Critters update

I was going to write about Bubbaz, but realized I would have to include Rosie. And then I would need to talk about the cats, and hey, while I was at it what about the horses?  And the elk and the ravens, and… yeah, like that. I’ve got critters, lots of them, and they’ve all got a story.

So here’s a bit of everything critter-related since the last time I posted, the day after Bubbaz arrived.

Photo of Bubbaz the dog

Bubbaz

Bubbaz

I’m starting with him because I mentioned him first – no favoritism here!  

Just a refresher: on June 26, 2020 I picked up Bubbaz from Round Valley Animal Rescue in Springerville AZ.  I was told he was part Great Dane.  Given his love for running – and by that I mean the dog never walks when he can trot, and never trots when he can barrel along at full speed – I’m more inclined than ever to think that there’s Greyhound in him, too.  Bubz does not act like any eight year old dog of that size I’ve ever met.  He does acrobatics when he walks next to me and thinks I’m going too slow, leaps over every obstacle he can find and with room to spare, and when we set out on a walk he runs circles around me.

Bubz has huge feet.  Just sayin’.

He is a happy dog.  His philosophy is whatever, it’s good.  Thunder and lightning?  No problem.  Last one to get breakfast.  That’s fine.  Look in my ear?  Well, if you must.

Except for one thing:  He doesn’t like being left behind.  His whines can be heard a quarter mile away. 

Bubz is sensitive.  When I get excited (usually that means yelling at my computer) he reacts. If I need to correct him, clearing my throat will get the message across.  If he’s running out too far from me, I swear I can just think my concern and he comes zooming back. 

When I first got him he had full access to the interior of my house and to a dog yard with a 6’ fence.  We walked on leash.  In a month’s time he has graduated to no leash, and I am super happy with him.  The dog not only knows what it means when I call him, he actually comes!

Unlike with Rosie, who has to be cajoled, bribed, and sometimes escorted to get her to come — even when it’s for dinner.

Rosie

The introduction of a new dog to Rosie’s established territory was painless.  What might take weeks and months with other dogs took hours and days with him and Rosie.  Bubz is just a super dog, and Rosie is happy to have a companion again.  When she was rescued from the backyard she had been abandoned in (nearly a year ago) she had a toy poodle friend who got adopted immediately.  It was good to have nearly a year to ourselves with no other dogs around.  It gave Rosie, who is submissive to the extreme, the chance to relax and expand her wings to whatever extent possible. But when Bubz came into our lives it was like I had gotten him as a gift just for her.

In a way, I did.

One great thing about having such an energetic new companion is that Bubz encourages Rosie to put a little more effort into keeping up on our walks.  She still takes her own sweet time, mind you.  Bubbaz and I will have reached the one mile point and be turning back towards home when Rosie’s only covered a half mile.  And then, when she sees us coming, she just sits down and waits. 

Bubbaz & Rosie sleeping

Bubbaz & Rosie

I can’t blame her, though.  It’s not just that she’s got such short little legs (I just measured them – her front legs are 9 ½” long from elbow to foot) so that she’s got to work harder to keep up with long-legged Bubbaz.  It’s simply hard for her to breathe.  In spite of the surgery last February, she still suffers from brachycephalic syndrome.  She’s not as bad as she was, but I still have to be careful to not let her get overheated or stressed. 

She also seems to be developing arthritis.  We don’t know how old she is, but even young dogs can suffer from it.  Rosie walks with a side-ways lurch, as if her feet hurt.  She can’t jump into a car.  Going up and down stairs seems to be a challenge.  Lately she’s been peeing and pooping inside the house near the back door.  It took me a while to get the message:  She doesn’t like going down and then back up the stairs to the dog pen but if I leave the back door ajar she goes outside just fine – there’s only one low step for her to negotiate to get to the back yard.  I guess I need to install another dog door for Rosie’s sake.  And also because if I leave the back door open anything can come in.

Birdies

photo of a Say's Phoebe

Say’s Phoebe

Today a bird took the open door as an invitation.  It’s a Say’s Phoebe, a favorite of mine because of the vocalizations. I know the “clear, slurred whistle” that’s repeated over and over drives some people crazy but I like it.  Plus phoebes are flycatchers and anything that eats flies is a good thing in my book.  I was able to catch the little bird easily with my nekked hands (usually I toss a towel over a bird I’m trying to catch).  Phoebe was very patient while I grabbed the cell phone, got the photo app activated, and took a few shots for posterity.

Meanwhile, my valley’s extended raven family members (sorry, I refuse to call them a murder of ravens) are done with their courtship flights and most have gone off elsewhere, leaving a core pair that “owns” the valley and its contents.  These ravens spend a lot of time around the horse pens.  Sometimes just for the fun of driving the dogs to distraction they’ll hang out on the porch railing or a fence near the house. 

Some people feed ravens and the birds get quite tame.  I don’t feed the wild animals around me.  If they became dependent and then something happened to me, they’d go hungry.  Plus, well, wild animals should be wild.  That’s what I think and I’m sticking to it.

The only thing is I wish they were just a wee bit less wild.  I don’t want them to stop being wild, I just want to get a few good photos.  Okay, a lot of good photos.  I swear, every time I touch a camera or cell phone they wait just till I’m ready to press the shutter and then take off.  Clever little devils.

Cats

Coming around full circle, Lili took only a few days to decide that Bubbaz wasn’t going away.  She whacked him a couple times on his nose just so he knew who was boss, and since then she’s pretty much ignored him just as she ignores Rosie.  They’re merely lesser beings she’s forced to share space with.

Tux, on the other hand, has not been so accepting.  First he growled and attacked poor Bubbaz.  After he’d sufficiently demonstrated that he was really the boss, Tux relented some.  He’d go with us to the barn, talking the whole way (he’s quite the talker, Tux is) and on walks.  It was getting downright friendly around here. 

And then Tux disappeared. 

He is prone to that – he is a tomcat, after all.  He was gone so long this time that I started thinking maybe he wasn’t coming back.  Finally, after nearly a week AWOL, I heard him talking as he approached the house.  It was weird, though — I couldn’t figure out why he didn’t come in right away.  He had to be hungry.  And then when he finally did come in, he made a bee-line for the kibble bowl, scarfed down his food, and split.

Tomcats.  I figured he had a girlfriend he was courting somewhere and was in a hurry to get back.  I was right… and oh boy, was I wrong.

A couple nights later I heard a teensy mewling from outside somewhere.  And I heard Tux talking back.  Obviously, to a kitten. 

Yes, Tux had brought home his very own kitten. 

It bears mentioning that the nearest inhabited house to mine is several miles away.  I haven’t heard anyone talking about missing a kitten from a litter so I’m more inclined to think this kitten is feral.  Either way, I have to think Tux had been courting its mother who, given the size of this bit of fluff and the timing of Tux’s disappearance, had come into her post-partum heat.  Since this wasn’t the first time Tux had gone walkabout this year, I also have to wonder if maybe he’s the father of the kitten.

I also have to wonder if Tux is so clever that he figured out if he had a kitten of his own here it could grow up to be a female cat he could breed without missing any meals.  Or maybe, if he’s the father, he just wanted his own flesh and blood to hang with.

While it’s a mystery to me how he convinced a wee little kitten to follow him home, I have to say I’m kind of happy Tux did so.  Lili and he have become indifferent mousers.  She’s too old and toothless, and he couldn’t be bothered.  But a young cat might well find mouse steak tartare to be an excellent repast.

To that end, I’ve been feeding the kitten in a have-a-heart trap, rigged to stay open and placed near the hole she scrambles into when I try sneaking up on her to see what she looks like.  When she gets old enough to get spayed, she’ll be used to the trap and thus easier to catch.  I don’t feel any need to tame her.  She’ll tame if she wants to, and if not – well, she won’t be the first feral cat I’ve had in my life.  On the other hand, I don’t think this kitten means to live outside the rest of her life.

Every night Tux attempts to to talk her into the house.  If he can get her in, he retreats to my bed and lets her explore.  Last night she made it into the kitchen.  Lily was up on top of the cabinet watching.  Bubbaz watched me to see what he was supposed to do rather than join Rosie in going after the small intruder.  I called Rosie off before she was halfway across the room (pretty nimble for a dog that finds it hard to go up stairs). 

The kitten skeedaddled out the dog door and I thought for sure that would be the last I’d see of her for days, but no.  Tux followed her out, had a chat with her, and within minutes she was back inside, back in the kitchen where she had left off.  I tried for a photo but that was just too much.  She ran out and stayed out, no matter how much Tux tried to get her back.

She will be back, though.  She already stuck her head in the dog door earlier today.  It’s not hard to know when she’s around because she’s got to talk about it. 

Just like her daddy does.

Horses

Sometimes I despair because each one of my five horses has got a problem.  I keep forgetting that four of them are senior citizens and these issues crop up with old age.  I’ve got an Arabian horse retirement and rehab facility here, and I can’t expect twenty and thirty year old horses to act like yearlings.

SE Kelsey Grae.  At thirty three, Kelsey is the oldest.  She’s in good health except she’s become a hard keeper.  Even so, she moves as fluidly as ever, always reminding me why we had been such careful breeders back in the day, looking for athletic ability rather than just another pretty Arabian face.  I haven’t been on her back for nearly ten years but I bet she wouldn’t fuss at all if I hopped on her back – except for that spine that sticks up.   

SE Bint Tazala and SE Sofia.  The next oldest – nearly thirty — are Tess and Sofie, neither ever started under saddle due to physical issues early on.  Tess injured her left fore fetlock joint when she was one or two.  It healed badly and she can’t flex the joint.  Tess’ bloodlines are superb and we could have bred her, but we never did.  She is still the most beautiful mare, even in her late twenties, and she’s got a personality to match.

Sofie developed severe lordosis (sway back) between two and three years old.  We didn’t see it develop as we were in the process of moving to New Mexico then and all our horses were boarded out.  Imagine our astonishment when we saw her next and she looked like an old plug!  The vet told us that it wasn’t painful for her and that she could be ridden – or even bred.  We had too many horses to ride as it was, and had no desire to pass on the possibly recessive genes involved.  Sofie became a pet. 

SE Kokopelli Kid.  Koko, now twenty three years old, was going to be my endurance horse and breeding stallion.  He’s the son of my soulmate stallion, Ben Nasrif, who I miss every day.  Sadly for Koko his breeding career got cut short with the collapse of the economy in 2008, and I had some health issues that resulted in my never doing more than sitting on his back.  No training, mind you.  Aside from athleticism, we bred for intelligence and personality.  The day I first sat on Koko’s back it was because I was sitting on the fence rail and he came up and stood next to me, essentially telling me to hop on.  And I did.  Sadly, Koko had an accident last fall – we never did figure out what he did to himself – and was severely lamed.  He’s improved since then but he’ll never be sound again.

Photo of Sonny as a foal

Sonny at six months

SE Redhill Sonetta.  Last but not least is Sonny.  She was the end result of an unplanned and unnoticed pregnancy, born long after Koko was retired from stud.  He had been lonely and we had an old mare who’d shown no signs of coming into heat for years.  You can imagine the rest of that story, but I’ll just go ahead and tell it.  We let Suletta live with Koko.  Never saw any sign of breeding activity.  Koko was happy to be with her, Su was content to boss him around, as mares will do.  A year passed.  And then another.

One frigid January morning, New Year’s weekend I believe it was, I went out to feed.  Su and Koko were turned out at night, but that morning only he came in for breakfast.  I hunted for Su, but it wasn’t till I had given up, fed the other horses, and come in to warm up before going out again, that she showed up.  When I went back outside there was the reason… a foal. 

Talk about shocked! 

Sonny grew up to be a promising endurance contender (her full and half-siblings were killer on the trail) until one day she came into breakfast lame.  Not yet ten years old and she was suffering from laminitis.  Out here it’s a major deal to get a vet to make a ranch call or to haul a horse the hundred miles or more to the nearest vet clinic where she could be x-rayed.  Much treatment and many dollars later, she still suffers periodic laminitis bouts and when that happens I freak out, grit my teeth, and we start the whole recovery process yet again.  In-between the bouts she travels up and down the mesa sides with the old lady horses and it’s tempting… but riding her wouldn’t be fair, not with those feet. So while Sonny is gorgeous hunk and an otherwise healthy middle-aged mare, she’s permanently retired.

None of my horses will ever have any other homes than the one they have now.  That’s true for all my critters.  Rescue dogs, stray cats, bumbling birds, and crippled ancient horses — doesn’t matter.  I’ve got my own issues and I don’t want to be sent off to live somewhere else, so I won’t do that to them.  We’ll all grow old together.  Family.

That’s all I’ve got for you today. Oh wait — I forgot to describe what it was like one dark night when a herd of elk cows and calves wandered by the house, calling to each other in their weird high-pitched whistles for nearly an hour. Or the recording I made of spade-toed toads (say that three times fast) singing their love songs.. Or…

Maybe next time.

#amwriting

On Writing

Many words written in journals and on scraps of paperI’ve been addicted to the written word forever.  I blame it on my father’s mother, who read to me soon as I was old enough to appreciate it.  She sat me on her lap and followed the words with her finger, and that’s how I learned to read (for a very brief while I could read some Swedish, too).  

I’m not sure when I started writing, but it wasn’t long before I submitted my first story to be published in my school’s creative writing publication.  That was a long, long time ago, but I never stopped either reading or writing.  I’m not sure I could do so and stay sane because TV and movies just don’t make it for me.  I haven’t lived with a TV in my house since 1993 and I don’t stream either.

photo URL https://public.fotki.com/hypoint/arabians/arabian_album_cmk/bennasrif17317378cs.html

Me & Ben Nasrif on the endurance trail in the 1980s

I wrote about horses a lot in the 1980s and 1990s because we were breeding and endurance racing our Arabian horses then.  Somewhere amidst all the junk I’ve got stored I’ve got stacks of magazines with the equivalent of blog posts in them — mostly stories about how I screwed up, since that seems to be the most entertaining kind of story of all.  Like the time we drove half a day to a ride camp, only for me to discover I had forgotten to bring my saddle.  Ha ha. I was the camp entertainment as I walked from rig to rig hoping someone had brought an extra saddle that would work for me and my horse.

It was around then that I ventured into my first self-publishing experience, creating trail guides for the biggest, toughest 100 mile endurance race in the world — The Tevis Cup — which uses the trans-Sierra portion of the Western States Trail. I sold more copies than I expected and actually recovered the publication costs.  

It wasn’t till after 9/11 that I turned pro — and that was only because I couldn’t stand one more day of my brief stint as a substitute teacher (sorry, but I just do not like kids).  I have no idea why the newspaper hired me, but suddenly I was a reporter and feature story writer for a weekly regional here in western New Mexico. My beat was the county I live in — all 7000 square miles of it.  I attended every meeting I could get to, showed up at every accident that I found out about, covered every oddball incident I could discover — but best of all, I interviewed a lot of… um… fascinating locals.  My county is full of them.  

Fast forward to spending about a decade writing for a natural resource research and analysis institute in southern New Mexico, and then a few years after that of working as a contract writer for my county (and several others). The politics of it — OMG. It was worse than being around kids all day. So I waved goodbye to a real income and, with the help of NaNoWriMo, plunged into writing novels.

Note that breaking into the field of fiction writing is not something I recommend for anyone who plans on supporting themselves or their family.  I could do it because I was by this time a senior citizen and receiving Social Security.  It’s not going to be a get-rich quick scheme for me, since I only recently found a publisher for one of the two novels I’ve completed (Evolution Device).  But besides a few self-published chapbooks and two (2) short stories , that’s it.  And yet I’m writing all the time.

Writing is not what I do, it’s what I am.  A state of being. Lines of dialogue and narrative float through my brain as I scoop horse poop, a mindless task that has become a kind of meditation for me.  Some of what free-associates its way into my consciousness is actually useful. Sometimes it just gets lost, like dreams upon waking. Ideas come from all over the place. I’ll be standing in line at the grocery store and get caught staring. I smile and find something else to look at, but I really wasn’t staring so much as forgetting to look away.  A story has captured my attention, you see — sparked by the person, or the conversations around me, or who knows what — and it’s unfolding in my mind and I’m lost to the real world.

I have a tiny field notes book with me almost all the time, though I seem to more often end up scribbling ideas on the backs of envelopes, receipts, or paper napkins. I’ve found that dictating my thoughts to my phone as I hike works, too. When I get home I put the phone’s speaker next to my laptop’s mic, open Google Docs to a new document, click on Tools/Voice Typing, and let Google do the transcribing.  Oh yes, the transcription is ugly — Google is a riot with its interpretations of what I’ve said, not to mention all the oh sh*ts and ums and backtracking and such — but at least I’ve got someplace to start.

I may have been born to write, but that doesn’t make it easy. Those words bubbling around inside are delicate things that need to be lured onto the screen or paper. Skittish things that will dissipate if handled roughly. Elusive and shy, even when they demand attention. They can’t be forced, but they can’t be ignored, either.

Writing is like being a slave to words. 

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!

Do what you love and love what you do

“You’ll do what you have to do to be able to do what you want to do.”

This is what a friend of mine said to me in an email this morning. Not only is it catchy but it’s true.  Except that it’s kind of grim.  Happily, for me what I have to do to be able to do what I want to do is already what I want to do.

Too convoluted? Well, let me give an example.  This morning, for instance…

This morning my eyes opened before the sun popped over the horizon. I have no idea why so early, but it was OK.  The room was chilly but I was toasty under oh, five or six layers of flannel blankets and quilts.  If I didn’t go back to sleep I could just laze around and let my mind wander.  I very much enjoy that luxury, because I’m not a morning person.  Oh, I get up at what seems like the crack of dawn, but a real morning person would sneer at the thought.

So I let some writing and art issues bubble up through the murk of sleep, not trying to guide them or even capture them. What came up might or might not be useful, but the luxury part of what I was doing involved just letting my subconscious do whatever it wanted. Of course, because I was half asleep I forgot most of it, but I figure that if the ideas got that far they really want to come out. Eventually they’ll pop to the surface while I’m awake and and I will capture them.

It wasn’t all that long, though, before my bladder and the cats demanded that I roll out of bed.  First thing after that was to shuck my PJs and get dressed. Why no lounging around with a cup of coffee? Well, for one thing, this morning it was 38°. Inside the house.

Obviously my immediate concern was to get the fire going in the wood stove. That meant clearing out ashes, and that means an ash bucket had to be nearby, so that I don’t have to go outside to get one. It might have been cold inside, but outside it was in single digits. It’s December in the high country, after all.

Once the ashes were removed I piled up the glowing embers and stacked wood around them so they’d ignite. That means that there had to be wood available, mind you, and there was (see ash bucket, above).

OK, fire going, coffee water heating on the kitchen stove while I fed the cats before they drove me crazy. By the time I was ready to enjoy my first sip of life-giving java, the wood stove had heated my little house to a reasonable temperature so that I could remove layers as I checked email.

Whoa! A patron signed up (the friend I quoted at the beginning of this post). Wow! Way to start the day!  (Reminder — support your friendly creator!  Thank you if you already have, and don’t be shy if you haven’t.  Any support is fantastic support.)




I feed the horses around 9 a.m. because generally it has warmed up some by that point. I’m not a fan of doing chores when it’s so cold my nostrils stick together when I breathe. In the summer I feed around 8 a.m. because it’s cooler. Due to Daylight Savings nonsense, from the horses’ point of view they’re being fed around the same time.  This is important because even though they’ve got grass hay available all the time, it’s not the same as those delectable flakes of alfalfa for breakfast.  My stallion, Koko, also gets pellets with probiotics in them, plus any fruit or veggie parts that are left over from my kitchen. He eats it all. You’d be amazed.

So as long as I’m outside, I’ve got other chores to do. First is breaking ice on the water troughs. Koko is always thirsty in the mornings, so I do his trough first. Then it’s time for some exercises — stuff left over from physical therapy for my hips that help keep me limber — and after that a short walk, about a half mile loop.

The walk lets me look out away from myself into the distance.  It reminds me I’m part of a much bigger system. It puts my own problems in perspective for a while. I stay on my own property and that walk also reminds me how wonderful it is that I get to live here, on this land. Each day there is something new to see. Coyote poop (full of barely-digested juniper berries right now), elk poop, horse poop, occasionally cow poop. Tracks of many kinds in the dust of the trail. If I’m lucky — and why I think it’s good luck I don’t know — I’ll see the resident roadrunner, who is a bold bird that is used to me by now. He will move away but not far.

Sometimes I’ll surprise an owl or hawk or a flock of larks or piñon jays.  Sometimes a raven will circle me, speaking to me in raven talk that I can’t quite understand.

This time of year the weeds are brittle and dry. Even though I stick to the trail I’ve made, it seems like every plant has burrs or needles or hooks on them so they can hitch a ride on a passing sock. Gaiters keep the nasty little things out of my shoes.  When it snows I’ll wear the gaiters to keep warm.

Some mornings after I’ve walked I’ll work with one of my young mares, Sonny, Koko’s daughter. She has had very little training even though she’s going to be seven years old next month. Now that I have new hips, working with her is fun.  I think we both enjoy it.

My training is hardly worth the word. Maybe ten minutes at a time. My method now that I’m not a young woman and am perhaps more breakable than I used to be, is to not use any restraints and to not pursue if she leaves me. No stress for her, no stress for me.  How I do this is a whole other story, but the end result is a horse that is a partner, not a slave. Given the kind of riding I do, I need that kind of a horse.

Back to the chores. Once a week I prepare the buckets with Koko’s pellets.  That would be today.  I stacked tonight’s hay in the wheelbarrow and stashed it under the tarp. I like to keep tools out of the sun as much as possible, because at this altitude the sun eats everything up. This particular wheelbarrow is only a year old and so far so good, but I have another that has broken apart to the point where it’s pretty useless now. I’m going to fix it one of these days.  It’s low on the To Do list, though.

A brief break to pet Tux, a stray tomcat that’s been living here for a couple years now. He knows my routines so well that he leads me rather than follows.

It being Sunday, it was time to pump water. I topped off the gas in the generator, then pulled the wagon the generator lives in down to the well. I’ll leave it running till this afternoon. After that, I hiked up to the water storage tanks to see how much had been used this week.

Then it was time to get a load of wood for tonight (see above). I need to order another cord soon, but that depends on my wood guy and my finances. I’m good for a month if it doesn’t get too cold. I’ll bring armfuls of wood in the house during the course of the day, when I’m coming in and out anyway. No point in taking the time this morning when I have other stuff to do.

My last chore of the morning was to add some water to the pans I have out for the birds and other small critters, and then I got to come back in the house and have another cup of coffee and think about getting something to eat and then… finally… writing. Or processing photos. Or sewing.

All those things were, as my friend suggested, what I have to do to be able to do what I want to do. My chores would be a drag, except that I want to do them. I like doing them.  Oh sure, I moan and groan.  But sometimes, weirdly, I find myself giggling while I’m wrestling with a tarp… right after I have screamed curses into the wind. Sometimes I snarl and want to feel sorry for myself when I realize I haven’t finished bringing in the wood and I’m exhausted and it’s already dark, but I shrug and I do it. Then there’s been a couple mornings when I was confronted with a fountain spouting from the frost-free hydrant because I forgot to close it the night before. It froze and cracked the pipe and there was nobody to blame but me. But I fixed it. And I was proud that I could do so.

This lifestyle, this responsibility for my own comfort and safety and for that of my critters, is what I have chosen, not what I am forced to. I could move to a house in town, with a regular job to pay for the easier lifestyle, but I would lose much, much more than I would gain in doing so.

There is a joy for me in living this way. Everything I do matters. Everything I do is fodder for my art — whether it’s writing, photography, quilting, or… whatever occurs to me. When, by 11 a.m., I finally come to the part of my day that others would consider (finally) the creative time,  I’ve already been experiencing hours of a world I want to share with others. I’ve been recording some of it with a camera, I’ve been testing out narrative in my head, I’ve been seeing patterns that would make beautiful art.

It’s all there.

It’s all one big creative act for me.

It’s all what I want to do.