So many do not sleep the night before Tevis. I have been one of them. Often up late, fussing with ones "stuff", to make sure everything is ready, and then getting to bed late, and tossing and turning. I was in bed not long after the sun set, and slept pretty good. Had everything all laid out for in the morning, so when that alarm went off, I crawled out, gave Hank his breakfast mash, and went back inside to dress. Drank a protein drink, ate a piece of cinnamon bread, and headed back out to tack up Hank. I was still feeling rather calm as I swung up into the saddle, to head to the start. In 2005 and 2006, a friend crewed for us. I told her when she decided to ride, she had the choice of me riding with her, or crewing for her. Earlier this year, she had said she was going to enter, and wanted me to ride with her. So, holding that promise, I sent in my entry. Tevis has two different start groups. Pen one, the faster riders, who are there to generally to place well, and pen two, for those of us who ride to finish. My friend was helping to lead out the second pen to the start line, and we tried to fall in as close to them as possible. But in the dark, early morning hour, with 100's of horses on the trail, it is tough to always stick together. Riders tensions can run high, and they start getting pushy and excited. Hank was not jacked up, and the walk to the actual start line was pretty uneventful. We had a slight wait with standing still before the trail was opened at 5:15, and then we were starting our trek towards our destination: Auburn. Between our goal was dust, dirt, mountains, rocks, heat, and some of the most challenging trail ever ridden. Statistics show only about half of the riders would finish. One can only hope they stay safe, and the horse healthy. In 2005, Hank finished, and then in 2006, he coliced at Michigan Bluff. While we don't want anything to happen to our horse, a metabolic issue is harder to deal with mentally than a lameness issue, at least for me. So while I knew Hank has seemed better than ever since the colic surgery in Aug. of 2008, this was the one area I was being extra aware of during the ride.
As the morning pace picked up, riders started to spread out a little. It is not long before we have a downhill towards Hwy 89, and the Truckee river. Along the way is a series of little wooden bridges crossing creeks and bogs. I have never had issues with these, and the horses generally just trot right on over. On the switchbacks, I could see my friend on up ahead, and slowly moving out a bit quicker than I was, and figured we may lose sight of her early on. The one rule is to ride ones own ride. If you can travel at the same pace as another horse, and it suits your horse too, then great, but never push your horse beyond what you feel is the right pace. I was comfortable with Hanks pace, and knew it was the right speed for him.
After crossing the bridge at the Highway, elevation 6200' , you work your way over to the Squaw Valley area, and eventually the climb up to the top, and your highest elevation of the ride at 8700'. When you the top, you are just 13 miles in to the ride. As we climbed towards the top, it was one of the first times I could feel how strong Hank was. He takes on climbs with such a strong will. Never tries to stop, ears always up, and seeming to like the challenge.
Photo by Lynne Glazer
Lynnes full Tevis Gallery
The sun has risen over Lake Tahoe, and you can look to the east and see it glimmering in the morning light. The water troughs at High Camp are just ahead, and it is busy with activity as riders pause to water their horses, take a quick potty break themselves, and then finish the climb to the very top.
Seeing him, you know the top is near. Just one last pull, and then you are greeted at the pass of the view to the west. This has always been sort of emotional. You look across the mountain tops, and know that your goal of the finish line is somewhere down there.
I always think of Julie Suhr, and her description of that view, and the emotions it can bring. If you are unaware of who Julie is, then go get this book:
Ten Feet Tall, Still
Crossing the pass also is the point where you question what is ahead in the High Country. Often the trail has been hit hard by the winter weather, and one will find muddy bogs, downed trees, boulders etc. to deal with. Much is cleared by the trail work volunteers, while other hazards can not be made better, and one must ride smart. With patches of snow still lingering, we know that things are still melting, and there will be mud or running water along the trail.
This is not an easy place to make up any time. Hopefully you have banked a bit of time in the first 13 miles, to allow for the slow going. For the most part, we found ourselves in small groups, or no other riders, and we were able to cruise along without issues from others that often arise. The bogs proved to be as I expected, more running water than deep mud. Hank was moving along forward, and seemed to know where he was, wear to go. So far, all morning, I kept getting the feeling he knew he was heading towards the fairgrounds, even though we had just started our day.
At Lyon Ridge, we gave the horses another drink from the troughs, and then trotted out for the vets to do a check for soundness. After his drink, he perked up and did his big trot for the vet as we left. I just had to laugh at him getting in a hurry. Not sure what was up with him being so extra cheerful, but it was feeling good to have him feeling strong. Coming up was the most famous trail section probably in the world. Cougar Rock. I had been thinking about it all morning, and trying to decide if I was going to go over it, or around it on the by pass trail. I had only used the by pass once before, when I rode Rushcreek Gambler in 2004. He had been tripping that day, and I decided it would be safer to go around. As I got there, my gut feeling was to pass it this year. I have gone over the Rock twice with Hank, hoping for some awesome photos, only to be disappointed with the angles the photographers shot at, and not get that old, famous shot that Charlie Barieau used to get, making the horses look like they were climbing the edge of the earth. While I think that going over Cougar Rock is very much part of what Tevis is, Hank did it twice for me, and was awesome, and this year, I went with my gut feeling. So, I sent Dolly and Chance on ahead, and I waited at the bottom of the rock until they were almost over, before hanging the right, and heading around the by pass trail.
I did not want Chance to see Hank below, and think he needed to join him. This is a narrow trail, cut in to the side of the rock. A wall to ones left, and a drop off to the right. I decided to pick up the trot, and as I made a little curve, forgot about a rock out cropping as my right knee slammed into it. I laughed out loud, and said something to Hank about how all the trail has its risks. I saw that I had a new, well earned hole in my pretty new tights, and figured a lovely bruise would follow. Met up with Dolly and Chance on the other side, and headed on to our next notable trail section, Elephants Trunk. Through this section, we had a lot of leap frogging with some riders. One needs to trot where they can, even if it is only 10 or 15 feet. Lots of rock surface, some of it a bit slick. Never have had issues with Hank slipping, but you need to pay attention to spots that are sloped.
The first time I went over Elephants Trunk (1988) it scared me more than Cougar Rock. It has got better over the years, but it is a trail cut along the edge of a mountain, that is mostly rock, and loose rock, that then cuts upward, like an elephants trunk lifting skyward. I remember it not being much of a trail years ago, and one traversed along the slope, hoping to not take a wrong step.
After we reached the top, we had a group of riders that we were sort of slowed down a bit by their slower horses. A rider behind Dolly started to pass, or bumped into Chance (not really sure) and Chance, who had been having other horses run up on him all morning, had decided enough was enough,a nd fired out and caught the horses who was much too close. The rider commented he should have a red ribbon in his tail, but this horses has never kicked at a horse before that I have seen. Not sure why it takes a red ribbon in a tail to remind folks to stay off of ones hind end, but if they do not have a red ribbon indicating they might kick, that they feel they can ride right up on them. Personally, ALL HORSES KICK, and you should keep a horses length off of ALL horses and not tail gate.
We finally got into Red Star Ridge, where this year, they had a large number of pulls. My goal had been to get into Red Star Ridge between 9:45 and 10:00, and we arrived at 9:51. It was very busy, and a tad chaotic. I have to watch Hank, that his pulse does not shoot up after he drinks the cold water on this ride. I let him drink some, sponged him, and let him drink some more. He grabbed a bit of hay, as I kept an eye on the vet line, that it was not getting too long. We pulsed down, and I let him grab a few more bites of hay, and headed over to the vet. This horse loves to eat, and eats a lot. Because there is nothing for them to graze on along the Tevis trail, they only get fed at the check points, or what ever we carry with us. We got veted through, and headed out on to the road to Robinson Flat. This is part of the ride that I do not really care for. It is only about 8 miles into Robinson, but the road is hard packed, and seems to take forever. I watched the footing, keeping Hank in the softer shoulders, rather than in the middle of the concrete hard road. After having that lameness pull over Memorial Day, I was really thinking about how I was pounding his front legs.
Four miles from Robinson we were to have a water trough. Indeed, it was there, but empty for those of us riding slower. I fear some of the early riders sponged and scooped water on to their horses, leaving ours without anything to drink. The day was warming up, and we were anxious to get to our first full vet check,and a one hour hold. I was also a tad behind my preferred time to arrive, but by only about 15 min.
I had cell service though this section, and was able to call my husband, tell him where I was, and even make a couple Facebook posts. Ahhhh, technology! As one gets closer to Robinson, crews and spectators start lining the road. As you arrive, they cheer, clap, and shout out "Good job!" "Looking Good" etc. It can really uplift ones spirits, and sure put a spring in Hanks step. I think he knew his lunch was waiting.
I talked my husband into coming out to crew for me. He was hesitant, as he had crewed for me at rides many years ago, and I was less than pleasant at times. The stress of competing used to make me difficult (more difficult that I am anyway, if you can imagine that) , but some where along the way, I realized that if it was not FUN, why was I doing it? And it had not been fun at times, so I actually backed away from the sport. As I came back, I decided that both my horse and I needed to be having fun at what ever we did, and if not, chance things so we were enjoying ourselves. So far, I thought I had been kind to him, but Robinson Flat would be the test. He met us on the road
with our little wagon, where I stripped the tack, gave Hank a drink, sponged him some, and put the Heart Rate Monitor belt on him, and found he was just about down to criteria. We walked down into the pulse area, as he took the tack over to our crew area. Pulsed through, vetted through, and then it was time for our one hour break. As my hubby cleaned up Hank and all my tack, girth, leg boots etc., it was time for me to clean up me at least a little.
All riders bring in a lot of the trail on their faces at this point, and we all look about like I did.
As Hank ate his mash and some hay, Tracie, who was crewing Tevis for the first time, shoved food at me, and I just grabbed things and ate. I am usually hungry anyway, but I know I have to eat, to keep feeling good. Besides a sandwich, I drank an Ensure, which was high in Potassium etc. to keep my system feeling good. Because I need to take pain drugs for my knees, I also need to make sure my tank has something in it, and well hydrated, so the medication will not bother me. As I cleaned up and ate, I watched my hubby take the most excellent care of Hank. I had not given him a written list of things to do, but he remembered most, and I had very little to remind him to do. I was still feeling pretty calm, and a bit complacent, but was more enthusiastic about the ride now that I was on the trail, with a strong horse. Before we knew it, our hour was coming to an end,and the horses were tacked up, and we were heading to the out timer. Good-byes to our crew, as we would not see them again for over 7 hours.
As we left, I let Hank walk a bit, to digest his lunch. I had leap frogged a bit with Barbara White, who was going for buckle number THIRTY. We talked about the pace leaving a spot like this, and she too liked to walk a bit before picking up the trot. I was glad I was on the same mind set as someone who has been at it for many more years than I have. After about a 5 to 10 min walk, we picked up the trot again. Did I mention how much you have to trot on this ride? Hank has an excellent walk, but if the trail is something that you have to trot where ever you can. So, trot we did, heading out across Bald mountain. This area had a fire some years ago, and is very open, and has no shade. The old route out of Robinson was along a road, which many riders did not like, but it did have shade. The temperatures were climbing, but it was not feeling that bad to us. Those training days in our Texas mid day heat was paying off. We continued on, trotting, trotting, trotting towards the next water stop at Dusty Corners, and then the next pulse stop, which was half way through the ride at Last Chance.
When we were getting closer to Last Chance, I was noticing we had got back close to my projected time, but still had an odd feeling we were starting to chase cut off times. After Last Chance is the first of the canyons. This is what many riders dread. The heat was rising, but I was still not feeling that hot. Because of my knees, Hank has to pack me both down, and up the canyons. In turn, I try to ride as light and balanced both on the descents, and ascents. We were lucky to not get in a huge line of horses, and moved along OK. I let him do an easy jog where possible going down into the canyon. No fast or hard trotting downhill to protect that front end, and hopefully not have what ever lameness he had earlier in the year show up again. By the bottom of the canyon, we had been slowed by a few riders, and got past them at the Swinging Bridge.
I pass on going to the water under the bridge, as there is a nice water spot on the other side, just starting up. The boys did not drink much, but we sponged them some, and started the climb. I let Hank set the pace, and he is a very steady, strong horse climbing out of the canyons. For a horse who is a "flatlander" he takes the canyon climbs on with a strength that amazes me. He never asks to stop and take a breather, and keeps a very steady forward pace, often needing to pass other horses.
About half way up, we came across a rider sitting on the edge of the trail, and a horse down in the draw below the trail. The horse had gone off the trail, and thankfully a local runner and volunteer came along to assist the horse and rider until other volunteers could be sent down to also assist. At the top is Devils Thumb. This spot used to have a boy scout troop volunteer, and I was looking forward to seeing them, as they were always so great helping cool the horses, but the troop disbanded, and the other troop did not want to take over. Still, a great group of volunteers there. We cooled the horses, let them drink, and then I saw we were getting behind again. It was getting much to close to chasing cut off times. We headed towards the next pulse and vet check at Deadwood.
In the past, Hank had needed a bit more time at Deadwood to recharge, and take a break. This time was no different, except he was slow to recover here. I finally realized the water was not that cool, and was rather tepid that I was sponging him down with. I asked a volunteer if the water was any cooler out of the truck, and she said "Hold on". She took a bucket over to a well, and pumped nice cool water in to it. I used that, and Hank cooled right down, and his pulse dropped. LOVE those Tevis volunteers! We vetted through, let him eat a bit and recharge, and then headed towards El Dorado canyon, and then Michigan Bluff. That is where he had the colic in 2006, so I was wanting to get past that point.
Again, we jig jogged where we could going down into the canyon, and he power walked up the other side.
As we arrived I saw a large number of horses at the water troughs, eating hay along the road etc. I worked my way up through the crowd, closer to the vet, and let him drink, eat, and take a breather.
Our crew member Tracie was there volunteering, and walked up with two half sandwiches and shoved them at me and said "Ham or Turkey". I grabbed one, and ate, and drank what ever she handed me. Hank was snacking. I did not check his pulse, but felt he was down,and headed to the vet. Everything was looking good, and we trotted up and back, and he was sound. He was still more than willing to trot out for me nice and strong. I let him eat a bit more while waiting for Dolly and Chance to vet through. Our friend who I was to ride with got pulled here, and I chatted with her a bit. He horse was a little off. :-(
One more small canyon, and we would be at our second 1 hour hold, where we would see our crews again. More trotting where we could. Did I mention we trot a lot? Finally, we came to the top of the canyon, and the paved Bath Road. What a WELCOME sight! That meant we were almost to Forrest Hill!!! My attitude had much improved, and I was actually enjoying my ride. Hank had reminded me what a strong athlete he was, and that he also seemed to be enjoying the trail Ears always up, and only got a little of the ride funk once. Listening to other riders complain and whine abut the heat, the canyons etc. and not having the same feelings. I had been able to keep my mind clear, take care of myself so far, so I could take care of Hank.
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