Sunday, December 31, 2006

Death Valley Day 4

Sunday December 31 2006


My water bucket had ice in it again this morning. The girls saddled us up again, Mer for me and Gretchen for Raffiq. We met Jazzbo (with Nancy) and his buddy Quinn (with Aly, the little girl that rode with us on her cool horse Gus two days ago), and we took off down the road from Indian Ranch. A lot of horses had already left, and there were still plenty behind us in camp. Nobody’s in such a big hurry to leave on time by the fourth day, and let me tell you, ride camp is a quiet place at night when everybody is so tired! We walked a long way down the road to warm up, then we started trotting. Boy I felt even better today, my third day in a row, even after doing 100 miles already. After a while, Raffiq stepped wrong behind and pulled something again, just like he did the second day. Only the second day he worked out of it, but today he didn’t, so he and Gretchen turned around and went back to camp before we’d gone 2 miles.

I didn’t miss him today, because I felt so good. When he turned around, I wanted to keep going with my other buddies. Besides, I had figured out what we were doing today. We were going back to that cool little ghost town of Ballarat 7 miles away, where we were going to get to eat lots and lots and then get a limo ride back to camp. Me and Jazzbo and Quinn were having fun pulling our girls along real hard and trying to go faster to see who could get to Ballarat first to start eating, when we were joined by this wacko horse Spitfire. He was a Spitfire alright, wigging out, spinning, trotting sideways, throwing his head, half rearing, making his rider Debrah nervous. What a retard! I would never act like that. Well, okay, I did on our first day of riding, so bad that Mer got off me and handwalked me till I calmed down. But I wasn’t like that now that I’d been a hundred miles, and I saw how ridiculous that Spitfire was. He calmed down after about 5 miles and then he went off on his own.

We pulled and raced along the road till we got to Ballarat. I didn’t take a drink along the way or here at Ballarat because I was waiting for my rider to get off so I could start eating then get in the trailer and go home.

But for some reason at Ballarat we turned up this road and went up this canyon, and when I say we went up this canyon, I mean we went UP THIS CANYON. One of the girls said it was Pleasant Canyon, but I think I would add Un in front of the Pleasant.

It was a long rocky road that just never stopped going up. We walked uphill for 2 ½ hours and I was pooped by the time we got to this water trough. I’ve never walked that far that long uphill ever. I was too tired to even drink, and didn’t need to, since there were horses heading back downhill, and I knew I’d be going back down to Ballarat where there was water and lots of food and a limo ride waiting for me there.

Well. Do you think we turned around and went back to Ballarat with those other horses (who were going mighty fast downhill I might add)? No! We turned left and went UPHILL!

And we were just now getting to the hard part! This was a steep hill, and Jazzbo and Quinn and I were just huffing and puffing away. Sure I can do hills, but I discovered I don’t do hills like this. I just had no gas. I staggered behind the boys till we reached this gray mare that we’d walked with a while. Her rider Sarah tailed her halfway up to here! Wished Mer would get off me and do that, but she gasps like a fish out of water (like me!) when she has to lead me up hills. The gray mare was eating everything in sight, which in this high and dry desert canyon was nothing, and since the boys and I were too tired to keep climbing, I started snacking too.

That dry stuff tasted like straw, which was pretty good because I was really hungry, and I ate enough of it to put a little fuel in my tank. When we all started up the hill again, it just kept going and going. Every time we’d look up and think we were getting there (wherever There was), we’d see horses way up above us. We clambered up another half mile before we came to this REALLY steep very rocky hill, where there were a bunch of horses being led down, and we 4 stopped and stared. Our riders wanted us to go up THAT?! We were already too pooped. Quinn and I were panting like dogs, and Jazzbo’s leg was shaking. Our riders were swinging their ropes and kicking their legs and smooching, but we all stood there in a bunch. I said to Jazzbo, “I’m not going, you go.” Jazzbo said “I’m not going! You go.” Quinn said “I’m not going, you go!” The mare said “I’m not going, you go!” And none of us would move a foot up that hill.
So, our riders got off, and led us up that hill. That was a doozy of a hill. I thought I’d died and gone to hell today. All 8 of us staggered and panted and slipped and tripped and stopped for breaths, while more horses kept coming down the hill, slipping and sliding over the rocks because it was so steep. I couldn’t figure out why we were still going up when everybody was coming down.

Finally our walking riders started whooping, which usually meant something good was coming up, and sure enough, we reached the top of that monster mountain! I couldn’t believe I made it up that – guess I’m pretty tough after all, even if we were the last 4 horses in the whole ride going up there.

And do you think we’d turn around then and go back? No! We kept going! At least this part was a nice flat walk another mile or so, over snow, winding around high up on this mountain, with another nice view of a different steep and deep valley below us. The girls started whooping again, and we came to a stop where this nice man named Louie came out from a cabin and greeted us.

He brought jugs of water – but only for the girls! No water for us horses after all this way, and now I was really thirsty! Louie said he would’ve had water but he only knew a day ahead we were coming to visit. Louie lives up here and works in Sparrow’s mine in the winter. So I sipped water from Mer’s water bottle, she gave me a few slices of apple (like that was going to fill me up) and that was it, we turned around. All the way up here and no food? No water?

And then we started back, back the same way – down, down, down, 3 ½ hours back down to Ballarat. I did take one big huge long drink at that water tub that I wished I’d tried on the way up. Mer walked a lot of the way and I snacked on stuff I hadn’t even noticed on the way up.

Then Mer pulled out a Luna Bar and started to eat it while we were walking down, and I was so hungry I reached over and pulled it out of her mouth and hands with my lips. I liked it so much she gave me half of it, then half another one.

Finally we got back to Ballarat, and I got to eat and eat and eat, which we could’ve done this morning, if you ask me, instead of spending 8 hours going up and down that canyon mountain first.

And then I trotted out for the vet and I was limping a little bit in front because my leg was sore from all those dang rocks I was tripping over and that long long hard hill I went up and down, and then I went back to my hay pile and I ate and ate, and when my pals Jazzbo and Quinn rode off with their riders, I got my limo ride back, right to my trailer, where Raffiq was waiting and screaming for me, and I got my saddle off and got to roll and roll in the sand, and then I ate all night!

PLEASANT DAY, PLEASANT CANYON (by The Equestrian Vagabond)

Yes, it was another cold, beautiful desert morning!

Gretchen and I saddled up and met Nancy on Jazzbo and Ali on Nancy’s spare horse Quinn. We’d picked up the junior Ali out of the lunch stop on Day 2, when her sponsor’s horse went lame, and she finished with us that day. Her horse went lame at yesterday’s last vet check, so she was horseless for today until Nancy offered her spare horse to ride.

We took off down the road to Ballarat and Pleasant Canyon. Raffiq got a little hitch in his gitalong after a few miles, and where he warmed out of it on our 2nd day, he didn’t look like he’d warm out of this one, so Gretchen turned around and headed back to camp.

Spice was pulling my arms out on the road to Ballarat; she felt awesome today. I sure wished she’d drink before we headed up Pleasant Canyon, because it would be a while before we came to the spring water trough, but she turned up her nose at it.

And so we began our long walk up Pleasant Canyon. The speedy horses trotted up most of it (and trotted down), but we ride slower horses, so we were just planning on a long day’s trail ride.

Up the steep-walled canyon we rode, past old mines and shacks and rusted cars, past barrel cactus on the steep rocks that looked like heads watching us. There was lots of wild burro poop everywhere (in the Panamint Valley also) that we’d not seen before. It stayed chilly in the canyon and we soaked up the sunshine in the few spots that the winter sun could reach. We met a couple camped at the remains of a small mining town halfway up the canyon, and several jeeps passed us going up the road. Everybody was friendly, out enjoying the brilliant winter desert day.

When we got to the spring and bathtub, Spice still didn’t want any water – only rinsed her mouth – which didn’t thrill me, because, as the fast riders that passed us there on their way home said, “It’s 3 more steep miles.”

We were getting a special treat on this day this year; instead of climbing the pass into Death Valley National Park and doing a loop in the valley below, we were climbing up to Sparrow’s gold mine. Sparrow is famous for going to Congress to fight to keep his mine from being absorbed by Death Valley National Park. Sparrow won his dispute and kept his gold mine, which now stands just outside the Nat’l Park boundary.

It was a treat to do this, but boy, what a trail to get there. It wouldn’t have been so hard if we hadn’t climbed for 3 ½ hours already. The horses struggled to get up there, (we were joined by Sarah and her gray mare) and we 4 girls finally got off and led them up the last mile or so. The horses being led down the hill were slipping and sliding, and our horses looked longingly after them.

It was a great triumph for the 8 of us when we hit the top of the ridge, at 7500 feet – we’d climbed an amazing 6350 feet from the valley floor. From there it was another mile on a snowy road to Sparrow’s gold mine where Louie welcomed us with fresh spring water (every bit of it hauled up that road from the bathtub – could NOT imagine driving a jeep up that, riding horses was bad enough). And the view – stunning. You could see down the next deep canyon to the north of Pleasant Canyon, back down into the Panamint Valley, over the Argus range, the White Mountains, to the Owens Valley topped by the snow-covered Sierra Nevadas. 120 miles of clear sight, said Louie. A special place to visit, though I don’t know if I’d like to live up there by myself in the winter like Louie does!

We turned around, and headed back down, down, never-ending down, that rocky road back to the Panamint Valley. Thank goodness Spice took a big drink at that bathtub on the way down, and she snatched at anything she could eat (including my Luna bars!). She felt great and full of energy (and accomplishment) as we walked down that long road. We had the treat of seeing a mother and baby burro at the old mining camp halfway down the canyon.

We were just reaching Ballarat as the golden sun was slipping behind the Argus range to the west, and it cooled right down. Spice never once lifted her head from the hay and grain; she was in hog heaven.

When it came time to trot her out for the vet – uh oh! She was off in her left front. I hadn’t felt it at all at the walk, and maybe she’d just stiffened up while standing there and eating (I’d thrown a blanket over her), and maybe she’d have been sound if I’d kept her walking around, but, there was no point in seeing if she’d walk out of it and be able to trot the last 7 miles home. So we pulled, which was a big bummer, but not such a huge deal, because whether or not we got a completion, and no matter if we were 3 or more hours behind the winners, Spice conquered that mountain!

In all, about 50 riders started and only a handful pulled. Steve McCorkle won the ride.

A great dinner was served by the owners of Indian Ranch, and a great party was had to the sounds of a local band. Some of us wimped out early and had a few drinks with friends in a trailer, and were snoring before midnight hit.

Another fun installment of the Death Valley Encounter – see you there next year!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Death Valley Day 3

Saturday December 30 2006


Another cold 4-layer morning, another absolutely beautiful day in the desert!

Our horses were much calmer today; yesterday Spice was bucking and wigging out so bad I got off and walked her a half mile before she calmed down. 50 miles of riding settled her down for this morning. Nance’s horse Jazzbo was a goof yesterday and he was much more composed today.

The first loop of the 50 was a 12-mile loop taking us up-close and personal along the outskirts of Trona, where we went by the Trona stables. Many of the mules and horses in their pens were running and bucking as 49 horses rode by.

After a half-hour vet check in camp, we headed out over the Slate Range to the Panamint Valley. After trotting to the foot of the range, we slowed to a walk. We walked the whole trail to the top – it was getting warm going up the canyon, (not complaining though!), taking our time because there was no rush on this long climb on this multi-day ride.

I got off Spice near the top of the range to lead her down. Still had some little hills to climb, though, so I put in a little work out. Spice even jogged me up the hill, maybe 50 yards, and I was out of breath when we topped the hill. I’m no runner (unless it’s downhill), so Spice was just giving me a little reminder of all the hard work our horses do for us.

This trail over the Slates is one of the most beautiful part of the Death Valley ride. The Searles Valley is behind you, and the brown and tan and golden striped Panamint Range rises in front of you, and the Panamint Valley spreads out below, way down below, must be at least a thousand feet below us.

Down and down we wound, a very rocky road, ravens soaring above us and – what was this? Two dogs down below us. Two dogs (later dubbed Jack and Jill) apparently followed riders all the way over the Slates from Valley Wells. Jack is reputed to have done the whole first loop, too. (Riders took Jack and Jill in; somebody will be returning them to Valley Wells in a day or two.)

At the bottom of the road, we entered Fish Canyon, the escape route Rogers and Manley took escaping out of Death Valley and returning the same way with supplies for the stranded Bennett-Arcane party back in the 1850’s. We stayed on foot for another couple of miles over a rocky rocky ‘road’, till we hit a very welcome water trough, waited on by Sparrow, whose mine we will be visiting on tomorrow’s trail.

We turned north and followed a dry lake bed (I could swear there was water out there, but it kept disappearing), trotting an almost non-stop 7 or so miles to the Ballarat Road. Where Spice seemed to run out of gas at about 35 miles yesterday, she felt strong all day today. Of course, part of that was probably that I walked on foot for at least 5 miles. We hopped off our horses on the paved Ballarat road and walked our horses another mile or two in to the vet check.

A couple of RV’ers passed us, giving us the thumbs up because we’d all obviously had ridden a long way across the desert to get where we were.

Our horses all looked good with 7 miles left to the finish, and it was a bit difficult getting our horses’ noses out of the grain and hay to cover that. Finally we had to carry little piles of hay along to bribe the horses out and back on the road.

We cruised the last stretch, and I think Spice was finally getting the hang of it: when she saw a big group of trailers ahead and off to our right, I am sure she actually realized that was our finish.

We all finished strong and are expecting yet another perfect day tomorrow!

Melissa Ribley won the today’s ride and, Les Carr’s horse Tulip today became the highest mileage horse in endurance history! 18,265 miles (or thereabouts). And that was after dumping Les on Day 1. Congratulations Les and Tulip!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Death Valley Day 2

Friday December 29 2006


Something woke me in the middle of the night: the wind quit!

It was cold in the morning, but still, and the stars were beaming. You can usually judge the temperature by what Dave Rabe is wearing. Yesterday he wore a jacket over his long-sleeved Tshirt and tank top (with shorts, of course), so it was pretty darn cold with that awful wind. That translated to about 5 layers on me. This morning, Dave wore a long-sleeved Tshirt and tank top, so I had 4 layers on.

As Nick Warhol said, “This is just about the perfect day in the desert.” It was indeed perfect, a complete reversal of yesterday. Karen Chaton said this may have been the best Death Valley day she’s ever ridden.

Gretchen and Nancy and I had already decided last night that we were riding no matter what, and we saddled our horses with glee in the wind-less morning.

As the golden sun rose, the trail took us up Goler Wash, through rocky, scenic canyons, up and over the El Paso Mountains that provided us so much of those gale force winds yesterday. Down the other side of the El Pasos, we had a little vet check, no hold, then we continued eastward toward the highway, where our lunch vet check would be.

We came to the power line, where, Gretchen read in the instructions, “go under the power line.” We saw a few horse tracks going under the power line, but many more going along the power line, and no ribbons either way. Horses up ahead of us were heading down the power line. Maybe we cross the power line a little further on. Or not? Nance and I were undecided; Ralph LePera caught up with us and pulled out his map. Hard to tell with all those lines – roads, trails, jeep roads, railroads, on the map – exactly where we were, and we saw horses ahead of us, so we continued on. Then we noticed horse tracks going both ways under our feet.

We eventually saw horses to our north, on what was obviously the right track; we backtracked and turned where we should have turned (definitely no ribbons), got back on track, and made our way toward the lunch stop. Turns out just about everybody missed that turn. Somebody must have pulled the ribbons. Thanks, whoever did that! But it wasn’t so terrible – we didn’t go too far out of our way, and if you’re going to be temporarily lost, do so on a perfect day in the desert!

Gene Nance was one of the vets who arrived after some bad directions and a misadventure on jeep and bike trails in his luxury car rental. (Don’t tell the rental company!) He was able to laugh about it by the time we got there. Michele Roush, who won yesterday’s ride, was also vetting today.

It was so balmy, Nancy and I had a terrible time deciding what to wear on the way home (this was a point to point). When Dave Rabe came arrived for the vet check in his shorts and no shirt, that was it, I peeled down to 2 layers.

Our route out of the vet check took us up into the Rademacher Hills that Raffiq and Spice train in, and the hills that Raffiq has ridden now for 4 or 5 winters. Gretchen had a heck of a time slowing Raffiq down because he thought he was headed home. She finally had to tuck him behind us to keep him from running off. When we finally came to a wonderfully welcomed water trough, we turned east, away from home, and the horses slowed down. Spice kind of hit the Tired Wall, and we did a lot of walking all the way in. As did a lot of riders in the mid-back of the pack.

We could see our horse trailers from about 10 miles away… which took a long time to get to.

Everybody’s trailers were there to pick us up – it was too far to ride all the way from Goler Wash to the other side of Trona, which not a single rider complained about, seeing as Trona is not the favorite haunt of most people. You can smell it from miles away with all its gypsum mining.

The horses got picked up in their limos and hauled into our night’s camp at Valley Wells. A beautiful sunset lit up the mountains to our south and north, and the town of Trona.
About 59 horses started today, and Jeremy Reynolds won the ride.

Tomorrow: another point to point, from Valley Wells to Indian Ranch in the Panamint Valley. And another perfect day, for sure!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Death Valley Day 1

Thursday December 28 2006



There’s the N word Michael Richards inexcusably used recently. A little longer ago, there was the language of Mordor that Gandalf would not speak aloud.

Here in the Mojave Desert, in winter, during the ride season, it is the W word. It is the Thing that rips roofs off sheds; it is the Thing that flips 18-wheelers over on the highway; it is the Thing moves big boards as you are trotting by so that your horse spooks and almost throws you, it is the Thing that drives billions of painful sand particles into your poor eyeballs and sand-papers your face.

Usually, the heavy W season starts in the late winter into spring. On this, the 15th or 16th or so anniversary of the 4-day December 28-31 Death Valley Encounter, it was said a quickly-moving storm was coming, would hit Wednesday when everybody would be arriving, be W…y and R….y (you do not speak the wet R word, either), Wednesday night, and it would be nice Thursday for the first day of the ride.

I did not utter the W word, and in fact, was quite confident we’d have great weather for the ride. Evidently I was concentrating on the wrong word. HURRICANE is another word that should be avoided.

That was the current condition for Day 1 of the 2006 Death Valley Encounter. Wednesday was quite Windy (I might as well say it now), though you could catch glimpses of a growing ride camp through the bouts of dust that swallowed it. It optimistically eased up to just breezy by ride meeting time; Dave the Duck, co-managing the ride this year with Jackie Bumgardner, said the latest weather report said the winds would pick up again at night, sustained winds of 40+ mph with gusts up to 80 mph, and die down to a reasonable 20 mph by 4:30 AM.

Well the time mentioned was right… except the winds picked up at about 4:30 AM – the hurricane winds, and they didn’t stop.

Lights came on inside and outside trailers in camp at about 5:30 AM, but they soon went back off. People started peeking out of their trailers at 6:30 AM, but nobody was saddling up yet. The Duck said we’d have the ride anyway, but the start would be delayed at least a half-hour till 7:30, to see if the winds would ease up with the rising of the sun.

I’d already decided I wasn’t going. I can do rain all day; I can do wind; I just don’t do hurricanes. Besides, today is the anniversary of my big accident. Tomorrow just sounded like a better day to ride. Gretchen was undecided. Nance Worman, from Idaho, who parked next to us, was undecided. It’s hard to not ride – after all, this is the sport of Endurance, not the sport of Pansies – especially when you’ve come from so far away.

Well, it really couldn’t get much worse, and it could really only get better (right?), so people started saddling up in the gale force winds. Gretchen took Raffiq’s blanket off to brush him, but she didn’t get very far before she put the blanket back on and decided to ride another day. Nance chose to pass up today also.

Down near the starting line, where people and horses were warming up, clouds of dust so thick ripped through camp, obliterating everything. If you were walking into it, you had to stop because you couldn’t keep your eyes open.

Then Ann Nicholson announced on her megaphone, “You can start!”

A tough, die-hard, non-wimpy group of 60 or so riders headed out on the trail, (about 15 sat it out), headed out across the Fremont Valley (where the north hurricane winds should be gaining some speed) toward the old mining towns of Johannesburg and Randsburg, hopefully following ribbons that have not blown into Utah by now. (I heard last night Highway 395 was closed in both directions due to wind.)

Instead, we pseudo-endurance riders went back and had hot coffee and a good warm breakfast in our warm trailers rocked by the gales, and traded stories of previous stormy rides, while our fellow riders braved the hurricane winds on the trail.

At lunch, all riders streaming in weren’t complaining about the wind (endurance riders usually don’t complain, once they’re out there), and in fact said the wind was worst in camp. Certainly, the dust was worst here.

The wind howled all day; it seems like our mountain range had the worst forecast of all, sustained winds of 40 mph, gusts up to 60. (Only 60!) Michelle Rousch finished first in the 50, and I believe all but 3 or 5 riders completed the ride.

Winds are supposed to calm down for tomorrow, really!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Stormy Christmas (And Woody Too)

Tuesday December 26 2006

I show up a day late bearing gifts.

Stormy is excited because he’s opened Christmas presents before, and he knows one of those boxes is for him. His buddy Woody gets a box too, but Woody hasn’t opened presents before, so when I toss his white box on the ground he wheels away in a start, and he bucks – Woody bucks! Woody has bad ringbone and he’s still lame (much improved over last year with special shoeing) and not so mobile, but he bucks and snorts and tosses his head and wheels back around and bucks again!

Stormy is already nosing his box to get it open, pushing it around, opening the flaps, shoving his nose inside for his Christmas Carrots and Christmas Stocking full of Horse Cookies!

Woody knows Stormy’s got some real goodies, so he decides to check out his scary box. He leans back but stretches his nose far forward to it, and once he smells his Christmas goodies inside, he is no longer afraid of a scary white box! He noses the box around, gets the flaps open, and digs in! Christmas treats!

They are like little kids, tearing open the present and they can’t stop stuffing their faces. Stormy finishes all his goodies first and he goes to check out Woody’s box. Though Woody is the boss of Stormy, he allows his friend to check out and share his box.

Goodies all finished, Woody turns over the box to make sure nothing is left.

It’s all gone and they run around and buck and kick while I haul the empty boxes away.

The boys have begun the countdown till the next Stormy Christmas: 364 days!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Tree Crazy

Monday December 25 2006

Oh dear, Mike went tree-crazy on the property here; he’s planted a lot of pine trees. A LOT of pine trees. I told him they’ll be able to see this property from space, with all the green trees in the desert (and by the way, the trees came totally spray-painted an unearthly green, not sure why, maybe to fool buyers in this naturally tree-less desert that they are ultra healthy, desert-resistant trees?) They’re all 3-4 feet tall.

He planted a good number of them in the horse pen, and guess who started chewing the needles and bark off them? That Spice, she gets into everything, so I bet it was her. (Hmm, did the horses get fooled by that bright green spray paint which I hope was food coloring? Surely the pine needles and pine bark don’t taste that great.) Mike had to go put up an electric fence along most of the trees, to protect them.

The fence, however, wouldn’t reach around 2 of the trees. If you can still call them trees. Last evening as I went to throw hay to the horses, I saw the one tree is completely needle-less, and pretty much bark-less, and the other one has not only been stripped, but completely uprooted! Pulled out of the ground and laid down in the sand!

Gee, wonder who did that?

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Oranges N' Grammys

Monday December 25 2006


So, speaking of horse accidents, the other night I sliced up an orange into 1/8s to eat, and discovered that, apparently, I haven’t sliced an orange to eat in 7 years, because I end up taking an orange bath, with most of it ending up on my fingers and hands and arms and face, and the counter, instead of down my throat.

I love to eat oranges when somebody peels them for me (I don’t like peeling them, and I usually have no fingernails), and I remember I liked eating them (apparently 7+ years ago) when they are sliced. Only thing is, I forget I can’t bite into anything with my fake front teeth.

So, I had to think a minute before I took a bite of the first slice. Wait – how am I going to do this? Try the front teeth? No, that won’t work. Scrape them off with my good bottom teeth? No, that is WAY too messy, and I can't get everything off that way anyway. Back teeth? OK – but, how do I get the slice stuffed way back in my mouth so I can bite the pulp off with my back teeth? Well, I do so by squirting orange all over my fingers and face, and when I try to bite the pulp off with my back teeth, well apparently my back teeth no longer come together in a good enough bite to rip the pulp off an orange slice.

So now I have orange all over my face and hands. Normally, one might say, forget this, pick up a knife and get it all juicy while trying to slice the pulp off, but my oh my, these were amazing oranges (fresh picked off the tree in the back yard) and I couldn’t pause to go find a knife (and dirty the other silverware in the drawer trying to get a knife out, and drip all over the counter); I just attacked the other orange slices, albeit sloppily, slushily, clumsily.

Orange dripped all over the counter, my shirt, smeared all over my face, ran down my arms, and I still couldn’t get all that pulp ripped off the peels, but man was that a good orange and a very good laugh.

Next time I think I will just wait till somebody peels me an orange!

Anyway, the orange was a late-night snack after visiting my Grammy-winning friends. Yes, I have friends who win Grammy awards! It’s like knowing Bono or something.

My friends The Blind Boys of Alabama performed their Christmas show, Go Tell it on the Mountain. These are the same Blind Boys that perform in my sporadic-every-2-or-5 year show The Gospel at Colonus. They’ve won Grammys for their black gospel albums 4 years in a row, 2002-2005. I knew that all along, but to hear Jimmy on stage humorously promoting their Grammy-winning CDs, it hit me. These are my friends, and they’ve won 4 Grammys! Is that a hoot or what!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Back in Business

Friday December 22 2006

Alright! Work is over with, slipped in a quick trip with family, Christmas is done. (For me it is – we had it 3 weekends ago – I highly recommend doing it early.)

On the downside, my little white trash trailer is on its last legs, and I am pretty sure it’s trying to poison me, which puts a little kink in my living and sleeping arrangements, (I have, with great satisfaction, started to slowly burn it, piece by piece); and my truck is on its last legs (family and friends now call to make sure I’ve made it wherever I’m going)…
But who cares about those crises, I’m back in Ridgecrest to ride!

My friend Tracy is in town – she’s a bit of a wanderer herself, having lived in Egypt for a while – and she’s been itching to get back on a horse.

We lucked out with the weather – the weatherman was predicting “breezy” conditions, which in the desert here usually is his benevolent way of saying “hurricane” conditions – it’s a beautiful time of the year in the desert, cool, clear, just about perfect when it’s not windy.
I went out for a fast ride with Ann yesterday; Raffiq had to canter quite a bit to keep up with her big trotting horse. I think he had a ball, because Raffiq and Spice usually poke along like slugs, bored with each other, and rarely do we hit a canter. He had a solid work, keeping up with this new fun horse as we gained a bit of altitude going out, and I had a hard grip on his reins heading back in. He didn’t want to stop cantering!

Today Tracy and I went out with Ann and Debra, and we motored up Holly’s trail, giving the horses all a good workout. Raffiq and Spice were both inspired to keeping up with Ann’s fast-stepping mare, and Buddy, ridden by Debra, tagged along uncomplainingly behind like he always does. And, we saw a burrowing owl! He was just hanging out under a creosote bush. Unfortunately, he’s hanging out where a housing development is supposed to be built, which, also unfortunately, is right across our straight access to the desert hills. I hope for us and for the owls (there is a burrowing owl nest in this same plot, which was occupied last spring) the houses are never built. (Wait a minute – wasn’t there just a movie about this? “Hoot” or something? Some kids stopped some development that threatened to destroy some burrowing owl nests?? Hey kids – come on down to Ridgecrest!) We need more burrowing owls, not houses, on this planet. Just my opinion.

The 4-day Death Valley Encounter endurance ride (50 miles a day) starts December 28, which, incidentally, marks the 7th anniversary of my big horse accident, which I remember every day I look in a mirror, (which is not every day) and every single day that I eat (which is at least 2 times a day). December 28 is an especially good day to be on a horse, and to appreciate that you are able to be out on a horse.

Gretchen and I will be riding Raffiq and Spice. Gretchen’s done about 500 miles on Raffiq in previous Death Valley rides. 500 more miles and they get a blanket. This year’s DVE Encounter will have some different trails; due to change in ownership, our usual last 2 nights of camping in Panamint Springs are unaffordable. So we’re starting in a completely different area, riding through some old mining towns, and ending up in the Panamint Valley, which is next door to Death Valley.

We can have all kinds of weather this time of year in the desert – warm weather, very cold weather, snow, drenching rains (like happened 2 years ago), “breezy” winds (like day 4 last year), or perfect weather.

I predict we are due perfect weather this year!

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Put Out to Pasture

Wednesday December 6 2006

We took the last two Forest Service horses to their winter pasture today. Zak and Red and Brenda were already there; we kept Tom and Paiute around here just in case any more last-minute range riding needed to be done. But we pulled their shoes Monday and hauled them off today; their season is over.
My season is over. Was it my last one here? Shrinking budgets, shorter seasons I can no longer survive on, never a guarantee of work from year to year - was this my last season hiking trails here, seeing the Sawtooths every day, riding my Forest Service horses, packing them into Piute Cabin? And that’s the worst - is it the last time I will see these horses?
I move around so much I don’t ever say goodbye to people or places, because I usually return. But the horses – that’s something different. I’ve known these guys for 9 years, and we’ve been through some good and not so great times together. Like these times:

Margaret and I rode Tom and Red out from Piute cabin after a snowstorm, over 12” of snow, where you could barely see the trail, and sometimes you couldn’t at all, but the horses knew the way.

Once on a pack trip, in the middle of a string, Zak’s load shifted to one side and he freaked out, reared up and broke loose, flipped over backwards, and tumbled back end over end with his load 40 feet down a 50* slope into a creek, miraculously landing in the one spot that didn’t kill him or even break anything (except all the groceries in his ice chests). And getting him out of there was HELL.

I survived my first 8-day solo pack trip with Piute, Zak and Brenda, and they did too!

I chased Paiute for 30 minutes straight one day before I caught him - he was so tired he couldn’t go another step, because after 10 minutes, I kept him running, and he never did that again (that year, anyway). Of course, once he’s cornered, he politely and enthusiastically lowers his head into the halter.

Not too many summers ago I did some leg work with people to rescue these horses in case they were suddenly hauled off to auction.

Last summer I had terrible troubles with Brenda the mule’s saddle pad slipping out from under her pack saddle (always with a heavy load, of course), and on every pack trip would have to stop every two hours, tie up the string, take Brenda out of the string and tie her up, and unload and reload her. Brenda was SO tolerant, even the time I had to struggle terribly to lift 4 40-lb cans from out of her panniers (and if you have not tried lifting 1/3 of your body weight from chest-height to over your head, try it once), constantly accidentally kicking her, falling on her, dropping the cans back in the panniers, etc, and she just stood there. And after resaddling her, I had to get the cans back in the panniers. (Then try lifting 1/3 of your body weight from the ground to over your head and trying to fit the cans in panniers that won’t stay open.) Cursing helps in situations like these. Brenda still just stood there patiently.

Turning the horses out at their beloved Piute Meadows after an absence of a year or two years was one of their (and my) best moments ever.


These are my horses - we’re buddies.

At least with this new awesome horse-friendly district ranger I don’t have to worry about my horses not being cared for properly or them being gotten rid of (read: auction, and you know what happens to most horses that go to the auction). But - who knows them best? Who knows the order they prefer to be in a trailer or in a pack string? Who knows the best way to catch Paiute when he doesn’t want to be caught? Who can just give him that look that makes him stop? Who knows the way they will each react in a certain situation? Who knows that Zak’s mane tangles in exactly the same spot every year and you have to remove the knots gently because he doesn’t like you yanking on his mane? Who knows that though Paiute pretends to be aloof, he secretly likes to be hugged as long as nobody else is around to see? Who else knows that when Paiute turns off a trail you are riding, it’s not because he’s being cantankerous, but because he’s turning off where the trail crew camped years ago or where ranger Tim stashed a shovel years ago?

I’ve been stuffing Paiute and Tom with carrots these last few days, telling them I may not be back. I know they’ll probably be fine without me, but what will they think if I don’t show up next year? What if they think I abandoned them?

Sunday, December 3, 2006


Sunday December 3 2006

Yet another fine ride in the beautiful desert in winter. Five of us hauled to the mountains at Brady’s for our favorite good hard training ride for the horses. We motored right along and despite the very cool day (well, cool for Ridgecrest, not cool for Bridgeport – Gretchen rode in a short-sleeved Tshirt and vest, the rest of us had a few layers on) the horses worked up a good sweat.

Raffiq’s been shaved, what, two or three times since October, and he keeps growing his thick wooly bear coat back. He’s from Wyoming – maybe he’s growing that thick coat just in case he goes back there.

Jan (visiting from Canada)’s horse had such a fast walk that the rest of our plugs had to trot often to keep up. A group of five like that keeps the horses very motivated – they all have little contests between each other along the trail as to who’s going to get up front on this or that stretch of trail.

Next on Raffiq’s and Spice’s itinerary is the 4-day Death Valley ride December 28-31. It sounds as if the trail is going to be changed a good deal. I loved the usual DVE trail, but I also love the new areas we are rumored to be riding in. It’s just hard not to love riding in the desert. (In winter.)

Or, maybe it’s just hard not to love riding.

Two more weeks of drought before I’m back in the saddle…

Saturday, December 2, 2006

Jesus Loves You (Canyon)

Saturday December 2 2006

I never ever get on a horse anymore without acknowledging the fact that I might not return in one piece, or I might not return because I’m in pieces, or I might not return at all. It’s not a fear; it’s just a fact, because it’s happened before. ‘Course you can apply that to anything in life – driving a car, or walking out your front door everyday, but with horses you have that little extra Horse Factor of Unpredictability lurking.

And every time I return from a ride, not in pieces, I recognize that fact as extra icing on the already delicious desert of getting the opportunity to ride a horse. Even if some days you really don’t feel like it, or the weather’s crappy, the company’s lousy, your horse is being an ass and you’re behaving worse, you can still get something good out of every ride, especially if you come back in one piece. Every healthy ride is a treat and a privilege. (Though grumbling sometimes is allowed.)

And when the you do feel like a ride, and the weather is gorgeous and company and scenery is great and your horse is having a good time, well, is there anything better?

And so, after having not been on a horse in 3 weeks (gasp!), and acknowledging that I might be altered in a few hours and maybe not for the better, I climbed on Raffiq, and with Gretchen on Spice we headed out for an excellent ride in the fantastic weather in the delightful desert of Ridgecrest (delightful in the winter, anyway, when it’s not 30* and blowing a gale).

We’d planned on a ~20-30 mile ride, catching the last loop of the 20 Mule Team 100 loop across the highway, getting there by shortcutting, weaving through the desert hills and canyons. I’ve been riding that desert for 5 winters now, and I’ve got names for usual routes I do and new ones I’ve discovered.

There’s Raffiq’s Canyon where several years ago Raffiq’s cinch broke while Astrid was riding him, and with the saddle hanging and flopping by the crupper and breast collar (pieces breaking away) he bucked and fell and tumbled and crashed and fell off mine tailings to the bottom of this canyon, and they thought they’d find him dead. (They didn’t, though he was banged up; we’re still riding him, and he’s had no problem riding down Raffiq’s Canyon since).

There’s Holly’s trail, a nice climbing training trail named after Jackie’s past mare Holly, and Princess Wash named after a crabby mare (short for: “She Ain’t No Princess”) that I rode. There’s Murr’s Canyon, where the mule Murrtheblurr and I have motored down. There’s Stormy Summit West and East and South named after my thoroughbred Super Stormy (!!!) who was able to bravely go out that far on his own (!!!) and conquer those hill tops.
There’s Car Seat Spring Mine trail where, yes, an old car seat spring was dumped in this collapsed mine shaft. Next canyon over is Carcass Canyon, where the historic mine trash – old rusted barrels, stoves, machine panels – looks like carcasses from a distance. There’s Nail Hill – watch for nails.

There’s Nazi Canyon with swastikas and GWAR proclamations painted on rocks (and GWAR stands for… Great White American Retards?? Because who else would deface rocks like that?), and next to that, perhaps appropriately, is Jesus Loves You Canyon (painted on a rock).

Well, you don’t take any of these to get to the start of the 20 mile loop across the highway, and we couldn’t figure out which of the bazillion other trails to take for shortcuts (“this is it” “well maybe it’s not” “it’s the start of the 20 Mule Team trail we want” “or maybe we want part of the one loop of the Fire Mtn ride” “oh wait, yes this is it, I recognize those mines” “well, maybe I don’t; all the mines look the same” “oh yea, I’ve been in this wash, this is right” “no, wait, this one looks like all the other washes”). But the horses cruised right along anyway despite the confused pilots, so, as we ended up way out of the way from where we were going, our ride turned into a fun spontaneous ramble through undiscovered (by us) hills and washes and boulder fields, with a few ravens keeping an eye on us here and there.

We weren’t sure quite where we were, only knew the direction we wanted to head to get back. You can’t get lost in those hills if you get up high (we reached a very high point) because you can always see Ridgecrest down below to the northwest and the Sierras to the west. We got really lucky and didn’t meet a single motorbike or quad the whole ride, and randomly we found a nice sandy canyon to trot all the way down that looked familiar – “Oh, look! We’re in Jesus Loves You Canyon!”

And maybe somebody does love us, because we got back home after another lovely ride, topped by the icing of returning intact and rejuvenated!

Friday, December 1, 2006

About Time

Friday December 1 2006

The Equestrian Vagabond gets to go down to Ridgecrest to ride this weekend! I’ve been having withdrawals. Let’s hope a hurricane isn’t blowing.