Endurance Riding

Jul 26 2013

Our First Tevis Cup

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For two and a half years, my life has been consumed by the Tevis Cup. From our first 25 mile ride to the 75 miler we completed one month before Tevis, to the personal cross-training I’ve done, the time away from family and friends, the vacations missed because it interrupted our competition schedule, the money spent on tack, the best supplements and feed, the electrolytes, the expensive body work… from tears of disappointment to shouts of joy,  I thought our endurance journey would end on July 21st, 2013, as we crossed the finish line of the world’s most difficult endurance ride. What actually happened is that our journey has just begun. And when it will actually end, I have no idea. Something tells me this journey may last my lifetime…

On 5:15 am on July 20th, Asali and I headed out of Robie Park in Lake Tahoe. We rode out with Sam and his horse, Fire. I was feeling great that morning and Asali moved out like she was too. I remembered something Peggy, Sam’s wife, told me as we rode out: “Don’t forget to enjoy the view.” When we headed up to Squaw High Camp, I turned my head and looked back to see the sun rising over Lake Tahoe. The sight made me smile, even though the air was thin and my lungs could feel the elevation.


Squaw 1


Asali and I had never ridden through the Granite Chief Wilderness area and its technical difficulty surprised me. The rocks on the trail were overwhelming and we traversed through more than one bog, but we were thankful for all the water on the trail. Asali took a fall to her knees through a particularly wet, rocky area, but she recovered and we continued on.


When we approached Cougar Rock, the actual sight of the Rock left me momentarily hesitant. But, I stuck to my original decision and pushed Asali onward toward the summit of Cougar Rock (rather than taking the bypass trail around it). My heart pounded the entire time and I gritted my teeth, but we made it over and at the top, I waved back to the photographers who captured us on our journey toward Red Star Ridge.


Cougar Rock 1

Cougar Rock 2


At the vet check at Red Star Ridge, I came in stressed about the time. I had wanted to make it to Robinson Flat by 11 am, but knew, by my time into Red Star, that was going to be impossible. I’m not sure what slowed us down, but Asali couldn’t keep up with Fire after about 20 miles, so we hung back. A young volunteer approached me as we entered the vet check. She took my horse and began sponging and feeding her. When another volunteer checked Asali’s pulse, she was at 82, much higher than the 60 criteria. I began to cry, and then embarrassed by my tears, immediately apologized. The young girl helping me, however, gave me permission to cry, offering words of encouragement. She put Asali in the shade and I removed her tack. Asali continued to eat, acting like she was famished. It took her twenty minutes to pulse down, but once she did, she recovered well and passed the vet check. At 10:56 am, we were out on the trail again, with 7.5 miles to go to Robinson Flat.


The road to Robinson Flat was hot, dusty, and rocky, and while Asali moved out at first, she again slowed down on me and I was afraid we would not make the noon cut-off time. We weren’t moving any faster than what I could do on foot, so I dismounted and decided to jog her into Robinson Flat. I was about a ½ mile from the vet check when I began to feel weak from hunger. But I knew I couldn’t slow down. In fact, I had to pick up the pace. I kept telling myself, “one foot in front of the other and we’ll eventually be there.” The ¼ mile marker put me into a sobbing fit while I was running with my horse behind me. I glanced at my watch as spectators cheered me on, yelling that we could make it if we didn’t stop. I ran and ran and suddenly, at 11:59, I was at the in-timer and my crew was there to wipe away my tears, offer food and water, and care for Asali. The site of my crew was a relief and I was thankful they were there.


Sheri, one of my crew members, led Asali into the P&R (pulse and respirations) box. She was pulsed down, so we continued on to the vet. A woman I knew through email, Diana, was there, as secretary to the vet from Texas. She offered me a hug, her chair, and her water. Sheri vetted Asali for me and she passed with flying colors. The vet from Texas made me laugh and I left the vetting area feeling rejuvenated.





The one-hour hold at Robinson Flat was just what we needed and when Asali and I began traveling down another long, hot, dusty road at 1:07, I was thinking, We’re in this. We’re doing it. A woman named Connie Creech, from Nevada, caught up to us and Asali trailed her horse for a long while. Connie and I ended up in a group of horses to Dusty Corners, where the volunteers had water and mashes for the horses and watermelon for us. We were careful not to waste too much time at Dusty Corners, and continued on to Pucker’s Point, a beautiful narrow trail, cut into the side of the mountain. We trotted around each corner of that single-track trail and once we actually reached Pucker’s Point, I had to catch my breath. I was staring out into a vast landscape of rock, mountains covered with trees. And when I looked down, there was nothing but miles and miles below. I couldn’t see to the bottom, so I looked up to the blue sky and felt like I was on top of the world.


Our group made it to Last Chance at 3:12, three minutes before cut-off. Again the volunteers were amazing, jumping in and catering to our horses and us. I lost my sunglasses at Last Chance, but before I rode out, a volunteer gave me a pair to wear, saying he’d get his daughter a new pair after the ride.


We headed out of Last Chance alone and as we approached Devil’s Thumb Canyon, I thought, We’re still in this. I dismounted when the narrow trail became precarious and began jogging Asali down into the canyon. At the bottom, I led her to the river where a group of riders were cooling themselves and their horses. I let them go on ahead and got in the back of the line out of the canyon. I mounted and asked Asali to carry me up the canyon, but we didn’t get very far before I realized I was asking too much. I could tell she was tired and hot. I, however, felt great. I had been keeping myself hydrated and my cooling vest was helping me to manage the heat. I had no reason to ask my horse to carry me up the canyon. I had done it on foot during our training ride, and I knew I could do it again. I began tailing up Devil’s Thumb, but at one point, Asali actually stopped and tried turning around on the narrow, steep trail. I looked at her and said, “Ain’t nothin’ down there, Mama. All the food and water is at the top.” I got in front of her, grabbed the reins, and began leading her up the steep climb – a gain of 2500 feet in a mile and a half. I knew we had 42 switchbacks before the top and when I looked down at my watch, I knew we weren’t going to make it to Deadwood by the 5 pm cut-off time. I saw a rider below, also leading her horse up the canyon. I waited for her and together, we arrived at Deadwood and were both pulled for being overtime.


I thought I’d be devastated if I didn’t finish. But I didn’t shed a tear. Asali vetted fine at Deadwood and I knew if I had pushed her any more than I did, she probably would have been pulled for a metabolic issue. I finished with a sound and metabolically stable horse. I discovered the one thing I had anxiety about – the heat – didn’t get to me. I felt blessed that I was strong enough to climb out of that canyon on foot when my horse could no longer carry me. I did not obsess over the “what ifs” because I knew there wasn’t anything I would have done differently. We had a fantastic ride and gave it a hell of a try. And while waiting at Deadwood for a trailer ride to meet my crew in Foresthill, I enjoyed the company of Connie Creech (10 time buckle winner) and Pat Chappell (20 time buckle winner). I was sitting under the shade of a tall tree, leaning up against its massive trunk, using a few loose flakes of hay as a cushion, listening to the stories of those two amazing women. I felt I could have fallen asleep right there, in the comfort and protection of the forest. I was content as Asali stood next to Pat, eating a flake of alfalfa and sticking her head in a bag of carrots every now and then.


On the trailer ride back to Foresthill with our volunteer horse transporter, John, Connie and I listened to all the communication coming across John’s ham radio. We heard a lot over that ham radio – horses who had been pulled and were waiting for transport, riders who were accounted for and still in the race. We heard a rider was being treated for dehydration, and we learned the drag riders were still out there on the section of trail we had just finished. We shared our sadness over the horse who had died that morning going over Cougar Rock. It was surreal sitting in the back of John’s truck on the ride back to meet my crew. I was filled with a lot of respect for all the people who come together every year to put on this ride, this ride we call the Tevis. I felt honored to have been at the starting line that morning, even though our journey came to an end before Auburn. I was suddenly filled with this knowledge that I had been a part of something truly great, and it was then that I knew I was a part of the Tevis family and I knew this one Tevis wasn’t it.  I knew I’d be back.


The morning after the ride, my son Jakob said, “I wish you would have finished.” I replied, “That would have been cool. But you have to know when you start a ride like the Tevis, you may not finish. You just gotta start and see how far the trail takes you and enjoy the ride, however long it may be.”


So, would my story be more inspirational if I had actually finished and gotten that buckle? To some, yes. Asali and I had a following that reached into the 100s. Many were rooting for us because we were the underdog – Asali is not an Arab, but a Missouri Fox Trotter. Others were rooting for us because I was riding for charity. And others wanted to see me finish for my friend, Bren, the one I was riding for, who is currently fighting stage 4 breast cancer. But, even though we didn’t get that buckle, I left feeling like a winner. The overwhelming amount of messages I received from friends, family, coworkers, and complete strangers touched me deeply. I left Tevis with more than one newfound friend. I saw humanity at its best and enjoyed some of the most beautiful country in the world, from no better place but than on top of my horse. I returned home with a sound and healthy partner, knowing we have the ability to try it again. And when I opened my account to see the final amount we had raised for charity, I saw a 3 with 3 zeros behind it and I was pleased.


I had a successful first Tevis and to me, it will only be all that much sweeter when I actually do cross that finish line. And so my journey begins…

10 responses so far

10 Responses to “Our First Tevis Cup”

  1. Barbara Whiteon 26 Jul 2013 at 1:10 pm

    Dear Jaya,

    I have just read your blog, and I’m all teared up. It was beautifully written, and I experienced your emotions in every sentence. It’s pretty clear you have caught Full Moon Fever, for which there is, sadly, no known cure. 😉 Each one of those volunteers has a case of it, not just your fellow riders or previous finishers who are crewing for others. Every summer the Tevis sings her siren song that lures all of us back in some capacity. We can’t stay home knowing others are challenging that trail and working to get to Auburn; we have to BE there.

    I applaud your efforts and was hoping you would finish. Neither my mother, husband, nor I finished on our first tries. It made those buckles even sweeter when we finally held them in our hands. Think of how much you learned – about the ride, Asali, and, most importantly, yourself.

    Yes, your Tevis journey has only just begun. Already your appreciation for those magnificent mountains and your very giving mare has grown. You have figured out that the Tevis magic is multi-layered. I think it is all about the connections we experience as we traverse that trail – connections with those who have gone before, with our fellow riders, with Mother Nature and her many gifts, with our amazing crews, and with our noble equines, that do it because we ask.

    Don’t you wish next year were next week? It’s the long wait for another chance that is so agonizing. But it will come again, and I’m pretty sure you will be at the starting line.


  2. Melindaon 26 Jul 2013 at 10:36 pm

    My first Tevis I did not finish either. It wasn’t my first pull, but it was my mare’s first pull. Made it to Foresthill. I was very very very surprised (and a bit freaked out) have awful (but wonderfuly beatufiul) the first third of the trail was. It was a surprise how technical it is through the wilderness – and this is coming from a person that loves technical single track!

    but, I think being pulled that first time made the ride even more special to me. It’s the only ride I’ve done where I’m truly uncertain that I’ll finish, even if I’m adequately prepared – luck plays into a Tevis finish like no other race I’ve ever done.

    I made it to Fransico’s this year and like you, my ride was not a failure. We accomplished every goal I had for that year (went over cougar forthe first time, and I absolutely nailed our heat conditioning) and the fact I went 85 or so miles instead of 100 doesn’t matter to me (much). I’ll be back as soon as I can (next year?).

    I’m so happy you recognize your accomplishment because what you did WAS AN ACCOPMLISHMENT :). I the title “our first tevis cup” gives me chills because it promises more to come.

    Congratulations (and for being so brave for going over the rock the first time – I totally chickened out my first 2 rides :)) and give your mare a hug for me.
    Melinda recently posted..Tevis – Details II (things gone wrong)

  3. Jennifer Son 26 Jul 2013 at 10:42 pm


    I was invested in your story all along. You have been such an inspiration throughout your adventure. I was really pulling for you and Asali. Thanks for sharing your story. It brought tears to my eyes. I look forward to being on the starting line with you in the future!

    Happy trails to you and yours!

  4. funderon 27 Jul 2013 at 12:40 am

    I love your attitude, Jaya! I was cheering for you and Asali, and I was sad when I heard you got pulled. See you there next year?

  5. Diana Hiiesaluon 27 Jul 2013 at 1:29 am

    You are a winner JayaMae. This ride is a phenomenal feat for so many horses and riders and the volunteer effort still is choking me up. It started for me in the middle 1980’s when I read about this ride and said “This was made for me”. It took me about 27 years to get to the starting line, but I was entered in 2010 and had to pull my horse 3 days before the ride. My trainer told me that 50% of the people training for Tevis will not make Robie Park, and then we all know the story after that of those 50%. For me there is nothing that compares in my life to my intense devotion to Tevis. And, I know you are there now. Good luck with your training this year and I will see you at the starting line next year! Oxoxo!!
    Diana Hiiesalu recently posted..Tevis Blues…..

  6. CMKDreamson 27 Jul 2013 at 2:16 am

    Asali’s big training buddy will be there to keep her company on the trail while you prepare for 2014!

  7. Karenon 27 Jul 2013 at 5:11 am

    I’m so glad you have a positive attitude and that you’ll be back to give it another go! You made it farther on your first attempt than I did. Good luck in 2014.
    Karen recently posted..Pro Bono’s 3rd Tevis – What a Ride! Part 2

  8. Emma Moffaton 27 Jul 2013 at 6:35 am

    We have followed your story for such a long time JayaMae. Inspired by your rides with your son Jakob. We were rooting for you all the way from England last weekend. So pleased that you made it home safe and sound and we look forward to hearing about all those trails to come. Emma and Archie

  9. Barbon 27 Jul 2013 at 5:51 pm

    Beautifully written article, Keep up the good work Jaya, you are truly an inspiration to others and Asali knows this too. Those of us that are older and cannot see this in our future are living through your experience, we truly don’t know where all your energy comes from with work, training, home schooling, supporting friends and the community. We are envious and joyous at the same time. Sorry about Bren’s experience right now and hope all goes well for her. Now our support for you should be transferred to Bren to help her pull through this race and see the finish line with clear testing. We are with you guys all the way. Keep up the good life with your family and congrad’s again.

  10. Ann Byrnson 28 Jul 2013 at 5:18 am

    You wrote a beautiful account of your Tevis trial–an amazing effort and I am proud of you and Asali and the way you both take care of each other.

    Terrific that the girls in Kenya will benefit from your ride and so sweet of Bren to suggest donating to the school there. Bren, you are so brave! I hope we will get a chance to ride the forest trails again.

    Jaya, my daughter
    Asali, her mare
    Bren, her friend and a horsewoman too–

    I’m lucky to know all three of these remarkable females!!!

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