For many East Coast endurance riders, Thanksgiving weekend means a trip to J.D.'s Ride in South Carolina. Ride manager J.D. Fountain learned about endurance more than 30 years ago, and soon after began hosting AERC-sanctioned rides, first out of his own backyard and then from Whitehaven Arabian Plantation, where I first began attending this ride back in 2000. Haven't missed it since because I am most definitely NOT a Black Friday shopper!
For the past several years, J.D.'s basecamp has been on his several acres of raw land along Hartsville-Ruby Road, near Sand Hills State Forest Trails and just across from "The Winery" (a long-since-closed maker of such fine vintages as Wild Irish Rose and Boone's Farm).
I packed early for this ride because I'd be spending Thanksgiving Day with the in-laws, which involved a 7- hour round trip but was well worth the drive. We brought a full bushel of oysters from Virginia's record harvest and every one was devoured.
Early on Friday morning, my friend Jaber Al-Marri from Qatar, an Economics major at American University, drove down from D.C. to meet me. We were on the road by 6 a.m. with Gryphon and Shiloh in tow.
Arriving at basecamp before noon, we parked beside my friend Lisa Green's rig and right next to the crewing area. Jaber and I went for a 3-mile warm up ride, with calm and steady Shiloh leading Gryphon past some scary large mules who were pastured nearby. After test riding my saddles, Jaber decided to use the treeless Ansur for Shiloh.
Shiloh vetted in at a heart rate of 32 and Gryphon at 36. The forecast was perfect and there ended up being 15 of us entered in the 100 miler. As nightfall set in and temperatures began to drop, we blanketed the horses and headed over to BBQ dinner around a bonfire. I passed around a tin of homemade Christmas cookies for dessert, and J.D. gave us his usual disjointed but entertaining ride briefing.
Lisa's 14-year-old son Ridge, Jaber and I were snuggled under the covers before 8 pm and we all slept soundly as temps dropped to the mid-20s. I woke at 5 am to feed and brew a cup of decent coffee using a drop cord and my coffee pot brought from home, going back inside my trailer frequently during the tacking up process to warm my hands and feet in front my Mr Buddy propane heater. The cold weather meant using a rump rug and Gryphon ended up not needing a single drop of water for cooling all day - a first for me after years of crewing big Shiloh!
J.D.'s 100 has 3 loops that are each repeated twice, with the first 88 or so miles in the state forest. I followed my old friend Debbie McClary and her horse Traveler on the first 25-mile white loop, which is followed by a 13.7 green that uses much of the same trail as white. Gryphon finished these in good time (nearly 10 mph pace) and we headed out on the 3rd loop (repeat of white 25 miles) before 1 pm. Debbie was going faster than me at this point so I ended up riding that loop with aother old friend, Amy Whelan who was helping her 12-year-old daughter Annie tackle her first 100. We made great time, including several stops for the horses to eat hay J.D. had left along the trail.
Our faster pace caught us up to Debbie McClary just as we reached Nicky's crew who were carrying food and water for the horses in their truck. Neither of us had much "brakes" on our horses (I had switched to a hackamore to make it easier for G to eat and drink on trail and she just had reins clipped to her halter), so we agreed to hold back from the other riders, using our horses as company for each other.
All day long, heat vet Amy Spies was generous with her praise for Gryphon, who had mostly A's and CRIs of 52/52 or 56/56, with lots of impulsion at every trot out. He kept eating, drinking and relaxing well at each hold and my using BCAA's mixed with honey in addition to his regular electrolytes seemed to be helping his energy levels. During the 5th loop, which was just 11 miles, Debbie and I ended up passing Nicky and the Whelan girls when they stopped on trail for their crew (Claire's horse had been pulled). I'm especially grateful to my friends Jennifer Smith and Kelly Lane, who set up shop in a church parking lot halfway through the 5th/6th loops and dispensed hot food and cheer to all us 100-milers who were showing signs of DIMR ("Distance Induced Mental Retardation"). Like many riders who get a touch of motion sickness when using headlamps to ride after dark, I was feeling a bit queasy each time I saw them but gulping some salty chicken soup fixed me right up.
By 9:30 pm we were headed out on our last loop, finishing just after 11:15 pm in 4th and 5th place (Traveler had set the pace and led most of the day so I didn't think it fair to tie). As we neared the finish line, I felt tears forming at the corners of my eyes, so proud was I of the little rescue horse who had come so far since his first LD ride just a year ago. At the completion exam he trotted out almost as fresh as at the vet in. My friend Jenny Poling, who along with Jaber helped crew for me all evening, said "I think you've found your 100 miler!" We blanketed Gryphon well and I was snuggled under the covers before midnight.
The next morning, much to my amazement I wasn't at all stiff or sore. Gryphon is a truly comfortable horse to ride and looked happy and chipper as well. After so many years of trying to find a horse who could take Shiloh's place and do 100s with ease, my dream had come true.
For 2014 I'm planning at least two 100s for my G-unit, keeping in mind that while he'll never be able to cover ground as fast as those FEI horses, he'll do every mile with a smile!