This year the 44th Annual Virginia City 100 was held on September 17th. Sadly, because of Uno’s leg injury I wasn’t able to ride but did the next best thing – crewing. The temperatures were very mild – lows in the 50s overnight, with highs in the 80s with a light breeze – a welcome respite from the continuous Nevada wind that so often accompanies this event. NV rides are always very laid-back affairs and VC100 is no different. There’s great cameraderie amongst the volunteers, many of whom have been helping out at (or riding) the ride for decades. Riders come back time and again because this is one of the very best 100-mile rides in the west region.
Virginia City itself is an old silver mining town perched at 6,200′ on the side of a steep pink hillside. The main street is at the top with the side streets step-cut progressively lower into the slope below. The start of the ride at 5 am is on the boardwalked C Street outside the Delta Saloon (1875), home of the "Suicide Table" – one of the more peculiar starts to an endurance ride. From there riders wend their way north through town, past the old cemetery (the finish line) and out into the surrounding sagebrush-dotted mountains towards Lousetown (really).
This is a course that has a bit of everything to offer riders and their horses. After 20 miles of up and down rocky foothills, you negotiate the old Toll Road four-miles down Geiger Grade – a 1,700′ drop – to the first vet check at the "Market" located right on the outskirts of surburban Reno.
Looking down on Washoe Lake, around 45 miles into the ride
From there, you undergo an hour-long test of your horse’s sure-footedness through what is effectively a rocky creek bed: the remote and seldom-used Bailey Canyon. After a climb over Jumbo Grade and a trot-by to check the horses for soundness at Washoe Lake, riders climb the first of many typical NV ascents – gradual, yet brutal in their neverendingness. But the views from the top overlooking Washoe Lake are stupendous. This section contains the infamous "SOBs" – three short but ridiculously steep V-shaped drops in the trail that many riders negotiate on foot, tailing the uphills. Once you make it over the ridge, you then drop down Ophir Grade back into Virginia City for the 51 mile check.
The next 26 mile loop takes you back out into the Virginia Range, skirting the remains of old mining buildings which appear eerily as if they came from an apolcalypse movie. You climb again to the backside of Mt Davidson and follow the ridge up to 7,600′ before dropping once again down into Virginia City for the 77 mile vet check.
The final 23 mile loop, usually starting around 11 pm unless the rider is a front-runner, takes you along the relatively flat "Long Valley", past herds of wild horses to the Chalk Hills, which glow in the moonlight, through another "out check" at the Cottonwoods (an old corral) and back up the final rocky clamber to the cemetery outside Virginia City.
This year’s winner, Rachel Shackelford riding Ray of Hope, arrived at 11 pm, with best condition winner Lori Stewart on LA Bandit arriving just 17 minutes behind them. But this is a 100 mile ride where it’s common for riders to take almost the full 24 hours to finish: the final 8 riders all came in after 3 am.
One of the things NV rides are known for is rocks. Although VC100 isn’t easy, it is very doable. While the elevation gains are over 20,000′, very little of the trail is super-technical provided you can take your time and pick your way through the footing. Racing it is another matter and many riders are defeated by the rocks. Good hoof protection is a must regardless as to where you hope to place.
May stylin’ in her new rear Glue-on Wides
This year I was aware of seven riders who were using hoof-boots in one form or another, five of whom completed the ride. There were 25 overall starters – a much lower number than usual due to the proximity to the rescheduled Tevis (three weeks later) – with 18 finishers.
Fire Mt Destiny at 40 miles – with this completion he reached 5,000 miles (AERC)
Gina Hall, completing her 12th VC100, finished in 6th place on her outstanding big chestnut Fire Mt Destiny, who himself was completing his 7th VC100 (his 14th 100 mile completion). They also completed the Triple Crown this year (NV Derby 50, NASTR 75 and VC100 with same horse and rider). His completion earned Destiny his 5,000 mile AERC milestone – 86 rides with no pulls. He wears Original Easyboots over shoes.
Nicole Chappell and Golden Knight getting ready to leave the first vet check
Nicole Chappell was riding her striking buckskin friesian/arabian cross, Golden Knight, with size 2.5 Glue-Ons on the front. Completing the Triple Crown (including winning and being awarded Best Condition at the first phase – NV Derby 50 – in the spring), they placed 8th overall at VC100 and won the "Pioneer Division" (riding the entire ride with no outside help), securing Nicole her 19th VC100 completion – she promised herself as an 11 yr old that she would finish the ride 20 times by the time she was 30. She didn’t quite make it but is close. This was Golden Knight’s second VC100 completion.
Nicole Chappell and Golden Knight arriving at Washoe Lake "trot-by"
Rushcreek Okay gawping at a flapping flag shadow,
raising his heart rate during the 51 mile vet check
Another horse who always competes in boots and is hard to miss is Rushcreek Okay – a huge grey arabian who eats like… well, a horse, and sports size 3 Glue-Ons on the front. This was Okay’s second VC100 finish with rider Carolyn Meier and this year they also completed the Triple Crown. After a warm-up performance last year (Okay tends to be a nosy thing – gawping at everything around him), Carolyn was thrilled with how well he looked after himself this year – getting progressively better and better at each vet check.
Okay showing off his flexibility and range of motion
the morning after completing his second VC100
Okay’s great big size 3 feet
Tami and May prepare to leave vet check #1
A fourth Triple Crown booted finisher with a 13th place at VC100 was Tami Rougeau’s Amatzing Grace – and she’ll no doubt tell you more about their exploits in a separate post. Suffice to say May has been a challenge to fit but her Glue-Ons held up beautifully for this ride.
Nina Cooke and Gryphen at the road-crossing water trough at about 20 miles
Rounding out the "booters", Nina Cooke and Gryphen finished their first 100 mile ride in glue-ons.
Pat Chappell resetting her horse’s shoes at 51 miles
During another memorable 100 mile ride, Roo did an impressive side-spook, tweaking a back shoe in such a way that it stuck out sideways by half an inch but wasn’t going to come off without serious tools. Luckily for me the incident happened when my regular farrier was also riding the 100 miler and he was just ahead of us and able to reset the shoe at the vet check – but that was the last time I wanted to be at the mercy of a shoer (or the hope that a shoer would be available) during a ride. You put so much into a 100-miler that to have it all go down the drain because of lack of control over your horse’s footwear is heartbreaking. Yes, sometimes I lose boots, but I can still fix the problem.
This was my 7th year either volunteering, crewing, or riding Virginia City 100 and it has become a highlight of my year. The ride has changed little over the years – it started in 1968 (two years after I was born) and the fact that it is still going is a testament to just how special it is. It should be a must-do ride for any 100-mile rider – and preferably many times over.
(p.s. my husband Patrick points out that the Ferrari Club of America holds the annual Virginia City Hill Climb – spectator-able from the ride camp – the same weekend as the endurance ride. Just saying.)
Lucy Chaplin Trumbull
Sierra Foothills, California