Thursday, October 12, 2017

home fires

I anticipate fire. I live on the edge of the canyon, in a high fire zone, and am fairly prepared. I've got extra fire insurance, a fire safe, important documents ready to go, large water containers and a fully gassed truck. I evacuated before. I anticipate fire. 

But my family does not. They live in a city: Santa Rosa. And Sonoma. Immediate and extended family, everywhere in the region. And many are evacuated, just awaiting news. Physically safe for now. 

I read the tweets, check Facebook, watch the news, listen to the radio. All the places I've known and loved, where I grew up swimming, going to school, hanging out with friends, visiting the store, hiking, all burned, gone. 

The fire crews are doing their utmost best, but it's a firestorm, uncontrolled, just waiting mother nature to them a hand in stopping it. But the winds pick back up, from yet another direction, and push flames into neighborhoods, embers into trees. I get the evacuation orders for cities and places my family and I have known, lived in, loved: Santa Rosa, Sonoma, Boyes Hot Springs, Bennett Valley, Calistoga. And see the fire maps glowing red for Fountaingrove Parkway, north Santa Rosa, Kenwood, Glen Ellen, Shiloh and Annadel parks, the list just keeps growing. 

It's just too much. And a feeling of helplessness. You just want it to stop, but it doesn't go away. More news reports, and the sun rises on new destruction. 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

retreat: summer 17

Summer is already in full retreat, slipping beneath the horizon. Now it is just a slow slide into darkness and winter. Can you tell I hate this time of year? Sure it's cooler, and the fall leaves are pretty, but it just reminds me of all those dark days to come.

But in the comics (never in school, I never did this in real life,) you write "what I did on my summer vacation." It's way more fun to look back on my adventures then to contemplate shorter, darker, wetter, colder days ahead with less opportunities to ride.

So, "What I Did on my Summer Vacation": My 1700 mile road trip (and only 2 states!). And I'm such a bad student this year, I'm doing most of it in pictures! 

start the trip skipping across bridges

Still in California, we hit the road early. But might as well stop along the way, as it's not the destination, it's the journey. And to journey across the river you use a very cool bridge, with a horticulture garden on the other side (the bridge was full of tourists, the garden was empty.) (This whole trip proved the point that if you just take a few steps beyond the crowds, you can find something special.)
Sundial bridge

froggy friend

We found an amazing columnar basalt waterfall just steps off the highway, where you could walk behind and peer through the mist. This trip sure had a lot of water, and our next stop was as crystal blue as you could get: Crater Lake. It was as blue as I could imagine, and we walked away from the overlooks to small trails with better views and the serene lake spread before us. 

columnar basalt waterfall

behind the waterfall!

Crater Lake pano

a Crater lake little friend

a side trail, a different view

I met up with my family for our next adventure: watching the eclipse. We didn't have to deal with all the expected crowds, and the whole family watched from the backyard of our rented house. The skies slowly darkened, the birds came back to trees to roost and it got much colder. It was awesome. We are already planning our trip for 2024!
sunset on the Deschutes

solar eclipse  party!

postcard waterfall, a great family hike

There was rafting on the Deschutes river, breweries, and a family hike to another awesome waterfall. The whole family didn't want to explore a mile-long lava tube, but I did! So I dragged my Dad and SO through the darkness. We walked through a mile long lava tube in the complete darkness, shining our flashlights at interesting features, (and making scary faces and noises to of course). Turning off the flashlights and standing in the darkness was my favorite part. And then into the light, to explore the area around the lava tube: all this lava is still sharp and pokey, and 8000 years old. Not much erosion in that time!
looking back at the last light (the tube was impossibly dark for photos!)

mountains of lava and cinder

a lone tree among the volcanic rubble

Then onto a much larger volcano: Mount Hood. Trails, wildflowers and green, oh my! Hiking to waterfalls was an easy task as they were everywhere, and most trails we had completely to ourselves.

Mount Hood, mid summer

Big rocks and small, hidden treasures

the road less traveled still has some bridges
flowers, snow-capped volcanos, epic views

waterfall 4, or 5? (I've lost track at this point!)

sunset Mount Hood

We managed to drive through and explore the Columbia River Gorge before the devastating fires. Everywhere was busy there, trails and rest stops. I prefer to travel in Fall, and this would be a destination for sure. I feel lucky to of seen such a lovely region, and I know the forest will recover, but I'm sad for such devastation.
gratuitous photo of Multnomah Falls, the smoke was getting pretty bad

the rest of Oregon is a smoky blur

Coming home I was looking forward to some more views, but everything in Oregon was blanketed in smoke. Entering California, there was no view of the looming Mount Shasta.

Luckily, here in the Sierras, it was still clear, and I explored some parts of the Pacific crest Trail. I hope to go riding here, tough and technical, it'll be on my schedule for next year.

epic rocks and clouds, I did miss these mountains

ominous sign: first rain

On the way home we got a taste of what's to come. The rain smelled lovely and fresh, but now we've even gotten our first snow. What I did on my summer vacation seems like a long time ago already.

Friday, September 22, 2017


a little lakeshore showing
The lake is shrinking (sorry, I couldn't help myself with the title. Anyone else thinking that I'm thinking? If someone doesn't know what I'm referencing, you must watch this clip from Seinfeld).

Ok, back to the shrinking… lake. On a recent evening ride I decided to explore down by the lakeshore. You have to be very careful down in these areas due to the hidden, sucking mud. But we explored, safely, and found a tiny bit of the lake trail open!

Major contemplating reflections

Just enough to give us a little hope. Major was so excited to be back on his favorite trails, and we even found a safe spot to go in the water. But he was more interested in taking in the view than drinking (and there were no frightened turtles), and then we had our hopes dashed as we turned the corner: logs and sticks and debris as far as we could see. How this will ever get cleared, and the trails accessible, I have no idea. The parks don't maintain these trails and there are so many miles of debris. It is more than a work crew could handle, large equipment would be needed!

our trail is under there somewhere

more debris in a different section

Major thought we could still race home. Over the logs. Sigh. We did not. We picked our way carefully over a short section, back onto the main trail, and headed home.

best way to watch a sunset

I let Major choose one of two trails home, and he picked the stabby starthistle one (not a particularly good choice. Yes, I could overrule him, but he really does learn and did not choose that trail the next time we went out).

We walked slowly along (The starthistle providing a little acupuncture to Major's legs), and movement out of the corner my eye caught my attention. Two bobcats were hunting in the field. They walked slowly away, but not too far, as we were not threatening. Bobcats are such secretive creatures, I rarely get a glimpse. But they just stood in the high grass, almost invisible, watching us pass. We walked on in silence. Moments later a tiny vole ran across the path in front of us, good hunting for bobcats!

golden fields
I started off with something silly, and ended up with something sublime. This is why I love trail riding: I never know what experiences I'll have. But if I'm quiet and paying attention, it might be something special.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

september night

The moon was too beautiful to ignore. Orange and yellow (from nearby fires) it sat like a beacon. And I promised to be out the next night.

7am: 82 degrees

The unrelenting heat has broken, for awhile at least. Last week there were 7:00am rides to escape the heat, now a 7:00pm ride to watch the moon rise.

8am: 90 degrees

cool lake view on a hot day

Heading out in the twilight is easiest, once on the trails it got darker and darker. The trail is cool and empty, the horses enjoying doing something different. By full dark we were at the lake, waiting for the moon to rise and reflect off the water.

We're doing what?

And we waited. And waited a bit more, while riding around, scaring wildlife. Note to self: if moonrise is at 8pm, and you are in any sort of mountainous region, wait a bit longer, we were in complete darkness until 8:30pm.

not the scary bridge.

almost the same place as the lake view on our hot ride!
But when the moon came up, it was awesome. I don't know what is better: the moon peaking over the hills, or through the trees, or reflecting off the lake or the clouds. With the moon out, it is possible to see a bit on open trail, but under tree cover, it is still shadowy darkness.

crummy photos better than none at all: moon reflecting
I saw plenty of dark trail, luckily Major could see all the trail ruts and we had a very surefooted ride. Major also saw monsters under the bridge! (Our only issue of the night, him balking at a bridge we've crossed hundreds of times, but this time there were the monsters of darkness waiting underneath. Good thing I got off to walk him across, they didn't eat me so he was safe).

moon, cloud and shadow
I love our trails in light. But in the cool darkness, with just that silver moonlight, it is like another place, some secret trails that only can be found by the lucky and bold. Go out and find them.

Friday, September 1, 2017

horse torment

There are always two perspectives to every ride, mine and Major's (and maybe if you have a friend along, even more!). I think a recent ride was pretty representative of our relationship:

I hooked up the trailer, as Major stands at the gate in anticipation.
Standing here, standing here, where are you!?

A friend is joining us, but her horse Beau has pulled off his shoe overnight. Luckily our barn staff is also a farrier, and is able to put it back on!
Still waiting, waiting…Beau you're so dumb, don't play in the fence I told you last night!

Love how Major just jumps into the open trailer!
Jump into the trailer, weee! 

Beau has never been in a straightload trailer, so it takes a bit of time for him to feel confident enough to stand inside. Major is standing nicely, so I open his back door so Beau can see it is safe, and Major stands with just the butt bar, waiting to go.
Why am I just waiting for this dumb new guy to load? Fine, I'm a good boy and will stand with my door open so dumb Beau can see it's not scary.

The drive up the mountain is easy, and it is much cooler and nicer up here.
Drive in the trailer box, boring.

I always love riding here!
Ooo, I remember, I love this place!

anticipation/let's go!

Beau is a bit anxious and ridiculous, so we just walk for awhile. Beau may have left his brain at home, so we'll be patient, I've been there!
Arggh more waiting. Why do I have to be the good boy? Can't we just go? Let's go!

twisty trails, watch out/go faster Beau!
the only sunny, hot place/He's not in front, let's go!

 Beau has settled in a bit, so we can trot out a bit. But we'll let him be in front, so he's not trying to race us and be silly on these twisty trails. Major can have crabby ears all he wants, as long as he behaves.
Wheee, trotting! Arghh, now following again, go faster Beau!

I love these shady trails/Now is our chance, go!

A nice, mostly uneventful ride, the best kind. I remember when Major was as bad as Beau, and we all have to start somewhere. At least Major has never had a problem settling in and eating!
Back at the trailer. Beau, stand still and don't forget eat, that's what you're supposed to do. There's alfalfa!

good boys/don't eat all my alfalfa Beau!

Beau has a lot to learn, but he'll get there. And they can learn to be friends.
Don't touch me Beau.

Be nice Major/Don't touch me!

We'll all go out again soon, it's nice to have company and help someone out!
Next time: leave Beau at home.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

hawk eye

A flash of a dark shape caught the corner of my eye. A bird was battering himself against the glass, trapped in an atrium stairwell. And not just any bird, but a red-shouldered hawk. He fell to the ground exhausted, and I covered him and wrapped him with my overshirt. There was no one around so late in the evening.

I’ve heard a screeching hawk hunting the forest near my office. I love the call of these small but fierce birds. Was this the one I’ve been hearing?

I took him to the edge of the woodland area behind my office. His beak was gaping open, eyes wide. I softly set him down. I did gently stretch his wings which appeared unhurt. I quietly left him there in the golden weeds. Then I tried to call wildlife rescue.

Who were closed for the day. Decisions. I could put him in a dark box all night, and hope he survived until 8am when they reopened. Or let nature take its course.

I got a box and towel from the office. But just waited. About 10 minutes later I walked down to the edge of the parking lot and woodland, he was still there. His wings a bit akimbo, laying strangely in the weeds. I thought the worst.

But on hearing my hesitant steps, he launched himself into the air and took flight. Was it just fear, and did he later fall from the sky to crash into the forest below? I don’t know. But I watched him fly across the pond reeds and into the forest. I think part of my heart took flight with him.

I hope to hear his screeching cry another morning, disturbing the silence, reminding us of his small strength.

hawk hunting ground: overgrown pond and oaks

today, there were only turkeys

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Hat Creek Hustle 2017

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, OK, maybe that's being a little dramatic. Plus, I think I've heard it somewhere before…

the ride was incredible well managed and marked, but some tough, rocky trails

So Hat Creek Hustle went very well and as planned for 32 miles. But I wasn't doing a long LD, I was doing the 50. Damn.

are we there yet?
It was a long trailer trip (we stopped for some breaks) but the ride camp was lovely and shaded. And it was cooler than the valley! Major got right down to business: eating. We explored camp, did a quick tack check/reconnaissance ride, and settled in to wait. I was a bit concerned about his weight, I think he is a little fat, but the vet was very nice, and thought that since he's just such a big, tall horse that his weight was appropriate, 5 BCS. (Though I saw plenty of much thinner big, tall horses!)

first thought at ride camp: what's there to eat?!

sunrise anticipation
Ride morning came at 5:00am after a fitful night's sleep, with a ride start at 6:00am. Major ate yet another beet pulp mash (he ate so much mash I almost ran out of feed!). I was really anxious, and trying to be calm, because Major has always fed on that energy. I guess it worked, because while he wanted to move, we were able to walk for the first 1/2 mile or so, and after that it was a much more controllable trot! I did keep him reined in, if I let him that trot will go from 7-8 miles an hour to 10 or 14 in a couple strides!

The first 15-mile loop went slower than usual for us, but that was fine, I was keeping him in check. The trails were mostly roads, but dusty dirt, not much gravel, which was great. Everything was so well marked, pie plates and ribbons and markings everywhere! We came in and vetted all As for a 30-minute hold.

View of Mount Lassen (I think!)

Out again the first part of the second Orange loop followed the Pacific Crest Trail. It was sandy single track, my favorite! But sadly that didn't last long. And I should have known it: we were at the base of a volcano (that last erupted in 1915). We came upon a red-dirt graveled road. That went on and on. And on. A gradual uphill that would never end. It was the longest 7.5 miles of my life.

red dirt road

continuing forever

rocky view from the rest stop

At the top there was a small rest stop and a turn around point. There was water and hay, so we rested a bit. Then the long trip back down the hill. I didn't want to trot down it, so I walked Major down on foot about 2 miles, then remounted where the trail turned off. Onto a dusty road/trail littered with rocks. Oh boy.

shadows and hoof prints

distant snow-capped Mount Shasta

and more rocks!
I think that is where I felt the first off step. Really intermittent. Almost like "Did he just step on a rock?" After a few more intermittent lame steps I knew I was done. But there were 8 more miles back to camp. I was totally despondent. Dusty, crying, sniffling, it was not pretty. So sad and beyond disappointed that I broke my pony. Again. And I'd been so proud of him doing so well! I passed some spotters and let them know I was taking the flatter road back (it mostly paralleled the trail, and I would not block any riders that way).

It was a long hike. About 1/2 way I got back on and trotted a bit up a hill, yep, I could still feel it. Back to hiking. Major was dragging me back to camp, but it felt like it took forever to get there. I stripped tack, my SO who was nicely waiting at the loop end point hadn't seen me come in, so I surprised him when he saw me walking Major back down to the vet, "We're done."

The vet didn't agree. We pulsed down, and the vet didn't think he could see much of anything. Maybe something? Or maybe not? But there were 10 more miles of rocky trail, I'd already gone off course, I was done. I rider optioned. So I got to do two new things that weekend: a new-to-me ride, and rider optioning, woo hoo (not).

Major didn't care. He was back at the trailer, there was food, there were fun things to watch as the horses came into the camp. He was awesome. If one good thing did come of this all weekend I was really proud of him: no issues with camping, little concern about other horses, listening better while on the ride, eating like a champ.

evening contemplation (a break from eating)

We stayed that night, I thought Major should rest after 40 miles plus a long expected trailer ride in the heat, morning sounded like a better option. An uneventful drive home, he was happy to roll, drink home water, and ask for another mash.

a good home roll

So what to do? Way back in March we had a ride where he felt not quite right. However, I've done more than 200+ training miles since then, with literally no issues. Since we came back I've trotted him in hand multiple times, and did one easy ride, and felt nothing. So how to diagnose? If there is even an issue? Did not letting him do his preferred pace have anything to do with it?

Baylor-Gore photography, purchased

Baylor-Gore photography, purchased

My favorite vet has mentioned before wanting to see the issue (lameness) and then diagnose, instead of just throwing tests at what-may-be. Right now I truly feel he'd see nothing, not on hard ground or soft, I've trotted on pavement and sand. So I may take Major out on a longer ride and not hope/hope to see something. Until then, I'll watch the sunrise over one of the Tevis canyons behind my house, be proud of my horse, and take it day by day. And there's no getting around it: still be highly disappointed.

glowing sunrise