On Sunday afternoon, hours after the Big South Fork event was wrapped up I found myself (along with Khaleesi and Samwise) completely alone in the big field that had been pretty packed with people and horses for the past couple days. As I pondered feeling quite alone at the moment the thought came to me that seemed to sum up the experience: And then there was one…
Saturday morning at 6:30am there were eight competitors that rode out of camp in the dark to begin the 100 mile course that had to be completed in 24 hours or less ending with a healthy, sound horse in order to be a finisher. A pretty average 100 mile rides completion rate is somewhere in the 50-70% give or take. Some rides are not average at all. This was one of them. As the day wore on people were pulled from the race one by one until there were only three of us… and then (I don’t know the exact order in time) Holly & Poete finished the ride healthy and sound, and the other team was pulled. And then there was only us. Me and K still out there riding around the trails alone in the dark hoping maybe we might beat the odds.
…. And then there was one.
We did not beat the odds, and only one out of eight finished the 100 miles of Big South Fork (BSF) 2022 (Holly & Poete). Those are unusually bad statistics for a 100 mile endurance ride. We ended up riding (because of the added mileage of going off course) about 88 miles and she was vetted fit to continue with one loop to go. The ride manager and vet told us that officially we were cleared to go back out there, however it was clear the 2 hours remaining was not enough time for us to do the last 17 miles so we chose to pull out instead. Some quick details and a compilation video are in the last blog here: The Journey of Big South Fork.
So Sunday there we were, having ridden about 22 hours and with me on 3 hours sleep it was unwise to attempt the 9 hour drive home no matter how good Khaleesi looked it was unwise to load her up and go that far as well. And since no one else needed to lay over an extra day for recovery, there was only us.
I found it oddly more unnerving to be alone in ride camp than to be riding at 3am alone (and off trail) in the woods and that was surprising to me. The unease never left and the incoming storms forecasted didn’t help at all. In mid-afternoon Khaleesi got a foot in the fence, pulled it all out of joint, then in the pouring rain of a passing shower looked around at the open space and wandered off to find better grass. It was at that point I began to take stock of my concerns of being alone there with my horse through the night of potential storms and rain and I decided to find new options.
Turns out that Brandea and Molly (and family) were only 3 1/2 hours drive away and they could house both human and horse (and dog!) so I made the phone call, packed up as fast as I could and we got on the road. I am so glad I did because K had shelter and some buddies though we kept them in separate areas, and I had a bed and peace of mind. Also we got to catch up — best friends who have been separated by geography are always grateful for that.
As for the ride, I am still astounded at the strange mixture of failure and victory, with the sense of victory heavily outweighing the obvious failure.
The fact is that K and I did not see the finish line and without question that is a fail to complete. Ironically this turbulent ride season of 2022 began with another fail to complete. However, at the Biltmore even though we rode every mile to the finish line, K had enough distress (that I had caused unintentionally) her heart rate would not stay in the parameters and instead of a completion we got a walk to the treatment vet. I was deeply aware of how strong and willing my horse was, I learned important lessons and found some bonus humility, but I didn’t consider it a victory.
In the BSF ride we did not ride the entire 100 miles, but there were many valuable jewels for us in the process that I can’t help but feel it deeply as a personal win even if it isn’t a public one.
Here are my personal ‘wins’
First: it was the most miles we have ever ridden, paired with the longest amount of hours in the saddle. We took on beyond the 50 and in way more strength than I anticipated. We both were uncomfortable (to put it mildly) and yet we both kept going without complaint. Considering this was really MY goal as the human I was surprised at how willing Khaleesi was to continue going away from camp, mostly alone, to keep riding in circles eventually even into the dark. Looking back I’m also a little surprised at the positive attitude I had through six hours of rain, pain in various parts of my body, exhaustion, and getting lost- alone in the woods on the wrong trail at 3am.
Second: The surprisingly low completion rate for this ride. All day long one rider after another were pulled out of the ride for various reasons and yet we hung in there the longest of the non-completers. Ironically, getting lost earned us a handful of extra miles so though we didn’t get to 100 we got closer than we would have had we not stayed on trail! Somehow that little bonus makes me smile. It might be the only time going off trail feels like a personal win!
Third: through all the mileage and terrain, Khaleesi kept pounding through the vet checks like a pro. At first I delayed bringing her to pulse because I could not find a pulse, and considering we generally trotted into camp I assumed she COULD NOT be down to 60 (required) with just pulling tack. Apparently, the pulse takers said she can be hard to pick up, but every time she was down faster than I expected. Her CRI all day stayed the same: 56/60 pretty much right off trail. Though she never ate on trail until it got dark, somehow her gut sounds were always solid and she had good hydration. Her trot outs practically drug me down and back and I never had to “encourage” her to move. She ate like a monster in every hold. Healthy horse is a victory to me even if we went overtime.
Fourth: The holds went really smoothly. My crew- Iva and Mike – were fantastic. Between the two of them they did the divide and conquer like they’d been doing this for years. I really appreciated the sense of calm that rested over our camp/crew set up. Nothing felt particularly hurried or slow. We always left at our out time, and everything got done including time for me to sit and rest while they took care of K’s needs and mine too. I am so grateful for them.
Fifth: Overall strength paired (physical) with “buy-in” on trail (mental). In reflection, I don’t think there were even three times in the entire 22 hours when I had to more than suggest for her to pick up speed. She and I seemed in agreement over almost all the terrain and speed in which to cover it. The only exception to this is the first loop when as usual she wanted to go even faster than I thought was prudent. I don’t fight with her, but I negotiated a fair amount. Because the start was in the dark I hadn’t realized that we were by riding along with Holly & Poete we were the leaders for about 2/3 of the first loop (a rider number checkpoint). I took an extra minute to electrolyte after the river crossing and encourage a drink and a few carrots as I intentionally waited for the pair move on. I did not want K to feel obligated to stay with that pair today. Not on a first 100.
It was going to be a long day and I needed money in the bank for the checks I was hoping to cash in much later in the day (night). It isn’t wrong to encourage a horse to pick up the pace. This is the first ride I really never had to ask, only to think it. She caught me before an aid or suggested it herself all those miles.
I do believe this willingness to offer and be so in harmony with me is in large part due to the increase of freedom work and the concepts of sharing the leadership from Andrea Wady’s resources and making sure there’s always an answer of some sort to what’s in it for her?
Still, no amount of willingness or friendship can overcome a fitness deficit. The longest ride we had done outside of the events this year (Biltmore 50 in May and OD 55 in June) was 16-17 miles. Most of our time was spent slowly climbing mountains sometimes on foot sometimes in the saddle with an occasional high intensity workout on the scenic trail often 8-12 miles of cantering and trotting intervals I had a theory that slower miles building her engine (zone 2) and some high intensity (zone 5-6) to push limits—avoiding training like I’d be riding at the event (zone 3-4 workouts in no mans land). I was willing to invest my time into it, but not certain how powerful I was until it was tested. You can read more about how we are training now in this blog link: No man’s land.
I wouldn’t want to skim over the impact working with Emily Kemp over the years to get both me and K moving more correctly in balance. That has been a huge factor.
The strength she moved through the ride told me what I needed to know. Much of her trotting over miles was balanced and efficient, even easy to sit which helped me not exhaust one diagonal over another. And contrary to my expectations, she never hit a wall
Probably the icing on top that put us over the top I owe to Stephanie Carter and Dr. Ann Marie Hancock at True North Veterinary Services. Working together in whole horse functional medicine, a hair mineral analysis test and consult took my pretty good diet and supplementing plan and tweaked it to ensure she was going into this ride with nutritional support to spare. Though she appeared healthy on the outside, the hair analysis suggested she could be on the verge of adrenal fatigue. This would not have been obvious until it became a problem, and at that point it would be a bigger problem that would take time and support.
Besides ensuring her nutritional support was more than adequate I looked to stress factors in her everyday life and the biggest one is the emotional weight she carries of the herd. I know she is a high level herd leader and in years past have been told by other professionals that her rest-digest system is maxed out most of the time. She is always “on” and doesn’t share the leadership with the rest of the herd.
This summer I began to solve two problems at once: too much high nutrition pasture is available and she isn’t finding enough rest in her life. I began to bring the herd into their barn stalls at night forcing everyone to rest and giving K some downtime, also bonus diet plan where they are not eating grass all night. If everyone is locked in their stalls in the barn K doesn’t have to work as hard to stay on alert keeping the herd safe. I thought she would hate being confined, but after a few weeks she began bringing everyone in at night and she is the first one to voluntarily come in with the others not far behind. Getting some extra rest I find she is even a little less grumpy!
So the victory I found at BSF was confirmation that the things I’m doing are going in the right direction. I’ve also considered the question: what if I had signed up for the 75? We might have finished that distance and been more successful even earning a finish. I believe if we would have been successful at the 75 I would have been disappointed. I think it would have plagued me to know if we could have gone “all the way” especially if she ran strong through the 75. I am less concerned about a ride record and points than the process and the journey.
We are close. Man makes plans, but God establishes our steps. It’s a little soon to be certain, but tentatively I intend to head to JD’s ride in November and am likely to go ahead and enter the 75 so we have another ride over 50. We will continue to train with a lot of hiking through winter, climbing the mountains slowly and getting some high intensity workouts as the conditions allow. Schedule depending we will do some spring events hopefully including Biltmore which is a favorite and it seems that the bulk of the advice I keep hearing is that the OD100 is a good bet for us so if things continue as expected that seems the most likely path for us to get it done.
In truth I kind of like being able to say still… to be continued…
It’s always dangerous to try to do a thank you because there are so many people who were part of us getting to the ride, equipped and ready to ride over the years… But I want to try because I’ve been very grateful for each one:
Mike Scales & Iva Jamison foremost because I cannot imagine doing that without you there as my hands and feet… crew is so key; but beyond crew you both have really been on this journey in the trenches. You guys are amazing.
Molly, Brandea & the Reeds, Marcus Wise, Emily Kemp, Amy Stone, Linda & Randy Webb, Kate Lawrence, Lynne Gilbert, Kelly Stoneburner, Stephanie Carter & Dr. Ann Marie, Karin Banks, Becky Pearman, Danny & Kim Rexrode, Caroline McClung, the Alleghany Highlands Trail Club, Shelley Polly, Amanda Ferguson, Carrington Brown & Dabney Pasco, Laurie Tillet & Tim Bowler, and then there’s the people who have showed up to crew for us in years past, who have encouraged us, who have shared trails with us, who have prayed for us, who have read this blog and quietly rooted for us that I’ve never met…
I want to say thank you because all of these pieces of support make a difference and we ride with a beautiful multi dimensional foundation! It is a beautiful community over years and we are the better for it!