Spring in West Virginia, especially Canaan Valley and Dolly Sods, is always unpredictable at best. In fact, we joke that Canaan has 4 months, June, July, August, and Winter. In actuality, there are records of snowfall in Canaan and the Sods every month of the year except August, I believe.
A couple months back, Nicole
(Saiph) and Carlos asked about setting up a training ride in the Sods in May when they could bring their own horses up to ride. We'd done a ride in September when they rode some of Dan's horses, but they really wanted to bring their own. Dan and I set it up on a weekend that would work for everyone -- the second weekend of May. In theory, the weather should be sorted out by then. ...in theory.
Of course, the weather has been all over the place. Nicole says it's been atypical in her area of Maryland, but for our area of West Virginia it's been pretty spot-on all things considered. Pretty spot-on in this instance means rain. Lots of rain. Moderate, variable temperatures and lots of rain. And of course, it isn't May in this area without the threat of snow at least one day in the month. And, as luck would have it (of course), that snow threat fell right on the day we'd planned for our ride in the Sods!
Because I'm a horrible influence on my friends, Nicole wasn't appalled by this weather report. She didn't want it to be cold and rainy, but she was totally game for the snow. Well then. Game on! Her bff from Florida was going to be in tow, too, though, and I was pretty certain she wouldn't be quite as psyched. ;-)
I borrowed my dad's truck for the weekend (thanks, Dad!) so I could bring both Griffin and Q to Canaan. They both loaded and traveled with no issue Friday afternoon.
|I may be biased, but I think they're pretty good looking beasts|
I settled them into their stalls in the barn at Canaan and both dug into their hay without a moment's hesitation. I ran home to Dave's to change and came back to get in a few solo miles on Griffin. I'd never trailered Griffin to a new-to-him place like this and taken him out on a solo ride before. At 5½ years old, it was due time we gave it a whirl!
3½ miles on new-to-him trails with barking and chasing dogs, an adjacent field of excited strange horses, a two-lane country road, and stretch of short quiet-ish trail - and none of it fazed him! He was a little light in the front end when we walked by the field of strange-to-him horses the second time. And by "little light" I mean, he pranced just enough that I would be able to call it "light in the front end" as opposed to prancing. He did his fair share of delicate dancing, too, but not once then or at any point on the ride did I feel like I'd lost his brain. He kept his hamsters firmly on their wheel in his head and listened to me like a very, very good boy.
|Canaan Valley springtime <3|
The weather was beautiful Friday night and the next morning for a bit, but it deteriorated quickly after that. Mist, rain, wind. All of these came and went through the day, slowly building and becoming worse with time as temperatures steadily dropped.
The Maryland-Florida contingent arrived midday in the middle of the deteriorating weather. Nicole's girls were getting shoes reset by Dan at the barn and I was quite hesitant to venture over there at all with the gusting wind. I'd been in my pajamas at Dave's most of the day and really had little desire to go stand out in the cold. However, a text from Nicole lured me out of my warm cocoon eventually and I joined them in the cold barn (doors closed against the wind) as Dan finished up the mares' feet.
Post shoeing, we all headed back to Dave's to change before heading into town for dinner and beer. And, by 9pm that evening, it was snowing. Fortunately, cold libations kept us from caring too much in the moment.
|Stumptown (Nicole's photo)|
Sunday's weather report promised 20-30 mph winds and intermittent snow showers all day with a high of 35°F and windchills in the low 20s°F. But no rain! The winds gusted hard against the house a few times Saturday night and my mind immediately flipped back into "ski patrol" mode as I heard the wind and watched the snow build up on the roof of the garage. By daylight Sunday, I was mentally prepped for what would be a pretty extreme ride in the Sods.
Originally, Dave was going to come with us making us a group of 6 (Nicole, Carlos, Dave, me, Dan, and Nicole's bff), but ever the fair weather fan, he opted out when he saw the weather report! I really wanted Griffin to go though and knew I had multiple girlfriends in the valley who had a great interest in going on a ride like this, so I sent a probing message out to Kate who quickly agreed to join despite the weather. (She's born and raised in Canaan and I knew she'd be game!)
We all met at the barn to prep the horses and set up our trailer shuttle to Timberline at 10am. It took a bit of time to jumble everything together. We were finally headed up Timberline to access the Sods around 11:15a amidst intermittent snow and sun thanks to the strong winds.
|Kate on Griffin. Snow on trees.|
|Our intrepid group climbing the Wall of Tears into the Sods|
The sun made everything more bearable. It wasn't steady, but the breaks it gave us from the gusting snow were quite welcome! However, despite those breaks of sunshine, the weather was absolutely brutal during the non-sun moments.
And that's where the title of the post comes in. See, I really couldn't do much more than laugh during moments of strongly gusting winds and horizontal snowflakes. And I wasn't the only one. Kate and Nicole were right there with me. Kate because she's WVian born and raised like me, and Nicole because she's a fan of my kind of crazy apparently! (I'm a bad influence...)
The horses though? Not as pleased. At least not my two, or so I joked! I started giving them voices, "I hate my job. I hate humans. I hate stupid humans. I hate MY stupid human. I want a NEW stupid human! Can I exchange this stupid human for another stupid human? In a warmer place?! Or maybe if I tell my stupid human I take back all of the bad things I ever did we can quit this?"
My horses are saintly creatures. Honestly. And honestly? Griffin loved every moment of his day. Q enjoyed herself, too, minus the snow blowing in her ears. She was game, she led a little, and she performed beautifully.
We saw a few crazy hikers in the Sods (though not very deep into them), so at least we weren't the only crazy sick-in-the-head people out there! (I remarked as much to one hiker which earned a chuckle on his part. And I even knew one of the other hikers we ran across! We're all crazy in WV...)
During the second major snow burst, the flakes were the fluffiest we'd see them all day. Kate and I made an honest attempt to catch them on our tongues. Giggling all the while.
|Kate and I with tongues out catching snowflakes, Nicole giggling, photo by Carlos|
Dan and Dakota led most of the ride, with Dan's mare Nell with Nicole's bff aboard following. Carlos, Nicole, Kate and I switched up the order behind them continually throughout the ride, but always kept Griffin in front of someone as he had boots on and I wanted to keep an eye on them.
...until he lost two in one fell swoop in deep Dolly Sods mud! I was able to recover one, but the other was lost and gone forever. The first boot I've officially lost for real. I yanked Griffin's remaining boots for the rest of the ride (until we descended the Wall of Tears again when he had his fronts replaced) to avoid worrying about them any more. (UGH!)
Shortly after the boot mishap, we reached an area of the Raven Ridge trail that is absolutely primo for galloping. I was in the back at this point and absolutely ready to GO. Q was, too! Dan on Dakota's fast trot had moved out way in front of Nell, so I pulled Q out to the left of everyone, pushed her into a canter and eventually a gallop and passed them all (knowing those horses well enough to know they would be able to handle this without majorly spazzing).
I giggled as Q surged happily ahead and heard Kate on Griffin behind me mutter an excited, "OH HELL YES," as she pulled him in right behind Q.
We accelerated until we'd caught Dan, slowed, giggling, and then neatly passed he and Dakota at a moderately paced trot as we made a left turn onto Bear Rocks trail.
The wind and snow really picked up right around this point. Nicole called it sleet, but to me, it was styrofoam pellet snow. Despite it, I urged Q into a canter for another stretch after checking that all were behind me. It was the first time she's been in the lead at a canter on an easy stretch of trail in a VERY long time. She did beautifully. <3
We kept the pace up for a good while, making a left onto Beaver View for a time. ...until I heard Dan right behind me, "HEY SLOW DOWN!" I halted Q almost immediately as Dan on a very impatient Dakota surged past for another couple of strides. Dan turned to tell me to please not pass him like that again as Dakota had lost his shit for the first time in about a year because he couldn't be in front any longer. No harm, no foul though. All settled neatly back in and was fine for the rest of the ride.
Our group kept our speed over the easier terrain for a couple more miles before we re-entered rocky terrain where we were forced back to a sedate walk for the rest of the ride. And about 15 minutes into the walking stretch, the sun came back out and the clouds really cleared up! Quite serendipitous really, as we were back at the western edge of the Sods that overlooks Canaan Valley. The view cleared up beautifully just for Nicole and Carlos to enjoy it for the first time! (The fog obscured it their first time there last September.)
Kate and I joked with Dan about the weather as the Maryland-Florida contingent took photos. (For once, I didn't feel the need to take photos.)
After, we descended back down Timberline to the trailers. We'd completed 15 miles in about 3 hours.
Dan shuttled his two back to their field while Kate and I waited with Q and Griffin in the parking lot, and Nicole's bff promptly hid in the warmth of the truck while Nicole and Carlos took care of their mares in preparation for their trip home.
I chatted with Kate about the ride for a bit during this time. She's grown up riding horses and recently spent a year in Austraila where she worked on a ranch and rode/trained multiple horses - so needless to say, she knows her way around the animals! She thanked me for the invite and noted how she's wanted to get into riding like this for a long while. She also complimented me on Griffin, noting how FUN he was to ride and that I'd done a really good job with him. <3 He really is a freaking BLAST. I hope to have Kate join Dan and I more in the future.
Nicole and Carlos were finishing up with their mares and loaded them to drive home. I told Nicole I'd understand if she didn't want to be my friend after the level of crazy from the ride. She grinned HUGE and reassured me that she'd had a BLAST; Carlos seconded. I really am a horrible influence on these islanders!
Dan arrived back with my trailer as Nicole and Carlos were ready to head out, so we all pulled out together.
It was a great, albeit crazy weather, ride. Not quite the heat conditioning I'll need for the OD100, but I'll take it nonetheless.
I'm really grateful for the crazy friends who join me on these adventures. <3