Endurance Riding

Sep 18 2012

Don’t Stop ‘Till the Top

Published by under Endurance Riding

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Asali and I hitched a ride with my endurance buddies, the Straub sisters, to the Trinity River Challenge near Ruth Lake in Trinity County. We arrived on Thursday afternoon after a 6 hour haul.

On Friday morning, we got the horses ready for our pre-ride. We set out on the trail that was to be the start of the ride the following day. What we discovered was a 3200 foot climb over 4 miles! Parts of the trail were so steep and soft, I was lucky that I didn’t slip off my horse’s rump as I was riding bareback. Before the summit, we turned right and completed our pre-ride on a 7 mile loop back to camp, stopping to let the horses play in the river.

endurance riding

That evening, after looking over the ride maps for the Trinity River Challenge 2-day endurance ride, Teresa decided not to ride both days. I was having my own doubts too after learning how technically difficult the ride was going to be. But, always up for a challenge, I decided to give it a shot the first day and then leave the option open to just the ride the 25-miler (rather than another 50 miles) on Sunday.

Saturday morning was chilly as I got Asali tacked up for day 1 of the weekend’s endurance ride. Our start time was 7 am and we were off with the front runners, climbing that 3200 foot STEEP trail to the summit. The trail was very primitive, as it had been created by the ride managers using only hand tools. (Natalie and Willi did a pretty tremendous job blazing their own trail for us.)

Once at the top, we enjoyed beautiful views where you could see nothing but tree tops for miles. The trail at the summit was relatively easier, as least compared to the one we had just traversed. We hooked up with a young 18-year-old endurance rider, Joanna, and her little morgan mare, Beatle. (Joanna is mature beyond her years; she is a double major at Humboldt State, planning to apply to veterinary school after graduation. I enjoyed her company.)

endurance riding

Joanna and I took the time to hike alongside our horses on the long downhills. We also “tailed up” (walking behind the horse while holding on to its tail) a steep road to the vet check. I was pleased to find a rider who liked to get off almost as much as she liked to ride – we figured out we hiked a total of 10 miles during the ride, and those miles gave our horses much needed breaks.

The most memorable part of Saturday’s ride was the River Trail – we made a loop around a river, encountering a swinging bridge (Joanna refused to look down), lots of lush green forest, and a cool breeze. We cantered around a huge portion of the trail, me dropping the reins and enjoying the ride!

endurance riding

Joanna and I crossed the finish line sometime around 5 pm, making our ride time about 9 hours. We made Top Ten, coming in 9th and 10th respectively. Asali looked so good and I felt pretty well myself that I decided to attempt another 50 miles the following day.

endurance riding

endurance riding

Sunday morning was a bit chiller than the morning before and I had trouble getting myself out of the sleeping bag. Outside, I could see my own breath in front of me, dancing with excitement. I mounted in a hurry and we were off at 7:30, with Joanna and Beatle by our sides.

We rode in a large group at the beginning and got lost not far from the start. We went about 6 miles off trail, but since the horses were fresh, it didn’t take us long to back track.

Once we got headed back in the right direction, we hit a goat trail. This trail was narrow, cut into the side of the cliff. There were turns, and ups and downs, and every time a horse’s hoof sent a rock tumbling over the edge, you held your breath. The views were spectacular and as I gazed out across the skyline, holding tightly to my reins, I imagined being on top of the world.

After the first vet check, Joanna and I rode on a long, hot, dusty road back to camp. It was mid-day and the sun was not very forgiving. We were able to move out on the trail, but we were both wishing the road would take us down to the river.

We finally did hit the river after what seemed like hours. We were just around the corner from ride camp, which was the finish line for Joanna and Beatle, as they were riding in the LD (limited distance; 25 miles). For Asali and me, it was our 45 minute hold and vet check before the second half of our ride.

At the vet check, I soaked my hair in the shower of Linda and Teresa’s living quarters horse trailer. I was hoping wet hair would help me cool off. I also took the time to cool down my horse, make her a mash, and then make some lunch for myself. We spent an extra 15 minutes at the hold before starting out on the trail again.

We had to conquer the 3200 foot climb again before we finished. Although I knew I had some horse left, I could feel that Asali was tired. I decided, rather than to ask her to carry me, I would lead her up the 4 miles to the summit.

As I began walking up that mountain on my own two feet, I really started to doubt myself. I saw another rider up ahead, a young woman named April, on her Arab stallion. I kept trying to catch up, using them as motivation. But soon, April and her stallion disappeared up ahead of us and Asali and I were alone.

It was quiet and the shade cover made the trail look dark. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest and I was thirsty. I remember wondering if I was going to pass out. I momentarily considered turning around and quitting, but then I thought about the time my brother took me rock climbing. I had pushed myself to the limit physically, wanting to quit more than once on that climb. But when I got to the summit, I was on top of the world and the high I felt at that moment lasted for days.

I continued to put one foot in front of the other, refusing to quit. I kept thinking of the summit and I talked aloud to my horse, more to encourage myself than to encourage her.

When we reached the top, I was thrilled to see the water buckets ride management had placed there were still full. Asali dove in and drank a ton. I gave her a second dose of electrolytes as well.

We headed out on the loop that was marked with pink and black ribbons (originally ride management had us doing a longer loop, but when they found out all of us had gotten lost and ridden an extra 6 miles in the morning, they sent us out on a slightly shorter loop for the second half of the ride). I mounted Asali and she moved out for a little while before slowing down again. I decided to dismount and hike alongside her again. I kept putting one foot in front of the other, but Asali was walking awful slow and I began to worry we wouldn’t make it to the finish before dark. Just then, a couple hunters drove by, stopped and asked me if I needed anything. I said “no,” but the comfort of seeing someone else alive out there in that backcountry gave me encouragement to keep going.

I remounted Asali and decided that if I needed to hike again later, I would do it with my ipod in my ears, hoping that a little regae, Led Zeppelin, Steve Miller Band, Ani DiFranco or the electic tunes of The Duhks would be enough to keep us going to the finish line.

A few mounted steps forward and I saw April headed in our direction, going the wrong way. As she passed me, she told me she was done. She was “over it” and was headed towards ride camp to take a rider option out of the ride. I looked at her and said, “After we just climbed that fucking mountain to the top, no one is climbing back down until we finish this loop.” I told her that at Hat Creek Hustle, I had taken a rider option 5 miles from the finish, but I knew now that Asali and I probably could have finished that ride if we had had the company of another horse and rider team. April felt like her stallion was quitting on her, but I told her he probably had enough gas to get to the finish – he just needed a buddy and I had a feeling that my mare, who was in heat, was probably all he needed.

From that point, April and I committed to finishing the ride together. We had a great time – we laughed, we almost cried, we shared stories, and we picked up souveniors along the way (her a robin feather, which she stuck in her helmet, and me, a few ride ribbons I stole from the trees). We made it to the end of that pink and black loop, and we dismounted and began hand walking our horses all the way down that steep trail. We stopped a few times on the way down to regain our footing. We also stopped, April crouched and at attention, to watch a mama bear and her cubs, in the distance. Just a mile from the finish, a couple of other riders, the older ladies who had been in last place, passed us up. April and I laughed, humbled and proud that those riders caught up to us and didn’t get stuck on the mountain in the dark.

When we reached the finish, everyone was cheering for us. April and I hugged and high-fived. She announced that if it wasn’t for me, she would not have finished. The truth is, though, we carried each other to the finish. I only did for her what Sarah Teasley and her horse, Red, did for Asali and me, 8 miles from the finish of the Camp Far West ride, when I was about to quit.

I walked away from the Trinity River Challenge with another new-found friend, a redheaded 30-year-old who is just as crazy and independent as me. I learned that everything happens for a reason and in those moments when we feel like we can’t do it, we really can. It is only when we push ourselves to the limit and overcome our fears that we find out what we are really capable of. It is then, in that moment of success, that we are able to learn and grow, and possibilities become endless.

endurance riding

7 responses so far

7 Responses to “Don’t Stop ‘Till the Top”

  1. JayaMaeon 18 Sep 2012 at 8:37 pm

    Credit for the title of this blog post goes to my cowboy son, Jakob. He also let me borrow his half chaps for this ride, which I wore both days. Those were some lucky chaps! Thank you, Jakob.

  2. Natalieon 19 Sep 2012 at 4:43 am

    Awesome blog 🙂 please post a link to the trinity river FB page! *JayaMae Update* – Done!

  3. Willi Hoffmannon 19 Sep 2012 at 4:49 am

    Loved to read this ! Yes, our mountains are tough, but that’s where you get a butt and condition on your horse ! If you can finish her you have a good chance to finish your dream Tevis ! We are in TRINITY County ! Humboldt is a couple of miles west, where the nasty wet weather starts ! 🙂 I remember every mile we rode together in Hat Creek, was only like 90 or so in the two day’s…… yeah, sometimes you have just to jump over your shadow to finish. The last 10 mile loop was long and lonly after your pony got back sore, and I walked a lot but I thought what ever happens and what ever it takes, even in overtime I will go over the finish line ! Willi
    Willi Hoffmann recently posted..Don’t Stop ‘Till the Top

  4. funderon 19 Sep 2012 at 3:44 pm

    GREAT ride story! Congrats on TWO days at a tough ride! I’m so happy for you and Sali. Hope I get to meet April and her stallion one of these days – she sounds awesome.
    funder recently posted..Hoof improvement

  5. Carol Baileyon 19 Sep 2012 at 8:17 pm

    Oh how I love reading your stories! Great job, great finish, great lessons learned! xoxoxox

  6. Ann Byrnson 20 Sep 2012 at 1:02 am

    Great fun reading this account! WHEW! I especially love seeing the picture of you and April and your horses at the end of the ride. Asali looks pretty pooped but it’s obvious the stallion was inspired by her company–he looks ready to go again!

  7. Dianna Chapekon 24 Sep 2012 at 9:07 pm

    What a great story. CONGRATS to you & Asali. Sounds like a great Tevis training ride. 🙂

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