Thursday, July 21, 2016

Summer Living

Summer is in full swing and my life carries on as busy as ever. 40 hours on the clock for work, 4 horseback riding lessons, and various life responsibilities consume me from Monday - Thursday. I run away to Dave's on the weekends where we enjoy lazy mornings, active afternoons that lapse into the evening hours, and then end the day with a nightcap with or without friends.

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On top of the world with my favorites

I feel so rushed about lately, jam packing my schedule as I have, but I feel fulfilled with such a busy life, so I really can't complain too much. At first, the thought of giving lessons on top of my job seemed a daunting task - I had interest from 6 or 7 people! I'm grateful for the interest and I love sharing my passion with others, but I am only one person with two horses and a whole other life outside of them, so my time is limited. I capped my students to 3 (one girl comes 2x/week) and life is wonderful. Each is eager to learn and passionate about learning more and being better. It makes me so happy to watch them learn and fall in love with horses all over again each lesson.

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Her first time jumping something more than a tiny crossrail and her second jumping lesson ever! She LOVES it.

Between lessons and my training rides, Griffin is getting his fair share of work lately. I'm riding him in the LD at RBTR in 2½ weeks, so I need to polish him up and into shape quickly. He's coming right along and doing very well; he absolutely loves having a job. Most of his workouts have been restricted to the farm of late - dressage-focused flatting (with quite a bit of emphasis on walk-canter transitions as I really want him to work that booty!), some hill sprints, jumping, and of course his patient lessoning with the girls.

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Blurry still from a video, but we've still got it.

Last night I got him out on his first significant trail ride in a few months - 8 miles with 1,300' climbing and an average ride pace of 4.8 mph. He's significantly spookier on the trails than he once was, but I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on that for a time as he hasn't done as much trail work since 2014. Time and miles cure most things, so I'm sure he'll move out a little better with more trail work. He gets shoes on Sunday (his first!), and I'm sure they'll increase his confidence just like they've done for Q.

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July 5 on top and July 20 below. Sunset lighting for the win.

Q is doing well. The 8 mile trail ride was her first real ride back (I rode her for a brief 5 minute bareback jaunt on Monday and that was followed by a bareback lesson which consisted of almost exclusively ring work on the lunge line) since the 100. My lesson student was on her and followed me most of the time, but for the moments I did watch the little mare, she seemed content. Or as content as she gets - she's such a stoic little creature. Her footfalls sounded confident and relaxed throughout the ride.

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Treats?

Post-ride, we untacked and sponged the horses. Griffin pulsed in at 57, which I'll totally take considering his non-Arab status, and Q was at 47. Clearly the ride didn't do much to challenge her; I love the level of fitness she's at right now! She'll also be doing the LD at RBTR (with a non-endurance blogger aboard!) which will play perfectly into maintaining her fitness levels. (A quick aside, but I want to note this for the record: I observed Q roll all the way over last night For The First Time. She is so focused on scratching certain parts of her shoulder and bum and usually rolls on an incline that I've never actually seen her roll over. I've never worried she was physically unable to, but moreso just never witnessed her rolling on a truly flat patch of ground.)

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Dave and I picked a gallon of blueberries last weekend. Each of these jars is a quart.

Biking and climbing are helping me push my fitness into another dimension during the summer months. My legs especially are more fit than they have been since my competitive swimming days. It's fabulous. My bike handling skills are so much improved from last year, too, and I'm really enjoying the trails anew; it's so satisfying to only dab a foot once or only walk a short section of a trail I was hike-a-biking for much greater distances last year! Long uphill sections are also increasingly easier as time goes on. Cardio for the win.

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Ride at Five'rs heading through ferns on Hellbender trail.

I'm excited for a lot of upcoming opportunities in coming weeks for riding, biking, and climbing. Summer is sweet and it is my every intent to soak up as much of it as I can being as active as I am able.

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'Cause when the blueberries are in, you stop and enjoy! Ride at Five, Forage at Five. Bikes and Blueberries.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Reflection and ride statistics from the OD 100

I can already say with certainty that I want to do this ride again. Will it be next year? I'd like that. But plans are fickle things, so who knows when it will be - I definitely want to give it another go!

I'm going to break down key things that resulted in a successful completion of The Beast of the East on my first attempt - and my first successful 100 on my own horse my first time around! The post will be a bit of "worked/didn't work", but it will also be a more thorough analysis/narration of the things I did to best guarantee my success before luck and fate were factored into the equation.

Additionally, I'm going to share the statistics on this ride's loops based on my personal GPS and the mapping efforts I put forth prior to attending the ride.

Researching the trail and mapping

I think one of the biggest things that helped me find success with this this ride was the level of research I did on the trail. In addition to being a biologist, I also have a degree in geographic information systems (GIS) and am skilled with ArcGIS mapping programs in addition to Google Earth.

Daryl had told me that if I could do No Frills and complete the OD 50, I could absolutely do the 100. He said that the other two rides covered the majority of the trails I'd be on for the 100 and mentioned that there wasn't anything else of major consequence in between that I hadn't seen. He also noted that the second half of the 100 was really easy compared to the first half.

In all of these points, he was 110% correct.

However, me being me, I had to get my grubby little hands on a map of the course and do my own research to confirm his claims. I blame my perpetual inner scientist for my skepticism and need to gain my own data as this wasn't exactly the kind of thing I could look up multiple peer-reviewed articles on. ;-)

I dug up a copy of the 100 mile trail from 2011 as a starting point and set to re-mapping the trail by hand within ArcMap. To aid in this effort, I added datasets from the Forest Service (FS) of trails and roads* to my map along with aerial and topographic basemaps.

*Roads are not necessarily defined as roads you or I can drive on within FS lands. These vary from fire roads to paved roads and may sometimes even include abandoned roads that are very overgrown. From my experience, the only road-like feature in common with all of the roads in this dataset is that all are wide enough to be traveled by a 4 wheeled vehicle. They are wider trails that most often include easier footing than single track, but they may not be entirely devoid of rocks.

In addition to the above layers, I also added my GPS tracks from the OD 50 in 2014 and No Frills in 2014 and 2016.

With these layers added to the map and the original hardcopy map in hand, I was able to figure out 95% of the trail and map it by hand in Arc. The 5% I couldn't map (and it is actually mapped, but I had to eyeball it vs. using known trail/road layers) was a short section or two of trail that is likely either unofficial FS trail, brand new FS trail (unlikely), or a handcut section of trail used just by the OD but not mapped for other trail use on the forest.

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Google Earth image of the course.
Loop 1: red, 2,  orange, 3, yellow, 4, green, 5, teal, 6, lavender, 7, purple.
Loops are weighted on the map from 7 to 1, so the later loop colors sit on top of the earlier ones where there is overlap.
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Northern part of the course
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Southern part of the course


And because mapping it on the computer wasn't enough, I also went to efforts to obtain all of the hardcopy topographic quads that the course is within and drew out the course by hand on those. I then took what had become quite a giant map and tacked it up on a wall in my apartment so I could stare at it through the winter months while I was on my bike trainer and doing piyo to keep fit. Nothing is more motivating than wanting to conquer the unknown of a hard-as-hell 100 mile trail to get you working out!

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Maybe a little overboard, but I love maps!

Once I had a successfully mapped route on my mapping programs, I assessed the individual loops to identify their individual length, where significant climbs were, how much climbing would occur on each significant climb (vertical feet gained), and also to note how much single track vs. road the loop contained. I also put forth effort to obtain the actual length of each loop from the Old Dominion folks.

I amassed all of the above data and came up with the below table:

Old Dominion Statistics
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The hold times here are based on best guesses, GPS estimates made from personal GPS on OD 50 and No Frills along with measurements made in mapping programs

By the time I had amassed information to develop the above table, I was quite familiar with the OD 100 course. It would be hard not to be after all of that! The result of this was that I felt more confident than I had before about being able to do this ride. The little switch in my brain that said, "Maybe do the OD 100" flipped to "Definitely do the OD 100".

My mapping showed that there were four significant climbs on the OD 100, one on each loop 1, 2, 3, and 4. Of those climbs I had completed 3 when riding the OD 50 and No Frills - the climb on loops 1, 2, and 4. The remaining climb that I had not seen/completed was a steady 6-mile climb on all gravel road. Perfect!

Beyond those climbs, the ride looked super doable for Q and I (based on our conditioning history which is outlined more in depth below). And the fact that over half of the ride would be on roads*, I knew it was well within our abilities. The absolute worst parts of the ride were things we had ridden before!

Now, I'd debated doing an entirely different post of just my statistics from the ride, but because of the number of hits on my ride story and the huge interest in it, I've decided to just add the statistics to this post. Putting all of the information in one place will better guarantee that seekers find what they are looking for. Additionally, I don't like the idea of someone only seeing my "best guesses" in the above table without seeing how the ride actually played out.

I must note for those who don't know/realize: All GPS units have a degree of error in accuracy. The more money you spend on a GPS unit, the less error your data will have [usually]. My $120 Garmin 310XT doesn't hold a candle to a Trimble unit (that rings in to the tune of $1,500 and up!). To my best estimate, my Garmin has about a 9% error - just like my Endomondo app on my Samsung Galaxy S6.

The combination of my measurements of the trail via computer analysis with mapping programs and the actual data my GPS pulled in from the ride provide a better range of accuracy for which to judge the trail.

The results? Well, see for yourself.

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I wonder about the accuracy of the calories....
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Actual ascents on those climbs was a bit worse than estimated! Meep.
(Also, forgive me if this image is glitchy, I've tried to fix it with no avail.)

Not too far off my original estimates at all! Especially when you consider the % error with the GPS over time. Factoring that in, the new total mileage would be 97.4 miles and the total ascent would be 14,498 feet. The mileage is spot on with what the actual is supposed to be (98.2) and the vertical gain differs from my originally estimated ~17,000' by about 1,500'.

I'm really glad I spent the time doing all of this research because by the time the ride rolled around I felt very comfortable and ready. Committing most of the climbs to memory and knowing about when I would encounter them helped me stay in the game mentally and never feel like the trail got the best of me.


Reading others accounts of the ride

To supplement my mapping efforts, I also perused the interwebz for others' ride stories. You see, it's one thing to map the trail, but something else entirely to actually RIDE it. I didn't find many (and I didn't save the links to the ones I read), but I did take notes on them for my own use.

I also took some time to review my past ride stories and post-ride analysis write-ups on the OD 50 and No Frills to recall the trail and time spent on each loop.

From others and my own stories, I developed the below:

OD Stats2
Notes based on accounts of others and personal experience with OD 50 and OD 25


This helped in further cementing my mental game and boosting my confidence.

Quizzing other 100 riders

I took some time to lurk on the 100 mile riders Facebook group and also reach out to friends who have successfully completed 100(s). I sought any and all advice on completing a 100 from tips and tricks on food, gear, preventing injury, managing pain, managing soreness, etc. Anything and everything I could find out I did.

Through these readings, I packed better than I would have otherwise and I definitely got amazing tips for human supplements I wouldn't have picked up!

Thanks to these conversations, I supplemented myself with BCAAs (branched chain amino acids) and took Recoverite by Hammer Nutrition as soon as the ride was over. I also ate very well during the ride (food detailed more below) and drank immensely well, too.

Supplements coupled with constant drinking and eating all day resulted in me having no major soreness at all from the ride. I was a little bit stiff the next day, but beyond a very tight left calf muscle (not the deeper soft tissues like in the past!!! YAY), I was fine! I have been way more sore after 50s before.

Well-planned fitness conditioning (for horse and rider)

Conditioning is a process for endurance. Muscle, soft tissue, and bone all condition over different lengths of time and our conditioning took place slowly over 4 years to build up to this 100 attempt. It [the 100] wasn't the grand end-goal plan necessarily, but in hindsight things played out really perfectly with our training to make it so:

Year 1 - long slow distance (LSD) and getting familiar with one another. We also dabbled in jumping and anything else under the sun. Did 1 LD.
Year 2 - more LSD moving into longer rides and rides at a faster pace.  Began 50s. Supplemented with some jumping and dressage-based-concept flatwork. Added the occasional hill sprint session.
Year 3 - continued pushing harder and faster on trail, added hill sprints to the regular schedule, pursued rides over lots of terrain off property. Largely focused on trails and no jumping. Also competed in 50s.
Year 4 - Trail conditioning turned into something that happened a couple times a month. These rides were usually longer than 15 miles and averaged 6-8 mph with emphasis on the faster end of that spectrum as it is faster than my race pace. We also did hill sprints regularly and began trotting downhills where footing wasn't too technical. The way things played out, we'd do a big ride, have lots of rest, then do another. Q had a lot of down time in comparison to past years and it was GREAT for her.

And then, once I really decided to do the OD 100, I took Year 4's focus and added in as much technical terrain (Dolly Sods and Canaan) as I could fit in and also added work trotting down gravel roads so Q had the opportunity to be more comfortable with that.

I also paid special attention to how much climbing we were doing on our rides. I wanted to do as much climbing as we could - and I'm so fortunate to have trails accessible from my barn and within a short trailer ride that fulfill this criteria. I knew the total vertical gain estimate for the OD 100 based on my research, so I'd do calculations after each of my rides to see, "Does 2170' of climbing from this 14 mile ride compare to the OD percentage-wise?" Well, 14% of ~17,000 is 2380' - so yes, that 14 mile ride was very comparable.

All of the above, combined with the added fact that I live in the middle of an area that is VERY similar in terrain to the OD meant that Q was fit and ready to tackle the course.

So that left ME. I had to get myself fit. And all along once I made the decision to do this ride I would tell people, "Yeah, Q's ready. I'm worried about myself!"

I spent the winter making a point to really ski my legs off when I was on the mountain for patrol. I'd do workouts on the bike trainer during the week at home.  I also supplemented that with piyo workouts at home that I did 6 days a week from December 29 until the beginning of March.

The weather broke for the better in March, so my indoor workouts ceased as I got on the bike more outside. And then, April rolled around and Dave and I took a 2 week road trip that was very, very active which I treated as a fitness bootcamp of sorts for myself hiking, climbing, and biking my way across the American west. (We moved our bodies over 100 miles of terrain in that 2 week period - and drove them 5200 miles by the end of it!)

The weekend after the road trip was No Frills 55. At the end of that 55, both Q and I were feeling GREAT and I KNEW then that the 100 was well in our reach. Neither horse or rider has ever felt that perky following a 55 before. It was so awesome.

After No Frills, Q and I did a couple bigger rides and a lot of mountain sprints. Those mountain sprints (and I call them mountain instead of hill because it's a contained, steep ascent for ¼-½ mile. The sprintable section we most often used was usually around the ¼-mile mark and sometimes was a little longer. Q fired up that slope every time like her tail was on fire until she was absolutely too beat to continue. It made her huff and puff and kept her heart rate up like nothing else we did. At the end of our sets I would always dismount and walk her down, hand feeding her grass as we went. Because despite being so hot with high respirations and HR from busting her butt on the workout, she was always super hungry which was a great thing to see.

I think those mountain sprints really cemented her fitness level into a super amazing place for the 100. They sculpted her into a beast that tackled all of the climbing on the 100 with ease - even in the heat! Which, by the way, we didn't get to train for because the ride was literally the first hot day of the summer!!

The only thing I didn't do as much of preceding this ride conditioning-wise for Q (and myself!) that I wish I'd done a little more of (and will in the future) is more dressage work. It will really benefit us both for the better. Beyond this addition though, I am 110% satisfied with our conditioning plan leading up to the OD 100!

A great farrier 

I moved toward shoes last fall with hopes of finding better success with them so that I could do the OD 100. It was a totally unspoken desire at the time, but it was ultimately the driving reason for my move into shoes when I did. More on my move from boots to shoes here.

As if I don't already wax and wane poetically, lauding Dan's amazing work on Q's feet to people in-person, I'm going to continue it more on here:

The man is amazing. His work is outstanding. And Q's shoe job for this ride was out of this world.

The shoes & pads went on ~2 weeks out from the ride and we did not have a single issue throughout those 100 hellaciously rocky miles. Not a nail out of place.

Q was nearly foot-perfect all day long, confident in her feet over all kinds of terrain.

I had Dan's mentor out to remove Q's shoes the week after the ride (Dan was in California leading a Sun Dance), and when Ken arrived at the barn and looked at Q's feet he told me, a little surprised I think, that they were in absolutely amazing condition and there was no reason to remove them at all. He told me he'd cut the pads out and the shoes could stay (with thin bit of pad remaining between the shoe and hoof).

Q was so foot-perfect that her shoes still had all of that life left in them following the ride. Now that is one hell of a shoe job! Dan shod Q so well that her natural movement was never impeded in any way. In fact, I think the shoeing job has increased Q's confidence over such rough terrain. That movement and confidence was HUGE when it came to finding success on this ride!

Dan is amazing. (And if you live within ~3 hours of Davis, WV, he could be your farrier, too!)

Tack and clothing choices

Tack

I can definitely say that I have finally figured out the girthing issues for Q! The mohair with ample Body Glide applied at the holds did the trick beautifully and Q had no galling, rubbing, or tenderness of her girth area following the ride at all. This success is also probably partially attributed to the new static crupper ring I rigged onto my saddle that lessened the ability of the saddle to slide forward at all.

The other huge win with tack was with the custom fenders I ordered. The shin pain I had at No Frills that hurt like the dickens was NONEXISTENT for 100 miles. Booya! I had a bit of tightness in the calf muscle on my left leg, but it was totally just muscular fatigue after so much time in the saddle. It resolved in about 2 days following the ride. I'll take that!

Clothing

I wore my Kerrits Flow Rise breeches throughout the day and changed into another pair for night. Both pairs have pockets sewn on for my phone. I also wore one of my Mountain Khakis button up tech shirts for most of the day. The fabric was light and airy and wicked sweat great. I was very comfortable even when it was hot, hot, hot. (I'm a big fan of physical sun protection.)

On my feet I wore Salomon Speedcross 3's which are lightweight, comfy, and have kickass traction for trail running/hiking so they were perfect when I did get off and walk (which really wasn't much at all!).

And on my head, I wore my Da Brim to really help keep the sun off my face and neck. That thing looks absurd, but damn does it really help protect me from heat/sun! That, combined with the Frogg Toggs Chilly Pad towel that Sara brought me, was really what helped me stay cool throughout the muggy hot day. (Thank god for the steady breeze, too!)

An awesome crew

Having a crew made this whole ordeal so much easier. There was a great flow to the day and I didn't stress about things at checks much at all. Q was taken care of and all I had to do was take care of myself. That was freaking amazing. Two super horse-savvy people, one up-and-coming horse savvy person, and two people who could focus on me that know me super well (mom and boyfriend) was a great combo of people to Get Things Accomplished. Also, if you looked at these people from the professional side of things, I had two RNs, a podiatrist, a licensed vet tech, and a general contractor/asst. ski patrol director. Which meant I had a lot of medical knowledge for human and horse along with the Ultimate of Ultimate MacGyver in Any Situation (home, frontcountry or backcountry). Great skillsets to combine.

As I think about doing another 100, I wonder about how I'd do crew. If it was a ride where all checks were back in camp, I could probably get away without a crew because I'm a totally anal planner and could have everything setup at the trailer to get Q and I through with minimal help from anyone else. But to do the OD 100 with 6 away checks again? I'd need at least one person, and really two people to make that go smoothly. There's just so much shit to move around from place to place. Having five people was a luxury beyond luxuries and I totally doubt I'll be that lucky again!

Thought out food/drink and electrolyte choices (for horse and rider)

Overall, I'm really pleased with how things went food-wise for horse and human. The biggest thing I want to keep in mind for future rides with Q is the order and timing that she's offered her grain.

Horse Food

At every hold, Q had soaked alfalfa, her mash with electrolytes, hay, and water available. If it was there, she had the option of grass, too, and we always had carrots (which I would feed her more on trail than in checks). In every past ride, Q has dove into her mashes like a champ. And leading up to the actual ride day at this ride, she was fulfilling that norm.

But on ride day in the holds, she was going for the alfalfa before the mash in most cases. Alfalfa is a treat my horses only get at rides, so she was cracking out on the treat pretty hard. But at the second crewless hold, where I had sent her prepackaged grain/electrolytes and alfalfa so I could prep mash etc. there, she ate the grain first. Why? Because I didn't even pull the alfalfa out until halfway through the hold. A volunteer helped me set up her mash and I got her settled with that and she ate absolutely all of it before I ever pulled out the alfalfa.

We tried this tactic at following holds with mixed success. Q still wanted the alfalfa above all other things, and eventually I just gave in and let her have that because some food is better than no food.

I do think, in addition to hiding the alfalfa until the second half of the hold in the future, I will also wait to water her grain down at all. She does like it more when it is dry than wet, but she has such a propensity toward mild choke, that I always moisten her grain at least a little bit. If she'd dive into the dry grain with interest, it would be easy to moisten it enough to guarantee she wouldn't choke at all.

Minor tweaks in the grand scheme of things! I really don't have too much to be upset about with how everything went food-wise.

Horse Electrolytes

Leading up to the ride, I made a point of going to the barn every day the week prior to give Q a mash that had a dose of Perform 'N Win and lite salt. It was a mild pre-loading regiment, but helped her for the better, I think. Thursday and Friday in camp before the ride I witnessed Q pee 3 times (!!!) which is unheard of for her. She's always been very pee shy (she didn't pee until mile 70 at Big 92 during the ride, and then again at the finish in her pen, both times it was a great color). She drank well all day, but she's always been a good drinker since I have began giving her electrolytes.

In the heat of the day, I was syringing her her electrolytes at every hold (and at the pulse-n-go). Even if she ate her mash and go the dosing of electrolytes from it, she got another syringe dose. If she wasn't eating her mashes, she got two syringe doses. (We use a ½-n-½ mixture of EnduraMax and Perform 'N Win. Additionally, I'd added a tablespoon or 2 of lite salt to her pre-mixed mashes along with a half cup of Omega Max flax.)

Human Food

I ate well all day, though I didn't eat quite as ravenously as I thought I would. What does this mean? I ate, but I didn't stuff my face like a starving ultra-athlete.

Things I ate: chicken salad sandwiches, watermelon (of which Q stole a LOT of, I didn't know she liked watermelon so much! Definitely going on HER list of things for next ride lol), sushi, zesty quinoa salad, yogurt, mandarin oranges, a few kettle cooked BBQ chips, an oreo or two, some fancy chocolate Nicole brings me from Maryland, a Stella Artois, a few Cheezits, and a thing of applesauce. The chicken salad sandwiches and sushi were things I ate multiple times - two holds of sandwiches (half sandwiches, I think?) and 3 holds of sushi.

I tend to crave healthy, fresh things when it's hot and I'm exercising (obviously). I go on junk food binges from time to time, but they're few and far between when heat and exercise are involved.

Human Electrolytes

In addition to my ample eating, I stayed super hydrated throughout the day, drinking 1 - 1½ liters of water from my Osprey hydration pack each loop. And at every hold I had a bottle of gatorade with BCAAs in it. I showed Nicole at the very beginning how to mix the BCAAs into the bottle and she did a bang up job of making sure I drank the whole bottle at every hold.

At the end of the ride, Nicole mixed up a bottle of Recoverite for me to drink. Even through my delirium post-ride, I very distinctly remember being given that bottle and being forcefully told to drink it. (THANK YOU, NICOLE.) I drank it. It did not taste amazing, but I drank it. And I was not very sore post-ride. (Yes!!)

Conclusion

Research, time & patience, a great farrier, knowing myself and my preferences, and a solid crew really helped to make this thing fall into place so perfectly. It was the perfect storm of quasi-chaos which led to our completion of the Beast of the East.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Maine Thing

I completed 100 rocky Old Dominon miles and then promptly ran away to Maine for two weeks for a work detail with shorebirds and seabirds on relatively remote islands.

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View over Bar Harbor from Cadillac Mountain, Acadia Nat'l Park
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Eagle Lake as viewed from Cadillac Mountain, Acadia Nat'l Park
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Dramatic coastline along Park Loop Road, Acadia Nat'l Park
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Arctic tern adult, Petit Manan Island, Maine Coastal Islands Nat'l Wildlife Refuge
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Atlantic puffins and a razorbill, Petit Manan Island, Maine Coastal Islands Nat'l Wildlife Refuge
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Atlantic puffins and razorbills, Petit Manan Island, Maine Coastal Islands Nat'l Wildlife Refuge
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Eastern Brothers Island's dramatic topography, Maine Coastal Islands Nat'l Wildlife Refuge
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Lupine overlooking Blue Hill Bay, Mount Desert Island
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Arctic tern chick, Metinic Island, Maine Coastal Islands Nat'l Wildlife Refuge
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When in Maine....
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Views of Metinic, Maine Coastal Islands Nat'l Wildlife Refuge
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Newly hatched common tern chick, Ship Island, Maine Coastal Islands Nat'l Wildlife Refuge
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A herring gull chick (who was the size of a chicken) about to take out my sunglasses
Metinic Island, Maine Coastal Islands Nat'l Wildlife Refuge

In fact, as of this writing, I still haven't even seen my horses (arrived home yesterday), but my BO reports they're looking great & I WILL see them tomorrow.

Two weeks away has been great for Q because she has been 110% left alone to be a horse and it has been great for me, too, because I have been able to take time to wrap my head around the entire crazy feat.

It was so surreal for the first 7 to 10 days post-completion! It really became a reality as I began my trip northward. First, when I was at the local watering hole in Davis and all of my outdoorsy mountain biking friends all individually took a moment to come over and congratulate me on the ride. They're endurance athletes of another kind and they recognized the feat for what it was. Answering their inquiries and thanking them for their interest really drove home the whole, "I completed a 100 mile ride" thing. Then, the following night I was in DC with Austen and Emma and other new-to-me horse girls. Austen and Emma's enthusiastic questions about the ride plus an evening of horse-talk with the ladies cemented things even further.

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Visiting with some of the DC-area bloggers
Austen's recap here
Emma's here

I'll certainly share the typical "what worked/didn't/needs more contemplation" in a following post, but for now, know all are healthy and well following the OD 100. The two week reverie through work in Maine has helped settle my mind in more ways than one and I'm eager to get back in the saddle (on Griffin, Q still has more vacation ahead) this week!

And, because there are never enough photos of baby birds, I leave you with this little nugget.

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Arctic tern chick, Metinic Island, Maine Coastal Islands Nat'l Wildlife Refuge

Friday, June 17, 2016

2016 Old Dominion 100

Thursday

Originally, I wanted to be on the road relatively early on Thursday to get to camp and get a spot. As my week unfolded though, it became obvious to me that there was no way I'd be getting out of town when I thought I would. I'd had an exceptionally stressful week at work, and on Wednesday night I just gave up on the original plan I had; if I tried to stick with it I would only stress myself out more.

I ultimately got my act together and got out of town around 12:30p and was in camp around 3:30p on Thursday.

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Q and I right before we left home

The plan was to save Nicole and Carlos a spot beside me. The OD is notoriously heinous about parking and we weren't sure this would be possible, but we could try! I pulled into camp and told the parking volunteer that I needed to save a spot beside me because my friend would be using my corral. Turns out you were allowed to save one spot! I took the shady side of things, parking beside Stagg and Cheryl Newman, and saving Nicole and Carlos the spot opposite me.

I spent all of my time between arrival and dinner (6:30p) getting my camp setup slowly and intermittently chatting with the Newmans (whom I hadn't previously met) about the 100. Stagg is a wealth of information and loves to talk, so strategizing about the trail was fun.

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My camp setup. Trailer, tent, easy up, Q!
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Back of the trailer with feed and extra tack

Thursday's dinner was a potluck, and as with most OD potlucks, it was fantastic. I ended up sitting with a group of seasoned endurance folks including Jen and Kelsie, the other WV endurance riders at this event. (Jen would be doing the 100 as a cavalry rider and Kelsie would be doing the 50. Jen and her horse Prince won the OD trophy last year. Same horse and rider pair for this year with same goal but as cavalry instead!)

Jen shared with  me that she had been training for cavalry by riding with a 25 lb. pack for the past month. She planned to ride with  15 lb. pack for the actual ride. I told her I had some extra pommel bags I did not plan to use if she'd like to borrow them for her Boz saddle. She gratefully accepted and nabbed them from me after dinner.

 I took Q for a walk with Jen and Kelsie and their horses after dinner, then Felesha and Roger strolled by on their horses and talked me (easily) into a short leg stretching ride with them. I vaulted up bareback onto Q and we all went out for a 1 mile marching walk ride.

Back in camp, Felesha and I swapped horses for a few minutes. Her little stallion RZ and Q had paced VERY well together at No Frills. Originally she had wanted to do the 100 but after RZ had some mishaps in his field with a fence that caused her to miss out on some conditioning, she decided to drop back to the 50. Riding RZ was JUST LIKE riding Q. If I had closed my eyes, I would have thought I was on my own horse! It was bizarre! What a neat little guy.

It was dark by the time we finished our riding. I put Q in her pen, gave her a mash and alfalfa and hay for the evening, and settled peacefully into my tent with Kenai for the night.

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Cozy tent with Kenai <3

Friday

Friday dawned slowly. I woke, petted Kenai beside me in the tent, and sat up enough to gaze at Q in her pen.

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Kenai and Q

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<3

I counted myself so fortunate in that moment to be fulfilling a childhood dream for the umpteenth time - camping with my dream dog and my very own horse.

Eventually, I rose and began toodling about my little camp.

I fed Q a mash and some soaked alfalfa, prepped things for the following day, had some breakfast, chatted with the Newmans about the ride more, and prepped my food for the following day.

Finally, with enough done to feel "accomplished" I saddled Q up for a pre-ride and we headed out.

We did the first 1.5 miles alone, but eventually caught up to Jen and Kelsie. The three of us tooled along for a little while until we were 2.5 miles from camp and then turned to head back. I separated from them then, intermittently trotting Q then slowing to a walk after she'd gone a fair bit confidently. I wanted to give her some confidence building solo in preparation for tomorrow when anything would be possible re: riding alone or with company.

I didn't plan to do a 5 mile pre-ride, but I'm really glad I did as it prepared me so much more for the the start and the finish the following day that traversed that same bit of trail!

Back in camp post-ride, I noted that Q's new mohair girth (purchased at the beginning of May) seemed to be working really well. Post ride it was sitting back a nice distance away from the area of her girth that had previously been pretty sore. I think the combination of the mohair girth, having a girth the proper size, having a girth that was a bit slimmer, body glide, and a crupper that did.not.stretch really made a huge difference.

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"Quit taking pictures and untack me, human!"

I settled Q and then popped into town to get some service to check in with my crew who would all be arriving later that day.

I immediately received texts from Dave, mom, and Nicole when my phone regained service.

Nicole informed me that Lily was still off from a blown abscess, but she and Carlos would be coming to crew for me and would be bringing their truck! I was sad about Lily and the fact that Nicole would have to scratch, but I was PSYCHED about still getting to see them, and that truck would be a monumental help!

Mom had texted to let me know she was heading my way on schedule. And Dave had texted asking me to call him if I got a moment...

I called and he told me the craziest story ever! (Trigger warning if you don't like hunting...skip the next few paragraphs.)

"Guess what woke me up this morning," he asked me. "The bear!" I replied. The bear we'd seen when Mandy visited in May had been showing up more and more frequently in the neighborhood. The neighborhood had had a past nuisance bear that tore things off of people's porches (including Dave's - it threw his grill off the porch and ripped it apart) and ate all of Dave's beehives (he hasn't started any since due to that!) Dave eventually shot the bear after repeated calls to the State wildlife agency who told him he could do it or wait for them to have time to do it.

"Yep," Dave replied, "And guess where he is now?" This stumped me. Thoughts flashed through my head of the bear stuck somewhere in the garage..the basement..the house?! "I don't know..." I hesitantly replied, "Where...?" "IN MY FREEZER!" Dave exclaimed. "WHAT?!" I replied back, shocked. Dave laughed and then told of how he'd woken up to the bear on his porch in the compost bucket (the bear had attacked the real compost further down the hill a few days earlier). Fortunately, he had closed the sliding glass door right beside the compost the night before (he usually leaves this open!) or the bear would have undoubtedly made it into the house! After getting over the initial shock of the bear on the porch he waved his arms and stomped and yelled at it to try to scare it off the porch. Well, the bear was having none of that! It turned around (butt had been facing the sliding glass door where Dave was standing on the inside), reared up onto its hind legs and started pushing against the door with its forelegs! "The hell with THAT!" Dave said. A bear with THAT kind of habit is DEFINITELY not going to get itself in anything but further trouble and potentially hurt someone eventually. Black bears with no fear of humans are rare in West Virginia where they are heavily hunted; those with no fear end up being pretty dangerous and always end up being put down by the State before they can hurt someone (our bear population is stupid high thanks to careful management from a time when the population was really low...that careful management has resulted in a VERY healthy population now!) So Dave marched upstairs and got his gun, came downstairs and shot the fucker. Dan (farrier and my riding buddy) then came up and helped him dress the bear out. The hide is currently being tanned and Dan was able to take the claws to his Sun Dance. Unfortunately, despite literally a dozen calls to people, no one was available to come harvest the meat on short notice. =( Dave really tried.

And that's how my boyfriend sacrificed a bear so I could complete my first 100.

Post call with Dave (where we discussed more logistics about the ride in addition to the bear story), I checked the weather one last time (still 90°+ but fortunately with winds 10-15 mph and lower than usual humidity for us) before heading back to camp.

Back in camp, I quickly let the trailer parking folks know I wouldn't need my saved spot any more. It was promptly filled by a fellow who was kind enough to leave enough room for all of my crew! He was SO nice. His gelding also promptly fell in love with Q... Oops.

From that point, I just sat in camp getting tiny things prepped for the next day as I waited on my crew to arrive. My mom showed up first and I got her settled in her tent, she fed me (what mom's do best, right?), and she accompanied me to vet Q in for the ride.

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Vetting in
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My vet from home vetted us in!
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Pulse of 36, all As with a note about her naturally wobbly gait

While waiting for the others back at our camp post-vetting, Dom and Mike stopped through to say hello. So very good to see them, as always. =) They'd been seeking Skip and decided to chat with us while they waited. He eventually zipped back into camp so they headed over to meet up with him and prep for the following day.

Sara arrived next. I was telling my mom what she'd be driving and mom looked up and said, "Oh, like that?" and BOOM it was Sara! I walked out to the front of my camp to meet her and direct her in. =)

Once parked and settled, Sara immediately set to asking me questions and getting things straight for crewing the next day. She's a FORCE, guys. Crew Captain extraordinaire. She put on her mom voice and I innately responded and listened and did as I was told! Damn. Everyone 100 miler needs a crew member like that! She also brought me a surprise! A Frog Togg Chilly Pad towel to help me keep cool in the next day's heat. THAT THING WAS THE FUCKING BOMB. Oh. My. Goodness. It saved my life in the heat of the day. Everyone also needs a crew member from the deep, hot, humid south to help them get through a summer ride. THANK YOU, Sara.

After a short time, Nicole and Carlos arrived, too! I greeted them, facilitated introductions with Sara and my Mom (no one had met IRL yet!), and then helped them get set up for the next day.

Once all were settled, we took Q over to get the final nail in her left hind shoe for the ride. Dan had done all but that nail after Q decided she had no more patience during the shoeing. The ride farriers didn't have any borium tipped nails (I only needed the stud nail in that shoe), but they decided to use a slightly larger nail that would stand above the others a bit like a stud. I checked with Nicole who has more experience with shoes to make sure this would work, and we did it. (Obviously, all was fine and it worked well.)

Once this was done, we put Q back in her pen and waited for Dave, forever discussing the plans for the following day as we waited. I was beginning to worry he wouldn't show up in time for dinner! Fortunately, though, he did show up - just in time on his motorcycle - and we all headed to dinner and the ride meeting.

Dinner consisted of pulled pork sandwiches, cole slaw, mac 'n cheese, and brownies. The ride meeting was pretty par for the course. I paid attention to what I could, but with the Endurance Trifecta Quartet of Nicole, Dom, Sara and myself in the same 10 foot radius, it was hard to pay full attention! I nabbed the nitty gritty details on the vetting criteria (optional tack off at all, though vets could request tack off if they didn't like your trot out, pulse criteria of 64 for whole day) and called it good. There were 15 vets, 29 100 milers, 69 50s, and 38 LD riders starting the following day.

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The Endurance Trifecta. This is our Normal. (photo by Carlos)

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Thank you Blogging World for bringing us together. (photo by Carlos)

Following dinner, Q got a bit more food, we packed the truck, the ladies headed to the shower hourse to rinse off, then we nabbed cell service before heading back to camp. I crashed nearly immediately after we got back to camp, with the others following shortly after. 4a would come too soon.

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Walking back to camp with Nicole and Sara (photo by Carlos)
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Post dinner, mid prep for the following day. I think Nicole was trimming Q's mane for me. =) (photo by Carlos)


Saturday

Ah, the morning dawned too soon. My sleep wasn't horrible, but it wasn't as sound or deep as it is for 50s either.

I'd told Capt. Sara I was setting my alarm for 4a and seconds after I'd snoozed it, she was there, "Rise and shine, it's 4a." I groaned in response and told her something about being too perky at that hour and I'd be out by 4:15a. She replied with something peppy I've since blocked out of my memory. Because mornings. The lady is a FORCE, I tell you, a FORCE. (In the best way possible!!!)

I slowly dressed and readied myself for the day slowly, double and triple checking my thoughts as I went along. Dave tried to sleep lightly as I did so, but eventually this blared loudly through camp:


Followed promptly by this:


I apologized to him, but told him I had warned him that there was absolutely no sleeping in at this damn ride. They simply don't allow it.

I gave Dave a quick, apologetic kiss and forced myself out of the confines of the tent and into what would be a very long day.

I prepped Q's mash and by the time I'd given it to her, all were awake and out of tents. We headed over to the big tent to get coffee and hot tea together to leave Q in peace to eat. Once back, I tacked her up while Nicole and Sara took mental notes so they could do it later.

Sara then headed up to check me in with the starter while Nicole performed the Native American rituals on Q and I that Dan had tasked her with to safeguard us for the ride.

Once Sara was back, it was time to mount up and head to the start!

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Sara and Nicole escoring Q and I to the start (photo by Carlos)

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Becky Pearman Photography


I made it to the start moments before the trail was open, said my good byes, and headed down the trail! I'd see my crew again in about 16 miles.

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Saying goodbye to Dave <3 (photo by Carlos)


The First Loop (15.7 miles)

I trotted away from my crew right as the announcement that the trail was open was made.

In seconds after the start, as Q trotted among the other horses heading out, I heard a whippoorwill calling up the hill to our right. It isn't an uncommon bird to hear, but they are so special to me for some reason. Hearing it brought a smile to my face as we began our 100 mile attempt. That call made me feel like everything would be okay all day; we would be able to do this thing.

That first mile out on the road out of camp I ended up a little more in front than I wanted to be, so I hung back a bit at the turn up the hill to let those nearest to me pass before we got onto tighter trails.

At the next significant turn on the trail, the 4 or 5 riders in front of me all trotted on by. I had been following along like a good little lemming and then realized that there should be a turn about...NOW. I yelled ahead, "TURN! TURN. MISSED TURN ON YOUR LEFT!" Bryn Stevenson, immediately in front of me, heard and called to the others as she turned around, but the others didn't immediately correct their error.

I let Bryn pass Q and I before heading onward. Q is calm at starts in that she won't run off with me, but she is still a bundle of nerves re: spooking and I simply didn't care to deal with it first thing if I didn't have to!

We followed Bryn for awhile more, though I let her pull ahead of us as we reached the short stretch of paved road we had to follow before going back onto trails for good. As Q and I traversed that stretch of road though, Bryn and Taco were trotting the wrong way on trails on the other side which spooked Q pretty good, sending us sliding precariously across the asphalt. Talk about my stomach leaping into my chest for that one! Q kept her feet though and I called to  Bryn that the trail went the opposite direction and she corrected herself.

From there, things went well for the most part. Q was a big bundle of energy that wanted nothing more than to chase Taco down and stay RIGHT with him. I spent a lot of time checking her and holding her back.

Eventually, Richard Stedman would catch up to us and I'd let him and Bryn go in front of me. I knew they knew the trail better and had more experienced horses under them. I was happy to follow behind, smiling to myself about how incredible my company was for these first few miles.

As the first significant climb of the day presented itself, a lot of riders became jammed together. Kathy Broaddus (riding her gelding who has top 10'd at Tevis multiple times, OD, and other 100s), Rich Stedman (on last year's Nat'l Champion horse), Claire Godwin (on Merc, her 25 year old gelding who is an absolute hell of a horse), a lady from Australia, Lani Newcomb, Amanda Humphreys, Bryn Stevenson, Lauren DiOrio and I were all touch and go for awhile. I can't tell you how special it was to spend time on trail with so many endurance legends (horses and humans alike).

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Following Bryn and Taco up the first big climb
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Looking over my shoulder at the view
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Bryn and Rich in front of me up on the ridgeline
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Bryn and Rich ahead again along the ridge


When we reached the Forest Service (FS) road that would take us downhill to the first vet check (VC) though, folks spread out. I would ultimately settle in with Lani Newcomb behind Rich and Kathy for the rest of the loop until I dismounted to handwalk Q in right before Bird Haven.

As we descended the hill at a trot, I introduced myself to Lani and we chatted a bit. She eventually asked me if I ever worried someone would steal my carrots from my backpack, to which I laughed and told her Rich Stedman had already threatened as much earlier in the morning. =)

VC 1, Bird Haven (15.7 miles)

As I walked into the first hold, Sara took my ride card and my crew swept in to take Q and my helmet and my hydration pack from me. It was as if starving vultures swept in and ate me clean in seconds the way they nabbed every lick of possible responsibility from me!

I directed some, but mostly, my crew had it handled. It was a little shocking at first!

We arrived at 7:28a (2 hour and 13 minutes to travel the 15.7 mile first loop) and we met pulse criteria at 7:32a. Q's CRI was 52/52, she received all As, positive sounds in all 4 quadrants, and our out time was 8:17a. BOOM.

Back at our little station post-vetting, Q would show no interest in her mash, but dove into the alfalfa. We let her do as she would and I ate a Noosa yogurt, a can of mandarin oranges, drank a gatorade, and did my best to sit still while my crew took care of things. Dave even massaged my shoulders.

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All hands on deck for sponging and scraping (photo by Carlos)
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Sara reaching to pass the girth to Nicole to tighten (photo by Carlos)


It was hard to NOT do things at first! But as the day went on, I would settle into the routine easily - especially as my head became more frazzled.

I would ultimately use the portajohn twice at this hold because I was SO HYDRATED. It was a good problem to have.

8:17a arrived too soon and after syringing Q her electrolytes (they were in her mash that she didn't eat) I headed out for the second loop of the day that contained the worst climb.

The Second Loop (16.4 miles) 

Lani, Kathy, and Rich all had outtimes a minute before mine, so I caught up to them quickly as we left camp.

Kathy and Rich struck out in front of Lani and I quickly settled in behind them and Lani filled me in on their horses (multiple top 10s at Tevis for the one and Nat'l Championship for the other) and why we should feel zero need to keep up with them for the day.

In short order, Lauren DiOrio and Getcha caught up to us and the three of us would ride together for the whole loop with Amanda Humphreys on her POA Candy joining a few miles later. Such a nice little group!

One of my favorite things said all day was said by Lani around the beginning of this loop. She is a vet and pointed out that at the pre-ride vet meeting for this ride, the vets noted that one thing they loved most about helping out was the bond between all of the riders and their horses in endurance. Lani told us that all endurance horses are essentially horses that sucked at all the other jobs they tried to have. People couldn't put up with them because of their energy that presented itself in bad forms because they didn't have enough outlets. So they ended up with us and they became endurance horses and it's the best job in the world for them. We've got what other people don't want/can't handle. And it's kind of true! Definitely so for Q and I.

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All 4 off the floor! Movin' right along during loop 2. Photo by Becky Pearman

The conversation was rich and the miles flew by and the 5 mile stegosaurus climb I remember being so demoralizing when Nicole and I did it in 2014 seemed like no big thang. In fact, I got a pretty good chuckle when we were discussing the trail at one point and Lani said, "It's simple really, all endurance is is starting at one place and going until the end. Duh."

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Climbing ever upward on the second big climb
This is not the steepest section nor the rockiest section believe it or not
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Ever upwards
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False summit along the ridgeline
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Getcha didn't want to participate in our selfie!
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Amanda in front, Lani, me
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Vista over the GW atop a rock outcropping
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More rocks. More climbing.
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Amanda and Lani still in front
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Another false summit 


We had so many great conversations about horses, endurance, other rides, terrain, etc. I wish I could remember more of them in detail! I do remember Lauren's detailed account of an accident she'd had due to a horse years ago. The injuries she sustained blew my mind. Even with ski patrol and my other outdoor adventure sports, her injuries were such that my jaw dropped. It's her story to tell, so I won't recount it here, but take my word when I tell you she's got some serious lady balls for being back on horses - and competing in endurance at that! She's got a great spirit and is really fun to talk to. I was really enjoying myself and Q was really well behaved and nearly foot perfect throughout the climb as she and I talked and got to know one another.

Eventually, we all grew tired of climbing and wished for both better footing and a chance for the horses to drink. I remembered the trail to the water trough very, very well and told the others what we'd see when it was close: the trail would "tunnel" through the forest, the soil would be soft and loamy with few, if any, rocks, and then the trough would be on the left. We all "wooooo"ed and whooped when we finally reached it, Amanda turned in her saddle to tell me, "Wow, you really did remember it perfectly!" "I was demoralized the last time I did that section of trail and seeing this piece was like heaven, so I committed it to memory forever!" I told her, grinning.

With the horses tanked up on water, we confronted the final several hundred feet of descent on ankle rolling cobble/boulders!

After that, we had only a few miles of gravel road before Laurel Run. Lani and I had horses who were happier trotting a bit slower than Candy and Getcha, so we hung back from them as we trotted to the check. The heat that hit us as we descended from the mountain top was pretty intense (highs for the day ended up around 92°F) but the breeze was present which was very fortunate.

I would ultimately dismount and walk Q in again for the check, arriving at 11:20a (3 hours and 3 minutes riding that second evil loop). I fed both Q and Lani's Banjo carrots as we walked in to help get their gut sounds going for the vets.

VC 2, Laurel Run (32.1 miles) 

This check was crewless, and as a result, I didn't make it up to the P/R until 11:25a, 5 minutes after my arrival, a little slow. Q pulsed at 64 (we had to walk up a hill in the sun to get to the vetting) but dropped to 56 by the time we walked the additional 20 shady feet to the vet.

This vet check is STUPID. The trot out is on an incline, on gravel, and generally sucks. I didn't meet a single person with a positive thing to say about the location or the setup all day.

Q's CRI was inverted as a result of having to trot downhill away from the vet and uphill back to the vet (56/60), but Traci told me everyone had been that way but to keep an eye on Q in the heat anyway. Q received a B on impulsion and As everywhere else with positive gut sounds in all quadrants.

Following the vet check, she dove into her mash while a volunteer held her so I could use the bathroom and grab food from the volunteers (turkey and cheese sandwich and an orange gatorade).

I plopped down on the ground with Q as she finished her mash (which had electrolytes in it) and dove into her alfalfa, the volunteer left to help others, and Q and I just chilled in the shade eating.

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Ground tied and chowing down at Laurel Run
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Pondering a nap 


Eventually I would tack her up then sit back down for the rest of the hold before our 12:10p out time. I took the last few minutes to get out the Chilly Pad towel Sara brought me, dipped it in a water bucket, wrung it out slightly, and draped it on my neck for the rest of the day. IT WAS AMAZING. OH MY GOODNESS. I knew right then and there that the oppressive heat of the day wouldn't be a problem for me thanks to this towel!

The Third Loop (14.5 miles) 

I headed over to the out timer right around 12:09p. The heat was really making me drag. I knew we had a steady 5 to 6 mile climb ahead of us and I was not looking forward to it in the heat of the day. I hoped Lani's out time was similar to mine so we could tackle it together. Despite Lauren, Amanda, and Lani all walking into the check before me, Q had the earliest out time. I think Amanda and Lauren chose to linger a little longer in camp, too, due to preparations for the heat to come.

Fortunately, Lani wandered over to the out timer within a minute or two of my out time so we could leave together.

We moseyed on up the road from the check mumbling about the heat and why do we even enjoy doing this to ourselves, and blah blah blah. It was all said in good fun.

As with the former loop, Lani made a point of noting to me all of the places I would see again at night that we traveled right now. I would be really grateful for this come nightfall!

As the long climb up the road began, Lani and I would intermittently trot and walk. Q's got a much more purposeful trot than a lot of horses. "Slow trot" is not in her vocabulary unless we are in an arena and I'm really asking for it. Lani would initiate the trot and Q and I would follow suit, pass them, trot for a time, then Q would need a walk break and Lani would catch up, we'd walk a time, and then repeat the whole process. We did this all the way up the hill. Lani initiating, then Q taking the lead and "dragging" our partners up the hill.

Lani and I chatted the whole time about vet med, horses, endurance, other endurance rides around the country, being liberals, being scientists, science in general, and life. 

We paused twice during the trek at water troughs before settling into a beautiful section of single track bordered by laurels.

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The photos don't do the tunnel of laurel
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But to the left is a beautiful view into WV
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This was the part I thought would be a good mountain bike ride


As we descended the trail, I thought how fun of a mountain bike ride this section would be and thought of Dave, hoping he had found time to get out on his mountain bike.

Eventually, the trail leveled off and we had a long while of trotable sections. Q led for a lot of this until the last mile or so when she had a particularly large horizontal teleport spook. Lani laughed every time Q spooked all day. It helped me make light of her behavior and not get too upset about it, though it can be so frustrating to deal with. (Granted, she was infinitely better than she has been in the past.)

In time, we found the bridge over the creek. I remembered Stagg telling me this meant we were really close to the check and dismounted here to walk in, feeding Q and Banjo carrots as I did so. We arrived at 2:52p (2 hours 42 minutes elapsed on loop 3).

VC 3, Bucktail (46.6 miles)

I arrived into this check and Q was swept away from me by my crew again. She was untacked immediately and we all began scraping and sponging her as Q and I both ate watermelon (I'd eat a piece and give her a piece at the same time, she loves it). Despite these efforts, she was a bit hot, still, so we added ice to the water buckets and that did the trick pretty quickly after that. We met pulse criteria at 3p which made our out time 3:45p.

Unfortunately, we got the vet that always dings Q on her gait at this hold. Sara trotted Q (as she did at the first check) and I prayed silently and made verbal note to the vet that Q's gait is naturally wobbly. The vet told me they call that a "sashay" in dressage. Well okay then. I'll use that term from now on. She also noted that Q may be "hip hitching" and have "issues with her SI area". Regardless, Q passed the vetting with B on mucus membranes and cap refill, A- on skin tenting, jug refill, and wounds (slight knicks from those damn rocks...we had no leg protection and I personally feel Q did pretty damn good considering!), As on everything else with A in one quad and Bs in all other gut quads, and a CRI of 60/60 which is typical for her in the hot heat of the day.

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Arriving (photo by Carlos)


While crew took care of Q eating, I sat in the shade and ate sushi amongst other things, received another massage from Dave, and chatted with everyone. Sounded like I was currently in about 9th place. INSANE. That made me feel a little uncomfortable, honestly!

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In love with the cooling towel (photo by Carlos)


I shared with Dave about the trail and lo and behold, he had indeed ridden it! He'd gone out for a bike ride and ended up following the trail back to camp, traversing the same section I had for the past several miles! Sweet! I was so excited for him. He'd enjoyed it a lot - just like I thought he might!

My out time came too soon and Lani told me she was a good 25 minutes behind me and may or may not be going back out. Amanda and Lauren had come into the hold a good 15 to 20 minutes behind Lani and I, too, so they wouldn't be out until much later! I was on my own heading out on the big fourth loop (interrupted by a pulse and go). I wouldn't see my crew again until nearly nightfall at Big92.

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These girls <3 (photo by Carlos)


The Fourth Loop I (7.2 miles) 

Fortunately, I knew this section of trail really well. It was part of No Frills. Q and I trudged out of camp alone, both cranky about the heat of the day. It took me a solid mile to convince her to start moving out and we alternated between walking and trotting for another mile with her beginning to spook more and more at white rocks.

We were on a fire road for this section of trail and it is Q's absolute kryptonite. Wide open with intermittent white rocks and stumps scattered along the edges. Q HATES those white rocks. But not all of them. Only some of them. And so we went, zigging and zagging down the trail at a miserably slow pace.

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Alone on trail


Around mile 2, I look up to see a doe in the woods. I told Q, "Deer. Do you see the deer. There is a deer in the woods ahead." She's usually very good with deer. Not this one! I tried to scare it off, but it didn't work, so we walked closer and then it spooked and Q spooked VIOLENTLY as she's capable of and I saved myself the first spin, but she executed a second one and I was dumped.

I landed on a rock near her feet and she kindly did NOT step on me, but I still screamed loudly at her for the shenanigan, "FUCK YOU. GODDAMNIT," my voice echoed to the trees around us. But hey, I didn't hit her like I would have once done after the fact! I got back on, and we continued SLOWLY onward, her spookiness growing with every step.

See, Q reaches a point where she just kind of escalates panicking about nonsense and nothingness. She gets increasingly freaked out over NOTHING because she can't calm down. Walking helps usually, so we walked a lot and I hoped she would just calm the fuck down. It wasn't super effective though. And unfortunately for us, we were many miles away and I couldn't just give her something easy to succeed at and then call it a day like I'd do at home.

The wind was not helping matters at this point either. While it felt wonderful, it sucked because it was causing deadfall high in the canopy to loosen and fall and hit the ground. Cue more spooking.

And so we walked.

I wanted nothing more than to stretch my legs free of the stirrups and ride on the buckle, but I couldn't! I could give her a loose rein, but I had to be on the ball because of the chance of Amanda or Lauren or Lani coming up behind us. After the whole tumbling backwards off a bolting Q at No Frills due to horses approaching from behind, I wasn't going to risk anything again. UGH.

Eventually, we reached a section of trail where we'd gone Right at No Frills but we needed to go Left for the OD. Go left and cross a bridge. Thank god, we were in the woods on single track at this point where Q feels more secure. She crossed the bridge like it was no big deal at all! YES.

Shortly after the bridge, a raccoon in the brush growled at us. That spooked me good, wondering why the hell the bugger was out in the day time and I kicked Q into a trot for a time. Eventually though, her spookiness was too much to handle and I just dismounted and walked her. I needed to stretch my legs anyway.

While walking her, we reached a section of road I thought I recognized. I continued hand walking her for another half mile or so until I was certain I did indeed know the road from No Frills (we'd popped out at a different place than NF).

I intermittently trotted Q and walked her on the road until seeing Claire Godwin and the Australian in the distance. I was SO HAPPY to see other people. Dealing with Q's nervousness was getting us NOWHERE.

I called to Claire and friend, "I am SO happy to see people," and recounted to them about my fall and loop to that point. Claire smiled sympathetically and shared that the Australian's horse was having a questionable metabolic issue so they would just be walking. No big deal to me! I just wanted to be with people and would have been walking anyway.

We all rode in silence for a time after that. I finally asked Claire how Merc, her 25 year old gelding,  was doing. She smiled and said, "It's just another day at the office," as she sat with her arms crossed comfortably, reins resting on his neck as he plodded along, his busy ears taking in everything around us.

About that time, Amanda on Candy came up behind us. I quickly told her about how I was hoping to run into her eventually and we caught up with one another on the trail so far. She was worried about Lauren who she hadn't seen in some time since leaving Bucktail.

Amanda and I trotted a short ways to some grass at the bottom of the short (and sunny, blast it!) climb up into the pulse and go where we let the girls graze. When the other two riders caught up to us, we all walked up together.

Waites Run Pulse and Go (53.8 miles)

My mentor Mary Howell was helping with the pulse and go as was my vet from home. SO wonderful to see these familiar faces!

Q dove right into the grain and hay that was on site and had a good long drink to boot. Good girl.

I called my vet over and had her take Q's pulse, not wanting to take off tack if I could help it, but I told her I would if I needed. She listened to Q's heartbeat for a few moments and declared her to be at 64! YES. 10 minutes and we could leave if we so chose.

While Q dove into more groceries, I helped Amanda with Candy who wasn't pulsing down very quickly in the sun and heat of the day. Eventually, we got her there though. Her out time would be a ways after mine, but I had already decided to stick with her for awhile. I needed the company and I've always admired Amanda, so it seemed a good idea. Additionally, she and I both were on the same page re: the girls getting some groceries in them.

While we were working to get Candy pulsed down, 3 more riders came in. That made a group of 7 of us at the pulse and go. Claire and friend were out first, which cleared things up a little. Amanda and I finally conceded to go after electrolyting the girls and letting them eat some more. (I also had a Coke and Q ate some apples Mary offered us. Great to see Q eating immediately after electrolyting like that!)

The Fourth Loop II (16.5 miles)

Amanda and I left moments before the group of 3, but they passed us pretty quickly on trail, setting off at quite a blazing pace!

For the first half of this mileage, we were on the No Frills trail we'd done in April. We FLEW. I hadn't cantered all day and we ended up having a few short sections of cantering and galloping on this bit of trail. It was wonderful! I think Q enjoyed it as much as I did.

Eventually though, the trail turned and we climbed up what would be the last significant climb of the day. We moved up that mountain at a snail's pace. We. Were. Done. It was the lowest of lows for sure for the whole ride.

At some point during the climb, Amanda noticed Candy's front right EasyShoe was gone. She got off to try to put a 0 on it, but it wouldn't fit with the nails, so I gave her my 1 to use, praying inwardly that Q wouldn't have any shoe issues.

We continued to trudge up the hill forever after that, turning right at the top instead of left as we did for No Frills.

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Ever upward! I think I have a similar photo from April in the fog


In my mapping research of the ride, it seemed that we would find a "road" at the top of this mountain somewhere. It could be fire road or gravel or otherwise, just something that an ATV could travel down. In aerial imagery of the area, I'd remembered seeing gravel descending the mountain on the other side for sure.

I shared as much with Amanda. My best bets on the trail based on my mapping had been surprisingly accurate all day...until now. That trail seemed to go on forever and ever. The rocks never ceased. We bitched and bitched at the rocks. Expecting them to end just made the fact that they went on and on all the worse.

I turned my phone off airplane mode along this trail and texted my entire crew to tell them I'd be closer to 9p coming in than 8:30p. I told them I was with Amanda and we were fine, just slow. I also asked if they could let her crew know she was with me, okay, and that Candy would need to see the farrier at the check. I turned my phone back onto airplane mode after I knew the message had sent.

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Lets take a moment to visit my collage of selfies throughout the day...
Start on the top and to L to R on each subsequent row. I went from happy and eager
to hot, plausible, and then faded into stir crazy as the day went on.
No sun gear, to sun gear, to dusk gear (clear safety glasses to minimize chances of
a branch to the eye!)


Eventually, we came out onto the "road" but it was the least qualified "road" all day. Still rock strewn, but we did manage some sections of trotting finally.

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Amanda and I kept saying "Fuck these rocks" so I took a photo to document the damning of rocks


During one such section, Candy overreached and shredded the gaiter on the boot and Amanda had to get off and smash a 0 onto the foot. That was the last issue we had with boots/shoes for the ride.

Finally, we emerged onto a gravel road of sorts. It was pretty rough. Rough enough that Amanda and I decided to get off and hand walk the girls down, grazing intermittently.

We knew that somewhere near the bottom of this gravel stretch, would be the Little Sluice hospitality check and then we'd have 4 miles of gravel road before our hold.

We kept thinking we should be at Little Sluice, but it was never around the corner! Amanda wondered aloud if it was like Narnia. I asked if she'd seen a wardrobe or a lamppost anywhere? No such luck. We did eventually see THE BIGGEST FUCKING DEER though. In fact, it was so large we were convinced from a distance in the dusky light that it was a sign...until it ran. Amanda called after it, "Deer, do you know where Little Sluice is?!" "Amanda, did I miss our entrance into Narnia? You're talking to animals as if we're in it..." I told her amidst a fit of giggles. It'd been a long day!

Finally though, we did reach the hospitality hold. The girls had a nice big drink from the trough while we made small talk with the volunteer. We asked her if she could radio ahead to Big 92 to let our crews know we were 4 miles out, and then we headed on our way.

It was nearly dark by the time we left Little Sluice and fully dark by the time we reached Big 92. We trotted and cantered those last 4 miles to make time and get there as quickly as we could.

I found myself grinning the last mile or so as we moved out in the dark without glowsticks lit or headlamps on yet. It was quite magical.

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Day is done. Gone the sun.
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Our tiny 1/3 moon.


About a half mile from the check, a whippoorwill called to our right. Amanda noted it with surprise and a little bit of wonder. I smiled, telling her they were all over this area. Right before we saw the lights for the check ahead, I heard another whippoorwill calling to our right and a wood thrush called at the same time to our left. I smiled huge in that moment. Both birds' calls are absolutely magical to me. Two of my absolute most favorite calls. I knew right in that moment that everything was going to be okay. We would get through this.

VC 4, Big 92 (70.3 miles)

I arrived at 9:19p. My crew was ready and waiting once again at this hold. We stripped Q, sponged her and scraped her, and I filled my crew in on the last big loop and the trials and tribulations it held. I also spat out my directions for what needed to be complete before the next loop in the dark before I forgot.

Q didn't cool off quite so quickly, but fortunately a breeze picked up and we finally got her to 64. Our time at the P/R was recorded as 9:27 and our outtime would be 10:07. Q vetted through absolutely beautifully with all A's and a 56/52 CRI. Wonderful! Both Dr. Bob and Dr. Bullock had wonderful things to say about her.

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Dr. Bob vetting, Dr. Bullock looking on chatting with me (photo by Carlos)
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Ready for nighttime! (photo by Carlos)


For the rest of the check, Q ate and was tended to by my crew while I used my solar shower in the woods to rinse off. Dave helped hold it up so I could "shower". I was SO HAPPY to rinse off and change clothes completely. It wasn't elaborate, but damn did it do the job.

After my "shower", I had a beer, a gatorade, ate some sushi, some chips, some chocolate, and then it was time to go! (Though not before my crew informed me Q peed BUCKETS of a light yellow color while I was rinsing off! This was the first she'd peed all day. She's very pee-shy.)

Amanda and I headed out of the check together.

The Fifth Loop (8 miles) 

Amanda and I intermittently trotted slow and fast for these 8 almost-all-gravel-road miles. Our crews passed us shortly after we left camp, so we waved to them as they went, then choked on the dust their cars threw up after.

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Being passed by our crew (photo by Nicole)


The dust from passing vehicles was definitely the worst part of the loop!

These 8 miles were pretty uneventful. We had one little section through single track that rerouted us around a paved highway, but beyond that, it was lots of gravel.

I was feeling FANTASTIC when I left Big 92, but somewhere in those 8 miles, I hit a wall. I was tired. I began chafing. And I was Not Having Fun. It was at this point when time ceased to exist for me. I looked at the "time" as merely a number that had to be before our cut off for each hold, but other than that, it meant nothing to me. I just counted the miles. I looked frequently at my watch wondering why the miles wouldn't go faster. I just wanted to be at the hold!

Fortunately, the hold came a bit sooner than I'd anticipated. Thank god.

VC 5, Laurel Run (78.3 miles) 

I unfortunately don't know what time I came into this hold because my card became misplaced at the last check I discovered during the last mile of the gravel road section.

I was irritated because I was tired and chafing at this hold. I passed Q off to my crew and grumbled a bit. I also had to pee incredibly bad so I went and did that while they got her ready for vetting.

When I was done peeing for the millionth time that day, slathering on chamois cream and "pulling a Funder", Q was ready to vet. Remember, this is the stupid ass check with the hill for the trot out.

Q's CRI was somewhere in the 50s (I don't have these scores right now) and she had all As....but she was slightly off in the trot out. It was inconsistent though, so we were asked to represent. She looked so good otherwise, so that definitely helped.

My heart was in my stomach when the vet told me all of this. I just saw my dream of this 100 crashing and burning. But I was so tired. And I hated that I was beginning to chafe...so I was having a hard time caring too much as we walked back down to let Q eat.

I sat glumly in a chair and tried to sleep a little while my crew fussed with Q. They tried to get me to eat, but I flatly refused. Sleep was all I wanted. Nicole poked and prodded Q's legs and she and Sara waxed and waned over some possibilities as I tried to shut out the whole world.

I was having a mental battle with myself. Sleepy Liz wanted nothing more than to quit. To be done. To sleep. To rest. But the tiny piece of Logical Liz that was left alive in me knew I should care and continue.

Finally, it was time to represent. I stilled my thoughts as best I could and marched back up the fucking hill to the vetting area.

Q was trotted out again. There was still *something* there, but it was even MORE inconsistent than before and definitely improving. I was allowed to go on as long as I took it slow. Q was dubbed Grade 2/5 on the right diagonal. (Although Nicole would later tell me she felt it should be a 1/5 because Q showed zero signs of the lameness at the walk and was inconsistent at the trot.)

I informed Amanda of this as we went by her on the way to tack Q up. I told her she didn't have to ride with me if she didn't want to because I was going to be so slow. She assured me she'd stay with me.

I quizzed Nicole and Sara as they got Q ready. "What would you do?" I was assured that I should keep going, just take it easy. So I trusted them and went.

The Sixth Loop (13.4 miles) 

Amanda and I did what we could to only trot the "flat" areas of these 13 miles. We took it as slow was we could. And boy was it ever slow seeming! We were kind of miserable.

This loop was so hard on us both. I can't speak for Amanda, but boy was I ever having a rough time. I was SO TIRED. I wasn't motion sick from the darkness, but I was just.so.tired.

My vision would blur in and out on the verge of sleep as we went along. Time didn't exist. Only the miles. Only the miles.

We'd trot, and Q would lead a lot because Candy was just SO done. When we trotted, I counted each post and switched my diagonals like a fiend. 10 and 10. 20 and 20. 6 and 6. 15 and 15. 3 and 3. Left. Right. Back. Forth.

Only the miles. Only the miles and counting my diagonals. Time did not exist.

The girls were absolutely famished. They'd pull us to the left and right to eat while we were on the gravel road. When we made it to more "rough" road, they'd eat in the median, slamming us to a stop from whatever gait we tried to maintain. Occasionally, the girls pulled us violently to one side of the road or the other seeking water. Whenever we could find it, we let them drink. Eventually a trough settled their thirst.

We were stop and go seeing another lady from Georgia on her POA mare, but mostly we were on our own.

Amanda had a white headlamp, my light was red. We had our lights on and off depending on whether we were trotting or walking because they bugs would be so bad with them on at the walk. When they were off, we just trusted the girls to lead us onward, grazing always.

We ultimately would trot most of the road, and walk the trail that wasn't on the road. Walking was definitely more prevalent than trotting for sure.

I knew talking would keep me alert, so I tried to get Amanda to talk to me about random subjects. They'd work for short bursts, but we were both too tired to maintain them.

I spent a lot of my delirium thinking about Funder's 100 mile stories. The unsuccessful and the successful alike. I don't know why, but they stuck out in my mind more than nearly anything else. I didn't see the words, I saw images. It was like I was teleported there with her and the other girls she rode with at night. Bitching about the trail and being tired. I don't know why I thought so much about these stories...but I did.

Finally, we reached a section of trail we remembered from the morning. The mere recognition boosted our spirits a bit as the mares climbed up some moderately rocky singletrack to the gravel road that would drop us down into the final check.

The whole loop Q had looked and felt fine to me. She had spring to her step and was even on both diagonals. Regardless, I had vowed to myself to dismount and handwalk her most, if not all, of the way in once we reached the gravel road that would lead us 2+ miles downhill into the hold.

When we reached that point, Amanda got off and handwalked, too. We were both aching to stretch our legs some.

I tried to watch Q's gait as we went downhill. I tried to note any discrepancies or inconsistencies with it. It was so hard to tell, but I thought she was maybe the tiniest bit off? Maybe?

Eventually, Amanda would get back on. I told her to keep going. I was going to walk Q all the way in. I didn't know how she was going to do. I feared it was over for us. Amanda sympathized with us for a few moments before I ushered her onward down the trail.

I walked with Q for nearly 2 miles alone after that. The other lady on the POA passed us at one point, but mostly it was just Q and I.

Q knew where she was. She had a spring in her step. She was bright eyed and steady in her gait once we were on a more level surface for me to observe. I longed to trot her out and see for sure, but I just couldn't let myself! I told myself I would when we were in the flat grassy field right before the check. But not before.

Downward we walked. Downward, downward.

I cried for a time, pleaded with Q, with the Universe, with the surrounding dark. I wanted to finish this thing, but I wondered if that was just selfish. I wanted my horse to be okay, too. I told Q to just do whatever she could. It would be okay. As long as she was going to be okay.

At one point, we reached a FS gate I didn't remember. I flipped my light to white instead of red to see which way to go around it. As I was flipping my light back onto red, Q balked HARD. Legs splayed. Gravel flying. I checked her legs and body all over, but she seemed unharmed. Leave it to this horse to spook violently after 91 miles!

Finally, we reached the field. I'd heard the final 3 riders that were out on trail behind us, but they never passed. The miles long walk had woken me up a little, my mind at least - my body was thoroughly whooped.

I trotted Q out as we approached the lights of the final check, watching her carefully under the glow of my red headlamp.

She was steady. She was even. She had spring to her step. She looked pretty fucking outstanding after 92 miles to me!

VC 6, Bird Haven (91.7 miles)

I entered the check to very worried looks from my crew....and Dom and Mike! They'd stayed awake after Dom's ride and come to the check to be there for me. Knowing that they'd had a long day and were there for me slowly registered and really did a lot to warm my mood and boost my morale.

I told everyone I'd be trotting Q out. I told them I'd handwalked her the past 2+ miles, trotted her moments before, and told them she looked great to me. It was going to be close to the very end it seemed!

Everyone helped untack Q, I hugged Dom, and grabbed my girl and headed to the vetting, informing Dr. Nick what happened with Q at the last hold.

Q's CRI was 52/52 and she had all As (I asked Nicole about this as I don't remember and don't yet have my card back.) When I trotted her out for Dr. Nick, she seemed really strong to me, trotting out better than she does most pre-ride checks! Still though,  I couldn't bring myself to make eye contact with anyone at the end of that trot out. I didn't want to see the "tell" on their faces regarding a pass or a fail.

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The vetting of truth.... (photo by Carlos)


Nick completed the vetting and didn't say anything. I finally asked, "Well? Did you see it? Is she okay...? ...or....not?" Nick replied as perkily as if it were the first check of the day, "I see something, yeah. It's there! But it isn't bad! Just keep doing what you're doing. You only have 6-some more miles to the finish!" Inwardly, I collapsed with relief. Outwardly, I don't know what I exhibited. "Thank you! I will! We're going to walk the whole thing! Thank you!"

And then I passed Q back off to everyone and slumped into a chair nearby, grumbling about wanting sleep.

Sleep was not to be had however. Mike and Dom magically appeared at my side with a cooler, forcing food on me with over-cheery tones. "We've got ____ and _____ and cheezits and applesauce and pudding and....." The list went on. "Cheezits! Applesauce!" I declared. "I always get jealous when the horse gets applesauce for electrolyting," Dom noted, "It's the best. So now I pack it for myself!"

Dave massaged my shoulders as I feebly ate a few cheezits and sucked down the applesauce. Dom noted to me while I did so that if Q was off at all, it was right hind and only slightly. I nodded or said something...or maybe I didn't acknowledge at all. My memory is fuzzy.

All too soon, the hold was over. I told my crew there was moonshine in the cooler and I'd see them at the finish.

The volunteers at the out timer asked how I was as I sat on Q ready to leave. "My ass is chapped and I'm tired," I replied, to many giggles in reply. -_-

The Final Loop (6.5 miles)

And so Q and I left camp somewhere near 4a. Amanda was long gone. The lady with the other POA mare was released about the time I was, and 3 more riders would be out shortly.

I chatted briefly with the lady from Georgia as we left Bird Haven. Both mares were giving us fits about wanting to graze when we just wanted to move down the trail and be done with the damn thing! We leap frogged a bit, until we got to the gate where we were supposed to cross the road...the gate that was supposed to be OPEN but wasn't!

I paced back and forth before I figured it out, then dismounted to open it for the Georgia lady and myself, bumping Q slightly with the gate in the process which sent her skittering about in a panicked fury for a short few moments. We made it through unscathed though, I remounted on the other side, let the lady on the POA go in front, and onward we went.

Q tried to trot to chase down the POA for a bit, but I was firm in telling her to walk. She eventually settled into this absolutely fantastic marching walk that averaged 4 mph, sometimes upwards of 4.5 mph. Her head bobbed along in time to her steps as if she was a TWH.

I was able to keep track of the POA from her rider's white light bobbing along the trees ahead of us. It was so dark in those woods! (We had clear skies but a moon that was only a third of the way full for our ride. The forest canopy always makes things darker, too.)

It seemed that as soon as Q had truly settled from wanting to chase the POA, the other 3 riders passed us. Jesse Jarrett, Forrest (or Hunter?) Green, and an unidentified female rider trotted past and kept going. I had to remind Q again for a time that we.were.walking. before she settled back into her beautiful 4 mph march.

We continued marching onward, and I eventually just let Q be on the buckle. I did nothing to guide her on the trail for nearly all of that final loop. I just sat there, gazing into the distance seeking the next glowstick as Q marched us ever onward toward the finish.

Nicole had given me a strong drug to counter motion sickness at the final hold, so maybe on account of that, or maybe because it was nearing the time of day that I normally get up for work, I was feeling more alert by the minute. My mind was strangely calm and clear.

Q marched onward.

I took some time to reflect on how special this was. Me on this little mare in the woods finishing 100 miles. Completion or no, she'd be carrying me 100 tough miles. This little mare I decided to take a chance on 4 years ago. This little mare I'd done all of the endurance training for. She was going to do it. She was going to finish 100 miles. We've had our share of ups and downs, but she was going to succeed at this crazy thing because of the time I'd spent with her.

That just blew me away. I'd think about it, then my mind would flit to Funder's 100 ride story, and back to the present. I'd tear up a bit, then pull myself together. I'd wonder for a moment why I wasn't more scared of the darkness around me (I was a kid who was very afraid of the dark growing up), and couldn't come up with an answer. I just sat stoicly on my marching mare and felt so calm as we moved along.

Finally, I recognized where we were on the trail. We had 2 to 2.5 more miles to the finish.

Q marched onward.

We traversed the last bit of single track easily. Q stepped on a stick that lept up a bit from her hoof, but instead of freaking out, she just shuddered and stood still for a moment, then continued. Good, good mare.

A little bit further, we heard coyotes call. That made my hackles rise a bit, but I dismissed it.

Finally, we emerged from single track onto the gravel road that marked us 1 mile from the finish. I fell forward on Q's neck and hugged her so big and thanked her, crying a little. Q stood STOCK STILL as if saying, "Stupid human, please LET GO of me. This is NOT okay. Get OUT of my bubble." She's really too stoic about things. (Good thing Griffin is great about hugs and cuddles to make up for it!)

I glanced at my watch. 4:59a. We had 16 minutes to get to the finish.

I felt confident we could have walked it all, but I decided to not push it too close to the limit. I did that in 2014 with Nicole when we did the 50 and I didn't really care to do it again! Not that close!

I clucked Q up into a trot for a half mile. It was a STRONG, lofty, 9 mph trot that ate up the ground. I grinned huge. This thing I'd visualized happening (the finish) was happening for true.

And then a whippoorwill called up the hill to our left. I grinned even bigger. We'd done it. We were doing it. We WOULD complete.

The whippoorwill called ever onward.

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Dusky sunrise


I saw the finishline lights ahead of me shortly after pulling Q to a walk. I looked at the colors of the sunrise, bursting behind the finishline lights as we got closer. I teared up a bit more then.

I knew everyone would be there for me. I knew that Mike and Dom and Nicole would all call to me as we'd done 2 years prior to 100 milers when we were slap happy with tiredness, "YOU JUST DID 100 MILES! HOW DO YOU FEEL?!" and I tried to come up with a reply. All I could think of was, "Grateful. I feel grateful."

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The finish


Q and I walked into those lights and I heard my friends whooping their excitement. Q gazed longingly down the hill at the trailer and tried to pull me that way instead. "I'm sorry, little girl. I know you want to go there. I know you know where it is. I'm so sorry. We have to go down here first. We have to finish this thing. Semantics. I know. But you can do it. I'm sorry, little girl. We'll feed you plenty soon enough. I promise." And then Q looked toward the finish and picked up a trot of her own accord.

My mom was walking to meet us and Q slowed to walk when she reached her. I spoke, but I don't remember what I said. Something along the lines of, "Sorry to worry you. We walked the whole way until a little trotting at the very end."

Dom, Mike, and Nicole called to me as I got closer, "YOU JUST DID 100 MILES! HOW DO YOU FEEL?!" And the carefully prepared answer I'd said aloud to myself moments before wouldn't come. I just grinned.

It was 5:05a.

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Approaching (photo by Dom)
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<3 (photo by Dom)
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Eeee we did it (photo by Dom)
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Walking in with Mom (photo by Dom)
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This little horse, you guys <3 (photo by Dom)

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Putting her cooler on (photo by Carlos)
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Q listening to all the activity around her (photo by Carlos)
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DONE. (photo by Carlos)

I dismounted, handed over my card, and then things were a blur.

Q was untacked. Nicole and Sara put her cooler on. Then Sara escorted Q and I down to the final vetting. I don't know what the others were doing...

The Finish and Final Vetting (98.2 miles)

We didn't even give Q a moment to cool or calm down for the final vetting. We went straight in. We'd walked almost the whole way back after all.

She pulsed in at 60, I think, and then we were asked to trot out. I wished with all my might, then cued Q, "Let's GO!" And off we went down the lane.

...and she nearly drug me away! So much pep and spice to her at the end. I was shocked how strong her trot out was! I had to RUN not jog to keep up!

Her CRI was in the 60s, but otherwise she received As and maybe an A- or two. Her gut sounds were decreased in one or two quadrants, but we hadn't grazed a ton on the way back, so I wasn't surprised at that. (And the vet prodded her back pretty damn good without a response, so I'd say she wasn't back sore either. I've never seen a vet prod that hard before! It hurt me to watch! But yay for good saddle fit and balanced riding?)

WE HAD A COMPLETION.

I scratched Q's ears and face and did all but hug her because I knew she'd hate it.

Aftermath 

I walked back to camp with everyone after receiving official word. We settled Q in her pen with food, and then we all pretty much crashed immediately as the sun was rising. (Oh, and Q peed once more with a nice healthy yellow.) I'd been awake over 26 hours at this point and was on my horse for about 20 of those hours.

Dave was asleep before me in the tent. <3

I slept HARD for 3+ hours before waking up to check Q where I found her rolling in her pen.

I got up, fed her again, then began slowly packing up pieces of camp as others roused themselves for breakfast.

Once all were awake, we headed up and had breakfast with the rest of the 100 milers and camp that was left. (50s and 25s had awards the night before and most were gone.)

Sara departed right after breakfast, and on her heels, both Dave and Carlos bailed to go start packing up camp while Nicole and my mom and I hung out and waited for the awards.

I was awarded the turtle award (apparently the Endurance Trifecta is all owed this award at this ride! We each have one now. <3) and received my shirt and belt buckle.

We listened to everyone else get their completion awards (less than half of the starters completed!!!), heard who won BC and the OD trophy, then ditched the rest of the ceremony to go pack.

Fortunately, the guys had packed nearly all of camp at this point. Mom took Q on a walk while Dave and I rolled up the corral, Nicole wrapped Q's legs, and then we were all pretty much OUT after that!

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She looks pretty fabulous the day after!

My drive home was uneventful. I unpacked for awhile at both the barn and home, before sleeping the rest of the day and the night.

What an adventure. What a horse!

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And last, but most certainly not least, I've got some huge thank yous to dole out. (I originally had these at the beginning of the post, but they got really long...)These folks really helped make this experience happen for me.

To my incredible crew, Sara, Nicole, Carlos, Mom, and Dave: I could NOT have done this without you. Not at all. Not in any way. I can't explain how incredible it was to be able to come into checks and literally not worry about a thing. At first it was weird to just...sit there...but it was so welcome by that 4th check when I really wanted to shower and by that 5th check when I wanted to to die a little because I'd hit such a wall and by the 6th check when I was so frazzled not knowing if we'd really make it or not. Sara, that towel saved.my.life. in the heat. Seriously freaking amazing. Thank you so much. And thank you for using "mom voice" on me and keeping me on track all day. Nicole, you know Q and I better than anyone. You kept us on track and kept me sane especially during those last two checks when I thought everything was going to fall apart. Thank you for performing the rituals Dan gave you to help safeguard us for the day and thank you for wrapping Q's legs so expertly the morning after. Thank you thank you thank you. Carlos....the photos...all day long...so amazing. Thank you so much for documenting this journey. Kenai also loves you for being the bestest uncle ever and being his charge for the day. Mom, thank you for being there for this big moment and being game for all of the chaos that happens at these things. I know it was a bit of a different world! I really appreciate you bringing so many of my favorite foods and keeping me "in the food" all day long. I'm definitely less sore for all of the eating I was able to do. =) And finally, Dave (who I know will never read this, but whatever)...I know this was a totally foreign world for you to throw yourself into and I'm so grateful you were there for the journey. The massages at holds, the carefully crafted solar shower at the 4th check/hold, and packing up most of camp for me while the brunch and awards were going on was so helpful and amazing. <3 <3

To Dom and Mike: Thank you so much for the amazing finish line photos and most of all for being there for me at the last Bird Haven check. I hadn't expected that at all and was so thrilled to see you. Your perkiness and eagerness to offer food stuffs was the only thing that got me to eat. Seriously. I don't think I would have otherwise. You're so amazing. Dom, I'm so thankful you stayed up after your big, long day in the heat to help me get through mine. <3

To Dan Sullivan: I couldn't have completed this ride in boots. I didn't trust a single soul to shoe my horses before you. You do such an amazing, amazing job with shoeing Q. Your careful shoeing job made this completion more possible for her than anything else (aside from obvious conditioning through the years). Those shoes didn't budge at all for 100 miles. That course is rocky as FUCK. One hell of a job, my friend. One hell of a job. Thank you as well for your guidance with the Native American rituals that no doubt helped boost us through this journey. I hope the Sun Dance in California went well for you.

To Mary Howell (and other mentors along the way): Your shared knowledge through our many rides together helped me so much in preparing for this thing. Your generosity, love, and passion for this sport and the horses and riders involved in it was huge in getting me to this point in my endurance career. Thank you for being such an incredible mentor these past few years. I look forward to many more miles on trail with you.

To Daryl Downs: I wouldn't have taken the leap to try this ride if it weren't for the push you gave me last October during the National Championships. Thank you for planting the seed that turned into a successful completion of this gnarly ride.

To Funder: I don't know why, but your 100 ride attempts and final success story were the biggest thing going through my mind during all of the dark loops. I couldn't quit thinking about you and Dixie and your rides and your tenacity. The thoughts were blurred and more images (created from your words!) than things I can put into words here...but thank you for sharing your stories. They helped me stay alert and awake and motivated to push through.

To Bloggers: Your continued support and kind words through the years during my journey with this little mare helped us reach this point. Your excitement about this attempt both through comments on the blog and on Facebook and Instagram were so welcome and made me smile and really feel like we could go out and DO this thing, no matter how difficult the course.

To my Friends and Family: Your kind words through all outlets of social media were so wonderful and helped me get through the anxious days leading up to the event. I actually screenshotted all of the comments on my pre-ride photo on Facebook to have to look back on during the ride. I was so floored by how much support outpoured to us on that photo. It means so much to get so much good fortune from friends - especially those non-horsey folk.

To many more miles...

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My new favorite photo (photo by Dom)