Wednesday, April 30, 2014

California Photo Journal I

I will spend the next 4 days sharing photos from our California trip. I finally got them uploaded from the DSLR. I hope you enjoy a visual glimpse into our trip and all the amazing things we got to see. =)
Finally out of the cityscapes, just south of San Luis Obispo

Our first views of the Pacific around Route 1
All smiles on our adventure
Yin and yang elephant seals
Rough life!
Mike hiked down a little trail to score this photo. I was worried that the trail was lined with poison oak so I wussed out.
In Big Sur. Thanks for the heads up on this, Mandy! We'd never have known!
Loved these old bridges!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

No Frills 55: Gear Review

** All opinions on products in this post are my own. I have not been compensated for any of this.**

Vipers: I decided last fall when Q hucked an orange Renegade off in the autumn foilage that I HAD to have the bright green Vipers for the 2014 season and basically the rest of life. Sure, the grass gets green in the spring, but the amount of time I spend riding in grass is minimal, and the green of the Vipers is even brighter than most grass. The orange was just TOO hard to find in the fall foilage around here. The orange-ish clay soils don't help at all either.

I let Q's feet do whatever they wanted through winter. I measured in November for a baseline, then just maintained them through winter as I saw fit. By April they were in a solid place, and only a millimeter off what they had been pre-winter!

So I told Ashley what her measurements were, she helped me determine what size was likely (125x125), and I sent off for boots 3 weeks out from my ride.

The boots arrived, not the size Ashley told me to request. In fact, they were basically the exact size of Q's hoof! 125x120. I promptly returned them and sent along tracings of Q's feet for further reference.

Two days out from departure day from the ride, I sent Gina Lander an email query about getting the boots in time for the ride. She CALLED me and let me know what was going on. She double-checked when I needed them, confirmed that they would do 2 day shipping so I could get them on time. She also noted that they put two pairs of boots (130x125 and 135x130) in the box. She said for me to see which fit and send back the ones that didn't.

But, because that wasn't awesome enough, she also noted for me to take the other pair to the ride and use them as back ups if need be. She said she wanted me to have a successful ride and if I needed to use the boots I planned to return, she didn't care.

WOW. What customer service!! I seriously have had nothing but AMAZING customer service from this company from day one of dealing with them. But this? This blew me away. AMAZING.

The box arrived Thursday and Mike and I went out to the barn so I could fit them on Q. She's a 135x130. Big foot; little mare. Mike got a lesson in boot fitting, too. =) He asked great questions.

And, as I noted in the post about the ride, the Vipers worked flawlessly. There was only one minor issue, and that was semi-expected with the misstep Q took coupled with the slick mud and water that the boots had been in just prior.

I fully plan to purchase Vipers to fit my horses all the way around, but money being what it is, this endeavor will be pursued over time. =)

Bottom line, LOVE these boots, LOVE the new, improved fit on Q, and LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the customer service Renegade provides.

Horse Quencher: I ordered some of this stuff on Black Friday to have this season for Q at competitions. I tossed it into her water bucket at camp on Friday night. By morning the entire bucket was empty. When presented with a bucket of "clean" water vs. a bucket of HQ water the following day after the ride, she opted for the HQ water each time. Only one ride, and n=1 is never very telling, but so far, success! And I'll take it. =)

Electrolyte: This was my first ride electolyting Q. I noticed a marked difference between Mary's horses' drinking habits last year and the drinking habits of my own horse when at a ride. She electrolyted her guys and they drank like CHAMPS. She didn't go to any extremes with it like I've seen some people do (3x night before, 3x morning of, 3x at each hold!). She would give them one syringe the night before, one in the morning, and one at each check.

The formula she was using last year (which she has altered this year to include Perfect Balance because Gryphon's tummy is so sensitive) was ½ Perform N Win and ½ EnduraMax. She'd mix those into date syrup or molasses to make them more favorable to the horses. I used the molasses + applesauce to thin it better for dosing Q. I even tasted the mixture and it wasn't too bad. Bearable.

I gave Q one the night before, one the morning of, and one at the first check, opting out of one at the second check since she was so hungry. I didn't want to ruin the eating for her. And with only 7 miles to go to get back to camp, I didn't feel the need to dose her again.

She drank better than she EVER has on trail, and she's a decent drinker already! She tanked up on many, many occasions, even stopping and asking letting me know she had to drink. I was psyched. I didn't have to worry about her all day as far as hydration went. Good mare!

Once again, n=1 and that isn't very telling, but so far, a success. We'll see how she does the rest of the season.

Pommel pack: This was a new addition for me at a ride. I've had it for a few months but haven't used it much other than the trip to MD at the beginning of April. I loved having the pockets in front instead of just the cantle pack behind. SO much more convenient! I still doubled up this bag with the cantle bag for the ride, but the cantle bag only had my two water bottles and the spare boots/vet wrap. Really light. Mostly just bulk, not weight.

I loved this setup. I was able to pack everything I needed and have what I needed access to most often (my snacks, Q's snacks, chapstick, sunscreen, etc.) right in front of me. This enabled me to let Q keep trotting while I multitasked instead of having to slow her to a walk so that I could turn around and get something out from behind me. Win!

Phone belt/pocket: I saw a great looking elastic belt with  a little pocket just big enough for a phone and some credit cards on the LifeProof website a month back. At a very affordable $22, I ordered it. the material of the pocket is much like a bathing suit/breeches. It expands. This is great for me because my Galaxy S4 that I use Endomondo on to track my distance/keep time/use for emergencies doesn't fit in so many of the phone holsters out there on the market.

The pocket/belt was perfect. Getting the phone in and out isn't the EASIEST thing in the world at the trot, but its doable. The pocket/belt is really minimal in its construction and didn't bother me at ALL to wear with my crash vest.

I loved this product and highly recommend it to any other riders/runners/bikers out there. It is important to me to have my phone ON MY PERSON at all times and not attached to the horse. If something happens and I come off and my horse runs away, I want to have a way to contact help (provided I'm in service). If I'm in a wilderness area and this happens, well, I'm screwed. (Not really, but that's a can of worms worth discussing another time.)

Butt Butt'r: Okay. Let's talk chafing.

I never had an issue with this until I started riding in the dressage saddle and my position was changed. I'm less sore all over from the change, but I chafe like I never did before. UGH.

Desitin is my BFF after rides and during them. Saiph saved my butt (literally) at Fort Valley this year when she had some at hand when I couldn't find mine.

A few months ago, I ordered a product Funder raves about, Butt Butt'r. Its a product that cyclists use a lot, apparently. The eurostyle version was what I was sent from Amazon. It has witchhazel in it among other ingredients, but this is the ingredient that lends the cooling sensation, I'm fairly certain.

It. Is. Amazing.

When I was in CA visiting, I briefly asked Funder about it and she noted that you won't chafe at all if you slather enough of it on every chance you get. So that is just what I did. Pre race, at the checks, and even ON THE TRAIL. Because yup, you guessed it, that bad boy went into my saddlebags!

And let me tell you. MIRACLE CREME. I didn't chafe. At all. SUPER HUGE AWESOME WIN!

Additional new things for this ride that weren't so much new gear but new additions for ride day:

Crash vest: I wore Saiph's for a loop or two of the Fort Valley ride, but No Frills was the first ride I wore my own for all but the final 7 miles.

I honestly think the vest and the upright position it helps you to keep helped me to not be so sore overall. I didn't ever get super hot either. And overall, it was nice to not worry about hitting the ground on gravel and the super rocky trails if Q spooked like she's prone to do and send me flying as a result.

We'll see how I handle it later in the summer when it's hot as stink + high humidity, but for now, I'm pleased.

iPod + speaker: When Saiph and I had discussed riding together for this ride, we'd talked about having iPods with speakers to enjoy later in the ride when talking may be too much because we were tired/focused. When I knew I'd be all alone for this ride, it became a necessity in my mind.

I saw a few of the front runners head out with earbuds/headphones, but I like to be able to hear more of what's around me instead of completely blocking it out. The speaker would allow me to have music, but to also have awareness of my surroundings.

I didn't listen to it the whole time, but I can say that when I did listen to it (in the top pocket of the pommel pack) I thoroughly enjoyed the music. It was a nice mood booster and by that last 7 miles was just what I needed. I was able to focus on the beat of the music as it related to Q's footfalls. I think Q enjoyed it a little too as she was always in time with the music.

While I know this may not be the same cup of tea for all riders I ride with, I definitely plan to at least take it with me on future rides to have as an option. If I'm alone, I'll listen. If those around me are game if I'm riding with people, I'll turn it on then, too. Music is a wonderful thing.

Monday, April 28, 2014

No Frills 55

The season opener for Q and I!

Originally, plans were that Q and I would ride with Saiph and Lily on this ride, but then Lily came up lame due to a laminitic flare up less than two weeks out. Mike was going to accompany me to the ride, too, originally - but then we found out that he had training for work that weekend, so he was out. Additionally, for a very brief window of time, I thought I might also get to see Dom at this ride, but that fell through, as well.

So, quite suddenly, I was looking at tackling this thing all on my own - a first! At each of the 50s I did last year, I was with someone else throughout the ride/in ride camp/for the ride there. Never have I yet had to tackle the whole thing on my own! I knew I could, but still, it was a daunting thought. And not being able to *plan* for it, having it thrust upon me due to last minute fate, that was harder to wrap my mind around! I knew it would be a challenge, but I like challenges (in hindsight, haha).

Throughout the week, I prepped and packed so that on Friday morning I could sleep in a little, wake, and roll out with little issue. All I had left to do by Friday morning was touch up the trim on Q's hind feet, fill up water (we had to bring our own), load her and go!

It sounds easy, but alas, it wasn't. The first tasks went off without a hitch. Q was better than she had ever been for her hind feet to be trimmed. I was so proud of her.

But then came the loading...

Woe is loading on the trailer with this horse. Double woe when I have to do it ALONE.

In anticipation of doing this task alone, I'd backed the trailer under the barn awning area to allow for less room for Q to escape into if she saw fit; this also helped to block her view of the other horses when she was loading, which would hopefully help keep her mind on the task and not on her friends (ugh). I'd also taken my 18' lunge line and tied it to the door handle so I could pull it closed from where I stood at the opposite corner once she was loaded.

I put on leather gloves, snagged the lunge whip (the ultimate prop that lets Q know we're loading, when I don't hold it she doesn't load! Do I have to use it? Nope. Hold it? Yup.), and untied Q from where she was tied nearby.

Instead of going straight into the trailer, I led her in a lap around the barn first. I thought that perhaps walking it out would lower her anxiety. It seemed to work at first, but then she pushed in front of me (rude!) and I circled her back behind into her "box". We approached the trailer and I guided her to load, "Looo-ooad UP!" *boom boom* two front feet were on. She paused, stretched her neck forward then to the left, gazing out the window. She sniffed. She stood. She slowly backed herself off. I backed her up and repeated. She did the same as before. Backed off. I backed her up, and repeated. This time she got on all the way, paused, then back pedaled again.

That she backs off so fast is absolutely infuriating to me, but the fact that she's doing it CALMLY now without getting all worked up is enough of a win, so I was happy with her efforts. I asked again after she'd backed herself off from being completely on, and she hopped back on, all four, and paused long enough for me to snag the lunge line and pull the door closed.

...but not fast enough. She back pedaled, got hit with the door which went flying back open from her rapid backing, then she backed in terror into the barn, knocked over two muck rakes and a shovel, thought about bowling me over but made efforts not to, and then rocketed off through the barn yard, the herd of horses on the other side of the fence rocketing along with her.


I opened the door, lay the lunge line back the way I had it, set the rakes and the shovel in a better place (though they'd already been quite out of the way!), and walked around the barnyard to fetch Q. I walked her calmly back to the trailer and began to repeat the whole process. However, as a new added ingredient to the whole ordeal, Q decided it would be awesome to rear and then lunge on, pause, back pedal off. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.

Despite the fact that Q is in heat and I was coming off a week of my own "heat cycle" with hormonal mood swings unlike any I've dealt with, I managed to *mostly* keep my calm with her antics. Within minutes, she was back to loading completely on and pausing, longer this time. I, again, pulled the door closed.Q again, back pedaled off, slammed into the door, the door swung open, then banged against a support beam of the barn and swung back toward her, which freaked Q the hell out, and she crashed into the door again, then raced off.


I started crying at this point. I felt so helpless. The whole thing seemed so futile. I decided I would try ONE MORE TIME and if I couldn't get her on, I wasn't going. Just. No. (Hormones. They suck.) 

I set everything back up and fetched Q again, though she spent a good two minutes evading me and running away each time I closed in. I ended up cornering her and moving her with my body the way a horse will work a cow, anticipating and blocking her escape, turning her to where her only option was to stand and wait in the corner.

As I led her back to the trailer, she rushed in front of me multiple times and I circled her back into her box and then threatened with the lunge whip to keep her back there. What a holy terror she was!

Back at the trailer the whole process was repeated, and, by some miracle, she got on, paused long enough that I was able to pull, swing, slam the door closed and lock it. In fact, I was kind of shocked about the whole thing. I gave a big sigh, put the lunge whip, gloves, and lunge line into the trailer, and headed out - only 20 minutes behind schedule.

Fortunately, the haul went without issue. It rained, but other than that, no problems. I even had the foresight to top off my tank of gas right before I got to ride camp so that I wouldn't have to worry about it when I headed home the following evening after the ride.

Arriving at ride camp, the rain began falling as I did slow circles finding a good place to park. I ran to double check with the ride manager before I settled on my parking spot. He said to just pull up 5 more feet and I'd be good!

I pulled up, parked, put on rain gear, and began to set up Q's corral in the rain. I hardly got anywhere with that before my rain pants were soaked through. I'd put on an older pair not thinking the rain would get so bad...but it did. I changed out pants and carried on, damp, but not getting damper. In short order, I had the pen setup, Q unloaded and corralled, eating all the tall green grass.

I putzed around for a bit wondering if the rain would lull, but when it didn't I decided to try my hand at setting up the tent IN THE RAIN. It was a tent Mike had lent me, a nice big one so that I could stand up to change clothes. This is a nice luxury when I'm tired/sore/its insanely early in the morning and I need to get ready. However, I'd never set this particular tent up before, which - of course - led to me botching the setup and getting everything wetter than necessary. UGH. And, to top it off, the tent has a big beautiful mesh window that really isn't shielded from the rain at I had to MacGyver a tarp on top of it to block the entry of rain.

With horse corralled and tent up, I marched up the hill to complete the registration process. Skip, the ride manager (or one of them) offered me another tarp if I needed it (he is the nicest person ever) but I assured him I'd be okay, though I would let him know if I needed it later. He informed me that I could go vet in whenever. I thanked him and set off back to my tent where I drug my chair and cooler and Kenai inside and sat eating for a bit out of the rain.

With my hunger satiated for a time, I took Q to vet in. They were running the 55 and the 30 on this day in addition to Saturday, so when the front runners came in to complete, I politely stepped to the side to let them vet through first. Eventually though, I was vetted through. All A's, pulse of 56, and a comment from the vet about Q's movement as, "She really steps out!" Yep. She's got a lot of knee and hock action.

I took Q back to the corral, set her up with hay, alfalfa, beet pulp, and grain of which she ignored, choosing the grass instead.

I toweled out the inside of the tent and moved the rest of my stuff in there, making it homey. I settled in with a beer to await dinner and the ride meeting. It was nice to unwind for a bit. The rain even stopped during this time!

The ride meeting and dinner were rather uneventful. Same spiel as usual; 18 mile first loop, 25 mile second loop, 7 mile final loop (this sums to 50 miles...not 55?). No changes in trail. Only notable thing being that about 10 miles into the second loop there was a fallen tree that had left a hole where the root ball was, stay uphill and be cautious.

I headed back to my tent post-meeting and settled in for an early bed time after electrolyting and grazing Q around the field and giving Kenai a short walk. The rain seemed to be done for good, though the wind had picked up considerably.

I fell asleep in fairly short order, my mind a mess of turmoil about tackling 55 miles alone the following day. I was awoken numerous times by rain pounding on the tent. I'd count the seconds as they passed during the times of heaviest rainfall. It was the only thing I could do to distract my mind from worrying about the ride. I fell back asleep for a time, only to be awakened around 11:45p by wind cracking the tarp so badly that I decided to go out and take it down; the sky was clear as could be and I knew by this hour the rain should definitely be gone.

I returned to the tent after fixing the tarp situation and settled back to pseudo-sleeping, but mostly fretting about the ride the next day. I was so, so worried to do it on my own. I literally knew no one in camp. I recognized people, but I didn't KNOW anyone. I wanted so badly to pull back and just do the 30, but I knew I would be upset with myself if I did. So I calmed myself best I could and told myself to just decide in the morning.

I guess I manged to sleep some because I was startled awake at 2a by the wind blowing over my STAKED DOWN tent. I ended up with Kenai in my lap, both of us terrified at first because we didn't know what was going on. When I realized it was just the wind and not some monster, I hustled out to restake everything before we were flipped over even more.

I'd intended to get up around 2:15a to give Q her morning mash, so I did that and replenished her hay and alfalfa before returning (again) to my tent where I set to fretting (some more) about the ride. What ultimately calmed me was the knowledge that Karen's friend Uncle Daniel said he was sending some riders to keep me safe the following day. Karen had let me know this earlier in the day, and it brought tears to my eyes knowing I had such a good friend to look out for me. She and Saiph had both been sending tons of super encouraging texts throughout the day to bolster me. This knowledge helped me to fall back into a sound sleep until my morning alarm.

I slept so soundly, in fact, that when my alarm went off I rolled over mumbling 5 more minutes instead of bolting up as I expected I would after a night of worry. Calm had graced me around 2:30a and didn't leave me for the rest of the day.

I did emerge from my warm cocoon though. I broke the tent down and loaded the car back up before I readied Q. I had originally planned to do this post-ride, but I had a distinct feeling that if I didn't load it up now, I would come back to a tent blown half-way across ride camp!

With human camp packed up, Kenai settled into the trailer with his hay nest, and saddle bags prepped, I set to readying Q mare for the day booting her up.

I'd just finished booting Q when I heard a questioning, "Liz?" I turned, a quizzical look on my face to be greeted with, "Liz? Its Gail."

"Oh! HEY! Wow. Hey. Nice to meet you!"

It was Gail from The Journey to 100 Miles! I knew I'd likely see her this day, but I wasn't expecting her to be there so early! It was SO nice to get to visit with her and gain some help from her as I readied Q for the ride. (THANK YOU SO MUCH, GAIL! I COULDN'T HAVE GOTTEN READY ON TIME WITHOUT YOUR HELP!!!) We chatted amiably about horses, endurance, the OD, etc. as I prepared, tacking Q up and electrolyting her once more. Eventually it was time for Gail to go check in with the volunteers, and time for me to do the last few things before the start!

And before I knew was 7a and the trail was open!

Q was VERY forward and it was all I could do to keep her at a trot for the first 10 miles. I set off right behind the front runners, slowing Q to a walk once we reached a long downhill section. I knew we wouldn't keep pace with the front runners all day, and I didn't need Q to want to chase them, so we let them go. We had a long day ahead, I didn't need her to use all her fuel at the beginning!

Not long after letting the front runners go, Claire Godwin and the two juniors riding with her passed us. I let them go ahead, too, but appeased Q's wishes to trot once they were about 200' ahead. We would keep them in sight for the rest of the first loop.

The first half of the first loop was all on Forest Service (FS) roads. A few spurts were in the woods, but it was mostly road until we crossed highway 55 to ride the ridgeline/VA-WV state line. I was surprised to look at my GPS before the first significant climb and find that we'd already gone 6 miles! It seemed like I'd been out no time at all.

As Q and I began traversing the state line trail, I recalled the previous year's mishap that resulted in a visit to the Leesburg veterinary hospital with Q. Q and I walked and trotted this trail until we reached the rise right before the dreaded rock where she slipped last year. Recalling this location, I dismounted and led her for a time. Reaching the rock, I skittered down it and let Q choose her own sliding path down it, which she fortunately did with no issue. I did quite the internal fist pump at this point, feeling victorious to have overcome the obstacle that struck us down the previous year. I turned my iPod and speaker on in the pommel pouch for company and finished the last leg of the first loop without issue.

Arriving at the in-timer, I discovered, sadly, that I had accidentally paused my GPS app on my phone! I'd missed about 6 miles of trail. However, I arrived promptly at 9:59a, which means I did the first 18 miles in 3 hours even, which means I did a 6 mph pace. Perfect!

I took Q to the water tank first thing. There hadn't been water on the first loop, so I figured she was probably thirsty. She was! I counted 34 swallows before she decided she was good. Good mare!

Dr. Marshall greeted me immediately as I walked by the vets, asking about my "little mare" and doing a courtesy check of her pulse. She was at 60, so he had me vet her through right then (tack off was optional). She had a good recovery after the trot out with her pulse at 56, and had As on everything! Dr. Marshall was super complimentary and sent me on my way.

I headed to my designated area for the hold and set about nomming on my own food while Q picked choosily at the food that the volunteers had provided at the away hold. I think for the OD 50 in June I will have to pack her own grain for the away holds because she was so picky about what was available at this hold! She hardly ate a thing while we were there. I had to stuff carrots that I had brought for "trail snacks" for her. I hated to use up the carrots now, but I needed her to eat something!

Claire was set up at a station next to mine, and she asked me briefly if they were going too slow for me since I'd been trailing them the whole time, yo-yoing near and far as we plodded along. I told her that it was just fine, Q just really wanted to be with other horses but I was holding her back because I really wasn't sure how she would do today. Claire noted that she was really glad I was back there because if she had to pull for some reason the two juniors would have someone to ride with. And then, later on during the hold, Claire (a vet and someone who has been in endurance for decades) complimented Q after giving her the once over, "That horse has good bone," which made me happy to hear.

I chatted with Gail some more at the hold before a slew of 30 milers came in and consumed all the volunteers time. We didn't get to chat much, but it seemed she was enjoying her time as a volunteer and learning a lot!

Before I knew it, the 45 minute hold was up and I was headed back out on the second long 25 mile loop. Claire and the juniors had left several minutes ahead of me, so it would be a good time to figure out how Q would do truly solo.

She was great! A little spooky, but mostly focused on moving down the trail. I talked to her the whole time, explaining the surroundings and what she was seeing and why it was there. I spent most of the day trying to figure out her categorical reasoning for "monster rock - run in fear!" vs. "oh, a rock - trot on by".  Her worst spooks of the whole day were on the first loop when she spooked at - wait for it - tall dry, grass. -_- Because this hasn't been a main component of her field for, oh, the last 5 months?! She slammed to a stop, walked two steps, and slammed to a stop again. UGH. Second loop though...much better!

The first part of the second loop was old fire road. Grass had grown over the road and the footing was perfect. We'd only been out about 5 minutes before Q asked to slow and drink from the water running along the trail/road. I'd noticed her eyeing it up for a few minutes, so I let her stop and she tanked up with another 20+ swallows of water before continuing on.

I noticed during this stretch of trail that the cable on the right hind Renegade had snapped. I had expected this as both boots on the back had cables that were fraying, but I put them on anyway, optimistic that they'd last the ride. When I noticed that it had snapped, the boot was still on the foot, the toe strap flapping in the wind on one side from the snap. I dismounted and snatched the boot off her foot before it became more mangled. I decided I wouldn't put a replacement EasyBoot Epic on until later on the trail where her foot would be more dry (this section had a lot of intermittent mud/puddles).

With time, we began our first uphill climb, up and away from the nice fire road. It was on this climb that we caught up to Claire and the juniors. I let Q fall in happily behind them on the rocky single track.

At one point, she stepped poorly on a rock that was sideways on the trail and her front left Viper twisted most of the way off. She let me know immediately and I hopped off to fix it. (This was the only issue I had with the Vipers all day!) I also took this time to wrap her bare hind with vet wrap and slap an Epic on. The four 30 mile front runners passed me during this time, but that was cool. We'd only be sharing the trail a short time.

We continued on up the rocky single track, walking and trotting until once again falling into line behind Claire and the juniors. We would stay with them for the remainder of the loop. No one really spoke much.

There were lots of options to drink throughout the loop, so the horses were all pretty well hydrated. A 10 minute hold and go provided an opportunity for them to eat some, which was the point where Q decided she was famished and HAD to eat. Well, duh, mare, if you hadn't been so picky before you wouldn't be to this point. I stuffed some carrots and apples in her mouth, emptying the trail snacks I had for her. Nancy Sluys even treated us to a fiddle song she'd written about endurance, "To Finish Is To Win". GREAT SONG! I hummed it the rest of the day. =)

The last part of the long second loop was all fire road and FS road. It was nice to finally be able to move out. Q even led the little group for a short time, but surrendered her lead position when she stopped to tank up at yet another puddle (those electrolytes were really doing their job! She'd never sought water out like that!)

Within the last 6 miles or so, Q started doing this really weird head toss thing, only at the trot or canter and only under saddle. She'd be moving along and then just toss her head/nose up in the air and shake her head all funny like for a mere second or two, then continue. I just couldn't figure it out! I couldn't see bugs, her forelock was too short to be in her eyes, the browband was above her eyes, too. It was so strange! She had a tiny bit of foam in the corner of her mouth, but she'd just had two apples, so..??!! I rubbed her ears some, which kind of seemed to help, but it didn't fix it.

Q is so sensitive and dramatic about things. If you poke and prod once at a sensitive place, she evades ALL contact if you try to touch her again after that. She anticipates and builds and explodes over the tiniest, dumbest shit. Its so hard to tell what is really the matter because she gets so concerned about tiny things. This problem could be bugs, it could be hair in her eyes, it could be the fucking WIND in her eyes/ears for all I knew.

I asked Claire (vet) about it and she just said it was probably sweat in Q's eyes bothering her. Yeah, yeah, that sounds good. Okay. Except even after wiping all around her eyes she still continued the behavior.

We stopped at a puddle to all drink and let the horses eat some of the grass about 4 miles out when Claire observed that the cable on my other hind Rennie had snapped. I replaced it and we continued on. Except Q's head shaking was getting worse. I finally pulled her up and got off to walk her awhile. Completely flummoxed about what was causing this. Metabolic? Neuro?

I got back on to ride, but the behavior continued on still! And she was getting more extreme about it. Her head tossing/shaking/twitching becoming so extreme that her footwork was thrown off by it. (You try walking a straight line while whipping your head around. Its hard!) We'd be good for several hundred feet, then she'd have two or three fits, then be fine, pulling the reins from me as she surged forward. It was the most bewildering and scary thing.

I tried to walk her, but I was getting over heated and was worried about causing myself heat illness (I have a really hard time with this) and knew that I would have to ride to make this work. I got on and off her numerous times, determined that I could walk before realizing it would be really stupid of me to cause myself heat illness. I kept telling Q, "Get to camp (the check) get to camp. You have to get there before we can fix this. Just get there. Then we can pull and you can go back to camp." We had to trot, too, because Q was walking at a 2mph or less pace. If she wasn't trotting, she was walking at that glacial pace and just trying to eat constantly. I let her eat some, but realized at some point that I needed to make the executive decision to get to the check - which wasn't far.

And we got there. Claire looked up when I arrived, "We looked around and you were gone!" I explained that the head shaking had gotten worse and I was worried it was her eyes or something worse.

A volunteer helped hold Q while I stripped her tack and sponge her, sharing my concerns as I did so. I finally took her down to Dr. Marshall and Dr. Kohut, explaining that I wanted them to look at her eyes. I explained everything to them. They wondered if it could be metabolic, noted that her pulse was still at 72, then continued to look her over. In the few minutes they looked her eyes over, she came down to 60 and we vetted her through. Her gut sounds were a B, but other than that, she was fine. No lameness. They figured she was probably trotting through clouds of gnats and they were bothering her. They suggested some Off! which a volunteer brought over and I sprayed on Q's face and in her ears.

And lo and behold, when the Off! hit her ears DOZENS OF GNATS began crawling out!!! Poor mare! Also...DRAMA QUEEN!

I spent the rest of the hold napping while Q ate. I talked with some of the volunteers, confirming that there was indeed only 7 miles of FS road left. I stripped off my vest, my long sleeve wicking shirt, took off the cantle pack that had held the spare boots, the cable-torn rennies, and put all of that (and my water bottles OOPS!) into my crew bag that the volunteers would be taking back to camp. I was the 11th of 13 50 riders and we were all at the hold, so they'd be leaving soon (passing me actually as I headed to the finish).

My out time arrived, I slowly led Q away from the hold, mounted, and departed at a slow walk. I was hot, tired, and sore. Q was hot, tired, and sore. We were whooped. We (I) needed a pick me up. So I turned on my iPod + speaker to listen to The Kooks Konk for those last few miles. Best. Thing. Ever.

I jammed out and relaxed, Q relaxed. We trotted. It sucked but we did it. We just wanted to finish.

Q wouldn't respond to my smooching or clucking to canter at first, so we just trotted. The volunteer crew for the hold passed us and cheered for me, which I fist pumped in return to, big grin on my face. After they passed, I said, "Hup, hup, hup!" to Q who immediately broke into a canter. And so we intermittently cantered and trotted.

I looked at my GPS to see how many more miles to the finish. We only had 2 more. We trotted and I let go of the reins. I extended my arms like wings. I cheered and fist pumped the air that we were almost done.

We cantered. We galloped. I saw the finish and I gave a whoop of excitement. We slowed to a walk then a halt RIGHT at the finish line. I dismounted and handed the finish guy my card which he wrote 5:01pm, 11th place on, told me I had a mile or so to camp after the finish. And so we trudged slowly back to camp, mostly me hiking, but then finally remounting to ride because it ended up being more like 1½ miles.

And then, just like that, it was over. I took Q to the trailer to strip her tack, sponge her, and let her eat.

The ride manager, Skip, trotted her out for me for the final check while Claire held Kenai. We passed. We completed. We were done.

And it was wonderful.

I let Q eat all she could while I slowly, slowly broke horse camp down. She ate and drank and sampled back and forth between all her food options while I loaded the trailer and cleaned up.

Two new friends, Lynn and Patty Jo, helped me load Q (holy terror again... rearing... hesitation... UGH!) and I was on the road just after 7p. The haul was uneventful. 2½ hours on the dot. Q unloaded, THRILLED to be back home with her man harem, and trotted/cantered out into the field to find them in the dark, whickering as she went. Someone wasn't so tired anymore!

All in all, a mentally exhausting, but incredibly rewarding experience. I'm glad I did it. I really gained some more trust in my pony through this, learning that she does indeed have a brain and can navigate down the trail on her own without being a complete idiot about things. She has a brain, she can use it, and she does have a motor to push her down the trail. It wasn't until we'd done 30-40 miles before she finally calmed down! The sorest part of me after this ride is my trapezoids from locking into a "must hold the back the pony power" hold.

I'm thankful I had such a great support team available to me via texts/emails/Facebook to help bolster me through, Mike, Saiph, and Karen most notably. Thank you to my Indian riders who helped keep us safe. Thank you to Skip and Daryl and Claire and Lynn and Patty Jo and Gail and others who helped me through the day at the ride. I love endurance and I love the family of people involved in it. <3

Sunday, April 27, 2014

California Trip: Part III

And once again, I have no photos from the DSLR for this post. I'll just have to share them at a later time. Think of it this way, you'll get to enjoy my trip even longer! Haha.

April 10: The day dawned early. We both roused awake with the sun around 6a. Within 10 minutes of waking, we'd stuffed the car back into some semblance of order and were out of the campground parking lot, headed back up the winding road to the park entrance toward the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias. We stopped a few places along the way to wash our faces and take some photos while we were still in the valley.

Gooood morning.

Once we were near the Wawona lodge, we pulled off to get some coffee at one of the gift shops. While I shopped around for postcards, magnets, and a map of the park, Mike chatted with the NPS volunteer at the shop (he makes friends EVERYWHERE). She informed us that seeing the trees was best done first thing in the morning as the parking gets full! Excellent. We were right on schedule to do that! Sadly though, she told us that the Glacier Point road was indeed closed until May1, as was the road to Tuolumne Meadows. Damn. That would limit my list of "to see" things. We'll just have to go back another year!

With hot coffee and tea in hand, we headed back to the car and wound our way up to the giant sequoias. As we passed the park entrance, we high-fived because the line of cars entering the park was endless! It was really fortunate that we'd come in the night before!

The parking lot for Mariposa held many giants, so we were humbled by their presence almost immediately when we pulled in. There is a loop road in the Mariposa grove that tour buses drive in the summer (after May 1), but for today, we'd have to walk 2.1 miles if we wanted to see all of the notable trees. No big deal. 

We were around a lot of other visitors at the beginning of our hike. The most people were gathered about the notable trees, reading the plaques, taking photos, etc. As we continued on our uphill journey however, we saw fewer and fewer people.

The weather was absolutely perfect. Sun. Low to mid 70s. Low humidity.

Mike and I really enjoyed the hike. We took our time, chatting as we went, stopping at each tree to get photos.

California Tunnel Tree

Botanists, what are these?




I remembered to turn on my Endomondo app to track our mileage after we'd hiked close to a mile per the signage on the trails. It would be good to know how far we'd hiked that day when we were done. I had tentatively plotted a second hike that day up Four Mile Trail (which was listed as 4.6 miles one-way, not four) so we could see the park vista from Glacier Point since the road was closed. If we knew what our average hiking speed was during our Mariposa hike, we'd be able to determine how feasible the second hike would be for that afternoon.

When we reached the top of the grove, we stopped at the fallen Tunnel tree. The tree fell in 1969 (I think). Its the one you see in a lot of photos where people drove their cars through it. There is the California Tunnel tree in a lower section of the park that has also had a tunnel cut through its trunk, but this opening isn't nearly as great as the opening in the original Tunnel tree had been. Fortunately, we're at a day and age where we respect these ancient giants more than we once did and we aren't maiming their precious tissues that carry food, water, and nutrients from the ground to the canopy.

Even fallen though, the Tunnel tree was impressive. Mike, of course, clambered up on the tree to pose absurdly for some photos before we turned tail and hiked back down the road to the parking lot.

Our hike downhill was faster than uphill, but not by much as we still stopped frequently to photograph trees as we went. Even the ones without plaques were impressive!

As we descended, we came across more and more people. It was pretty easy to tell that not many of these folks had, or would, hike to the top as we had. We were pretty thankful, once again, for our early start and our mid-week visit to the park. If these was what mid-week off-season looked like...I can't imagine a weekend during the summer. YUCK.

Back at the parking lot, Endomondo revealed that our hike had been more akin to 5 miles than the predicted 4.2 round trip that the signs estimated. And that was hiking the road for the second half that should have made it shorter! This wouldn't be our first experience with lying sign mileages in the park.

Once in the parking lot, we were really able to appreciate our early start. It was CRAWLING with people! People, buses, RVs, and cars, some circling the lot again and again in search of a parking spot. We'd briefly considered eating lunch in the parking lot, but with the scene that greeted our eyes, we high tailed it for the nearest picnic area instead, giving up our parking spot to someone with a greater need.

At the picnic spot just down the road, we pulled our our Whole Foods cache and leftover pizza to feast upon. It was a great little lunch.

During lunch we discussed our options for the afternoon hike. While I was certain we COULD do the 9+ mile hike to Glacier Point, I was concerned because I'd discovered a parenthetical notation on my new map that noted "(summer only)". It seemed that this trail, much like the Glacier Point road, was open seasonably due to the snow pack. Sigh. We decided that we would double-check the trailhead anyway, and if it were closed, we would go ahead and do another hike we'd planned to do the following day to see Vernal and Nevada falls.

On our way back to the valley floor, we stopped at the Tunnel View vista point. We'd stopped once on the way to the Mariposa grove, but with my new map in hand, I noted that both new and old Inspiration Point were a short hike above the Tunnel View point.

The parking lot for Tunnel View was PACKED. Ugh. Fortunately, Mike and I managed to snag a spot in the back, convenient because the trailhead was supposedly right there. We got out of the car with map and camera in hand, and went behind a series of bear-proof trashcans and scurried up some slab. There was no trail marked, but there was also no other option for where the trail could be. So we just went with it.

The slabby rock took us straight up above the tunnel, and ended up opening up right above the Tunnel View point parking lot. The vegetation made it hard for those in the parking lot to see the point where we were standing unless they really looked for it. It was really neat to gain the same view they had, but better, and without all the hustle and bustle of people. I loved the photos I was able to capture from this vantage point, and reveled in the fact that this was one of the points Aldo Leopold, John Muir, and Ansel Adams had enjoyed decades ago.

(Aside: While Mike and I were tourists, too, we have little tolerance for the kind of people most tourists are. We live in a very rural area that gets a lot of tourists here in WV, we work full and part-time within an industry that caters to tourists, and we have seen what most tourists will do to the land that we strive to preserve, that we love, and that we live in. The valley our ski resort is in is part of a very environmentally unique area that they have tried to turn into a national park a few times, and the locals have shown great disinterest in the idea because it will bring so many more people in who, while helping the local economy, will ultimately put the resource at jeopardy. Look at the big nat'l parks: Yosemite, Yellowstone,Grand Canyon, Great Smokies. These places walk a fine line as they strive to balance visitor resources with the natural resources that the park has been deigned to preserve. Mike and I hold a much higher level of respect for the land than the majority of people who visit natural resources like Yosemite. When we hike, we stay on designated trails the majority of the time to help protect areas of vegetation. We take much greater care with all of our actions because we know that they count. They help to preserve the amazing things nature has laid out that so many end up destroying in our quest to be the most first world. End rant. lol)

With some kickass photos in hand from our brief jaunt up to Inspiration Point, we continued winding our way down into the valley. A brief stop at the Four Mile trailhead revealed the the trail was, "Closed 2.8 miles ahead". Well hmmph. I'm sure the hiking would have been nice, but with no guarantee of a kickass view, I just didn't want to waste precious time (of which we had little) hiking that trail. So onward to Vernal and Nevada falls we went!

On the map, the trail appeared to be easy-going, along a flat grade with little incline. In reality? NOT. It was paved the majority of the way though. And it was crawling with people. And so we headed off. Eager and happy to be hiking along the Merced river that we could hear babbling the whole time.

Other than literally being uphill the whole way out and downhill back (oi my knees!), it was a really nice hike. After crossing the bridge over the Merced, the trail turned to dirt and then gained many, many stairs. But that was okay. The falls were right ahead and the mist from the water hitting the rocks below felt wonderful on our skin as we pranced up the stairs. Finally, after a sketchy ladder-step-ish stretch, we were at the top of Vernal Fall - the waterfall 3 people plunged off last summer to their deaths. 

It was beautiful up there. Mike promptly shed his shirt and lay on the rock to be all lizard-like in the sun while I scampered down to the edge of the waterfall to take some photos. I fetched him when I was done, noting to him that he wouldn't be able to swim in the pool (wherein pool = geomorphological feature within the river, not a swimming pool) up there because that's why people died last year - swimming in the pool, flushing over the lip into the run and riffle and WHOOSH, over Vernal Fall. 

The run/riffle/rapid area above the falls

Emerald Pool

We briefly considered hiking to the top of Nevada Fall, which we could see in the not-so-far distance, but I'd been keeping track of our hiking mileage based on what the signs predicted our mileage should be, and had already noted that GPS vs. sign was significantly different. What signs predicted to be another 0.9 (I think) miles to the top of Nevada was probably more like 1.5 miles at a minimum. Due to this, and our slowly hungering bellies, we opted to hike out.

...but not before Mike *waded* in the pool. Because wading is not swimming. -_- In all honesty, he really did only stand in the water on the extreme edge of a sheltered-away-from-other-people area up to his knees. He splashed the water onto the rest of his body to cool off, then got right out.

Our hike down was uneventful. Mike and I worked out a nice little support system when going down the stairs (steep and uneven; phenomenal trail building!) so that we could go faster by providing balance to each other. At one point when the stairs got a bit easier to navigate and weren't so steep/deep, I got into a kind of challenge with some 8 or 9 year old boy who felt he should repeatedly cut me off and try to beat me down the stairs. I wanted to tell him, "Dude, enjoy those short legs that keep you closer to the ground. This shit gets difficult when your legs are longer!" Buuutttt, I didn't. 

With our hike complete, we headed to a campground with showers to get clean, and then mosied over to Yosemite Lodge for dinner. I had the trout and Mike had quail. Yum! Perfect portion sizes, too.

We stopped in another gift shop after dinner to get a few things for friends and snagged a few beers for the evening to enjoy before bed. We would spend this night in the car again, but back up towards the Wawona in a campground beside a river. This was much more peaceful and lent to better sleep for both of us.

: : : : :

April 11: With all possible hiking options to Glacier Point closed, we opted to just see a few remaining things within the valley that we hadn't seen yet before hitting the road back to Oakland and Funder's. Each stop was only for a few moments and only for the sake of seeing each thing and snagging photos.

First stop, Bridalveil Falls. It was at this primary stop when Mike and I quickly realized we weren't in Kansas anymore it was now the weekend (Friday). There were So Many People. We literally stood only long enough for me to snap a few photos before evacuating the area.


From Bridalveil we stopped at Cathedral Beach for a few serene moments. If it had been a month or two later in the summer we'd have taken time to swim. As it was, we could only admire the cool, clear water and add the location to our Must Return list.

After the beach, we stopped at "swinging bridge" which was really not so swinging and much more swaying. It offered a beautiful view of Yosemite Falls cascading down the cliffline with the Merced River in the foreground though. Not too many people were at this location, so Mike and I stood to enjoy it for a bit.

After the bridge, we made a jaunt by the little chapel in the valley for photographs. I'd picked up a post card with a stunning shot of the chapel with Half Dome in the background...yeah, must be an old photo because there were most definitely 30+ foot conifers in the way of that point of view!

From the chapel, we wound our way over the Merced and around to the Ahwanee - the fancy lodge in the park. I've visited lodges at several other national parks I've visited (this was my 12th park, to the best of my reckoning: Bryce, Zion, Grand Canyon, Teton, Yellowstone, Haleakala, Acadia, Denali, Yosemite, Joshua Tree,  Great Smoky, New River Gorge), so seeing this one was something I had to do! It was very ritzy. Mike and I wandered the perimeter of the building so I could snag some shots. We were surprised (sort of) to see that the big "wood" beams of the building were actually concrete painted to look otherwise. So far, I can say without a doubt that the lodge at Yellowstone near Old Faithful is still the best lodge I've been to as far as its architecture! 

Our penultimate activity in the park was to hike up to the base of El Cap. Mike and I are both climbers, so this big hunk of granite held more awe for us than man others. El Cap and Half Dome are featured in the bulk of climbing films out there. Nearly anyone who is anyone in the climbing world has climbed them at some point. Mike merely wanted to hike to the base and "touch it". So we did. And honestly? Looking up from the base of El Cap and studying the routes, it didn't look as scary as it looks in film. Sure, it looks difficult. I'm not poo-pooing that by any means. But the way El Cap and Half Dome appear on film - the sweeping, panning shots from helicopter and otherwise - isn't as representative of what it is in real life. I'd always imagined it as this huge unattainable goal for myself as a climber. I recognize that I'd really have to up my A-game to be able to tackle a feat of climbing endurance that is El Cap, but after seeing, feeling, and studying what I could from the valley floor, I no longer think such a feat for myself would be impossible! And that's a powerful thought. Now, do I *want* to climb it? Not particularly. Given that I reached a proper fitness level and had a strong partner (leader) and was offered the opportunity? I might. All the same, it was incredibly humbling to stand at the base of such a geologic feature - climbable or non. 

Our final activity in the park before departing was a stop at the Merced for Mike to take a dip. Yes, it was nippy. Yes, he is crazy.

Our drive out of the park and back to Oakland was pretty uneventful. We made great time, even with our brief stop at a WalMart to return the sleeping bags. (I made Mike do it. I get awkward about things like that; his people skills are better.)

We arrived back at Funder's around 6:30p. She greeted us, showed us in, we all chatted briefly, and then she headed to fetch Graham from the BART after tasking us with juicing some key limes for margaritas. NOMZ.

While she was out (and after the key limes had been juiced), Mike and I took the time to quickly re-pack our stuff for our morning flight. We completed our task as Funder and Graham got home, just in time to settle into an evening of awesome conversation, alcohol, and one kickass dinner (Funder is the best chef).

With the best margarita I'd ever had in hand (OMG Graham is a wizard), Graham and Mike chatted about a myriad of things while I chatted with Funder about, what else, horses and endurance while she prepped an amazing dinner of dungeness crabs, noodles, bok choy, and eggplant. SO MUCH YUM! And yes, not surprisingly, Funder talked to the crabs just like Mike talked to the lobsters we cooked in Maryland a few weeks back. ;-)

Once dinner was complete, we sat around with a huge bowl of crab pieces and set to work, sipping drinks and chatting all the while. The crab was SO GOOD. And Funder was nice enough to make a simple garlic-butter sauce for me that wasn't spicy like the one she and Mike were using. <3 The whole meal was a complete mouthgasm. I was in lurv. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Funder and Graham!!!

Banders and JibJab!

An unamused JibJab lol

After dinner,  Mike and I spurred Funder to pull out their Cards Against Humanity which they hadn't even opened/played yet. Shame! We quickly had everything unwrapped and out on the table, rules (of which there are few) explained, and then we dove into action. It was one of the fastest games I'd ever played. Everyone around the table was a fast reader with wicked fast wit. We went through round after round so, so fast. It was hilarious. So much fun. 

Finally, our full bellies kicked in and we all surrendered to sleep, but not before thanking Funder and Graham again for all of their incredibly hospitality. You two really made the trip for us!

: : : : : 
April 12: Way too early up. Way too hungover. Damn you Mike and Funder for pushing the Boone's Farm on me! lol 

Fighting nausea and dizzyness every step of the way, Mike and I got out the door and to the rental car place in record time. ...which was good because it was there that we ran into trouble.

The guy in charge of taking in the return car couldn't find our contract. So he passed us inside to a clerk there. Who was able to find the contract that I had signed that said we were to return the car to....San Diego. Returning it in Oakland would add $500 to our bill. NO.

Apparently dealing with the new guy + 3 other people + the computer crash  + taking 90 minutes to get the damn rental in San Diego had still ended up in error to our car rental. We tried to be jovial and okay about the whole thing, rehashing the whole story to the clerk. She was baffled and really didn't know what to do though, especially after the San Diego office didn't pick up their phone, so she snagged the on-duty manager. We repeated our song and dance to this lady who, while being more assertive than the first woman, was still baffled. Mike decided to take matters into his own hands at this point and stepped away to call the San Diego office...who picked up. I was nauseous, tired, cranky, and just wanted to go home at this point. So I flopped my forehead onto the counter and pouted/cried a bit as Mike talked on the phone and the manager lady tapped away at her computer.

When the manager realized what Mike was doing, she snapped at me to have him get off the phone if I wanted her to fix the problem. She noted that it was disrespectful of him to handle it the way he was. I snapped, "MIKE!" At him and gestured for him to hang up. He did. Immediately. The manager was rather miffed with us at this point, I was upset because she was upset, and my hangover was being evil, and I wanted to go home, so I cried a little more.

Within a minute, she thrust a paper in our hands with the estimate we expected to pay, told us "sometimes you have to make an executive decision" and sent us away, obviously angry. Mike thanked her, I mumbled some nonsense. And we hustled out the door to the shuttle that would take us to the airport.

Once at the airport, I had a bit of a snag with security at first (repeatedly having to go through the screening), but fortunately it was early and not busy and the TSA agents were really friendly about the whole thing.

Finally, we were at our gate. Way too early it turned out, but sleep deprived Liz keeps poor track of time  - at least I kept track poorly in the early and not late direction of time!

Our flights were all uneventful. The first leg offered free alcohol, and since Mike and I were in the last row, we ended up getting all the remaining beer from a big bottle of beer from a microbrewery in Oregon. I sipped mine half-heartedly, enough to appreciate the beer, but not enough to make myself drunk again. I still hadn't forgiven alcohol at this point. I kept pouring my remainder into Mike's cup which he was pretty okay with, haha.

It was midnight before we were back in DC, after 1am by the time we had completed our metro journey to where Saiph and Charles met us, and 6am before we were finally back at home. 

I got to sleep until noon, when I bounded awake, bustled around the house unpacking and repacking for a week away for work, and then bounded out the door to see the horses for a short time before hitting the road by 3:30p for work.

: : : : :

The trip was incredible. Both Mike and I had an absolute blast. We did so much in a short amount of time that even now, weeks later, I'm still processing things! So much fun. We definitely have huge list of things to see/do on our Must Return list. Primarily more time to spend exploring both Big Sur and Yosemite.

Thank you again to Mandy, D, Funder, and Graham for making this trip so, so amazing. You all are THE BEST. <3