Saturday, July 13, 2013

Further West to Wyoming..or "In Which I Survive My First 3-Day"

A few months back, I made plans to squeeze some endurance adventures onto a July trip to Vail, Colorado for a Touchstone Energy conference. I'd heard that the Shamrock ride in Wyoming was beautiful and arrived in Denver on July 4, the day before this three-day event started. Leslie Anderson from Longmont (who I'd met several years earlier through Brenda Baird Palermo, one of my oldest endurance pals), said she'd get me there and provide a horse for the first day, and the AERC Mountain Region folks put me in touch with another horse provider, Jack Evers.
Leslie's advice and gear were the key to my success. She had me start drinking water as soon as I reached her farm to adjust to the altitude and aridity. I downed 64 ounces while helping pack up, buying last-minute food and keeping her company on the three-hour drive north to Wheatland.

Held on the gigantic Dilts family ranch, this 21-year old ride is named for the nearby Shamrock saloon. Getting there requires 50 minutes of careful driving along primitive roads through two other ranches, so you end up more than 20 miles from any paved highway. The Dilts family is as likely to fly their plane to Laramie or Cheyenne for supplies as they are to drive! I heard Teddy with Running Bear Tack broke and axle the last time she negotiated this route.

Basecamp was in the front yard of the family's original homestead and featured plenty of green grass, although edible vegetation was almost nonexistent on the surrounding hills. Arriving at 7 p.m., we quickly built pens for Leslie's three Rushcreek horses (Ridge, Thunder and Quilt), registered for Friday's 55-mile ride and set up a pup tent so I'd have a place to sleep. I was up by 5 a.m. the next morning to help get ready for the 6:30 a.m. start.

Leslie warned that while Thunder had three years of endurance experience, he was still quite green, which I found out firsthand when I came around the corner of the trailer. He kicked without warning, striking the front of my upper left leg. I knew that   keeping my sore muscles moving would help more than anything so I finished tacking and we set out 15 minutes behind the others at a slow trot. Less than 5 minutes into the ride, Thunder was spooked by a rustle from one of my water bottles and took off running and bucking into the cactus and rocks. I lost my stirrups but never let go of the reins and with some calming words, he finally came to a stop about 50 yards east of the trail.

The rest of that 22-mile loop went smoothly, and my pitiful limp during the trot out was mitigated by both horses having great vet scores and CRIs. About 5 miles into the 19-mile second loop, we came across several riderless horses being held by one rider, with another rider sitting in the scant shade of a small pine tree. Turns out the wounded rider under the tree was my friend Claire Godwin from Maryland, who had been charged by a 2,000 lb Angus bull after trying unsuccessfully to shoo him off the trail. Bummed for Claire, who had planned to tackle the Big Horn 100 the following weekend on her other horse Rev, who'd just won the Old Dominion 100, we continued on. The first half of the loop featured a series of small canyons that required both hand on mane for a scramble to the top, followed by dismounting to lead one's horse on a careful descent on loose lava-rock type pebbles.

Later in the loop, Leslie and I took over as sponsors for Claire's junior of the same name, a tall 15-year old everyone hilariously referred to as "Little Claire." She had been riding with a local rider who started suffering the effects of the 90+ degree heat and stayed back to rest while the three of us set up on the windy "high plains" second half of that loop. At the second vet check, Little Claire's horse Salut was acting up without his buddy (Claire's horse Amos), so I explained the situation to the vet and helped Little Claire handle the restless and unruly gelding, distracting him with a big wad of hay.

Several other riders, including Libby Llop from New York State, accompanied us on the last loop, which was only 12 miles long and featured many crossings of the same little stream. As we passed through a small box canyon, the Wyoming weather, always unpredictable, turned violent and windy. We trotted the last two miles in a steady rain that had ended by the time we vetted through for our completions. Leslie was so pleased with the vet scores for both her geldings that she agreed to let me ride Ridge the following day, while she took out her mare Quilt.

Snuggled in my pup tent around 12:45 am Saturday morning, I was awakened by whinnying horses and flashes of lightning, followed by rumbles of thunder. Abandoning the sagging tent, I grabbed my sleeping bag and spent the "wee hours" in the cab of Leslie's truck as more rain poured down.

Saturday's ride went smoothly - Ridge was a calm, steady mount and I had time to enjoy the scenery and even snap a few photos with my I-phone. Whenever we came across Angus cattle on trail, we gave them a wide berth - despite the risk of encountering rattlesnakes in the scrub and rocks beside the established trail.

I had a good base tan and was using 50 SPF sunscreen, but at 8,000 feet elevation discovered that even these were no protection against sun poisoning. During the first hold, I saw the red bumps of sun poisoning on my left arm and quickly donned one of Leslie's extra long-sleeved fisherman's shirts and a set of gloves, then added a towel under my helmet to block the sun on my ears and already-red neck.  Also, if you don't re-apply lip balm every hour or so your lips might crack, blow up like balloons or both!

With my body better protected, the rest of the ride went smoothly. We again finished around 6 p.m., then enjoyed the Shamrock ride's legendary mix of fresh-cooked pork, beef and chicken BBQ for Saturday dinner. There was no sign of Jack Evers, so I started worrying about whether I'd have a mount for the third day or not. He showed up just before dark, along with two young college students Jesse and Joe who helped set up his corrals.

I immediately liked Whynot, Jack's big Appy broodmare who reminded me of Shiloh. Jack is AERC number 208, which means he's been doing this sport for nearly 40 years! A rider from the "old school," he uses English saddles, plus had very little extra gear, so I borrowed a breast collar, running martingale and saddle bags from Leslie and tacked Whynot up to adjust everything before hitting the sack.

Sunday was the most fun of all, listening to Jack's many tales, but also was a true test of my horsemanship. On the first loop, Whynot needed quite a bit of "rating" to keep from going faster than her limited conditioning made sensible, so that running martingale helped me keep control. Two-thirds of the way through that long loop, we were talking about Jack's career as a part-time farrier (he's also a consultant and college teacher for oil drilling), when Whynot's right front shoe came loose. I dismounted and twisted it off so the loose nails wouldn't pierce her sole, stowing the shoe in my saddlebag since there were no spare horseshoes back in camp. Neither of us had an Easyboot on board, so I hand walked her a long 7 miles into camp, sending Jack on ahead to scout up some tools since he had left his tools at home and there was no ride farrier. By the grace of God, a young cowboy doing his first endurance ride happened to be in basecamp and loaned Jack his farrier tools so he could nail on that shoe while I fed both horses.

Whynot was sound with all "A"s on her vet card, but had an elevated CRI so I borrowed some of Leslie's electrolytes to help make sure she drank enough on the second loop. She seemed to appreciate my careful riding - I was careful to change diagonals regularly and also dismounted frequently to lead her down hills and open each of the Western gates for Jack (who is in his mid-70s), hand feeding both horses some grass whenever I found any. We carefully sponged and cooled both horses before the vet second check, but Whynot's second CRI was still high. The vets didn't seem too concerned since she had all A's otherwise. Rubbing Desitin and baby powder on galls that had started along her girth line, I borrowed one of Leslie's fleece-lined girths and fed my hard working mare all of our remaining carrots. saying "Just 12 more miles old girl!"

I dragged my heels on the last loop, I just didn't want those amazing trails to end. Whynot vetted through just fine (except for her CRI, of course) and I earned 165 more AERC miles under my belt. After helping Jack and Leslie pack up (both left that night), I crashed on a bed in Claire's trailer that she graciously offered since I staying one more night and was driving Libby's son's rental car back to Denver the following morning. Shamrock was my first experience with endurance riding out west, but it won't be my last. My body held up much better than I expected and I learned volumes about what to pack and how to prepare. Can't wait for next summer when I hope to return!