Thursday, August 29, 2013

VA Highlands Ride 2013


 Sunset, Wed. evening, storms moving through the mountains. Taken from the Meuten’s deck. 

Preparing  for a ride takes some thought...and some planning, and some loose arrangements. I have found that the ability to go with the flow has been the way to tamp down the preparation butterflies to a controlled flutter.

There is a group of us that seem to flock together due to location,  for conditioning our horses, food planning, drink planning, support and of course the all important, fun. We have learned that on a two day ride, or more, it is much less stressful when some of us ride one day, and the other half crew, then switch for the following day. Especially if there is one or more away vet checks. Of course there are the toughies that can ride both days, or more, which for us is no problem since we are many...:)

Within our club, The Daniel Boone Distance Riders, we have team competitions. And certainly we do some ‘arranging’ so as to try and get team points, but, when it gets down to it, we DBDRs are of one team pitching in where needed. Heck, we even pitch in to help the other crewless...

The VA Highlands ride is a top notch ride not to be missed! I have had the good fortune to have ridden and finished it all five years. It just gets better and better. It is one of the more ‘challenging’ rides that I do. I would compare it to Leatherwood, another must do ride, that I have had to miss the last couple of years due to the date, which falls on same date of one or our DBDR rides.

The South East has experienced a lot of rain this year...a LOT. And more than one ride has had to make camping or trail last minute decisions. It fell to Don and Nicki Meuten and their fabulous volunteers to that task, since the ride camp borders the New River. Fortunately, the ride was on! But, there was MUD...however, Tom Hagis and his golf cart got us all in there without a hitch. At least not that I ever saw...:) Four wheel drive is a good thing... He even got our little group parked together even though we arrived two different days..Thank you!

Since the first of our group got there on Wed. we were able to stretch out the work. Often times these rides can be a production. Vicki Crance and her horse Banjo hitched a ride with me. Greg Jones and Mary Lynn Stockdale, and Mary Kolb all got ourselves driven and parked within a few, well several hours of driving. Mary had the farthest to go but also managed to hook up with us so as to caravan down. No blown engines, no flat tires...whew! We got set up, horses in their corrals, (a bit on the muddy side), awnings out, etc, etc. I think I mentioned MUD.

Don and Nicki had generously invited we early arrivals to their place (Forever Young) for a cook out. Since this is also where all of the away vet checks would be located both days, we decided to take some of the bigger items on up so as to ‘stake out’ our crewing area. As always, in real estate terms, it is location, location, location...especially if a rider is planning to run up front. Minutes count! 

A short description of Don and Nicki’s place ~ FABULOUS! Not in the $$mansion sort of way, but in the magnificent setting and, it looks like a scene from a film shot in Montana. Truly an endurance horseman’s paradise! Add to that the friendly atmosphere and good food, spectacular sunset, and well, it was a very nice beginning of a much looked forward to weekend of endurance.

The rest of our group arrived on Thursday, David and Marcy Gagnon, Cindy Young (in her new truck, Elvis), Dee Dee McDonald, and Karen Cummings, Amy & Annie Whelen, Beverly Pack, Jennifer McCreary, Carol Steiner ( also an early bird) Robby and Diane, also early birds and Debra Lacomette made up the DBDR group...what a force!

At the riders meeting, Don and Nicki and volunteers entertained us (kept us all laughing) with tales and jokes until we finally got down to business. We all had maps and directions for the trails, explained the ride markings, for both distances etc. Cindy and David went out to the vet area to set up and had to leave the meeting early. I was a bit worried since she didn’t’ come back until well after dark. Those are some narrow twisty roads, and the Meuten’s driveway can be down right scarey. But, alas, I finally heard her voice since we were parked cheek to jowl...

Noways and Banjo

Friday: Riders for our immediate group this day were, Mary Lynn, Greg, Mary and Karen in the 55 mile ride, and Vicki in the 30 miler. Crew: Cindy, Dee Dee, and myself. We had three tents set up in a very good location, close to the pulse area. We were close enough to the other riders/crews to visit and help out where needed. Crewing is one of those hurry up and wait occupations, which means we do a lot of snacking...nom, nom, nom.. We also do a lot of math. “OK so and so left at such and such time, so at the pace she/he is going they should be in here and such and such time. So, lets go get a snack...

As expected, Karen and Mary came in first along with some other front runners. Around an hour and half for the 15 miles.  50 minute holds with a pulse of 64. No problem. Horses looked great.  Karen and Mary got to take care of themselves  while their crew took care of their good ponies. They were in and out and looking good, as they took off on the second long loop. A 24+ mile loop with a mandatory 15 min hold. No pulse, just a rest with lots of volunteers to spoil us with water, hay, and people snacks. Definitely a frills ride! Next in were Mary Lynn and Greg. Again, no problem, same routine and we had located all those things that sort of get misplaced in all the ‘must haves’ we seem to not be able to get along without. The challenge this day was keeping the blankets and coolers dry enough to wrap ourselves in once the horses were out on the trail again. Yes, it was down right cold up on that mountain with a strong breeze and occasional rain. Trails were getting slick, but doable.  Then Vicki came in and again, no problems, she was in and out and in her case she was headed back the fifteen miles to camp. More snacks for us as we shivered under the now leaky tents...still fun though. We are nuts.

Karen and Mary still together when they arrive for their second VC. And again, they pulsed down within minutes of each other, so they were soon vetted through and out again. We started to get our ‘stuff’ together thinking to bring Cindy’s truck up (as in one way traffic up the mountain,) as soon as Mary Lynn and Greg were out, so as to get back to camp to once again prepare for the finish. Vicki would have to finish by herself, as we wouldn't be back in time to help her. But we had buckets and sponges out near the VC, so she would be covered. Actually, we were doing some loading while Mary Lynn and Greg were still in. But, that made it easier to know what they needed back at camp and what could be left for the next day. Worked great having the VC at the same location!

At this point, I don’t know who placed where, but everyone that rode finished except one..poor Beverly’s horse was lame at the first VC :(.  On a terrific note, our little Annie got her first 1000 miles!!  Yahoo!

So, all loaded up in Elvis, lowered the tents so they wouldn't blow away, and headed back down to ride-camp. Unloaded, Elvis, and prepared to help our finishers. Vicki was in and getting something to eat.  Noways is back in his pen. He had to be moved to a temporary pen so he could be by some of his buddies, since all of his traveling buddies had gone out this day, and he REALLY doesn't do well when his buds leave him. Thank you, Cindy and Dee Dee, for the help with that!!

Karen and Mary came in, in the top ten...can’t remember where. Both horses looked good! Mary Lynn and Greg came in later, and their horses also looked great. Gus ‘the Great’, Mary Lynn’s pony really looked good, dancing along at the trot out. Riders looked a bit is a tough trail and demands total attention from both rider and horse. Actually, all of us were a bit tired, but now it was time to check in our horses for tomorrow’s ride, and load up Greg’s truck with our gear for tomorrow’s crew at the VC.

Had a fun time at the potluck, and also another entertaining evening with the awards and ride meeting. DBDR’s get a bit carried away with the cheering when one of ours gets their award...:) But, that is what it is all about, right. A challenge met, an accomplishment that most of mankind has no idea of. A well deserved cheer is always welcomed by all. We clap for all finishers, we are all in it together in the end. The one rider who finished with only one minute to spare...louder for her...whew. And one rider was still on the trail, lost? In the dark...yikes...She was found at 1 AM. Her horse didn't like the cows on the range land, and she got stuck there...what an experience for her. I’m sure she got the ‘hard luck’ award.

Saturday: This is totally from my point of view. Others may have and probably did see it differently. 
First, I did not wake until my alarm went off, that never happens, but boy I got a great nights sleep! A good start for me! Put the last minute things in Greg’s truck, tacked up Noways and headed down to the timers to check in. Noways was nice and steady, making me happy. No humping up, no twitchy ears, no evil eye, just very business like. :)) Met up with Karen and Cindy, did some last minute plotting which usually goes out the window once we start, but at least we had something to talk about while trying to settle our nerves and walking the horses to warm up. For me this is the worst part of the whole ride experience...And the count down makes it worse, those are the slowest minutes.

Finally we are off, and we maneuver to a good spot while we traverse the narrow rocky roadway that follows the river for a bit, (picture shear rock cliffs dripping with moss up on one side, the other is a shear drop-off down to the river which was roaring, with occasional dips that have fallen away.) then into the boulder strewn creek (picture ‘Last of the Mohicans’). Fog was lifting and the horses were blowing with anticipation, but still steady. I love my horse. Then up the switchbacks. Very steep and very narrow, no mistakes here.  Nancy Sluys was standing at a spot, with a shovel, on a switch back that had deteriorated during the night. She had given up her ride, to get it fixed so we wouldn't fall off the edge...THANK YOU!

I finally realized I had forgotten to turn on my Endomondo (GPS) so it would be about a mile behind the actual mileage and time. Karen was up ahead with a group of front runners and Cindy and I were just behind them enough that they went out of sight occasionally. Just trying to stay steady. 55 miles is a long way... Noways likes Bandit and is agreeable to using him as brakes to hold down his eagerness. This works well all the way to the first VC. I did have to get off once to adjust my saddle pad. I had forgotten to put the rubber thingy between the saddle and pad. I was beginning to be very aware of a rub on the inside of my left knee, and a very irritating rub on a very private part...good grief, I had forgotten another preparation I usually do to prevent this. Not sure which was getting the most attention. But one learns to block it out and trot on...After all it is endurance.

First VC. Boy is it nice to have a crew, a real treat when we usually manage without. Noways is well into his race mode now, and is anxious to get it done. Off comes the saddle and bridle and boots, on goes the water. I keep the hand held HM on him while my crew sponges. I swear I think they (horses) know what we are looking for. When he is a steady 60-64 we walk to the pulse box. He is still dancing around a bit, but is down immediately. 5 min. from arrival time. Bandit is right behind me, but his pulse is hanging. So we wait so we don’t make it worse for him. As soon as they call out Cindy’s number we head to the vets. Another pulse check, metabolic check and trot out. All A’s Yahoo! Vicki takes over Noways and I grab the Desitin and head for the porta-potti. 50 minutes sounds like a long time, but it fly’s by when one is trying to eat, drink, make tack adjustments, rest and take care of a hungry horse. But, it is so much easier when one has the help we had. I didn't even have to lift that heavy saddle up on tall Noways, thus saving my wreaked shoulder. Thank you, Greg! Squirt in the electrolytes and mount up. The second loop is the long one with the 15 min. hold. We leave a different direction than in years past, and I liked it better too. This is the yellow loop that is to be a bit different than the first day. We were feeling good and so were the horses. Canter and trot, canter and trot. Desitin is failing fast. Ouch again... We are traveling good, and Noways finally says he would prefer to do some walking up a hellishly long hill, so we do. I let him decide what speed he wants to take those long hard pulls. Then he picks up a trot, then we walk a few steps, then he picks up a trot, and so on until we finally get to the top and start down ~ fast...I don’t like to canter down hill and hold him to a trot, but boy he is flying. We had caught the front runners on that uphill, but they hung with us until we got to a water trough. Ride management puts out lots of these along the way and in places that the horses are looking for a good drink. THANK YOU! 

Finally Noways decides to start drinking. With six horse heads in the trough, the water goes down fast... There is a spotter here (I think this is the place) and he says he isn't sure where we go. Cindy sees an AERC arrow and says, “Looks like here.” We had let the four front runners go ahead, so our ponies could relax a bit. I was hoping Noways would settle too. Didn't happen. So after waiting a minute or two we go ahead.  This is where we really messed up!!! I am still confused as to what we did, and have studied the map, and directions and still can’t figure it out... so having the map and with me would not have helped me either. But what I really hate is that rider error, always makes the horse pay the price... we don’t realize we have made a mistake until we ride into the hold area. Where we are met with a very upset volunteer, who says we are running too fast, and racing to pay attention...huh... We were not galloping blindly down the trail at all. I keep my lips sealed, but Cindy lets her’s loose! Ah oh. Whew, along with some other riders vocal disappointment at being told we could only get a completion, the tone was not good... After a bit of milling around, and talking it over...she told us how we could still get a placing. We would have to go out the gravel road maybe a mile? Can’t remember now, turn into a trail that we had missed, go around that loop and back to the hold area, skip the hold and go back the way we had come (that hellish long climb) the correct direction, then continue on. Certainly the wind had been sucked out of our sails, but we all elected to do the extra miles (the correct direction) so as to at least get a placing rather than a completion. Nancy drove up to the trail turn off so we wouldn't miss it this time...THANK YOU! And we crawled up that Iron Mountain trail. Steep, hot, muddy, rocky. Our horses were working. We six were all together at this point (misery loves company). We discussed what had actually happened, trying to figure it out. By the time I listened to all of the discussion, I couldn't say what had happened, except the volunteer (poor guy) had said he had yelled at the first four, but they continued on since they were going so fast. But, I certainly didn't hear anything, and Cindy and I were still at the water tank when they left...When we later arrived at his check point, he apologized, I really felt for happens. Actually, this is the third time a volunteer has steered me wrong...oh well, I often stir myself wrong, what can you do but continue on.
Noways is a good hill horse and was getting unsettled about the slow pace the first horse was going up that hard climb. I say something to Karen and we slowly go around horses until we are now leading the group. Cindy is right behind us and we continue on that technical trail all the while still wondering aloud how we went wrong...Finally we head back down and onto a very narrow trail, covered with Rhododendrons s, and ferns, really, really pretty, (would have been down right beautiful if I had done this right), then finally back onto the gravel road and to the hold area again. Whew...I love my horse.

Well darn, we've made a pilot error!

The volunteer, Gina, has been in contact with the RM and explains again, much calmer, what we had to do, which is what she had said before, so all is now in order. I have to admit that when she said, she had been in contact with RM, I was thinking something had changed again. Geeze... We get the horses a drink and grab some snacks and off we go to repeat the trail again, so as to be going the right direction...Noways didn't hesitate at all and picked up a steady trot going up that hill. I love my horse. At this point Terry and Jesse,  had dropped back to take it easy, and we three girls continue on at a steady pace. We get a little strung out, then, Karen calls out that Cindy isn't with us any more! What! We slow to a walk, no Cindy, we start calling down the mountain, no Cindy. What to do? Called some more. I really didn't want to make even more steps for Noways now, so we continue on thinking that the guys would be with her soon and if she was having trouble, they could help...but, we worried and worried... So now it was Karen and I. We gripe to each other about our misfortune, and joke about it too...until we finally get back to the creek we cross before heading up to the VC again. What a relief to be almost done with that extra long loop. The horses drank and drank and took some time to graze on the grass on the creek bank. Our people water was gone and it was tempting to help ourselves to that beautiful creek. By this time my feet would have enjoyed some cooling off. It was a toss up as to what part of my body hurt the most now.

Back to the VC and everyone jumps in to help us. This is when a crew is pure heaven! Again Noways was in the pulse box in 5 minutes. Mary Lynn agrees to trot Noways for me. THANK YOU!  My feet and legs are done for. All A’s again, with an A- for guts sounds. Back to the tent and he chows down on everything in sight. I head back to the porta-potti with the Desitin.  Now David arrives. He is having a good ride! And still smiling since he did not take the right trail the wrong way...:)
Again we saddle up. Karen is a few minutes behind me, so I wait to go out with her. Riding alone when one is that tired is a trial. I figured we would both benefit with each other’s company. Not to mention the horses would be happier too. So off we go again, but this time we knew the way for sure, and the horses were eager to get home too.
Down the steep hill, through the range lands, cows were on the trail this time, into the woods, along a gravel road, up a long climb on the gravel road, to a water tank. Noways says no to the water this time and dances around wanting to go. More climbing. A very discouraging sign says 9 more miles...moan...on we go, then finally down hill. Noways likes to fly, my feet are screaming. On and on. Cross the highway. 6 more miles, pass the headless horse (stuffed) hanging in the trees. Stop to read the offensive sign.  Actually, it is pretty funny. Trot, trot, trot. My vision is getting strange, hum mm. Karen screams out. A bee or some evil bug has stung her on the neck...gosh what do I do if she has a reaction. Am I thinking straight enough to help? Wish I had worn my waist bag with my Benadryl in it...But, on we go and she stays on. Finally, on the switchbacks, a couple catch up to us here. Into the creek, still Noways is in too much of a hurry to drink, and he sure does not want those other horses to pass him now! I don’t give a crap.  Up on the narrow rock road along the river. Trot, canter, trot, feet are demanding I stop! But, on we go and at last, blessedly there is Nancy Gooch and a small cheering crowd. (That little detail was so uplifting.) THANK YOU! Marcy and Dee Dee!

Karen and I join hands and canter/trot over the finish.... We are shocked that we are in 14th position!! I don’t think I can explain the elation of that finish... I am close to tears. All pain vanished, for at least a half second.
We get our cards marked and walk, dismounted to the VC. We have an hour here to get our completion, but within 17 minutes Mary Lynn and Vicki have Noways and Cruiser (Karen’s pony) cleaned up and cooled. I have only been pulled once at the finish, and it really, really sucks. But, Noways looks good and I had no doubt he was fine. And he was.  Again all A’s but for on B on guts. CRI 52/48. I love my horse...:) Terry said we had done 65 miles...I don’t know how far it was, but certainly more than I had expected for the day. We started at 7 Am and finished at 5:57 PM, one long day in the saddle. Karen said we could now do a 100...huh, with a morphine drip, maybe...
Cindy and Bandit made it in with Terry and Jesse, a bit later. She said Bandit quit on her on that climb and it scared her so she got off and waited. By the time the guys caught up to her he picked up and went along with them. He also finished just fine. Smart horse, he had already done his due and didn't want to do it again...:)

Dee Dee finished her 30 miler in the top ten!

At awards, Cindy got a special award for, ah um, shall we say, being the most pissed off...:) Amy and Karen were the toughies that rode both days, on different horses, but boy that is a lot of hard miles. My hat is off to you two.

I ate my dinner in a near comma, while Noways chowed down in his ice boots. Stumbled around walking Noways. Stumbled to awards, got my $90 T shirt, stumbled to bed and collapsed...good god the things we do to have fun...

Felt good the next morning only a bit stiff, feet much better too. Walked the ponies again, went to a fabulous breakfast the Fire Dept. made for us. What can possibly smell better than bacon cooking... We ate like we were starved. Got together to talk over our adventures, got a picture made of our group. Got all our rigs out of the parking area without a single spin, and headed home...Whew what a ride!!!

Not only do I want to thank Don and Niki and all of their dream team, for being just ‘everywhere’,  but a special thanks to Mary Kolb who gave me her full propane tank when I discovered the first night, that both of mine were empty...Hubby mistake...hummm he still swears I had a full tank. His story, and he is sticking to it.  Mary ran out soon after and had to use her cooler for her cold things...bless her. 

So, where to next?



  1. Bacon the next morning after a ride like that is the BEST! Congrats Janice!
    - The Equestrian Vagabond

  2. I really, really, really want to get to this ride one of these years - thanks for sharing the story!