Cruel Boots

Vasque hiking bootsNo, my boots aren’t cruel on purpose.  It’s my feet.  Over time they’ve become more and more opinionated about the footwear that I force them into, until now it’s become a full revolt.  My feet have non-negotiable demands.  The primary demand is no pain.

Do you know how hard it is to find shoes that don’t hurt these days?

I’ve worn high heels.  There was a time I thought they were really wonderful, though in fact I rarely put them on.  I remember I had a pair of strappy black platform heels that I wore dancing once in the early 1970s.  One time.  I think I threw them out when I got home.

Once I moved out of the city and got involved with horses, high heels were simply out of the picture, though I did have some nice, expensive cowboy boots with two or more inch heels that I wore when I wanted to dress up.

As I got older, my shoe heels got lower.  I became more interested in function and comfort than in fashion.  Not that fashion has ever been high on my list.  Me?  Fashion?  I tell you, when burning of bras came around I didn’t have one to burn anymore.  You think shoes are uncomfortable?  Bras!  ‘Nuff said.

After I hit the mid-century mark, though, my feet started getting serious about what they were willing to put up with.  They got serious about the comfort thing — function and fashion be damned.  Shoes and boots are made for some idealized, non-existent concept of human feet, I think.  Or maybe for beings that hang out in Roswell and Area 51.

Photo of Statue of Liberty's foot with a man standing next to it

Statue of Liberty has Greek feet

One thing my feet were pointing out was that  my second toes are longer than my big toes.  This isn’t all that uncommon a thing – something like 20-30 percent of the world’s population has beautiful toes like mine.  Some say these kind of toes are an indicator of greater intelligence… okay, I made that up.  But seriously — longer second toes, medically called Morton’s Toe, were an idealized form in Greek sculpture.  Even the Statue of Liberty has a Greek foot.  Notice that Greeks and the Statue of Liberty wear sandals and not shoes.  There’s a reason for that.

But wait, that’s not all.

My pinky toes are curled to the side and under.  It’s genetic.  Thanks, Dad.  The risk of having pinky toes that curl rises when there’s a long second toe on that foot.  Why that should be I don’t know, but I do know that my curled pinky toes were the first to complain about shoe abuse.  Shoes that aren’t wide enough squish those pinky toes under even more and after a while toes that are being stepped on by the rest of the foot start complaining.  Loudly.

Then there’s the heel bumps.  I believe that my bumps are called Haglund’s deformity, bony enlargements on the back of the heels.  Why do these things always have such ominous names?  Stiff  backed shoes , boots,  ice skates, etc.– all of which I’ve worn in my life – will rub on them.  They’ll blister if there’s too much rubbing and enough pressure could result in bursitis there.

extreme flexion with high heels

High-heel flexion makes my non-bunions hurt

Oh, and bunions.  I don’t have bunions.  No, I do not.  The word comes from the ancient Greek βούνῐον, meaning turnip.  There are no turnips on my feet. But I confess, my big toes do point a teensy bit toward my second toes instead of straight ahead like they used to.  And yeah, there is this bit of a bump at the joint.  But surely that can’t be bunions!  Whatever, I can tell you this:  my non-bunions will not tolerate pressure anymore.  They don’t want it from too-narrow footwear and they don’t want it from having to flex in the wrong place or to over-flex because of higher heels.

The Statue of Liberty knows.  Sandals make for happy feet.

Fine, but anybody who works around horses knows that not only do sandals make for icky feet, but horses give themselves extra points for stomping on naked toes.  If you wear sandals or soft-toed shoes (like the Skechers that are soooo comfy and that make my feet happy) you will drop logs and such on your toes. Not to mention I’m going down the Grand Canyon in January.  Believe me, the hike is hard enough without cold, wet feet.

So boots.  Hiking boots.  But not just any hiking boots.  I need boots that will not squish, rub, flex in the wrong place, or allow my toes to bang up against the front of the boots when hiking downhill (resulting in black & blue toenails that eventually fall off).

This is why early last spring I went online and bought a pair of  Vasque Coldspark UltraDry Winter Boots.  I bought them then because winter gear was being discounted so spring and summer gear could be sold for the maximum the market would bear.  Plus I bought them then because no matter that the reviews claimed no breaking in needed for these boots, I would definitely have to spend many hours in them before heading off the rim and down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

Note that the two other times I did the Canyon I went in Merrell summer weight trail shoes.  They weren’t perfect — while my feet didn’t hurt (much) they were really cold and wet.  Every so often I still put them on and go for a hike, hoping I could get a few more miles out of them but alas, that is not to be.  They’re broken down and falling apart and they really need to be thrown away.

So – my new boots.

They fit fine in the house but of course the true test would be hiking in footwear for many hours up and down steep trails.  But I wouldn’t know how they’d do for a while.  It was simply too warm at that point to wear insulated boots.  Hiking with hot feet is as miserable in its own way as wet, cold feet are.  Maybe worse, because hot feet are likely swollen feet and swollen feet are feet that get squished, rubbed, and otherwise tortured.

So, with the recent sudden change of weather from summer to fall I’ve decided to start breaking in the new boots.  First I just wore them around the house for a few hours.  Then I went for short walks.  Today I hiked up and down the mesa sides to see how much sliding forward my feet might do.

So far so good.  They’re not perfect, mind you.  After a summer of Skechers that are super flexible and don’t weigh a thing, the boots are clunky and the tops hurt my lower leg.  The balls of my feet are somewhat tender.  Maybe an insert would fix that.  But as-is these boots provide excellent traction, my feet don’t slide, my toes aren’t squished, and my not-bunions are not complaining.

Let’s hit the trail, feets!

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the whole story so far

Grand adventure

Colorado River, Grand Canyon, at dawn 2018 Lif Strand

I took this photo of the Colorado River in January, 2008. I was with my friend Laura, starting out not long after dawn from the bottom of the Grand Canyon. It would take us till mid-afternoon to hike up Bright Angel Trail to the rim.

In January, 2019, Laura and I are hiking the Grand Canyon again. It’ll be the third time for each of us. In the days/weeks to come I’ll be talking about getting it together for this next adventure. That’ll include conditioning, packing, worries, triumphs, and pleas for advice.

Your comments are most welcome!

PS — I’ll be adding the posts I write about my Grand Canyon Adventure all in one place on this blog. Just click HERE or on the Grand Adventure tab above.

Sometimes it’s good

Moon rising in evening skyI write all the time

I don’t mean all the blabbery on social media.  I’m talking real writing — at least by my definition of “real”.

Stories.  I stopped writing them a long time ago but now I do again.  Why?  Don’t know.  I write the occasional poem.  I’m no poet, believe me.  I journal and have done so since I was a kid.  I wrote my first novel-length manuscript nearly 40 years ago and nowadays I’ve always got a novel in the works.  Two at this time, with a third that I’m poking at.  I write scenes for what I’m working on or for no reason at all.  I jot down ideas about character motivation.  Sometimes I just spew words that have to come out and because I don’t know what I’ll do with them I email them to myself and then forget about them.  In November I commit to NaNoWriMo and drive myself crazy keeping up.  I wake up in the night and record my dreams.  I scribble phrases, sentences, paragraphs, scenes on scraps of paper or I text them to myself.

It’s kind of embarrassing, actually.

I mean, if I was a published author — which I am not, having just today received yet another story rejection — what I write would be Important.  It’d be MeaningfulSignificant.  It would Matter.

But I’m just another wannabe writer.  Um. By wannabe I don’t mean I’ve never been paid to write, since that’s how I earned my living for the past two decades. I mean I want to get paid for writing what I want to write, and for me that’s fiction.  In other words, I don’t want to write about what’s out there but what’s in here.  In me.

So yeah. I have this burning desire to be paid for writing what I want to write, not what somebody else wishes they could write but they can’t so they hire me to do it.

I want to make stuff up.  To transform possibilities into reality by writing them. That’s a kind of magic that has always attracted me.

I love writing.  Good thing, because I have to do it.

I love writing but I have to do it?  Hah!  That’s kind of like saying I love being high and oh, by the way, I’ll go into withdrawal without that drug or drink.  Ahem.  So what.  I have nothing against drugs or alcohol (but remember — don’t drink and drive, my friends).

I love writing.  I love the process and challenge of making a direct connection between the inside of my head and the outside not-me world.  I seek to capture the words that express precisely what’s percolating in my brain.  I call it flavor — the fullness of what I’m trying to convey.  Not just description but the wholeness of it.  When it’s good it’s as close to psychic sharing as I can get.  That quality of writing gives me the shivers.

It’s a kind of magic, that, and I love letting that power flow through me.

But whoa — just like a drug addict  I need more.  I can’t just write in the dark.  I can’t just write for me.  I’m compelled to wreck the sublime joy of capturing my inner imaginings by exposing the writing — and myself — to the world.  As scary as it is, I have to risk it.

Because oh yeah, I need the audience.  I crave applause.  I want outside validation that my writing is doing what I want it to do.

I wanna get paid

And there’s the rub, isn’t it?  I want to get paid for what I create — in today’s world, payment being the functional mark of approval.  So it’s not just about writing for myself, is it?  I have to write stuff other people want to read.

Do I write for me or do I write for you?

Obviously… the answer is yes.

 

PS You can become a patron of mine, yes you can!  A buck a month will get ‘er done!

 

Getting plastered

Next month I will have lived in my straw bale house for twenty years. In all that time I haven’t managed to finish it — specifically, I have barely started the plastering. That would be the step that makes the straw bale house so incredibly insulated and worth the effort of going with straw bale in the first place.

So for just about twenty years I’ve been living in a structure that is basically not much more insulated than a tent. Wind blows right through the spaces between the bales, no matter how much I stuff those spaces with more straw and (lately) plastic bags. The exterior end walls have one coat of plaster, but the plaster doesn’t extend all the way up to the tops of the walls where they meet the roof. Wind blows through the gaps between the rafters so that when the wind blows hard the house becomes well ventilated. The long side walls are just straw.

The stuff holds up remarkably well in this dry climate but really, it’s time.

Problem is, I always seem to find something better to do than plaster. Writing, for instance. Or making fabric art. Or messing with the horses or walking or reading. Becoming enraged by Facebook, Googling all kinds of nonsense… so many things.

Even if I decided to get a move on, twenty years of living in a house means that there’s furniture against the walls and artwork hanging from them. And that means that in order to plaster inside, everything has to be moved away from the wall being worked on. In a tiny house it becomes a challenge to figure out where things can be stashed out of the way, and that means the plastering gets put off.

But then I started hearing people talk about what was coming this winter. If forecasts are accurate (and that’s not a given) this winter is supposed to be snowy in the southwest. I decided I had better get on with it. Wood is expensive and I don’t have much stockpiled whereas I’ve already got the cement and lime and sand.

I figured to start with an inside corner of the house where my fabric is stashed, because certainly I could live without working on wall art for a while. I started by moving the plastic tubs of fabric out to the barn, though since I wasn’t all that enthusiastic about doing so it took several days. Then I started on the boxes of stuff on shelves that had been hidden by the fabric… and that took longer because there were treasures in those boxes that needed examining.

Old photos. Books I had forgotten I had. Art supplies. It was like Christmas and birthdays all at once — great fun, but very time consuming.

Finally I got the corner emptied except for a chest of drawers, but I was not about to move furniture to the barn — so that just got pushed out of the way. Not very far away as you can see from the photo.  Maneuvering is a challenge in small spaces and I don’t like small spaces, but we gotta do what we gotta do.

I spent a whole day plastering this past weekend. Well, okay, most of a day. All right, about half a day. No matter, I worked till my arms felt like wet noodles and my back ached. One wheelbarrow load of mixed sand, cement, and lime yielded a discouragingly small amount of plaster on the wall: a section of about 4′ x 6′. Plus a section of wall outside , maybe 3′ x 3′, that used up the last of the plaster in the wheelbarrow without my having to go in and out of the house. Because there were now lots of flies in the house because I had to leave the door open so I could go in and out.
Out out damn flies!

In the big scheme of things house flies (or in my case, more likely manure flies) have brief lifespans. When they are in the house, however, they are around way too long. I swatted some but that’s icky. I put up fly paper and within hours managed to get it stuck on my sleeve. With flies on it. Ewwwww! I think I will resort to vacuuming them up when the house is cooler and they won’t want to move. Meanwhile, I have to accept that I’ll be driven crazy by them for a while longer.

Does that mean I can’t plaster any more till it’s too cold for flies outside?

Bad idea. Stay tuned to see what I do about the plaster/fly dilemma.

Meanwhile, I have a burning desire to do fabric art, now that everything is turned topsy-turvy. In fact, I woke up in the morning having dreamed about new techniques I could use. So today I have decided it’s much too cold out to be messing with plaster, and much too warm out to discourage flies from coming in through the open door — but it’s just right to play with fabric.

Let me throw some more wood on the fire.

 

PS: For those who are actually more serious about straw bale construction than I am, I do plan to use wire mesh on the corners by doors and windows. That’s a project for another day.

 

Farewell fish

Horse drinking from water trough "After the heron" (c) 2018 Lif Strand It didn’t have to happen but what did I expect?  I knew if I didn’t take defensive measures I’d lose them. There would ultimately be no escape because they were besieged by an enemy that had the patience of one who had felt hunger before and would feel it again.

But still. It was hard to imagine being consumed alive.  Down the gullet. Inevitable, yes, but still.

Years ago in a science fiction book I read this one line that has stuck with me ever since: all things eat, all things are eaten.  I wish I could remember where I read it because it is a concept I have to remind myself about all the time.

When I saw the oily slick on the water and when the mare went to drink and no fish congregated around her lips I knew all were gone. Last night they were there, this morning, sometime before I went out to feed, probably while the gentle rain fell through the gloom of dawn, a great blue heron had paused on its way south to fortify itself for the rest of its flight.

I could not begrudge the bird, and it was my fault that there were no survivors. I could have put screen over the center of the trough but I didn’t. Some of those fish were ten years and more old. Now they were calories fueling a bird.

PS — 10/16  Good news!  There are a couple goldfish left.  Understandably, they are unwilling to come up to a horse’s lips in search of food right now.

Coming home

Welcome to New Mexico and ta-ta Texas.I suppose I’m not a good traveler.  Maybe I’m defective that way.  But I like where I live.

No.

I love where I live.

I just got home tonight from a road trip.  Back in the day I thought nothing of hitchhiking across the country.  Now driving from New Mexico to the east coast and back is an exercise of endurance.  Aside from the fact that my body is not what it was half a century and more ago, my emotional comfort is more important to me now than it was then.

Back then I just wanted to do things.  Everything.

One time back then, back when I lived in Boston, my roommate’s boyfriend who had visited her over the spring break announced he had to get back to college in southern California and that he was going to hitchhike.  Understand, back then we did those kind of things and it was no big deal.  It was also no big deal that I decided I’d go with him.

Why?

Why not.

It didn’t occur to me that I had only met the young man a few days before, and to go on such an adventure might be ill-advised.  It didn’t occur to me that I needed more than the few dollars I had to travel so far.  Or to tell my family I was going.  Or to have a destination to go to.

I just went.

It was an adventure, you see.  I was up for adventures at at the drop of a hat.  The story of that trip — which was accomplished fairly easily with only getting busted once in Buffalo and which ended up with my meeting the man who was to be my first husband at the other side of the country — is for another time.  My point here is that it was an adventure.

It wasn’t all fun and games, of course.  Spending the night in a police station right off the bat was a drag.  Standing in crappy weather with Robin’s boyfriend (sorry, man, I’ve forgotten your name) for hours on end waiting for a ride was a drag.  Some of the rides were a bummer but there was good stuff, too.  The semi-trucker apologized for the bumpy/jerky ride (shocks problem?  I forget now) but let us take turns crashing in his sleeper.  I missed the midwest – too stoned because the people in the VW bus insisted we share their smoke.  True, I froze in Colorado, but then there was that guy who treated us to lunch in Utah because he was so entertained by our account of our trip so far.

And when it was over, it was just one more cool thing I had done and I looked forward to the next adventure.

Nowadays it’s harder to drum up that feeling of excitement about adventures.  Then I was free of responsibilities, now I have many anchors, all of which I love and want to keep.

I live in a beautiful place.  An enchanted land.  My soul soars and my heart sings, and my creative self is fed by my home — and by home I don’t mean my house, I mean the critters, the house, the valley, the county, the state.  The magic of this place.

And that makes it hard to leave here.  But that’s not all.  Back then I was about gathering experience.  Now I’m about using my experience to flesh out my writing.  Back then I was all about the outside.  Now I’m all about the inside.

Even so.  I’m greedy.  I want to have it all.  I want to go and stay.  I want to be out there and dwell in here at the same time.  I want to live forever so I can savor deeply and slowly, and I want to plunge into the unknown and flail about

How is it that I could be this old and feel like an adolescent?

 

 

Expect a miracle

Expect a Miracle 2018 Lif Strand photo Miracles are magical things.

Magic is miraculous.  Magic, miracle, samey-same. You might not think so but yes, it’s true.

First, let me explain the photo to the left. I clipped it to my desktop computer long enough ago that there are fly spots on it and I had to wipe off the dust so I wouldn’t be even more embarrassed when you saw it. I’m sure it’ll come as no surprise that housekeeping is not my forte. Not only is the note still there — still crooked like it has been for years — but so is the computer, which kicked the bucket some time ago.

Every so often I look at it (the note, not the computer) and I remind myself to not just see the words but to remember the reason I put it there and why I’ve left it there to collect dust and fly spots all this time. I need the mental jog because it’s easy for me to read advice, to agree with it, to want it to be meaningful in my life, and then to somehow not take it in, not make it mine.

But this one I’ve worked at.  Expect a miracle has come to mean everything to me. It has changed my life. It’s amazing. It’s like magic.

I started writing about magic in 2012, though I’ve been thinking about it, yearning for it, all my life. The blog started out as mostly fan homage to guitarist Jimmy Page, but I quickly realized that the best music really can be a kind of magic. So then I began to explore what exactly that would mean. I eventually compiled my posts about magic into a book, Mage Music: Writings on Magick and Creativity*, and then moved on with my life, wondering when I could personally do the magic I wanted to.  And not by accident, either, but when I wanted to do it.

Really, if I could do magic, that would be a miracle, wouldn’t it?

Now look:  By magic I don’t mean sleight of hand, illusion, stage tricks. I don’t mean the occult, either. I mean changing reality.

Changing reality.  Purposefully doing so. Oh yeah, definitely magic.

I knew that expecting is part of the deal, because doubt is a killer when it comes to creativity, and magic, and miracles. But I kept forgetting to expect. That’s why the note, but it didn’t do any good to just read the words.

I had to swallow them into my heart, digest them so they nourished my soul. And that was not so easy.

Part of the problem was that I didn’t understand how to properly expect, or what miracles would actually look like. But gradually, it snuck up on me. What doing magic was about. About what miracles were like.

Some of them have been like this:

Chamisa (rabbit brush)  2018 Lif Strand photo

Chamisa (rabbit brush)  2018 Lif Strand photo

Bee on Russian sage  2018 Lif Strand photo

Bee on Russian sage 2018 Lif Strand photo

Verbena    2018 Lif Strand photo

Verbena 2018 Lif Strand photo

Russian thistle     2018 Lif Strand photo

Russian thistle 2018 Lif Strand photo

Pretty yellow flowers   2018 Lif Strand photo

Pretty yellow flowers 2018 Lif Strand photo

Fairy grass  2018 Lif Strand photo

Fairy grass**  2018 Lif Strand photo

And this:

Peaches nearly dried enough    2018 Lif Strand photo

Peaches nearly dry   2018 Lif Strand photo

Okay, I bet you’re a little confused.  Sure, the flowers are pretty and wowza, look how those peaches have come along. But what’s so miraculous about that? Show me the magic!

That’s just it, my friend. My magic isn’t out there, it’s in here. It’s not about me changing the outside — your reality or the reality of the plants or critters or the environment — it’s about me changing me. Why should I change your reality or anything else’s, anyway? That’s for each of you to do for yourselves, if you will. What you do doesn’t change my reality.

And that’s the miracle for me, that I internalized what had previously been words, mere logic, present only in the conscious mind. I not only made the concept mine, I made it me.  I changed my own reality.

I came to know that the magic is all around me because all around me is me.  It’s all my choice, to love what I have. Or not. My choice.

The miracle is that these things in my life — the flowers, the peaches, the sunsets, everything in my life — they don’t just give me pleasure, they are my pleasure.  They are not mine — separate from me — but rather are me.

You want magic? It turns out that to love what I have brings more of what I love. The magic is already there. The miracle is only in finally choosing it.

Proper expecting is not waiting for something in the future.  It is the experiencing of the miracles around me right now that paves the way for more miracles to come.  It is the understanding that the miracle is my choice.

Is it easy?  No.
Do I stay in the miracle zone all the time?  No.
Am I flippin’ crazy?  Maybe yes, maybe no.

So what. I’m happy.

Here.  Have a moon.

Moonrise on the cusp of Autumn 2018 Lif Strand photo

                   Moonrise on the cusp of Autumn                    2018 Lif Strand photo

 

 

 

* The book is currently out of print but available for Kindle
** Also, far as I know there’s no such thing as fairy grass.  But it looks like fairy grass to me.

I’m just peachy

Peaches. That’s what’s on my mind. Last week I was given a couple dozen of them by a friend, freshly picked off his tree and handed over in a brown grocery bag where they would ripen. A couple days ago I remembered to check them and they were ready to go.

In the past I’ve made jams and liqueurs, but as yummy as they’ve been I didn’t want to do that again, particularly since I still have over a quart of peach liqueur left from last year. The peaches couldn’t wait for me to decide what to do so I decided to dry them. Easy peasy and I love dried fruit, so that was the way to go.

Ron’s peaches were all at the same perfect stage of ripe, and they all were wonderfully free of bug and bird damage, as well as bruising. Processing them was simple: Clean as needed, remove any damaged spots, cut around the peach equator and twist to break the peach into two, then pry out the pit, and slice the halves. Pop the end pieces in my mouth and place the rest on the dryer trays.

My dryer is the old fashioned kind — its contents are air dried. The drying takes longer than it would with an electric dehydrator but mine doesn’t use any power and I live in a dry climate so there’s no mold. The food being dried is protected from bugs and dust by a fine mesh cover that zips closed. The dryer is advertised as solar powered but I’ve hung mine inside the house, from the ceiling in my kitchen and have even rigged up a rope and pulley system so I don’t have to get on a ladder to check on how things are going.

Things are going nicely, two days later, as you can see. Maybe next week I’ll get to taste test. Yum!

 

Tevis 2018 – Not your average horseback ride

Cressy Drummond's horse, SE Redhill Saga, at Robie Park  Photo by Cressy Drummond

Cressy Drummond’s SE Redhill Saga at Robie Park * Photo by Cressy Drummond

Tevis 2018 has come and gone.  But its effects are profound and lasting.

Friday July 27 2018

Tomorrow I’ll be following Tevis, the granddaddy of 100 mile endurance races, online.  One of the horses we bred, SE Redhill Saga, now owned and ridden by Cressy Drummond will be on the trail (team #150).  Cressy also took Saga’s 3/4 brother Legs (SE Redhill Legend) across the finish line in 2007.

I’ve completed twice and still dream of doing it again, even though it’s arguably the hardest 100 mile endurance horse race in the world and I haven’t been on a horse in years.  Gotta dream big, though, or you get nowhere in life.

 

Saturday 7:29 AM ride time

Two photos of Cressy & Saga at the vet-in yesterday.  They are on the trail now, but that’s all I know.  I’m not finding her in the standings yet (other than that she started) but that’s not unusual.  Tevis is a tough ride to monitor because the trail is out in rugged back country of the Sierras and I don’t think she’s got a tracker.

Cressy and Saga vetting in at Robie Park * Photo by Keisha Wood

Cressy and Saga vetting in at Robie Park * Photos by Keisha Wood

Saturday 10:13 AM ride time

The fascinating thing about Tevis is rider strategy.  Some go into the ride with no strategy and, IMO, they are likely to get pulled.  Some go in with the wrong strategy — these include riders who overestimate their horses’ condition, or underestimate the toughness of terrain and ride conditions, or get “Tevis fever” and ride to keep up with other horses.

The riders with good strategy that they stick to (adjusting for the unforeseeable, of course) are the fascinating ones.  Some enter the ride aiming for top ten, or for a win.  They might ride their race around the front edge of the middle of the pack and steadily pass other horse/rider teams as they get closer to the finish line.  Or they might start out in front and fight for the front all the way.  Depends on so many factors that unless you know the history of that horse/rider team, you just won’t know what’s going on inside their heads on ride day.

Others plan to simply complete to the best of their ability — but they have a clear understanding of what their capabilities are.  They have to.  The trail is tough.  They climb a total of something like 17,000 feet and descending around 23,000 feet by the time they’re done.  They have a river to ford, bridges to cross, narrow trails with sharp switchbacks and scary drops to negotiate.

Some of the trails are rocky, some are muddy, and some are so dusty you can’t see the riders in front of you.  Some are steep and you don’t dare stop once you start up or down.  Passing other horses can be difficult or impossible (there’s a true tale about a mule who stopped on the trail and refused to move — holding up the rest of the riders for long enough that the ride management had to waive cut-off times for them at the next vet check).  Riders have to make time on forest roads, even on the little bit of pavement.  They are blinded by dust, they ride in the blazing sun, and later under a nearly full moon.

All of this means training for the conditions, and having a horse that can deal with the obstacles.  Rider and horse alike have to be able to dig down deep in body and mind, and keep going when the going has gone from tough to barely possible.

Tevis riders are a breed unto themselves.  There aren’t that many of them — of us, I am proud to say — and no wonder.

 

Saturday 1:35 PM ride time

There seems to be some communication confusion between those of us who crew from our computers at home and the crew out there sweating on the actual trail, so while it’s possible that Cressy & Saga left Robinson Flat when I thought they did, that might not be correct.  At any rate, they are on their way now.

Their next checkpoint will be Last Chance, 50 miles into the ride and 14 miles down the trail from Robinson Flat.  The cut-off for that is 3:00.  They will have to maintain a good working trot the whole way to make their cut-off.  There can be no dawdling anywhere on this trail; there just isn’t time for it.  Time-wise, Cressy and Saga should make it just fine, though of course with Tevis, anything is possible.

For one thing, the longer a rider’s in the saddle, the easier it is to get lost.  Even if you’ve ridden that trail before.  Tired riders make for poor decisions.

You’d think that it would be easy to keep on the course but it isn’t.  If you lose sight of the rider ahead of you, you have to suddenly pay attention to the trail markers which you probably haven’t been doing.  Although best practice is to ride one’s own rides, in fact, aside from the leaders most everybody else follows the team ahead instead of ignoring them and focusing on what we’re doing.

So what happens when a rider needs to pee and turns off the trail?  You guessed it.  Sure, they figure out pretty quickly that they shouldn’t have followed.

Oops!  Sorry!

I’ve seen half a dozen riders coming off a side trail then gallop off on the correct one, too embarrassed to want to be identified.  They weren’t all peeing, I betcha.

So then what happens?  The next riders come along and maybe they aren’t following anyone at that point.  If they haven’t seen what went on and they come to a spot where the trail seems to divide, what do they do?  There won’t be any signs or ribbons saying “Trail thataway” and “Potty break thisaway”, there will just be a mess of hoof prints going every which way in the dust.

Believe me, it seems to happen every ride, no matter which ride it is.  There are amazing stories of people who wandered off the trail for one reason or another, even from riders you’d think would know better.

I speak from experience when I say that we’re all friends on the trail.  If you have to pee, just get off and do it.  Nobody cares, trust me.

Cressy & Saga waiting to leave Robinson Flat * Photo by Michelle Wood Thomas

 

Saturday 7:40 PM ride time

Cressy & Saga are moving along, not breaking the sound barrier, but eating up the miles.  They’ve passed through the hamlet of Michigan Bluff, and are headed for the town of Foresthill — the first paved roads they’ve seen in, oh, sixty some-odd miles.

They’ve been working hard since 5:15 this morning and they’ve got around 35 miles to go and 9 hours to do it in, though one of those precious hours will be taken up by a mandatory 1 hour hold in Foresthill.

This is the phase of the race where how deep your bottom is makes all the difference.  This is when you can’t stop, but you are desperate to stop.  This is where, if you have ever learned what it means to do endurance races, you use everything you know to keep you and your horse going.

The worst of the canyons have been dealt with, along with the worst of the heat.  Blessed cool is coming, but so is the night.

Horses have excellent night vision, but humans don’t.  Humans want to use flashlights to see where they’re going, but that messes up not only their own horse’s night vision, but all the horses around.

You can make a few riders pretty darn grumpy using a flashlight.  Worse, you can endanger your horse and others by using a flashlight.

But riding in the dark — yes, it’s dark, even just a day after the full moon because you’re riding under trees — riding in the dark means fully trusting your horse.  Your partner.  You trust your partner with your life, just as your horse has trusted you all along.  It’s humbling, but more than that, it’s awesome.  Two blended into one.  Exhausted, but One…

So you go on, down the trail under the trees in the black night, and you head for that finish line.

The average non-completion for Tevis is 50%.  That’s how hard the ride is.  The veterinarians are really, really good, though, and so are the riders.  The horses are pulled before trouble can really develop.  Most will recover and be happily trotting down the trail another day.

So Cressy and Saga and the teams ahead and behind are still out there.  Still!  They all had to qualify to enter.  They all had lots of miles under the saddle before this day.  This is it, the biggie.  Not that horses know it.  It’s just another trail for them, except it’s not.  This is another chance to see what’s around the next corner, over the next hill.  This is what horses are meant to do, what they love to do — go far, far, climb, descend, fly down the path, trudge up another.  No horse gets to Tevis that doesn’t love the trail.

Nine more hours left to cover the rest of the hundred miles.  Everything before — all the sweating, the breathing dust, the exhaustion, the pain, the doubts, even fears — all of it was just the prelude.

This part of the ride, in the dark, after so many miles, with so many more to go — THIS part is what endurance riding is really about.

 

Saturday 9:40 PM ride time

Imagine this: The winning contenders for this year’s Tevis are now four miles from the finish line.  There aren’t a lot of places in those last miles to pass.  What will the ride strategy be?

First, stay the course.  Don’t get lost in the dark.  Don’t trip, don’t slack off, don’t stop giving it your all.

Um… that’s pretty much it.

Lindsay Fisher and Heather Reynolds are ten minutes ahead of the next riders, so the race will be between them.  They’ll jockey for position or maybe they won’t.  Likely they’ll just ride on, one leading, the other nose-to-tail, getting through the last miles.

Once they cross No Hands Bridge they’ll be on an old train track bed.  Where there used to be trestles bridging the many creeks that cross the trail, now there are black holes, where the horses have to step off of the flat trail and negotiate rocks and gullies until they can get back on the train bed.  If it was dark before, those black holes are the pitch black of blindness, filled with mosquitoes.  The two will negotiate them carefully, but quickly.  Their trackers say they’re moving out at 7.5 mph.  That’s a good working trot.  But they’ve got to move out.

Because the end is near.

The trail has changed some since I last rode Tevis, but I’m pretty sure that the trail up out of the American River Canyon up to Auburn hits a road.  A dirt road that is wider than a trail – a road suitable for racing.

There won’t be anything necessary to say between the leaders.  They know and their horses know that the final race begins there.  They didn’t work this hard to be in front for nothing.  They’ll hit that road and they will race.  Full out race.  After 99 1/2 miles of the hardest miles imaginable, their horses will stretch out, put their ears back, and go for it.

Cressyand Saga leaving Foresthill * Photo by Lisa Mittler Bradford

Cressy and Saga leaving Foresthill * Photo by Lisa Mittler Bradford

 

Sunday 12:25 AM ride time

My last post for tonight, though Cressy and Saga are still on the trail, moving through the night.

They have just left the Cal2 checkpoint.  They’ve got 22 miles to go.  My memory of this part of the trail is… perhaps shaky.  It has been, after all, almost 30 years.  Besides, even though back in the day I pre-rode the section quite a few times, during the actual race it’s not nearly the same.

For one thing, the difference between riding during the day vs. the night is… like night and day.

During the day you enjoy the seeming security of group.  You can see riders ahead, hear them behind.  You see the dust hanging in the air, the fresh poop in the trail.  There are ribbons, there are hoof prints.  You can see for miles from the tops of mountains and ridges.  The canyons are deep, the climbs unending.  Your world is big, and on the Tevis trail big can be huge.

Even when there isn’t a rider in sight you know there are lots of riders on the trail.  You saw them start; you know they’re out there.

You know you aren’t alone.

In the night things are different.  Sound is damped, vision is limited.  What was sharp and clear is now vague, unidentifiable.  The world closes in and suddenly you are the only rider on the trail.  Even if there are riders all around you.

Nighttime is not human time.  Normally at night you’re tucked away behind walls that keep the dark out, or you’re safely encased in a vehicle with lights that stab into the night.  Or maybe you’re huddled close to a campfire, the flames of which warm your front and leave your back chilled and vulnerable.

In the night you don’t want to think about the things that can see in the dark.  Things that can see you, that can know you, when you can’t see or know a damn thing.

Riding at night is a whole new ballgame.  At night you ride as a passenger, at the mercy of the things of darkness.  You thought your horse was your partner before, but now your horse is ascendant and you are the dependent one.  As you leave the well-lit vet check and head out into impenetrable wall of night you have to accept that at this point your horse knows more about the real world than you do, and it’s too late to pretend you are in control.

Night time is dream time in the normal course of events.  Just because you aren’t tucked under the covers doesn’t mean you can’t dream.  I tell you from personal experience that exhaustion leads to hallucination.  I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s seen weirdness on the trail.  Moonlight, which should help you see, in fact only encourages illusion.

That lump over there must be a bear — it’s moving, isn’t it?

But when your horse assures you that nothing is there, if you are wise you defer to the one with better eyesight and fewer delusions.  And yes, when you pass it by, you can see that it’s a clump of blackberries.  Really, it is.

Dream time on the trail is a whole new challenge.  Now the energy is used up and the emergency stash is being tapped.  Now the body is ready to call it a day but the brain — the will — is saying no.  Now you are wondering if it will ever end, because time passes differently in the dark.  Now, more than ever, you are living in the moment, except that the moment is nothing you recognize or have any control over.

Nighttime changes everything.  For some who can give it over to their horses, the dark encourages passage from the mundane to the ineffable.  This is where the horse/human bond leaves the ordinary, where you step onto a path that no one else can follow.  This is the heart of it, the place where the magic takes over and takes you away.

If you can let it happen.

By now you understand this whole ride, the Tevis, is more than getting from point A to point B in 24 hours.  It is a test of what you’re made of.  It chews at your weaknesses and it challenges your strengths.  But the thing about endurance is that it is realer than real.  There you are, in the middle of nowhere, maybe in the dark, maybe in the glare of high noon, and you and your horse are all there is that will get you where you need to go.

Nobody can get you to the finish line but you and your horse.  Nobody’s going to save you from the boogeyman.  Nobody’s going to protect you from real risks.  Nobody’s going to get you out of trouble.  Nobody is doing this but you and your horse.

It’s all about you.

It’s real.  It’s about survival.

It’s about strength of will and triumph.

It’s about knowing you can do whatever you must do.

And when you get to the finish line, it’s about knowing you’ve done something amazing that will change you forever.

Tevis is a rite, not just a ride.

 

Sunday 10:13 AM post-ride time

“To finish is to win” is the American Endurance Ride Conference motto (AERC is the sanctioning and record-keeping organization for endurance racing).  It’s not a cutesy way to make everybody but the first place team feel better.  It is an acknowledgement that endurance is a horse of a different color, so to speak.

For endurance races, the AERC motto means a horse/rider team that is capable of completing the miles and be fit enough at the end to continue on a bit more truly is a winner.

That’s because endurance events aren’t really competitions between entrants, though maybe for the front runners it is.  Endurance for everyone else is about challenging the self that is the human/horse team.  It’s about achieving personal goals and conquering personal limitations.

It is a lonely sport.

That’s why endurance riders have to ride their own ride.  Instead of you vs. the other horse/rider teams, it’s really about the you vs. the obstacles, of which there are many.

You vs. yellow jackets, mosquitoes, black flies, rattlesnakes.  Trotting through a cloud of angry yellow jackets after a bunch of other horses have stomped over their nest in the ground is always a challenge.

You vs. smoke, heat, thirst, and dust — or rain, mud, fog, and chill.  One year the trail was partially hidden by snow.  In July.

You vs. physical obstacles, such as boulders, downed trees, congestion on the trail, congestion at vet checks.  The trail traverses the Sierras, and often consists of a two foot wide track cut into mountainsides.  No passing except in switchbacks means there will be traffic jams.

You vs. the limitations of your physical condition — your horse’s and yours — the amount of energy you’ve got access to that came from all the conditioning you did, the natural ability (or lack of) that you were born with, and your riding skill.

You vs. the limitations of your mind.  You and your horse’s willingness to go on, to endure, to push through the fear, the pain, the doubt, in spite of what comes at you.  To sustain the physical and mental pace for mile after mile.

Ultimately it comes down to you and your horse vs. the clock.

The clock doesn’t care about you.  It dispassionately divides your life into the past (which you cannot change) and the future (which you cannot know).  All you have is the moment you are in, the only moment that can alter your odds of completion.

Let’s not bandy words: This is the toughest 100 mile horse race in the world.  It is a race that traverses a mountain range from east to west.  The Donner party got stalled not that far north of the early part of the race trail.  They had to eat their livestock and then each other to survive and they hadn’t even gotten very far.

Tevis was the first official endurance race ever organized (based on a bet!) and while the course has changed somewhat over the years, the Sierra Mountains haven’t gotten any lower.  The trail hasn’t gotten any easier.

Tevis is the real deal.

This year 150 horses set out from Robie Park but 86 of them didn’t reach the finish line.  That’s more than half.  Cressy and Saga were one of the teams that got pulled.  They arrived at the Francisco checkpoint 14 minutes after the cutoff.  What they endured to get there is Cressy’s story to tell, but I can say this: Cressy is a winner.

To finish may be to win, but 85 miles of Tevis trail is like 100 miles of any other trail.  That should be worth something, too.  And it is.

Cressy Drummond & SE Redhill Saga

Cressy Drummond & SE Redhill Saga

These thoughts on Tevis were first posted on Facebook.  They have been lightly edited for this blog post.  The original posts can be found at https://www.facebook.com/lif.strand/  or by clicking on the date/times at the beginning of each section.

If you liked this post, please consider supporting me via Patreon.  Thanks!

Lyme disease

Lyme disease ticks (CDC image)I live out here in New Mexico where I’ve never even seen a tick on one of my animals much less been bitten by one, so I’m not really familiar with Lyme Disease.  It seems, though, that if you live on the US east coast, you’ve been infected, and that motivated me to look into Lyme more.

What I have learned is scary, not because Lyme Disease is a killer, but because it isn’t.  No, Lyme is a stealth disease, one that sneakily steals health and erodes a life without ever intending to kill its victim.

Googling tells me that the CDC and NIH recommend a single course of antibiotics as soon as you can after the first symptoms of Lyme Disease appear.  If you get bit by a blacklegged tick (or deer tick, Ixodes scapularis) that harbors Borrelia burgdorferi, the Lyme bacterium can persist in your body for a lifetime.

Unfortunately, while most people recover when treated with a few weeks of antibiotics, some don’t. Some don’t recover even after months of IV treatment.

Maybe the antibiotics that were used didn’t do the job for those who continue to suffer from the symptoms.  Or maybe there’s more going on — after all, there are 20 known species of Borrelia that can cause human illness. A tick can harbor two or more of them, passing them on to their human victim. Plus there are other non-Borrelia microbes that those ticks can generously share with you.

Or maybe there just weren’t any symptoms after being bit. Sometimes a person with a healthy immune system can harbor the bacteria for a long time and never display the obvious symptoms.  But the bacteria are there, spreading throughout the victim’s body to eventually become an inseparable part of his or her microbiome.

You don’t want more antibiotics, though.  Research shows that additional antibiotics don’t help people with lingering symptoms after an initial treatment. More antibiotics could make things worse rather than better. And to add insult to injury, the symptoms of chronic Lyme Disease are often incorrectly diagnosed since they could arise from many other causes.

Without a vaccine or a drug protocol that will work, right now the only thing you can do is to become generally healthier. This makes sense, given that chronic Lyme Disease is a whole-body issue. So the first step is to build up the immune system. This is the foundation upon which recovery is based for chronic Lyme and, in fact, for any health issue.

Building your immune system doesn’t mean you have to suffer!  Getting rid of symptoms won’t get rid of the disease, of course, but you don’t need to feel terrible while you’re dealing with getting healthier. Keep in mind though — healing takes time, particularly when your health has been worn down by nasty bacteria. Plus you may have other health conditions that compound the effects of Lyme Disease.

So start with this:

  • Clean up your act if you’re abusing yourself with drugs, alcohol, or too much social media
  • Get more exercise if you’re a slug
  • Get more quality sleep if you’ve been burning the candle at both ends
  • Eat healthy: more raw veggies and less meat, and of course cut out the junk food
  • Reduce unnecessary stressors, such as social media and political arguments
  • Become proactive about your health and care of your own body because you only get one and because you can’t expect others to care for it more than you do

It’s possible that with just the above you can reduce your symptoms and help your own immune system to deal with the Borrelia. You may not ever be free of it, but you might be able to live a normal, symptom-free (and by the way, healthier all around) life.

There are claims for alternative treatments for Lyme Disease. Google led me to the Buhner Healing Lyme approach. Will it work? I don’t know, but I like Stephen Buhner’s smile on his website. He reminds me of my brother-in-law, Jeff, who builds beautiful acoustic guitars.  I also liked the fact that Buhner tells you what the herbs are instead of making you opt in for anything.

Take back your life, my friends.  That’s my message for today.