Liz and I packed up and headed out Friday afternoon with both Gallant and Rio. I wanted to bring Rio to see how he camped and to keep Gallant company. For Saturday rides, I like to leave on Friday mornings, so we can take our time, not rush, and have plenty of time to set up camp, get the horses settled (and get them tanking up on food and water!). Then ride the race Saturday morning, rest, eat, let the horses recover, go to the awards ceremony/ dinner, and then sleep the night, and leave for home Sunday mornings. I like doing it this way, as even though it takes longer, I don't feel rushed and I can enjoy the whole experience more.
Laurel Mountain Endurance Ride was held in Inyokern, CA, up near Ridgecrest. I wasn't too familiar with the area, but remembered some of the names and areas from my childhood 4 wheel drive trips with my family. Maggie got there a little later in the day and we all set up camp and settled in for the evening and ride meeting. There were SO many things I forgot! I am so thankful for my two friends to bring supplies and gear, they made it possible!
I was so excited, yet so nervous, for this ride. I had only completed two LD's prior, and those were many years ago! We left the start line with my friend Laura Cunningham on her Missouri Fox Trotter, Carter. Gallant was amazing, calm, cool and collected! Nice surprise!
We walked probably the first mile or two, then started picking up the pace to a walk and trot. Gallant felt amazing and strong, but we kept it to a nice calm trot. About half way to the vet check I told Laura that I was going to go ahead, as I could tell her boy was getting tired and already wanting to slow down, and they were wanting to walk more than us. I let Gallant get into his fast trot, and we did that plus a little cantering into the vet check.
One really cool part of this ride, was that the 50 mile riders and the 25 mile riders got to ride together for a few miles on the way up to the vet check. It was humbling, and educational, and amazing to see just how freaking strong and fit some of those horses were. There were some that were already on their second loop and hadn't even broken a sweat yet! And some were moving at such a FAST trot. It really was cool to ride with them, and made me realize just how NOT ready for a 50 Gallant and I were.
We pulled into the vet check, and Gallant vetted out great. Gallant was doing fantastic, totally sound, and his recoveries are amazing! Carter though was showing signs of lameness unfortunately, so we split ways here. It was SO awesome coming into camp and seeing all our gear and everything out and ready for us! Liz and Maggie did an amazing job! I'm SO thankful for them!
After our 30 minute hold we headed back down the backside of the mountain and passed quite a few people. Gallant felt amazing and strong and I let him canter some of the nicer, wider, safer dirt roads. I had my GPS on, and we were cruising along at about 17 mph at the fastest. Once we got off the dirt road, and back onto the trails I slowed him way back down to a comfortable trot.
I don't particularly find the desert pretty, as I grew up in it, and I actually kind of despise it. I love trees, and green, and grass, and water! So needless to say the last 1/3 of the ride was pretty lonely and boring, lol. We were by ourselves, and the ground was ridiculously rocky, so we kept having to slow down, even though Gallant was shod with Epona's on the front, and had EZ-boots on his rears, he was still feeling the rocks. I just kept praying the protection I chose would be enough, and that he would not come up lame.
Finally we got over the hill and off the rocks and into some washes and dry riverbeds and could pick up the pace again. Just a few miles of this and we turned back onto the road to head back to camp! While I was tired, and hot, over-all it felt very short!
Here is my mini-rant. Take it for what it's worth, it's just my opinion. I had no clue who "The Duck" (the ride manager's nickname) was, had never done a "Duck" ride before, and had no idea of their reputation and experience. I just wanted to go see how it was, and make up my mind myself. I had heard they can be a little loose with the rules, as they just want people to come out and have a good time, which I'm totally fine with, I went expecting the unexpected, with an open mind.
I did not expect what I experienced though.
The first snafu, the last 1/3 of the trail for the LD riders was marked with the wrong color. No biggie, I had my map and was going by the trail markers listed on the map, so I knew I was on the right trails. And, there was only 1 water stop available to the LD riders, and that was about 8 miles into the ride, nothing after that. Not really a big deal either way, some rides are "bare bones", some are "fancy". These things didn't bother me.
The BIG issue. There was no "finish line". The "start" was from the Manager's trailer, and that is where the map said it ended, and where they said it ended in the ride meeting. I got back to the trailer and there was nothing there, no finish line, no people, no trucks, no vet? I was very confused. So I wandered around on Gallant to see if I could see anything on the outskirts of the camp. Finally, wayyyy on the back side, down a hill, I spotted the vet, truck, and my two friends. I headed towards them and they pointed back to the road and told me to go around the next hill and turn to them, which I did. This part of the ride was not on the map, no arrows, no ribbons, not mentioned during the ride meeting.... nothing. The picture below is us crossing the "real" finish line. About half the riders never made it to the "real" finish line, because they went back to camp, as the map said, and ended there. I listened to the two ride managers argue for HOURS as to what to do about this. They finally agreed on adding 15 minutes to everyone's time who DIDN'T go to the "real" finish line.
Issue #2- There was no "timer" person checking numbers as we started the ride. I left the Managers trailer right at 8am exactly (exactly when the ride was supposed to start). The first place person came in 30 minutes before me, but I never saw them. Not at the start, not during the ride, not at the vet check, not at the finish line. How can you determine who finishes when there is no start timer? Whatever, I ended in 3rd place, I was fine with it.
Issue #3- The ride was advertised as a 25 miler. Every ad, ride calendar, etc., listed it as a 25, for months ahead of time. It was a 25. I had my gps on, and at the end came in at 22 miles... no big deal, they're not always exactly 25 miles. HOWEVER, the problem was when they FINALLY posted ride results, MONTHS later, they listed it as a 30!!! What the heck!
Ok, so I guess I was a little upset, probably just because I figured if someone has been managing rides for over 20 years, with the reputation and experience they have, there wouldn't be so many of these ridiculous mistakes. I felt worse for them that they were having so much stress over the ride, when if they had just done things right in the first place, it would have went much smoother for them!
One redeeming factor for the weekend, besides my 2 great friends coming, and my amazing horse, was that we got BEST CONDITION! The vet commented when she was watching him do his trot out, "those 25 mile horses just don't look like they've even done anything". LOL! I knew I had a good chance when we were showing for it, but I didn't officially find out until it was awarded to us at the ride meeting. I was too choked up, and teary, to even say anything. It meant SO much to me after such a struggle and hard first few years of getting into endurance. I was crying so hard I think I even forgot to say "Thank you"! So I'm saying it now. THANK YOU TO EVERYONE THAT MADE THIS HAPPEN FOR US!!!