Thursday, October 8, 2009

Riverslide Glide -First 25 miler

We'll start by posting proof in the photo below because I have to remind myself we finally accomplished our goal. This photo was taken towards the end of the ride. I had about 5 miles to finish. It's the only photo that was taken of me actually on the trail!We arrived Thursday evening in Spokane in just enough time to set up camp, get three horses settled and all of our gear organized(not an easy task when your sharing space with two others!) before dark. Friday morning came with rain and wind but we busied ourselves with hours of reorganizing gear, resting, taking photos and we even took a short ride to stretch our horses legs a bit.
Friday evening was riders meeting. It was held way later than I had hoped. I listened in and took notes. Usually meetings are pretty straight forward; you get your map, the ride manager points out things of special note, you ask questions and you walk away feeling like you have a good grasp of what your day will look like…. Well, that isn't exactly how this one went...I have to back up a bit before I tell you the next part:

Before I made the decision to commit to going to the ride, I inquired as to the terrain and level of difficulty of the ride . I had been conditioning JB but we had not had enough time to condition on a lot of hills so I wanted to make sure it wasn’t beyond our condition level. I was assured that it was not very hilly at all but the footing was challenging because of the rockiness. No problem with that, I had easyboots on the front and shoes with pads on the back…JB would be well protected…So my decision to go was made.

Flash forward:
Meanwhile back at the ride meeting, the ride manager and her gaggle of volunteers went through the map section by section explaining the terrain and suddenly I realized her idea and my idea of " not difficult” were worlds apart. There were bluffs to climb, switchbacks to conquer and ledges to teeter along on. Challenging and surprising as all of that might be (considering I was told differently), it wasn't my main concern. Apparently we would have to cross what was referred to as an ORV section of the trail, or Outdoor Recreational Vehicle area. That translates to dirt bikes and 4 wheelers riding in sand dunes. In JB’s eyes, dirt bikes are the devil himself. Ok, major red flag for us. JB is deathly, I mean deathly afraid of dirt bikes. When I asked for details, I was assured by the volunteers that there were never very many dirtbikes out there and those that were, were always very courteous… The lastpiece of information aout the trail was that we could also expect to run into our fair share of hikers, runners and mountain bikers…

Ok…. this wasn’t sounding at all like a Novice ride anymore….gulp….

Don't get me wrong, hikers, mountain bikers and mommies with baby carriages can all be a bit of a hazard but for the most part JB was ok with these things. It was the dirt bikes that had me concerned and the fact that the trail no longer sounded like a novice trail, given the amount of climbing we would be doing and the rocky footing.

Needless to say, by the time the ride meeting was over, my nerves were a bit tattered and my anxiety levels were definitely up.

".....anyone got a shot glass??? oh hell, just give me the bottle! "

Ride morning arrived sunny and bright. The rain and wind that was predicted had not shown up. This was a good sign. Sleep deprived, I stumbled out of bed, got JB his morning beet pulp and hay and got myself dressed while Sherrie and Debbie got ready to leave for 7:00 a.m. I didn’t have to go out until 9:30 so I had more than enough time. My minimum ride time was 7hr and 30 minutes and maximum time of 9 hours. (there is so much math to do in CTR's.....)

At 7:00a.m. , Debbie and Sherrie were safely out for their 35 mile day. They were running the same loop that I was, but with an additional 10 mile loop. Before I was even scheduled to go out, they were already back in for their first of two P&R's. They gave me some advice that I think was supposed to be helpful; the time was appropriate given the terrain and to be careful of the footing, it was awful.

GREAT.. I had successfully convinced myself into believing the ride manager was just exaggerating the night before….

9:30 a.m. arrived and JB was calm but ready to go. I walked him in a large circle and around the campsite to warm him up and keep his mind from wandering.

We set out. The trail started out really nice with good footing as it meandered through a wooded area. We ran into a couple of the trail judges as we climbed a hill or two. I had to remind myself this was CTR , not an endurance race. Must watch out for sneaky judges...

In the first 3 miles, we topped out onto a rim where the trail began to get quite rocky, an old abandoned railroad track. I was able to get off to one side where the footing was better. We followed that for a while and JB was walking out nicely and feeling strong. I wasn’t in a hurry because my game plan was to walk as much as possible in the first 12 miles because after that point, things would begin to get tricky in elevation and footing.

We climbed back down off the rim, hopped down a few ledges (literally) and onto an open flat area where I could let him trot out a bit. JB was anxious to stretch his legs and wanted to go faster than I thought he should. After an initial discussion about which speed we were going to go, he finally found a decent pace. Before I knew it, we were taking a turn to the left and faced with our first steep up hill climb, along with some tricky shale footing. JB had to stop and step carefully over them. He did a great job thinking his way through it. I was a little concerned about the boots staying on, but they did. We topped out again and the trail opened up again, back into some nice open wooded trails with nice footing. We walked and some other riders caught us. We rode together and I was glad to have some company , as well as the added support of other horses because before I knew it, we were approaching the ORV area. I could hear the irritating winding up of the motors in the distance and so could JB. We made our way through it without too much incident other than JB trying to rush a bit. I thought we were home free and breathed a sigh of relief. JB was nervous but manageable. We crossed through a gate and the trail went back into the woods, leaving the sound of the giant bumblebees in the distance. I took a minute to glance at my map and nearly died when I realized we hadn’t even gone through the worst of it. We had to loop around and come into it from the other side. We had only been backside of it and now we would be going right into the middle of it. OH CRAP.....

As we approached, and the footing turned to deep sand, I could feel JB’s body becoming tenser and tenser as the dirt bike riders revved their engines through their course, the “ ehring, ehring ehring” of the dirt bike motors was now getting closer and closer. The trail ran along a fence line and the sand dunes were right there. If there weren’t 20 dirt bikes buzzing around in the distance, there wasn’t one. My nice calm relaxed horse was now a ball of trembling tension, head in the air, ears pricked, and eyes as big as baseballs. How was I going to get him and myself through this in one piece?

I talked softly to him and tried to remain as calm and relaxed as I possibly could but my heart was ready to fly out of my throat. I was scared for both of us. I felt like I was astride a ball of energy about to come uncorked. And I was….

As we approached, the trail took us through a fence , dumping us right into the middle of their course. Just about then, two dirt bikes came around the corner , over a jump and flying through the air as they passed us.

Well, that did us in. It was too much for poor JB’s brain to handle. He wheeled and bucked and before I knew it we were at top speed in a couple jumps heading back the way we just came. I got him turned and we stopped. As we stood there and watched them disappear into the distance, JB's entire body was trembling in total fear…

With a shaky voice and my own pounding pulse I tried to reassure him and calm myself …”Easy boy, I’ll get us through here safely....I promise” but he was mentally shaken.

I had a passing thought of turning back the way we came and bagging the whole thing but we had some too far. I had to get him through this one way or the other. I decided to dismount. In a CTR you are not supposed to get off your horse and have any forward motion. You could be disqualified if you do. At that time, my last concern was being DQ’d. I didn’t care at this point. Besides, they did say safety is the #1 priority and keeping my horse safe was my main priority at the moment.

I walked him for a bit as we looked for the flags to get us out of our own version of hell. He circled around me, hyper vigilant to the whereabouts of the motorcycles. The flags suddenly were no where to be found., the flags simply disappeared. So, we turned to following hoof prints. They went way out, up and over the hill, right where all the motor bikes were circling like flies. Ofcourse the trail went that way…. Why would I think otherwise…

When I saw how far we would have to go across the sand dunes, I thought better of being on the ground and trying to lead JB through this. If he got out of my grasp, there was no telling where he would end up. So, I climbed back onto my trembling steed which was less than easy since he would not stand still. I felt pretty confident I could stay in the center of him better than I could manage him from the ground in the mental state that he was in.

We made our way across and JB was difficult to manage to say the least. I rode in between the other two riders, in the hopes that it would help support JB a bit but it didn’t really seem to help too much. We wasted a lot of time trying to find our trail but we made it across and up over the hill. Bikers were everywhere. One would think they would just hold off and let us pass by… but no.. they seemed to be enjoying the fact that they were causing us difficulty. Where was the courtesy I had heard about in the riders meeting? JB charged and leaped his way up the hill, ready to make another break for it at any moment.

Trying to keep my head about me enough to get my horse and myself safely through this and at the same time fighting back a streak of red anger at the ride manager for taking the trail through something like this.. HOW STUPID!! It was dangerous, no other way to describe it. At the very least, there should have been spotters out in that section making sure the bikers didn’t harass the horseback riders, which they did… winding their engines as we passed.

By the time we exited the ORV area, JB was drenched in sweat , I was drenched in sweat and both of us were still trembling and mentally shaken…. I was now concerned about his hydration and energy reserves since he had just dumped most of it in those 15 minutes of hell to get through it. I took a few deep breathes and attempted to collect myself, glad that we had survived.

We approached the next road crossing and the ride manager met us there. I am not sure why she showed up there but she took one look at me and JB, and she knew we had had trouble. She said a lot of riders were having trouble and she was very apologetic. She didn’t know there would be so many dirt bikers out there, turns out , the bikers were having a “rally” that day….

……at the moment, I didn’t really care to hear about why or what or the apologies. I just wanted to get through the next few miles, get to my P & R stop, get my horse some water and food and make sure he was at criteria to continue. I wasn’t sure he would be at this point.
JB was ramped up and now the real climbing was about to begin. We were climbing up to the overlook bluff. This was one area that we were warned heavily about, the trail condition was poor and several areas of the trail were falling away… she wasn’t lying… it was a narrow trail and in spots , didn’t seem suitable to a mountain goat even. JB picked his way carefully through as he struggled up the switchbacks. We stopped several times so JB could catch his breathe but he wanted to rush up the hill and wasn’t listening very well at this point. Still traumatized by the bikes so I wasn’t too critical of him.

We made it into the P & R and I threw his cooler on because he was fairly sweaty and the wind was blowing. JB pulsed in at 72. They wouldn’t allow us to get water until after he met criteria. This irritated me even more. I gave him his beet pulp with carrots and apples and emptied both my water bottles into the bucket of beet pulp for him to drink. Atleast it would be something. He slurped it down and went after his hay. I was glad to see his appetite was still good. At the 10 minute recheck his pulse had gone up a beat or two. This was not good. I got very concerned so I immediately pulled his cooler and tack off and we held for an additional 30 minutes with a pulse recheck in 20 minutes. I knew his high pulse was up because of the ORV section. It completely threw him into a huge state of fear, dumped a bunch of adrenalin into his system, heated him up and overall threw him out of sorts. To add, we had our hardest climb right after the ORV event which didn’t help matters. I was finally able to take him over to the water tank but he wouldn’t drink…. Great…
The other riders that I came into the P&R with went on alone. They also had their fair share of trouble getting their horses to drink and pulse down initially but were doing better and headed out. I was happy to have the extra time but I was very concerned about JB’s pulse being so high and the fact that he wasn’t drinking. On the other hand, everything else was good, he was eating, pooping, peeing, no lameness… his gut noises were a little quiet coming in but had improved as he started eating a bit. Our 20 minutes was up and they rechecked…a sigh of relief… his pulse had come down to criteria of 60. It was still higher than I wanted but much improved at at criteria. The vet felt he was okay to go on. I did at this moment seriously considered pulling. I didn’t really know if I should push it. I still had 10 minutes to decide so I let JB continue to eat and slurp beet pulp and talked to the ride manager about the terrain for the next 10 miles. She reassured me that it was mostly flat or downhill accept at one spot. The only thing I would run into was more rocky footing. I was concerned with his unwillingness to drink combined with the amount of fluids he had lost with his sweating. The ride manager told me that I would come to a couple spots along the river where I could access andoffer JB water. I was relieved to hear that because I knew he stood a good chance of drinking running water.
JB had cooled off and was looking like he was feeling better. So, I made the decision to go on.

I tacked JB back up and we headed out. The next several miles we just walked and took our time. JB surprised me. He felt strong and was walking out well but I knew it would be crucial to keep him as slow as possible if we were going to make the next 10 miles. We made our way and the trail was mostly flat or easy downhills as the ride manager had said. I was very relieved. We meandered along the river edge and I enjoyed the scenery. We had to pass by a rifle range where a fair amount of shooting was going on but that startled me more than JB. We met several hikers and mountain bikers on this last section of trail and it was kind of funny to see their faces as they came around a corner to see us right there. Most times, I knew a minute or two ahead that something was coming simply by watching JB. He could hear them long before I could. We would be standing there waiting for them to appear and they never saw us until last minute and nearly laid their bikes down trying to get stopped. JB was fine with all of this. I think he kind of liked watching them just about wreck trying to get stopped. I know I did!

We made it to the spot in the river where we could access the water and JB drank and drank and drank. I was so relieved. We hit our last CTR judging spot after coming through an exceptionally rocky area. The judge stopped us and asked for my ID, which I did not carry with me. (oops...)He also asked for a hoof pick, which I always carry. I honestly thought he was kidding about the ID… but I did ask if I got bonus points for carrying a Leatherman and treats for my horse! He didn’t see the humor in it and just gave me a funny look…We continued on; 4 more miles to go. Right about then I am not sure if I was suffering from fatigue, dehydration or what but we were riding along and right about the time I was wondering where my next flag was, I hear one of the volunteers yelling my name telling me I am off course..
OFF COURSE??? How could that be?

The judge was the one that told me to turn this way!!
I got squared away and continued on down the trail. .... murmuring to myself how dumb I was to just assume the judge told me the correct direction. I suppose it didn't help that there were no obvious flags that would have caught me attention anyways.

JB and I are meandering our way down the trail, emjoying a slow easy walk and taking in the scenery when all of sudden I hear a crash , bang and hoof beats coming from behind. Out from the woods appeared the two women who I had previously been riding with.
How in the world did I get past them?? They left a good 10 minutes before me out of the P&R!!
Apparently the judge who guided me the wrong way also did the same thing to them except they went an extra 2 miles the wrong way. They were way behind time now and went on by us. JB wanted to catch up to them but once they got out of sight he settled into a quiet slow walk. I knew our ride camp should be coming into view anytime now. We walked along for what seemed like forever. I guess I was anxious to be done so JB could get some needed food , water, and rest. I could tell he was now getting tired. I spotted the two women up ahead in the distance that got off course and now they were heading back toward us… hmmm. They must be lost again I thought. Then I panicked for a moment.. am I lost??? I checked my map quick and looked around, remembering I had just passed a flag. I was on course..(sigh) They must have just gotten past their trail a few feet and had to backtrack because they ducked down between a few trees and were gone from sight again. I would be sure not to make that mistake.
When I got to that spot, I could hear horses whinnying and it perked JB up. We dropped down that same trail the two women had initially missed and trotted for the last little bit into camp.
Home sweet Home…. At last we had made it.

I jumped off of JB , loosened his girth and waited to pulse in. He pulsed in a bit high again. Debbie cheered us on as we arrived and had a bucket of soupy beet pulp and hay in hand for him. JB nearly took out one of the volunteers trying to get to it. He sucked down the water and slurped up every lick of beet pulp he could get. They rechecked his pulse in another 10 minutes and he was down to criteria of 60 but the vet felt he should be much lower. I was released to head back to the trailer, take care of JB and the final vet out would be in approx one hour. JB drank a bucket of water in between taking him for short walks to make sure he was properly cooled out. He gobbled down more hay and beet pulp and rested quietly at the trailer for the next hour. He seemed to be acting as I would expect, everything was normal. It was beginning to get dark since we had come into camp at 5:40 p.m. It was finally our turn to vet out , in the dark now along with wind and rain.... Fabulous….
He vetted through and was much better about being handled . By now the rookie vet helper had figured out how to approach a horse nicely. JB was very wary of her but gave her a second chance nonetheless. Wouldn’t you know it? No problems with the shoulder pinch…. She was much gentler this time and I was thankful. I am sure JB was as well. This poor horse didn’t need any more trauma today. We got lots of compliments on how well he was still moving, with plenty of animation on the trot out. I was tickled.

His pulse was hanging around 60 and the vet was still concerned as she expected him to be down in the mid to upper 40’s for a resting heart rate. However, once again, he seemed fine otherwise… She passed us through and wanted me to watch him through out the night. I took him back to the trailer and took his pulse about a half hour later myself and he was down to a normal resting rate. In looking back , I think his pulse was higher because of two things. The ORV situation which set things in motion for the rest of our day and the fact that the vet and vet helper didn’t exactly get off on a good foot with JB. He didn’t forget and it may have caused some anxiety for him, therefore keeping his rate up when he was being handled by them.

So, there you have it. The adventures of our first 25 miler completion. It wasn’t easy and we had some pitfalls but the bottom line was that JB has what it takes. The trail conditions were much more advanced than I would have like for his condition level and yet, JB just kept going.
Lessons learned? JB is a tough little horse.
Would I have changed a few things? Sure but overall it was great time with my horse, I learned alot and got to spend a nice weekend with good company.

JB did me proud and I am looking forward to next season. For now, he is resting and glad to be home with his pasture buddies.

Rest easy Peanut… you earned it….

Happy Trails….


Tamara Baysinger said...

Holy crap, Jonna. What an adventure. Sorry it was so rough, but I'm glad you guys made it through! I'm afraid I've never been a fan of CTR...too many stories like this one...but I haven't tried it personally, so maybe I ought to keep my mouth shut. ;)

Jonna said...

Adventure indeed and not one I want again, I must admit... I suppose it makes for one hell of a story! Needless to say, I don't think I will be attending CTR's in the near future !I definitely prefer the endurance !