Monday, November 30, 2015

G-Unit Rocks JD's - plus some 100-miler wisdom

Each Thanksgiving weekend, East Coast endurance addicts escape Black Friday shopping madness by trekking to Patrick, SC for JD Fountain's Carolina Ride. This was JD's 32nd year offering a low-cost option for those wanting to tackle one last 100 before winter sets in, just $115 for any distance entered.

Little Gryphon trots slow, but never quits!
JD's gives new meaning to the concept of "no frills" -- some of us joke that basecamp should have a sign "You're On Your Own!" to warn newbies. However, no one will argue about the quality of trail marking or kindness of the vet staff, led by Dr. Amy Spies, and volunteers, who include Samm Bartee, Peggy Thompson, Laurie Underwood as timers/pulse takers and Lucie Hancock to handle registration.

I'd spent Thanksgiving with my husband's family in Lexington, NC, so just a 2-hour haul got me, Gryphon & Siena to basecamp by 9 a.m. Friday. My friend Amy, who was making the 6-hour haul from Virginia, asked me to save her an electric hookup, but several riders coming from even further away had hauled there the day before and snapped them all up. No biggie, as the weather was perfect - mid-40s at night and mid-60s both days I was there.

After setting up camp, I rode Siena and ponied Gryphon (AKA "G-unit") on a 10-mile warmup ride, then gave both a bath. I then gathered up hay donated by several other crewless riders entering the 100 and drove out with JD, Amy and her husband Ricky to deply at several points on the 27-mile-long 1st & 3rd loop.

My horses vetted through with 32 pulses and Liz Stout, who'd be riding Siena, arrived just as darkness fell. The dinner and pre-ride meeting were typically disorganized. Jody Buttram explained the legend of Lizard Man, Samm Bartee reminded riders of basic rules (if you don't check in before starting, you won't get credit for miles!) and Dr. Amy explained that the vets were there to help us ALL get through if at all possible and asked everyone to do what we could to prevent our horses needing invasive treatment. I let everyone know where we'd set hay out on the long loop, then a glass of wine helped me drop off to sleep right away. I woke up @ 3:30 a.m. to feed the horses breakfast and slept some more before time to tack up.

The 7 a.m. start was smooth and Liz and I settled into a 10 or 11 mph trot with Amy on her big Anglo-Arab mare Cricket. Both Amy and I have been mentored by our friend Brenda, who completed 9 tough Old Dominion 100s, served on the AERC board and was on the gold medal USA East team for the 2001 Pan Ams. She has since retired from endurance, but her wisdom lives on with us!

A pack of 5 riders caught up to us halfway through the long first loop. After several minutes of friendly bantering but also feeling "pressed," we three pulled off to the side to opt for a slower pace. Be careful not to "use up" too much horse early in the day!We finished the first loop in 3 hours, 15 minutes and made note of several good places on trail to hold pit-stops the 2nd time through, when the temps would be higher and the horses would to both take time to eat and be dosed with electrolytes. Important to not let your horse go too long with eating, drinking or getting more electrolytes, especially when they have a winter coat and the temp is nearly 70 degrees!

Sadly, Siena was off on her right front at the first vet check so Liz transitioned to crew mode. I spread LOTS of baby powder on the underside of Gryphon's saddle pad and added e-lyte tabs to my drinking water as well as chowed down on some turkey sandwiches and my favorite "Munchos" chips. I also did a bit of yoga and wrapped some vet wrap around my left ankle, which was starting to bother me a bit and needed more support. It's critical to take care of yourself at every hold and not get behind on hydration.

My WV friend Liz Stout on Siena. Love the orange tack!
Amy's out time was a few minutes later than mine at 2 of the holds, but I left out ahead as practice for times when I might need to ride solo...and long-legged Cricket caught up to us in just a few minutes. The second time through the long loop took us 4.5 hours, but we were happy with how much our horses ate and drank. Cricket was in a hackamore and I'd taken out G's bit halfway through to make it easier for him to eat. All was well until about 3 miles before the end of the loop, when darkness was setting in and temps were cooling down. I was fiddling with my helmet when G-unit spooked him and bolted, dumping me off on my left side. We were only 1/4 mile from the paved road and I prayed hard as I jogging after him and gently called his name while Amy and Cricket stayed still. He continued about 200 yards before stopping and waiting for me to walk up and grab the reins. Phew! Lesson learned - keep bridle on G-unit! I gratefully climbed back aboard, ignoring my aching left side ribs and hip, and called for Amy to head our way.

Back in camp, we added glowsticks and headlamps for the last two loops, which were a repeat 15.5 miles marked with yellow ribbon. Before she started on the long drive back to Elkins, Liz made me take a combination of Aleve and Ibuprofen, then lined up our friends Roger and Nathan from Manassas, Va to help me as crew (Melissa Yopp who'd finished the 60 on her little Paso Hollie also came by to lend encouragement.) Patricia Clark camped next to us also provided some helpful tips on negotiating the yellow trail - get as much information as you can about sections of trail you'll be covering after dark!

Amy's super bright headlamp was extremely helpful since sections of the sandy road had been washed out from all the rain of Hurricane Joaquin the month before, plus logging trucks has torn up other sections or added gravel for traction. Despite Cricket having a faster trot than G, so that she ended up walking every so often for him to catch up, we made good time and passed several other 100-milers. Amy started wishing out loud that the ride could end at the 84.5 mile hold, but I reminded her how lucky we were to both still have lots of horse left and be able to finish as early as 12 midnight.

At the last hold, we learned that several horses in front of us had been pulled for lameness and that other 100s had rider-optioned. With the almost-full moon finally risen and lending a good bit of ambient light, the last loop seemed to go more quickly. Roberta Young, Jennifer Smith and Kelly Lane in Jen's truck providing much appreciated food and cheer 2/3rds of the way through. I opted for Fritos while G chomped some of their hay. Amy and I crossed the finish line at 12:15 a.m. to tie for 4th place, and both horses completed just fine. I stayed up to present for BC at 1:15 am, and got to see several other friends successfully complete, including Kyle Gibbon and Steve Rojek right behind us (Steve's horse's 1st 100) and Jenny from GA on her little POA/Appy pony. The Aleve that Liz had given me @ 7 p.m. had worn off, so Roger gave me something stronger (THANKS Roger!) and also trotted G for his BC presentation. Make sure to have plenty of supplies on hand for whatever soreness may arise - cough drops are also helpful to have on hand for getting through long, sandy loops.

G-unit with bit on for control :)
I woke up at 6:30 am, just 4 hours since I'd taken Roger's magic pill. My ribs felt better than expected, then my friend Libby Llop let me borrow her laser to wave over them before the low-key awards ceremony (only about 20 of us left!) Ruth Anne Everett and Jumpin Jax had won, their 3rd or 4th time at this ride, and Verena Stock on JD's horse finished in 2nd on her first 100. The Northeast Region members did great - Richard Stedman from New York was 3rd, with me & Amy and Steve & Kyle after him. Then Jeff and Katherine Gardener from RI and Skip Kemerer and Angela Gross from MD also completed!

Avoiding the interstates, many areas of which were showing up RED on my traffic app, I made it home before 3 p.m. and started in on the inevitable chores, buckling my hard-working little G into his waterproof blanket as a cold rain began to fall. Thank you JD for taking out that long gravel section on the long loop and giving us some scenic new sections of trail to enjoy this year!