Old Dominion 2014, A 50 Mile Perspective...
Off an on over the years as I've done endurance and competitive trail, I have thought I’d like to try the Old Dominion endurance ride one more time. The year I first started endurance, is when I decided to tackle that monster...but, I was much younger then and really didn't think of it as a ‘monster’, just a very long ride. I did all of one competitive trail competition as a warm up to the OD in 1975, on a five year old half Arab mare that I bred. Oh my, ignorance is truly bliss. My sister and a neighbor friend went also. My dear Dad was our crew. It was an adventure in many ways. My sister did get her buckle on an Appaloosa with only minutes to spare. Sister was lame for more than a week. My friend didn't finish and neither did I. Looking back, I probably should have gone on and finished but, caution and ignorance made me pull at around 75 miles.
So, I tried it again on the same mare 1977. Again we failed to finish. This time it was me, unable to control a medical condition that has dictated my life way too often. But, we did make it to around 80+ miles. This time that friend that was with me before got her buckle, and another friend that joined us this time, got hers too... so, at least some of us were successful.
Took a break from distance riding now and then to family commitments, life in general and still that darn little medical condition. Bred and rode a few horses along the way, did some showing with my kids, then back to distance riding, mostly CTRs, with an occasional endurance ride and several LDs when my granddaughter joined me. Amazing how times passes.
Anyway, that Old Dominion was still nagging in the back of my mind. Talked to others that had done it, some loved it some hated it. Always they talked of the ROCKS and hard surface. My current main ride, Noways (the one who taught me how to fly) is a fast horse who loves to canter, but is also a great mountain horse. He never, ever gives up and has many times kept me going when I’d just a soon slow up. He would be my first choice for the 100, however, like me he has some years on him and I have to pick his races. And I didn't feel he was 100% at this time.
My newest horse, of four years, Titan who I mostly got for my granddaughter, Paige to ride in order to keep up with Noways, is a more mellow boy and can start feeling sorry for himself when things get tough. But, he is steady and strong with great legs and feet. So, I was strongly considering him as my mount for the third try, 39 years later!
To test myself, I rode back to back 50 milers at Top of The Rock in May. I was exhausted after the second day’s ride and made Titan’s back sore, I’m sure because I was not riding as balanced as I should have been. Granted both horses got 3 rd place, so we were not moseying along.
So, I rethought it all over and over...finally decided the 50 miler at OD was enough challenge for my old body.
We had a Kentucky contingent going, so it was way more fun. Robby and Diane Doll (who was going for her third OD 100 mile finish), Mary Lynn Stockdale and her husband, Greg Jones, Mary Kolb, and myself who were hoping for 50 mile finishes, and Vickie Crance who was going for the 25 miler.
I had only ridden Titan two times since his last race, where Paige had tied for first and BC at the Indy ride four weeks earlier. So I knew he was fit, but well rested, however, I on the other hand need to continue to ride or I get way too tired and sore. But, alas, I was in it, so off we went to Virginia for yet another adventure in the mountains.
We were camped next to a rider from Iowa who was riding Calvary 100. I was up when she was saddling up in the dark. It was so sweet to hear her talk to her horse as she kept putting on all they would need for the days ride...oh my the confidence one must have to tackle that trail as a Calvary rider! (Note: she did finish!)
Had my usual peanut butter and banana ride breakfast..it stays with me great, but oh I have to gag it down.
Pulled Titan out of his pen and he immediately started to shiver all over. It was cool but it was mostly nerves that had him humped up. Poor guy. He is mostly mellow, but internalizes his nerves. His butt muscles were bunched up so bad I was afraid he would tie up, so I saddled him and hand walked him hoping to warm him and settle his nerves some. Hard to do when everyone is doing the same, some walking, some trotting and some cantering...goodness. There were to be 65 of us in the 50. Warm up can be a bit nerve racking.
I checked everything and looked good, so I climbed up. He was still humped up some, but connected right away with Mary’s horse as we warmed up. Got off again to tighten the saddle one last time then made our way to the start.
Mary Lynn and Greg opted to start later in the pack, but we did see them at every VC though out the ride.
When we had less than a minute to start, I realized I had indeed forgotten something! My Renegade that I usually carry in case of a lost shoe...and this ride is one that you really don’t want to do without foot protection. Remember, ROCKS. It was like that moment in the Black Stallion movie when Alec looks down when the race was about to start and he realized The Black was bleeding from a kick to his leg. Alec wanted to stop, but The Black was having none of it, the gates opened and off they went...well, that was what it felt like. Titan was going ~ now! So off we went. I sent up a quick prayer, and told myself that he was just shod this week, and my farrier is one of the best... faith and luck had to be with me this day.
The weather Gods blessed us all day with clear skies and cool breezes and low humidity...a first for the OD in it’s history. And we got to enjoy it.
Titan can be a bit of a hand full at the beginning but manageable, so we clicked along getting into a good steady pace. It was still a bit muddy in places, but the rocks were the real challenge and started right away. We passed a few and some passed us, still we held steady, our goal being a good thoughtful pace for our horses abilities, and wanting to finish the ‘Beast of the East’ in good form without thoughts of racing.
With lots of twists and turn, ups and downs, for 15.7 miles, we eventually came into the first VC at Bird Haven. Oh my, it was a lovely shady place, but very confusing and congested. All distances come into this check, (I think around 160 horses) so the crews were set up in a close, unorderly fashion. Since none of us (Ducks) had a crew, we had to send our crew bags out with the volunteers. So, we had to do some walking and searching to find them. Then, find the pulse box, then the vets. Mary’s horse, Kracker and Titan pulsed down in the same minute I think about three minutes after arrival, so that was good. Then we had to find the out timer to get our out time. Not fond of this method.
Titan wasn't interested in food or water, which gave me pause and sent up alarms in my head...he was alert but only nibbling at the hay and food I had to hold for him. We had 45 minutes here, just enough to find the porta potty, down some water, refill our water bottles, and a snack for ourselves before heading out again.
I paid close attention to Titan as we trotted along. He wasn't very enthusiastic so I got more worried, but he was going along steady, and he often settles down after the first loop. So on we went. He perked up then after an half hour or so, thank goodness, and his electrolytes kicked up his thirst so he began to take advantage of the available water. Then we had the big climb ahead. Holy smoke! Up, up and more up. Hard pulling climb, add some rocks, big rocks, medium rocks, small rocks, rocks on top of rocks. There were times when I wasn't sure we were on trail and kept looking to see if there was a way around boulders that one had to navigate. Titan is a careful trail horse so we did OK, but still slipped and slid and sent up sparks. Our pace was just beyond a crawl. All the while I was hoping those shoes stayed on. Saw a few lost shoes here, and an Easy boot too... The farriers would be busy this day. Just please not me! It took us well over an hour to get over that monster mountain. This was the most difficult and the longest loop of the 50 miles.
As hard and challenging as it was, it was also incredibly beautiful...the mountain laurel was in bloom and hung over the trail. The occasional vistas went on for miles over the valleys and the breeze was like cold air conditioning...we are truly blessed.
Titan knew when we made that turn for home and really perked up. Hurrying on down the mountain on a rocky, sort of gravely road/trail. We took time to pull off trail on some grassy areas and let our ponies graze and let some riders who had followed us over the mountain pass. We continued on into Laurel Run VC. No crewing here, but more than half way through it now! Lots of great volunteers here to help in any and all ways..held our horses while we took care of ourselves, water, hay, even grain, which Titan thought was a good thing now. Thank goodness. Again our ponies pulsed and vetted through on the same minute. Mary Lynn and Greg were about 20 minutes behind us, having a good ride. So off we went again. Lots of gravel road this time, and I have to say it was a welcome relief...so we made some time here. The down hills were getting to my poor feet, and bothering Mary too, so we downed Advil and rode on through it, with occasional walking with our feet out of the stirrups, trying not to grumble too much...:)
Back to Bird Haven for the final check. Both horses ate good here, and we finally figured out how to get our out time so our horses could continue to eat. Still don’t care for this way of doing it. Without a crew member it is a real hassle. Anyway, this one was a short 20 minute hold, but we let the boys eat as much as was available and zipped everything up so the volunteers could pick up our bags to take back to camp. (It turned out that we had to unhitch and go get them ourselves the next morning. Thanks, Mary and Greg!) Then off we were again. Only 6 .5 miles to go! Titan was on a mission for home now and flew down the trail. Thankfully it was the best trail of the whole ride and we made good time. In short order, we were back on the main road to camp. Finished at 4 something...didn't get my ride card...bummer. We were surprised to find we were 13th and 14th placing.
Vickie was waiting for us and helped get us get untacked and cooled off. Titan took a bit longer than Kracker, but soon we both went to the vets and got our final check...
Vickie was kind enough to trot Titan out so I could see how he went too. He checked through great, but the Vet did comment that he sure was mellow, was that normal?...ha, ha. He was through with that trailography!
Wa Hoo...finally got a completion at Old Dominion, only a 50 miler, but still a good challenge but doable for us. Even got a buckle...:)
Mary wanted to get on home so got her ride shirt and started home. The rest of us decided to do the awards brunch and enjoy the whole ride to the end, even though we had a long drive in front of us.
It was delightful to watch the 100 mile BC judging and then the short talks from each of the 100 mile top ten. But, the best of all was the winner of that challenging 100 miles...a 14 year old girl, who was more than an hour ahead of the rest of the field...gives the sport hope for the future!
A huge thanks to the many, many helpful volunteers that make this challenging ride so enjoyable and to the management that had to organize it all...THANK YOU!