Grand Canyon Countdown

Photo: Headed Up, 2018 Lif Strand

In just under seven weeks I’ll be leaving for Grand Canyon.   That means one month and seventeen days to prepare.  It means forty-eight days.  Not that I’m counting.

Yesterday my friend Laura — who’ll be doing the Canyon with me  — and I repeated a hike from the week before.  We started out with breakfast in town.  Hiker’s gotta fuel up, don’t you know.  Then we drove up to Hulsey Lake in the Apache National Forest in Arizona.  The lake is at 8,620′ altitude, and we were aiming to go as far as we could in an  hour and a half up the road that goes up the western side of Escudilla Mountain, the peak of which is just shy of 11,000′.

Escudilla Mountain is an old volcano, as are many of the peaks around here.  Part of it is wilderness, most of it was burned in the Wallow Fire in 2011.  It’s kind of depressing to see how much of the forest is gone.  With climate change it’s likely to never grow back.  I try not to dwell on that, but when you’re hiking through it, it’s tough to not get really pissed off that the US Forest Service puts so little into reducing hazardous fuels and thinning the forest to limit the destruction of wildfire.  Of course, it’s worse to the east, in the Gila National Forest… but I digress.

Photo: Dead pines destroyed by fire

Moving on...

Yesterday was the first day of December, and the weather decided it was close enough to winter to hit us with snow and wind and darned cold temperatures.  Around here it’s so dry that snow sublimates, that is, it goes from solid directly to gas.  In other words, it doesn’t bother to melt, it just disappears.  So while we started out at Hulsey Lake in the snow in late morning, by mid-afternoon when we returned it was mostly gone.

Both of us had been disappointed the week before with our performances going up the mountain on this same route.  We were huffing and puffing and had to stop several times to catch our breath.  During this past week I figured out that we were just going too fast for the steepness of the road.  So we agreed this week we would walk for the same amount of time — 1 1/2 hours — but we would maintain a slower, evenly cadenced pace.

It worked like a charm!  I had expected better results but not nearly so much better.  In the same amount of time we were able to go nearly a mile further up the mountain, and we did it without gasping for breath like we had done last week.

I gotta tell you, we both felt pretty darned good.  Not only had we just cruised up the mountain, we were at 9500′ altitude when we turned around, at that point about four miles from the lake.  True, we were still three miles from the fire tower, but that’s a hike for another day.

Photo: High country -- 9500 ft, 2018 Lif Strand photo

Equipment report: Cruel boots

Starting from the ground up, my boots.  These are the ones I’ve described before.  Last week I wore Skechers hiking shoes… or maybe they’re just athletic type shoes.  No matter, I’ve done a lot of hiking in them since I got them a few weeks back and they’re really comfy.  Not meant for cold weather, but so nice to my feet that I was hoping I could use them for the Canyon.

But no.  My feet slide forward in them going downhill no matter how tightly I lace them and my poor toes suffer for that.  Maybe somebody can give me a hint how to lace them a different way to help out with the problem.  Anyway, this week I wore the Vasque boots, which I’ve been wearing on and off around here so my feet would get used to them.

I like the boots, but ever since my hip replacements a couple years back my IT bands have been bothering me.  The iliotibial band is “a thick bunch of fibers that runs from the outside of your hips to the outside of your thigh and knee down to the top of your shinbone. If your IT band gets too tight, it can lead to swelling and pain around your knee.”  (WebMD)  In my case the pain’s not at my knee, it’s halfway up my outer thigh starting at the knee.

It hurts.

The boots are heavy and they aggravate my IT band issue.  The specific muscle is the one that lifts the upper leg, so every time I wear the boots I’m lifting more weight than I’m used to and by the end of the walk I’m in pain, especially the right leg for some reason.

Sure, I’ll build up to the boot weight after a while but meantime… ow!  Smashed toes vs. IT band syndrome.  Sheesh.

But enter the marvelous invention of KT Tape!  It’s an elastic therapeutic tape (KT is just one brand I happen to use, though I’m auditioning another, Physix Gear) and following a YouTube instructional video I learned how to apply it to my Vastus Lateralis, which is the largest of the four quads that form the IT group.

(Note:  I’m no doctor, so don’t take any of this as gospel.)

Yesterday morning I applied the tape as directed to my right side IT, did not put any on my left.  This morning my right doesn’t hurt, my left does.  So let that be a lesson.

But wait!  There’s more!

Double socks.  When I first came across them I thought they were weird.  I mean, I see the point of wearing two pairs of socks, but I never can get them on so that the first socks don’t end up feeling like they’re choking my toes.  I was given a couple pairs of double socks and yeah, I’ve worn them — but mostly because two socks are warmer than one.

But now I have seen the light.  Or I will.  Yesterday when we turned around to go back down the mountain I was paying attention to my feet to see if they’d slide forward in the boots.  No, they didn’t — but I discovered a blister on my left heel instead.

Pro tip: I would have noticed the blister sooner but the pain was masked by a sticker in my sock that I just refused to take my boot off one more time to look for.  So take note that if you want to avoid blister pain, a judiciously placed sticker in your sock will do a fantastic job for you!  Recommended: Genuine New Mexico high-country stickers, needles, and/or spines, though twigs will do.  Just contact me and I’ll send you a selection for your very own.

Yesterday I wore a pair of SmartWool socks.  If it ain’t SmartWool it ain’t no wool at all for me.  Well, that’s not true.  I’ve discovered (very pricey) alpaca wool doesn’t itch either, so I’m thinking my problem has something to do with sheep, which basically I have no use for in any which way.  Sorry, sheep lovers, but that’s my truth.

Anyway, I wore the (one layered) socks, which are multi-colored stripes and I love them.  I’ve worn them many times before, and yet:  blister.  I know this would not have happened if I’d been wearing the double socks, which are a boring gray.  Not like my multi-colored SmartWool.

Oh well, I’m not one to choose fashion over comfort, so I’ll be ordering more of the double socks soon.  And you know I’ll be wearing a pair next hike.

More equipment:  The name of thy clothing shall be Layers

I have hiking pants that I’ve used in the past — lots of pockets, and they unzipper to become shorts.  However, since comfort is the name of my game, I find jeans with some stretch in them work even better.  The jeans don’t have cargo pockets, which I would like, but I don’t like that the hiking pants aren’t stretchy.  After a bunch of miles things like that become one more irritation.  Plus no way am I going to be wearing shorts at the Grand Canyon in January.

My jeans are loose enough that I can wear silk bottoms under them, but on the other hand the windy 32° or so up at the top of our hike didn’t make me fell I needed them.  Maybe if I spent my time sitting in a hunting blind I’d feel differently, but I’m not.  (PS — there were lots of hunters up there.  Elk beware!)

And then, over my torso, we have the layers.  I’m a believer in layers.  My inner thermostat is finicky so it seems I’m always just a bit too cold or warm.  Starting out from my skin I was wearing a long-sleeved silk top, cotton turtleneck over that.  One Polartec vest and a lined fleece jacket that my sister bought uswhen she and I and my other sister hiked the Canyon in 2009.  The vest was for warmth (I was carrying a second one in my backpack) and the jacket was to cut the wind plus provide another layer.

Note that the vests and jacket have zipper-closure pockets.  Highly recommended!  If you put stuff in your pockets and remember to zip them shut, then you won’t have your cell phone fall in a pond like mine did the week before.  But that’s another story (cell phone was fine).  Also while waiting at on the Safeway cashier line yesterday afternoon I discovered four M&Ms in my jacket pocket.  Who knows how long they were in there, but see?  They didn’t fall out even though partway up the mountain I took off my jacket and tied it around my waist.

Yes, I ate the M&Ms.

I had a fleece watchcap for my head as well as an alpaca (yes!  I splurged!) headband.  Most of the time I was too warm to need them, but coming back down and walking into the wind they were absolutely perfect.

And let’s not forget the fleece gloves!

Loves my fleece, unless it has spent any part of its formative time in close association with a sheep.

Even more equipment: Sticks, pack, electronics, etc.

Let’s start with the phone.  It was fully charged when I left the house in the morning and yet its battery was sucked dry by the time we were done with the hike.  I think this was because there was no WiFi on the mountain (gee whiz, go figure) and probably my phone was wasting battery power searching for what wasn’t there.  Or maybe it was the nifty altimeter app I was using.  Or maybe…

No, it was not the dunk in the pond the week before.

Who knows why about the battery.  I have one of those portable phone battery chargers somewhere.  I’m sure I could find it if I looked.  But in the meantime, Airplane Mode is my friend!  It is too sad to want to take a photo and have zero battery left.

Backpack:  I was using a small day pack that is meant, to be frank, for couch potato hikers.  Sorry spuds, but if you plan to be out all day and don’t want to be burdened with a huge camping pack, then the day pack you want isn’t basically a pouch with a few pockets.  None of which is accessible without taking the pack off.  No rings, no extra straps, no nada.

I’m going to either use my Osprey external frame that has gone down to the Colorado River with me twice or I’m going to find a better day pack.  This year Laura and I have agreed to put our overnight stuff for Phantom Ranch in a duffel that goes down on a mule’s back, not ours, so day pack is all I need.  Just not the one I have.

In the day pack:
First aid kit
Toilet paper + plastic bag for used paper
Garmin GPS (technically not in the pack but attached to the outside)
Compass/whistle/thermometer combo
Visor (why didn’t I use it when I needed it?  Because it was such a PITA to get stuff out of the day pack)
Wrist wallets (for ID, money, car key, etc.)
Throat lozenges
Water

Shoulda been in the pack:
Cell phone charger battery thingie
USB charging cable
Chocolate (little did I know there were M&Ms in my pocket but four?  No way that’s enough chocolate)
Prescription sunglasses (the glare off the snow was wicked!)
Pencil/pad (I meant to put them in, just forgot)

Under consideration to bring:
Second cell phone (why not — it’s not activated for cell but it’s got a camera)

Hiking sticks:
I don’t know how I lived all my life (till the first Canyon in 2008) without using hiking sticks.  Mine are Komperdell trekking poles, the kind that extend rather than fold.  I bought rubber tips for them, but I don’t know why — I like the carbide tips on mine.  Not only do the tips stay put, but I could use them as spears if I had to.  Girl Scouts always gotta be prepared.  By the way, when I first got the poles I didn’t know how to use them — height adjustment is important!

That’s all, folks

What I can get away with on a day hike isn’t, of course, the same as when I’ll need to do on the Canyon hike.  All the trails from the Rim to the River are longer, steeper, tougher, more intimidating, and so outrageously breathtakingly beautiful that a conditioning hike is never going to be that quite a challenge.  Between now and then, though — and right up to the last second — I’ll be making adjustments.

I leave in just under seven weeks — have I mentioned that?

Photo: Laura's shadow, 2018 Lif Strand

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!

previous article
the whole story so far

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.

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.

Look but don’t touch

Cholla blossomSometimes when I get to feeling that maybe it’s a little too hard living here in my part of New Mexico, particularly at nearly a mile and a half above sea level, the land gently reminds me why I’m here.

Right now we’re all waiting, hoping, praying for rain.  Not too much rain, mind you, not all at once.  That’s a male rain and it leads to floods.  No, we want a daily dose of gentle female rain that soaks into the soil.

When it finally does rain it’s like a miracle how little it takes  for plants to respond.  It’s a desert phenomenon:  The air smells fresh, withered grass turns green in hours, flowers blossom overnight.

Everything is in a rush to attract, to reproduce.  We don’t get all that much rain.  Winters are long.  Strategies for survival are a necessity.

There are the hardy ones, the few plants that gamble on rain to come.  They get going early so they have longer to reproduce and, perhaps, to store up for the coming times of dry and cold.  There are seeds that germinate even though nighttime temperatures are still below freezing and daytime temps aren’t much above.  There are plants with tough stems that put out bits of green and even blossom early on, while the rest of the world is still dust.  Sometimes they die back and come back.  Tough plants for a tough climate.

But critters are desperate for moisture as well.  For every early leaf there is an insect or animal that lusts for fresh, moist, tender greens.  So plants have developed other strategies as well.  Around here it seems everything has thorns, needles, burrs,  prickles, or barbs.  Sharp ones that always end up in me.

They still have beauty, these tough plants.  It’s not always obvious, but it’s there.   I walk carefully through the sere grama grass that can slice the skin, and step around pale amaranth stems that appear so deceptively fluffy.  So intent am I on not getting scratched, pierced, and scraped that I almost miss it: the chartreuse of a fragile cholla blossom nestled in the midst of sharp cactus needles and the barbs of last year’s tumbleweed.

I am once again reminded why I am here.  I am blessed to be reminded every day that all I have to do is look and I will find beauty.  I am blessed to be reminded that treasures are most valuable when they are rare.

And I am so very thankful.

 

Love It or Leave It

Love it or leave it … or fix it.  Old Glory

Today is July 4, Independence Day in the US. Every town’s having parades, BBQs, fireworks, and concerts. Fishing derbies, flea markets, big box store sales, baseball games, you name it, whatever it takes to celebrate our country’s birthday.

It’s easy to succumb to feelings of pride in our nation on this day. After all, we’ve come a long way, baby. We owe it to ourselves to be proud.

On the other hand, many are not so proud today. Many are hungry. Many are in pain. Many are weeping while others are cheering as they wave Old Glory in the name of independence.

Many are angry, even as they put relish on their hot dogs.

This is as it should be.

Our country, the United States of America, is not a single organism. It is a group effort of many people who come from all walks of life, and who have different opinions about how things should work here. The US, when it is healthy, should be a bubbling, fermenting brew of thought, emotion, and striving for betterment. That’s a messy process.

Yes, on this day there is misery in the world. But history tells us that misery has always been part of the human condition. Our Declaration of Independence acknowledges it: “…all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”

So yeah, people do put up with a lot. We want to live the good life. We are happy to be cruising along in our comfort zones.  We don’t want to think about problems. We don’t want to have to deal with our own problems much less anybody else’s. Experience tells us, though, that most people will tolerate only so much before they do something about it.

The US might not be perfect, but that’s because we’re human. We don’t live in a utopia; we live in the reality of 2018. Not everyone is celebrating, but we haven’t forgotten about them. The good news is that we citizens of the US are doing what we’re supposed to be doing. We have heaved ourselves off the couches of content and are paying attention to the problems.  We’ve rolled up our sleeves and we are slinging around the tools that will fix things: ideas.

Ideas are how it begins.

We do want to make things better, and in the US we are free here to work out how that will come about. We all have ideas about how to best go about fixing things and we’re free to have those ideas and to express them. We are free to argue with each other about the way we run the place, and then we are free to vote to make it so. Our form of government is messy, sometimes ugly, but that’s the nature of liberty.

This is, my friends, a big deal, and you betcha we’re celebrating. Tomorrow we’ll get back to work.

Rejected but not dejected

One good thing about getting enough rejections from agents and publishers is that after a while they don’t really hurt. Each new one is just another paper cut. I haven’t lost enough blood yet to swoon.

I swear, if an agent or publisher ever accepts one of my submissions I think I won’t even notice. I’ll just assume it’s another no. Gotta watch out for those kinds of expectations.

But anyway, I just wanted to talk a bit today about how we writers (and other creative types) deal with with rejection. I may not speak for us all, but I’m pretty sure how I react isn’t that unusual.

In the beginning I was shocked, incredulous that I got a rejection because I was so sure my work was way too fabulous for anyone to not love it and want it immediately.

So I had to get over that.

Then I got to where when I got a rejection I thought it was because my writing was no good.  That I was a crummy writer. This required a bit of mental judo, as I had to ignore the nearly two decades of being paid well to write non-fiction. I had to make myself believe that my fiction work was inferior — because if an agent or a publisher sent a rejection that’s what it must mean, right?  Even though that’s not logical thinking, that’s where I went.

That wore off after a while, sometimes within minutes, sometimes much longer.  Then I’d get pissed off about getting a rejection. It doesn’t take a mental giant to see that a lot of what gets published is pretty awful. My work was definitely better than that schlock. And I’d show those publishers.  Someday I would get published, and then those dummies who passed on my work would be really, really sorry.

Maintaining a perfect state of pissed-offness is energy intensive and depressing so inevitably I”d move on to vowing to never write again. As if that were possible. Okay, maybe I just wouldn’t write fiction anymore. Maybe I’d go back to working under contracts to write for others. I’m pretty sure that road’s still open to me.  But I don’t want to write what other people want me to write anymore. Nope. Not happening.

Inevitably after a bunch of moping around and self-flagellation, during which time I’d torture myself with visions of a life empty of purpose and passion, a brilliant idea would smack me between the eyes, an idea that would not be denied. I’d drop everything to capture it, scribble on a pad holding a flashlight in my teeth in the middle of the night, sit in front of the computer all day long till my eyes wouldn’t focus and my fingers were about worn off. Taking what I learned from the rejections and fixing…

Whoa there. Wait a minute. That last bit… the learn from part. NO! That’s not how it goes. You know why? Because getting rejected doesn’t teach a writer anything. Rejections aren’t necessarily about the writing at all.  IMO they are all too often about the fact that a whole bunch of agents and publishers only think they know what they’re doing.

Yup. That’s not just sour grapes on my part (well, maybe a little sour). You don’t have to take my word for it. You can prove it for yourself. Meanwhile, consider my reasoning.

First of all, let’s start with the fact that agents and publishers all have slightly different query requirements. Why is this? After all, it’s a time sucker and a real drag for writers who want to get on with writing the sequel to their novel.  Writing summaries of a book requires special skills. Writing query letters to successfully sell a novel to an agent or publisher is made nearly impossible because that special skill requires being able to read minds.

What? Yes, that’s right, reading minds. I’m sticking my neck out here, but seems to me that much of the blame for unsuccessful queries is on the people who supposedly are the experts, the ones who’re going to market those books, the agents and publishers who don’t bother telling authors exactly what they want to market. So when a writer (me, for instance) hunts for an agent or publisher to query, we have to intuit, or guess, or consult a Ouija board, to figure out whether the manuscript is a fit for that agent or publisher. Or just send out query after query, racking up the rejections.

Check it out for yourself by reading your rejections, which no doubt you’ve saved. Don’t they all say the same thing basically? Don’t they use phrases like not quite what we’re looking for right now and the fit was wrong?

Excuse me?  Not quite what you’re looking forHow could that be? I’m sure I’m not the only writer who obsesses over what agents and publishers are looking for. I don’t need waste my time querying anybody who isn’t looking for what I’ve written. And yet in the end, isn’t that what I’m doing? Spending valuable time querying when I could be writing a book?

Only to get rejected?

Could it be… the [gasp]  [drum roll] “Rowling Syndrome”?

You probably know that the author of the wildly popular Harry Potter series received 12 or so rejections for The Sorcerer’s Stone. That’s no record. Many famous authors have received more.

Rowling gets to have the syndrome named after her (by me, I just dreamed it up) because when she sought to publish the first book of her Cormoran Strike series under the pen name, Robert Galbraith – after selling millions of copies in her Harry Potter series — one rejection letter actually recommended that she take a writing course. And even more amazingly, the publisher who first turned down Harry Potter also rejected Cormoran Strike — and did so rudely.

Wait — how could this be? Why would anyone have rejected a manuscript that must have been clearly marketable?

To be fair, publishers and agents get overwhelmed by the queries. There’s an art to prognosticating best-sellers. The public is fickle, tastes change quickly these days, and it’s a long process getting a book from agent query through to hitting the shelves (or Amazon!). What everyone wanted to read then might not be what they want to read now. I get it that’s it’s not easy. Particularly when the author is new.

So sad, too bad. Letting a best-seller slip away is still an agent’s own fault.

This is a rule of life: If you can’t articulate your desires accurately then the odds are high that you won’t get what you want. If the queries an agent or publisher receives are not quite what they’re looking for, perhaps they are the ones who haven’t made it clear what they want. If you’re a writer you’ve probably been as frustrated as I am at how some agents (particularly the new ones) ask for such a broad range of genres that they’re obviously just chumming for a best seller.

So okay, no point in getting dejected that I haven’t found my agent or publisher yet. I have to believe I will find them and they’ll be way better than the ones who’ve rejected my work so far. But still.  If I was more into burning my bridges, I’d send replies to those rejections, suggesting that perhaps taking a writing course would help. I’d thank them for reviewing my query and tell them I was sorry they didn’t fit my novel’s needs.  And that maybe if they wrote better descriptions of what they want on their #MSWL Manuscript Wishlist they’d get better queries and have more successful sellers.

But I won’t, of course. I’ve still got to cross the bridges and it’s stupid to scorch my own feet.  Where is that confounded bridge anyway?

#amwriting