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Monday, June 17, 2013

Crewing for Sunriver 100

I was so worried that I wouldn’t have anything to blog about on my crewing experience for Funder and Dixie.  I’m staring at the draft I started on Friday in an attempt to document some details that might be of interest to you, my Dear Reader, since I wasn’t sure there would be much of a story behind Funder and Dixie doing a conservative, respectable first 100 mile at a ride with a reputation for being a really good first 100.

Ha!!!!  Apparently don't invite me along unless you want a blog-able adventure. 

Ummm.....I don’t think I’m going to need to bore you with the various things I forgot (contact lens case, anything that would prepare me for weather in the low 30s, deodorant, yada yada yada).

Similarly the list of various REALLY REALLY good restaurants that we discovered along our route (Dill’s Deli at 5132 Caterpillar road off of I-5 on the north side of redding, CA and Baldy’s BBQ in Bend OR are both absolutely incredible.  Baldy’s is only doable without a trailer, but Dill’s is an excellent rest stop) are only going to get the barest mention.

This is going to be a tough post to write.  I’m mad, disappointed, sad, angry, frustrated and probably too tired to write this right now.  My goal is to not say anything I’ll regret once this emotional hangover is over, and not tell anyone’s story but my own (ie - what I saw and heard, not what I got second hand).  I’m currently on lunch, so if this post goes on longer than it should, I’ll have to break it off at some point and continue the story at a later time.

Most of my rides take place in the western region, within CA state, so I’m always excited to visit a new state or region.  This was the third region I’ve ridden or crewed in.  Endurance is a national organization with oversight of all the regions, but each region has it’s own flavor and style.  I know people from the pacific northwest and have heard really good things about the PNER regional organization and their rides and I can’t tell you how happy I was to finally get a chance to see it in person.  We travelled all the way from San Fransisco CA to Bend OR, a 12 hour drive each way because after a ton of research and talking to people and looking at previous years’ ride results, Funder thought this was THE best first 100 for her TN Walker mare, Dixie.  Mild weather, a trail that wasn’t all hills and rocks on the side of cliffs, and a region and ride that (we thought) has a reputation for being supportive of non-arabs and first time 100’s.

And I agreed with her.  When I still thought Minx might be my 100 mile horse, I too did a bunch of research and had settled on Sunriver, even though it was at the limit of how far I thought I could travel for a ride.

On Thursday morning we headed out.  We didn’t have any particular plan for travel except to do at least one longer stop where Dixie could get out of the trailer, and multiple other small stops.

There are 2 things that stand out to me when I think of that drive to the ride.
1. We peed.  It seemed like we couldn’t get 20 miles down the road before we had to stop and pee again.  And again.  And again. 
2. Dixie looked incredible.  She travelled well.  She ate and drank and ate some more.  She came out of that trailer at the end of a 12 hour drive looking as if she could start the ride the next morning.  Which wasn’t necessary because she was going to get an entire day to lounge around and eat some more!!!!!!!

That night it was cold.  Really really effing cold.  We hundled in the back seat of the truck with the heater running, watching Supernatural for HOURS until we crawled into our respective tents/nests/sleeping bags at 12:30a.

The next morning Funder tacked up and went for a very short little trail ride to see how the boots were working and see how Dixie felt.  She looked GOOD.  I have video.  At some point I’ll organize and post pics and videos of the ride.  Not now.  Right now we need to move along to the inevitable train wreck you know is coming with this kind of lead in. 

Funder signed up for the ride and we went to the ride meeting.  So far so good.  The camp was the dustiest thing I’ve ever seen in my LIFE, and I was not prepared for such cold temperatures in OR, but so far the people have been friendly, there are people recognizing both me and Funder from our blogs, and one of my favorite tack vendors, American Trail Gear is there with a full lay out with everything I had on my list to buy before Tevis. 

At this point there is a couple of red flags.
1. No food vendor at the ride because the ride manager forgot until the last minute to find someone.
2. No trail maps.
3. No crew directions to the checks except the ones written on poster board at the ride HQ because they forgot to print and put them into the packets.
4. Expectation that everyone would be in camp at the 80 mile point before dark.

You knew I couldn't get through this post without at least one bullet list....

I didn’t realize at the time that #4 was a red flag.  I knew the day was longer than I was used to up where we were, but if I had stopped to actually do the math, I would have realized that a 9:30p 80 mile was a 16 hour 30 min TOTAL time into the ride, with 2 hours 15 minutes of holds.  Which means to get into the 80 mile mark by dark, you have to do 80 miles in 14 hours and 15 minutes of ride time. Which is a 5.5 mph.  Which is about 1mph faster than the actual pace to finish the ride.  And I was predicting a 20 hour ride time with 3 hours of holds, for an overall pace of 5mph.  Which meant that Funder was absolutely going to come in after dark, on a loop that was new trail, after dark.  And (what I didn’t know at the time) - on a trail with especially shitty footing. 

For those of you that aren’t endurance riders, that aren’t following the calculations, here is the bottom line: For Funder and Dixie to be on track to finish comfortably in front of the 24 hour cut off, in a conservative 20 hour ride time, they would be coming into the 80 mile vet check at 10:45pm.  Over an hour after dark.

Crew fail #1: Instead of actually running the numbers and making sure we would be ok, I just assumed that the ride management was familiar with the trail and based on their history with riders finishing in the same time as I expected Funder to finish, that their predictions were correct.  Especially because they had a 100% completion rate the year before and were really proud of it.

I asked for some clarification on trail markings and vetting in (how are the turns marked?  Can you vet in at anytime during the checks?) and thought it was pretty cool that everyone seemed pretty laid back.  It reminded me of the NV ride I’ve done.  There were way more non-arabs in camp than I’m used to seeing at west region rides (and way more portable corrals) and overall I was feeling pretty good about the decision to drive all the way up there for a 100.

The riders were informed that all the trail was new with some exceptions so whatever trail they remembered from previous years should be forgotten and to pay attention to trail markings - which is a good sign because I’ve ridden those rides that have been established “forever” and sometimes it isn’t clear to a new rider who HASN’T ridden the trail before where it goes.

I told Funder at this point that I really felt Dixie was ready for this 100 and if they didn’t finish the next day, it wasn’t because Dixie couldn’t do a 100 or wasn’t ready for it - it would be because of bad luck.

Oh fateful words......

In case you don't get to the end of the post, or are distracted by all the apparent wonderful things I'm saying about this ride, I'm going to be very direct and to the point.  The management at this ride cost Funder and Dixie their completion.  Period. I was completely blindsided by what happened and the attitudes and circumstances are still a bit unbelievable to me as I sit here writing this.  I love endurance.  I love 100's.  Managing rides is not easy and I give the benefit of the doubt when I can. I didn't go into this ride with a chip on my shoulder.  But what happened to Funder and Dixie was IMO completely unacceptable.

Saturday (ride day), the horses started out.  After milling around for 10 minutes and then finally going to wake up someone to take their numbers. 

We would see Funder approximately every 12 to 20 miles.  There were 4 vet checks before the 80 mile vet checks with holds ranging from 30 to 45 minutes.  Amanda and I made every single one of them, while simulataneously running to the store to pick up whatever she was craving that she didn’t have at the last check, getting gas, and feeding ourselves.

Crewing is absolutely as tiring as riding the distance and I naively didn’t take care of myself as well as we were taking care of Funder, and I got to confirm that my afternoon migraines at rides are ABSOLUTELY an electrolyte issue and I *think* with what I tried on Saturday SUCCESSFULLY will work if I get into a bad spot in Tevis with that issue.  If you are a reader of Funder’s blog you will remember her revelation at the Tevis ed ride, that when she gets too hot she makes really bad decisions like “I should get off my horse and walk because she must be really hot” when in reality she should stay on the effing the horse because it’s HER that is getting into trouble.  (I told her if she came into an afternoon vet check leading off her horse, delirious with the heat and her horse looked fine I would literally kill her and she was to stay on the gosh darned horse if she started to feel too hot and not make stupid decisions.  I am such a helpful crew member).  Apparently my MO when my electrolytes get out of balance is to decide that I’ve been drinking too much water and the solution is to stop drinking and everything will magically correct itself.  And yes, I do have a tendancy to over hydrate, but the answer to correcting the imbalance is to continue to drink and ADD electrolytes. 

One more note about crewing, and then I’ll probably save the rest for another post.  I got to see an up close look at a crew that took a slightly “different” approach to the crewing experience and the toll it took on the rider.  It’s not my story to tell right now, although I think it would be an interesting post in the future to discuss some of my observations, but it is sufficient to leave it at this point: having a crew that has been properly instructed and trained that is focusing on the rider and horse and supporting them through a 100 can make all the difference, not only between finishing and not finishing, but also in the safety and well being of that rider if the trail goes to shit. 

Anyways, I digress. 

Funder kept a VERY respectable pace.  6mph on the first loop which is perfect because it was cool and put some miles in the bank.  5mph on the next couple loops, which was the target pace for a 20 hour finish.  4 mph on the hottest afternoon loop, which was perfect since Dixie looked really good and hydrated and looked like she could easily pick it up to 5mph again once it cooled off. 

At 10 hours she had 50 miles in the bag and Dixie still looked great.  WE SO GOT THIS.

At 62 miles, after the hottest part of the day, they were still on track for a 2am finish, which was a full 2 hours faster than I had expected.  The horses coming in before them looked tired and hot, and several of them were pulled. Dixie by contrast was hydrated, eating, and never once did that “stare into the distance” thing and looked down right perky. 

Funder had requested an “adult beverage” and after finishing that, a red bull, and other not-to-be-named-if-we-give-you-this-will-you-get-back-on-the-horse “supplements” they left the last out vet check at 6:30am with 15 miles to camp.  It was rapidly cooling off and we decided that we would probably see them in about 3 hours (5mph) and because they went out of the check at a good non-walk pace, at the most 3 hour, 20 min.  That meant that I expected them anywhere from 9:30 to 10p.

Crew mistake #2: Maybe a mistake, maybe not.  We took Funder’s GPS to charge it for the last loop because based on how Dixie and Funder looked, this was really going to happen, so that she would have a GPS for the entire last 20 miles.  On retrospect, it probably would have lost juice for the last half of this 15 miles and she wouldn’t have had it anyways - but I’m not sure.  I should have brought/borrowed an extra so she had a GPS on her at all times, since they were turtle with no one coming up behind them.

After helping clean up the vet check, we took off and prepped the camp for Funder’s arrival at 80 miles, and for when she finished sometime between 2 and 4 am.  :).  We prepared her back of the truck “nest” and then agreed to lock the doors and not let her see it until she finished. 

The art of crewing is how to bribe and manipulate your rider into getting back on their horse at 80 miles when they are already in camp and are faced with 20 miles in the dark and cold either by themselves or with their buddy (they had been riding with another TWH all day that was also a first 100) as turtles with no one in behind them and everyone within 3 hours of them having been pulled. :)

At 8:30 Amanda went up to wait for Funder to come in in case the trail was short and she came in early.

At 9pm I finished boiling the water for her shower and headed up as well.

At 9:30 it was dark and we were anxiously awaiting her return.  I heard rumors that a quad with ride management had gone out to pull ribbons on that loop and had to their surprise met them on the trail.  The in timer definitely knew they were out there, but apparently poor communication? Anyways, at least I knew they were still mounted and moving and not injuried somewhere.  The comments around the fire started at this point. 

Of course they are going to pull when they get to camp.

They are going too slowly.

I wouldn’t want to ride that loop in the dark.  The footing is terrible.

It’s way too late for them to go on.

I felt like screaming as I politely smiled and I tried to explain that as long as they came in before midnight, they could WALK the entire last loop and STILL FINISH before cutoff.

This statement was met with unbelieving stares and puzzled astonishment.  As if it was an entirely foreign concept that a 100 might take place in the wee hours of the morning. 

What were these peoples' PROBLEM???????????

I had this conversation over and over and over.  More than a dozen times. I bullied my way into conversations when I overheard them talking about how slow they were.  I smiled, introduced myself as their crew and exclaimed how proud I was that they were taking care of their horses, and how good Dixie looked, and how a 20 hour first hundred is a worthy and good goal. 

As the minutes and hour ticked by I finally gave up and me and Amanda sat, looking into the darkness, overhearing the whispered and quiet murmurings of the other riders still having the same “can you believe they are still out there?” conversation.

At 10:00p I was pretty anxious. Amanda and I agreed that if Funder wanted to pull, even if Dixie looked great, we would reaffirm her decision.  I told Amanda that if I was riding the ride, even if my horse looked great, I would probably RO at this point too.

At 10:15p I knew something had gone wrong.  Where I was sitting I could only see one glow stick marking the trail.  Based on my experience, when you reach one glowstick, you should be able to see the next.  I told Amanda that I was going to walk up the trail a bit and see if I could verify that there were glow sticks marking the trail in a way that made sense.  I would be gone no more than 10 minutes up the trail and 10 minutes back.  If they weren’t back at that point, and the trail seemed like it was properly marked, it was time to start talking to ride management about my concerns. I headed to camp to grab a headlamp, and some food and water. 

At 10:30 I had gotten back to the HQ ready to head down the trail and Funder and her riding buddy came in.  Funder proclaimed that she was done.  We immediately vetted Dixie in which was a requirement for a rider option.  She looked great.  Really really good.  Better than 80% of the horses that I saw vetting in at that point.  Better than the horses doing their exit CRI’s to go back out on the last loop.  Better than Farley has looked at any of her 100‘s at that point.  The vet said that he couldn’t pull and it would be a rider option. 

The ride manager assured Funder that there were glow bars on the last loop, but I believe Funder responded something along the lines of it wouldn’t matter if it was an effing runway, there was no way she was going back out by herself, in the dark, with no confidence in ride management that they had adequately glow bar marked the loop, or with any assurances that they would come looking for her if something happened and she was stuck out there. 

I agreed with Funder 100%

If you want to hear Funder’s account of what that last loop was like, with no moon, overcast skies, an average of 1 glowbar per mile, being forgotten, with a very tired riding buddy and her horse, shitty footing, no ride map, and one crappy flashlight between the 2 riders, read her blog.  If anything she completely understates the experience. 

I was desperately afraid that Funder was going to proclaim she was done with 100’s after this experience. This isn’t how it’s suppose to be.  You aren’t suppose to get into a vet check with a horse that’s ready for more, feeling good because you took care of yourself, hours before cut off, and rider option because you are afraid that no one is going to be there for you.  You get through the heat of the day because of that dream that you are going to ride under the night time sky, glow bar to glow bar, on your incredible horse, in just a couple of hours.  But she’s willing to try again and I’m glad. 

We eventually went to bed (Crew fail #3: I asked Funder if she wanted Dixie’s boots off, and didn’t argue when she said nah.  I should have insisted on at least unvelcroing them.  In the morning we found 2 small rubs.  Did I mention that the crew is as tired as the rider and doesn’t make the best decisions?  Make a protocol for the ride BEFORE the ride and stick to it.  If the boots need to come off after the ride, DO IT.  Don’t try and make that decision at 11p after a long day).

We collectively as a group decided to pack up and leave as soon as it was practical.  It was going to be a 12 hour drive home, and doing an 8am awards meeting would put us back really late.
Additionally, none of us were in the mood to be social.  I had taken Dixie for a walk around camp in the morning and had to have yet another inane conversation that ended with me wanting to punch someone in the face (I didn’t because that would have been crew fail #4) as they expressed concern with how slowly they were going and it was a really good idea that they had pulled because they were so “late” and making excuses for RM lack of trail marking, and how it’s so easy to “second guess” yourself in the morning and that the horse was probably too tired to go on last night after such a long 80 miles etc etc. 

Funder took pity on her crew and didn’t make up go to the HQ to pick up the $5 Walmart folding chairs we had left up there the night before. 

We found a truck stop and paid for 3 glorious showers.  I’ve never been so dirty and filthy in my life.  It was a glorious shower, yet slightly unsatifying.  Even with scrubbing and multiple soakings and rinsing I still felt I was only able to get about 50% of the grime off my body.  What I needed was a hot bath and about 3 hours to nap in it until I was all wrinkly. 

I drove part way home and then handed the wheel over to Funder.  It was a long drive.  We ate some good food, some crappy food, and laughed hysterically until we were in danger of peeing our pants.  We stopped less to pee, had incredibly conversations about stuff and life and endurance and beyond.  It was the most incredibly road trip. We were drained, exhausted, and yet still pretending to be sane when we got to Funder’s place and then ordered tacos.  It was pretty clear how far gone we were as we wrapped up our night, eating tacos, and trying to explain to the husbands waiting for us some aspect of the ride, but all three of us laughing and crying and only squeezing 2 words out at a time, none of which made sense. 

I climbed into my car sometime after 10pm and drove home, arriving sometime around 12:30am.  My eyes didn’t close until sometime after 2am, thinking and rethinking about the good, the bad, and the ugly.  And trying to find the words to express the conflicting emotions - how proud I am of Funder and Dixie for keeping it together when it all went to crap.  Which was because she ate and drank and made good decisions.  The ride cannot be counted as a success, but there is one thing that there is no doubt about: Funder did good by her horse.  And that is always a success story.


  1. You are the most amazingly conscientious crew person ever! Talk about being proactive and thinking ahead. (I've made some mental notes for "that ride int he mountains in July" for how to even better serve my rider.)

    I haven't done a 100 yet, but I've crewed them...and you're right, that's NOT how it's supposed to go.

    Gold stars to Funder and Dixie though for toughing through that 80 miles...well done all of Team Fixie!

  2. I am really glad you were there for the team.

  3. When I do a hundred with Fiddle (next year? or the year after?) I want YOU for crew.

    That's all.

    1. I would absolutely crew for you!!!!! As long as I'm not in clinics and have to be tethered 20 min from the VMTH I'll fly to where ever you are riding and I would be honored to crew for you and Fiddle!!!!!!

  4. Totally doing it again, and totally gonna COMPLETE next time! You and Amanda were the best crew ever.

    Agree 100% on boots. We both fucked up, we should have known that there's no reason to leave boots on that thick-soled horse overnight, and we probably should have checked them at the holds. Poor tough thing.

    Did I really say that to the RM? o.O

    LOVED watching the G's befuddled looks as we tried to explain the trip to them while we were laughing so hard we couldn't breathe.

    I'm really glad you thought she looked good - I did too, but it's so nice to have independent confirmation :)

    1. It's easy to be the best when you don't know any better. LOL.

  5. Yeah. You totally said that to the RM. She looked a bit taken aback, but also relieved that you weren't going back out. LOL. I'm sure in a couple of years this whole story will be hilarious. Just like AR and how my horse and I almost died is funny. It's not the individual events that made me decide to be mad at the ride, it was the whole freakin thing after thing after thing, combined with how it's advertised. *sigh*.

  6. It sounds like you were the perfect crew in a train wreck of a ride. I already left my thoughts on Funder's blog, but the more I read of this disaster, the more my blood boils. Talk about failed ride management. If I was Funder, I'd be demanding at LEAST a partial refund on my entry fee, not to mention filing a formal complaint.

  7. So Mel--I think you did a great job with this post and I left my thoughts on Funder's blog and to you, on facebook. Like Dom, re-reading this post made me pretty angry. Since I don't know the endurance world, I'll just say that the attitudes you describe remind me of many folks I've known in other equestrian venues and their crappy attitudes toward someone who is new to their sport/event/area. Here's wishing for a much better run next event for Team Fixie.

  8. I was not there but isn't the last loop the same one you have already ridden only backwards. Why would that make it so hard.

    1. And there was no map. At that point I didn't really realize it was something I'd already ridden, and I felt like I was going to get lost for days out there.

      Shrug. It's easy to second-guess when you're awake, alert, and sitting on the couch. I am second-guessing myself all week. But I did the best I could at the time!

  9. they changed trail this year and there are multiple different loops now.


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