Last month, I entered Zephyr in a 3-day 80-mile ride to work on fixing the “race brain” that he has developed since we started racing 50s in 2007. I knew that was the last step I wanted to conquer before trying again for a 100. He did great so I decided to go ahead and enter the Pine Tree 100 on June 27. I figured that with his race brain fixed, more advance planning, and terrain that is more similar to our home trails, we had a much better chance of finishing than in Vermont last year.
We did have some shoeing issues during the 3-day ride (lost both front shoes within a mile of each other on day 2 and finished the last 23 miles of the day barefoot in the front) so I made the tough choice to do an abrupt about-face and switch him to Easyboot hoof boots instead of shoes. I posted a few updates about this transition earlier this month. I had been planning to do the ride in Easyboot Gloves but was having some trouble getting the gaiters (ankle straps) to fit him properly, and I was worried about rubbing over the long distance, so I decided to just glue the boots on instead.
Since it was such a last-minute decision, I didn’t have any of the glue, so I called my farrier and he came over to help on the Tuesday before the ride.
We did the front left boot first, and unfortunately we had it all the way glued on before we realized that we had forgotten to use the heat gun to help dry his hooves out AND the fit on this boot was looser than it had been for the last two weeks... I must have trimmed that hoof a little smaller on the last touch-up. So of course I started to panic.
The rest of the boots went on perfectly, we remembered all the steps and the whole process took 2 hours.
Putting the glue inside the boot... you have to move FAST because the glue hardens within 45 seconds!
After all the boots were on, Nate squirted sole-packing material through holes in the sole (which I had drilled ahead of time).
The finished boots weren’t pretty, but I was sure at least 3 of them would stay on just fine! The front left boot was iffy, I thought, but I emailed Garrett from EasyCare afterwards and he said he’d bet money it would stay put... so I stopped worrying (mostly). I did bring the Gloves along as spare tires just in case!
Since we were doing the 100, I wanted to get to camp on Thursday so he could rest in camp as long as possible before the ride start. I had done a lot of the packing already, but was still up late on Wednesday night and therefore slept in a little on Thursday morning. We pulled out of the driveway at 8:30. It was foggy over the river! (Don’t worry, there wasn’t anyone behind me so I stopped to take this picture.)
We played leapfrog with a couple of windmill propellers all the way down Rt. 3 to Augusta. These things were taller than an 18-wheeler trailer and probably 3 times as long! Really amazing to see them on the road, especially since Maine’s highway weight limit means they have to keep to the back roads. I took a whole bunch of pictures in an effort to show you the sheer size of these things, but none of them really do it. This one comes close, although the front 25% is cut off behind the hill. At one point I had stopped at the feed/farm store to buy white half-inch electric tape (to replace the nearly invisible yellow tape I used last month) and one of them drove by at 40-50 mph and I had the chance to take a picture, let the camera reset, and take a second picture before it had finished driving by!!
I think we got to camp around 12:30 or 1:00. There were already 6-8 trailers there, most of which had arrived the day before and were completely mired in mud up to their axles! Steve Rojek’s trailer was particularly noticeable.
Normally we can park two rows of trailers in the big side of the field, one against the road and one against the tree line, but this year we only had the front row. Roy Drinnan, the Parking Czar (hey, why not, apparently being a Czar is the new thing!) came over and we talked strategy. There were a couple of spots right in the middle of the line where there was some higher ground, and we decided if we could thread our way back there I would be all set. Roy asked if I wanted to park it, or if I wanted him to do it, and I decided to let him do it in the interest of speed! I’m good, but I’m slow and tentative even with someone directing me.
I got a little nervous when the front of the trailer got within 3-4” of hitting the edge of the pavement as it backed down the slight hill, but soon the trailer wheels were back on the uphill side and everything was good. We were able to park it on a really nice high spot, pretty far back, well behind a lower wetter spot. I wish I had pictures of the setup, but I forgot to take any this time!
It was hot and sunny, so I wanted to get Zephyr off the trailer as soon as possible. I didn’t dally in setting up the pen. I had to make it fairly small because camp was so crowded, but I was confident that it was large enough for him to be safe. If I make it too small he’s likely to roll and get caught up in it, or spook at something and hit the tape before he has a chance to remember where he is!
While I was setting the pen up, my first crew member stopped by... a local woman named Molly who had responded to the plea for help that I had posted on the Maine Riders Forum. She and her horse Possum compete in Hunters, a jumping event that focuses on form and technique. While she has no direct experience with crewing or with endurance, she’s used to the hard work and dedication it takes to prepare a horse for high-level shows... and from talking to her on the phone, I was sure she’d get along just fine with both me and Dad!
After Molly left and Zephyr was settled in his pen, I set up the awning and relaxed for a few minutes with a cold brew before walking around camp to meet the neighbors. I struck up a conversation with a very nice man from Canada, Simon, who was there to crew for his wife Louise and her horse Danny, who were also riding the 100. Louise and Danny were out on a warm-up ride at the time. On my other side, Jennifer and Debbie were also there for the 100. Steve Rojek, Kyle Gibbon, and Hernan Barbosa had parked between the round pen and the farm house (completely mired in mud, right up to the floorboards), and they were in the 100 as well. In fact, I think almost everyone who had come early was there for the 100. It was a nice relaxed atmosphere, but then I’d expected no less.
Dinner on Thursday night was lobster, but I don’t eat lobster so Tom the Ride Manager had ordered chicken for me. There was a lot of chicken, so I shared with Louise and Simon, who didn’t really enjoy their lobster but hadn’t realized there was an alternative.
After dinner I didn’t really know what to do with myself! Normally my first night there is the night before the ride, so I’m usually packing for the holds and preparing my gear. I hung out for a while at the Party Trailer, but by the time I got over there they were in full swing and there were a lot of running jokes that I didn’t get because I wasn’t there for their inception. I finally got sleepy and headed back to my trailer, where I fed Zephyr a late meal and then read for a little while before falling asleep. For the first time ever, I slept soundly even though Zephyr was in the electric pen. I think I’ve finally gotten to the point where, as long as I remember to make the pen big enough, not blanket him with something that will make him itchy, and not leave his fly mask on at night, I don’t worry about him running through the fence. At least as long as there isn’t a thunder/lightning storm that registers 6.0 on the Richter scale, that is! (More on that later.)
The next morning, I drove to town with Louise and Simon for a few supplies. I wanted more Ensure... I’d brought a six pack in Chocolate but I wanted a second flavor... and they needed apples and carrots. When we got back, Louise and I rode up the hill on the warm-up trail. I’ve ridden the 50-miler out of this field a couple of times before and I’ve always HATED that hill. You leave camp with six miles left to go, and the horses do not want to leave camp at all, let alone climb that hill. Last year Zephyr and I rode out of that hold alone, and it took all my energy to get him to the top! Louise and I were disappointed that this was the only trail available for pre-riding, but I have to tell you, that trail isn’t as bad when you’re fresh. Yes, it was muddy and rocky, and yes there were places where the stream actually ran down the trail, but it wasn’t as long as I remembered and even if you just climbed at a steady walk it didn’t take as long as I remembered.
When we rode back down the hill a couple hours later, my Dad’s car was parked next to the farmhouse just uphill from camp. He wasn’t there so I figured he’d be at my trailer, and sure enough, he was hanging out in a chair under my awning for a snack. I got Zephyr put away and Dad helped me put up the EZUp canopy so he could have some shade in his pen. I had never done this before, because usually Zephyr is such a curious and mouthy troublemaker, but I had recently discovered that he didn’t bother the trailer or my tack when his pen was set up with the trailer as the third side of his pen. So I figured he’d leave the canopy alone, and he did! It did take him a few minutes to realize that standing under it kept him cooler, but once he realized that, he loved it.
Pretty soon Molly showed up, so I made introductions while digging out my homemade macaroni salad to share for lunch. Yummy stuff... macaroni with diced red peppers, carrots, celery, and hard salami... grape tomatoes... miracle whip, salt, pepper, and cider vinegar for a little kick. I’d packed two big tubs of it, thinking I’d pretty much live on that during the ride. It slides down easy, and has three of the four food groups. What could be better?
After our snack we walked Zephyr up the hill to ask for a preliminary trot-out before I went to the registration camper to finish paying my fee and to pick up the ride packet. He’d felt a little unbalanced and un-rhythmic on our warm-up ride, so I wanted to be extra sure that he was sound. Hank the ride farrier watched him trot, then picked up all his feet and noticed that the heel area of the boots (hinds especially) went a little bit up over the soft tissue of his heel. He used his hoof nippers to nip the back of the boots down lower, then we trotted him again, this time downhill on the paved road through camp instead of in the grass field. Everything looked good, so I went down and paid, and got my packet.
Vetting opened at 2pm and I had Molly go ahead and do everything... which consists of holding him while the vet checked his pulse, trotting him down the field and back, and holding him again while the vet listened to his gut sounds, checked several measures of hydration levels, ran his hands all over him looking for soreness, and re-checked his pulse (for the Cardiac Recovery Index - CRI). Zephyr scored As on everything. Molly did a great job on the trot-out because Hunter competitors are familiar with this process as well, but the farrier and I did remind her to hold the lead rope a little more loosely so that his head could move freely. If a horse bobs his head at a trot, he’s lame, and a handler who holds the rope too short can make him look lame when he’s not. From then on, she did it perfectly. It was great to be able to stand with the vet and see the same things he saw.
After vetting in, we packed the truck with everything we would need throughout the ride. Dad remembered where he had packed everything at our 2008 attempt at the Vermont 100, so they were able to do it right for optimum convenience from the start, instead of having to repack everything once they realized how it SHOULD be done. Then we all headed out to find all the pit crew stops and the ‘away hold’ location. I sat in the back seat, Dad drove, and Molly, who knows the area, navigated.
We went to the away hold first, where I showed them the layout... where the in/out timer would be, where the pulses would be taken, and where the vets would be for the vet check and trot-outs. Based on that, we decided they would meet me at the in timer, what they should bring to the in timer, and what they should have ready at the truck when I arrived. Some of these details were in the crewing instructions that I’d emailed to them earlier in the week, but it means more when you see it in person!
Dinner on Friday was on our own, so on our way back we stopped to get sandwiches at Melby’s, the local hot spot general store, which is right down the road from the Waterford Fairgrounds where the Crooked River ride was held last month. Melby’s is locally famous for excellent food, huge portions, and reasonable prices. I got a haddock sandwich that was as big as my head, and some fries. It started to rain as we left Melby’s... oh GREAT... just what we needed!
We ate our fries in the truck while we looked for the last couple of pit crew stops, and brought the rest back to camp to eat. Dad went to have a nap in his tent, and I didn’t see him again until the next morning. I was glad he stocked up on sleep... I knew he’d need it! Molly helped me braid Zephyr’s mane and clip his bridle path and withers (his treeless saddle sits forward on his withers and it irritates him if the hair is left long enough to get pulled on).
The riders’ meeting was at 7:30pm under the big tent, and Molly came along to take notes. At this point we found out that the trail had been changed to avoid some really bad mud. Our first three loops would be the same as the 50-milers’ first three loops, and then we’d repeat the blue loop twice, and the pink loop twice. The pink loop would have glowsticks hung next to the marker ribbons, for riding in the dark. As part of planning for this ride, I had done a spreadsheet the week earlier that predicted how fast I would do each loop, what time I expected to arrive at / leave from each hold, and what time I thought I would finish. The spreadsheet predicted that I would leave on the glowsticked loop at 7:20, well in advance of twilight. I did NOT want to get caught on a non-glowsticked trail before dark!
Molly went home after the riders’ meeting, and I finished packing my saddle bags, filling water bottles, and making sure I had all the personal care items I would need. I also pre-loaded with Aleve and some really good multi-vitamins! I laid down in bed to read for a while but almost immediately had to get back up again because it started to rain. When I got outside I realized it wasn’t raining as hard as it sounded from inside the trailer, but Zephyr wasn’t blanketed so I tried to coax him under the canopy. No go! He didn’t like the sound of the rain on the fabric, nor did he like the drips off the edge. It was warm and it wasn’t raining that hard so I just left him and went back in. No sooner did I take my boots off then it started to pour! I put them back on and went back out to put his bright yellow rain sheet on. I figured that would keep him dry AND would make him more visible if he managed to run through his fence. After all, now that he wouldn’t go under the canopy, his pen was nothing more than a narrow L, and he didn’t have much of a margin for failure if he spooked. He did also have his nifty reflective halter on, as well. Love that thing... got it from horseloverz.com for $1.70 after all the discounts.
After the blanket was on, I went back into the trailer. This time I had gotten my boots off AND I had climbed up into bed by the time the thunder and lightning started. It was pretty sudden... one minute there were some distant rumblings, and the next minute it seemed like it was right over our heads! I threw my boots back on and ran back out. This time I tried to load Zephyr onto the trailer, but the canopy was in just the wrong spot. In order to get the right angle to load on the trailer, he’d have needed to walk under the canopy... which wasn’t happening. So instead I stood under the canopy and held on to his halter while the storm raged. And it was a BAD storm, too, that lasted over an hour! Lots of simultaneous thunder and lightning. It was so loud the ground shook every time the thunder boomed. There was one lightning strike in particular that everyone agrees must have hit just up the hill from us. Dad even looked outside his tent to make sure the tree he was under wasn’t on fire! No high winds or hail, thank GOD, but I heard later that there was something like 3” of rain in about an hour and a half. The ground was already saturated BEFORE this, from 3 solid weeks of rain!
After a while I started to feel foolish standing outside with Zephyr. From where I stood, I didn’t see anyone else up and about, and all the other horses were just standing there eating. So I moved Zephyr’s hay and water out from under the canopy where he could get to it, and went back to bed. I don’t know how much I slept, because I laid there listening to the storm all night, but I remember a lightning bolt hitting Zephyr’s canopy... which obviously didn’t happen... so I must have been asleep and DREAMING that it was storming out.
My cell phone alarm went off at 3am and I only snoozed it once before getting up to check on Zephyr and feed him. Normally I then immediately eat my breakfast, so that I don’t run out of time to do it, but there were some last minute things that I’d forgotten to do the night before and I wanted to get them out of the way. So it was almost 4 by the time I ate my cold oatmeal and milk. I walked up the hill for coffee but it wasn’t under the big tent like last year, so I turned away disappointed. I later found out it was in the barn a little further up the hill, where we’d eaten dinner on Thursday night. Oh well. I needed to go change my clothes and tack up anyway.
Molly arrived at around 4:15, about the same time as Dad came down the hill from his tent. Molly helped me tack up and Dad loaded the last few things into the truck. I warmed Zephyr up for 20 minutes and was at the start line with the other 9 riders in plenty of time for the 5am start. It wasn’t dark out, but this picture makes it look like it was, because I hadn’t yet shown Molly the setting to use in low light conditions!
I was so incredibly happy and proud of Zephyr’s behavior at the start. In the past, he’s fought me for the first 20 miles, asking to go faster and faster. But like I said earlier, the 3-day ride apparently had done what I intended... he now knew that he should trust me, because he didn’t know how many miles he’d be doing, or how many days he’d be out there!
I’m familiar with the start, as I’ve done it for the last two years in the 50. It goes down a slight hill on the paved road from camp, then across Rt. 118 and up a very mucky and rocky hill that you pretty much have to just walk up. He behaved well going up the mucky hill, but when the horses ahead of him got out onto the road at the top and trotted off, he started to canter in place. Usually when he does this I hold him back until he offers to trot instead of canter, but this time I tried something new. I let him canter, but very slowly, until he caught up to the group... and then I enforced the trot. It worked great and I felt a lot safer than I usually do, which really was important!
We all pretty much rode in a pack for the first 5 miles or so. I moved Zephyr back and forth in the group... sometimes last, sometimes middle, sometimes up front. The only time he really got mad was if he was in the middle of the trail and two horses passed him, one on each side. That blew his mind a little, but not too bad.
We did stay with Louise and her horse Danny for all of that first loop. It seemed as if the two horses would indeed be a good match for each other, and Louise and I were definitely getting along, but at this point we were still playing the ‘wait and see’ game. It’s very important to ride your own ride and never get pulled along or dragged back by another horse.
The first loop was 11.4 miles, and I would have to guess that a little over half of it was dirt road. The crews had an opportunity to meet us on trail but Louise and I had each told them to head right to the hold, because the horses wouldn’t need anything so early in the ride. We did this loop in an hour and a half, which comes to 7.6 miles an hour. I was thrilled! I had hoped to hold him back to 9mph but didn’t think I’d be able to go any slower. This was the perfect pace... fast enough that he felt jazzed and motivated, but slow enough not to burn too much energy early on. As the vet check came into view, Louise and I both dismounted and loosened our girths to walk the horses in, allowing the horses’ heart rate to begin to drop more quickly than it would if we were still mounted.
I could see Dad and Molly from a long way off, because they were both wearing their hand-decorated yellow T-shirts. I’d written “Z S CREW – PINE TREE 100” in green magic marker on the front, and on the back of one it said “ARE WE HAVING FUN YET?” and on the other one it said “I’VE HAD FUN BEFORE. IT WASN’T LIKE THIS!” in honor of the endurance vet Dr. Art King, who has a great story with that as the punch line. Since he was at this ride, I figured he’d get a kick out of that. He says I owe him royalties!
Dad and Molly met me by the in timer as we had discussed, and they had the wagon with the water buckets, but they had forgotten the sponges. We rolled with the punches, pulling tack immediately and sponging with the one that I carry on my saddle, before going almost immediately to the pulse timer. He was down to 52 (64 required) by the time we got there, so we could have taken him over even sooner. We did work on this throughout the day, but our pulse time continued to consistently be between 3-5 minutes after our arrival time. It wasn’t a big deal because we weren’t racing, we were just trying to be as efficient as possible because the mandatory rest/hold time doesn’t begin until the pulse is down to 64. And honestly, I’m not sure how we could have gone any faster! We got so good at it that I would pull tack while Dad and Molly sponged/scraped, one on each side, and then as soon as the tack was off we’d slowly walk to the pulse timer and his pulse would be down to somewhere between 44 and 60.
At the vet check, Zephyr started as he meant to continue... while he was standing still for the vet to do his evaluation, he fell asleep. His eyes were closed and every few seconds his head would twitch... his neck would bend at the poll (the joint just behind his ears) and his nose would twitch towards his chest. Everyone laughed that he really knew how to rest when he got the chance! He continued to do this all day at every vet check.
He got all As at this check, except for a B on capillary refill (which is a measure of hydration). I knew he would start drinking within another 5-7 miles so I was sure that would improve fast. Then we headed back to the truck for our 30 minute hold time. Zephyr ate at this hold, but not as enthusiastically as I wanted him to, so Molly walked him around a bit so he could have some of grass.
As planned, while Molly took care of Zephyr, Dad took care of me. At this hold, that meant asking me what I wanted to eat / drink, and when I said “no thanks, I don’t eat until the second or third hold”, speaking sternly to me (he says he yelled but I don’t remember that) and practically shoving an open bottle of Ensure into my face. I think Molly was probably surprised, but right about then I remembered this was exactly what I had asked him to do! So I sat down, shut up, and drank my Ensure. He also got me to eat some of the macaroni salad, and just one bite of some kind of protein bar that he swore was so good for me that it would do me good even if I had only one bite! After a quick visit to the woods for a potty break and to reapply the wonderful Monistat Anti-Chafe Powder Gel that I rely on, I tacked Zephyr back up with Molly’s help. Louise had waited an extra minute or two until I was allowed to leave, and we rode out together onto Loop 2 at 7:04. Our crews (Dad, Molly, and Louise’s husband Simon) stayed at the field because there was no crewing allowed on Loop 2... the roads were too narrow.
Loop 2 was awesome and really flew by. I think it was mostly narrow soft dirt roads and sandy woods trails, but I don’t remember for sure. I just know we did 11.8 miles in just under 1.5 hours... which is about 7.9mph... a steady and REASONABLE pace! All RIGHT! We made sure to include a fair amount of cantering so that the horses’ trotting muscles would get some relief. Also, Zephyr started drinking on this loop, which of course made me happy.
Louise was full of compliments about Zephyr, including one I hadn’t heard before... she says sometimes he looks like a wolf when he lopes! I don’t know what wolves look like when they run, so I Googled it. I didn’t find much; this is actually the best one (believe it or not). She also said that Zephyr is only the second horse that Danny has been able to ride with for any length of time at an endurance ride; his easygoing Steady Eddie personality was a good fit for Danny. We resolved to stick together as longa s we could, even if it sometimes meant one of us would wait for the other.
I THINK the photographer took these pictures on Loop 2?
We arrived at the second hold at 8:28am and managed to get over to the pulse timer in just 3 minutes this time, with a pulse of 56. He got all As from the vet, and ate like a vacuum once we got back to the truck. Dad once again sat me down and made me eat and drink. I think I had a can of veggie V8 and more macaroni salad? Maybe another Ensure, too. He promised me that at the next hold, which was back at camp, he’d have a BLT from Melby’s ready for me. Yummy! After a 40 minute hold, Louise and I left right on time at 9:11am. The rider ahead of us, Jennifer, had left 10 minutes earlier, saying that she would ride slowly in hopes that we would catch up to keep her company.
Loop 3 was 19.3 miles, and took us back to camp. It had less dirt road and more trail, which meant a slower pace because of all the mud and rock. It also rained pretty hard for the middle part of this loop. The worst part of it, though, was the huge tree that had fallen across the trail the night before. There were tracks around it to the left, and Louise got off to lead Danny up the embankment to the stone wall, but when she got up there she couldn’t tell where the tracks went. They seemed to disappear. While she was hemming and hawing over this, one of the rocks from the rock wall rolled down and smacked into Danny’s left hind foot, which of course didn’t help Louise’s nerves. She finally realized that the others had crossed over the top of the stone wall and bushwhacked through the trees to the other side. As she began to cross the wall, she told me she really thought it would be better if I dismounted. Since I wasn’t able to see anything up there, I took her at her word. It turned out, though, that I would have been better off to stay mounted. Zephyr was uncharacteristically upset at being left behind, and refused to wait until I was out of his way before climbing up after me, almost trampling me in the process. I was able to lead him around and back to the road successfully, and was trying to get back on him when a group of three 50-milers came along. Zephyr was visibly upset and circling me, but the 50-mile riders, who had stayed on their horses for the detour, just took off trotting again when they got to the road. I would have appreciated it if they had waited; it would have been good trail etiquette. Once they were out of earshot I was able to calm Zephyr enough that I could mount. I must admit, I was ticked off, so when we came around a corner 200’ later and found them all stopped at a puddle to drink, I broke protocol and trotted right past. It was uncharitable of me, but I’m still having a hard time feeling sorry about it, especially given that it didn’t seem to phase them or their horses at all.
We never did see Jennifer out there, but our crews were able to meet us twice along the way. Actually, they split up to share the burden... Dad and Molly met us 6 miles out, and Simon met us about 12 miles out. We took the time at each stop to let the horses drink and have a few bites of food, and give them a dose of electrolytes. At the end of the loop, we came down the long mucky hill into camp... the one we had ridden on Friday morning and would have to ride up twice after dark. We did this loop in just under 3.5 hours, which comes out to 5.9mph. Our arrival time was 12:33pm. It took us 5 minutes to get his pulse down this time, because the sun had come out and we had to move some things out of the way before we could get him under the canopy for some shade. I think there was a bit of a line for the vet, too. But by the time we got there, his pulse was down to 44. He got all As again! Then it was time for both of us to stuff our faces during our 50 minute hold... though I did go change out of my wet clothes first. Soon it was time to tack up and give Zephyr his electrolytes.
We left for Loop 4 at 1:21pm, which was three minutes later than our scheduled out time. This 17.5 mile loop was really tough. Lots of mud and rocks, not as much road, and a bit of power line trail with several boggy muddy spots and a river crossing.
We had been told that the water would come up to about our knees, and I really was not excited about that. With three more loops to go, some of it in the dark, I didn’t want to get my lower legs and my boots soaked. I know from experience that even if I try to hold my feet up, it doesn’t work that well.
Just after this picture was taken, we came across Jennifer leading her unsaddled horse (whose name I can’t remember) towards us with Adam Jack, who had Jennifer’s saddle on his head. It turned out that her horse had hit a deep spot, unseated her, and began to drift off downstream. Adam had been posted there as river crossing guard, and he jumped into the water to grab the horse. He and Jennifer had a really hard time finding a place where the horse could climb out, probably because he had drifted too far downstream. When they did get him out, he got bogged down in some really bad mud. I don’t know the whole story but apparently it took 45 minutes to get both horse and rider out onto dry ground. Before Adam started walking back, he changed the trail marking sign to make the “optional alternate trail around the river” a mandatory one. Louise and I were the last riders through there, and I would have chosen to go around anyway once I saw that it was optional, but it was nice that he took the time to do that.
After hearing this, we were more than a little freaked out. Just on the other side of the trail around the water crossing, there were several large mud holes filled with water. It took us a few minutes to get up the nerve to cross them, especially when Danny started to go down in a deep spot!
Here’s some proof that Zephyr really did do his share of leading the way... and also a cemetery we passed that I thought was nice.
We got back to camp for Hold 4 at 4:35, for a loop time of 3 hours and 17 minutes, and an average speed of 5.3mph. Simon said we were keeping a good, smart pace, and he was proud of us. Zephyr had his shortest pulse time of the whole ride at this hold... just 2 minutes. Our speed showed in his pulse, it was only down to 60, but that was still below the required 64. He got all As again! We brought him back under the canopy for our 40 minute hold, were he ate and drank like a champ again. We left right on time at 5:17pm.
We really did feel like we had gone as fast on Loop 4 as we safely could have, but we resolved to try and do better on Loop 5, which would be a repeat of Loop 4. I believe, based on the lighting, that this picture was from Loop 5. >
Our crews met us at the same two locations as they had on the last loop. We were starting to spend more time at these stops now, making sure to get off and stretch our legs or take a potty stop while the horses ate.
It just so happened that I ended up controlling the pace for most of this loop, even when Louise and Danny were in front. On the good sections we would trot along for a while, then I would call “walk 10 steps” and we would count our steps out loud before trotting again. Sometimes the horses would decide when we would walk, but we usually stuck to the same 10-15 step rule. We wanted to make the most of the good footing, but we also knew the horses would benefit from a few breathing breaks.
We definitely met our goal of speeding up; we brought our time down by 27 minutes, to only 2 hours and 50 minutes, for an average speed to 6.2mph! Having seen the trail once before helped, as we knew where we could safely trot for a few steps before walking again for a tricky spot.
We arrived at Hold 5 at 8:07. Zephyr checked in with a pulse of 60 again, but this time, since the hold was only 30 minutes and it was starting to cool off, I had chosen to leave the saddle on. The vet said that at the next (last) hold, even though it was only 20 minutes, I should take the saddle off, because having it still on made his pulse spike back up too much after his trot-out. At this hold he got a B on ‘anal tone’, which I think is a measure of how tired he is but I’m really not sure! He got As on everything else and still looked GREAT for his trot-out. We put our lights and reflectors on and were ready to go on time for our 8:41 out time. This was 1 hour and 20 minutes later than my timing spreadsheet had predicted, but given the trail conditions, we were happy! Once we realized how tough the trails were, our goal had been revised to “let’s get onto the glowsticked trails by the time it’s dark”. It turned out that we left right before dark. We had heard that the re-routed trail was tricky in spots, so Simon coached us to get as much of the trail done before full dark as we could. We were also told that at one point we would get to a T where the trail was marked both to the left and to the right... and that we should go left. We repeated that mantra to each other several times as we rode out!
The lights you see below can be found at WalMart in the hardware section for under $7 each. They’re about 4” long, yellow, and they have 2 LED lights pointing out the end and 2 out the front... the way I’m using it below, the lights on the front are turned on. They give enough light that you don’t really need a headlamp if you don’t want to use it... their one downfall is that the power button is on the back, which is against the biothane once you attach it. I used Gorilla Tape for that... sticks well even when wet.
You can see, in the picture at right, the difference in body type between Zephyr and most of the horses in the 100-miler... most of them are full-blooded Arab, and he’s half Arab and half Rocky Mountain Horse. Look at that butt! I will say, though, that Danny isn’t as much taller than Zephyr as he looks in this picture. He was up on the crown of the road.
Both horses walked willingly out of camp and up the monster hill. I’m sure our pre-ride helped with this.
Molly left at this point, as she had a 1.5 hour drive to get home and had to work in the morning!
As soon as Louise and I got into the woods, we realized that the tree cover was going to make it much darker, and we really wouldn’t be able to see any of the trail before dark. We caught up to a couple of other riders after a bit, and followed them for a few minutes through a really muddy mucky section and then onto some trail that was ok for trotting. But at one point I didn’t duck well enough under a tree branch and lost my headlamp. We had to go back a few paces, and Louise offered to get off and pick it up because her saddle doesn’t slide when she gets on like mine does. The delay was ok with us anyway, I felt like Zephyr was too jazzed when we trotted, and might hurt himself on the tricky footing. So we just decided it was best to let them do their thing and we would do ours.
Dad and Simon met us four times during this 11.1 mile loop, which had been modified to be pretty much an out-and-back. They both met us about 4 miles out, then Simon met us again 2 miles later (at the T where we had to turn left, thank goodness), then Dad met us 2 miles later where we were supposed to turn around, then we met Simon one more time at the T before we took a shorter route back to camp. At each of these stops, the horses did nothing but eat and drink... many times stuffing their noses into the same small grain pan and not lifting them again until the food was gone. At each stop he manned, Dad made sure I ate at least one bite of his special protein bar, and at most of the stops I also had an Ensure. At one point, Zephyr stopped short in the trail and refused to move on, signaling to me that he smelled something in the woods. We later found out that a bear had crossed someone’s path, but I have no idea whether it was anywhere near this spot. We just shouted and whistled, and then the horses were willing to move on.
We got back to camp for Hold 6 at 11:27pm... Loop 6 had taken us 2 hours and 46 minutes, for an average speed of 4.5mph... I had predicted 5mph after dark, and that was with the assumption that the trails would be decent, so it was acceptable... but we knew we could do better on Loop 7! Zephyr checked in with all As again at this 20-minute hold, and I made sure to remove his saddle so the vet could get a more accurate picture of his CRI (Cardiac Recovery Index). He did great this time. We were tacked up and ready to leave right on time at 11:50.
This time, the same trail took us 3 hours and 11 minutes at an average of 3.5mph. We had been thinking that we could do it faster than the first time through, but when we got back out there, all the roots seemed taller and the mud seemed deeper and the rocks seemed sharper. Our minds were also duller and I know I for one did start to feel like I was finally hitting the wall. We just decided to take it easy... neither of us wanted to be pulled at the finish because our horse tripped and pulled something! Dad and Simon decided to share one truck for this loop, driving to each of the four crew locations together. At the turnaround spot, Louise asked for a bite of a protein bar, and ended up liking it so much that I think she ate the whole thing except for a bite or two that she made Simon eat so that he would remember she wanted those bars for her next ride! The horses picked up the pace just as they left the turnaround but it only lasted until we got to the sections where we had to go slow because of the roots or the mud.
We crossed the finish line to a rousing round of applause at 3:01am, tying for 6th place (ie, last) out of the 7 horses and riders who completed. Zephyr got all As at his final vet check, and the best part is that for his trot-out he looked like he had done MAYBE 50 miles! In fact, I know he’s done 50s where he’s looked more tired than that at the end.
I think the Easyboot Glue-ons HAD to have helped him, with all that rock a lot of people were having problems with footsore horses. One rider even got pulled at the final vet check because of that... talk about heartbreaking! It’s not usually so rocky at this ride so most people didn’t bother padding their horses, and I heard that a lot of people lost shoes.
Dad gave me a hug, loaded my tack and a bucket of water into the truck, and dropped it off at my trailer before heading up to bed. I took Zephyr’s rope halter off in order to change to the reflective halter he would wear overnight. Just as I tossed the rope halter over the fence towards the big pile of gear on the ground, two nearby horses ran through their fence and started galloping around behind Zephyr’s pen. He got really “big” and “up”, and started jumping around! I was nervous that he had no halter on, and it really seemed like he was about to run through the fence and join them, even after running 100 miles! I didn’t have time to grab the other halter, so I grabbed his head and just hung on! Meanwhile the two horses were now running back and forth in the 4’-wide alley between Zephyr’s pen and the neighbor’s pen. Their owners came out and caught them pretty quickly, but still, I was truly impressed that Zephyr had the energy to think about taking off with them!
I wanted to poultice and wrap Zephyr’s legs but for some reason I thought I needed something that was up the hill under my canopy, so I decided to walk him up there carrying everything I would need to poultice and wrap. But when I got there, I realized I had nowhere to tie him so that he would stand still, and I had no idea what it was that I had gone to fetch anyway! So I just loaded a few more things into the crew wagon and brought it all back to the trailer.
I was done with him and in bed by 4am, and I think I woke up around 6:30. I didn’t get up right away, and by the time I got out there, Zephyr was standing up and looking for breakfast. I fed him and started to slowly pack the trailer before the 7:30 awards meeting and breakfast. Dad was still sleeping in his tent.
There was a bit of a wait for awards, but I enjoyed the coffee and danishes, as well as the company, while I waited! Once awards started, Tom the Ride Manager started by thanking all the volunteers, especially Adam Jack, who had rescued Jennifer and her horse. Then he got right down to the business of announcing everyone in reverse order of finish, which meant Louise and I were called up first. He said our ride time was 19 hours and 31 minutes but I’ve done the math several times and I really think it was 18 hours and 31 minutes. He then moved on to the next finisher but then afterwards backed up and said he had intended to also say that Dad and Molly had done such a great job, and were such a smoothly operating team, that nobody could believe they were new at it! He also complimented Simon for always being there for anyone who needed anything; a lot of the riders didn’t have crews. At this point he also made a point of telling everyone who hadn’t been awake how wonderful Danny and Zephyr had looked at the finish, how well they had trotted out, and that Zephyr had all As. Then he announced the four-way tie for first place – Steve Rojek, Kyle Gibbon, Hernan Barbosa, and Steven Hay.
Later in the morning, when I came back from awards, this is what I saw. If you can’t see it, he’s using fresh hay as a pillow, and he fell asleep with hay in his mouth. Too cute.
Unfortunately, right after I finished “just throwing everything in”, it started to rain AND I realized that my pocketbook was somewhere in the front of my trailer. Oh. My. God. I didn’t worry too much though, everything was already wet, so I just cursed and threw everything back out.
Unfortunately, there was no pocketbook. OH. MY. GOD. Did I leave it at Melby’s? Did it get stolen? Oh, maybe Molly accidentally grabbed it out of the backseat when she got her stuff to go home. Called her... no go... freaked out and started crying... threw everything back into the trailer... let myself be consoled with the fact that there was only $30 cash in there and that the credit card companies and the bank would reverse any fraudulent charges... cried a little more... begged travelling money from Dad...
And then I calmed down, went back in the trailer, went through all the assorted clothes and such in the gooseneck area, and then as I was climbing back down, for some reason thought to look down next to and behind the big rubbermaid tub that I use as a step up into the gooseneck area. Blue stripes. HALLELUJIA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We have a pocketbook!!
Around that time, the farmer who lets us use his property came down with his tractor to see if I needed help getting out. I told him I thought I could back under the hitch at a 90° angle and haul it out to the road over relatively dry ground if I hauled it at a diagonal. He said I could feel free to try, as long as I knew that if I got both the truck and trailer stuck, it would be more time consuming to get both of them out. I saw the logic in that and agreed to let him pull out the trailer with the tractor.
I had never seen this done before so I didn’t really know what was involved. He had an iron hook on the back of the tractor, which rode up and down on a hydraulic lift. He hooked the hook under the edge of the trailer’s hitch coupler, then lifted it enough that we could get the block out from under the jack stand and crank the jack stand all the way up. Then he started to drive the tractor straight out to the road through a low spot. He told me he wanted to take it out that way so that the trailer would be facing the right way and I could just drive away without having to turn it around. Made sense to me.
Unfortunately, as the trailer wheels got into the lowest muckiest spot and dug in up to the axles, the bumper touched the ground. I yelled to tell him so but he didn’t hear me. I didn’t realize that it was important to press the issue... now I know... the dragging bumper gave enough resistance that the coupler was yanked right off the hook and the whole front of the trailer slammed into the ground with a huge bang! I couldn’t believe Zephyr didn’t spook, but I was really glad he didn’t, because right about then I was busy seriously thinking about throwing up all over myself.
The farmer, though, just said “huh, I didn’t see that coming”. I wonder if he saw by the look on my pea-green face that perhaps this was not the time to start swearing?
He turned the tractor around and put the bucket under the coupler, which was now like 2’ off the ground, and tilted it back towards him enough that the coupler would stay in it when he lifted.
At this point, looking at my 6000# trailer (which we are still making payments on) resting on the bucket of a rusty tractor, I seriously considered having a heart attack.
He lifted the front of the trailer off the ground, then backed up onto the road, pulling the trailer out at an angle. It wasn’t until the jack stand was down on the block, the tractor had pulled away, and I’d laid down on the ground to look underneath for damage (there was none), that I started to breathe again. Here’s the mess we made... one set of those tracks is from earlier in the day when Dad drove my truck out through the deep section because there was another truck in the way on the “good” side.
Dad and I said our final goodbyes and thank-you’s, and off he went. I did a few last minute things, loaded Zephyr, and changed into dry clothes right there in the cab of the truck. I’d have used the dressing room, but it certainly didn’t look any better after I threw everything back in for the second time.
The drive home only took 4 hours despite a stop for coffee and a sandwich, and also despite yet another accident on the same stretch of road as the one that delayed my trip home from Crooked River last month.
As soon as I got home, I unloaded Zephyr and went to bed for a little over two hours. (Are you keeping track? That’s roughly a total of 6 hours of sleep between Friday morning and Sunday night.) Then I got up, ate the dinner that my wonderful husband had prepared, and started to ‘just unload the wet stuff for now’. I planned to leave the trailer in front of the house and do the rest later... but it ended up ALL being wet so I unloaded EVERYTHING into the trailer, turned it around, and parked it in its usual spot. I finally made it to bed around midnight.
The alarm went off at 6am, and I was at work a few hours later! I feel great physically, just a little sleepy. Dad’s amino acids, my multivitamins, and the food Dad forced into me really did the trick! My calves are a little tight, my inner thighs feel a little bruised but they’re not, and the back of my thighs is weak... I can’t take one boot off by putting its heel against the toe of the other boot. Plus hubby says I’m walking stiffly and with a bit of a limp. But really, it could be so much worse!! Thanks Dad!
Zephyr seems to be doing just fine. I haven’t asked him to trot (hey, I haven’t been jogging either) but he’s moving well at a walk and isn’t spending all his time laying down, so I figure that’s good.
Next month... Western Maine Pioneer Ride?