Walking along in the pitch dark at 3:30 a.m., trying to focus on something – anything – I actually dropped off to sleep in the saddle for a nanosecond and hallucinated a huge flock of black birds against the mountains on the horizon. That woke me up and I called up to Tami ahead: "Talk to me – about anything – I’m falling asleep here!". Not that Tami was in any better shape, and our fellow rider, Sally, had gone quiet half an hour earlier. We were 95 miles into the Virginia City 100 and the moon had set an hour or so ago.
It was around this point that I decided maybe I’d rather just be a 75 mile rider. When we’d come in off the 76 mile loop at 10 p.m. I’d been happy and bouncing. Uno had been happy and bouncing. We’d survived the 2000’+ climb up to the top of the ridge and the subsequent descent in the dark – thanking the endurance gods who guided us wrong two weeks previously during our pre-riding, causing us to cover more miles than intended. At the time it was a bit sad, but now as soon as we hit trail he recognised, Uno perked up and off we went.
Loop 1, Part 1
VC100 wasn’t like Tevis – I actually got to sleep the night before and didn’t feel totally nauseous all night. When the alarm went off at 3:15 a.m. I was relatively relaxed and didn’t feel like killing myself. We had to be on the horses by 4:30 a.m. to walk the couple of miles from camp to the 5 a.m. start in front of the Delta Saloon. It’s one of the more bizarre starts to an endurance ride I’ve ever done.
The sun starting to peek up over the mountains.
|Asking Tami before the ride what she thought the hardest thing about VC100 was, she replied with very little hesitation: "the rocks". They are a fact of life and something you have to learn to work around. Obviously, foot protection is super-important under these conditions.
35 riders started VC100 and of those I counted eleven horses that were wearing eitherGlue-Ons (7), Gloves (1), or Original Easy Boots over shoes (3). At the end of the ride, 26 horses completed – including ten of our booted horses. The only booted horse who got pulled (that I know about) made it 92 miles. Not bad.
The first 20 miles were among the fastest I’ve ever done – we got it done in 3 hours – needing to move out where we could and this was trail you could trot. …Actually you can trot most of the VC100 trail – so long as you only want to trot for 10 ft before slowing to prance through rocks.
When Uno gets going, he trots BIG. I seldom allow him to do it (just because he can, doesn’t mean he should), but this time around I let him have some fun and he trotted so big that the SPOT GPS locator clipped to my pommel pack went flying off (can you say "BIG action"?) and had to be retrieved by Dave (thanks Dave!). It got firmly tied on at the next stop.
At the road crossing, Uno had to stop to poop (he’s still learning) and got left behind when we couldn’t get across in time with the others – this explains his rather wide-eyed expression in this picture.
Quite by chance, we ended up riding the first 30 miles or so with fellow booters: AERC Hall of Famer Dave Rabe on White Cloud in Gloves; Carolyn Meier on Rushcreek Okay (great big feet – he wears a 3 on the front and 2.5s on the backs); and Tami and I, all in Glue-Ons.
My booting experience hadn’t gone quite as planned the previous week (so what else is new?) and I was enviously watching Fancy’s tidy little compact feet in her tidy little compact Glue-Ons, comparing them to Uno’s dinner plates.
Having struggled at Bridgeport last month to get Uno’s rear feet fitting nicely, this time around it only took me about 20 minutes to tidy up his back toes and glue. Ta-da! By contrast, I spent about an hour and half poking and rasping and squinting at his fronts and still wasn’t happy with the fit. <sigh>
Hindsight being everything, I’ve concluded that perhaps Uno’s feet have expanded enough that instead of trying to squoosh him into a 1.5 Glove, he probably needs a 2. Post-VC, he gets a month off and I’m going to leave his feet alone, then tidy them up, and refit him and see where we’re at.
Anyway – I was less than happy about the gluing job on the fronts, but you have to obsess about something, right? 🙂
After the road crossing, we dropped down the Old Geiger Grade – the old Toll Road – to the outskirts of Reno. I’d like to say I ran the whole 2.5 miles, but cimcumstances being what they were, I wasn’t in as good shape as I’d promised myself I would be (why are we not surprised by this?), so had to content myself with walking as fast as I could, interspersed with running for as long as my bad ankle would allow. But I took pictures! And I fed Uno some hay that mysteriously appeared by the side of the road mid-way down! Ambidextrous, I am.
Old Toll Road, looking down to Reno.
On the way down the grade, Tami and I picked up our third rider – Sally Hugdal – who’s riding partner had unfortunately pulled at the highway crossing. We were happy to have her and her mare, Ellie, who were going for their fifth consecutive VC100 completion.
Fancy led us in the last section through residential streets likity-split and we got to the first 24-mile vet check in 3 hours 40 minutes for our 45 minute break. My friends Renee and Russell Robinson had come all the way down from Eureka to crew for me, and they, together with local friend Crysta Turnage did a most excellent job catering to our every need – hand-feeding Uno slop and pretending to enjoy it when he covered them and everything within a few feet (including Crysta’s dog, Molly) with mush.
Please form an orderly line to sign up to crew for Uno in the future.
Dave Rabe coming into the 24-mile vet check.
Leaving the 24-mile vet check – Uno is replete.
Loop 1, Part 2
The next 15 mile section included the four mile foray through Bailey Canyon. I’d been hearing about this canyon for years – tales of woe about the awfulness of it, and indeed it was pretty gnarly – but, gah, it was fun. There is a sort of trail to follow… ish. We put Fancy in front, Ellie next, Okay, White Cloud and then Uno bringing up the rear, and blitzed through it – too much fun. I love this kind of trail – it’s a bit like a snow-boarders’ half-pipe, only with lots and lots and lots of rocks to clamber over before you scoot up the opposite side, duck under a bunch of tree branches, and then drop back down, clambering back over the creek bed rocks and up the other side.
At one point, all the riders got bunched up together and there were 14 of us going down the trail. A parade! Considering that 35 riders started, we had about half the field there for a while. Too funny.
After an hour of rock clambering, we finally hit Jumbo Grade and Fancy took off, with Uno in hot pursuit – they were wound a little tight from the slow pace in Bailey Canyon – so we flew down, Tami cursing Fancy for yanking on her bad knee (lots of surgeries in those knees) and trying to explain to her that having a bit of horse left later in the ride would be desirable. We stopped a couple of times to try and persuade them to drink and I even managed to sponge Uno in an inch deep creek. He was miffed – wanting to run after all the horses passing on by.
The last section crossed Washoe Lake State Rec Area to the 15-minute hold and a trot-by at 39 miles. This is every local rider’s favorite trail – a twisty singletrack that winds its way through the sagebrush. Fancy did her wide trot (she squats and goes wide in the back in order to lengthen her stride) and Uno cantered, and poor Sally and Ellie hung on in the back, as the tail of the dog. I know we were supposed to make time where we could, but this was ridiculous.
Excellent Crew were again at this stop, waiting to have slop dropped on them, to be itched on, and generally abused. Trot-bys completed, we scuttled around getting everything done – 15-minute holds are never long enough. Endurance riding being the glamorous sport it is, I dropped my tights to re-butter the insides of my knees and calves that were developing some hot-spots.
Loop 1, Part 3
After Washoe Lake State Rec, there is a loooonnnggg, hoooootttt, climb. All the previous enthusiasm waned and we trudged to the top. Some of this lack of enthusiasm from Fancy might have been because she knew that the SOBs were coming up – Tami and Fancy completed VC100 in 2007, so she certainly knew the trail. Uno had done this trail section before during Washoe Valley in the spring but in the reverse direction, so I’m not sure he remembered what was approaching.
Looking down on Washoe Lake at where we’ve come from.
Nevada is the land of long climbs.
Still climbing. The rabbit brush was all in bloom.
As we approached, I was weighing up:
Ride them = Use up too much horse (it’s Uno’s first 100 <bite nails>)
Walk them = Use up too much rider
But who’s doing most of the work, we ask? So I got off, and Tami and I slithered and slipped our way down. Tami took the lead on the way up the other side and I was grateful for every break that Fancy took (she was snacking all the way up), as I clung to Uno’s tail, watching his back feet about level with my thighs as we went up, wondering if I was going to get a rock flicked in my face.
There are few things more educational in order to learn about boot fit than tailing your horse up a steep climb. I was able to notice how the backs of Uno’s front boots were separating from his feet, but that the rears seemed relatively snug still. If your horse is wearing Gloves, you can watch how he digs his toes in, and what that does to the boots as he pushes off. It gives you an idea of how good your fit is.
Hyperventilating, we made it to the top and trudged on to the next descent – SOB #2. They get gradually less steep as they progress, so when we reached the bottom of this one, I scrambled back on and Uno felt pretty good from his short break – a lot better than I felt, at least, which was the desired effect.
Sally and Ellie trudging up SOB # 2.
We made SOB #3 with no difficulty and could finally enjoy the lovely view looking down on the lake and the mountains beyond.
Hands up who can guess what happened next? Remember me whining about the front boot fit? Yup, the right front came off. Sally noticed, so I hopped off and replaced it with a Glove from my pack (I always carry a full set of boots, just in case). Uno still had a lot of Glue left on his foot, so I had to use one of those handy NV rocks to give the Glove a couple of whacks to seat it back in place, and off we went again.
Finally, after more than two hours climbing, we reached the water stop at the cross roads at the top of Jumbo Grade, manned by volunteers Dave and Judy Jewkes. Let’s see? 24 miles in 3 hours 40 mins at the beginning of the ride when it was cool, while in the heat of the afternoon: 8 miles in 2 hours and 10 mins… I see how this goes.
The Jewkeses offered lemonade (that hit the spot!) and cookies, but we only stayed a few minutes before setting off down Ophir Grade for the 4 miles or so into Virginia City.
A quarter mile down, Uno’s left front flew off and hit the underside of my right foot (that was confusing) <grrr>. This wasn’t what I wanted, but oh well. Off I hopped again with my second sparsie Glove and on it went with the help of yet another handy rock (who knew they would be so helpful?) and off we went again.
40 minutes later we were back at camp in Virginia City, hot, tired, and crumpled – but half-way through.
For me this was probably the lowest point of the ride. I’d made the classic mistake of consciously thinking "Ack, we’re only 52 miles in and we still have another 48 to go – and I’m already at the pooped-out stage… not good". This is a BIG no-no for 100-mile riding. How does the old saying about "How do you eat an elephant?" go? One bite at a time. I should have been focusing on my hour hold, instead of the next 12 hours.
My friend Ann Blankenship took one look at me and started trying to get me to eat something. I am hopeless at eating on rides – and the tireder and hotter I get, the worse I get. However, Ann was in charge of Lucy-Intake during Tevis, so is familiar with my habits. She fetched me some baby wipes (ah, bliss), some lotion ("Age Defying" – perfect!), and a bowl of canteloupe melon.
While Uno scoffed slop next to me, I got to play queen – listing all the stuff I wanted done as I sat there like a wet rag.
Renee rasped off the excess glue on Uno’s fronts, so we’d get a closer fit for his Gloves; we replenished my sparsie Gloves on the saddle; Uno’s front pasterns were snugged into neoprene wraps (made from a weight-loss belt, of all things) to prevent any under-gaiter rubs; Crysta inspected a new loin rub* and got out the baby powder ready for saddling up; it was decided which clothing would be needed for the next leg – we’d be starting at 4:20 in the warm afternoon sunshine – and coming off the trail at 10 pm in the dark; more snacks (which I wouldn’t eat) were added to the pommel bag; the rump rug was rolled tightly and clipped on ready for action; and of course, I retired to the privacy of my trailer to re-butter those delicate areas that needed attention.
* I had opted to ride in Patrick’s treeless Sensation saddle for this ride. It is almost exactly the same as mine except for having a longer seat. Although I’d ridden 70 miles in it over the previous three weeks, apparently it wasn’t enough to show up this problem. Thankfully, Uno wasn’t sore from the rub during the ride, but I’m not sure bald, pink loins is a look I’m thrilled with. Back to my saddle from now on.
None of the three of us were thrilled to get going again on the 52-76 mile section. All our muscles had seized up and everything felt lumpy and stiff, so we walked for the first mile or so. Tami was a little concerned about Fancy, so she hand-walked her for a while to make sure everything was well. Fancy snacked the whole way, and was absolutely fine, so she needn’t have worried.
This trail was the portion I knew least about, so it was hard to aim for that "bite-sized" piece. Luckily it was beginning to cool off and as we got going again and began to trot, everything fell back into place again and we were off again.
We crossed the V&T railroad tracks a few times (Uno has decided that perhaps a troll doesn’t live under them, after all); passed a peculiar derelict set of buildings out in the middle of the desert – they looked like something out of a set for an "apocalypse film" – kind of creepy. Tami spotted someone’s lost vest on the ground, so scored big in being able to wear it for the rest of the leg and keep warm.
And after a few miles, we began to climb again. This would be our last major climb of the day – but it was a doozy – climbing for 7.5 miles, past the Jewkes at the Jumbo Grade water stop (stopped to snack and water the horses), continuing up to the very top at ~7,500 ft where you could look out across Washoe Valley as the sun finally set behind the mountains.
As we dropped down the other side, the twinkling lights of Reno came into view and Uno began to pick it up again. For the first time that day, he had shown signs of actually being tired towards the top of the climb – at about 65 miles – and I was a little worried about him. But now he was on trail he recognised and by chance we once again caught up with Dave and Carolyn so Uno was back with his main Herd du Jour and happy to have the company of familiar buddies. Instead of the trudging we’d been doing for the past hour, we were popping along, trotting the flats, jogging some of the downhills, and in no time came to the road crossing at Geiger Summit.
Excellent Crew were ready – they had buckets and pans and everything a horse could want – and Uno wanted it all, including the next door neighbour’s leftovers. It’s amazing how much stuff a horse can suck down in seven minutes before we were off again – we had a little more than 6 miles to go before getting back to camp for the next hour hold.
Back at camp at 76 miles, I almost felt like celebrating – Uno’s vet scores were far better than they had been at 52 miles – owing much to the fact that he was at last eating and drinking like an endurance horse should. He was cheerful and I was cheerful. Renee got me a pot-noodle which went down well, although the peanuts I attempted triggered the gag reflex, big time.
The hour hold flew by and in no time we were off again on our final loop, fitted with headlights, sweaters, wind-breakers and with the rump rug down.
The horses were quite cheerful leaving camp, which surprised me. I expected maybe a little baulking at having to repeat-in-reverse the route we’d just come in on through town. The two miles went without incident until we got to the cemetery at the outskirts and Uno suddenly realised what was going on. I think he thought maybe we’d go that far (as we had on our little pre-ride jaunt the day before) and then turn and head back to camp, so he seemed a little shocked that, no, we were actually going out on the trail again.
Even though we were all good to go leaving on the final leg, once we’d passed through town and started down on the trail, we all got a case of the paranoias. Having made it this far we really didn’t want to trip on a rock and have one of the horses go lame, so we turned into
ninnies ultra-cautious riders – opting to walk almost everything. We had 24 miles to go and six hours to get it done in. How hard could this be?
Tami and Sally, having both been in this position before, explained to me that once the horses got out there on the dirt road leading down the valley, they’d go into Power Walk mode and we’d just motor on through the loop.
This news was met with some sadness on my part. Uno doesn’t have a Power Walk. He has a shuffle. He has a trudge. But his idea of keeping up involves jogging. So I concluded that they’d Power Walk and we’d jog along behind.
To begin with, I was all enthusiastic. My knees were feeling a little crunchy from the walking, so I asked Tami if she would be happy trotting the odd section just to loosen them up. What we managed in the "trotting" department was pretty pathetic – we’d make it maybe 20 ft before walking again. But after a bit, that seemed just fine.
We had a bright, almost-full moon. The mountains rose up either side of us along the valley and we saw a small herd of wild mustang grazing quietly in the moonlight. It was quite magical. Sally had some glowsticks attached to her breast collar and a dim headlight, but they weren’t needed and Tami and I went with no lights (even though we carried headlights with us just in case).
This section of trail is an "out-n-back" with a lollipop at the far end with a vet-check. This is where we’d gotten chronically lost two weeks before, missing a turn, so even in the dark on a marked trail, we were vigilantly looking for that left turn.
There’s a section that crosses a chalk outcropping for a short distance and the chalk was so bright in the moonlight it looked like snow. At the back end of the lollipop we dropped into the rockiest part of that trail – and of course the moon was hidden behind the thick juniper trees. Soon enough we were back out in the moonlight, but sadly it was starting to set behind the mountains, so we were either plunged into pitch black, or had it shining directly in our eyes when it would peek out the last few times.
Just before the Cottonwoods vet check, there’s a peculiar spring where the water overflows onto the rutted road and we had to wade through it in one place. I remember worrying that Uno’s Gloves would get wet and pop off in the dark and that I was too far gone to be able to do anything about it. But of course they didn’t. At 2:20 a.m. when you’re reaching the last of your reserves, your brain does its best to cover all bases.
At Cottonwoods they greeted us with soup and hot drinks. Uno was ravenous and just wanted to eat and eat. Once again, there was one of those annoyingly useless 15 minute holds – no time to do anything except try to slurp down that soup – which made me queasy. There was a roaring fire and all *I* wanted to do was curl up in front of it. Instead, I was stuck holding the ravenous horse, blearily trying to scrutinise him to see if I could spot anything amiss. We were joined by a fourth rider at this point and I was last to vet through, so as soon as we were done, it was time to leave again. <sob>
My visions of spending ten minutes – that’s all I wanted – curled in front of the fire while someone else held Uno evaporated in a cold blast as I sadly climbed up the step-stool thoughtfully provided for the purpose of pathetic-rider mounting.
Uno wasn’t thrilled to be leaving behind the bucket of carrots that he’d wolfed his way through, or the piles of hay, but I finally got him going after his buddies and we set off for the final 8 miles. That’s all! And four of those would be trail that Uno had already done three times that day, so knew like the back of his hoof.
And here was the lowest point of the day – the four mile trudge back along the dirt road. The moon was gone. Any earlier energy and desire of "Let’s TROT!" was gone. And I was left with the uneasy feeling that I get driving home after a long day – that I was going to fall asleep at the wheel and there was nothing I could do about it.
But here was the surprise: Fancy and Ellie, now headed for home, got into their Power Walk and there was Uno, keeping up with them. ??Uno?? He does have a Power Walk, he just only uses it for very special occasions.
Uno even led us in the last few miles through the canyon like a grown-up. I couldn’t really see what the trail was doing and would find myself peering at a dark bush thinking it was a shaded tree tunnel we were going to go into, only to have Uno sweep us by – me teetering on top doing my best to stay with him.
Climbing the last short grade to the cemetery finish line, there was my Patrick waiting to greet us – and then we were done – it was 4:30 a.m.. We’d finished!!
Renee and Russell were there with more pone food and water and we allowed the horses a short snack before making the last pass back through town to camp and the final nail-biting vet check (which, thankfully, all three horses passed without incident).
Uno did so good he made me cry through much of that last journey through town. He had kept bopping along all day, staying cheerful almost the entire 100 miles. Itchy face and drooling aside, he had been the mellowest, easiest partner to share the day with and took my breath away with how strong he had felt throughout the ride.
At 5 a.m. we finally climbed down off the horses for the last time that day and set to work getting them ready for bed. Well, Excellent Crew did. I just sat there in a chair, looking pathetic.
And so goes the final chapter in the story of how Uno and Fancy won joint 5th place in the NASTR Triple Crown 2010 – by completing NV Derby 50 in April, NASTR 75 in June, and VC100 in September. We weren’t fast, but we were consistent. After the first 50, there were 20 horses signed up. By virtue of attrition, that number was down to 8 by the time we started VC100.
And Sally and Ellie got their fifth consecutive finish! Ellie gets a new halter and Sally gets to be as proud as a proud thing.