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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Tevis Thoughts

So much happened during Tevis, it’s hard to formulate a regular ride recap. I may post a more complete story later, but for now, here is what is going through my mind. Expect the thoughts to continue throughout the week until I get Tevis out of my system.

1. Why did I get/chose to pull at Foresthill (mile 68)?
Reason 1 - Arriving at the vet check at Deadwood, (after the first canyon) I vetted through and she was almost a grade 1 on her right front. She was perfectly sound on the flat and uphill, but intermittently lame going down hill. Her right???? She’s never been lame on her right front. Everything else looked fine, there was no obvious pain when palpating that leg, the lameness was intermittent, and her pulse was 50. I started for the second canyon.

To give her the best chance at staying sound (or rather, keeping what borderline soundness she had), I ran down the ENTIRE second canyon on foot. Yep – RAN, not walked, RAN. Did I mention I live at sea level with no hills? I remounted and then headed up the canyon to Michigan Bluff. It was worth every down hill step – I really did not want to get pulled before Foresthill because of the long wait for the trailer ride out of the checks. My crew and support would be at FH and she could ride out in my own trailer.

There was some excitement going up to Michigan Bluff in terms of cut-off times (more on that later) and we cantered into MB, then cantered into Chicken Hawk vet check (Farley had been wanting to do that all day – she was in heaven.) I trotted out of MB on the pavement so I could listen to her gait. It was on level ground and she sounded 100% sound. At CH she vetted through again with the same almost grade 1 lameness on her RF going downhill, and heart rate still low. Whatever it was, it wasn’t getting worse.

I walk-trotted to Foresthill. Again (like she had been doing all day) she pulsed in immediately. While waiting in the vet line my crew sponged off her legs and I noticed a tiny bit of blood on the inside of her leg on the RF, just below the knee. There was a wee bit of swelling there, seemed tender but not painful. My guess is she knocked into a rock and hit her leg. I was relieved because now I had a probable cause. I was also encouraged that the lameness didn’t appear to worsen between Deadwood and Foresthill. I showed the vet the injury and trotted out. The lameness was still intermittent and I was told to come back for a recheck.

During the wait I took a shower (more on that later too), iced her leg, and massaged her. After 30 minutes she appeared to be stiffening up and muscle sore, so I made the decision not to go on.

Reason 2 – She had been drinking good all day. For some reason, she decided not to drink at Last Chance. I tried everything I could, but she was more interested in the food there. She started drinking well again after the canyon, but I felt that was too late – she was still behind on the hydration curve. She continued to drink well into Foresthill, but I knew I had made the right decision when, one hour after arriving into FH she started draining buckets and REALLY drinking. She was having to make up for missing one of the drinking spots – better for her to make it up at the paddock in the fairgrounds, then attempt to do that on the trail. A lot of horses (more than I’ve ever seen at a ride) were in the treatment barns, with every one of them on fluids (I’m assuming from dehydration). I’m very very thankful that my horse did not require treatment.

2. How hard is the Tevis? I know that some people say that Tevis is the hardest thing they have ever done. That may be true for them, but I would not say that. Two out of three of my marathons were harder. Graduating college while working 2-3 jobs, juggling extracurricular activities, and jury notices was harder. My first 50 mile endurance race was absolutely harder. I felt better at 68 miles (Foresthill) at Tevis than I did at 35 miles at my first 50 miler (American River 2007). I might make it easier that I like to push myself physically, like the pain, and are familiar with the pain that comes from pushing myself to the limit. My horse is also an energizer bunny that goes and goes and goes (In my opinion it’s easier to direct and control energy than create it - give me an energizing bunny over a steady – but slow – eddy anytime).

I think the Tevis is absolutely doable and it would be nice if people were more encouraging. You certainly need to be prepared for it, but you need to prepare for a marathon too. Or a multi-day backpacking trip. Or really anything else that has mother nature as a variable. Even with having to unexpectedly run down the second canyon on foot (NOT in the plan) I was physically and mentally prepared enough that at Foresthill, at the end of the hour hold, I could have continued the race and finished 100 miles.

I will say this – EVERYONE – STOP talking about how hard the canyons are – the first third of the ride through the Granite Wilderness is much much harder than the canyons in my opinion. If I only could have pre-ridden one part of the ride, I would have chosen the first 1/3 instead of the last 2/3 of the trail.

3. Do I have a 100 mile horse and will I try again? Absolutely. Farley pulsed in immediately at every gate and go, was forward all day, and when I let her go coming into Michigan Bluff after the canyons she said “finally!” and kicked it into high gear. She ate like a PIG all day, started the race quietly, and drank well (except for the one check). I’m hoping that missing that water check was a learning experience for her, because it was an anomaly. I felt great and 100 milers is absolutely what I want to do. I love the challenge of the trail and look forward to getting out there next year. The type of trail and race that is the Tevis is the reason WHY I got into endurance – because it’s not easy, and there’s an exciting element of chance in it.

4. Are the volunteers as great as they say? Yes – I think the volunteers are great at every ride, but the volunteers at Tevis were above and beyond anything I had ever experienced.
Knowing that you would be pulled, would you have still entered the Tevis this year? Yes – I got to see the first third of the trail. I found out that I’m capable of doing it. I got to ride further on Farley than I ever had before and found out that at the end of a very hard 68 miles she STILL has gas in her tank. The vet said to give her 10 days and if it’s that bruise on the inside of her leg, she should be recovered by then – I’ll keep you updated. I had so much fun – I think Farley did too. At the end of some rides she wants nothing to do with me for ~48 hours. After this ride, I gave her a couple of hours to rest, she was alert and nickering at me!

5. What went especially well?
The sewn trim on the HAF pad worked perfectly – no rubs!

Zero tack issues.

Zero behavior issues (except she was very strong and in groups had a hard time focusing).

Couldn’t have asked for a better start (started at 5:30 after everyone had left, with a friend).

The crewing – my crew had a blast and everyone’s talking about doing it again next year. No major problems, everything was organized and no time was lost in the checks.

6. What did you learn?
Wear front boots on this ride during the first third.

Don’t get off in the canyons if I can help it. I’m glad I did because of her questionable RF, but if there isn’t an issue I will definitely stay mounted. I felt much safer on the back of Farley. I had to go by the dead horse that fell off the trail while climbing up to Deadwood. I heard from someone that the horse was being led up the canyon by the rider, the horse took one wrong step, lost its balance and fell. It was awful, completely awful.

Continue to ride by myself if I can – or at most one other person. Farley does much better that way. She stopped fighting me once I found a hole.

Double check I have spares. My left contact tore in half when in my eye at 4am at the start. I thought I had a spare in my truck, but apparently took it out at some point…..I rode the first 1/3 of the ride with one contact.

I forgot all sorts of stuff – GPS, hose, shampoo, extra buckets. I forgot the stakes for my tent I brought to the start. Did you know that screw drivers are a good substitute?

I should NOT have been driving my trailer from Foresthill to the fairgrounds after the pull. I felt good and I looked good to my crew so I drove, but I was seriously compromised. I’ve already talked to my crew and there will be a note in the crew book next year that if I’m pulled and need to drive a trailer, someone else will do it.

That’s it for now. I had a blast and look forward to next year. Wild West and Tevis are my favorite rides and I’ll do both every year if I can.


  1. That's interesting to hear about the first third of the trail. I usually find that hype is just that and that things are not as hard as they seem. People told me all the time that vet school was the hardest thing they've ever done. While I would tend to agree it's difficult, you adjust very quickly and it becomes "normal."

    Great job! I can't wait to hear the "official" ride story! So glad to hear you and your pony were not damaged and survived the heat!!


  2. H Mel- Glad the soreness was likely due to something minor. I thought it was interesting your take on the race , that people are often "scared off" of the Tevis because everything you hear about it makes it seem more terrifying than it is. On the other hand, it's also probably not that common that a horse falls off a cliff in a race and dies either. I hadn't heard about the dead horse. That is rather disturbing , especially that you had to go by. Is alot of the trail very narrow? Or is it just a couple sections? I have been on a lot of mountain trails that are narrow and in steep country. It's never really my idea of much fun. I am very curious about your take on Cougar Rock and the swinging bridge. I would also love to hear your training since it sounds like you typically don't have the opportunity to train on hill. Do you do speed work in lieu of hills? Can't wait to read more. Great Job.

  3. Tevis is VERY proactive on treating most metabolic pulls. Even minor ones. Better to give them fluids before it becomes an issue, which is why the treatment barn usually has a lot of horses getting IV's. Does not mean that horse was really in bad shape, and at another ride, they might not say fluids were needed.

    And you learned that even that dang bypass around Cougar Rock has its dangers. Your knee is in good comapny I am sure of other riders over the years who whacked the wall when using that trail.

    The toughest part for me was staying mentally sharp on the last 20 miles. It is a v ery mental ride, but you sound like the type that will not find that a challenge. ;-)

  4. Good stuff Mel! Also great to see some pictures of you and Farley. I'm excited just reading about the adventure, can only imagine how you must feel. As for next year? I so go for it :)

  5. Still working on my story - but here's some responses to the comments.

    Yes, most of the trail is very steep and narrow. There are some wider roads, but steep and narrow single track is what the majority of the first 2/3 of the trail is (in my opinion only, not sure if there is an official % of singletrack listed anywhere).

    Cougar rock looked very very scary. I was glad to have the excuse of going around because of the line. :)

    I'm totally in support of giving IV fluids and I don't mean to sound disparaging on anyone whose horse was treated! :) I just wanted to comment on that since it was a little shocking to see (Farley was in the same barn as the treatment barn).

    Swinging bridge really moves, especially if you have a horse that is trying to bolt past you. During training, I rode the bridge and felt much safer than when I led her across during the race. There is a sign on the bridge that asks you to dismount. It says that 3 riders can ride across, but if you get more than 2, I think it becomes a little unsafe.

    I trailer out almost every weekend to do hill training. I also tend to chose endurance rides that are very hilly to try and get lots of condiioning in.

    So far, in reflection, there's nothing about my ride that I would change. There are minor things - start out with a contact in each eye, put front leg protection on for the first 1/3 of the race, but overall I think I paced very very good.

  6. I'm still very proud of you and Farley, Mel. I am enjoying reading your side of the Tevis story and hope to one day make it out West and participate. From the sound of it, you rode a very smart ride and did exactly what you had to do. It still deserves a huge "Congratulations!" :)


  7. your horse came first.. you ARE a winner in my book (and farley's too, i bet!)

    congrats on your courage and wisdom both


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