Endurance Riding

Feb 27 2014

Twenty Mule Team 100

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It has been four days since my horse Asali and I crossed the finish line of our first 100-mile endurance ride. The magnitude of that feat is finally settling with me. It has taken me a few days to wrap my mind around the 20-some odd hours I spent in the desert with my horse. I’ve had several congratulations followed by, “How was the ride???” All I could answer with was, “Good.” I did not know how to express what an unbelievable ride I had had. And even now, as I write, I am having trouble finding words — it was an unbelievable journey: unbelievably challenging, unbelievably joyful, unbelievably crazy, difficult, painful… I think I went through an entire spectrum of emotions that day.

The day before the ride, as I was out on a pre-ride, riding bareback, I was feeling pretty mellow and had little motivation. The surroundings of the desert were all the same – I was having trouble feeling like I was going to enjoy 100 miles of brown, green, dusty landscape. There wasn’t a single tree in sight. I missed my mountains, flowers, meadows, streams, and towering trees. But the next morning, I mounted and headed out. When I thought of riding 100 miles, I became so overwhelmed, I had to shut my mind off, and just think about the ride in increments — the goal was just to get from one checkpoint to the next.

We were barely 10 miles into the ride when I decided to dismount and find a bush to squat behind — that cup of black tea I had drank before the ride started had finally caught up with me. I’m not sure what happened next, but I remember seeing my horse galloping 90 miles an hour towards a group of horses up ahead. I thought she’d stop at the group, but she pressed forward and was suddenly out of sight in a vast horizon of desert. At first I was pissed – my horse just took off with my new iPhone, my GroPro video camera, and a slew of my other belongings, including all the food and water. But as time went by, I began to get more and more worried – I thought it’d take 3 days to track her in this desert, and then I had thoughts of finding her dead. Riders who passed me on the trail said they’d call for help and told me to wait at the highway crossing…

I don’t know how long I was sitting on the side of the road crying, feeling sorry for myself, before a couple of volunteers pulled up in their SUV. The first thing they said was, “They found your horse, the vet checked her out, and she’s fine.” The next thing I blurted out was, “Can I finish the ride then???” The volunteers smiled and said, “Yes.” I was driven to my horse, who had been found walking down the middle of the street that connected to the 395 highway. The volunteer who was waiting with my horse held her for me while I mounted, saying, “You’ve got a lot of horse here!” I nodded, and took off, backtracking to the trail, keeping a close eye out for the ribbons that would tell me we were on the right track. We had lost about an hour of time, so I kept moving forward, and eventually caught up to a group of four 100-mile riders who were taking it fairly slow. Asali and I trailed these riders into the first vet check and then into the second checkpoint.

At the second vet check, I saw my eight-year-old son, Declan, waiting at the end of the trail. As soon as he spotted me, he started jumping up and down, yelling, “Mommy!” His sweet little voice brought tears to my eyes. I was so relieved to see him and my dad, who had driven 3 hours from Los Angeles to crew for me. We had made it 35 miles, and I was starting to feel like we might just finish this race.

Declan high-fiving me into vet check 2.

Declan high-fiving me into vet check 2.

My amazing crew!

My amazing crew!

I headed back out with my party of four – Dave Rabe, Connie Creech, and two young gals, TJ and Carolyn. I spent many more hours eavesdropping on their conversations — listening intently to Dave and Connie share stories of the many, many miles they have. Hearing about their unorthodox training rides and TJ’s experiences in the military made me shake my head and laugh. I was with some interesting company, and I enjoyed every minute of it, plodding along on that desert trail.

The setting sun and resulting dusk found me heading into the fourth vet check. In the distance, I again caught a glimpse of my son and my dad, patiently waiting for me with a blanket for Asali and a hot dinner for me. An hour flew by as I took care of my horse, stuffed my own face with food, changed my clothes, and prepared for the night. I was ready to head out on time, but my party of four had suddenly become a party of three and the resulting three members were not ready to hit the trail again yet. As I stood there, debating whether to stay and wait or just head out alone, I felt the fatigue set in. I decided to take a look around camp for my friend Elizabeth Funderburk. She was riding her Tennessee Walker, Dixie. Asali and I had ridden with them at Hat Creek Hustle two years ago, and I knew Funder (as I call her) wasn’t far behind me. I found her, and her friend, Kaity Elliott, along with Kaity’s mom and sister who were crewing for them. Kaity and Funder were happy to have me ride with them into the night, and right before we headed out, Funder handed me three glow sticks and some tape and told me to light up Asali’s breast collar. I sent my dad and son back to their hotel and told them not to worry — Kaity’s family would take care of us.

Heading out after 65 miles!

Heading out after 65 miles!

The deep darkness and the cool night air hit me and Asali with excitement. She was a freight train heading out on that last loop and as I took the lead in front of Kaity and Funder, scanning the black horizon for glimpses of the dull green light that marked the trail, I found myself laughing out loud. We followed that trail, from glow stick to glow stick, like a game of hide and seek. At one point, I began heading directly towards the green light, forgetting that the glow sticks were not marked “A to B.” I pulled my horse off the trail that she was fighting me to stay on, and began leading her into an old mine. Kaity yelled at me from behind, and I was again reminded to trust my horse — she could see the trail. And she would stay on it. The glow sticks were just to let us know we were headed in the right direction.

It was a trip being out there riding for hours in the pitch black. There was no moon, but the stars were magnificent. They were so close I almost thought I could stretch out and brush the constellations with my fingertips. The glow sticks swayed from the bushes, like ghosts floating by, and shadows played tricks on my eyes. The longer we rode, the more my body started failing, but the excitement kept building, and at each step along the way, we kept each other going – the three of us and our new found friendship, and our three amazing horses. And seeing Kaity’s mother and sister greeting us with hot cocoa, blankets and mashes for the horses, and encouraging words, I knew we would finish.

When the finish line finally came into view, I looked at my watch. It read “2:22 am.” We had started out the day before, on 2/22, my husband’s birthday. I got the chills, and an overwhelming feeling of relief, joy, and pride filled my soul. I couldn’t laugh or cry or shout. I just stood there, smiled, and watched my horse pass the final vet check with flying colors. And today, I have a 100-mile horse on my hands. The day I brought Asali home 5 years ago… who would have thought? I am, now, four days post-ride, laughing and crying, all at the same time. Thanks for the unbelievable ride, Asali. I love you.

Twenty Mule Team 100 Ridgecrest, CA

Twenty Mule Team 100
Ridgecrest, CA

10 responses so far

10 Responses to “Twenty Mule Team 100”

  1. Elizabeth Funderburkon 27 Feb 2014 at 1:13 pm

    I am crying *again!* so happy I could share this moment with you and Kaity!

  2. Barbara Whiteon 27 Feb 2014 at 2:10 pm

    I love your expression of gratitude at the end. Our horses give and give and give. We are in their debt for all the joy they bring us.

  3. Barbon 27 Feb 2014 at 8:57 pm

    Congratulations Jaya and Asali, great article and well written brought a tear to my eye knowing the elation you felt and how proud of your horse you were. Keep up the good work girl I know you guy’s can so the Tevis.

  4. Diana Hiiesaluon 27 Feb 2014 at 9:25 pm

    Those videos CRACK ME UP!!!! Like one tiny green spot and then one tiny white spot! Hahaha!! God how terrifying to lose your horse! I’d be a wreck. And 395 would not be somewhere to lose one! Good job on your first 100 mile finish and Asali sounds like a great mare!!
    Diana Hiiesalu recently posted..Tracking Is SOOO Much Fun!!!!!!!

  5. Darshanon 27 Feb 2014 at 11:13 pm

    Great job isha. How many hours were you out with your horse?

  6. Connie Creechon 28 Feb 2014 at 12:03 am

    It was nice riding with you and your beautiful Fox trotter mare, Asali. She is awesome. It was fun watching her move. Congratulations on your completion and getting to experience that 100 mile high!

  7. Ann Byrnson 28 Feb 2014 at 2:12 am

    Fabulous job, daughter of mine! Asali is one special horse and you two are bonded for life. Can’t wait to read about your next adventure!

  8. Peggyon 28 Feb 2014 at 3:09 am

    Oh my goodness!!! I LOVE your story! You write so well and I feel like I am there! Congratulations to you and your awesome horse! You’ve been indoctrinated to the 100 mile addition! How about going to Oregon with me and doing the Sun River 100???? You two are a wonderful pair – many many congratulations!

  9. Karenon 28 Feb 2014 at 5:16 pm

    Congratulations on your first 100 mile finish! I’m so glad you didn’t give up. Now Asali will have a 100 mile brain….the next one will probably not be quite as exciting in the first 10 miles or so 🙂

  10. Brenon 02 Mar 2014 at 1:29 am

    What an inspiring story! In fact, you inspired me to get out on an exciting ride in the wind and mud. Now I am sitting here watching Suki nibble grasss and imagining being with you on a ride! Thanks for sharing the imagery, I loved it! Congrats and I am so proud of you!!!

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