Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Virginia Highlands 55

The short of it – we finished 6th in a field of 40-ish. Siena was a totally different horse from Scioto. The weather was more than perfect. The trails were absolutely amazing. The company was even better.             

The long of it:     

I drove the 4 hours south to Ivanhoe, VA on Friday to meet my friend Mary whose mare Siena I would be riding in the Virginia Highlands 55 on Saturday. Other than a guy in front of me forgetting his toll money and causing quite the hubbub at the toll before jacking money from me, the drive was uneventful. I finished off The China Study on audiobook and Kenai lounged in the back.                

Miss Siena
I arrived in ride camp and found Mary’s rig with little issue. She wasn’t around and I didn’t have cell service, so I wandered around and read some as I awaited her to appear at her rig. Ride camp is at the Ivanhoe horse fairgrounds, right along a stretch of the New River (the second oldest river in the world (the Nile is the oldest) that flows north into WV where it created the New River Gorge, the place I frequent for climbing). There were some clifflines along the opposing bank, but nothing like the NRG.                 

Mary showed up at the trailer within an hour or so of my arrival. She couldn’t believe she’d missed me driving in. We vetted the horses through and then headed out to put our stuff at the away check – a BEAUTIFUL hilltop home with views far into the distance. We snagged food and gas in town and headed back to camp for a quick ride. It had deluged that morning from the look and sound of things. Blue skies and sun upon my arrival, but the trails and riders racing on Friday told a different story. There was SO MUCH water! And mud. A lot of mud.          

New River cliff line beside ride camp
The most dangerous part of the trail occurred in the second mile from ride camp. Narrow single track that switchbacked up the mountainside. There were soft spots in the trail where a misstep would take one off the edge. I was getting some serious flashbacks from TN the previous summer when one of our packhorses went tumbling off the side of the mountain.                 

Fortunately, Siena and Gryphon were more sure-footed and moved through without a problem. We ran into some 50-milers finishing their day on the way up, pivoted the horses and headed back down, out, and into ride camp, but not before Gryphon proved to Mary that he’d definitely need a running martingale the following day!          

 Prior to sleep that night, we talked with some folks in camp. I got to meet some of the big-wigs within AERC. This was particularly interesting because the bulk of what I read/hear about the inner workings comes from angsty trolls on the ridecamp forum. I have stopped reading much of ridecamp lately because there is so much controversy on there from what I figured were most likely ill-informed, highly-opinionated people.     

It seems I was right.         

I listened in on some very interesting conversations about topics that are highly contested on ridecamp. I feel that I finally got the true-and-true of the whole thing. About what I figured things were, but nice to have confirmation.           

 I was then quizzed heavily as to why I was doing this sport, ways I thought further young folks could be recruited, what ways AERC could lure more people into the sport, and was then thanked for my time, attention, and interest.          

 If you want to know what I had to say about these things, then drop me an email as I’m not going to turn my personal blog into a place to contest AERC issues.                  

I slept AMAZINGLY the night prior to the ride. So amazing, in fact, that at first I really didn’t even want to get up and ride. The thought of riding 55 miles versus staying in bed was a really difficult one to work through that early!            

We were tacked up and ready with plenty of time to spare. Kenai had a pee break and was in his kennel for the day. Just what he needed with his rehab at that point – stall rest!     Mary and I walked the horses around and around camp for the 20 minutes pre-start. We left right in the middle of the pack without any shenanigans.          

For the first several miles of trail we were caught up in a group of 10. We snaked slowly up the dangerous switchback section – which had washed out in one area! Once the trail widened, Mary, myself, and two other riders – a mother/son team – scooted past the others to continue on.         

With time we caught up to Bonni – who would end up winning and getting BC – and we slowed Siena and Gryphon to let the three of them continue on at a faster pace. Mary strives to do a 7 mph pace and they were doing more than that.              

We were in a pocket for the rest of that first 15 mile loop. It was wonderful being on our own. Ride your own ride.  The loop finished through some gorgeous fields. I couldn’t get over how stunning it was. Cantering through was an incredible feeling.                        

We topped out at the vet check, pulsed down quickly, and vetted through with no problems. Siena went through with the lowest CRI the vets had seen yet at 48/48. This mare is going to be such a future super star! My love of Belesemo horses grows even more…           

After two breakfast biscuits, ounces and ounces of liquids, and all the food the horses could eat, we headed out on the ~23 mile loop. Two girls my age-ish and a mother/daughter (12 year old daughter who completed her 1,000th mile (!!!!!!!) at this ride) caught up to us shortly into the loop.        

The trails were SO AMAZING. SO AMAZING. Phenomenal footing. Beautiful vistas. Perfect weather. SO WONDERFUL.       

We discovered on this loop that 7 of the front runners had gone off trail and would now only receive completion miles. That put us in the top 10. All we had to do was complete.             

We rode almost the whole loop with the other four ladies. They pulled away for a time, but we caught back up and ended up passing them and the mother/son team before we came into the vet check/hold.               

We headed back out on to the final 15 mile loop in good spirits. Mary “swam” out of camp, arms spinning in freestyle stroke without reins. I was chatting with folks and got left behind for a moment, so I “swam” out after her, much to the amusement of others.  We rode this ENTIRE loop alone without others around. It was both wonderful and surprising as we figured they would all have caught us by this point. 

10 or so miles into the loop, Gryphon had some cramping in his hind legs that Mary got off and massaged multiple times. She taught me how to “release” the tight muscles where these cramps often arise. Gryphon would skip a few steps, but 95% of his steps were sound. Mary monitored him very closely and altered our pace dependent upon the incline in order to best manage and help Gryphon out.        

A mile out from camp though he cramped up in a way that Mary couldn’t get it out. He looked much the way you or I would look with a Charlie horse. I trotted and she walked across the finish in 6th and 7th place; I headed to relieve Kenai and Mary and headed straight to the masseuse.                  

Siena vetted through at the 15 minute CRI mark, as we planned to stand her for BC. Gryphon got the most amazing massage ever for a long while, but still didn’t get a completion as he still trotted out unsound. The vets were very complementary to all of Mary’s efforts though, and noted that Gryphon was very loose and otherwise very happy seeming. (He was sound by the following morning.)        

 Siena didn’t end up getting BC, but it was a fun exercise to get to deal with that aspect of things.  

It was an amazing ride through and through. I finally managed myself very well and was hardly sore the following day. I was even able to ride my own horses on Monday! I can’t wait for my next 50 mile opportunity…but that’s a month or so off. ;-) 

@ the finish! Photo by Nancy Sluys

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