Plan B

Monday, April 25, 2016

Here is my No Frills 2016 recap.

We arrived at a decent time on the second day which meant the primary camp was full and we were in the suburbs. The walk to everything is farther- but the flip side was we had a little more space to spread out. The electric fence was great and we had a decent sized field for the girls. 

  
When I did walk through main camp it was like downtown Manhattan! Generators, portioned off campsites where sometimes 3 horses were in small areas for one campsite. At the ride meeting I learned this was one of the biggest turnouts for the No Frills in recent years. 

This is Faygo’s last ride for now. Susan has gotten quite an introduction to endurance and been a great training partner. She isn’t ‘done’ but the warmer the weather the less likely it is for Faygo to do well and my focus is Khaleesi and it’s hard to really do that when both girls are running. 

  
 Thus Susan brought two daughters (Jess and Kathleen) and Kathleen brought her boyfriend Charlie to help us crew. It’s wonderful to have a team. Last year I rode crewless and it’s do-able, but help is really really nice. 

Unfortunately for Susan and the crew, No Frills doesn’t have the space for all teams to put crew at the vet check, thus they have official volunteers only and I suggested a while back if they are coming they are going to need to sign up as volunteers for all in order to help mom. 

They were great volunteers and I am really thankful that they had the spirit of not only helping us, but spending their entire day (half in the rain) helping put on a great ride and helping many riders through. I am really proud to call them part of team green! Thanks to Jess, Kathleen & Charlie!

  
Somehow (maybe it was the new fencing, maybe I’m just finally getting used to this) I slept better than usual but woke up on and off the the sound of rain on my trailer roof. 

At 5am I lay in my hammock wondering if I just stayed cocooned a little longer would it stop? Later my friend Roger (who rode in the 55 with a 7am start) said “I heard that cold rain and honestly thought about not getting up! I’ve never come to a race and scratched but the thought crossed my mind!”

I wouldn’t say I ever seriously considered that…. But not getting out of my dry warm cocoon was a teeny bit tempting. 

It was a good thing I had to pee so badly. That does it every time. And once you’re up….. Time to get moving. 

 

rainy morning in the suburb camp

 
I threw on my muddy creek rain coat and got to work on coffee (first thing first). 

  
Thanks to Ed I am pretty well prepared for rain. My crew bag is a dry bag and my rain coat puts me in a dry bubble from head to toe, my pop up is regulatly waterproof sprayed. I also have a layer in almost every weight I could imagine to stay warm or not too warm. 

He’s been a good sport about my obsession with endurance riding. As I tell Susan from time to time- this isn’t a sport you can dabble in. It takes miles of training riding and my mind is always clicking around what I need to improve next. Then there are the monthly race weekends with prep and unpacking on either side. 

When I got home I found he had opened a bottle of wine I was curious to try – when I asked how it was he said it was good, and he even signed the cork (which he doesn’t do often) for our wall. I dug it out of the cup we keep them in before they are glued on the cork wall… This is what I found:

  

Back to Saturday

Right as we had to get serious about tacking the rain decreased to spittle. Horses were still wet, but at least our gear wasn’t. 

We are getting the hang of race morning and Susan was good on her own this time- knowing what to expect. Our ‘crew’ of course had been gone for 2 hours now already seeing the first 55 mile riders coming through the vet check. We were on our own in camp. Mental note next time leave one of the 3 in camp to help us in and out!

  

We headed toward check in and warmed up around ‘town’. The plan going in was that I would challenge Khaleesi and ride out in the first wave and stay well ahead of Susan and Faygo who would hang back 10 minutes to leave as a turtle group. I believed we had gotten our tweaks down since leatherwood and looked forward to riding our own ride today moving out and seeing how she would do when pushed into some of that untapped potential I believed she had. 

For Susan- her goal was to ride Faygo conservatively so she could finish with a healthy horse in the back of the pack and to stay clear of Khaleesi and me because it’s tough to separate Faygo. Once you do it she is fine, but Susan didn’t need to go through that more than once in a day. 

If we were both successful we wouldn’t see each other again until I cheered her at the finish line. 

When the course opened we separated, Susan went back through camp and I headed out with the riders. Khaleesi was happy, forward and moving great. We were off. 

The beginning of the ride was beautiful. There was mist from the morning rain and we kept a good pace although the first part of the ride is where the biggest climb is. 

some of the rocky trails in the first loop

My ride photo came from this loop. Thanks Becky Pearman once again for a cool photo!

  

My very favorite part of the day was in the first hour when we were cantering up and down dirt ridge roads and you could hardly see in front of you – the riders were like shadows ahead. That was a neat moment for me – we were riding alone for a few minutes there and just us, a team of two. 

  
   
 
Not long after we came upon a rider down, someone holding horses and I believe it was all ok but the group asked if I would wait to pass until they sorted out. I (tentatively) said I would and wasn’t long until I heard a familiar voice in a group approaching.

Jaime?

It was Susan and Faygo. This was not good.

I had no idea what the rider we were waiting for was doing but I said to the group- I really need to move along here (she was not hurt and her horse was in control) and I passed by hoping that we might still get some distance and I might have moved off in time. 

It was too late. I heard Faygo calling from behind. I slowed and they caught up again. This was not at all what I had planned. 

Susan had left camp right after me with a group of riders who were probably more mid-pack than turtle, and she had ridden the first leg too fast with them thinking it was ok (it can happen easily when you are with a group- also it was a cold morning and Faygo had convinced Susan she could do it) but I looked at Faygo with years of knowing that horse who was breathing like a dragon and thought about how fast I had taken those hills on a healthy fit horse and was at a loss. 

This was not good

We tried one more time to separate and Susan promised to hold her back and walk a while but now she would be alone – at least for a time – because the riders she had been with were moving along. 

I pushed Khaleesi on. She was also confused now. Early on she was forward and eager, now she heard Faygo calling and kept slowing down. I was fighting, Susan was fighting. This was not a way to continue for long. 

I had to think fast but options were not good and I couldn’t make a call. One thing I did know was I couldn’t leave Susan to fight with Faygo alone back on the trail, and I couldn’t drive my horse forward while my mind was with Susan. 

We pulled over and she caught back up, fighting to hold Faygo back as she promised but now wasting energy in the struggle Faygo was even worse than before and hot and breathing hard. 

Susan was sorry- of course she didn’t do it intentionally and she didn’t have the experience to see what I saw. I wasn’t mad at her but I was frustrated that we were all now pulled into Faygo’s ride again when I wanted to finally ride Khaleesi’s ride. This was too early in the ride for this to happen. 

But it was. Now what?

First we had to get off and hand walk. Faygo would never chill out with a rider on her at this point. I’ve seen her like this- she’s been worked up and hot and heavey breathing hard and it was not going to be easy to get her down and the only way to slow her up at this point is to get off and lead her. 

This was not good for any of us. 

I was still trying to formulate what to do. 

We needed a plan B. And fast. 

Susan was part of the team, she had been there for me in the rain and snow and freezing wind and I brought her here and couldn’t strand her. I had to give up my hopes for a strong finish and take care of her and both my horses. 

I honestly didn’t know if Faygo would recover well enough to get through vetting with this kind of first loop, especially because we had just wasted time and we’re now hand walking if we picked up the pace to what we needed to get through she might get pulled. 

Then what? 

If she gets trailered back to camp alone, she’s left to manage a herd separated horse in camp with no one more experienced to help her. Faygo CAN be separated but the circumstances were not the ones that will make that easy. I could deal with her, Susan would not fare as well.  

Meanwhile as I was mulling over any new ways we could pull off a last separation wondering if I could salvage the original plan I suggested we get back on the horses. It was wet and now sweaty and my originally tight girth was just loose enough that when I put my right foot in the stirrup I vaulted up and my saddle pushed down. As I tried to stabilize Khaleesi turned in a circle with her saddle slipping (not dangerously underneath her, just enough that I was unstable) and I heard two pops from my leg as the muscle pulled twice before I could hop off. Ouch. It hurt but I could walk- and i did walk a bit more to see how bad it was. Then I fixed my saddle and climbed on.

If I needed a message that did it. 

Switch gears Jaime. You have a new job today. Get all 4 of you to the finish line healthy in time. That is plan B.

We had a very slow 10 mile first loop into the vet check. I honestly thought the drag riders might catch us. I had my job cut out for us. And my leg hurt. I was not in good spirits. 

But we did get into the vet check. Khaleesi pulsed down immediately (in fact the P&R volunteer said ok, this one is sleeping) but it took Faygo a good 6 minutes. I couldn’t leave here at the pulse box to go take care of Khaleesi as Faygo would never pulse down left alone. Then we had to pull Faygo’s saddle to get pulse – this was only a 10 minute gait & go and I didn’t even get out of the pulse box in 10 minutes. We still had to re-tack Faygo. 

waiting for Faygo to pulse down

The vet check was a soupy mud mess and this ride was not going well. We lost 20 minutes at least in that stop. We really couldn’t afford those minutes. 

Thankfully our crew members were able to come over and help us. Both horses dove into the hay and food they provided with some apples and water and we electolyted Faygo. I didn’t dose Khaleesi as it was only 10 miles and she hasn’t worked very hard.  I decided to bring them on trail and use them if I needed a little later. 

We headed into the 13 mile second loop that includes the 7th ring of hell (or valley of the shadow of death) and I calculated how we could get Faygo through to finish in time with much time lost early on. 

This course is hard. Having the knowledge of it from last year is the only way I was able to make it work. The weather was perfect – very cool- for Faygo and we got serious right away. 

As soon as we hit the grassy roads I pushed us into a canter. We are going to run this section. It’s open and not too much climb. Faygo is fast and we are going to push her because I know that soon we will be stuck at a fast walk as we finish climbing the mountain then we will descend into the rockiest technical riding I have ever done. 

We need to make up speed right now. Don’t let her slow down until the single track a few miles ahead.

So we ran.   

Once we hit the single track climb we walked. Faygo was working hard but she was ok. I knew she could come out on the other side cooled down from the walking in the valley. (The ring of hell part). But I also knew Faygo is able to navigate that section faster than most horses there. 

That is her strength. I was counting on it. As for Khaleesi, I would have ridden her a little differently. She doesn’t like the rocks as much, but this ride she would have to keep up- and that would help us too. 

single track climb

It was exactly as I thought and we easily passed a handful of riders navigating that section of trail. It isn’t the ring of hell or valley of the shadow of death because it’s not beautiful. In fact it is, it’s just hard riding. I was grateful for our pads. 

I took pictures this year:  

 

a good couple of miles like this
 
 
I don’t have good pictures of the rock faces you have to scale up – those I was riding two handed and with the best balance I could give her to help as she scrambled up them
 
 
Roger kept teasing we would all see rocks in our sleep tonight!
 
 
these are the embedded into the dirt ones – they dont move as you slip around them
  
not as easy to see but the mud is a layer over fist sized loose rocks
 

When we came out the other side Faygo had been pulling Susan into water holes and drinking like a camel (great!) Khaleesi was still sleeping (that’s our joke now). Her heart rate was rarely above 110 which is fantastic (even in the trotting and cantering). 

Faygo was breathing easy and cool after gliding through the rocks in the valley. 

  
We hit the grassy roads again and my plan was to run those again to make up time and we did. These all out cantering miles on the grass roads encouraging the horses to give everything they had were some of the highlights of the ride. 

The road goes back to single track woods a mile from the vet check where we would have a 45 minute hold. 

We needed to pulse Faygo down faster this time so I stopped us at the start of the single track and I electolyted both horses (Khaleesi’s first, Faygo’s second) and we began our slow walk in to cool down. About 1/10 of a mile in we got off and hand walked. I told Susan to breathe deeply and think peaceful thoughts. 

We arrived quietly, dropped saddles and walked to pulse. Khaleesi was immediately in at 60 (64 is the required) and Faygo was about 71. Not terrible. About 2 minutes later she made pulse (so much better than the first loop!) and we headed to go through the control vet.

Both horses were great. Khaleesi got a B on impulsion but they all agreed it was more likely my limpy leg run to trot her out that had her confused. Both horses passed and had decent hydration and gut sounds.  

  

 
They spent the hold eating voraciously and my favorite part was that Khaleesi kept turning over her water with her front foot and Charlie was such a good sport to get her another bucket even though I assured him it was ok- she’s not drinking it! She had his number and he refilled it at least 3 times before he believed me that it was a losing battle.

notice the water bucket

Our out time was 2:32 which meant we had at least 90 minutes (finish time 4:15) to get the last 9 miles to finish. The last loop is the easiest- packed gravel road and mostly downhill. We were now looking good and I was confident we could complete. Even if we ended up under the wire and Faygo didn’t pulse in time I was sure Khaleesi would.

We tacked up, electrolyted once more and were out the gate at 2:33 to tackle the third loop. 

My leg was tight and I was not feeling balanced in the saddle (all day, but stiffer after the 45 minute hold) and trotting this road for miles slightly downhill was not easy – it was ok for me, I wasn’t in pain – but I know I was off, tight and not bearing weight equally on the right side and had hoped I wouldn’t cause problems for K. Every once in a while if I changed diagonals she would slow up and turn her head as if to ask What are you doing? That doesn’t feel right.

I wasn’t sure if I should still change, or just use the one that felt easier. 

God told me (in the end with a muscle pull) to stay with my team and he provided us cool weather all afternoon. I had to put my long sleeve shirt on for the last loop and tha kept Faygo able to gait in a good speed without trouble. 

We kept that metronome 7-8mph going as much as possible. The only time we stopped was when Faygo dragged us into the stream we were alongside for a drink (which she did at least 3 times). She was taking care of herself well.

 

waiting for faygo ar a stream
 
I knew where camp was on my GPS and when we were a mile or so out with lots of time to spare I knew we had done it- both horses in great shape, and Faygo even pulling ahead to gait through the wooded trail after almost 30 miles of hard riding. 

 

these stats aren’t official- it includes the 20 minutes lost at vet check 1 and part of our 45 minute hold
 
I felt so proud of our team and the motto to finish is to win never meant more to me than when we walked to the finish line at 3:30 with 45 minutes to spare on a hard ride that I believed we may not complete. 

For an LD you don’t officially finish until pulse to 60. We pulled saddles and walked to the pulse box. We were not in any hurry and Khaleesi pulsed officially at 3:42. Faygo just a few minutes later. 

I think our official time might be about 5:51. ** for curiosity sake I looked up last years’ ride time and it was exactly 5:51… How funny is that?!

Khaleesi passed the vet check as if asleep again. She had a pulse in the low 50s to start and after trot out her CRI test went down to 40. (That is phenomenal). I worked on my bum trot out and she had great impulsion and attitude. All As for both horses. 

We did it together!

  
I heard from a drag rider who rode both days that the trails on Saturday were in worse condition than Friday and it made for a harder ride. From the rides I’ve done in the last year I can say the No Frills has to be one of the most challenging I’ve seen- of course I love it. 

I really like being in Old Dominion territory. I think that organization does the best at putting on great rides with great volunteer structure and for a No Frills ride they provide a lot to help each rider. The rides are challenging and you really feel good about finishing healthy!

  
After returning to camp and feeding them a mess of wet beet pulp, grain, apples and carrots, I did a back check. I was sure I would find some soreness from my bum riding all day- we also did a fair amount more cantering that I had planned. She had tiny ticklish reactions in a spot but no dipping or soreness. No dry spots. Her lower back was also not tight. 

  
  
  

 
I had been unsure of what to do about Biltmore if we didn’t push this ride harder, but the things I’d worried about were all in good shape. After talking to my mentor we are moving ahead with our plan to ride our first 50 in two weeks. It’s time. 

We have learned a lot in the LD (learning distance) and we may do more LDs in the future depending on the circumstances, but for now it’s time to take the step and try. 

This ride may not have been the one I planned, but I am grateful now that I was forced into the one we had. We helped each other through a hard ride and Susan got a strong completion under her belt with a horse who really needs to be managed well. Kudos to her for completing this ride! 

Speaking of that horse, Faygo is all heart. She may be held back by physical limitations but take that away and she would make a monster of an endurance horse. She is fast, agile and willing and would die before she quit. In some ways it breaks my heart that she is limited physically because she (even weeks away from turning 18) is not ready to retire to occasional trail use. Her story is far from over but it’s a little unclear what exactly to do with her from here. That doesn’t bother me- things become clear as they need to. 

  
As for Khaleesi, she has a career ahead of her and shows a lot of promise. She has a great mind and good physical traits to build on. I am working on staying the course to build her gradually for a decade team horse who loves her job and stays sound and healthy. 

  
We stayed overnight on Saturday and as my leg was lame I appreciated the slower pack up and some down time. Most retired early and as I was walked to the bathroom at main camp before bed I ran into Sherry who suggested I come out to the bonfire – I didn’t know there was one and though tired and considering bed, I accepted and brought a beer down to relax. 

  
It was nice to have some time without the blur of activity with some of the new friends I’ve made. We shared bourbon and moonshine. 

It’s also nice to know I’m not the only one who can’t stop mulling over the details – what went right and what can be improved. Everyone else is also talking about their pull and what they learned- asking each other for thoughts on better management… Laughing about some things, groaning over the rocks… the rain… the sloppy mud at the vet check…

We crept off to bed one at a time and I slept well again though it was colder under a clear sky. 

I thanked the stars that I didn’t get what I wanted…

But if you try sometimes… You might find… You get what you need. 

  

3 thoughts on “Plan B

  1. Jaime,
    That was a wonderful blog! Well done you! I’m sorry you hurt yourself. See if you can find some Tiger Balm. Its wonderful! CVS has it. It sounds as if both horses did wonderfully well and yes,I’ve finally signed up to “follow” you again. I hope that this time it works! Maybe I should come with you sometime?? Good luck on the 50! See you soon at the gym.

    Annette

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ron! I sometimes think back to the conversation at your house that was at the start of my entire journey! Glad you check in once in a while to see how we’re doing!

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