Week 15: Mon- 1,500yd swim, 3 mile run, 10 mile bike
Tue- 20 mile bike, 3 mile group run
Wed- 20 mile bike
Thu- Stretching and yoga
Fri-6 mile run
Sat- 10 mile horseback endurance race
Sun- rest day
Total mileage so far: 1,697. 72 miles takes me from the ranch on a trip to Cody and almost back.
This was a route we got to take once a week during our day off on Sunday. At about 90 miles total, it was quite a drive, but our one connection to what counted as civilization in Cody- Wal-Mart, the movie theater, and the Silver Dollar saloon. The Cody airport's parking lot was literally a dirt pasture and the big laugh was "testicle Tuesdays" at the Irma, where Rocky Mountain Oysters were served hot to curious tourists once a week. Even still, it was a nice place with a beautiful backdrop that sure wasn't a shame to call home for a bit. The hardest part was keeping everyone from spending their whole paycheck at the boot store and liquor barn every time we went in!
This week starts the taper part of training, as evidenced by the dramatic drop in mileage. I had a great open water swim in the newly chilly waters of Lake Pflugerville and spent the whole time worrying about the weather changing so close to the race. I'll be thankful for the cooler air as I bike and run, but I will be a total weenie when it comes to swimming in the cold! Thankfully, it's only the first 45mins of my race, and then it'll be over.
Race Recap: Ride the Storm
By Thursday, I had to start packing for my very first ever endurance riding experience with horses. I attended the Ride the Storm endurance ride with the intention of completing two 15 mile introductory rides. Endurance Horseback Riding is a lot of things, but what I like most about it is that it is a sport that keeps the health, safety, and well-being of the athlete- in this case, the horses- front and center. Riders sign up for and ride races of varying distances, such as 25, 50, 75, and even 100 miles. However, riders are not allowed to just blow and go for 100 miles and run their mounts in to the ground for the sake of getting to the finish line first, they must "vet in"- meaning their animal must be checked by ride veterinarians before the ride starts, and then have vet checks throughout the ride, as well as mandatory "holds," which force the rider to allow their horse to rest for a certain amount of time before continuing their ride.
The vets and ride manager- AND the participants- take these rules very seriously. I learned this personally very quickly. My horse River and I arrived early afternoon on Friday and found ourselves a camping spot.
|"Mom, what ARE we doing here?"|
I was majorly bummed. Last year when we attempted to do this ride, he had choked on his feed a few weeks before and wasn't able to make it. We had at least gotten all the way there this year, and I was so excited- new saddle, my own horse, a beautiful place to ride- and dang, it wasn't going to happen. The vets felt really bad for me, because they could see how sad I was about it, but they stuck by their guns and I certainly wasn't going to argue with professionals. I took River back to the trailer and went back to the barn to give my ride cards back to Kris, one of the ride managers.
She was just as bummed as I was, because she remembered my plight from last year. She was super sweet and encouraged me to stick around if I wanted to, but understood if I wanted to head home. I had already decided to stick around and at least volunteer, because I didn't feel right just leaving since she had done me a huge favor and stuck fliers for my fundraiser in everyone's ride packet. However, as soon as Scott, the other ride manager, sat down and heard me story he said, "There's a bay mare in the pasture right behind this barn. Go say hi to her."
What an amazingly kind thing to do! Here I am, someone these people have never met before, and just out of the goodness of their hearts and their love of the sport, they found a way for me to participate. The bay mare, TT, belonged to Scott, and he was glad to have someone to ride her, as he was unable to. She had done 25s and 50s before, so riding a little introductory 10 miles was nothing for her. I couldn't believe it- never before had I been around horse people who were so giving of the resources they had. That is not to say others aren't great- I can't honestly say I'd offer my horse up to a stranger. They are expensive pets who are (obviously) easily hurt and often very loved by their owners. I don't mean to put other groups of horsemen I've been around down, but instead to highlight just how impressed I was already with the endurance community.
I introduced myself to TT and followed Scott to his trailer, where he showed me her saddle and tack and explained her likes and dislikes. I have never ridden English in my life, so learning how to put on her equipment was a new learning experience. I took her for a little test ride so we could make friends, and then let her back in the pasture with her beloved for the night.
|My view of camp from the truck and trailer where I slept for the weekend.|
Camping at these events seems quiet- not a lot of partying, but then again, everyone had a long day the next day, especially those riding the 50 mile race. I settled in for the night and crossed my fingers the cold front would come early (no luck). I got up the next day with the sun and watched as people set out for the 50 and 25 mile races. Camp reminded me of Anchor Man the movie. All of the horses whinnying to their neighbors and friends, non-stop for two hours, made me think
|I don't know why we're yelling!|
However, they seemed to just be chit-chatting, as there were no major freak outs going down trailer-side, and all the horses just seemed genuinely excited to ride. River, of course, just looked at me with a mouth-full of hay and stared, completely content to snack in the shade all day. What a punk.
|Sunrise over the camping area.|
|Riders for the 25 mile race shout their number to Kris during roll call.|
I groomed, tacked, and mounted TT with enough time to walk her around for a bit before our group on introductory riders set out. The group was a great mix of ladies with all levels of experience- from first time riders such as myself, to those who had competed before and were just breaking in new horses to tagging along with friends who were new. This was such a contrast to me from other endurance sports. In triathlons and running, the athlete is an individual. We may train and work together in groups when we prepare for races, but race day is all about PRs, finish times, and placing in your group. I don't know anyone who trains for a marathon or Ironman, only to drop back and stay with a friend who is new and nervous. Again, I was happily impressed.
At 9 am we started down the trail of the red loop. Although our excited horses almost blew us past a turn at the beginning, we quickly got the hang of how the markers worked, and followed the trails easily and comfortably, mostly at a trot or lope. We all stuck together for the first mile, but as soon as we hit our first caliche and rock road, the Texas Hill Country horses made their way out ahead of their more tender-footed neighbors from Louisiana and East Texas, and we broke in to smaller groups.
|TT and I walking through the thick grass of one of the fields|
|My partners for the ride, two lovely ladies from San Antonio.|
|Feeling good to have my hat on and be in the saddle again!|
We navigated the twists and turns of the trail, through rocky creek beds, down roads, and across grassy pastures for 10 miles. All the riders we passed smiled and waved, sharing words of encouragement and checking in on their fellow riders and horses. We finished in about 2 hours, making our pace an almost perfect goal of 5 miles an hour, and headed to vetting with our rider cards.
|Another rider with her horse at vetting, where vets check vitals and write scores on rider cards.|
Our three horses passed with flying colors! TT's pulse was even lower than when we started- what a trooper! She was a boss who handled my novice experience with ease and made my whole experience smooth and fun. Truthfully, I think she willed her vitals in to check just so she could get back to the pasture and her boy-fraine even sooner, the little minx. I cooled her down, put her tack away, and fed her to say thanks for her hard work, and then stayed around to watch riders coming in for their holds. I felt better, because I saw I was not the only one who got pulled. Several people got the same bad news I did- your horse is lame and can't continue. Each and every rider handled the news with grace, thankful the vets could catch it before the really hurt their companion, because that was is important- treating your animal with respect, because it works hard for you.
I wrapped up my day by volunteering as a spotter (someone who is positioned on the trail to take rider numbers and tokens and record their time of passing, so ride managers can know the last place someone was seen if they do not come back or they get lost) and then went back to camp to tend to River and change for dinner. Kris is an angel who let me set up a table for Cowboys Against ALS at dinner so everyone could see, so I changed in to my 7D gear- my red staff shirt, hat, chaps, and other cowboy paraphernalia Chuck wouldn't let us go anywhere without- and set up my spot.
|Cowboy cookies and lemonade- 7D guest staples!|
What happened over the next couple of hours blew me away, truly. Just over the course of a 2 hour dinner and ride meeting, I raised $307. My jaw dropped when I counted the donations at the end of the night!
I have always believed that horses, and loving horses, are markers for a peaceful and loving world. They have the capacity to bring out the best in people, and to share joy and love with anyone who is willing to let them in to their hearts. Chuck believed this too, and loved sharing them with guests at the ranch every chance he got. So many things happened this weekend that made me think of him. When my horse got pulled and I got the chance to ride a different one, I thought, well, he'd probably just tell me "anyone can run a race on a horse they know, not everyone can on a horse they've never met," and took heart in that and relished the new opportunity, even though I really wanted my horse to share my experience. When River managed to tangle his lead under a bar on the trailer and pull it so tight I couldn't untie it, I whipped out my pocket knife, cut the rope and saved us from disaster. After calming my panicked horse, I laughed and laughed, remembering the smack on the head with the cut rope Chuck gave me as he fussed at me for not having my pocket knife on me when Ice Man pulled back. (Well sir, I've never, ever gone without it since!)
To everyone who was there, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I couldn't believe the kindness and generosity you showed me and the cause I'm working for. Those of you who shared stories with me about friends, loved ones, and patients with ALS touched my heart, and I loved getting to share my stories with you as well. I have been working hard for months to get others to share so openly as you have, and I cannot express how deeply impressed I am with the endurance community. I have entered these donations in to my site, and am sending them to the Texas chapter of the ALS Association tomorrow, where I am sure they will be overjoyed to know that someone else will be able to receive much-needed medical supplies and support.
I had so much fun during the day I was able to share with everyone, and am absolutely addicted to the sport already. River is fine now (of course, the stinker) and we are hoping to make it to Wacky Waco at the end of November! It was so refreshing and uplifting to be back in to horses and horse activity- being dirty, riding all day, smelling the hay, horse, and even manure around me, breathing it in and feeling at home. I hope to see you all on the trail next time. I am totally wearing my t shirt today. Thank you for everything!
|River says "THANK YOU, Ride the Storm!"|