Kody likes to walk about 2.5 mph and Dixie wanted to walk about 5 mph. I had the bridle, still strapped to my cantle bag, but oh my god getting off and bridling her sounded about as complicated as flying to the moon right then. So we just gaited off a little ahead of Kody and then turned around and stood quietly and waited for him to catch up.
Hahahah, no, that’s not what happened. We’d gait off ahead of him, and I’d wrench Dixie into a one-rein stop and spin her around and she’d prance and jig impatiently. She is such a mercenary animal — she doesn’t like to be left, but to hell with waiting for her best friend Kody. She’d have ditched him in a heartbeat. About the second time I made her stop and wait for Kody, she actually thought really, really hard about trying to buck — her front end would pop up an inch off the ground, then her back end would come up, but she was a little too tired to actually work up much of a bronc routine. I told her I was going to clock her between her fucking ears if she didn’t knock it the fuck off, and she did actually knock it off.
Dixie and I really deserve each other. No other horse/human should have to put up with our respective shit. But my god, we do love each other.
So we walked the last, mmm, mile and a half? Straight shot to the fairgrounds. You could see the lights the whole way, and it’s kind of brutal because you can see your destination but you’re moving so slowly you are literally never going to get there. My knees and my groin muscles were screaming, but I knew there was no way I could possibly get back in the saddle, and it was farther than I wanted to walk, so I had to stay up.
But it wasn’t hard, not anymore. It was just a little more enduring discomfort and a little more talking and laughing with my friends. I decided I’d get off at the water trough, even though it was maybe a quarter mile from the fairgrounds. We watched for the tanks, but it was Dixie who found them. When she is thirsty, she will ignore anything you ask and just drag you to a trough, and when she zipped off to the left suddenly I knew she’d found the water. I slithered down (did not fall down when I hit the ground, thank you very much), and we limped on home.
And then it’s a blur of whooping and crying. Dixie ate while the other two pulsed in and vetted, and then I dragged her away from the hay and trotted her out one last time and we were done.
We did it. I finished a hundred, and I finished it on my bitchy slow Tennessee Walker that I’d trained myself. It took us 11 months and three attempts from when I decided I wanted to try a hundred, last March. We are the most junior members of the pinnacle of this weird extreme sport, and no one can throw shade on me.
We did it! Pic courtesy of Jaya and her dad!
Patti Stedman is right — it takes a village. From my first blogging friend Sara all the way up to Kaity and Kody, I had help every step of the way. But Dixie and I did the work. We dug deep, deeper than I ever thought we could, and we’re a hundred mile team.
I know that she’s not an objectively great horse — with any luck we’ll get Decade Team one day, and a couple hundreds a year for the next few years, but she’s no Perfect Ten. She’s no 10,000 mile horse. She’s not going to be memorialized with a full-page tribute in the EN. I’m not in competition with any of y’all for that kind of recognition. We did this for ourselves. You and me, Dixie, we're in this together.
I’m delighted to share my journey with y’all, my readers, and I hope you find a quest of your own!
Next, the usual: gear, analysis, endless pictures of Dixie looking slightly thinner and a little tired, a list of everything I ate, and Sunday’s adventures. But that’s the story of our first hundred completion.