Sunday, October 21, 2012

Blue proves me wrong

Mud isn't something we really dealt with on the east side. There were muddy days, but I could ways find somewhere with sand or gravel to ride. When I did ride in mud, Otto would flail around like a marionette with wet noodles for legs. He was amazingly coordinated in all other footing, but just couldn't deal with mud. Topper was lousy in mud too. So I have kind of an irrational fear of riding at speed in mud. What if my horse slips, falls and takes me with him? Same with wet grass. Really, anything that's potentially slick makes me nervously stick to a careful, collected walk.

Chapter 1—Friday.
It was Friday, and I couldn't decide whether to go to the Foothills of the Cascades ride. After more than two months of glorious hot dryness, the weather gods suddenly remembered that this is Oregon. The skies opened up, and it rained. It rained for days without stopping.

I do not want to camp in rain. I do not want to ride in rain. I do not trust my horse in mud. I hate being cold. I am tired of getting up early.

After work, I decided to go to ride camp. Google maps told me this would take an hour at least. It was a fun little drive, though. I got to see more of the gorgeous backroads outside of Silverton. I went through the valley hamlet of Scotts Mills and up, over, around and through the sparsely populated foothills. As I approached ridecamp, the weather went from overcast to gloomy to downright threatening.

I got up to camp, mostly interested to see how many brave fools were there. I was surprised to see lots of rigs. Interesting. On the way back down, I stopped in the places where the trail followed or crossed the road. I walked up the trail a bit on both sides, testing the ground with my own feet. Feeling for the dry footing under the slime. Debating.

I stopped at the barn before heading home. I loaded the truck "just in case" while mentally looking for an excuse not to go. Bob, the barn owner, wanted to know whether I was going—if I went, he'd need to have the gate open for me at 5 a.m. He told me to go home and watch the weather report, and call him by 8 p.m. with a decision.

I really didn't want to go.

I don't think Blue did either. The one time that I had ridden him in hard rain he had an absolute fit and almost got us both hit by a car. I have not forgotten that miserable, wet training ride.

Blue found the one dry spot in his paddock and spent the whole day there. He's not a fan of the weather over here. Or is he?

When I got home, I told Brian my worries. I told him I didn't want to ride in mud and rain. I was worried about my safety. But also, I'd be kicking myself if I woke up at home on Saturday with the sun streaming in the window.

Brian said I should go. I called Bob and told him I was going.

Chapter 2—3:25 a.m.
The alarm was set for 4 a.m., but I never sleep well before a ride. Sleeping in my own bed is no exception, apparently. Awake at 3:30, I figured I might as well just get up and start my day.

Packing the truck with a day's worth of food, water and dry socks, I felt optimistic. It was balmy in the valley (50-some degrees), and the sky was perfectly clear. I had made the right choice. I was going to have a great little ride in the sunshine!

It remained dry for the half-hour out to the barn. The gate was unlocked, and I sneaked in and hooked up the trailer. Blue followed me willingly out of his warm stall and into the trailer, where his breakfast was waiting. He put up no fight at all, in spite of the baffling time of day and his groggy owner.

It was a good thing I had pre-driven the route to ridecamp in daylight. It was pitch-black and still two hours before sunrise as I made the various twists and turns. The weather held steady. The temperature was dropping (41 degrees as I pulled into camp), but the sky was clear.

Now that I was actually at the ride, the debate in my mind had changed again: trail ride or LD? I heard from others in camp who were awake that it had poured on and off all night, and indeed the ground in camp was squishy and sopping.

But when I went to pay my entry, Anna convinced me that the wetness wouldn't really be a factor. Most of the ride was on gravel road. The dirt single-tack parts would all be under a thick canopy of sheltering trees. I believed her and signed up for the LD.

Blue vetted in at 48, which is pretty high for him, but I decided to ignore that in favor of his attitude, which was just as snuggly as always. He was relaxed and interested, and I wasn't about to waste it.

Chapter 3—7:31 a.m.
We let everybody go. I stood and watched, and didn't lead blue up to the start until they were gone. We walked to the gate, I mounted, and we walked out of camp, cool as a cucumber. We walked the first little bit of the ride, because I really wanted to let Nicole and Dancer get away from us. Blue knows Dancer, and I didn't want him catching sight or scent of her and trying to keep up. Blue is a horse who does best alone. I decided that in deference to this, and because of the soggy footing, we'd try for turtle. So now I was racing the clock and not the other horses.

Deciding to finish last on purpose really frees you up to have a nice, easy day. When 50-milers caught us, I'd just stop and let them pass. When we ran into some hunters walking along one of the forest roads, I stopped and chatted with them a little bit. When the sun peeked through and made the trees sparkle, I stopped to take a picture.

Blue was doing great on the wet gravel roads. They varied from recently graveled (car-worthy) to mossy and overgrown, but the rock base kept them well-drained, and blue didn't seem to be struggling at all. When we entered the first section of dirt single-track int he woods I was pleasantly surprised to find it the consistency of a well-watered arena. It wasn't slick or goopy at all, and Blue seemed delighted to float over the exposed rocks and roots in such nice footing.

But coming back up into camp, the weather started to deteriorate. In fact, it seemed like every step upward brought the clouds lower and darker. And that was when what had been overcast with patches of mist and drizzle turned into real rain. Cold, blustery rain.

We came into camp to the news that we would have a 20-minute hold. It was too cold to let the horses sit longer. So I had just enough time to vet through, put a mash in front of Blue, eat a granola bar and pee. As I was putting the bit back into Blue's mouth, preparing to head back out, it began to hail. It crossed my mind that I could pull. No one would judge me for it in such appalling weather.

Instead I headed back out.

Chapter 4—9:49 a.m.
I hand walked Blue down the paved road, the rain coming down in icy sheets.

At the bottom of the hill, the "trail" was essentially one continuous puddle. I mounted up, and we started out again. Blue kept up an easy jog in spite of the rain, and we wound down an overgrown road back to the common trail. It was raining still, and my glasses were alternately fogged over and covered in droplets. I made a decision. Blue was having a good day, so I would ride blind.

The kind of footing we covered on the second loop was of the sort that I might not have let a horse walk on when we lived in Walla Walla. By the, 30 or 40 horses had been over the trail. It was torn up from hooves and drenched from the rain. But I wanted the completion. I wanted it so bad I could taste it. So I took off my glasses, pressed my spurs against my horse, and hoped for the best. We trotted and cantered through through the mud like it wasn't even there. I couldn't see it, so I didn't worry about it.

Eventually, the rain eased off and the sun came out. The earth and trees steamed for a time, until the clouds closed in again and the drizzle began. By this point, all I wanted was to finish. I was soaked to the skin, despite my raincoat. My breeches were covered in a fine dusting of droplets where they wicked away the moisture against my skin. As long as we kept moving, I was warm enough. When we stopped, I shivered at the slightest breeze.

Just like at Mt. Adams, as soon as Blue set foot on the common trail back to camp, he found another gear. We were right on the edge of the time limit, and it really felt like he knew it and wanted to help. Cantering up a muddy trail to the last half-mile of gnarly single-track coming into camp, I marveled at my horse.

Blue proved me wrong. Mud is not an issue for him at all. How about that?

Blue having a well-deserved snack before we headed home.

Right as we were leaving, the sun came out again. See the steam rising off the ground?

My first card was mush by the end of the ride, so my completion was on the second card.


  1. Way to go!!!! I re-lived by Foothills 2009 ride reading your post today:) Glad you completed and had a good ride, despite the wet weather.

  2. Glad you got done--wasn't it beautiful? Miserable, yes. But beautiful!

  3. I really love the single track in the mossy trees. I could rides those little trails every day... and the fact that they are all named is pretty great too. :)

  4. YAY!! You did it! So much of this reminds me of my last ride at Bare Bones, right down to removing your glasses. Glad it wasn't as scary for you as it was for me. Congrats on your completion