Thursday, August 9, 2018

wild life

Black wings beating, 15 or more turkey vultures flew into the air as we came around the corner. They circled low, and some just watched warily from nearby, perched on downed logs, even the ground. They were feeding.

What do they have Major? He was unconcerned about their flapping wings and presence, we see them often enough. A closer look revealed a very dead deer, looked to have been killed the night before by a cougar, blood still red. The cougar had eaten the good parts, the vultures were starting the cleanup.

We rode on. A few hundred yards further, we found her fawn, dead on the trail. The tiny thing wasn't much bigger than a large housecat. Perfect spots on its soft-looking fur, no sign of damage, big brown eyes glazing over. Did the fawn run off, then die from exposure in the night? The fawn was harder to deal with. We left it there, more vultures would come along to do their job...

Sad, but that is wild life. It is not a circle of life, but a line for each creature. How long is that line? No one knows. The trails can be harsh, but usually it is just tree branches attacking me, rocks underfoot and steep terrain. I'd already stopped Major once this ride when a California Mountain King snake, beautiful red and black, was right alongside the trail! We didn't want to step on that beneficial creature. Now I was just a little sad.

Major couldn't care less. He didn't seem to notice either dead deer, just wondered why we were stopping when we could be trotting the sandy lower trail! We walked awhile while I thought about how pretty that little fawn was. These are the second babies of the year for our local deer population. They are already dealing with lack of water and food this time of year, so these babies have a high mortality rate.

Around another corner, we walked into a gully, briefly hidden from the lake view. It was still a bit muddy from months underwater, and we continued on. Up ahead, two fawns and their mother raised their heads and warily watched us. These fawns looked stronger, and were eating the green grass sprouting up along the lakeshore. I stopped just to admire them, then we took a few more steps and they bounded into the shrubbery.

I wished them well.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Tevis sweep 2018

It was cave-dark. A few glow sticks showed the way, but didn’t provide any light. That famous Tevis full moon didn’t penetrate through the trees. I couldn’t see my hand in front of me, so I just gave Major his head, and said get us through this. Water splashed, rocks tumbled underfoot, and he crossed the creek and up the opposite bank. 

Later, on a more exposed hillside, the moonlight glowed, showing pine tree silhouettes and reflecting off the smoke in the canyon, the trail showed up clearly ahead. But only a bit of this and the trail was swallowed by trees again, Major never questioning why it was 1:00am, why we were following those people but staying back, walking over rocks, slick granite and along drop-offs, never hesitating. Trust.

trailer snack is serious stuff

7:30 pm temperature, yuck!

My sweep section started at Foresthill, which is the one-hour vet hold 68 miles into the ride. The competitors have done the hardest canyons, but there is still plenty of climbing and descending to do to get to Auburn. Many people leave in daylight, and the front-runners left Foresthill at 5:10pm, but the last of the 87 people left at 9:50pm, with my sweep team behind them.

getting ready, alfalfa is awesome.

My sweep team was just two people, me on Major and C on Racer. C had the radio, as cell phones sure don't work in the canyons! Our job is just to follow behind the last rider, making sure the trail is clear, and we don't leave anyone out there. We will help if necessary or asked for, but otherwise let everyone ride their own ride.

We had pre-ridden this section (Foresthill to Cal 2, 10 miles, 1500 feet elevation gain) the week before in daylight, making sure the horses (and we) knew the trail. I'd also ridden it in May at the Tevis Fun ride. (For trail pictures, look at that post, as it was way too dark to take any new and/or good photos!)

orange moonrise over Foresthill vet check

Major finding alfalfa scraps under bright Foresthill lights

They had extended the cut-off time at Foresthill due to the heat and smoke from distant fires, but we only left about 10 minutes after our originally scheduled time of 9:45. Riding through Foresthill on the concrete is always a bit nerve-racking (and many riders trot it!), but down California Street, then the trail starts. Almost immediately the riders we were following had lost the trail, it makes a tight switchback in open terrain that is completely noticeable by daylight and dusk, but at night was not marked well enough. They were backtracking when I pointed them down the correct trail, then hung back and let them move along.

The first part of this trail descends into the Dardenelles creek area. You cross a few creeks and go down multiple switchbacks. And it was pitch black. I had a headlamp that could be turned to red or white (only in emergency), flashlights (again, only for emergency) and some battery glowsticks, which are the best invention ever. I had the orange glowsticks on my front saddlebags, but even that was interfering with my night vision and not helping me see the trail (which I'd rather trust Major to know). So no lights was actually better.

The trail is marked with green glowsticks, mainly at turns, changes of elevation, etc. Most were horse high, some lower, and some had fallen on the ground (those were suspicious to Major!) And also disorienting to me, as you'd look ahead and assume a glowstick was horse height, but it was on the ground and the trail wasn't as steep as your mind believed. Very trippy.

The riders we were following had evidently never ridden the trail (which is understandable as many riders come from far away to compete) and were traveling really slowly. That is where more local riders, with experience over the trail, have such a great confidence advantage! But with the competitors out time of 9:45, and a suggested cutoff at Cal 2 of 11:45, they needed to travel 10 miles at 5mph JUST to make cutoff. That is quick on this type of trail, especially in darkness!

awful moon photo, but believe me, it was spectacular!

As the night moved closer to midnight, the moon rose higher and the the views were spectacular. We were still moving slowly, now past the suggested cutoff, and radio control asked us to move forward and contact the riders about their options. That was pretty fun, urging Major into a fast trot on dark trails to catch the other riders. Just what he loves, chase! C explained to them that they could technically continue on to Francisco's, but would be way overtime and definitely be pulled, or they could pull at Cal 2 and not put themselves and their horses through 7 more miles of technical, steep singletrack in the darkness. They chose to pull at Cal 2. Smart people. We dropped back again, as there were still 2 miles of trail ahead.

We enjoyed the night air, the moon, the darkness, and horses walking along in the warm night air. Major was just having fun, striding out, listening to me that today we are NOT catching up to those riders. He seemed to figure out the game, and would stand quietly if we happened to catch up to the competitors, while they went ahead. Good boy!

Finally at 1:00am we saw the lights of Cal 2. This is just a wide part on the trail with a steep road access. There is hay and water, a strand of holiday lights, and some dedicated volunteers. After letting their horses rest (they gone 78 miles, nothing to be ashamed of!) we had to follow the three pulled riders up the long, steep hill to the awaiting trailers. Our trailer was there too, and we were finished with our sweep for the night.

But as anyone with horses knows, it's not over yet. I cooled down Major, let him eat hay, put tack away, then started the drive home, my partner C driving. We weren't in my trailer, so we got to where my trailer was, I switched all the tack, unloaded and loaded Major in his own trailer, and drove back to the stable. The Auburn Courthouse stood on the corner, glowing at 3:30am.

stopped at a green light for this photo, 3:30 am, not much traffic!

Sweep riding Tevis is an exhausting, sometimes frustrating, always rewarding experience. Every time I'm reminded why I love to ride the individual sections but have no desire to do the whole 100 miles in one day. But I am super happy for the people who choose to compete, especially in this tough year, with only 42% completion rate. Four friends were pulled early in the day, and two made it to the finish, but I know the others will be back next year. It seems like Tevis fever grips many people in different ways. Major and I will be back to sweep again, hopefully in darkness, knowing the trail, trusting each other, finding the way.

Monday, July 30, 2018

monday moment: classy

A pre-ride snack proves that we're so classy…IKEA bag is the easiest feeder ever, and no lost alfalfa scraps!

Friday, July 27, 2018


Nine years ago today I brought Major home. Too tall, too young, not enough training,  what was I thinking? We’ve had lots of ups and downs: I’ve been scared and brave and everything in between. He’s been naughty and a saint, and everything in between!

Today we adventured out to our favorite local trail, (mostly) not under water anymore. We trotted along the sand, spooked roosting turkey vultures and careened around a few corners (and an obligatory one-rein-stop for silliness). A tree munched my knee, I brushed past innumerable poison oak branches, and came home dirty, sweaty, and smiling. 

Tomorrow we are sweep riding Tevis, following the last riders out of Foresthill to make sure everyone stays safe.

We’ve had a lot of fun adventures. He’s certainly turned out to be a great partner. Most days. I hope to be sharing the trail with my brave, alfalfa-crack loving, annoying, water-splashing silly boy for many more miles.

Monday, July 23, 2018

monday moment: dream

For all those who dream of Tevis and are riding this weekend: safe travels across this venerable bridge…

Thursday, July 19, 2018

detour: Preston Castle

Preston Castle

On a muggy, overcast day, we went to explore an intriguing-sounding new location: Preston Castle. Built in the 1890s, not as a castle (even with 77 rooms and 43 fireplaces), but as a reform school, it housed the boys and employees until 1960. When the state decided to close it they let anyone come strip the building, and there is almost nothing left of the amazing interiors.

The Foundation who owns the building take a tiny donation and docents will guide you or you can wander through the accessible areas. Much is so damaged, having no roof for more than 40 years will do that to a structure, but you can see the amazing bones of the place, and what is what have once been.

grand entrance

the Director on his horse
The wards were originally from San Quentin prison, though later, as the docents explained, it was also people who dropped off misbehaving kids, and Depression-era parents unable to care for their sons. There were even a few famous residents (Merle Haggard's story was told to us by a docent!). I'm sure some deserved to be there, though not all, and life could be harsh but also seemed to have some "school" aspects (orchards, farms, the library, etc).

Oh, I have a relative on the list! (same last name)

side entrance for wards

plunge pool for decontamination

dorm room

The front entrance was grand for visitors and politicians, though the wards entered in through the side, and had to go through a toxic bath to rid themselves of lice, etc. The dorm area with original beds is a huge, vaulted room, and the library would have once been filled with books and looked out on a lovely view.

sad remains

the only remaining pieces  of original tile

the library windows and view

still intact plaster ceiling medallion

one original library door remains, only saved because it was hidden behind a wall!

I was intrigued by empty firehose reels, a metal-enclosed slide fire escape (complete with an owl living in the top!), and glimpses of past beauty.

an employees room

fire hose reel

fire escape!

even wiring was ripped out

peeling paint above a door frame

The shell of what remain is impressive on the outside, and sad on the inside, both due to the state of disrepair and the subject matter.

can make it spooky too

architectural details

brick detailing

But what a fascinating piece of California history.

(There is so much history online, and please read about it for complete details: Preston Castle Foundation, Sac Bee Article)

Friday, July 13, 2018

conversations with major: melting

Hi carrot woman!
Hi Major, I only have one carrot here, the rest are down at the barn.
But I'm relaxing in my shade!
No you're not, you were just playing in the trough in the sun, your face is all wet and water has been splashed out.
But it's hot.
Yes, and we're riding anyway.

golden trails, hot in the sun

Can you walk any faster.
I can't, I'm melting.
I'm hot too Major, but it is really not that bad in the shade.
I can't possibly go any faster.
Maybe you actually are too hot? Let's take this trail right here that heads back in the home direction.
Weee, trotting!
OK, you are not too hot. You are a jerk. Let's go to the lake.
Nope, I'm too hot to walk away from home any faster.
What if I get this little stick?
Gee, I can walk faster! 

tiny coyote pup on the trail ahead!
Hold up Major.
Oh good, we're done.
No look, coyote pups!
Dogs, whatever.
Let's go the other way to not scare them.

what's that!
What was that?!
Just quail Major, they're in all the shrubs.
Quail? That sounds scary. With teeth.
No teeth Major, the little pups had bigger teeth.
Those were dogs. These are Quail. Way scarier.
Let's keep going then.

muddy, not safe access

debris and muddy not safe access

There is the lake!
Too squishy, I don't like it.
Damn, it is too squishy, not safe.
But I wanted to play.
I know buddy, maybe the other access.
Lots of sticks here, but I can get through!
Yeah, but it still looks squishy down there too. We'll have to wait a bit longer.
Yes, we can head home.

green, but not tasty, grass (all nutsedge and Johnson grass)

See, that wasn't so bad.
I almost melted.
No you didn't.
I need refreshment.
You didn't work very hard, but a salty mash never hurts.

Hey, stop that!
But I haven't had my mash!
It is right here, get in your pasture! You don't get to eat Justice's.
He gave it to me.
No, you shoved your head under the fence and grabbed it.
Go to your room young man.
Mmmm, my mash! 
Enjoy buddy, stay cool.
I'm cool.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018


It took me awhile to recover from the cold I had at the Wild West endurance ride. Major got to relax in his pasture, play in the trough, and do nothing.

About 10 days after the event I finally was up for a brief ride. That ended up being really brief! Tacking up Major all was fine, walking him out the road, same. Out into the forest we walked, then picked up a tiny trot. COUGH! Oh no, what was that. Hmmm, he doesn't ever do that. He was not otherwise bothered, we walked along, I asked for a trot again...COUGH!

I am unimpressed by the size of your puff ball

OK, back to the barn. A couple more coughs, but he was otherwise perfectly happy to be heading back already, (maybe even a bit too enthusiastic). I took his temp (normal), no discharge, damn. I could wait it out, but I have riding plans and a sick horse would just not do!

nervous Major at the vet

Off to the vet we went (it was 102 degrees and smokey, what fun!). As a diagnostic I had trotted him in hand the day before (a couple coughs) and the day of (no coughing, of course). The vet poked and prodded. We got to do the very sophisticated test with a plastic bag loosely on his nose to make him breathe a little harder. No bad lung sounds.

I was worried about a lingering infection, as I'm due to sweep ride the Tevis in a few weeks, and no way am I taking a sick horse. So I sprung for the whole blood workup, pricey but it never hurts to have a baseline (I kept telling myself). I got the news the next day that all looked good, no elevated levels indicating infection.

Could it have been the smoke in the air? I don't think so, as that had only recently started. His pasture/feed area is not dusty. I think he may have caught a little something at the ride (there has been something going around the area) and recovered. I'm relieved, both for his health and my plans.

A few days later I took him for a hike in the forest, trotted in hand, no coughing. Decided on a better test: trotting up the hill. But it is a steep hill, and no way can I run up it at a speed where Major will trot! So I broke all the rules: no helmet, no saddle, no bridle…and no pants (ok, I had shorts on), and hopped on bareback. He trotted up the hill happily, no coughing, yeah!

Don't try this at home (unless you want to try out for the new Teen Wolf)

Stayed on the ride him back down the hill and most of the way home. I learned a new valuable lesson: sweaty not-very-clean horse and shorts on a bareback ride do not mix. I looked like the wolfman on my legs. Lovely.

only prancing horses on the trails here

But Major was cough free. We're off on the trails again.

summer sunsets

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Wild West 2018

I've been pretty leery about attending any endurance events, as Major finds ways to go lame for the day, then I get discouraged, and he gets better, but I'm still discouraged. But this ride was in my backyard, had a new manager (the old ones were great, just new trails and ideas are fun), and Major was in shape.

But I wasn't brave enough to do the 50. In hindsight: Major totally should have done the 50. But the 30 it is!

the tough life at ridecamp with never-ending mash

The first thing you should do before attending your first endurance event in awhile is get a nasty summer cold. And be so sick that you lay down in the back of the trailer just while waiting for the farrier the day before. Fun times. But with the help of awesome SO (who took a day off of work (because I probably should not be driving) we got to the ridecamp. It's always a tight fit, but all the more fun!

even you can make your shiny horse look awkward!

We vetted in no issues. I was a little disappointed to see the vet forgot to note Major's body condition scoring…but I put him at a 6. His intro pulse at 48 is way higher than at home, but he's just so excited! I did a very brief pre-ride, just to check and make sure I had all my tack, then took some cold medicine and a nap. Major just munched his way through the day.

Skillman trails are lovely, but this is the only evidence!

life is hard on a high-tie
The next morning came too early, even though our ride start at 7:30. I waited to start a little late, as I really thought we'd take it a bit easier. Major had other plans. Major did better than I did at being calm at the beginning, but once he saw a few horses ahead, it was game on.

a calm ride morning

on accident SO took a slow-mo video, I think it looks epic! (and needs Rocky music)
I took a total of zero photos during the ride, both hands on the reins at all times! We passed a few horses on the road, a reasonable trot. Then caught up to some groups after being alone a bit, and ended up passing them too. He wasn't actually going too fast, he was going Major speed. So I let him, as it wasn't too stupid, he was watching his footing, and the trails were great.

Trying to slow down for the photo! (used with purchase)

I was also exhausted, my cold was catching up with me. At one point I just let Major go, and he chose to trot at some god-awful speed, but I could almost just rest. I know, "great" horsemanship there, but luckily he was none the worse for it.

Coming into the first hold, still smiling/grimacing

We came back into camp after the first loop, and I got thoroughly annoyed at Major because he was pulling and being worse than when ridden! He trotted out great, and was a bit pushy for the vet, but stood still. Then I started to worry when she asked about cardiac arrhythmia! She called another vet over, but he did not hear it, and she didn't seem worried for this ride, just made a note. (Major did have this noted one other time, years ago, and my regular vet checked it out then and didn't find anything, but I'll follow up again).

first vetting, a little scare!
This hold was only a way-too-short half-hour hold, so a brief mash, snack, drink refill it was back on trail. We ended up in an awesome bubble by ourselves, for about 8 miles. It was great. There was some super twisty single track that was tricky, as Major is a big moving horse, a horse with smaller strides would have done better, but we careened though without bashing my knees on any trees, so I judged that a success.

We caught up to a rider, I did not even care to go ahead. We were in second and third places, which was far faster than I'd wanted, so slowing down, and having people pass, were fine options to me. Major would have preferred to pass, and was naturally faster than the horse ahead, but I was done. No need for speed.

The last few miles were very nice, actually slowing down and having a conversation with the other rider, M. Coming into the finish we dismounted and walked in, Major's pulse was down almost immediately, so he got second. Crazy.

2nd and 3rd place finishers!
still sassy (Major, not me!)

I just wanted to clean him up, vet and lay down. But I had to take off the tack, then weigh for Best Condition. I really did not care, but with helpful SO lugging my saddle, and my the dancing horse, I weighed in at 175 (my tack weighs 40 pounds! I know the saddle is about 25, so the rest is water bottles, bag, extra boot, etc). Cleaned Major up, and I was worrying about the final check. What lameness would they find (though I'd felt nothing all day)?

final vetting

Nothing, he was perfect! Great final CRI, we had a completion. And Major looked like he could go out again. I was wiped out. Helpful SO let Major roll in the dust, because good endurance horses can do what they want when the ride is over!

successful ride card

dusty horse is now filthy (luckily the dust comes off easy!)

I'm so happy that Major was so strong and vetted well, despite my sometimes less-than-optimum riding. I'm not sure I could have done a 50, but Major sure could have! The ride was really well managed, great trail marking and fun new single-track. I really wanted to ride the next day, and Major was game, but I did not have the strength, damn summer cold!

resting after, not so shabby!

Maybe next time, though I have no upcoming plans. Major wants to make plans, but I think it's just because he wants to keep eating all the mashes!

the end (used with purchase)