This is a ride story without pictures. Sorry about that.
The thing I forgot about Grizzly Mountain, or probably more accurately, The Thing I Didn’t Think About Until After Decisions Had Been Made, is that it is a loooooong LD. Not a 25. Not a 30. It’s 32 freaking miles. And, with one tragic missed turn and a hefty chunk of backtracking on my part, it was really more like 35 or 36. And really, if you are going 35 miles you might as well go 50.
But of course by the time we had finished those 35 or 36 miles, it was too late to go 50. We signed up for the LD and we were done.
Heather and I have been talking over email about our season plans, such as they are. Purchasing Bunny has put Heather in a completely different bracket than me, so as she’s contemplating 100 miles as a season goal, I’m hoping to tackle half of that.
Luckily the principles are pretty much the same, no matter the miles. Heather’s been gently nudging me toward this more analytical approach:
- Figure out a conditioning schedule that works for you and the horse. This one has been tough. My new work schedule with the commute is kind of an unholy bargain. I love where I live and am happy with where Blue is. The tradeoff is that I lose 2 hours of daylight to I-5 every weekday. Two hours. That’s like… 15 miles of riding time down the tubes. So our conditioning schedule has been, shall we say… spotty… since the fall.
- Figure out how long it takes him to recover after a hard ride. This was easier. Using this blog and a few notes I had made in Blue’s veterinary binder, I figured out that a month between competition is best for Mr. Blue. I used our fantastic experience at Renegade two years ago as my standard for “peak performance,” then worked backward to figure out how we got there. Why Renegade? It is a hot summer ride with tons of elevation changes and technical trail, yet Blue powered through the whole thing with instant recoveries and EDPPMF up the wazoo. That’s what I want every time we compete!
- Play to his strengths. In a perfect world, every ride would be wooded singletrack on firm (but not very rocky) footing, and it would be 65-70 degrees out and sunny but with plenty of shade. There is a ride that is usually like that. A ride that Blue has excelled at. A ride that is not very far away. A ride with good management and a comfortable camp. A ride I have done enough times to know the trails well. That ride is Mt. Adams. I decided months ago that we’d be working toward an early-season 50-mile completion at Mt. Adams, and Grizzly would be the stepping stone.
- Time the rides for maximum performance. Grizzly is exactly one month before Mt. Adams. It was perfectly placed to give us a performance boost going into May. I wanted to do a moderate to fast LD at Grizzly as a prep for attempting a 50 at Mt. Adams. Time will tell if this strategy works, however!
The drive to the Crooked River Grassland (home of both Grizzly and Prineville/Still Memorial) is very different from my new home in the city. On paper, it should have been a faster, shorter drive than the one I took from our old base in Silverton. The difference, of course, is traffic. The first 10 miles of the trip used up the first 40 minutes for a not-quite-three-hour drive. After that, smooth sailing over the embarrassingly scenic Mt. Hood Highway, through the equally but differently scenic Warm Springs canyon, and up onto the semiarid flat lands of central Oregon.
Camp was already bustling when I pulled in, but I found a primo parking spot 10 yards from a potty and 15 yards from a water trough. It was a lovely afternoon in the desert—sunny, quiet, not too hot, so I set about getting everything ready.
I don’t know if you guys have this moment when you get to camp, get out of the truck, and are just completely paralyzed trying to figure out what to do next…? Is that just me?
So I set up the corral behind the trailer (closer to the water), went to the motorhome to actually sign up for the ride, came back and set up the inside of my trailer for sleeping, took Blue out for an overly enthusiastic warm up over the first few miles of the course, came back into camp like his tail was on fire and vetted in (pulse at 52—yikes!) and then set about making my e-lyte syringes and filling my packs.
Ride meeting and bedtime. I will speak only briefly of bedtime. I remind you all that I am jealous of your campers, your LQs, your setups with room for a buddy heater, dog or spouse. These I do not have. It was 35 degrees that first night. That was the actual test of endurance, in case anyone wants to know what the hardest part of the sport is.
Morning dawned clear, cold and still. I EDPPMFed and stretched myself and my horse. Sauntered down toward the start. Watched almost everybody leave. Had the mildest of disagreements about an appropriate speed for starting. Picked up a jaunty trot in a nice little bubble. Rode a good chunk with a rider I’d never met before and her lovely half-mustang mare. Missed a turn. Saw hoofprints but no ribbons. Went back (as apparently had the hoofprints I was following). Added a good two miles to the trip finding my way back on course. FLEW through the rest of the 22-mile loop, including the notorious powerline road. Taken at a power-trot instead of a trudge, it really isn’t so bad.
Blue was a horse-eating machine at this point. If someone was in front of us, he was going to catch them. Once caught, they were nothing to him. Less than nothing. Blue was looking for the next horse to catch, these other horses already forgotten.
That is not to say that I was allowing shenanigans.
[STANDBY WHILST I MOUNT MY SOAPBOX]
One thing that I really hate to see is riders giving up on control and just letting their horses go. I had been guilty of this with Otto once, but never again. You are putting yourself, your horse and everyone else on the trail in danger by not being in control. Just because he can do the mileage at a gallop doesn’t mean he should. Just because your wooly, green, first-time horse thinks he can keep up with a seasoned veteran at the front of the pack doesn’t mean you should let him. This is a hard lesson for both horse and rider. If you are lucky, like I have been, you will have the opportunity to repent. If you are unlucky, you probably won’t last long in the sport. Choosing an appropriate pace is a big deal.
So anyway, no shenanigans. Blue wanted to go, but he was “with” me the whole time. (I don’t know how else to describe that feeling, but you know what I’m talking about. You and the horse are working as a team and reins and spurs become mostly irrelevant.) So I let him make some of the decisions about speed, and he did very well at it, passing five competitors in fairly quick succession.
But at the vet check he was hot and his pulse was hangy. I walked him into camp a good quarter-mile, and he was still at 64. He dropped and bounced a few times. Dr. Jen said everything else looked good. He was well-hydrated and had plenty of gut sounds. His attitude was normal. She surmised (as I did) that he was probably getting hot now that the morning chill had burned off and we’d gone 20-some miles. She said to take him back to the trailer, strip his tack, get him fed, and expect to ride out of camp on a much happier horse once he was cool.
Oh, how right she would be… eventually.
By that time (about noon), it was plenty warm out. Direct desert sun and no wind makes even 60 degrees feel quite warm. I decided to switch all of my “performance” gear (wicking/fleece everything) for summer-weight tights and a long-sleeve t-shirt.
We left camp at a reluctant jog. Blue was certain that we had completed our LD. (At any other ride, we would have. :)) The nice thing is that the second loop is half as long as the first one and, I would argue, a bit more interesting. We caught and passed another rider. We rode through a herd of cows. Like… they were right there. Close enough to reach out and pet their adorable beefy faces.
Dean and Tiffany, doing the 50, caught us. They were being very conservative about speed because Tiffany’s horse was not quite right. She said he felt a little off in the hind end, and they were experimenting, trying to figure out if more movement would work the problem out or aggravate it. Blue happily left them behind again and began powering up the big hill. The big hill is an excellent place for singing The Grand Old Duke Of York at the top of your lungs. You march yourself to the top of the hill and you march back down again. Blue was more than happy to comply, passing two more riders like they were standing still.
Somewhere along that hill, the weather changed. It was like someone flipped a switch. The clouds rolled in. The wind began to howl. There was no more question of being too hot. I started wishing I hadn’t left my jacket in camp. Luckily, we were almost done when we got to the bottom of the hill.
The final test, if you want to call it that, it crossing the highway back into camp. Blue was not tired. I know he wasn’t tired because a gust of wind caught the ribbons on the “Ride Camp ->” sign and he spooked so hard that I’m still wondering if there isn’t some Arabian in him after all. What a dork.
As soon as he pulsed down I rushed him to the trailer to strip his tack and put a cooler on him. It was so very cold. The wind was howling so hard and so loud that Dr. Jen had me turn Blue as she listened to his gut sounds, putting him between her and the wind each time.
We got our completion, which was all I wanted. The wind was so awful, I seriously considered packing up and going home, but the mileage we'd done made it hard to justify. Blue needed his rest. OF course, by then, the corral had blown over and was laying in a heap. Once I was changed and recovered, I dismantled it and moved it to the leeward said of the trailer so Blue could be out of the wind and still have room to move around.
(I would regret this move in the middle of the night when Blue started using the trailer as a scratching post, rocking me awake and kicking the tires. Note to self: Never use the trailer as one side of the corral again.)
Overall, I was very happy with the whole experience. When we got home, Blue GALLOPED circles in the arena while I emptied the trailer. When I turned him out with his friends, he went thundering down the hill, obviously sick of human company.
I haven't seen any ill effects on his this week. His feet are about the same. He's not obviously stiff on the lunge line. I did notice one small, open scratches lesion on one of his white feet, so I've been treating that as aggressively as I dare. I would hate to miss out on a 50 at Mt. Adams for something as stupid as scratches.