Jun 03 2016
This endurance season didn’t quite start off the way I had planned… I hit a first. The first time I went to a ride and didn’t start. I had been working out and training hard. My head was finally back in the game. I had dreams of riding through the night with my son, and my student and friend, Nyah, taking them both through their first 100 mile rides. But when we arrived in Ridgecrest, CA for the Twenty Mule Team 100 Mile Ride, Asali felt “off” in her left hind, and I dismounted at the start of the ride, just minutes before the trail was open and sent my juniors down the trail with the wonderful Jennifer Perryman.
Nyah and Ember made it an amazing 70 miles together before Ember starting looking tired and we decided to pull her. Jakob and Dippi both finished strong in the wee hours of the morning, alongside Jennifer and Roaster. It was such fun crewing for them all day, along with my dad and son Declan, and Nyah’s family. I was more than proud to watch my son cross the finish line of his first 100, on a horse I had trained and conditioned myself. But, I am not going to lie, it was hard to let go of that dream I had to carry my son through his first 100.
Needless to say, I was so excited to arrive at the Cache Creek Ridge Ride on Mother’s Day weekend. Jakob and I have attended the Cache Creek ride for six consecutive years. Last year, though, I was unable to ride with him due to my ankle injury. This year, however, I was going to ride with him again — and I was in the 50 for the first time, since I had always previously done the limited distance mileage at Cache Creek.
The beginning of the ride was fairly uneventful. I was thankful for the cooler weather. Jakob and I trotted along at a pretty good pace, but it wasn’t long before the rain started. It wasn’t a chilling rain, or even a heavy rain, but it was steady enough that the rain gradually began soaking into the ground, making the trail a muddy mess. As we came into our first vet check, we were both soaked to our skin, and starting to shiver. A friend loaned Jakob a jacket, and I put my vest back on, making a conscience decision to tough it out for another 25 miles.
We weren’t too far into our second loop when Asali started to slide on the trail. It was as if she couldn’t find her feet. She didn’t want to move forward, and I began to panic that something was wrong — Was she tying up? Did she pull a muscle? Am I asking too much of her? We didn’t properly train for this, did we? I feared her falling on me like she had at American River Classic, and so I decided to get off and hand walk her down the trail. I walked for what seemed like mile after mile. And each mile, my shoes captured more and more water, until it felt like there was a river in my shoes. We climbed several hills, and Asali wouldn’t let me tail up a single one. My new half chaps were caked in layers of mud, adding weight to my already fatigued legs. Jakob was quiet, still mounted on Dippi, moving forward little by little. As we approached what seemed like my hundredth hill, I lost it. I literally lost it. I remember screaming something about another f-ing hill. I was tired. I was wet. I was cold. I was covered in more mud than I could have ever imagined. I was hungry. I was thirsty. And here I was, trying to get my son through yet another 50 miles, on my Tevis horse. My TEVIS horse. My reliable Tevis horse. But we were, once again, having issues. And Jakob was going to, again, go on and complete another ride without me. For him and his horse were fine. Just fine. But I was not fine.
Jakob had nothing but encouraging words for me. The more he encouraged me, though, the more the voice in my head brought me down. You can’t do this. You aren’t an endurance rider anymore. You should go back to hunter-jumpers. Or maybe you should just quit horses altogether. I did not feel strong. I was weak, and somewhere at the top of that hill, I hit the lowest point I have ever hit at a ride before. I wanted to lie down in the mud, let the rain run down on me, and cry until someone picked me up off the side of the trail. Because I just couldn’t do it. I could not do it anymore.
We kept pushing forward, slowly, only because I had my kid with me and was acutely aware of what a bad example of sportsmanship it would be if I just threw myself on the side of the trail and cried like a two year old. Instead, I fantasized about heading back to camp every time we passed a purple ribbon, the color which signaled the way back to camp. So, we stayed on track, following the blue ribbons. After some time of silence, I decided to turn on our music, using the rugged waterproof speaker attached to my saddle. I was going to just get my son to the next vet check, where I could quit and send him down the trail with a new, more capable sponsor.
All of a sudden, the beat of the song Sail, from one of my favorite movies, blasted through the speakers. That beat radiated through me, and I was transported from the cold, wet, muddy, rugged, miserable back country I was stuck in, to a dark football field. And with each beat of that song, that empty, dry, warm football field lit up until it glowed like heaven. I was standing on the middle of that football field, and I just began laughing out loud. I don’t like football. In fact, I don’t even understand the game. But what I do understand is heart. I understand heart, and I understand passion. And I understand effort. Perfect effort. And as that song played through that little rugged outdoor speaker, scenes from the movie When The Game Stands Tall, flashed through my mind. I heard Coach Ladouceur’s voice in my mind: Life’s most impressionable lessons are when something challenging happens and confronts you.
I put one foot in front of the other, thankful I had legs to walk on. Thankful I was healthy and strong and could walk whatever mileage was required of me that day. I wasn’t going to be hungry or thirsty or tired or cold or wet or muddy for the rest of my life. I began laughing so hard I almost cried. When Jakob looked at me funny, I yelled out, “I have never had so much fun in the mud before!” I began dancing to the next song, a jolly upbeat tune by the name of Happy, skipping and sliding and running in the mud, as Jakob dismounted and began “downhill skiing” in that mud. We laughed at all the riders passing us, all of them having as much difficulty navigating the trail as we were having.
At the final vet check, we were greeted with food, drinks, rain jackets, and encouraging words from the vet who said our horses were fine. We ditched the rubber boots, leaving our horses barefoot so they would have more traction in the slippery conditions. We headed out for our last several miles, and after Jakob had an unplanned dismount into the mud, I swore the day couldn’t get any better. We laughed and laughed and I took photos of him covered from head to toe in that mud. I hiked another great distance alongside my horse, vowing to try the Ride and Tie the following year, since I was absolutely prepared and conditioned for it now.
We were the last riders to finish that day, and with that finish, I discovered I am an endurance rider after all.