Sunday, June 19, 2011

Bits, Ribbons, and Tie Dye: Hat Creek Hustle 2011

Well, we did it. Despite some very DUH moments, Blaze and I made it through the Hat Creek Hustle LD ride (25 miles) and came in 8th place. I would be extra triumphant about being top 10 but there were only 13 completing riders in the race so its not that amazing. Still, it went well and Blaze gave it his toughest go. I am extremely glad I got pads put on him as the promised lava rocks were there in force. Even with pads he had a few oo-aaa-eee moments over the rocks but I'm thinking it was more the impossibility of getting a flat footing on large pointy rocks than actual discomfort as he was freshly (a week and a half ago) shod and padded all the way around. We actually drove home last night after dinner and the awards, got home around midnight. We had been planning to stay and come home this morning but I finished about noon which gave us the whole afternoon to rest. We pulled out of ride camp around 8 pm and were showered (YAY!) and in bed by midnight. I do the driving with the horse trailer so I was pretty beat when it was all said and done. Actually, I am still beat today. My ankle is a little swollen and sore as well. I only ran a mile or so all told in the race but I had a few ankle rolls on the uneven soft forest-y ground that I think inflamed it a little. In general I prefer to give Blaze the night to rest at camp but it sure is nice to have all day Sunday after rides to just loaf and nap! And to get that first hot shower before bed, ooh la la! As for today, I honestly can't be bothered to unpack my truck at the moment. At least I got the perishables out of the cooler, right? :)
Okay, now back to the beginning! I did all my packing for the race Thursday as we intended to leave early Friday. I decided to wash Blaze's green Beta tack in the washing machine as I love how shiny and new it comes out with such minimal effort. More on that later. Everything was packed and ready for our 7 30 a.m. departure and the husband, Georgia the chihuahua, and I headed out on time. The drive up was easy and pleasant enough, it was 150 miles from our door to ride camp. I really didn't realize how high we would climb to get to the ride, so I barely brought enough warm clothes and blankets for cooler climate. It was warm when we arrived but quickly cooled and was probably 38 degrees overnight, which is a little different than our mid 50s we had adjusted to here in the valley! Luckily I snagged my husband's polar fleece jacket on the way out the door of the house; I commandeered it and wore it all night and for the start of the ride the next morning. Vetting in went fine and I explained Blaze's interference mark(s) and cut off his wrap to show the vet, she notated the card and all was well there. The theme of this years ride was Tie Dye and bizarrely enough I chose to wear my iRide t-shirt I got at AERC convention which happens to be tie dyed!

back of ride t-shirt

Vetting in. The vet in tie dye is Lindsay Graham!

I had no idea they did themes but clearly the force was with me on that one. Where the force wasn't so with me was on the whole bringing my bit thing. Remember how I said I decided to wash my tack? Well, I un-clipped the bit on its hangers and hung it on Blaze's bridle rack, then took the bridle to the house to wash it. Dried it in the sun, popped it in the trailer. Never went back and got the bit. I tacked up for an evening ride Friday at camp before the ride meeting, put on the bridle, put my hand back in the trailer to grab the bit and said something close to "@8-%&(!%&@(#!!!!!!" No bit. NO bit. Not even the S hackamore. Here, panic sets in. Incredulous panic. Okay, stop, breathe, this is an endurance ride, shit happens, somebody must have an extra bit. Luckily Blaze goes in your most basic, average snaffle bit, so its a likely spare to be found. What if I had some crazy confounded contraption that no one else would carry? You can see that I still don't believe I did this by that rhetorical question. Who forgets the BIT? Really. Okay, we all make mistakes, so off I go with my ice-breaker, Georgia (not sure that an anti social Chihuahua is a great ice breaker but she is kinda cute), to find a bit.

Georgia the ice breaker

Our immediate next door neighbor didn't have any extras but the folks next to her had 2 spare snaffles, just no bits hangers. Yep, I left my spare bit hangers at home too. Extra bridle, but no extra bit hangers. Or bit. Duh duh duh duh duhhhh! They offered me a complete bridle set but it was a sort of thin rope bridle and I wanted to try to keep the bridle situation as close to normal as possible (and some small part of me rebelled at ruining my forest green color coordination!!! I confess). There were so many more camps to check that I knew I could find some bit hangers and just be able to throw that on Blaze's own bridle. I did borrow their D ring snaffle and journeyed on through camp looking for bit hangers. I got literally 4 husbands who said "well, I really don't know, when the wife gets back you could ask her!" which was really classic and hilarious. Very willing to help but no clue what bit hangers were. Actually some of the riders I asked didn't know what I meant by bit hangers either which I found pretty bizarre. I was under the impression it was a common bridle set up but a lot of folks only had the full headstall that goes on over a halter and were confused by the bit hanger request. Maybe everyone was hitting the bottle early? Haha! Not really, but I am noticing that endurance riders really enjoy their alcohol for the most part. There was an older fellow who literally stumbled through the woods past our camp and on up the way, weaving around into people's sites like he couldn't remember where home was. Anyway, I finally found a lady with bit hangers, and, best of all, they were black! Of course I would have taken them gratefully no matter the color but the black just meant that they blended in nicely with my tack. :) I was just putting the bit in Blaze's mouth to finally head out for a little ride when the guy that lent me the bit came over and said his wife wasn't feeling well and they were leaving. I offered to give the bit back but he said "Nah, don't worry about it, just mail it back when you're done" and gave me their address! I couldn't believe it, how wonderfully generous of them to just lend me, a complete stranger, an essential piece of tack without a moment's hesitation, then trust me to mail it back whenever. I am putting it in the mail tomorrow morning, and am SO grateful to them for enabling me to actually ride this ride! Blaze was feeling strong and frisky and while I probably could have managed to do the ride without a bit, it would have been a ridiculous battle, especially at the beginning. Hooray for the generosity and kindness of endurance riders!

Borrowed D-ring bit & hangers. Thanks folks!

The race started at 7 and I was surprised at how few riders there were. 15 people started and 13 finished. I think there were about twice as many 50 mile riders, and there was a 25/50 again today, Sunday but with even less riders. The camp was pretty full up though so they clearly limited the ride entries to what the venue could handle. It was a lovely camp, by the way, in the big trees with lots of shade, wild flowers, and very bright green moss.

Okay I feel like this story is getting a little jumbled but I must say, I am tired. Rooster and birdies woke me up at 6 after getting to bed at midnight. I will try to keep on track. Start of the ride: I was behind a group of 3, one of whom not very politely told me not to "get behind her at the start" when I briefly had to move over to the right side of the road, yes behind them but not that close, to let a group of oncoming riders pass. And the race hadn't started yet. Oh well.

Heading to the start

They took off at a trot at the actual start and I did as well, to get some space between me and the horses behind me who were acting up pretty strongly. Once I was well ahead of them I dropped back to a walk and had a mini battle to keep Blaze walking as the 3 ahead sped out of sight. I found the gap between the riders in front and behind and we stuck there for the first 10 mile loop. It was nice dirt/sandy single track trail winding through trees, then looping back to a gravel road and on home to camp. The end of all the loops, and also the finish line, ran below our camp site in easy sight so I could call up to Josh when I was heading toward the lunch vet check and he was waiting there at the finish as well. We did the 10 mile loop in an hour and a half and Blaze pulsed right down to 52 back at camp. We had to pull tack with only a half hour hold so things were a little rushed, but Blaze got all As with an A- on gut sounds, as usual. He is always quiet on gut sounds coming in off the trail but once he starts pigging out you can hear his gut burbling just standing next to him. He wasn't interested in his Bar Ale feed or his hay but grazed a bunch and had some carrots, then it was time to head out on the 15 mile loop. Oh, he drank great throughout the ride, tanking up before the ride, out on the trail, and back in camp for the hold. The temperature was quite cool in the morning and never hot all day, but there were plenty of water troughs put out everywhere on the trail, mostly at major trail turns. We headed off down a gravel road for the start of the 15 mile loop and it was very quiet, only the slightly muffled sound of Blaze's padded hooves. About a half mile out I saw a large snow white owl sail through the trees and across the road in front of us! It was really beautiful and I tried to see where it landed but it moved quickly. I'm not 100% sure it was an owl, since my distance vision is crap, but I can't imagine what other white bird would be gliding smoothly through the trees like that. We trotted for a couple miles and when I slowed to let Blaze walk down a hill I heard voices behind me. A pair of riders passed me and said hello and I really thought I recognized one of the gals, but it didn't come to me right away. We ended up together again at the next water troughs and I was still trying to figure out who this gal was. I took off before them and started up a long, gradual hill, with a nasty amount of quite nasty rocks. We walked and walked up this hill and then the trail started to peter out, and suddenly I was looking frantically for ribbons and couldn't remember when I last saw one. We finally came out of the barely-there trail onto another gravel road without a ribbon in sight. Yep, we missed something somewhere and were off trail. It was a really unfriendly rocky climb to the top and Blaze was pretty winded, but we turned and walked back down the hill. Luckily (for my peace of mind, not for them) we came around a corner after about a quarter mile and saw the two gals from before. I called "hey, are you lost?" and they looked quite confused and said, "No, I mean, we don't think so.." I pointed out there were no ribbons around and I had just hit the road at the top with no ribbons. The gal I recognized got off her horse and jogged back down the trail looking for ribbons. When she took of her helmet and I saw her wearing a bandanna I suddenly remembered I had ridden with her testing out a horse she was selling for a client, and she was the one that inspired me to get the wrist Garmin for mileage etc. I asked her riding partner if the gal's name was Amber and yep, sure enough it was her, AND the riding partner was the one that actually ended up buying that gelding I had tried out. She wasn't riding him in this ride but said she had done some rides on him and enjoyed him. He was a lovely horse but I am very happy with my mare and then filly I ended up with! Amber didn't yell anything up to us and we didn't want her to have to walk back up the nasty hill so we headed down and found her another quarter mile down the hill and still no ribbons. Finally about a mile down we found the sharp right hand turn we had missed! Oops! The trail was straight up hill and wide and clear at that point so we all just looked straight ahead and kept on going, instead of seeing that sharp right turn off the trail. We wasted at least 30 minutes and two miles of awful hill on that mistake, but oh well. (Lots of other riders did it too, turns out, and they promised to mark that turn with water troughs next year) The three of us were together for another couple of miles then they stopped for bathroom breaks and photos so Blaze and I headed out alone. The trail got really nasty rocky and was threading along the side of a cliff with a good drop off, which was slightly alarming on a semi-clumsy horse, but the view of the slopes of forests and higher, the snow covered mountains, was pretty spectacular. Should have brought my camera on that loop but didn't. Here is a snap by Josh:

We finally got off the steep rocky trail and rejoined the end of the first loop, then had the last few miles of wide, nice trail through the woods back to the finish line. The long walk over the rocky trail had Blaze and I both impatient and when I asked for a trot on the nice trail he stretched out into his biggest extended trot, and even broke into an easy canter for half a mile or so. We came across the finish line with 4 hrs and 30 minutes of riding time, plus the half hour hold, so technically a ride time of 5 hrs.

Crossing Finish line

We got passed by a couple of people thanks to that missed turn and wasted that half hour but that's really okay as I was just glad to finish the ride with a healthy horse and in spite of the forgotten bit and missed ribbons. They offered to pulse me down at the finish line but we had really hauled the last few miles so I opted to walk him over to the vet check itself and pull his tack before I pulsed. He was down below 60 by that time and we got right through to final vet check with no line. Blaze ended up with all As, possibly a B on gut sounds I honestly don't remember. He tanked up on water before and after the vet check and was gobbling the alfalfa and carrots the volunteers had put out.

Final vet check

We were back at camp and relaxing by 12:30. Blaze napped before he started eating again, but eventually he tucked into his Distance pellets and had some hay. He got more stressed out by horses going by on the trail below camp throughout this ride experience than he has in the past, even doing a little mini rear once while tied to the trailer! Dork! He never got too out of hand though, it was like horse goes by, Blaze whinnies and gets nutty for 10 seconds, and he's over it. He tried to be alert to horses going by after the ride but he was really sleepy and his eyes kept closing when he had a mouthful of hay. I felt about the same and Georgia, the husband, and I hit the tent for a nap. Speaking of, the husband went fishing both days and caught a couple of fish which was a nice perk for him.

Ride dinner was at 6 and as usual after rides I ate a giant plateful and was hungry an hour later. Awards started and Dr. Lydon wasn't calling the placements in the 25, just names, but he happened to say "lets see, came in 8th, oh here we go, Aurora Grohman" so we found out where we finished. Amber and her riding partner actually finished ahead of me because they pulsed down and got their finish time right at the line where I walked over to the vets to do it, but I really am glad that Blaze had pulsed down that quickly after that extra hill we accidentally took and trotting so strongly to the finish line.

Gotta get that tie dye! Notice Dr. Lydon in the hat, aka "that guy with the
mustache who always wins" according to husband

After awards we finished packing and headed on home, and here we are today, all happy and healthy, if a little tired!


  1. haha awesome - you guys really had a great time. you know, if nothing had gone wrong, it wouldn't have been as good or as memorable of a story :) despite the soreness, I'm glad everything turned out nice and you both are feeling good

  2. Great ride story! I hope Hat Creek isn't on my anniversary weekend next year - I'd love to go. Rob Lydon is a trip! He does a lot of NV rides - I think he lives out here. Beautiful ride.

    I think forgetting your bit is a good excuse to just never wash it again ;)