Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Double Trouble – Crooked River 80

P5210426 Despite packing over the course of a couple weeks, I was still up late finishing on Thursday night because I had a few organizational things to do.  I added a canvas pocket organizer in the rear tack compartment (three separate shopping trips were required in order to get the right hardware) and also some D-rings in the dressing room to help secure the load to the walls.  I think I made it to bed around 11:30; I stayed awake for a while adding things to a “last minute stuff” list next to the bed, but once I fell asleep I slept like a log.P5210427

The alarm went off at 5:30 on Friday morning and I reluctantly dragged myself out of bed.  After packing last-minute things like toiletries and cold food, Zephyr and I pulled out of the driveway at 7:30, stopped downtown for gas and coffee at Gary’s station, and started on our way.  We had to stop a couple more times... once at Hamilton Marine for toilet odor neutralizer and reflective leg bands (for Zephyr’s legs in case he gets out of his electric pen at night).  I was thrilled to find these on a recent stop at Hamilton Marine, they’re only around $3 each and look like they’ll stay on every bit as well as the ones for horses that cost a heck of a lot more!  I realized later,  though, that I bought human LEG bands and not the ARM bands that I spotted on the first trip... so I wasn’t sure if they’d be the right size for his legs or not.  (Turns out they’re not, I need to exchange them.)

I had to stop again at the Augusta Civic Center to say hello to my husband, who had been away on a business trip for a couple of days.  When I called to say I was ten minutes out, he said he’d be busy when I arrived, so I stopped across the road at WalMart.  I needed a few things anyway.  As always, it killed almost 30 minutes.  I just can’t seem to run in/out quickly.  Then back across the road to the Civic Center for my hug and hello before hitting the road.  No wrong turns... seems like I’ve got this trip down pat these days.

Zephyr and I arrived at the North Waterford, ME fairgrounds at noon.  As usual, I had nervous butterflies.  They always go away once I get camp set up, but I always get stressed out about choosing “the perfect parking spot” and setting up the electric pen.  It’s even worse when I’m making a commitment that I’ll be stuck with for four days!  I know it’s silly, but I can’t help it.

I ended up parking in exactly the same spot I had last year, but unfortunately when I hopped out of the truck to see if I’d left enough room between the back of the trailer and the road, I realized the ground was soggy there.  I thought about moving down a space to where it was dry, but that would have meant some OTHER poor schmuck would have gotten stuck with the soggy ground.  Besides, if I’d moved down further I’d have hogged an electric/water hookup that I don’t even need.  So I resigned myself to it, meanwhile planning to go look at the barns to see if there were any stalls left that I could put him in for the overnights.

P5210424 I did find a wonderful spot for him, a nice big stall with open sides that overlooked camp.  You can see it just above the roof of the truck in the picture at right, which I took while standing in front of my truck.  The front of the stall was open, and there were two hooks on each side that you hung 2x4s on.  The back of the stall, the side that overlooked camp, had a low wall with grass on the other side, so I decided I would have to string some un-charged electric tape across the opening, about a foot above the wall.  I set a couple of buckets in there to reserve it while I went back to the trailer for horse and hay. 

Once I got him set up happily in the stall I was able to set up the pen.  Given how ‘into everything’ Zephyr always gets, and the fact that he scrapes his teeth on the paint when he’s tied to it and gets impatient, I P5210431haven’t ever set up the pen with the trailer as the fourth side.  But I decided that I would give him the benefit of the doubt in order to make the pen larger/wider without encroaching on other campsites.  So I built the pen in a long L with the short end behind the trailer and the long end along the curbside.  I wanted the pen to wrap around the back so that if I was sitting  under the awning he could stand where he could see me if he wanted to.  As a side benefit to this, the rear tack compartment would be inside the pen, so everything would be right there for tacking up.  I did know that I would have to keep the tack compartment shut when he was loose in the pen, though, or he would have everything strewn all over the wet ground!  (As it turned out, I did not have to keep the tack compartment closed, he behaved himself and left everything alone!)

As a side note, I will never buy any other color of fence tape besides white again.  I got a really good deal on this yellow tape with black edges, and I didn’t think color mattered... but it does.  Look at my fence versus the one to the right of it.  This tape is almost INVISIBLE against a backdrop of grass, darn it!  I hung a bunch of survey flagging off of it, but it was yellow/red striped so that didn’t show up very well either.

Once the pen was set up, I checked in with ride management to get my rider number.  The folder had a big magic marker number 80 on the top right corner where the rider number always gets written, and I joked with a couple people how it would be a lucky number... rider 80 in the 80-mile ride!  It wasn’t until I had put the number on Zephyr’s butt that I looked at the folder again and realized that there was a computer-generated mailing label on it with small type that listed my name, address, and rider number... which was 34.  GAH!! 

I scrubbed hard at the winter hair on his butt, trying to get the grease marker off.  I got a lot of it, but you could still tell there used to be another number there.  I had to put the new number on so thick that it will probably be there until my next ride a month from now!  I felt better later when I heard that my camp neighbors, Cate and Ben Peloquin, had marked Cate’s (borrowed) horse Max with an 80 before they realized that Cate’s actual number was 35.  And Irving McNaughton, riding the 30, had thought his rider number was 30... but it was actually 36.  Luckily for Irving, he hadn’t written it on his horse yet.

Zephyr and Max got down to business flirting with each other over the fence, playing grab my halter and the like.  The gap between the fences was only a couple of feet, and so far there had been no scuffles, just a little light play.  It seemed like they were doubles in the Troublemaker department... both a little mouthy, curious, and very playful.  Zephyr got a little fed up a couple times and reared up a little bit, but while I was a little nervous about it, I was definitely happy for Zephyr to have such friendly company!

Zephyr vetted in just fine, though I was a little surprised with the vet said he found old interference marks on the backs of ALL FOUR fetlocks... it turned out he was feeling the ergots!  I have to tell you, that didn’t inspire me to have much confidence in him.  Zephyr did manage his fastest “stop-drop-and-start-to-roll” yet.  I was finishing the circle to the left when it felt like he stumbled.  As I started to turn around, I heard a yell, and by the time I finished turning far enough to see him, he had already gone from mid-stride to laying down and rolling a little bit onto his side!  I got him up all right though.  I didn’t want him to get sand all over his back, as that might have irritated his skin if I wasn’t able to get it all off. 


The afternoon went pretty fast.  I finished setting up camp, walked Zephyr, read for a while in my bunk (that red/lime thing reflected in the window above is my sock), then had a Smirnoff Ice with my friend Susie and her camp-mate Joanie at their trailer.  Afterward, we all walked to dinner at the restaurant down the road.  Susie and Joanie enjoyed their buffalo burger and elk burger (respectively) and I had a wonderful Reuben sandwich and fries.  Melby’s Restaurant really does do a great job.  I bought some sunscreen while I was there, because I had forgotten to pack mine. 

P5210435When we got back to camp it was time for me to get my hold tub ready and set everything out that I would need in the morning.  I never remember from ride to ride what I packed in my hold tub last time.  I think I’m allergic to lists.  This time, I put in a bag of apples, bag of carrots, horseshoe puller, horseshoe nail clincher, bag of grain / beet pulp, two small bags of chopped dried alfalfa/timothy hay, electrolyte syringe with applesauce/Enduramax already loaded, a “tub trug” bucket to hold the food while I waited in the vet line, rump rug in case it was chilly, spare bridle with the regular hackamore I normally use (Zephyr would be in a Myler combo bit on day 1 instead of the usual hackamore), Clif bar for me, two full water bottles, and the case for my sunglasses in case I wanted to ditch them.  On top I added a P5210436 drawstring-top mesh bag ($1 at WalMart) holding a flake of Zephyr’s favorite 2nd crop timothy/brome/orchardgrass hay.  He loves that stuff... it’s wide leafy, fluffy, still fairly green (even though it’s from last year) and it never has any dust.  The mesh bag was a stroke of genius brought about by not being able to find the “mesh manger” that I usually pack.  Two bungee cords to hold the lid down and I was all set.

P5210423Two of the younger riders came over and offered to braid Zephyr’s mane for me, so I took them up on it!  It was rather amusing to watch them chase him around his pen... I finally suggested that one of them hold him while the other braided.  Unfortunately, later, his stall neighbor would chew on it enough to completely pull all the shorter hairs out of the braid... but it was still nice that I didn’t have to braid it myself.

I was in bed by 10 and read for a while before shutting off the light and sleeping (like a baby, because Zephyr was in the stall).  It was chilly overnight but not COLD, and there was no wind, so I was able to leave my awning rolled out without worrying that it would blow away.  Good thing, too, because my neighbor Ben (Cate’s husband, and the start timer) would have teased me for being an awning chicken.  He gave me a couple lessons later about how to set it up so it would be less at risk in windy conditions.

I slept until 5am when camp started to wake up, but laid in bed awake with a raging headache until my cell phone alarm rang at 5:30 and then promptly cut itself off, dead.  (The phone signal in camp is so bad that it drains the cell phone batteries much faster than usual.  From then on, I relied on my watch alarm and just left it in the truck to charge overnight.)  My neck was hurting so badly that it radiated to the front of my head, and I knew that once I started moving around it would only get worse.

I had slept with my riding clothes in the sleeping bag with me to keep them warm, so I put them on before getting out of bed.  My first order of business was to take a couple of Aleve and an Excedrin Migraine.  After fetching Zephyr down from the barn, I fed him a sloppy mix of grain, beet pulp, and water.  Earlier in the week I’d been able to mix electrolytes in with this mixture, but I know from experience that once he gets to ridecamp he will no longer tolerate e-lytes in his slurry.  I also know that as the weekend progresses he will have less and less tolerance for beet pulp.

While he ate, I ate my own breakfast.  I have found over the years that the best breakfast for me is old-fashioned oats and dried fruit, with cold milk.  It would be better if I could warm it up, because I’m always cold in the morning, but I don’t have such fancy things as a microwave!  I make do.  Then I headed over to the cook shack for coffee, and while I was there got half a bagel with cream cheese.  One of the other riders told me that she had fed her horses at 4:45 and Zephyr, who was laying down across the aisle sleeping, never even twitched an eyeball.  He just laid there, upright on his chest/belly, with his legs tucked in and his neck stretched out in front of him so that his chin dug into the shavings.  When she went back a few minutes later he was sprawled flat out, practically snoring.  What can I say?  He knows how to relax! 

I wanted to socialize for a few minutes but my head was throbbing so I just headed back for last-minute preparations and to load my hold tub into the truck that would bring it to the hold.

The riders’ meeting was at 7am.  At that time we learned our starting order, but somehow I completely missed seeing the starting times written on the whiteboard.  I did know that Zephyr and I would be starting with my camp neighbor Cate and her borrowed horse Maxtiki Pi, a long-legged 10yo gray Arab gelding who belongs to Tracy Reynolds and is currently for sale.  We would be riding a 30-mile loop with one 20-minute hold; minimum time allowed was 5 hours (6mph average speed) and maximum time allowed was 5.5 hours.

CTR riders go out in 2s and 3s, every 2-3 minutes.  For some reason I thought we’d be going out around 8:30 because Cate and I were late in the starting order, but I seriously misjudged it.  When Cate finally went over to check our out time, which ended up being 8:02, we only had 9 minutes left!  I hurried through tacking up, and while I had plenty of time for that, I didn’t get to warm Zephyr up at all.  The last thing I did before I mounted was to put on my helmet and spray myself with Deep Woods Off, because I remembered how bad the black flies had been last year.  I had already put human/horse head nets in my saddle pack.  At this point, the meds had started to kick in, thank goodness.

We walked across the starting line and through the other side of camp towards the woods trail they were using this year, unlike the road start we’d had in previous years.  As we crossed the open area we were delayed by a saddled horse trotting loose across the field in front of us, down the hill and, behind a barn into the woods.  Not wanting to drive him further away, we milled around until he came back out and his rider (Steve Rojek) caught him.  Then, assuming the horse had followed the other horses onto the out trail, and not seeing any trail markers, we rode towards the barn.  But when we got behind it, there was no trail!  We rode sheepishly back up the hill and were pointed between an electric pen and a camper with a trail marker clothes-pinned to the corner. 

P5210438The trail out of camp ran uphill through the woods.  The footing would be great for a while, then deep rocky mud, then great again.  Dirt roads for a while, some woods trail, then maybe 5-8 miles of rocky trail.  I don’t remember it being awful, but I do remember having to slow way down.  It was at this point that Cate looked at me and exclaimed “what did you do to your new helmet?”  I told her I didn’t do anything to it, and she said there was white bubbly crud all over it that looked awful.  The only thing I could think of was that the bug spray had reacted with the helmet plastic, which would have been odd because I’ve ALWAYS sprayed Off on all my clothing, including my helmet, and never had any issues before with any other helmet.  Oh well, I couldn’t worry about it then, it would have to wait until we were back in camp.

Somewhere early in this stretch, I accidentally produced a really loud and drawn-out belch.  Cate was suitably impressed and from there on out, the next three days were one long belching contest.  She professed me the winner early on, but kept trying to beat me.  I honestly don’t know why I was so burpy, but it did help pass the time and gave us a few chuckles. 

P5210444 P5210442

After the rocky trail we got out onto some lovely sandy dirt roads, then some sandy two-track that could get a little deep without too much warning... but as a whole, that section was really good footing and easy to travel fast through.  They refer to that section of trail as “the racetrack”.  We leapfrogged with Irving McNaughton a few times, who had shepherded Zephyr and me through our first 50-mile endurance ride.

P5210439Max and Zephyr paced perfectly together, side by side, stride for stride.  What a nice horse Max is!  Cate says he has no vices, has tons of heart, acts very professional (drinks every chance he gets, for one thing), and is easy to ride.  He’s a seasoned endurance/CTR horse and has done 100-mile rides.

Zephyr, unfortunately, was annoyed with the new Myler combination bit (this picture is from the first time I tried it on him).  I had used it for rides at home, and he was fine with it, but a competition is entirely different and really can’t be practiced ahead of time.  He’d go along fine for a while and then just get pissed and twitch his head/neck in protest, then go back to trotting along nicely.  I was afraid that my hands were too heavy so I changed the rein to the snaffle ring where there wouldn’t be any leverage, but it really didn’t help.

There were a few water troughs before the hold, and as I expected, Zephyr only played in the water.  It’s great when he drinks before the hold, but usually he takes his first good drink at the first tub after the hold, then drinks well after that.  Don’t know why that is.  I sure wish he’d learn to drink at every opportunity, whether he was thirsty or not!  The good news is, he started the ride VERY well hydrated.

When we arrived at the 20-minute hold / vet check, there were a HUGE number of people there.  I think the other 42 horses/riders were all already/still there, and it was a small area, so there were a couple of close calls.  It’s disconcerting to be standing still and have a horse back up right into you, especially when it’s not your own!  It was so congested that sometimes you had no choice but to lead your horse between several horses’ backsides, with hardly any clearance at all, in order to get where you were going.  I always get nervous then because any horse may kick in that situation.

I looked around for my hold tub and finally found it sitting with several others right next to the truck it was transported in.  Since there was a line of horses between me and it, I had to enlist help in fetching it.  I set it off to the side next to an unclaimed bucket of water and someone’s pickup truck.  There was a blanket or something on the side of the truck, so when I took off Zephyr’s bridle, leaving him with the rope halter underneath, I put the bridle on the blanket to keep it from getting tangled up.

Zephyr’s pulse was down in just a few moments and I was able to get in line for the vet.  I carried the “tub trug” along, which had water, grain, beet pulp, carrots and apples in it.  There was some confusion on the order of presentation to the vet, but it was eventually sorted out and Zephyr trotted nicely without asking to roll.  Last year at this hold he was not so polite, and was able to get down and partially onto his side before I was able to correct him.

I was back at my hold tub, making sure Zephyr had all he needed to eat, when I realized there was a couple of long tables full of food for the riders.  I think it was the ride manager who held Zephyr for me while I went over to scope things out.  HOLY COW!  There had to have been 8-10 different finger foods, soups, and other “heavy appetizers” over there.  My favorites were the crab cakes and dip, and the margarita whoopie pies!  I admit I spent too much time over there before bringing Cate a whoopie pie and reclaiming my horse.  What really made me late leaving the hold, though, was that the darn bit had somehow gotten completely tangled and backwards.  It took me a couple minutes to get that straightened out and put the bridle on.  Just as I was about to mount up, the ride manager asked if I needed any more food.  I told her I’d love another crab cake, so she came right back with one.  Unfortunately it had broken when she put it down into the dip, so she said if I wanted it I’d have to just “open up”, as it would just fall apart onto the ground if she put it in my hand.  I opened my mouth like a bird, she stuffed it in, I mounted up, and as I cantered out of camp after Cate, called back “I’m not going to think about where your hands have been!”  MAN that crab cake was good.

The trail after the hold went fast.  We were having so much fun on that “racetrack” trail that when we got to the 5-to-go sign we had way too much time to kill.  The minimum time we could spend on trail was 5 hours, which meant we couldn’t arrive in camp before 1:02... but I think with only 5 miles left we had probably an hour and a half to spare, which is about double the amount of time we needed.  I don’t remember exactly what time it was for sure, I just know we had to walk almost the whole way after that!  It was pleasant, though... sunny and warm, and the bugs were NOWHERE near as bad as last year.  About 2.5 miles from the finish line, we were walking along a dirt road and passed a house where the whole family was out in the yard.  Mom was gardening, kids were playing, and Dad was supervising while enjoying a cold beer.  In a good mood, I shouted “a cold beer sure would taste good right now!” 

P5210446 Cate and I were both surprised when the father walked over to his cooler, got a beer, and held it out to me!  I looked at Cate and said, “you do realize I HAVE to take that, you don’t get a beer every day when you ride”.  She agreed, we thanked the man and rode P5210449off.  Cate tried to take a picture but the horses wouldn’t stand still so I’m afraid it’s horribly blurry!  I offered Cate a sip, and she said she doesn’t drink beer but a sip of something cold might taste good... and proceeded to tip the bottle upside down and drain about a third of it.  I teased her a bunch about that as we continued to share it for the next mile or so as we rode along next to the lake. 

We got back to camp two minutes after the minimum time of 1:02.  Zephyr pulsed down under the required 44 beats in less than the 10 minutes allowed, and then we headed up to the vet for our trot-out.  Because it was a multi-day ride, we only had to do an out-and-back trot (no circle) and wouldn’t have to stand around for all the bumps and scrapes to be tallied up.  He trotted without incident and I put him back in his electric pen while I changed clothes and grabbed some food from the cook shack.  I was disappointed there weren’t more leftovers from the lunch stop! 

I put Zephyr in his stall for safekeeping before Cate, Ben and I went to Melby’s at 2:00 for a late lunch.  I brought my cell phone with me in case I was able to get a signal somewhere between camp and Melby’s.  I did, and it turned out that my parents had left a voicemail saying they’d be at camp around 3:00, they just had to run some errand or other.  Knowing their tendencies, I figured I had until 3:30 before I had to be back in camp, so I didn’t rush Cate and Ben too much.  I just watched out the window in case they drove by.  I had a cup of buffalo soup because I was watching my pennies and I knew we’d be eating at 5:00... it was very good but maybe a little too spicy for me. 

We were out of there a few minutes after 3:00 but unfortunately when we got back to camp my parents were already there.  They’d been there for over an hour, and nobody knew where I had gone!  They had wandered around looking for Zephyr but weren’t able to definitively identify him under his lightweight cooler.  They were afraid I was still out on trail, and couldn’t find anyone who was able to tell them otherwise... which was definitely odd!  Of course they just hadn’t asked the right people, I had told a few folks so they’d know where I was in case Zephyr got himself into trouble. 

Once I found them, I got Zephyr out of his stall and we all had a pleasant walk/graze around camp.  He went back into his electric pen while Mom did a little Reiki on my neck and Dad took a nap in my bunk.  Then it was time for dinner and the 30-milers’ awards, which my parents were happy to be able to share in by putting a donation in the bucket.  Dinner wasn’t great, just beans, fatty ham, and lettuce with dressing.  I managed to find a couple of good pieces of ham, so I was relatively happy, just disappointed that the lunch cook wasn’t also doing dinner!

P5210433 After dinner, Mom did some Reiki on Cate to help with her back pain, while Dad massaged my neck.  Finally it was time for them to go and for me to prepare my hold tub and my tack for the next day’s ride.  The clouds were starting to roll in at that point.  At dusk I got my toiletries kit and headed to the shower in the little bathroom building  across camp.

I went next door to visit Cate and Ben for a minute before going to bed.  Cate had already retired but Ben was sitting under their awning and offered me a beer, so I ended up sitting with him until I was well past exhausted.  I finally got up to put Zephyr back in his stall, and collapsed into my bunk without even reading for a few minutes.  I did put my little plastic knobby massager under my neck to work the last kinks out of that awful muscle knot.  I fell asleep that way, but woke up not much later to stuff my wool blanket and my heavy fur blanket INSIDE my sleeping bag like a stuffed sausage... boy oh boy had it gotten cold!  I finished the night laying on my back, couldn’t have rolled over if I’d tried.

Since my cell phone was in the truck charging, I had set my watch alarm.  I don’t think it ever went off, but I didn’t need it anyway because camp starts to wake up around 4:30 or 5:00 and I can’t sleep after that.  I laid in bed relaxing until 5:30, grateful that my head had stopped hurting.  Then I got up and dressed again.  It was colder than the previous morning so I added a few more layers and a winter hat before heading up to fetch Zephyr for his breakfast.

The riders’ meeting was at 7:00 again, but I missed the middle of it because I glanced over at my electric pen to see the entire long side of it down on the ground.  The side facing Max’s pen.  I ran over there expecting to find my pen empty, but Zephyr was standing about 10’ back from the downed electric tape, facing it with his head down low, sleeping on his feet.  He looked at me and blinked, like “what, I didn’t do it, what are you so worked up about?”  I threw his halter on and brought him back to the meeting just in time to hear the closing remarks.  We would be repeating the same exact loop as the day before, with the same min/max time.

Preparations went about the same as the morning before, except that this time I knew we would be in more of a hurry, because now it was just the 60-mile and 80-mile competitors, so everyone’s start times moved up.  I think Cate and I started at around 7:45 this time.  It was overcast and cool so I kept my windbreaker on this time.  I was saddled and mounted with plenty of time to warm up.  I have found that the best warmup for Zephyr is to walk around, doing lots of lateral moves like leg yields, side passes, turns on the forehand/haunches, as well as backing up.  This gets his muscles stretched out and warmed up much more effectively than just walking and trotting forward ever would.  We do also work on walk/trot/walk transitions if we have time, just to mix things up, and maybe do a little foxtrot and/or rack.

We left camp the same way, and didn’t miss the turn this time.  Up that same woods trail and out onto the rocky trails.  We had done about 7 miles or so when Steve Rojek’s group of four riders passed us on a rocky section, and Zephyr stumbled a few strides as he hurried to try and keep up.  I pulled him up, telling Cate that I thought he had stepped on a rock funny, but Cate told me he’d lost his left front shoe!  I wasn’t terribly surprised, just mad that I’d forgotten to ask around and borrow an easyboot that would fit.  I only had an old size 0 that didn’t fit him because his feet have gotten bigger since last year.  I told Cate I’d get off and walk back to find the shoe, and that when she got to the hold I would appreciate it if she would have someone try to contact the on-call farrier to have her come put it back on.

I walked back a ways, but never found the shoe, so I just got back on.  Zephyr didn’t seem uneven at a walk, so we tried a slow trot, and that was fine too.  He was more than willing to trot along, so we did, walking the rocky or challenging parts.  We were making ok time, considering everything.  I thought ahead to the hold, wondering whether it would be better to try and get the farrier to come out, or to find an easyboot to borrow, or to pull the other shoe with the tools I had packed.  All in all, I figured things would be a lot easier if Zephyr would just go ahead and pull off the other one.  He’d been barefoot between December and mid-May, so I knew he’d be fine as long as we took it easy over the rocks.  It was the one-shoe-on/one-shoe-off issue that I was actually worried about, I thought he might overwork or strain the muscles on one side or the other.  I’d put him back in wedge shoes on the front this season and he had a Shock Tamer pad between the shoe and hoof, so the whole package was probably almost 3/4” thick.  I told him quietly that if he felt like pulling the other shoe off, it would be a double blessing instead of double trouble!

Not even two miles later he tripped again, and I looked down, and VOILA, the other front shoe was gone!  He was no longer uneven.  I went back and picked up that shoe, tied it on, and off we went.  Pretty soon we got to the “racetrack” trail and we had so much fun making up time!  I whooped and hollered occasionally to keep us company, and he cantered and hand-galloped, pleased as punch to be moving out.  I had been pretty sure that we’d cruise into the hold without seeing anyone else, but either we weren’t as far back as I’d thought, or we moved fast enough to make up the difference.  We caught up to Cate, Jenny, and Marlene at a mud puddle where Max had stopped for a slurp.  Zephyr and Max were pleased to see each other again, and off we went.  I think it was maybe another couple miles until the hold.

You wouldn’t have even known Zephyr was barefoot.  We did take the precaution of walking or trotting slowly during any rocky sections, but those were rare in that section of trail.  We got to the hold right at the 6mph pace we were aiming for, which I think was at around 2 hours and 15 minutes. 

Zephyr pulsed right down and, while we waited our turn for the vet, I set about trying to borrow easyboots.  Unfortunately I couldn’t find anyone who had TWO that would fit him.  Tom Hutchinson was able to get Z’s right front hoof (which is slightly smaller than the left) stuffed into an old size 1, which we did have a pair of.  But we weren’t sure they would stay on without the strap rubbing, and nobody had two old size 2s.  So rather than accept someone’s offer to drive back to camp and fetch two boots that we were pretty sure would fit, I opted to continue barefoot in the front.  We knew from the day before that the trails would mostly be sandy, so I thought he would be ok.

Zephyr trotted out just fine, again without an attempt to roll, thank goodness.  Someone held him for me while he ate and I checked out the food table again, stuffing my face with crab cakes, cold italian vegetable soup, and more margarita whoopie pies.  There were just as many choices as the day before!

We left the 20-minute hold as close to our official out time as possible, knowing that we might have to slow down a bit because of Zephyr being barefoot, but he continued to pace right alongside Max with no issues.  It began to sprinkle and we were both glad to have kept our windbreakers on, they were helping keep us a lot warmer.  Apparently not everyone was that prepared, because about 4 miles from the finish there was a truck waiting alongside the road, and Tom and a helper were offering dry coats, which we thanked them for but declined. 

For the entire time after the hold, we had concentrated on keeping a good pace so we wouldn’t have to walk a lot at the end, and we did pretty well.  We arrived at the finish line 4 minutes past the minimum allowed time.  It had stopped raining just before we arrived at camp, and as I jumped down the sun began to emerge.  It was excellent timing, the horses were able to dry off and stay nice and toasty for the afternoon.

Zephyr pulsed down quickly again and I let him relax in his electric pen while I changed my clothes.  Cate and I brought the horses up to the vet together and I trotted Max for her because she had made Max look lame the night before, because she herself couldn’t run “sound”.  Max got the thumbs up.

When I trotted Zephyr out, the vet thought he saw something and made me do it again.  But I reminded him that my horse was barefoot in the front and he accepted that what he had seen was a slight tenderness now and then because he had stepped on a rock.

I called the farrier and left a message with her daughter.  Cate and I walked the horses off and on during the afternoon, with me feeling guilty as usual that I didn’t do it more often.  Seems like I’m always trying to keep up with the Joneses... whenever anyone walks their horse, I feel like I should, even though each individual one of those people probably doesn’t walk their horse much more than I do.  (Annie being the exception... she had her horse out 3x to my 1x.)  I know it’s silly, but that’s just how I am.

P5230458In between all that, a bunch of us sat around in the sun and had beer, cheese and crackers, and the macaroni and potato salads that I had picked up at WalMart on Friday.  It seems like no matter how “off” my stomach gets from stress and nerves, I can always eat those.  Zephyr settled down for a bit of grass, but only for a few minutes.  After that he stood up and fell asleep with his head hanging over the top wire of his pen.  P5230454I saw  that and predicted that as his head drooped he would shock himself.  A few minutes later, he did, and we all had a good laugh.  You may think it was cruel of me to just let him do it, but honestly, it doesn’t hurt for him to get bit now and then.

As we were sitting around in the sun, all relaxed and droopy, I forgot I was sitting with a bunch of people who hadn’t ridden with Cate and I for two days and therefore didn’t know about the contest.  I let out my best belch yet, and got kudos and congrats all around.  Annie’s husband Walter tried to beat me but Cate still said I won.

Dinner was announced promptly at 4:55.  It was chicken stew and biscuits, and it was ok, but again I was left disappointed that the lunch chef wasn’t doing dinner.  As soon as dinner was over, someone came to tell me that the farrier had arrived.  She did a great job and only charged me $37.50, though I wrote the check for somewhat more than that in gratitude. 

After that, I took a shower and sat talking to Cate in her trailer after borrowing her hair dryer.  Bed felt good when I got there, I’d been starting to get a little sore in the inner thighs and in the tendon/muscle just below my left kneecap.

The next morning, I got up, dressed, ate my breakfast, and knowing there would be no hold and therefore no food out on trail, drank a SlimFast for a little extra oomph in the tank.  I don’t remember for sure what our out time was, but I was in the saddle with plenty of time to warm up again, and this time Cate joined me as we walked around camp.  We left at a walk, but both horses were enthusiastically pulling at their reins.  I think Zephyr had more energy at the start on the 3rd day than he did at the start on the 2nd day!

The rules stated we would have to do the 20 miles in 2.75 - 3.00 hours, which would mean that the “perfect overall average pace” would be 7mph instead of 6mph.  We would have to be precise, because there was only a 15-minute window at the end instead of 30 minutes.  We planned to let the last two riders catch us, Steve Rojek and Kyle Gibbon, so that we could follow Steve’s pace, but he never caught up to us so we just used my GPS to check ourselves.  We kept a 6.6mph average through the rocky section at the start, but moved it up to 7.0 as soon as we got into the good trails and kept it between 7.0-7.2 for the remainder of the ride.  We timed it almost perfectly and arrived at the finish just a few seconds after the minimum time allowed.

Zephyr pulsed down to 38 at the 20-minute mark after the finish (44 required), and I kept him moving until it was time to trot out.  I did a couple of small circles with him and he seemed completely sound to me; some issues show up more on circles than straight lines.  Ben trotted Max out for Cate and he looked great, just tired. 

Zephyr trotted well for me.  I saw later that the vet wrote on his score sheet that he was exactly the same in impulsion/attitude/willingness as at the pre-ride check.  I thought he trotted sound on the circles, but the vet didn’t, and later on when I watched the video that Ben took for me, I do have to agree.  There’s a head bob on the right circle that I didn’t notice while I was trotting him.

While we waited for the awards ceremony, I put Zephyr in his stall and packed up most of our stuff.  I tried to turn the truck on so I could roll down the windows, but there was just a clickclick.  Turned the key again... click.  Turned the key again... nothing!  Oh well, Tom’s truck wasn’t hitched up, so I decided to ask him for help once he was done scoring everyone’s sheets.

Awards were around 1:00, I think.  Zephyr and I got a completion but didn’t place.  At first, of course, I was disappointed.  Sometimes I think I should ride mileage-only, because when he gets a low score it diminishes his accomplishment.  It was our first 3-day ride ever and I thought he did splendidly!  He had a fabulous attitude throughout, even when he lost both his front shoes, and he never really got mopey in his energy level either.  He chose to go slower at some times than others, but it wasn’t nearly as hard to get him motivated again as it has been in the past.

After awards, Tom and a young man came over with Tom’s truck.  They had it covered so I went to clean out Zephyr’s stall.  They had to let it “stew” for a few minutes but eventually they got it running, and I was ready to load Zephyr about 30 minutes later.  I’m happy to say I wasn’t the last rider out of camp, for once!

The drive home was uneventful until I was about 30 minutes from home.  At that point, the police had closed the road due to an accident, and I had to backtrack to take a detour.  I later learned that the accident was between a bus-style RV and a Subaru, and miraculously, while there were injuries, nobody died.  Not even the two dogs that had been in the RV, though one had been thrown clear through the windshield and was missing for hours.

When I got home and put Zephyr in his pen, he rolled, then got up and ran around for a few minutes playfully.  I actually had to rope off the bridge over the stream that runs through, as he was making it bounce too much for my comfort and sanity!  Over the last couple of days, he’s learned how to cross the stream without the bridge, but he gives me a dirty look whenever I’m there to see him do it.

There.  As of right now, I think I’m done.  But I’ll probably remember more later and add it in.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Aegis Aspen Helmet Review

P5130422 I fell off and hit my head last week, so I had to replace my old-style Tipperary helmet.  Good thing I had already done my research and found that the Tipp Plus wasn't going to fit the same, but the Aegis Aspen probably would... I already knew what I wanted to replace it with.

State Line was the only place that had them in stock, so even though it cost a bit more I ordered from them.  Got it last night and am posting this review in the hope that it will help someone else.

P5130421It is the first time I have ever taken a helmet out of the box and said "Oh wow, that is freaking ADORABLE!"  It really IS as low-profile as the sales picture makes it look.  The pictures we took aren’t the best… there’s a shadow on the wall that makes it look odd, and I think it’s on crooked.  Oh well.

It's very lightweight too.  The lining inside is UBER comfy.  I swear, my head practically sighed in pleasure when I put this helmet on.  I didn't want to take it off!

The dial on the back seems like it would make it fit both round and oval heads... which explains why I got replies from both round- and oval-headed people who all said it fit them well.  I really love how easy it's going to be to wear an ear band in the winter without having to switch the foam padding out for a thinner piece.

Unlike the old Tipp, the visor is removable, and it seems as if maybe it will be long enough to do the trick without taking it off and using the Salamander visor.  The visors on the old Tipp were so short they were useless.

The old Tipperary was AWFUL for wearing with sunglasses because of the way it came down around the back of the ears.  Everyone I talked to had the same complaint.  The Aspen seems like it will be a lot better, I put on my sunglasses with it and there was no interference at all, even though they're the kind that go almost straight back over the ears without much of a curve.

Finally, the vents don't have mesh in them, they have thin aluminum with holes in it... which seems like it will carry less risk of getting skewered by a low-hanging branch.

Edited on August 15 to add that, compared to any other helmet I’ve ever had, the matte finish on this helmet is much less forgiving when you accidentally spray bug spray on it.  It ends up looking like you rode down a highway on your head.  DO NOT get bug spray on it!!

Again... I hope this helps someone.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Trailer Guy

I'm so excited!  The trailer guy called.  One of the seals was leaking, so he cleaned everything up and replaced that seal, as well as all the other seals on the other wheels.  He hand-packed more grease into the bearings (said it didn't need to be cleaned out entirely and repacked from scratch), and checked the brake adjustments (which were fine).  The bill?  $50!!!!!!!!!!!!

He also replaced the running lights that were out, and fixed the bad ground that was making the running lights dim when I stepped on the brake.  That only took him 15 minutes, and he had to charge me an hour labor, so he went ahead and fixed the latch on the walk-through door, and also went out and bought me pull-cords and installed them on the three interior lights that it's hard for me to reach.  The bill for that part?  One hour's labor (which is $35) plus $29 in parts!!!

Did I also tell you he did the work a day early?  I love this guy.

He said he can do my exterior lights for one hour's labor, plus about $10 each for the lights.  I’m thinking a “porch” light under the awning, and a utility light over the rear tack door, and another utility light on the right side for checking on Zephyr at night.  I might go with a porch light there too though, because it wouldn’t be as bright.  We’ll see.

He also said he could add a shelf under the nose (over the spare tire) to hold a couple of marine (deep-cycle) batteries, and hook it up so that my interior lights work without the trailer being plugged into the truck (and so that the battery charges automatically off of the truck when it's running).  Not sure how much labor that would take, I think it was 1-2 hours.  He can buy the batteries and have me reimburse him, or I can go find myself a deal.

Roof vent for the dressing room?  No problem... super quick!  Same thing... he can find one for me, or I can shop around to get a deal.

He's on board with the idea of phasing out projects, doing everything with an eye to the future... for example installing the batteries in a place that leaves room for adding propane tanks later on.

Did I mention I love this guy??

Friday, May 8, 2009

Och, That’s Gonna Leave a Mark!

P5070402Hubby and I are going away for the weekend, and took today as vacation to get a few things done around the house.  So after we got back from breakfast at the local diner, Zephyr got his first set of shoes for the year.  (Nate says Zephyr feet ARE bigger this spring!)  I’m trying Shock Tamer rim pads on his front feet, and also going back to the aluminum wedge shoes he’s worn off and on (on his front feet) since he first had trouble with his right deep flexor tendon.  Nate did a great job, as usual, and after lunch I saddled up for a test ride.

I know it doesn’t look like it in the picture, but I’ve gotten a lot of his winter hair off... there’s just still a lot left!!

P5070403We headed out of the yard, across the stream, and into the woods on the trail that runs between our yard and Gary’s.  After the second (bigger) stream crossing, we took one of the many “go-rounds” over the root ball of a tree that Gary and I found down across the trail when we rode together recently.  We’ve gotten a lot of rain recently, so a couple seconds after we walked across the root ball, there was a creaking/breaking sound of the tree falling as the roots let go.  Zephyr freaked out a little bit... it was a creepy sound!... but stood in place.  After the tree was done falling, which actually took longer than I would have thought, I took this picture.  The good news is, it will be easier to get around the tree now... but the bad news is, as the rest of the roots rot it will probably get dangerous to do so.  Looks like it’s finally time to go in with a chainsaw!

P5070404We continued down the trail and through a logging yard out onto a small paved road, then trotted down that road and crossed into the woods on the far side of a T intersection.  This trail is pretty rocky from all the ATVs that use it, which is really too bad because I happen to know that the owner doesn’t want them there but can’t stop them because he lives out of state.  Gates and signs don’t bother them.

Anyway, we trotted as much as we could through this stretch, but it was a lot of stop-and-go.  This was one of the good stretches.  The light was really cool through the leaves but unfortunately it didn’t come through well in the picture.

P5070406We came out of the woods onto the power lines, crossed a paved road, and headed towards Silver Lake.  We’ve had a lot of rain lately, as I mentioned, so I wasn’t sure how far we’d get, but I decided to try.  I wanted to get off the roads and onto a trail we hadn’t seen in a while, to help with Zephyr’s typical boredom around home.

P5070407There was a nice go-round around a snowmobile bridge that isn’t safe for horses. There certainly was plenty of water on the trail!  I sponged at every chance, as it was pretty warm and Zephyr still had so much winter hair.

We passed an eagle’s nest up on the power poles, and the adult was circling and screaming.  I tried to look as unthreatening as possible!



You may have noticed in the pictures above that the sky was beginning to darken.  The air had also cooled and a fairly stiff breeze had come up.  I decided that at the next cross road we’d turn and follow the road back home, so we wouldn’t get stuck under the power lines if it started to thunder.  It just seemed like a dumb place to be in a storm!

Unfortunately, just before we reached the cross road (literally named Cross Road), there was a swampy area.  I remembered going through it last year but couldn’t remember which of the three paths was safest.  I opted for the far left side, which looked like it had more grass and less mud and water. 

Unfortunately, Zephyr went into it willingly and immediately sank to his belly.  For the next twenty feet (and what seemed like six years), he fought tooth and nail to claw his way out the other side.  All I could do was just stay balanced over his center of gravity, hold my feet out as far as I could to the side so they’d be out of the way of his flailing limbs, and hold on to his P5070410mane.  It was bad... at least once, he sank in up to the base of his neck and stretched his neck out in front of him with the bottom of his jaw touching the muck!  Eventually, however, we came out the other side.  I immediately jumped off and checked him all over. 

I was relieved to see that the only effect was that his interference boots had slid down over his fetlock joint and were encircling his pasterns instead of his cannon bones.  And of course he had mud all over him, even up on top of his rump!  I removed the boots one at a time, wiped the mud off his legs as well as I could, put the boots back on, and mounted up to walk out to the road (pictured at right).  There were no further incidents.......... for a while.

At the next intersection, we turned right so we could drop in to visit a friend.  It was a good thing he doesn’t live too far down that road, because I couldn’t believe the amount of traffic!  LOUD traffic, too.  I counted at least three of those whiney-sounding crotch-rocket motorcycles.  It was putting me on edge.  Dan was out in his yard cutting some wood, and after a quick hello we were on our way home.

As soon as we made the next turn, the traffic died off and I relaxed.  I let him stop in a field for a little grazing, then we were off again.  Right turn onto another quiet paved road... left turn onto our own road... stopped in a neighbor’s driveway to chat.  This neighbor lives only a few houses down from us, and has a little barn.  He’s given me permission to stall Zephyr in there if I ever feel like the weather is bad enough to need it.  After chatting for a few minutes, Zephyr and I moved on.

We were on the left side of the road and had just trotted by a section of guard rail... I don’t like to be stuck next to a guard rail when traffic comes by... and I was just about to slow him to a walk when he looked to the left, over the edge, and SOMETHING caught his eye/ear.  I have no idea what.  Before I knew it, he had spooked to the right and I was airborne over his left shoulder.  As I was flying through the air, I swear I thought to myself “well, this is new, usually I come off over the RIGHT shoulder!”

I think I landed rolling, because I hit my elbows, outside of my right thigh above my knee, and the right side of my head just behind the ear.  My head hit pretty hard, so I was immediately grateful I had a helmet on!  I got right up and started walking after Zephyr, the obnoxious brat, who was trotting off down the road away from home.  Luckily my neighbor John and his dog were still out in their driveway so they came running towards us.  John had his arms spread wide, so Zephyr turned and trotted back towards me.  When he got distracted by the grass at the side of the road, I walked right up to him and grabbed the reins while I caught my breath. 

After I reassured John that I would be fine, I walked Zephyr the last few dozen feet to our driveway.  I untacked him at the trailer, put him back in the paddock, and went inside to change and inspect my bruises.  So far, there’s a small scrape on one elbow (thanks to the long sleeves I ALWAYS wear) and a puffy discolored swatch of skin above my knee which will probably become a lovely bruise. 

My new helmet is already on order... a new style called the “Aegis Aspen” that I’ve heard fits oval heads well and whose style seems a little less mushroom-head than most.  (They no longer make the type of helmet I’ve been using.)  Good thing I started doing my research on this a few months ago!!  The first ride of the year is in two weeks so I don’t have time to mess around. 

I’m off to Vermont at 5am tomorrow, and I DOUBT that 6 hours of sitting in the car will make me feel LESS stiff, so wish me luck!

Edited on Sunday night to add... over the weekend Zephyr pulled off his right front shoe.  Do you think he’s trying to tell me something???  Good thing Nate is going to be down the road at Gary’s this Friday, he can put it back on then.  I just hope it STAYS on through the ride... ‘cause even my OLD size 0 easy boot doesn’t fit him anymore!!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Off To The Races

I snuck away for a short ride “around the block” on trails and roads last night, but today was a chance to get a good long ride in.  It was supposed to rain all morning and stop around 2pm, which was going to be a great time to clean the house, but instead it was sunny and warm!  I did get the cleaning done but worried the whole time that it would rain in the afternoon.

Around 12:30 I brushed Zephyr (a time consuming project) and loaded him up for the short drive over to the Great Pond Mountain Wildlands.  It’s only about four miles to the north gate; the parking area is small but I can usually park the trailer along one side. 

The GPMW trail system, originally created when Diamond Match Company logged it years ago, is still under development for recreational use.  All the gravel roads are open to horses, and one of the woods footpaths (“Hillside Trail”, which is one of the only two loops open to horses).  “Valley Road” runs right through the middle, and has some small hills, but if you deviate onto the side roads you get more hills.  The downside is that they’re almost all dead-end roads, so you have to go out and then come back.  If you were to use every single trail open to horses, you could log almost 25 miles without backtracking more than once.

My plan was to start at the North Gate... at the top of the map below... take all the right-hand/downhill turns (on the left side of the map below), then turn around and come back up the hill to Valley Road. 


We were tacked up and riding away from the trailer at 2pm.  I walked him for a while, doing some leg yields and such, to warm up, then it was off to the races.  Uhhh huhhh.... riiiight.  He’s still barefoot (and will be for about another 2 weeks) and he’s also quite bored with the dirt roads at the GPMW, so we only managed about an 8mph trot.  It was the kind of trot where they’re spending as much energy anticipating the “walk” command as they are actually going forward... so frustrating!  He was a little more enthusiastic on the way back uphill from the dead-ends, though, because we were going back towards the trailer.

I should have gotten a picture of the beaver pond we walked right past... the pond drains into a stream that we followed for a little bit before heading back uphill... but I never remember to.  Here are some pictures from further down that trail:

P5010380  P5010381

The “boulder field” (just to the right of the upper-right photo):


There’s a nice stream that crosses under Valley Road, with easy access for horses.  It almost always has plenty of water:


At the end of Mead Mountain Trail, I decided to go look at the woods trail that I used for the Hot Toddy Hustle endurance ride in 2006 and 2007.  I wanted to see if it was still passable; there had been a lot of logging.  This is what we encountered at the trail head.  I was pretty sure we could sneak by between the boulder and the log.

P5010394 P5010392

Are you SURE, Mom?


I did have to get off and “send” him through, but he did it quickly and easily, and we were off to the races.  (Not really, the trail alternated between lots of rocks and lots of logging debris... rough enough that we walked most of it.)  Still, we got almost all the way through to the other side before a downed tree stopped us.  It was too big for my little hand saw so we turned back.  Here’s what the obstacle looked like from that side.  Interestingly, from this direction he would NOT let me “send” him through from the ground, but he went willingly with me aboard.


From there, we followed Valley Road straight back to the trailer.  Speaking of trailers, check out these fine camping sites, which I spotted across the valley from us:


I had him canter most of the way back, with a little trotting as a break, to work on building up his stamina.  He can trot all day long but cantering is harder for him.  I was also working on getting a left-lead canter on demand, both from a walk and from a trot.  I was very pleased to be able to get it consistently from a walk and once from a trot.  I also had him hold it as long as he was able... that last stretch had to have been over a half mile, which for him is excellent.

In fact, we cantered right up to the trailer with his heart rate right around 145bpm.  (He wears an on-board heart rate transmitter, which I can read using a monitor watch strapped to my saddle.)  That’s good for him at a canter, especially a left-lead canter... it’s harder on him so his heart rate is higher when he does it.  I hopped off, removed the girth, and squirted some water on his neck, but left the saddle in place so that the monitor watch would continue to give me his heart rate.  At the 3-minute mark, he had recovered to 62bpm... right about where he would need to recover to in a competitive distance ride.  (In competition, he would have up to 10 minutes to do that.)

For him to recover that quickly with his saddle on, and without me sponging him with cool water, makes me feel pretty good about his fitness level right now.  I’ll be able to evaluate him better once he gets his shoes, but I’m thinking he’ll be ready for the 3-day 80-miler on May 23-25.  I feel confident enough about it that I’m sending the entry in today... so wish us luck!