Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Social Network (AKA: PNW Endurance Matrix)

Endurance in the PNW can be an eerily small world. For instance, my husband is first cousins with a certain vet/rider endurance power couple from Idaho. And at my new job, I have a co-worker who used to compete and knows all the “famous” riders in the Portland area. (Famous in the sense that they have been doing the sport long enough to give useful advice instead of straight-out-of-the-ass speculation, which is what I give. I am not famous.)

I did not know about these connections when I chose my husband or my job, but somehow, there they were… knitting me into the fabric of endurance.

And it was in that same spirit of interconnectedness that I ended up making even more new friends this past weekend at Renegade.

Kara posted on PNER Facebook that she was coming up the I-5 corridor and looking for a trailer buddy for Sunny. It just so happens that Blue and I live in the aforementioned corridor and really couldn’t afford to make the trip alone. I knew Kara in the way that most PNER members know each other. She’s the one with the flaxen chestnut gelding who usually rides with the girl with the matching mare. She is co-tagged with me in some pictures from Grizzly and Klickitat this year. We had met, we had ridden together, but there was no way I could identify her without her helmet and her horse before this weekend.

But of course, the knitting would get tighter. Mary K posted that she needed a horse to ride as a sponsor on the 50. Brenda (whose farm is just around the corner from me in Molalla) had just such a horse available. So Brenda brought her mare, Bonnie, to my boarding barn to catch a ride with Kara. I talked to Brenda. Now I can identify her without a horse or helmet, too. She is going to show me where I can do a 20-mile loop in the winter.

This kind of clicking into place continued when we arrived at ride camp. Mary K, who would be riding Brenda’s horse, is the same Mary that rode back from the Klickitat vet check with me in the ambulance trailer. Since she didn’t have her own horse with her, she brought David Lewis and his horse. David is part of the team rebuilding the PNER website.

I went to the registration table to enter. There was Laura, who did her first LD with me and Otto at Elbe Hills two years ago. Aarene took my entry, and (BlogOf) Becky offered to number my horse. I didn’t let her, though, because she was in the middle of dinner. It is hard to paint a horse and devour a gourmet meal at the same time. She did sharpen the stinky yellow crayon for me, though.

Oh, to eat a gourmet meal at a ride. But no. Because here is another thing that I had in common with Kara (other than endurance). We are both pretending to be on Medifast. I say “pretending,” because we are terrible influences on each other and may or may not have eaten a pair of king-size almond Snickers bars on the drive up. I admit nothing.

Becky's blog post's treatment of the food issue brings up lots of questions for me, since I do not bring dishes to rides, let alone wash them. I had some peanuts in a baggie to munch on and by Saturday afternoon even that was too much work. “Uhhhhhhgghhhh. Do I HAVE TO throw this empty plastic bag away? Maybe if I sit here and look pitiful enough, someone will take it off my hands.”

I know Becky is right that there are people who take the time to really cook at these things. I smelled so many things being grilled and fried and roasted and BBQ’d all weekend. And here I had various soy crisps, soy powders, soy drinks, nuts, jerky and diet soda. I would have KILLED for some Dinty Moore, Becky. You are lucky you weren’t in a more isolated part of camp or a dark alley.

But let's get back to the ride.

Laura asked how fast I was planning to go. I said I hoped to take six hours… or maybe like six hours and three minutes. A newbie who was sitting nearby asked what the time limit was. “Six hours… and maybe three minutes.”

(BlogOf) Becky asked me the same question about speed, which lead to a pretty funny conversation about how I was planning to trudge through the ride and how trudging is not a generally accepted gait for endurance but that’s what I would be doing so everyone would just have to deal with it. (As it turned out, we didn’t do a whole lot of trudging except up that one dirt switchback that took us up to the ridge with the white dirt where I had to dismount and lead and let David pass me AGAIN.)

It was hot on Friday night. We slept with the tack room door wide open.

View from my REAL MATTRESS in Kara's gooseneck trailer. So this is how the other half lives.

It was still oddly warm at 6 a.m. on Saturday. And it looked like we were going to get rained on or burned to a crisp depending on which direction you looked. This is probably what endurance rides in the Midwest are like, full of humidity and the knowledge that the weather could totally go to hell at any moment.

I dithered about my wardrobe choices, but mostly just got ready in the leisurely way that allows me plenty of time to re-remember all the things I need to do before I am ready to ride.

  1. Feed horse
  2. Go to bathroom (nearest porta potty was roughly 1000 miles from our trailer)
  3. Change into breeches
  4. Drink VitaminWater
  5. Go to bathroom
  6. Eat protein bar
  7. Take sponge bucket and towel to finish line
  8. Stop by bathroom on the way back
  9. Talk to (BlogOf) Becky while she’s doing Aarene’s dishes
  10. Get horse out of corral
  11. Apply tack
  12. Stretch rider
  13. Stretch horse
  14. Take Rescue Remedy
  15. Consider another bathroom break… but then see that the race has started without you
  16. Walk horse to start line
Blue, Sunny and Kara getting ready on Saturday morning

The only thing I forgot was “take three ibuprofen,” which is an important step but not a deal-breaker until the ride has been over for an hour and my knees start to congeal.

Blue was embarrassingly good at the start. Back when I was riding Otto, I used to get sort of mad at the riders whose horses could just walk or trot out of camp. Blue walked easily, getting only ever so slightly jiggy when the horses beside the road called to him.

If you haven’t been to Renegade, I guess the thing to know about the start is that it's a gravel road about the length of a city block that skirts ride camp followed by a fast, rocky water crossing. There is always a big pileup of horses at the crossing because not everyone has a lot of practice with water and horses can be especially idiotic on ride mornings.

As I was nearing the crossing, I could see a couple such horses balk-balk-balking, so I stopped Blue to wait. I mention this because it was impossible to stop Otto in the first 5 miles of a ride. And now I can present photographic proof that my horse is a cool, sensitive boy who can plant all four feet at the start of a ride and wait his turn:

Ain’t no thing. (Photo by [BlogOf] Becky)

The spectators saw us waiting and directed us to a second crossing option just over from the one the other horses were balking at. Blue was more than happy to get moving again. He could not have cared less about that scary little creek.

If horses could text: SRSLY, U GUYS? JUST WATER (Photo by [BlogOf] Becky)

If you don’t know me in my non-horse context, you may not realize that I am one of those people who has a Simpson’s quote for every situation. EVERY. SITUATION.

I know you already know that guy who speaks entirely in movie quotes or song lyrics of the 1980’s or whatever. And you totally love that guy, right?

So here’s the little piece of Simpsonia that was playing in my mind most of Saturday morning:

I apologize for the lousy quality. What he says is: “My fellow Americans, as a young boy, I dreamed of being a baseball.  But tonight I say: We must move forward, not backward; upward, not forward; and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom!

So yes, there was a lot of forward, a lot of upward, and a fair bit of twirling on Saturday. You know I was worried about walking too much, so I’ll tell you that we did finish within time. We cantered when we could, walked when we had to, and trotted the rest of the time. Time wise, that probably broke down to roughly 2% percent cantering, 60% trotting and 30% walking. I did have to dismount and walk more at the end than I would have liked. I was passed by enough people in the last two or three miles to push me out of the top 10. But that’s OK. Bragging rights are not worth dying for.

Pictures aren’t worth dying for either, so I didn’t take any on the trail. There were times when I thought I should get a shot of the steep, narrow terror so I could back up my last post with photographic evidence, but I’m not crazy enough to lean over and grab my phone. I’d probably drop it (or me) down into some gorge instead. 

Luckily, we had ride photographers to prove that I was on my horse in the high country.

(Photos by Horsin’ Around/Andrea Hurn)

I think Blue looks pretty good in these photos. Especially considering that he’s toting my ever-expanding ass up a mountain at the time. Doesn’t he look strong and brave and sensible and handsome in these photos? Out at the barn, everyone is worried that he’s underweight because he isn’t nearly as round as the other horses. I think part of the problem is that he has the skeletal structure of a galloping hat rack (Who else read Old Bones?) but the bigger part of the problem is that your average recreational horse owner isn’t used to how a fit distance horse looks. 

I think the more interesting thing about these photos is my leg position. I decided to experiment with taking the screws out of my fenders so they would swing free. Since this ride is a lot of up and down, I thought the flexibility might be a good thing. I think it was. I didn't have the hip and knee pain nearly as bad as I thought I would, even without the ibuprofen. But good riders will note that I'm in a little bit of a chair seat here with my feet too far forward. What say you, dressage experts?

Here’s a video that David took. It is mostly him with Clara and Benny the Wonderpony, but I make an appearance at about 1:30. I don’t think the video does justice to just how steep the dropoff was, how sloped the trail was, and how brave I was being to ride down it at a fast trot. (Where's my parade?)

I really only lost my nerve toward the end of the ride, and that was something I planned for. The part of the ride that gives me a heart attack every year is the downhill approaching the finish, where the dirt and rocks are loose, and a tired horse could trip over his own feet and take you with him. Kara and Sunny passed us just as that section was beginning, and what I really didn’t need was Blue charging down the hill trying to catch Sunny and not paying attention to the footing. It was treacherous enough that there wasn’t a safe place to execute the SRS. Knowing that, I stopped him, dismounted, and let them pass.

We had great metabolic signs all day. Blue pulsed down immediately at both the vet check and the finish line. He ate and drank willingly all day long and never seemed to hit a wall in his energy supply.

And he didn't stop eating all weekend. It was a chore to get him to stop long enough to do anything else, including riding 25 miles. He loved the fugly CWF bales that we had to use because we were on public land. He loved the green grass (of which there was much). He loved all the various concoctions of beet pulp and senior feed and carrots and apples and watermelon rinds that I gave him. He ate a mountain of hay overnight and on the way home Sunday morning.

The only bad mark on our card was gait at the finish. Dr. Vanzwol said he looked a little off in the right front. Not bad, but noticeable. This worries me a bit since that is the same foot that the vet pointed out at Klickitat.I am hoping that once I resolve the mud fever completely, that will be the end of it, but it could be structural, I suppose. Only time will tell.

For now, we are moving forward and upward towards doing our first 50-mile ride at Bandit Springs on July 15. Until then, Blue will be taking it easy at home, and I'll be all over The Social Network trawling for advice about how to survive 50 miles. 


  1. andrea hurn is a ride photographer?! i had no idea.

    i know that down hill part you're talking about! it's an ankle twisting killer!

  2. Lookin' good!!!! Glad you guys had a great ride:)

  3. Congrats on doing so well! I can't wait to see you guys at Bandit-I'm bringing up my husband and son to (hopefully) watch me ride Brenda's Huck.

  4. 1. UGH MEDIFAST. Been there done that. May never eat soy anything ever again. Do they still have "chili"? That... stuff... was so horrible yet so tasty.

    2. I prefer to think my cot builds character. Did you lose character by sleeping in a gooseneck bed? I bet you did ;)

    3. Don't you love a horse with a good brain? Also, is that a real-life Thelwell pony in the "text message" pic??

    I think Blue looks awesome! I totally know what you mean about the death-defying dropoffs that you can't get pics of lest you die taking pics, and the horrible loose rocks on trail at the end of the ride! I mean, not from Renegade, but from Hat Creek. Anyway. GRATS on a great sensible pony having a great LD!

  5. No sympathy about "death-defying dropoffs", y'all. You did notice that there were ribbons on that stretch of trail?

    I'd like you to take a guess which person on which exceedingly tall horse put those ribbons in place?


  6. I am not afraid to admit I'm a wuss about heights. Getting soft in my old age.

  7. Great job, and what fun!

    Mustangs often do have more of that rugged structure... my Nokota sure does.

    As for your "chair seat"... Having your legs out in front of you does give you more stability in the case of a bobble. Are they a bit in front? Yes. But if you are not too far back in the saddle loins-wise, I wouldn't worry about it.

    Watching jealously from Ohio =)

  8. So fun to read this Ruth, you are such a great writer. I didn't realize you were aiming for a 50 this year. I will be waiting to see how you did! You inspire me :)