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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

My Tevis 2010 Story

I was assured yesterday that if I posted the long version, people WOULD read it, so instead of trying to condense this into a nice little 4 paragraph story, here’s the whole caboodle.

May I start with the end as opposed to the beginning?

24 hours later Farley looks great. No visible weight loss, a great attitude, and moving well and sound. My only concern is some edema in the girth area (I use a long girth, so the edema and swollen/lumpy area is up on her sides). Any suggestions? I think the girth was loose and moving throughout the California loop caused some rubbing and friction, so maybe I need a tighter girth? I use a mohair girth – how about adding a fleece cover? Her back looks great – I switched to an equipedic pad at the last minute and the risk paid off – it’s a hotter pad, but gives more support, which I think it important at a 100 since I’m still not riding well to the very end.

I discovered that in addition to hydration, starting the Thursday before the ride, my NUTRITION does at well. I have such a hard time eating during a ride that I MUST eat as much as possible on Thursday night and all day Friday. I did a good job doing this and I felt great most of the way. I had a problem with getting very hungry on the California loop and not daring to get anything out of my saddle bags. By the time I got to Fransico’s, I had transitioned from hungry to feeling sick and I never was really able to get past that.

We finished at 4 am, and power walked with very little trotting the last 6 miles. Her scores from Robinson onward only improved. My only complaint was her trot outs. She was TOTALLY not motivated and it’s a problem that has only gotten worse this season. I think we need to work on it at home. The reason she isn’t trotting out is a good one – as soon as she sees the vet check she immediately goes into the “zone”. Even if I trot into a check mounted, by the time I get off, her pulse is usually around 54. BUT, for 10 seconds she CAN summon up the energy to give me a good trot out without messing up her “vet check zone” so I’m going to start insisting on it.

Next year I want to finish “better”. At the end of the ride she was definitely tired and a bit sore. Unless I had a bucket in hand, there were definitely no friendly nickers in my direction. This is only the second time that she has gone the 100 mile distance and I need to remember that she also acted like this after her first 50, and her first 65. It takes her twice at a distance before she “learns it”. As long as everything continues to look good, I’ll take her to Virginia City 100 in 6 weeks and see what her attitude is finishing that ride. If she’s still a bit grumpy after that one, I’ll go back to 50’s and multi’s for a while. Overall, Farley stayed strong from finish to end. Her attitude on the trail was bright and cheery and she took care of me and her until the very end. Kudos to an awesome mare.

Here’s the Tevis 2010 Story

The start

Karen Chaton found me at Robie on Friday to give me a very special present – a Tevis angel. It was beautiful with a sliver charm that showed an angel and a horse, with a colorful line of beads. I was very touched but did wonder, as a hornet bit me on the nose at that exact moment, whether or not I should have chosen a different one……

Once again, I chose to ride out of camp in very last place. I had a hard time convincing Farley it wasn’t a conditioning ride. She was totally relaxed and on a loose rein the entire time. This is the second year I have done this and it works well (at least so far….). I usually don’t see my first crowd of people until the Red Star vet check.. The benefits of this are obvious – for the first 36 miles of the race I get to ride my own ride. My friend I had went through the bogs at our own pace, let our horses eat and drink at Squaw along the trail. Everything was calm and relaxed and we could pace the first third of Tevis exactly to our liking. We did get lost (a lot of people did, there was some trail marking sabatoge….) that put us back about 15 or 20 minutes, which was a blessing in disguise. There was some trouble in the bogs this year. I heard someone came off, horses fell, and some serious tack malfunctions. Being delayed that 15 or 20 minutes probably saved us from getting caught up in that mess. At Red Star, there’s usually ~40 horses milling around. I waltz through the check fairly quickly and thus pass about 40 riders. With only 7 or so miles until Robinson I don’t like to take a lot of time at that check. I spent more time there this year, waiting for my friend Kathy to pulse down (I ended up leaving her at the check).

Robinson is a tough vet check because of how they have it set up. You are immediately funneled into the pulse box, which then immediately goes to the vet in area. Technically you can stand in the pulse down area as long as you want and let your horse eat and drink before pulsing and vetting in, but I’m always anxious to get to my crew area so we can both relax. Therefore, I wasn’t surprised when the vet gave Farley mostly B’s . I had a strapon on one hoof and the vet made me trot out 3 times but finally admitted he couldn’t see anything and he would “let the trail sort it out” (he also said that I shouldn’t worry about it – just ride)

After Robinson

My time for the first third was almost identical to 2009. I decided to do the 2nd third of the trail much slower this year. I had plenty of time in 2009 but worried about the cut offs, and felt that by pushing the 2nd third, I ended up with a horse that was too tired.

I use the strategy of passing riders at vetchecks (like what I described for Red Star) throughout the ride. For example, at Last Chance there were a TON of riders (40 or so). I trotted in, mounted and she was already down, so I immediately vetted through (pulse – 54) and let her eat and drink on the other side of the vet check for ~5 minutes. As riders started to go through the vet check, I left, which allowed me to go through the first canyon unhindered by long lines of riders. I spent a lot of time cooling off at Devil’s thumb this year because my horse needed it and the stop was deserted. When I arrived at Deadwood, again the check was totally impacted. Since I had spent time at Devil’s thumb making sure she ate, drank, and was cooled, I walked out of the check, hand feeding and then hopped on and headed to the second canyon. I rarely pass riders on the trail and people rarely pass me. In a sense, I create my own “luck” by making sure I don’t get caught up in other people’s rides or other people’s accidents.

The second canyon I had my first and only altercation in my entire endurance career to date. About ½ way down the second canyon, a group of 5 or 6 riders were going very slowly down the trail. The horses in the group went very slowly, stopping before each section of particularly rocky trail to look before crossing the rocks/downbank/whatever. Then, at any wider flat spots, they would fly at a very fast trot, making it impossible to pass, and not checking if anyone would like the trail. After 30 minutes of asking them to yield the trail, I took matters into my own hands. I became insistent that they MUST yield the trail when possible. They replied that they had 2 juniors and it would be against the rules for me to be between them and their sponsors at any time, even to pass. I was told that they would decide “safe” and it would be the bottom of the canyon. I was cussed at and told to shut up. I did not respond except to ask that they yield the trail. Finally, as they are screaming at me and getting my name to “report me”, I tell them where to stop and then blow past them on the trail, one by one. I took the “cliff” side so that I was taking the bigger risk. Then, once I was past and out of sight I started bawling from the stress and emotion. I then headed up and out of the canyon as fast as I dared so that I didn’t have to see them again for the ride. I understand that the narrowness of the trail makes people nervous, but there ARE safe places to pass and common courtesy can allow all of us to have a safe and pleasant ride.

Michigan Bluff and Chicken Hawk went off smoothly and off I went to Foresthill. My horse felt great, I felt great. At the Foresthill the vet said “It’s such a shame to get all the way here and….” As he looked at my shocked face, he complained that no body has a sense of humor at 68 miles. He smiled and said she looked great. I got mostly A’s with a B for muscle tone. I decided we would walk up all the hills for the remainder of the ride. (BTW – the next vet at Fransico’s shrugged and said that all the horses felt a bit tight at this stage of the ride and I shouldn’t worry about it, he didn’t see anything unusual).

I was leaving FORESTHILL!!!!!!!

Foresthill and Onward

I fell in behind Melissa on her Paso Fino and off we went to the California Loop.

I have ridden the California Loop in the daylight. At a trot.

I didn’t think it was that bad.

In the dark it alternately scared and terrified me. As I suspected, glow bars distracted both me and Farley so I shut them off after 20 minutes or so. I liked having them at the beginning while navigating through the town of Foresthill so I was more visible, and it was nice to know that I had them in an emergency, but they remained off for the remainder of the ride. If I wanted to check something out, I used the red bulb on my headlight.

Farley led ~50% of the California Loop and it was both exhilarating and terrifying. If you looked hard you could see the faint light (or dark, depending on the surrounding vegetation color) ribbon winding through the darkness that was the trail. Cal-2 was neither worse nor better than the rest of the California loop because the moon light made the entire, unshaded hillside, including the trail a blinding white that was as disorienting as the darkness of the previous trail.

Half way through the California loop, all of a sudden there was a movement ahead of me and I realized that a dark horse, with no glow bars, was heading towards me at a trot (and I’m also on a dark horse with no glow bars). I call out to the rider and we stop, facing eachother. Farley, the great little horse she is, never even flinched. It was Karen, who hadn’t seen a glow bar or ribbon for a while, and not being familiar with the trail was afraid she was lost. We assured her she was fine and she turned around……to show a red glow bar on Bo’s tail. Oh no. I tried to let her get far enough ahead that I couldn’t see it but it was impossible. Once the eye (horse or human) saw that red dot in the distance it was impossible to focus on anything else. The glow bar was malfunctioning and Karen couldn’t get it to turn off, and could TAKE it off without two hands. Finally we found a safe place to pass, but not before Farley got disoriented enough to step off the path a bit with her hinds (and give me a heart attack in the process).

I would argue that if you have never gone further in Tevis than the Forest hill vet check, than you haven’t gotten to really experience Tevis. I found all of the vet checks prior to Fransico’s tense and stressful. I made it a point to leave as soon as I felt I could once my horse had eaten and drank. At Fransico’s, it was like a giant party. Farley didn’t see the reason for leaving. She planted her feet and told me in no uncertain terms that we had plenty of time to finish and she WAS going to pig out some more on this lovely flake of alfalfa. I conceded that she had a point, removed her bridle and gave her 5-10 more minutes.

The river crossing was a bit stressful. I started to drift down stream a bit and the water was high enough that it was over her belly and over my stirrups (there are good and bad things about a small horse…..).

Once over the river, Farley and I both started to lose a bit of motivation. My caffeine pill was wearing off, and I was starting to not feel good. I had been very hungry on the California Loop but didn’t dare reach around to get food out of my saddle bags. I never really was able to get down enough food after that to make up for that couple hours of not eating. I had been imaginging things in the trees and bushes for some time but now I saw little animals in the leaves and branches and everything seemed to be moving.

Lower quarry was at the beginning of the gravel road and not the end by the highway crossing like I expected. The bright lights were absolutely blinding, so I dismounted to come down the hill before the check. Farley had tripped and fallen during a training ride here and figured that NOW there was even a bigger chance because we were both blind.

Farley did a most UNspactacular trot out but we were allowed to go on.

At this point, I had 6 miles into the Auburn and I knew we could do it at a walk. I insisted we trot most of the gravel road, up to the HWY crossing, then Farley could do whatever she wanted. And she decided she wanted to power walk into Auburn. So that’s what we did.

I was feeling downright disoriented and threw the reins at Farley and told her to take us home.

The Finish

Her attitude was GREAT – ears forward, energetic 4.5 mph walk forward, no stumbling or tripping, and attacked the hills and rocks with vigor. She just didn’t want to trot I didn’t particularly feel like trotting either that was fine with me. (About 3 miles from the finish she did offer one a couple of times. I declined.)

The same vet who pulled me last year at Tevis had the honor of giving me a completion this year. By coincidence, he also vetted me in this year. He gave me a hug and told me he was proud and then I managed to drag me and my horse to McCain stadium.

Here is where my crew and I had a difference of opinion. I did NOT want to go around the stadium and had in fact decided not to while I was still on the trail. Terry (part of my crew) said I had to. My argument was that I did not finish well and didn’t feel like I deserved to. Terry’s counter argument was that my parents were already sitting there waiting for me. My response was that I would go to the stadium, stand on a hill and wave to them. They waved back. Terry told me that I should go around. I countered with – “fine, but they would have to allow me to lead Farley because it’s unfair for me to ask her to pack me around any more”. Terry agreed and before I knew what was happening, I was leading Farley around the stadium and the announcer was getting all sorts of my information wrong (probably my fault as I didn’t spend much time on my “info” sheet since I wasn’t all that confident I was going to finish).

Then it was back to the stall where I managed to choke down a cup of champagne, get hugged, and managed to keep from puking or passing out (a side effect of being really really tired and hungry is getting sick and then NOT being able to eat. Lovely eh?)

I then fell into bed for an entire…..2 hours.

The Day after

I had a LOVELY breakfast with my crew. Upon hearing that I was not planning on purchasing a buckle, my crew IMMEDIATELY decided I MUST have a buckle and everyone chipped in to buy me a buckle for my completion. I’m going to have it engraved – “From the 2010 Crew”.

The rest of the afternoon is a bit hazy. I was sweating a LOT, even if I was just sitting down in the shade. Just from walking from the parking lot the stall I would start to feel very sick and need to sit down or risk puking. Matt (boyfriend) had come to help me celebrate my completion and kept an eye on me. He convinced me to let my aunt drive me home. I was very well hydrated so I think I’ve narrowed down the cause to an electrolyte imbalance. I talked to my mom (she’s in charge of rider welfare during the ride to discuss strategies for my next ride). When I started to feel the sickest was during the awards ceremony. In fact, I was feeling so awful, I didn’t know whether I would be able to make it on stage. When I looked at my watch, I realized it was 2pm and I hadn’t eaten since breakfast at 8:30a. I didn’t have my ticket but went down to the buffet table and explained that I was a rider, hadn’t planned on eating so didn’t have my ticket, but I wasn’t feeling good and could I PLEASE have a plate of food. I did feel better after the food, but felt BEST after finishing off a McDonald’s fries on the drive home. I felt like licking the salt out of the carton.

Lessons learned

So much went well at this ride I really have a hard time complaining about ANYTHING. Here’s what I AM looking at for next year.

1. Making a point to have Farley a little distance away from the crew “main”. I’m lucky the commotion doesn’t bother her, but I’ll feel better if she’s apart from the hustle and bustle with limited access to her (only people who need to be messing with her will go to her)

2. Remember to put sunscreen on in the morning. (at least this year I didn't have to ride the first 36 miles in 1 contact!)

3. Have a back up alarm in the morning….don’t ask.

4. figure out how to eat out of my saddle bags in the dark

5. Designate a crew leader who is also an endurance rider

6. Take another caffeine pill at midnight

7. Do not give up my Monday vacation day no matter what – I NEED IT.

8. Include salty foods in my ride food box for vet checks and in my saddle bags – this year all I had was potato chips at the vet checks.

9. Move my chicken hawk crew to Michigan bluff – I don’t need a crew at chicken hawk.

10. Continue to use boots. I felt like I had superior traction as compared to last year, her legs only have a little bit of filling (24 hours later), and she tripped/stumbled less.

11. Remember the ice!!!!!!! I didn’t ice legs afterwards!!!!!!!!!

12. Make a decision on Adequan.

13. If she continues to be a good girl for the next couple of weeks AND starts Virginia city as well as she started the last 4 rides, consider switching her to a hackamore at least for the last part of the ride. She can eat OK around the bit, but when she’s REALLY hungry she can’t stuff large mouthfuls into her mouth and get it past the bit. I was nervous to do this on the California loop, so VC might be a good place to try this since it’s doesn’t have the same kind of drop offs that I could die on.

I probably forgot stuff, so be prepared for “Tevis Talk” for at least the next week……

If you are a reader and you want me to post your tevis story, let me know.


  1. Congrats! I watched the live feed all day and while your updates were sporadic, I had Crysta Turnage on Facebook letting me know when she saw you! I am so proud of you for finishing! Way to go!

  2. Congratulations again and big hugs to you and Farley! I'm so happy you guys finished! I got some good take-away notes for the future in reading through your story -- part of the reason I love ride stories so much. Always something to be learned through others' experiences.

  3. I knew you didn't want to do the "finish," it was pretty obvious. But think about it this way, Every minute of the ride is your experience, reward, and validation of what you have worked for. But your crew's reward is to see you come into the checks, and to cheer you on as you finish.
    It's not as much that it's a debt you owe, an obligation, but more of an acknowledgement of the teamwork. We appreciate a chance to celebrate with you!

  4. Congrats to you both- You make it all sound so easy....

  5. Yea! Sounds like a pretty awesome ride Mel! I'm so happy for you!

  6. Mom - of course you are right. It's something that we could have prepared for better - it seemed like such a far-fetched notion that *I* could finish Tevis and reached a 10 year dream, I was almost afraid that by talking about it too much or discussing it I could *jinx* it. Then of course we all are totally unprepared!

    Jonna - I'll tell you a secret - it was easier than some of my other rides. By having a plan and sticking to it and by having a wonderful horse that is suited to the sport, AND having a crew that made sure I ate and drank, I do feel guilty for how *easy* it was. Having a horse with no known metabolic problems (have I just jinxed myself?), who can go down the trail barefoot with ease if necessary, AND a crew that makes sure the rider is in good much luckier can I get????????

    I would say that this ride was harder for me mentally and emotionally than it was physically for either me or the horse. I've been more sore, my horse has taken longer ot recover, and I've been sicker on the horse.

    That being said - I want to finish next year with a horse that I feel like could go another 50 miles easily.

    JB - anytime you want to schedule a trip up there to see some of the trail (Tevis), count me in! I'd be more than happy to show it :) I never understood until I finished the race just how special it is.

  7. That was an amazing tale. You definitely deserved the trip around the stadium!


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