Monday, September 30, 2013

VC post-ride

I've got two main thoughts that have emerged from our try at VC:  I'm getting closer to getting it figured out, and I don't think Dixie has peaked yet.

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.

~*~ Tack and Stuff ~*~
Fortunately Lucy got a pre-start picture of us; unfortunately we're just blurry ghosts with glowing eyes.

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.
Dixie is in small front / XS rears, which are the smallest sizes they offer right now.  Somebody told me they're thinking about making even smaller socks, and for $40 a pair I might get a pair of XS fronts when they're available.

~*~ Me ~*~
I've got my outfit pretty nailed down.  Running gear for my top half - a sports bra that clamps the girls in place, some technical running shirts, and however many more layers I need to stay warm in the Inevitable Snowstorm.  Butt Butt'r, Tights Lady tights, good wool socks, and that one pair of shoes that has never done me wrong.  No underwear.  Death to underwear.

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.
Things I didn't do:
  • 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.
One of the things They Warn You About when you start talking about hundreds is how you just can't keep eating all night.  It's true.  At a certain point your stomach phones your brain and says "Excuse me?  We're closing for the night, you may want to finish your business with me."  It's weird and I can't describe it any better than that - I just knew that at some point soon I wouldn't be able to eat any more, so I started shoveling the food in even faster.  

Everybody does what works for their own physiology, so YMMV, but I can't run on carbs.  I hate the sugar rush / crash, and I crash harder than other people, so I try to eat balanced food - lots of protein and fat to fill out the carbs.  Maybe you can negotiate a deal with your stomach where you keep eating those pure sugar gels, like the Honey Stingers, all night, but I can't manage it.  Anyway, eat a lot all day, cause you probably can't eat much in the dark.

~*~ Boot Talk Time ~*~
So I went with Easycare Glue-Ons for VC.  Glueing boots is a leap of faith - "never do anything new at a ride," but who wants to go to the trouble and expense of glueing boots for anything other than a hundred/multiday?  At some point you just have to leap and hope the net is there, yknow?

Tami kindly glued for me.  I was busy hand-feeding Dixie tiny bits of hay to keep her mind off of whatever weird shit was happening to her feet, so I didn't get any pictures.  Both Easycare (pdf) and Renegade have really good articles about how to apply glue-ons, so if you're interested in the nitty gritty, check their sites.  The tl;dr version follows:

Start with freshly trimmed hooves.  Clean them up, make any last-minute tweaks, and rasp the outside of the hoof wall.  Roughing up the hoof wall gives the glue something extra to stick to.  Put squishy rubber stuff in the sole of the boot and hard-setting epoxy stuff in the walls and slap the pre-sized boot shell on the hoof.  Run an extra bead of epoxy around the top of the boot wall to help seal it.  Hold up another foot and distract the horse, so she won't wiggle and torque the boot sideways as it cures. Repeat three more times, and voila!  Glued.

Glue-ons fall off unpredictably.  It has something to do with the age of the epoxy, or the quality control on that batch of epoxy, or the moisture content of the hoof, or the horse's way of going, or the alignment of the stars; no one's really sure how all those variables come together.  It sounds like bullshit, but I've seen some real bullshit with shoes, too - the first ride I ever volunteered, somebody (hi L!) had to walk like five miles back to camp when her horse half-pulled a shoe.  It got stuck half-on half-off out on the trail - she couldn't even pull it to boot him.  Sometimes shit just happens.

Easyboot glue-ons come in boxes of four and they're about a hundred bucks (or less) per box.  You also need two kinds of epoxy and two kinds of epoxy glue guns.  It adds up to probably what you'd pay to shoe for the ride - but again, it's not the kind of money I want to spend to try them out at an easy 50.  The Renegade glue-ons are less expensive, but they're very much one-shot deals.  

I'd heard a lot of horror stories about trying to pry off the damn glue-ons a week after the ride, and after I fell I really wasn't looking forward to boot removal.  I actually called the farrier, yall, but when Thursday rolled around and he still hadn't happened to come by my barn, I pulled the boots myself. With Easyboots, it's not that hard.  (And again, I'm so glad I'm free from the tyranny of farriers.)

Get your mallet and the widest flat head screwdriver you can find.  Put tasty food in front of the horse and explain to her that she is only required to stand still.  Start tapping the screwdriver down between the boot and hoof and prying.  This is where the Easyboots really shine - the Renegade glue-ons are solid "plastic" and Easyboots are flexible "rubber."  (They're both high-tech composites, not plastic and rubber, but you know what I mean.)  You can pry the hell out of the Easyboots and they won't tear or distort too badly.
 After you pry the glue loose all the way around, jam the screwdriver down to the sole and pick the foot up and pry the whole thing off.  If the glue's loose all the way around it will pop off magically.
The rubbery stuff will still be packed in around the frog.  Pry that shit out.  It's stanky.
PRO TIP:  if you didn't fall off your horse earlier that week, this is the ideal time to trim.  Everything is stinky and mushy and you've got a lot of new growth.  If you fell off your horse you can skip this step and go have a lie-down.
I was really, really pleased with the glue-ons.  You're not supposed to re-use them - it's hard to get them clean enough for the glue to stick to the boot again - but you can turn them into Gloves, which is my plan.  

The shells are the exact same shells used for the Gloves, so all you need to do is buy gaiters and drill a couple holes and you can re-use them.  I happen to own seven 0.5's that no longer fit and two 0's that do, so I am really happy to have four shells that I can turn into 0 Gloves.  

Renegade glue-ons are slightly different.  They're harder material, so they don't flex.  This means the glue seal at the top doesn't break as easily, and depending on all the other factors (see above re: epoxy, stars, etc) they might stay on longer.  But removing them is more like removing glue-on shoes, with a lot more destruction and cursing and yanking.  There's no way to reuse them, FWIW.

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.  

I feel much improved from this time last week.  I will still go to great lengths to avoid sneezing or coughing, but I've got full range of motion with minimal soreness.  I'm not quite ready to trim, but hopefully later this week I'll be able to get started on all that new growth!

Maybe there's something big I forgot to talk about, but I can't think of anything else right now.  Hit me up if you've got questions.  I'm working on a big post about How To Trim, since I've had a few questions about how I learned to trim, but it's not ready yet.  

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

2013 Virginia City 100: The Most Fun

Gather round, dear readers, for the extremely long (yet exciting!) tale of Team Fixie's attempt at the Virginia City 100.  The tl;dr:  pulled RO at 70 miles or so, horse ran out of gas but she's just fine, human took a fall and is less fine but will recover, and we're absolutely going back next year.

I drove up on Thursday.  Hooking up and hauling from the Bay to Reno just takes 6-7 hours, and it's something I've finally made my peace with.  Easier for me to schedule the extra time than to keep pretending it's as quick as driving over without a rig, and leaving Thursday gave us a whole day to relax and eat on Friday.

The last time I checked the weather, Saturday was supposed to be cool and breezy, with a 10% chance of scattered showers.  I should have known better, but living in Oakland has made me soft - I can go weeks without checking the weather, because it's always in the 70s here.  Anyway, cool and breezy, I can handle that - I threw two extra tops in my clothes-crew-box and made sure I had a couple extra trash bags.  I stopped at Green's Feed in north Reno, and the guys in the yard were hella impressed, and they were like "and it's gonna be cold!"  Yeah yeah, cold is excellent for Team Fixie.

Dixie came off the trailer, looked around, went "yep looks like a ride," and dove into her food.  I got my little camp set up, staked out spaces for Sanne and Lucy/Kaity, and dove into the bourbon.  I drank a rather ill-advised amount that night, but at least I passed out and slept like a log on Thursday night.

Camp started filling up fast around noon on Friday.  Last year they had a pretty good turnout with 43 starters, but this year they smoked it and got 49 entries - camp can't hold many more rigs than that, and it's an astonishing turnout for a hundred-only ride.  Some yelling and glaring held my friends' spots, but shortly after they arrived we got boxed in - there was just no room in camp to do it any other way.  The wind kicked up pretty hard, but the day was sunny and pretty.

Tami glued boots on Miss Thing in the early afternoon.  Boots/hooves was my biggest worry the week before the ride - no point in worrying about fitness or disasters or anything, but what if I hadn't done enough to her feet or done too much or she was a total spaz about standing still for the glue to set? Ahhhh! But Dixie loves Tami, and with me feeding her choice bits of hay, Lucy holding another leg up to keep her still, and Tami slapping gluey boots on like the pro that she is, we got it done.  (I know a couple people are interested in the concept of glue-ons, so I'll do a whole separate post on them later, ok?)
We spent the afternoon strapping our gear on our saddles and checking all our packs, then headed out to ride through town.  The wind was quite brisk - gusts would shove you off balance if they caught you wrong - and the horses were snorty and spooky.  Virginia City is a totally awesome historic town, well worth a visit if you're in the Reno area, and it was amazingly fun to ride through it.

I wanted to get more pictures of it, but even after we'd turned around at the cemetery the horses were still up, so I only got a few shots.

We pre-rode down D Street, which parallels C Street / Hwy 341, the main drag, so this is the back of the bars and museums lining the main street.
 Ancient truck advertising the Mark Twain Saloon.  It was across the street from a small yard sale with a loose tiny dog, medium dog, and huge dog.  The owners were all "ehhh it's ok if they get kicked" and we were like, ugh, but we don't want to fall when our horses spook.  But all was well.
Back at camp, we pulled tack and vetted the horses.  Dixie pulsed in at 40, which is the lowest she's ever pulsed in anywhere.  Maybe true "standing in my favorite spot in the pasture" resting heart rate is genetic, but let me tell you, vetting-in resting heart rate does go down with fitness and experience - we used to vet in at 56-60, and it's been creeping down fast this year.  When the vet called "40!" I looked at Dixie and said, "Are you dead?"

Roving iPhone photographer extraordinaire Lucy got a couple of good vet-in pics of us.  She's so pretty, and I'm so... purple.

Yes, I am shamelessly reliving my youth with that plaid flannel.  Where's my grunge rock mix tape?

The Nevada Dutch Oven people were the food vendors again - if you went to Tevis this year, it's the same people who served food at Foresthill.  They're amazing professionals with food as good as anything you'd get in a restaurant.  Friday night was pasta, garlic bread, and cobbler - nothing but sadness for me and my gluten intolerance - but I ate two plates of veggie-meat-red-sauce and was stuffed.

Mel had a test Friday afternoon, and as soon as she got out she hauled ass over the Sierras and got to camp about 7, during the ride meeting, to assume her duties as Worst Crew Ever. I'd been over the ride in my head, and I'd been over the ride with Lucy's amazing annotated map earlier that day, so I slipped out of the meeting and waved Mel and Tess over to the Ice House.

So after the ride meeting, which goes like all ride meetings, NASTR (the organization that runs VC) breaks out the open bar and has a calcutta.  Everybody bids on each rider, and if your rider comes in top-three in his/her weight division, you win - a lot if it's a sleeper like me, a little if it's an obvious contender.  They started with featherweights, so Mel and I had some time to kill before Middleweight 405 Funder.  We went over to my camp and I showed her my new and somewhat improved gear boxes - we're getting the hang of crewing, very slowly.  Then back to the Ice House for the middleweights.

When he called my name, I screamed and waved my arms like I'd just been called down to The Price Is Right, and thus tricked Jaime Kerr (ride vet) into paying thirty dollars for me.  Sorry, Jaime, I owe you some beer!  ;)  I was pretty proud of myself, til John Brain rode his Rushcreek QH into the bar and totally overshadowed my little display.
(Edit:  Not a Rushcreek - last year, he rode Redheaded Endurance's new Rushcreek in VC, so I thought he was riding another one.  That's a freakin' quarter horse, and yes, he finished.  Amazing.)

Lies, Funder, I hear you say.  Pix or it didn't happen.
I've even got video.
How badass is that?

I think we managed to trundle off to bed at 11, for all the good it'd do.  I laid quietly with my eyes shut for most of the night, and definitely managed to drift off to sleep twice.  At 3:30 I woke up from a very strange dream (a baby rattlesnake had bitten me, and I'd pinned it, but this guy would not help me kill it because it's just a baby, but I killed it and went to punch the dude and woke up and whew might as well stay awake now.)  I saddled up in the cold wind and was ready to ride at 4:40.  

It takes 15-20 minutes to get from camp to the start at the Delta Saloon a few miles away, so a pack of riders poured out of camp at 4:40 and we all walked quietly through town.  The sheriff had the road blocked and was sitting in front of the bar with his lights on, and we all milled around quietly for five minutes before he led us out.  

That has got to be one of the most awesome, surreal experiences of my entire life.  Fifty utterly badass top-notch equine athletes, lit up with strobing red and blue lights, just circling quietly and waiting for their riders to point them at the trail.  Nobody had a hissy fit or dumped their rider (that I'm aware of) - these are all horses who know the game.  Most rides have a couple horses that are just too nervous, starting their first LD or first fifty, and there's almost always somebody getting dumped or a little bucking, but not here.  These guys - including Dixie!! - are pros.  

The sheriff led us down to the cemetery and we were off.  Sanne and I had found each other in the dark - she has a neon tie-dye rump rug, and I have a spotted cow - so we started off together, about mid-pack.  The moon was still pretty high and the horses could see perfectly, so we just flew along in the magical darkness.  I had one little fight with Dixie early on, when I wanted her to walk up one short canyon and she'd have preferred to have galloped it, but after I won that fight she rated just fine for me. Dixie and Taz locked in together and a few people passed us, but we'd found a pocket and we stayed in it for an hour or so.  East up Long Valley, then north toward the Virginia Highlands, all in the dark.  

We started working up through some canyons and the sun crept up.  The sky was pretty clear, with just enough clouds for a good sunrise, and the sky went pink-orange-gold-silver-blue all around us.  I kinda wish I could've taken pictures, but you really have to be there to believe it.  The trail was rough and rocky, but our glue-ons weren't budging and our horses were picking their way along like deer.  We ended up close behind Connie and Pam and decided we shouldn't pass them.  A couple of homeowners had put out water troughs for us and were grinning and waving as we trotted through their backyards, and we saw a couple of mustangs grazing on a hill beside the trail.  

We hit the Highway Crossing trot-by, 19 miles if I remember right?, just before 8.  Dixie was moving ~tolerably well~, don't you think?
Rene Baylor outdid himself getting amazing pro shots of us!

We drank at the trough and started down Geiger Grade, another beautiful new-to-me section of trail.
This was our first good view of the Sierras, and this was the first point where I started saying really stupid shit like "golly gee that sure looks like snow over there."  The burned trees are from that horrible fire early in 2012 that tore up Washoe Valley so bad.
We took it pretty easy down the three-mile descent.  I got off and ran for a bit because it felt like someone was stabbing a knife into my right knee.  My chiropractor is slowly straightening me out, but my muscle memory hasn't caught up yet and sometimes I ride braced in a weird way that hurts that knee.  A little jogging and a little more mindful riding fixed it, and I didn't get knives-in-knee again all day.

At the bottom of the hill, we started down paved roads toward the first vet check at 24 miles.  I thought that we went off the road into a sand trail before the vet check - I'm not sure why I thought that, but I was quite sure I'd know when to slow down - so I was shocked and appalled when we turned a corner and the vet check was right there.  We were running hot and fast and oh shit there it is.

It was too cold to sponge, so I just let Dixie drink and eat for a minute, then got her pulsed down maybe five minutes after we roared in.  She vetted out ok and Mel started cramming food into me.  Lucy had brought Starbucks, and Mel had hard boiled eggs and freeze dried fruit and my best food idea ever, dark chocolate covered espresso beans.  Before I knew it I was back on the horse headed back out.

Sanne had pulsed down before me, and I wanted to slow it down a notch, so we headed out a few minutes after her.  Connie and Pam were just rounding the first corner when we popped out of camp so I hooked on with them for Bailey Canyon.

Things I knew about Bailey Canyon:

  1. It has rocks.
  2. It takes an hour.
  3. No one has ever offered to pre-ride it or ride it for fun with me.
That's about it.  It's like three miles of "trail" up a dry streambed.  It looks like this, or it looks worse - the "worse" bits I didn't want to maybe unbalance D by flailing around with my phone.
Trail like this makes all the barefoot stuff worthwhile.  Dixie knew exactly where her hooves were and she moved like a gecko in those glue-ons.  She just calmly put her feet down where she wanted them and moved along those rocks perfectly.  She took exactly one bad step and her back leg slipped and got stung by a rock, but there was none of that horrible scrabbling for balance you sometimes get with shod horses.  

Eventually we popped out of Bailey into something I recognized from a NEDA ride a couple years ago.  Dixie recognized it too, and she went from businesslike professional horse to unstoppable freight train.  We're going to Washoe and we're doing it right now!  

I refused to let her blow past Shardonney, no matter what, but all three horses were locked on to getting down to the lake and we flew through the hills.  Rene was down on the singletrack in the park, and he got more amazing pics of us.

I thought we had to pulse in at Washoe, so we had another big fight about walking in to camp, but amazingly we didn't have to!  Ehh, either way, she was close to 60 when we got in.  I surprised Mel by showing up early, but there was just no slowing that horse down on the way down from Jumbo, and I knew she'd settle when we headed out for the big climb back up to VC.  I was busy running her, but the vets thought Dixie was moving better at her Washoe trot-out than at the first hold, yay!  Dixie ate and drank, I ate and drank, and our fifteen minutes were up.  

We went straight up out of the park and climbed half of Cinder Mine - the death-march climb at Washoe, past the black gravel open pit thing.  I thought we had to go the whole way up and around so I let the others pull ahead of us and made Dixie walk it.  But we only went halfway up, to a water tank, and veered off the mining road onto a trail headed to the SOBs.  

There were two little paths leading up from the road to the trail, and I stupidly sent her up the right fork of the trail, beside the giant boulder, and of fucking course Dixie slammed my knee into the boulder, hard.  It ripped my tights, scraped my shin, and crunched my knee.  It was my fault, but I called her an asshole anyway, cause she didn't have to go quite so close to that rock.  Asshole.

The SOBs are three very steep canyons.  They're short, but they're brutal.  Real Endurance Riders tail their horses up, but posers like me slither down on foot and make their horses carry them up, lol.  (I am not the only poser, but watching Carolyn tail Okay up the canyons was pretty intimidating!)  

And then the sleet finally started as I was leading down.  I got soggy and my fleece got soggy and my leg was throbbing a bit and I wasn't remotely badass enough to hike up.  But Dixie's a good girl, and we grabbed bites of dry grass on the way down and she carried me bravely up each of the SOBs.  There was some more climbing, with some extra-wretched hard rocky footing, and eventually we made the little "aid station" at the top.  Two awesome volunteers had hay and water and carrots for the horses, and water, beer, electrolytes, and homemade cookies (wahhhh) for the humans.  

I knew that after the water stop, we'd pretty much head downhill to Virginia City again.  It was a deceptively easy grade running four miles down a mining road, and it's a great way to thrash your horse's front legs if you're not careful.  Connie and Pam took off at an easy trot, but their horses are absolutely more badasser than my horse, so I told Dixie we'd have to walk.  

When Dixie's only friends in the whole world rounded the corner, she had a moment.  She stuck her head straight up in the air like a llama and started screaming her loneliness to an uncaring universe as she jigged faster and faster.  I was like, dammit Dixie, and I was trying to get her attention back because I knew she wasn't paying attention and she'd trip.  Then, in slow motion, she tripped.  

Yep, she's going down, I thought.  

She went down.  

Yep, I'm coming off, I thought.  

I came off, over her right shoulder like I always do.  

Don't you dare step on me, asshole, I thought, as I rolled over and came to rest on the ground in front of Dixie as she scrambled back to her feet.

She did not step on me.  

I got up and looked at her.  One more tiny drop of blood on her back leg, but she was paying attention to me again and she was moving sound, so I took off jogging for a while.  The road wasn't even gravel, it was solid rock with bonus gravel on top, but I felt fine.  I came upon Tinker and someone else waiting to crew Zach (8th place!  amazing job!), bitched about my horse, and kept jogging.  When I was tired of jogging, I rode again, and when I could see camp I hopped off and ran her down the last bit of pavement, across the highway, and into camp, exactly when I was supposed to get there.  

She pulsed in and vetted through fine, and Mel shoved a styrofoam box of hot food at me and I ate like I'd never seen food before.  Those Dutch Oven dudes, yall, they are the BEST cooks.  I had a hamburger patty with cheese and grilled veggies and a fantastic sausage, but then I was stuffed and I couldn't even try the stew.  

I wouldn't be back at camp til well after dark, so this was the Night Gear check.  Crysta brought me some lucky fleeces and a hat that was thin enough to go under the helmet.  We ripped off the sun visor and strapped on the emergency headlamp, checked that the glowbars were still strapped to the breastcollar, and re-secured the rump rug - there's not a rump rug in the world that's got a chance against 50 mph Nevada winds, but running it under the crupper helped keep it mostly on her butt and not flapping off to the side like a sail.  I didn't bring any fleecy tights, because I don't actually have any fleecy tights, so I slipped on a pair of sweats and duct taped the ankles down.  I looked like a cold mess, but I was ready.  

After you've ridden 50 miles of rocks and mountains, you head back out for another thirty miles of rocks and mountains.  The last loop is actually easy, flat, good footing, but not the 50-80 mile bullshit.  I rode out a few minutes behind Connie and Pam, but we almost immediately dropped down into a smaller canyon to get down to the valley where Dayton is, so I got off and powerwalked her down down down down.  I managed to catch the other two - my horse walks really fast so I have learned to walk really fast too - and we hopped back on to do the Mine Tour.  

The sleet started again, and I realized I'd forgotten Dixie's fly mask back in camp.  It's super fine mesh, with ears, and it would've blocked most of the horrendous sideways sleet bullshit, but that only lasted like 20 minutes.  The poor horses piaffed sideways but we had to keep them moving.  The trail winds sort of aimlessly along through historic mines, deserted post-apocalyptic 70s and 80s mines, and active new mines.  We got lucky and didn't see any of those monstrous big mining trucks when we crossed the active road, and we didn't see the V&T train as we crossed and recrossed and recrossed the tracks.  Eventually we started climbing again, headed back up to the Evil Cookies water stop, and Dixie got tired.  We walked and walked, while Pam and Connie walked and trotted, and they slowly disappeared ahead of us.  

Dixie got tired and stopped to catch her breath, and I noticed she was a little shaky, so I got off and started leading.  I knew we had to climb a bit more to get to the hay stop, then a bit more to get over Mt. Davidson, but after that was only little hills!  We could do it!  

I suck at climbing hills, but my horse needed me to do it, so I did it.  I've read a lot of books about climbing Everest and the other 9ks, and the secret is to never entirely stop moving.  I would pant for four breaths, then walk for at least four breaths, then stop and pant some more.  The steep bits were 4/4, the less steep bits were 4/8 or 4/12.  Eventually we walked into the water stop and took a break.

The volunteers up there said that Kaity was still behind me, but the other riders behind her were going too slow and were going to get pulled.  I checked with at least two of them, and they both agreed:  Connie and Pam, me, Kaity, no more.  Okay.  Maybe we can do this, maybe we can't, but let's keep going.  

Dixie really didn't want to stop eating, but it was time to go before she got chilled and cramped up.  Kaity and Kody came in, looking ridiculously fresh and happy, and I made sure they'd be ok if I left.  I filled up my saddlebags with carrots and rode part of the way up the last climb to Davidson, then walked some more, then we were over YAY!  I got back on, Dixie started trotting along pretty perkily, and we went through that long valley where the trail goes right by the mine.  When we started up the next little hill, Dixie was like "fuck this shit" so I got off again.  The sun had set on the last climb, and we just had the fading sky for light.

Kaity caught us and tried to get me to tail off of Kody to get up the hill, but I wouldn't do it.  I knew that I could pant/walk/pant literally all night, if I didn't push myself too hard, but if I charged up that hill I'd exhaust myself.  She really didn't want to leave us.  I insisted.  

"Go tell Lucy and Mel that maybe we're done but we're walking out.  I have a SPOT, a cell phone, a light, plenty of water and food, and two emergency blankets.  Go!" 

She went.  We were alone.  We walked and walked, with Dixie trailing behind me like a tired puppy.  She was happy to stop when I panted but pretty happy to walk when I walked.  I realized pretty quickly that we were done - we'd go overtime if I insisted on going back out to Cottonwoods, and I wasn't going to ask Dixie to even try.  I walked for a while and thought about turning back - if I walked back to the water stop, the volunteers would be gone, but I could turn left and take the long rock mining road back to camp, the road where we'd fallen earlier.  

I was very tired and quite stupid, but I tried hard to weigh my options and I decided to keep going.  Kaity was going to report that I was moving slowly along the Davidson trail, and if I turned around and took a different road into camp and something went wrong, no one would know where to look for me.  And it's just a few more hills, and it'd be about the same mileage to walk to camp as it would be to walk to the highway crossing and beg for a pull trailer.  So we kept going.  

My chest started to ache, and I realized I was finally running out of adrenaline after my fall.  Ow.  But my knee didn't hurt, so that was good at least.

It got dark.  It started to snow.  I stopped long enough to pop my glowbars and make a poncho out of my trash bag and kept walking.  I was chilly before I got the poncho on, but that blocked the wind perfectly and I really wasn't cold the rest of the night.  I'd been all alone for a solid hour in the dark, and Dixie was following me pretty closely, sort of "don't you want to get back on yet" perky again, and all I needed to do was find a rock.  A big rock.  

I found a small rock, but I couldn't get my foot any higher than my knee, and it didn't work.  I gave up and turned on my red light, but rocks look exactly like sagebrush in red light, so fuck it I turned on the white light.  We walked and walked.  I heard somebody far behind me say something, but there couldn't possibly be anybody back there on top of a mountain in the snow at that hour so I had to be imagining it.  I heard it again, and I turned and looked back, just stupid as all get out, and somebody was yelling to please turn off the light.  

I was like, and now my goddamn hallucinations are telling me what to do.  This can't be real, but whatever, there's clearly no rocks for miles.  I turned off my light and kept walking.  We went over a few more hills.  I kept waiting for the hallucination to pass me, but obviously it never did, because I'd imagined the whole thing.  I started yelling back over my shoulder, but the only thing dumber than hearing stuff is talking back to it, so eventually I gave up and turned the light back on.  

I never found a rock, but Dixie was trying to pass me and we found a hill that was steep enough.  I parked her sideways and she stood like an angel while I slowly hauled myself back on her.  I turned off the light, turned her down the trail again, and she just carefully carried me all the way back to the highway crossing.  

I'd gotten reception again at some point, and I texted Mel and Lucy asking for a pull trailer.  There wasn't one available in camp, so Lucy grabbed my keys off of the trailer tongue (look, I did something smart:  leave keys to rig where anyone can find them!) and arranged to bring the trailer to the crossing.  They kept touching base with me, but texting was wrecking my night vision, so I tried to keep it to a minimum.  

It was kind of magical, actually.  I was in an utter black pit of depression, with no idea why I'd ever thought this was a good idea or what the hell I was trying to prove, but we were essentially ok:  horse was completely sound and completely happy to walk very slowly along a trail I couldn't even SEE.  There were enough dolomite marks and glowbars to reassure me that she did, in fact, know where she was going, and we just toddled along in the dark for a million years.  

I hummed along to whatever songs popped in my head, and I tried to sing our song to Dixie, but I can't carry a tune for anything so I didn't torment her too long.  I had a few carrots left, so I doled them out to D at the bottoms of the little hills and we just plonked along, admiring the views, cussing the wind and clouds and snow.

It was close to ten when we finally made it to Geiger Summit.  The trail pops out onto a private road, and the private road runs parallel to the highway for a quarter mile or so, and I got to watch my rig arrive to save me right as we finally made it to the paved road.  I got off, waited for traffic, and jogged across.  Dixie was not entirely sure that she should load in a dark trailer, but she went in on the second try, and I just tried not to bawl.  I was the Worst Rider Ever.  

We made it back to camp and I slugged down two cups of hot chocolate.  Somehow the tack came off the horse - surely I didn't manage that?  I think Mel did?  and I cried on Dr. Hassan's shoulder for a while, then got a volunteer to trot Dixie out for her RO pull.  She trotted out great, CRI of 60, low gut sounds but otherwise fine (and starving!)  We gave her all the food and tied her out of the wind to Lucy's trailer, and I started the slow spiral toward bed.

I crashed hard for an hour, then woke up kind of confused.  Lucy was walking by and I got her to give me a powerbar and some cheese.  I ate the cheese and passed out again for another hour, then I woke up feeling decidedly better about everything.  I wandered over to the Ice House and stood by the stove, listening to the vets and volunteers talking.  The Dutch Oven people were still cooking, but I wasn't ready to handle more food, so I just drank a lot of lemonade.  Right as I got tired again, Kaity crossed the finish line at the cemetery, so I stayed up til she and Kody made it back to camp, and then I was down again.  I ate half the powerbar in my sleeping bag and the last conscious decision I made was a good idea- I tossed the stupid powerbar out of the bag so I wouldn't roll around on it in my sleep.  Also Lucy gave me a hot water bottle and I cuddled it like a tiny precious baby in my sleep.

When I woke up I found out I hadn't hallucinated the other rider.  There was somebody else out there, a friend of mine (former friend now, probably) and her horse had spooked and gotten away from her and she spent the night looking for him and I am, possibly, the worst human being in the world.  I feel so fucking bad about that.  I never would've turned on the white light if I wasn't completely convinced that I was totally alone.  I'm so sorry.  They'd found the horse that morning, and he was fine, so at least I didn't fuck it up any worse than that.  Still - I am such an asshole.

The Dutch Oven people finally packed up and left, but the Storey County Jeep Posse had showed up to cook steak and eggs for breakfast.  I had an entire ribeye, about six eggs worth of scrambled eggs, and a bunch of potatoes.  I was filthy and it hurt to move and damn if Tinker wouldn't stop telling funny stories and making me laugh and oh god, it hurts so bad to laugh.  

Dixie looked great.  Her legs were ever so slightly filled, but she was perky and eating and drinking. Mel and I slowly flung all my gear in my trailer, dropped off all my borrowed items with the right people, and then I decided to make a break for it.  Awards were going on, and it would've been awesome to stay for them, but then I'd have gotten stuck in the traffic jam getting out and I had a long drive home.  

There was still a bit of snow over Donner.

I got home about 6.  G made me go to the doctor Monday, but my rib isn't broken, just bruised.  Not gonna lie, it does not feel good at all, but it's getting better.  Dixie looks phenomenal.  I begged for the barn farrier to help me get the boots off; hopefully he's out this way today and we can free her feet.  

Congratulations on reading this far.  Analysis to follow... eventually.  Behold my amazing mare:

Not back sore.  Not lame.  No galls or lumps or anything that I can find.  Not even pinning her ears when I appear - she was listening to the horse outside the barn in the second pic.  

Virginia City was the hardest thing I've ever tried in my life.  It was also the coolest thing I've ever done in my life, and I'm definitely going back next year.  Right now I'm not even ashamed that my horse ran out of gas - that was incredibly hard, and she's smart enough to say she's done before she hurts herself, and somehow I'm smart enough to not try to push her.  She's sound, I'm, well, kinda sound, and we live to ride again.  You go, mare.  I don't know how I deserve to own you.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Virginia City 100 pre-ride: complete

Previously on As the Funder Rides, I went to Reno but it was too smoky to ride so I ended up having an awesome little adventure at Skillman with S and Taz.  It was excellent fun, but it wasn't what I needed to get accomplished, so last weekend I made another speed-run to Reno.

On Friday, I dropped my husband off at BART, picked up the trailer, loaded Dixie, and drove to Reno. Traffic was pretty good, so I had time to stop by my favorite feed store and get a new rasp and get a faux-burger from In-n-Out - burgers without buns still aren't really burgers to me, but a lettuce-wrapped double-double is pretty damn good food.  Then I headed over to S's, met her, and followed her up to the Virginia City cemetery.  Three other Nevada riders were waiting for us, and we saddled up and headed out at 4:30.  

Right off the bat, we saw a small herd of mustangs! There's a white dot in the center of this picture, below the tailings pile, and that's a paint mustang - once you see that one, you can see the rest.  One was an adorable bay foal just staring at us, like, "Mom!  Look at those funny looking horses!"

Headed out.
The air quality was pretty good - just the usual amount of fire-season haze.
Here's a tiny video - break to a couple strides of canter then back to a step-pace.  She's so smooth :)

Pretty flat - Strava says 1700' of climbing - and pretty good footing.  Our tour guide B pointed out all the places where there will be water (and beer) and showed us where the trail will be tricky in the moonlight.  We had one experienced rider, and the rest of us were pretty new to hundreds/VC.  Yall, this is how you get new hundred milers to try hundreds/try your ride - the trail was premarked four weeks in advance (I know that's not possible for every ride) and the experienced VC'ers were eager to show us the trail and help get our nerve up to do this.

We ripped on through 17 miles in three hours - faster than Dixie and I will do it at 3 am, but it was such a nice trail and the horses were all fresh and happy.  It was one of the most fun conditioning rides I've had in years.

We made it back to the trailers as the sun set.  Had our post-ride snacks, loaded up, and drove back down to S's house in the valley.  I talked to S and her husband til ohmygod 11:30, then crashed out on her couch.  I was back up at 6:30 or so and back on the road at 8.

Dixie and I went down to Jumbo Grade, near Washoe Lake, and met G.  G's husband moved her trailer up to the top of the hill, to a pulloff near VC, and we rode up to the trailer for a point-to-point.
You've seen this climb before, from NEDA rides and the Washoe Valley ride, but this time when we got to the crossroads we turned left!  I've always gone straight or turned right, so left was fun and new.
The smoke was rolling north from the Rim Fire, but it was pretty low-lying in the morning. Somewhere under that haze is Dayton, and the smoky hills on the other side are where the NASTR 75 goes.
Up, up, up to some great views.  That's Reno/Sparks in the far distance, and if you look closely you can see 341, the road up to Virginia City, winding through the near hills.  I cannot wait to see this just after sunset, when the whole valley is lit up!
There was a lot more climbing, and the footing was a lot worse, so we took it easy and did 12 miles / 3000' climbing in three hours.

Dixie is very reactive to other horses - she's pretty chill when we're by ourselves or with a laid-back horse, but if she's with a group of high-energy horses she picks up on their excitement.  G's Zephyr is also a chill, lazy dude and neither of them felt the need to go very fast.  We trotted the trottable bits and walked most of the way.  I'm really glad I prerode this (thx G!) cause I think it'll be tough for me mentally.  Big climb, in the fading light, and then another 6 miles of shitty rocky stuff to get back to camp for the last long hold.

There will be a good moon - the full moon is the 19th, so on the 21st it rises an hour after sunset, at 8 pm.  I'll probably make it in to camp between 10 and 11, so I'll be doing the rockiest bit at 9 or 10. Hopefully the shadows aren't too harsh - sometimes when the moon is full and low it's harder to see than when there's not much moon.

Anyway, I feel good about this.  If I think about the whole thing - all those loops and all that climbing and all those rocks - I freak out a little, but just thinking about each individual loop, I think I can string it all together and we can get it done.  We have a good shot at finishing this, random lameness aside.  If we can finish Davidson (the Saturday ride), we can totally finish Cottonwoods (the Friday ride).

When we came around the bend in that last picture, we were looking down into the valley we'd ridden the day before, and Dixie absolutely recognized it.  She perked right up, thinking we'd keep going up the road back to the cemetery, but when I pointed her at the trailer up by the road she was like oh well that's good enough.

At the very start of the ride, there's natural water in the canyon, but they hadn't wanted to drink then. The horses were pretty thirsty by the time we got to the trailer, and they each drank about two gallons before diving into their hay.  We let them eat for a few minutes, then loaded up and headed back down to my rig.

The smoke was getting thick and it was time to go back to Oakland.
That's the same mountain from "you've seen this climb before."

I was hungry, but when I drove by In'n'Out half the population of Reno was there and it was 89 degrees so I just kept going.  I grabbed a powerbar from the cooler when I went through the ag station and powered on down to Auburn, thinking maybe I'd stop there for a burger, but it was 99 in Auburn - too hot to stop.  So I didn't stop, I just plowed through the central valley - it was 100 or 101 from Roseville to Fairfield, about 60 miles.  

I-80 has a beautiful median of flowering trees (giant shrubs? small trees?) between Davis and Fairfield. In the westbound lane, someone had thrown a cigarette out or maybe there was a car on fire, and we all had to slow down and drive past a merrily burning tree.  I knew it was just a burning car or something, but I couldn't help thinking that it was just so fucking hot the trees were spontaneously combusting.  Cali livin', yall.  

It finally cooled off outside of Berkeley, right when the inevitable bridge traffic jam starts, and the last ten miles on I-80 took fifty minutes.  Bay Area livin', yall.  But I made it home at 7:30, 36 hours after I'd left, and sitting down on the couch has never felt so good!

I don't usually run the AC when I'm hauling, out of some weird combination of not asking the engine to do more work and being in solidarity with my horse.  It was hot and horrible, but oddly, not that hot? Back in June or July, I got some new riding tops - New Balance tanks and a Nike Dri-fit long-sleeve shirt. It's long sleeve, but it's ~heat gear~, and you know what, it really does work.  I wore it all weekend, pretty much, in temps ranging from 64 to 101 and humidity between like 10 and 50%, and I was the same level of vaguely uncomfortable the whole time.  A little chilly in the cold, a little hot in the heat, kind of irritated that it's a little too tight on my fat arms big guns.  

Other gear:
  • My boots are getting hella janky.  Now that I'm trimming Dixie's hinds properly the 0.5's don't really fit anymore, and the rubber is all stretched and the gaiters are shot.  I lost one rear boot on Friday, popped it back on, and didn't lose any more.  Saturday I lost one rear boot, swapped it for a less-torn-up one, and didn't lose any more.  I've got new gaiters to put on, so I can get some more training miles out of them, but replacing gaiters is about as easy as swapping out an easy-change gullet in a Wintec (i.e. not actually easy at all) and I haven't gotten around to it yet.
  • I'm definitely getting Tami to glue boots on for VC.  I think Dixie will go in 0's all around, yay!  
  • I borrowed a running martingale from Redheaded Endurance and it rocks.  Dixie was definitely ridden in a martingale or tie-down before I got her, because she never even tested it.  Between the long-nose riding fly mask and the martingale, she is not slinging her head at all.  Every time I get off it's a bit of fumbling to get the snaps unsnapped and resnapped and wait how did I get this so backwards arrrrrgh but it's doable.  I've got a martingale of my very own on its way from American Trail Gear, and it should be here in plenty of time.  
  • Everything else is awesome.  Rode in the crupper, even though I'm quite sure we don't even need it any more.  The diabeetus socks slip on effortlessly if you stick the hoof in a ziplock - I don't know if they ~work~ because I didn't expect her legs to fill, but they're easy enough to put on after any ride.  
  • Butt Butt'r is vastly superior to Body Glide.
  • The Spot works - I can send check-in messages - but I still can't figure out how to do real-time tracking with it.  G should be able to check a web page and see the "breadcrumbs" as I dink down the trail, but I can't figure out how to turn that on.  Help?  
Good horse.  Good ride.  Gonna kick very slow ass in two weeks.  \m/

PS there were camel races on Saturday in Virginia City but we didn't get to see them.  I would have loved to see the look on Dixie's face when she saw camels racing, but I really didn't want to deal with the traffic in and out of town.  Le sigh.

PPS I almost fell off on Saturday!  Had to grab mane and everything.  Wear a helmet, yall.  Dixie was listening to the polite dove hunters slowly coming up behind us on an ATV when a giant friggin' golden eagle soared over us with its atavistically terrifying shadow coming out of nowhere, and she went sideways at mach-ten.  I can't even blame her, it scared me too!  Helmet, even on your dead-broke horse.