Riding with the Big Boys, First 50, Washoo July, 26
It wasn’t that long ago (Rides of March, 2003) that my horse, CT’s Sinatra, and I completed our first LD ride. My mom (who had also done her first ride) and I remarked somewhere around mile 20 of the 30 mile trail that we could not IMAGINE doing 50 miles. We were especially worn out, and our horses were tired as well. We could hardly believe the riders coming in back to camp in the near dark, just finishing, as we had already taken a little break, had dinner, and received our awards. I guess it’s amazing what a difference a few months can make….
This last Saturday, July 26th, my horse and I had the pleasure of completing our first 50 mile ride at the Washoo Ride held in Washoe Valley near Reno, NV. We were very sedate, back of the pack finishers, who completed with about 50 minutes to spare. My biggest thanks goes out to my riding partner for the day, a man named Ted from the Cool, CA area who has been doing endurance since 1978 and who’s mare is now just a few miles short of her 3,000 mark. Our two horses worked together very well and it was a boost, for both Sinatra’s spirits and mine, to have some company for our first real venture into the sport of endurance. =)
I haven’t had Sinatra very long, just since early February of this year. I named him that because he definitely stands out in the crowd with his two blue eyes and overo paint job. He is a 5-year-old grade gelding with four white stockings and a great BIG blaze (almost a bald-face). He always causes a mild stir in camp and people usually ask his breeding, of which I have NO clue. He must be one of those horses that are pretty generic looking because I’ve heard a VERY wide range of guesses. =) We have done 4 rides this year prior to Washoo, all LD’s, with a 2-day 50 as his last ride(s). He was ready to move up, but I was a little unsure of myself.
Last week was near record highs for the Reno area but the weatherman had been forecasting mid-90’s for Saturday for the last week and it hadn’t changed much. With that in mind I decided to brave the heat and make our first attempt at the longer distance. Friday I was able to leave work early and, with a slight delay in packing due to thundershowers, was at ridecamp (about an hour from my house) by 5 pm. Sinatra vetted in with all A’s and proceeded to eat everything in camp. He is VERY good about eating at and during a ride, he thinks he ALWAYS going 100 miles the next day even though, at this point, 30 was his longest ride. I decided to forgo sleeping in the cab of the truck for the back of the horse trailer since it would be cooler and roomier. Note to self: NOT a good idea with a horse that eats, and eats, and eats all night long. I ended up removing his hay bag around 11:30, empty bucket by 1:00 and throwing a flake of hay on the ground, because I was tired of him jerking the trailer reaching for wayward strands of hay and weeds, sometime around 2:00 in the morning…. So much for sleeping before a big day! I was very comfortable though, so maybe some earplugs would be a good investment for me. Sinatra ate about ½ bale of hay, drank about 10 gallons of water, and peed an entire lake to his credit. Good boy!
Ride morning dawned crisp and clear. It actually got pretty cool (low 60’s overnight) for the first time in about two weeks so it felt GOOD out. I decided to wear my new tights that I made myself (gloat), a jog bra, and a long sleeved white shirt based upon recommendations received on Ridecamp. I also wore a Camelback (70 oz) with half Poweraid and half water for myself to drink (this worked GREAT, I just had to tighten the straps as it was emptied) and carried two large (32 oz) bottles of water to squirt Sinatra with. I knew staying wet and cool would be the name of the game today. The trail was opened at 7:00 am and I started in the middle of the pack. Sinatra usually does well in a crowd but today was the first time he thought about bucking with me. He wanted to trot out but we had some slower riders on narrow trail in front of us so I had to hold him back. He got a little more “rounded” than usual but after a verbal warning on my behalf, cantered in place for a few strides and then preceded to behave himself except for a little occasional head tossing to let me know the pace was still not suiting his tastes.
The trail was laid out extremely well. Three loops of 25, 15, and 10 miles respectively that all returned to camp for the vet checks. The first loop had quite a bit of elevation changes, taking us up, up, up in the morning to the top of McClellan peak where the TV Stations have their towers. There were beautiful views along the way that looked both west down on Washoe Valley and the lake as well as views south over the town of Carson City. At the top near the towers ride management had put out some hay and several water troughs. Sinatra drank very well (he usually does) and then dove into the hay. I waited at the top for about 3 minutes or so for his heart rate to drop to 60 before we continued on.
From the top of the mountain we headed northeast down towards the town of Dayton. We didn’t quite go that far (they do on the 100 mile Washoe ride held in May) but rather after reaching the bottom, turned and went northwest back towards Jumbo Grade which would link us into the valley. I rode most of this stretch with Connie Creech’s little group and we got off and walked some of the long downhills. At one point, we crawled down a really rocky hill to some water troughs that were naturally fed at the bottom of a small canyon. Sinatra didn’t drink here (it was only about 10 minutes since the last water where he drank really well) and I totally ripped my sponge bag on a stray piece of wire while sponging him off. I stuffed the destroyed bag into my cantle pack and the sponge was strapped into an empty water bottle holder on the same. At this point, we headed back up the really gross rocky hill and I let Sinatra really tail me for the first time. I have been working on tailing with him on flat roads so he’s used to me being back there, but he still needs someone else in front of him as incentive to keep walking down the road. As our little group headed back up the hill, I grabbed onto his tail and off we went! A little more ambitiously than I had originally intended! I quick tug on his lead and he slowed down to a more sedate pace. =)
At the next water stop, a puddle with a really steep edge about 10 minutes from the last one, again Sinatra didn’t want to drink. This kind of concerned me since he had now refused water twice in a row, and that was VERY unlike him. I have a feeling this one was more of a location refusal though, since he’s still working on the whole “puddle crossing” issue and he would have had to step in the water to get a drink at this stop (sigh). So I hung out there a little longer than most people and Connie’s group moved off. It was at this point (maybe 15 miles in) that Ted Goppert came along. He waited for me while I tried to coerce Sinatra to drink and even let me borrow his scoop to see if he would drink out of that (he didn’t). So we continued on, up another mountain and back down into a fun little twisty single-track trail at the bottom of a canyon. A group of three riders, one on a green horse, and one a green rider joined us, we took turns leading/following and our little group progressed very well. This trail lead us out to Jumbo Grade where there were water troughs waiting at the point where this loop intersected with the last 10 mile loop. Sinatra drank really well here and we elyted the horses. From this water stop, it was only about 5 miles or so back to camp. Once back in the park, we followed a fun little trail that twists and turns through the sagebrush. We would take this trail (2 miles or so total) all three times today as we looped back into camp. About ½ mile from camp, we got off and walked the horses in. We came in from our first 25 miles at 11:28 am and Sinatra pulsed right in at 42. Good Boy! =)
At this point, we had an hour hold so I went back to the trailer, pulled tack, and gave Sinatra his mash. He happily dove into his mash and slurped up every last bit. When he was done eating and I was about halfway through my tuna sandwich, we went over to vet through. Kevin Lazarchef was the head vet; he is a REALLY nice guy that I have gotten to know from attending several rides this year. He has a daughter just a few months younger than my son, who just turned one the weekend before. He always asks me how Taren (my son) is doing and knew that I was going for my first 50-mile completion. He checked Sinatra over, gave him a G for “Gross” on those mashy mucous membranes (actually an A) and had me trot him out. As I came back from the trot out, he looked me dead in the eye and told me “He’s pretty lame, we’re going to have to pull you.” I gasped and exclaimed that I had JUST trotted him to the vetcheck from the trailer and he had looked just fine! Kevin started laughing and said that he was just kidding, he looked great, A’s for impulsion and gait and that we were cleared to go. BRAT! =) So we went back to the trailer for a little more lunch for both of us (Sinatra = eat, eat, eat) then tacked up, met up with Ted, and headed back out.
This loop (15 miles) took us west out of camp towards the beach. It was very pleasant riding along the water’s edge with the breeze. We rode the entire length of the lake, maybe 5 miles, probably less (I’m a horrible judge of distances). Due to the sand, which could be fairly deep, we walked almost this entire stretch. From there we cut over to a dirt road for an “out and back.” Sinatra had fun spooking and looking at the other horses and farm equipment that lived along the road. At the end of the road was a clipboard that you had to sign with your name and rider number. We both signed-in and then headed back out. Honestly, this was the only point in the trail where I wish there was some more water. Due to the low water level at the lake, we hadn’t braved what looked to be some pretty boggy mud/sand to get a drink there. After we had returned from the “out and back,” we were able to get the horses a drink at a water trough in a little parking lot. They both drank well and we soaked them down. I also soaked myself, which felt absolutely wonderful! From here, it was back into the park for a quick jaunt back to the twisty trail into camp. I think it was around 3:30 or so as we got back into camp, Sinatra pulsed in at 48 and again had all A’s and B’s at his vetcheck (well, actually another G for “Gross” on those mucous membranes due to an apple and some carrots this time!). This was only a 15-minute hold, tack on, so it wasn’t long before we were headed back out for our last 10 miles!
These next five miles or so were probably the hardest for Sinatra. At this point, I had already ridden further than I ever had before (40 miles) and he was a little disappointed to leave camp but just seemed to resign himself to the fact that I was going to ride him forever, I was never getting off, and we would just keep coming to camp and leaving again until he died. =) Once he realized this, he just kept moving down the trail, my slow but steady boy! He had actually lead a good bit of the day today since Ted’s mare didn’t like to be in front. That was pretty new for him, leading another horse, since usually when we ride with company he’s in the middle or back. But he did good and just keep on going down the trail. This last 10-mile loop took us back out northeast towards Jumbo Grade, which we crossed, and into the smaller hills on the north side of the grade. Both horses (and riders) were pretty hot and tired. It started to cloud over (thundershowers on hot days are very common in Nevada) and that gave us some relief. It even sprinkled a tiny bit. My knees started to get very sore, something I used to have problems with but had gone away as I started riding more. So I got off and walked as much as possible but it felt like I had a huge blister on the bottom of my right foot (I don’t so go figure). This last 10 would actually have been a really fun loop on some fresh horses, but for now we were just going down the trail nice and steady. About 8 miles from camp, Sinatra realized we were heading back and started to perk up. When the trail would turn away for the general direction of camp, he would LOOK towards camp and kind of wonder why we were going a different direction. Once we looped back to the water troughs where the first loop joined in, I had a whole new horse. Sinatra drank but was very eager to keep going, since he now knew exactly where he was (we had ridden this trail several times before the ride as well). My steady boy took a nice easy trot and carried us most of the way back. I did get off to walk a couple more times but for the most part stayed on and trotted.
I was a little disappointed as we came upon the finish line. I had always envisioned myself cantering across the finish on my first 50 amidst some clapping from the volunteers (silly maybe). Instead we found that no one was there to great us and I didn’t have the heart to make Sinatra canter. Some people directed us to the vetcheck where the “new” finish line was. We got off and walked the couple hundred yards or so to the vetcheck and Sinatra was pulsed down (56) when we got there. It was about 6:10 pm so that was a total ride time of 11 hours and 10 minutes, “trail” time of 9:55. He vetted out with all A’s and B’s again and we did it, we got our completion! Dr. Lazarchef congratulated me on a job well done and asked me if that was my first 50 since the baby. When I told him that was my first 50 EVER he was pretty impressed and re-expressed what a good job I had done. I was very proud of my boy! He has come a VERY long way in the five months I’ve owned him. The trust and bond we have built is amazing and he really looks to me for guidance and assurance.
I went back to the trailer and pulled tack and gave Sinatra another mash and a bunch of hay to chew on. I didn’t sponge him since it was getting cool but he wasn’t sweaty except for under the saddle anyways. After a few rubs and pats I went to go see what was left of the ride dinner. It is kind of sad for those last few finishers, especially us newbies doing our first rides, when it is all over and done with by the time we get into camp. Dinner had already been served, awards presented, and most people were leaving camp on their way home. There was plenty of food left (hamburgers, etc) and we got our choice of colors on the finishing awards (bags from Rider Relief). I have YET to get a T-shirt in the five rides that I have done now…. =) So I don’t even KNOW who won, who top tenned, who got BC, who finished, who didn’t, etc. I DID enjoy sitting and visiting with the people who were remaining, a well-rounded group of very experienced riders. And I learned that if you are a male, it pays to race to the top of the hill at our rides out west. We had a very cute female photographer at the top of the hill waiting for riders to come in. Since she was all alone and could see riders coming WELL before they got there she, umm, how do I put this, decided to “sunbathe” so she wouldn’t get any tan lines. =) And no, not even the front-runners were lucky enough to get a show!
All and all I had a great ride and learned some valuable lessons. Am I hooked on 50’s? Heck, I was hooked on 50’s before I even did one! =) My 105 miles of LD I did so far this season was just to get ready for what I accomplished on Saturday. And really, these 50’s are just in preparation for my final goal, 100’s. I’m hoping to try my first one sometime late NEXT year.
Hope to see you on the trail!