Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Elbe Hills Challenge: The ride

Ten miles is not very far. In terms of endurance, 10 miles is barely a conditioning ride. Heather and I will do 10 miles of road riding on a Sunday morning and barely blink an eye.

But note to self: 10 miles of flat road is not like 10 miles of Elbe Hills.

I knew this on some level. I did the LD at Elbe last year, and it was a hair-raising, white-knuckle, all-out RACE over some very gnarly trails. And even at that speed Laura and I barely completed in time. That memory is what led me to recommend to Heather that we might not want to take our not-very-fit, new-to-endurance horses into Elbe with a competition mindset. Also, we might not want to do 25 yet.

Good thing! This was our approximate route for the 10-mile Elbe Hills Challenge trail ride:

This is the simplified version. Add in about a zillion more squiggles for a more realistic experience.
Another rider likened the course to slalom skiing on horseback, and I have to agree. I didn't bring a camera on the trail. I don't know why not. It would have been good to get some pictures of the terrifying single-track switchbacks up a sheer mountainside. The perfectly clear view of Mt. Rainier was pretty incredible, too.

We had very few horse incidents to speak of, in spite of the difficulty of the trails. Both horses found one particular log too suspicious to go by (even with aggressive persuasion), so I got down and walked Blue past it as Bunny worried along behind with Heather still aboard. Blue also had a few moments of wanting to turn tail for camp, but he was so disoriented that he kept getting himself pointed in the exactly wrong compass direction. Hopefully he will learn that, in endurance riding, the way back to camp is always FORWARD.

The only other little hiccup was a water crossing. Bunny is so sensible these days that it is easy to forget that her first week at Heather's she wasn't 100 percent sure that grass was a safe surface. Fraser Downs was her entire world before this, and I don't think there are a lot of rocky creek crossings on the track. Blue and I chugged across it, and Heather ended up leading Bunny across after all other ideas failed. Anyway, she made it. 

Once we were back down on level ground, Blue recognized the trail and picked up speed. Like, a lot of speed. We zoomed through the smooth dirt trails back toward camp, but pulled up short at an odd sight: Two saddle pads were laying beside the trail not far apart. One was a Skito, heavy with sweat, and the other was another expensive brand—a Gaston Mercier maybe? We debated picking them up, but in the end decided we didn't need the extra bulk on board, and anyway, someone may have left them there to switch out later. We didn't want anyone to think that we stole them.

The last quarter mile into camp, Blue was very upset by the sound of horses calling through the trees. He couldn't see them, but they sounded very close. He clearly didn't know what to make of it. Suddenly, the forest cleared, and there was Heather's mom with the camera—we survived the hardest 10 miles I've ever ridden!

Funny thing: When we got back to camp there was no vet there waiting for us. Nor an in-timer. Nor any "official" Elbe Hills volunteers. The staging area was completely deserted except for Dean Hoalst, who had taken a rider option early in the 50 and was waiting for someone to check his horse. We all got to wait a good long while...
[Stay tuned for our exciting conclusion...]

1 comment:

  1. It was great to see y'all at Elbe! I laughed out loud (and then sent the link to a friend) at your "graphic representation" of the 10-mile "fun" ride. This was absolutely the most challenging novice ride I've ever seen, and the RM wasn't much kidding when she said that it was the hardest course for the day.

    For the 50-miler, just imagine your picture multiplied by 5 and scrambled by 10. And then imagine that you really, really have to pee....

    BTW, there weren't many generators running at 4am. That's the time *I* got up on Saturday to get ready....sigh....