Wednesday, April 12, 2017

2017 Antelope Island: Weather Wonderificous

April 11 2017
By Merri

Well, yes, there was a little of the Worst of Times too, though looking back, it's with a sense of humor and a laugh and rather a bit of giddiness at knowing you really were a Real endurance rider the weekend of the 34th Antelope Island endurance ride.

In keeping with Mother Nature's curveball of a very unusual, extreme winter for most of us (at least in most of the Western half of the country), she wasn't done yet the weekend of the Antelope ride. It had everything, in the extreme: sun, wind, rain, sleet, hail, snow (not quite in ridecamp, but just above), thunder, lightning.

But: NO BUGS! The endurance riders and horses handled the weather, but the No-see-um bugs were too wimpy. Ride management had bug hats ready to hand out to riders, but they were not needed. (The day the No-see-ums adapt to radical weather, the globe is in trouble.)

Regina (doing stats for the ride) and I (photographer) arrived after 10 PM Friday night. We congratulated ourselves having driven through some rainstorms north of the ride, and arriving in ridecamp with no rain. Surely the forecasters were wrong and it would be a fabulously dry and sunny weekend! And then sometime in the night, the rain started. Rain, hard rain, sleety-rain, wind, more rain, more sleet, more wind.

You start to think… boy, I'm glad I'm not riding. I'm glad I don't have to saddle up in the wind and rain. (Getting up and saddling up in crappy weather is the worst… if the bad weather starts when you're already riding, that's much easier.) 33 riders DID, however, buck up, get up, saddle up, mount up, and head out under dreary skies and a cold, wet, blustery wind on Day 1 (11 on the 50-miler, 22 on the 25-miler). The sun played hide and seek with storm clouds as the morning passed, and the Great Salt Lake was churned up all muddy brown and alarming gray and slime green and stormy blue, making for dramatic scenery on this mountain island State Park.

Keely Kuhl aboard EA Victory Ddannce was first and got Best Condition on the 25. The 2 engineer-cowboys (they are engineers, who dress up as cowboys, and come enjoy this one ride every year) Scott and Todd Austin finished second and third.

Bill Hobbs aboard LS Sir Gibbs finished first with Leah Cain and OT Dyamonte Santo (you'll remember this pair as winning the 100-mile AERC Championship last September, and Bill as one of their crew members), conveniently and considerately right as the Big Storm was rolling in across the lake. I'd been carefully watching and tracking the 2 thunderstorms that just skirted us, but I knew this next one was going to hit, and it was going to be a doozy.

It started raining as those two did their final vet check, then all hail broke loose. As I hunkered down in a truck, the hail started falling, then pelting, then hurling while the wind got its hurricane on. Bonnie Swiatek, who'd finished turtle on the 25, was hanging onto a blanket strap of her blanket that had blown over her panicked horse Baracha's head, effectively blinding him while he was being buckshot by wicked hail. Tonya Stroud, who was in the office trailer, bounded out to help her, slipped on the hail and landed on her butt. Several other people jumped in to help Bonnie catch and calm Baracha, and that and another horse, with a group of people huddled heads down tightly together in the lee of the office trailer during the fury of the storm.

Others caught out on trail simply had to stop as their horses did the same - turned butts to wind and hail, and head down, waiting it out. Kathy Backus was aboard Raji near a bathroom when it hit; she jumped off and ducked inside and held the reins of her horse out the door… while her horse probably wondered why she she couldn't squeeze inside also.

But the storm passed, the sun came out (with more cold wind), and everybody finished the ride in both distances, showing just how tough and durable (and, perhaps, crazy), US endurance horses and riders are.

Mara Schima, one of Christoph Schork's interns from Germany, won Best Condition aboard GE RW Carl on the 50.

The wind was such a howling annoyance that awards/ride meeting/dinner were brief, since the wind tended to blow the melted cheese out of the spoon, or the baked potato off your plate. Not much visiting went on with the weather, and the whole of ridecamp curled up and went to bed before dark.

Ride manager Jeff Stuart had a slight panic attack when, after he'd gotten undressed and crawled in his trailer bed, he saw a weather forecast that was even more horrid than what we'd already had. He got up, got dressed, and sought out his assistant Shirley, then Regina, saying "What am I going to do? Do I go to plan B? Plan C? It's supposed to be four degrees in the morning! Should we cancel the ride??" Consensus was, wait and see in the morning. He got back to his trailer, undressed, crawled in bed, still stunned that the temperature could possibly drop so low and bitter. Winter should be over, for heaven's sake!

Then he started playing around with his phone, and realized it had switched itself to centigrade from Fahrenheit. It was going to be 4 degrees F, not C, in the morning. So he got back up, got dressed, went back out, informed Shirley and Regina of the phone's mischief (they had a good giggle).

Meanwhile during the night, another drizzly/sleety howling windy rain fell, and again I started to think, oh, poor horses, standing out in that cold wet mess. But… if you think about it, what else is your horse going to do in a storm? If he's like our horses at home (we don't have stalls or barn), he's going to stand with his butt to the wind/rain/sleet/assault, head down, and wait it out (or eat while he's waiting it out). We so often project our feelings onto our horses (they look so cold! they look miserable!) that we think they must be miserable too. But they're just horses. Horses just wait out weather and go about being horses. The horses in Ridecamp were simply waiting out the next storm, butts to wind/rain, heads down, most of them eating.

Just the same…. I was glad I wasn't riding in the morning that dawned quite cold and windy… and sunny… and wintery. Snow had fallen everywhere but ridecamp. Every mountain range in view was whited out. All the local ski areas must have been thrilled. Frary Peak on the island was whited out. Made for stunning scenery. Riders would be riding up into the snow today.

And 20 hardy riders headed out onto the trails (8 on the 50-miler, 12 on the 25-miler) - and it turned out to be a great riding day: sunny, cold wind, and, again, NO BUGS! That was the most popular comment of all the riders all weekend. Not that the weather was insane, but that We Had No Bugs! All but one rider finished - Kathy Backus turned around and took a rider option when her mare was a bit off during the first loop.

Jeff Stuart and JV Remington won first place and Best Condition on the 25. Christoph Schork and Starlit Way won first and Best Condition on the 50. Several newcomers rode their first ride, and forever after, they will probably never experience such extreme weather.

The Antelope Island endurance ride is known for its beautiful scenery, varied trails, and its buffalo herd. Most of the buffalo seemed to be hiding out elsewhere on the island (the "reds" are being born, so maybe the mama buffs are separated and secluded), though a couple dozen bulls were on display around ridecamp and along a few of the trails.

What the Antelope Island endurance ride is not known for is the extreme weather we experienced, but the hardy endurance riders and horses who attended this year made it a great success.

1 comment:

  1. You managed to make the weekend sound exciting, funny, and horrifying all at once!
    We were on our way there at 6AM-ish on Saturday morning when the truck threatened to hydroplane on the rain-slick rode. We wimped out and went home. Got up with good intentions on Sunday morning, but we had 4 inches of snow on the ground at our house.
    Oh, well. Still hoping to get to at least a few rides this year.