Saturday, April 18, 2015

Foxcatcher 25

After getting dressed, feeding Nimo, and drinking some coffee that Saiph thoughtfully brought for me, I was starting to feel like there was a possibility I might actually make it to saddling Nimo and getting on.  But first, breakfast.  I had an epic fail at the Fort Valley ride last year in terms of eating breakfast.  I was so anxious about the ride that my stomach was super insistent that there would be no food.  And while I did end up snarfing down a snack bar on the trail, I really wanted to do better for this ride.  And I did.  My initial plan was to eat a bagel with cream cheese, but because I brilliantly put all the little food containers on the bottom of the cooler and then put 20 pounds of ice on top of them, I eventually lost all hope of finding the cream cheese and settled on some cole slaw instead.  That turned out to be a good choice, and I felt pretty happy with my selection because it involved eating real food and because eating cole slaw for breakfast is just completely random.

After eating and pretty much aimlessly wandering around for awhile, I finally started tacking up Nimo around 6:30.  The ride started at 7, but Saiph and I intended to avoid the crazed start by leaving a few minutes late.  Also, I had decided to forego hoof boots in their entirety for the first loop, so that was a huge time saver.  I had brought 6 pairs of hoof boots just in case, but Nimo has been training on gravel for the past few months and based on the pictures I'd seen and talking to people, I decided hoof protection just wasn't going to be needed.  I figured I could always put hoof boots on for the second loop if I changed my mind after seeing the trail.

The great thing about Nimo was that he was calm enough that I was able to tack him up in his pen without tying him.  He did move a little, but it was nothing like the raging lunatic he was at Fort Valley when he saw all the horses getting ready.  Plus, the 50-milers left 30 minutes before the 30-milers did, so he saw horses leaving and that freaked him out.  At Foxcatcher, the start time is the same for both 50-milers and 25-milers, so there was none of that extra commotion going on.  And we had Lily this time.  Nimo is normally pretty good by himself and he's used to doing things by himself, but I have no doubt that having a buddy made a difference to him.

And then a few minutes before 7, it was time to get on.  Nimo did start to act a little antsy at this point, but he was still on a much lower level than at Fort Valley.  I did have Charles hold him for me so I could get on, but after that, he was manageable.  Once Saiph was on Lily, we did an energetic walk around the camp area and then headed toward the start line, which was across the road in in a field near base camp.  We ended up starting about 10 minutes late, but it was worth it because the horses just walked out like it was no big deal.  And we weren't the only ones with the plan to leave a little late, but all the horses were walking calmly and there was zero excitement.

Both Lily and Nimo seemed like they were ready to move out, though, and after maybe 5-8 minutes, we figured it was time to start trotting.  So we did.  And the horses were great and I think we even passed a few people before getting to the ride photographer.  I intended to insert our ride photo here, but despite ordering a digital copy of the photo several days ago, the photographer still hasn't allowed access to it, so unfortunately you'll just have to use your imagination:)

It wasn't long before we caught up to a group of three riders, one of whom I knew.  Nimo fixed this group in his sights as the one to be with, so we stayed with them for quite a few miles, until about halfway through the first loop of 15 miles.  The pace the group was keeping ended up being just a little bit too fast for us, though.  I think we did 7 miles in just over an hour and while it was kind of cool to get through so much of the loop so quickly, I started looking for a way to separate Nimo from his quarry.  Despite trying to keep him down to a walk, though, he just couldn't handle seeing them drift away.  He wasn't out-of-control like at Fort Valley, but he did still have a lot of motivation and I wanted to find a way to slow him down without fighting with him.

As luck would have it, we stopped at a creek for the horses to drink and Saiph, being in possession of a few more functioning brain cells than I was at the time, urged Lily to head upstream a bit to get the horses focused on something other than keeping up with the group.  Nimo didn't drink (which is typical for him), but he did eat some carrots.  And then Lily did something that was simultaneously impressive and scary dangerous.  She went straight up a 10 foot, nearly 90 degree embankment on the side of the creek.  It happened so effortlessly and so fast.  Unfortunately, as Lily got to the top, she brought her hind end almost even with her front end and was in danger of falling back down into the creek because her balance was precarious.  Thankfully, Saiph had the presence of mind to bail off at that moment, which probably saved Lily from falling.  Neither was hurt, but I will possibly have PTSD for the rest of my life.  The whole event probably took 1.5 seconds, but I can still see it play out in slow motion in my mind, and all I can say is that Lily and Saiph had a great set of guardian angels:)  (You can read Saiph's description of what happened in this post.)

Once I realized that we were all going to live and I started breathing again, we headed out down the trail.  Saiph was laughing about the whole thing pretty quickly (although she said it was either that or crying, which I believe), and we were back on the trail in surprisingly short order.  I did insist that we walk for a few minutes, though, because I was possibly still hyperventilating.

Anyway, soon we were back up to trotting, but without the group in front of us that had been so inspiring to Nimo, so we were able to pace ourselves a little more slowly.  And we rode through such beautiful fields, forest trails, scenic gravel roads, and history.

Fields at Foxcatcher (photo by Saiph)
Gravel roads at Foxcatcher (photo by Saiph)
An old mill, I think (photo by Saiph)
And then there were the bridges and tunnels.  We already knew about them, but there really were a lot of them.  And some of them actually were kind of scary.  One of the first tunnels we did went fine for Nimo and Lily as well as the group in front of us, but two horses violently spooked and galloped out of control for a few seconds when a car went over top of them while they were in the tunnel.  Everybody was OK, but it wasn't the first time I was glad Nimo had a buddy.  There were some sort of normal bridges over water, but there were several that acted as overpasses over well-traveled highways.  And they had open metal gridwork on the sides, meaning the horses could see the cars passing underneath them, which was definitely disconcerting for them.  Lily was really solid on them, though, and Nimo followed her lead.  (Thank you, Lily!)

Covered bridge (photo by Saiph)
As we were winding up the last few miles of the first loop, we were joined by a lady riding by herself.  She said she normally rode with her daughter, but boys had sucked her daughter's attention recently, so she was on her own.  We were happy to ride with her and I think I might owe the highlight of this ride to her.  At one point, her horse started cantering through a field.  And Nimo was happily trotting near her and then he just started cantering too.  And he cantered.  And he cantered.  And he cantered.  I kept expecting him to break into a trot like he usually does after a short canter, but he didn't.  He cantered like it was no big deal.  His canter was balanced and smooth and in control and I had no worries about him taking off or falling or any of the things that have often worried me about his canter in the past.  And I felt this huge bubble of pure joy building in my chest.  I wanted to yell and tell somebody how fantastic the whole experience was, and because it turns out that I'm not very articulate in these kinds of moments, I turned to the lady I'd just met a couple of miles ago and said, "Holy Fucking Shit!  We're cantering!"  She looked at me like she didn't know what the hell was going on, and that's OK.  Her horse probably canters like that all the time.  But mine doesn't.  In fact, Nimo never has cantered like that before.

When I was growing up, we drove a lot as a family.  Our relatives lived 2-4 hours away and my dad liked to take us on extended camping trips in the summer.  So I spent a lot of time in the car.  And when I wasn't fighting with my brother about who was touching whom or who had taken more than his share of the seat, I was often staring out the window imagining that I was riding the Black Stallion and he was cantering next to the car in the beautiful wide open ditches that are common in North Dakota and surrounding states.  And I would just be lulled into this dreamlike state where my horse and I were cantering through these ditches for miles and miles and miles.  I did eventually get my own white Arabian mare and I did canter her a lot in real life through those ditches, but there was always an element of hurry to our rides.  She was a mare who liked to get wherever it was she was going as fast as possible.  She wasn't unsafe or out of control, but she was urgent.  The canter I had on Nimo wasn't urgent, it was just an in the moment, feeling good kind of canter, and it was the kind of supreme bliss I'd always imagined when I was a kid.

And it wasn't long after that canter that we hit the 1 mile marker indicating we had just a mile left to camp (brilliant, awesome idea that all rides should have, BTW).  So we slowed the horses to a walk, which kind of traumatized them, I think.  They were in the zone and wanted to keep trotting, so somehow we thought it would be a good idea to get off the horses and hand walk them in because, you know, it would be more fun to wrestle with a 1500 pound animal on the ground than in the saddle.  This turns out not to be true, in case you were wondering.  Within 3 seconds of dismounting, I realized my mistake, but there was no way to get back on.  And to compound the issue of my horse still being pretty forward, we kept getting passed by horses whose riders apparently thought it was just fine to trot or canter into the vet check.  So I spent a bunch of time yelling at Nimo to slow down and then I heard Saiph call to me.  I turned around and she was tailing Lily up a short hill.  I had to laugh.  It was a great idea and I wish I'd worked on it with Nimo, but he probably still would have been walking too fast.  We did eventually get the horses a bit more civilized and walked into camp only slightly gasping for breath.

Walking to camp at the end of the first loop (photo by Saiph)
Saiph's husband, Charles, was crewing for us and I'd asked him to set up a sloppy mash for Nimo, which he did.  Nimo dug right in and Charles started checking pulses for us.  Lily was already down (the threshold at this vet check was 64 bpm) and when Charles checked Nimo, he was at 56, so we were good to go to get our official pulse-down time.  Within the couple of minutes it took to get to the official pulse-taker, Nimo was already down to 52 and our in-time was 9:32, meaning that we'd done the first 15 miles in probably 2 hours and 15 minutes, given our late start and the time it had taken to get in to the vet check and crewing area.

Another minute or two, and we were with a vet.  Nimo's pulse had continued to drop and he was at 48 bpm by this point, which I was happy to see.  He stood quietly for the exam, did a nice trot out, and got all A's for the check.  The only thing that I was slightly concerned about was that his CRI was 48/52.  The vet thought it was fine given that everything else looked good, but I filed away the info for future reference.

Nimo and I at the first vet check (photo by Charles)

Lily had vetted through just fine too, so we headed over to the trailer to give the horses a chance to eat, drink, and chill.  I should note that I still had Nimo's tack on and I had not braided his mane, so I was pretty happy with his recovery.  I pulled his tack at the trailer and got him set up with more mash, water, and hay.  Then I went to my cooler in search of something to eat.  I eventually settled on egg salad and pita chips because why not?  And I downed a small bottle of something called ginger beer.  It's not alcoholic, although I think it is supposed to be used as a drink mixer.  Anyway, I like it on its own.  To me it tastes like peppery soda and for some reason, it makes my stomach happy.  Then I topped off my water bottles, sat in a chair for 5 minutes, and retacked my horse.

Our out-time was 10:24, and I think we missed it by a few minutes, but we had until 1 pm to do the last 10 miles, so I wasn't that worried about making sure we took advantage of every minute.  I will say that Nimo was not his former, motivated self for the first 4 miles of the second loop.  And, to be honest, I was pretty sure Lily was going to have to pull him the whole 10 miles.  But then he caught sight of two horses in the distance, and it was like a switch flicked on his brain.  He perked right up, moved into his power trot gear and focused on catching up to those two horses as if nothing else mattered in the world.  He wasn't out of control about it, but he was moving.  Within a mile, we had caught up to them.  At that point, we all stopped at a creek and Nimo drank just a little (he actually drank quite a bit about 2 miles earlier when Saiph wanted to let Lily drink at a creek, so I wasn't too worried about hydration) and then he was ready to go.  I really thought that after he had caught up to those horses, he would go back to his less motivated self, but he didn't.  He kept right on going and alternated with Lily for the lead on the trail.

Despite this motivation, I'll admit that the miles on the second loop seemed to take forever.  I was feeling pretty tired (I was actually in the process of getting a cold and combined with a lack of sleep, I was not at my perkiest) and soreness was creeping in.  And by creeping in, I mean that part of my left calf was numb, my right knee felt like it was broken, and I was pretty sure my lips had been dried right off my face.  And Saiph was truly blessed to be able to ride with Whiny Gail for the rest of the loop.  Whiny Gail complains about a lot of things all the time, and my husband tells me she is really not that fun to be around.  However, Saiph was very kind and tried to tell me that I was funnier than I was irritating.

Because we'd been making such good time, we decided that we had the time to walk the last 2 miles in and still get to camp by 12:30, so when my GPS said 8 miles, I collapsed into the saddle and announced that we were done.  Until we got to the 1 mile marker and realized that somehow there was a mismatch in what our GPS data was showing and what the ride management had marked.  Gaa!  We had 1-1.5 miles extra to do!  Saiph asked if I wanted to trot and I said, "No," then looked at my watch and realized we had 12 minutes to get to camp by 12:30, and changed my answer to, "Yes."  The horses did great when we asked for more speed.  Lily lead the way up hills and Nimo happily trotted.  We trotted for maybe half a mile and than walked the last half mile in.

We found our spot in the crewing area, and I started yanking off Nimo's tack.  And by yanking, I mean moving really slowly and sort of dropping it randomly on the ground.  Nimo also got a drink of water and ate part of an apple.  Plus, I'd fed him some carrots while we waiting to get our in-time of 12:33, so I felt like it was worth a shot to see if we were pulsed down.  There was quite a line at the vetting area, and things were feeling a bit like controlled chaos.  Unfortunately, the first time Nimo's pulse was checked at 12:41, it was still at 64 (he had to be down to 60), so we had to get out of line.  I used the opportunity to ask Charles to bring Nimo more water because I knew he was still thirsty.  Nimo drank probably 3 more gallons and then we headed to get a recheck on pulse.  And at 12:46, Nimo pulsed in at 56 bpm.  Next we headed to the vet, where he was down to 52 bpm.  And we did the exam and trot out, and suddenly, it was all over.  Nimo's CRI was 52/52 (better than at the first vet check) and he had all A's on the exam.  We had our first completion!

It felt amazing to be done and to be done on time and with Nimo feeling so good.  I think having Saiph and Lily with us every step of the way and having Charles on our crew was so helpful and made such a huge difference in how the ride felt.  I had so much fun out on the trail (even when I thought my knee was going to need to be amputated).  And just knowing that there was an extra pair of hands to hold Nimo or bring water was such a relief.

When I first started training for an endurance ride, one of the things that attracted me to the sport was the idea of camaraderie. All the people I met and whose blogs I followed seemed like the kind of people I'd want to know better.  Yet, when it came to the actual work of conditioning, I was usually on my own.  And at Fort Valley, while I knew a few people there, and was able to meet and ride with a very nice lady, it wasn't quite the same as riding with a friend.  So having the opportunity to camp and ride with Saiph (and Charles) made this ride feel like I initially thought it would over 2 years ago when I first got this wacky idea in my head.  Sharing the experience with someone you know and like really adds to the enjoyment of it, and I'm just ridiculously thrilled that it all worked out.  And, of course, I can't wait to do it again:)

Two happy riders!  (photo by Charles)


  1. I love it that you ate cole slaw for breakfast. (How I miss cole slaw, I think I'd forgotten about it. Was it homemade? I wonder if I can make cole slaw myself....)

    I like ginger beer too! And I drink a lot of ginger ale in Germany.

    Riding with a like-minded buddy is awesome, encouraging and distracting each other when needed: ) I loved doing 50s completely alone (and with no crew), but I also loved having a good friend at my side.

    I used to do that thing too, looking out the car window and imagining a black horse there beside me. I guess I've been neglecting my imaginary friend since I got my own horse: )

    Don't forget the chapstick!

    1. Sadly, the coleslaw wasn't homemade, but the grocery store I got it from does a pretty good job:) And yes on the Chapstick!:)

  2. Congrats again on your first completion. Nimo is a beast!! Give him extra carrots.

    I think the account of the infamous bank was a lot scarier from your perspective. I'm not sure Saiph realized Lily had brought both hind feet up next to her front feet. I'm really thankful that Saiph was able to vault free and give Lily the opportunity to save them both.

    And of course, Daniel and his boys were watching out for them.

    1. I didn't have time to think about what she was doing underneath me; I just had the sensation that she was going to go over backwards at any second and I bailed to keep that from happening. I didn't even really debate staying on or not; she had lurched to the side once her shoulders were even with the top of the bank, and the ground was close and I thought, "I need to be THERE now!" and there I was. I used the momentum from her own movement to launch myself off. It really all happened in less than 2 seconds, just like Gail said. It sounds long in my description because my brain seems to have this weird ability to slow time down in situations like this, but it was all very, very fast.

      When Gail described it afterwards it made sense: Lily had jumped up from a standstill, so her front feet landed on the very edge of the ledge with no room for her hinds.

      I think if I had been on the outside watching that, I would have had PTSD too.

    2. Thanks, Karen:) And Nimo absolutely gets extra carrots for possibly the rest of his life:)

  3. Yay for your first completion!!! Congrats!

  4. Omg I laughed so many times reading this post but the canter comment was by far tge funniest I think. I can totally relate too. Ive gotten that canter a couple of times and it was every bit as good as my wild imagination said it would be. So....that feeling of that cantet is actually what I use to center and realx myself now if im going to have a panic attack or im too anxious to sleep. I close my eyes and focus on the movement and picture me doing it through a rather out of focus meadow. Works everytime.

    1. Good idea, Mel! I had sort of forgotten about the whole cantering next to the car in my imagination because Virginia does not have wide open ditches, but I think I'll be using this memory a lot in the future:)

  5. You write the best endurance posts in Blogland! I laughed so much throughout this.

    As a kid, I too used to imagine galloping on a horse alongside whatever car I was in. I still do sometimes. :) I knew it was a big deal that Nimo had cantered but I hadn't realized the magnitude of the significance, that part of it was the *feel* of that canter. I'm so happy for you that you finally got to experience what that felt like! It looked beautiful and effortless from where I was at the rear of the group.

    I know a lot of people do this without a crew, but I love having Charles along for these events. He's really gotten the hang of it and he is just excellent at diminishing stress and worry. I'm glad you enjoyed his brand of humor. I'm still chuckling over the moment you said, "I'm not sure when I should take him seriously," and I responded, "The default is never. Never take him seriously." ;)

    It was wonderful to ride Foxcatcher with you and I hope we do many more rides together in the future!!

    1. Thanks, Saiph:) And I hope we do many rides too!

  6. Cole slaw for breakfast... I don't think I could do that lol

    I had the SAME Black Stallion visions when I was a kid, too! We also drove a lot as the minimal distance to visit family was 6 hours. I also fought with my brother about who was/wasn't touching whom and complaining (I'm still kind of proud of myself for the superior lameness of this, go child-Liz) that my brother was "breathing my air". Ah, memories.

    Congratulations on your completion! I'll see you sometime this year, I hope! Maybe you'll be able to come to RBTR? It's in August though so I don't know if that's too hot for you and Nimo. It's the only ride I'm doing this year on Q.

    1. Thanks, Liz;) RBTR is definitely on my short list for this year. I'm thinking I might just do the Intro ride (if there is one) if the temps/humidity are high and the LD if the weather is miraculously reasonable. Saiph said it was a fun ride, so I'm hoping it will work for me to make it:)

  7. Super congrats on your first completion! Great story and adventures, I can't even pick a favorite, but maybe at the end when you acknowledge you had fun. There is so much stress in training, preparing, worrying, riding, but in the end if it is fun you remember, now that's a successful ride.

    1. Thanks, irish horse:) And yes, having fun is important. In fact, I think that's a big reason why I'm doing this in the first place. Sometimes I forget that in the midst of all the work!:)

  8. Congratulations on your first completion with your awesome pony! Glad you had good friends to help out :)

    1. Thanks, Bugsy:) I'm not sure it would have gone nearly so well without Saiph, Charles, and Lily, and I'm so grateful it worked out for us to go together!

  9. Congrats on your first completion! Sounds like y'all had a great ride! I've heard good things about Foxcatcher... a lot of endurance peeps I know were there, including my horse's old owner! :-)