Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Lessons Learned - NASTR 50 - June 2004

The NASTR 50 would be my horse Sinatra’s and I third attempt at a 50-miler this season (2004). We had successfully completed 135 miles of LD and one 50 in the 2003 season of our first year of endurance riding. Due to saddle-fit issues, and money and time constraints, we had not done a 50 since July upon starting the year. So far we had 35 miles at Rides of March before a pull for lameness (slight muscle pull) and had successfully completed 50 miles at the Upham’s wonderful High Desert Classic I in April. Sinatra had done wonderfully at this ride and finished with plenty of energy and time to spare. NASTR would be our next attempt at getting a 50 under our belt.

One of my biggest problems is often trying to do too many things at once. What that usually means is that only one or two things are done well and everything else gets sort of half-assed. In this case, I think the care and time I usually devote to RIDER preparation prior to a ride was sorely neglected. There was a big Western States Horse Expo in Sacramento the weekend of the ride. I live in Reno and my mom lives in central California, we made plans to meet Thursday night and go to the Expo in Sacramento, which is about a 2-hour drive for both of us. I worked a full day Thursday and it was after 7 pm by the time we were checked into our hotel room in Sacramento. We had a late dinner at the nearby mall (hamburgers) and then stayed up WAY to late talking and planning what we wanted to see the next day.

Sleep was restless and not very good being in a strange bed. I couldn’t get the right temperature and woke up feeling tired. Not a great start to what I knew was going to be a long day. We had breakfast in the coffee shop and then went to the Horse Expo. Abbreviated version was the Expo was WONDERFUL but I was dehydrated and full of junk food as I left at 7 pm to begin my 2-hour drive home. Luckily my mom was headed to her sister’s house in Nevada City and was following me up the I-80 because about 5 miles before Auburn, my Blazer started smoking REALLY bad! I pulled off the road and there was a big puddle of oil that had been blown out of my exhaust pipe, never a good sign. So we called AAA and waited for about an hour and a half before the tow truck driver showed up. The tow truck driver was really nice and crawled around under my car with a flashlight. As luck would have it, the oil drain plug had come loose and that is where the oil was coming from. Since I had pulled over shortly after it had started smoking, the oil level was fine and I was able to drive home with no more problems. Unfortunately, instead of being home around 9 pm as I had planned, it was now 12:30. = (

4:00 a.m. rolled around way too soon. The NASTR ride was being held in Palomino Valley, less than half an hour from my barn, so I had the luxury of trailering out that morning. The ride started at 6:00 and I had mistakenly believed that 2 hours would give me plenty of time. Since I had gotten home late the night before, I made a quick lunch for myself and darted out the door. At stop at the gas station provided fuel for the truck and drinks for me. Off to the barn, a 5 minute drive, and the challenge of hooking up the trailer in the dark, by myself. That took MUCH longer than expected and I grabbed Sinatra and off we went, already a quarter till 6.

Sinatra ate the whole way in the trailer and at the ride site while I saddled. He had been grained and received his soaked mashes with electrolytes from the trainers while I was gone the last two nights, so I didn’t worry about that at least. I quickly saddled and went to the registration trailer. I signed in, received my rider packet, and vetted through. All of the other 50’s had left by then; it was 6:30, a full half hour after the official start time, by the time I was mounted and heading out. = (

Poor Sinatra, he didn’t know if he was in a ride or not. He thought he was when we got to camp, but now we were out on the trail by ourselves, with no one in sight. He was being pretty sluggish, not wanting to walk out and trotting really slow. I took advantage of the pace to study my ride map. We had a 28-mile loop with a quick trot-by at 20 miles, before returning to camp for an hour hold. Then it was a 17-mile loop with a 15 minute hold before that last 5-miles that essentially went “around the block” from ridecamp. This first loop was supposed to be pretty difficult with a long climb in the first half. So Sinatra and I trudged along, me pushing him at times in order to maintain a 6 to 7 mph pace. And we started to climb…..

Slowly at first, just a gentle slope, but it kept on going, and going, and going. Soon we were in a canyon, following a little natural stream headed the opposite direction. After several miles (about 10-12 miles in maybe) we came to a spring-fed watering trough. Sinatra took a long drink and I sponged him. Then the hill took a turn for the worse and was virtually straight up for the next mile and a half or so. Once to the top we were rewarded with beautiful views of the surrounding valleys (hey, I can ALMOST see my house from here!). We were at the highest point for miles around and it was spectacular. We started to drop slightly and followed the single-track trail along through the canyons on top of the ridge.

In one of these canyons, a flicker of movement high and to my right caught my eye. It was a mustang herd! The stallion was either black or a really dark bay and he had at least three mares with him. He started trumpeting down to us (that really loud snort they do) and Sinatra just STOPPED! NO, stupid horse, GO! He had his neck stretched to it fullest and was locked on the stallion, who was clearly agitated and running back and forth several yards in front of his mares. I was kicking Sinatra only to be rewarded with one small step, then another, still not paying attention to me. GREAT, just what I need is a horse fight in the middle of nowhere with no one coming behind to save me if something went wrong. Sinatra then made matters worse by trumpeting back at the stallion, challenging him. That’s when I lost it and started screaming at him and slapping him with my hand on his neck as hard as I could. It was enough to get his attention and he promptly trotted out of there, with QUITE the spring in his step!

This was what I needed all along, finally a horse with some energy and forward impulsion. We easily trotted the next couple of miles (with Sinatra and I both checking over our shoulders every so often) until we met up with a couple that were just getting ready to leave a water trough. They politely asked if they could leave and I said yes. Asked if they had seen the mustangs and they had with no issues, luckily since they were both riding mares, one of which WAS a mustang. They left and I got off and took a few minutes for Sinatra to drink and be sponged. Got his head back on me and not the other horses (Oh Mom! Now we have someone to chase!) and started down the trail. This next section was single-track that ran along side of the mountain, often with a steep drop off. Good training for Tevis (a future dream of mine). I didn’t mind the heights and Sinatra is very sure footed. We followed this little trail for a while through some small up and down little hills and then started our descent. YUCK! Steep, nasty, loose, shale footing. I was off walking and would slide down until I hit the end of my reins/leadrope. Sinatra’s job was to eat weeds and act as my anchor until I came to a stop. Then he would slide down behind me as I took off again until he stopped to grab another bite. We looked like a dysfunctional slinky I’m sure but it worked. It took a LONG time to get down this hill but with the footing I just didn’t want to ride it.

At the bottom was what would have been our trot-by. Instead there was a friendly volunteer with a trailer for those who rider optioned and a water tank but no vets. She was with two riders who had pulled and they were happy to hear I was last and no one was behind me. Sinatra took a good long drink and then we started the unseemingly long trot on the hard packed dirt road to camp. We had to ride through the swarms of Mormon cricket covering the road and I took perverse pleasure in hoping Sinatra would squish many of them as we went. We had to ride past a farmhouse with lush green pastures and Sinatra was very nervous and anxious the entire time. Alligators in the grass maybe????

The trail diverted into the sage again and a hidden little creek for another drink. This was a nice little section and it was good to be off the road again. Finally we caught up to the couple in front of us again, Peter and Kari, two vets from the Redding area if I remember correctly. Their Mustang mare was pretty tired and they were going to Rider Option so were walking in the last 3 miles or so to the check. I SHOULD have gone on ahead but stayed with them, both Sinatra and I finally glad for the company.

I reached camp again at 12:50, a full six hours and then some since I had left. WOW! But, at least I was nearly 30-miles done and I know the last 5 are all flat, so how bad can the rest be right? Went to the trailer and pulled tack. Let Sinatra eat a little as I sponged him and then went to vet through. He was 50/44 on his CRI and had all A’s except for a B on muc. Membranes and Gut Sounds. We went back to the trailer and I tried to care for myself. By this time, the lack of sleep and fluids was really starting to catch up to me. I was dying for some protein but could hardly eat. I forced myself to eat half of my turkey sandwich and drink 32 oz of water. I had been drinking half-Gatorade and half-water on the trail but still felt dehydrated. I tried to just rest and let my stomach settle, by now I was feeling pretty sick. But my horse was fine so after our hold I was saddled up and headed back out.

The vet couple had both pulled at the lunch stop, Rider Option, but I was excited to find out I was heading out on the same loop as some of the top-ten on the 75-mile ride that was being held in conjunction with this. I know all of these people, Mayeroff’s, Dave Rabe, Nicole Woodson, so had a great time. Sinatra had pretty much just poked along for the first half so I felt like I had a fresh horse under me as we left camp. He was so full of himself, that going down a hill several miles out he proceeded to try to buck me off because I was holding him back from the horses in front of him that were already down the hill and heading off. I stayed with him (Yeah for me!) and got him settled again but he was pulling hard to go and loving the faster pace. When we finally got to the first water stop, all the horses drank well and ate the hay that was set out for them. The Mayeroff’s left but I stayed behind to ride with Dave and Nicole, who were going to go a little slower. We had a great time and set off on another big climb.

On Rides of March, we had ridden this same trail but instead of making us go up and over the big microwave hill, they kindly led us around. Not so at the NASTR ride (this is supposed to be a good conditioning ride for Tevis, Hal Hall won and got BC on the 75). Up and up and up we went yet again. It was so nice to be riding with someone though and Dave and Nicole were setting a great pace except for several long stops since Nicole was starting to not feel so well either. We finally made it to the top and hiked down the gently sloping other side, Sinatra was eating everything in sight as we went. Down to the bottom and the next water stop, by now it is after 4 pm and I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be able to make it. I have about 7 miles back to camp, a 15-minute hold, and then 5 more miles to do in slightly less than 2 hours. No big deal some might say, but I have a young horse, in only his second season, and by this time I was thoroughly TRASHED.

We watered the horses and then I left off by myself on the “short-cut” for the 50’s since the 75’s had a few extra miles tacked on to this loop. I tried to get Sinatra to lope some so I could relax some of my muscles, but he his a trotting horse by nature and takes more work to make lope. We cruised along towards the next water and I thought there were actually some horses in front of us. Sinatra was being spooky about some dirt bikes and stuff since we were by ourselves again (horse-eating fences and such) so this section was actually what probably put me over the edge. By the time we got to the water, I could see that there were two riders up the trail. We set off to catch them. As I got closer, they started to trot. I wanted to yell, “I’m only a 50!” in case they were the front-runners on the 75. I didn’t want them to think I was racing for a placing. Eventually I caught up to them and realized they were riding the 50 as well!

They could not have been more surprised. They were sure they were the last ones out. We started talking and I was VERY pleased to meet Gretchen and Merri from Bridgeport. In fact, this is the same Merri that went to Egypt earlier this year and whose stories I eagerly awaited reading on Ridecamp! We all decided that time was against us at this point and to just walk in from here. There is not sense in racing two young horses (Gretchen's and mine), plus Raffiq felt off to Merri. So we happily chatted our way back to camp, arriving at 6:05 pm, five minutes after the cut-off with a hold and 5-miles that would not be accomplished today.

Although I’m disappointed I’m now 2 for 4 in my 50-miler attempts, I certainly can’t blame this one on anyone by myself. I started late, I took my time when I should have paced better, and I didn’t take care of myself and was hindering my horse. Sinatra vetted out great at the finish, 50/50 CRI and all A’s, I had a TON of horse left. I am happy with my decision not to push him once I realized I would have had to really rush. I certainly don’t condition at those speeds yet (10 mph for several miles) that would have been necessary in order to finish the ride. It would not have been fair to ask that after already traversing 40+ miles of difficult trail.

So, chalk this one up to lessons learned. At least I know we’ll be better prepared next time. Our next ride will be in September, wish us luck at our 5th attempt! Hopefully we’ll have 150 miles to our credit soon. =)

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