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Nick Warhol's DVE Story - part 1

Nick Warhol
The Death Valley Encounter, 2001
Nick Warhol

It just wouldn't be Christmas without going to the Death Valley Encounter.
That's the way it feels for Judy and I, since we have trundled ourselves
down there to the
Dez every year since 1993 except one.  What's so special about the ride,
you ask?  I'm
glad you asked.  There are a few reasons that come to mind: great riding
in the desert,
some of the most unbelievable scenery in the world, a well organized ride,
and some
really great people who head down there to share the experience.  Ride
manager Jackie
Bumgardner puts a lot of work into the DVE to make sure it comes off
without a hitch.
There are always little hitches in every ride, but considering the work
involved in putting
on this monster, I consider it a really well run event.   Those people who
have never
ridden down here don't realize what kind of effort it takes to just supply
water for the
horses.   Believe me, there is not a whole lot of natural water out there
in the desert; every
ounce has to be trucked in and placed strategically on the 4-day trail.
One empty water
trough could ruin a ride for someone.  (er, ahh, we won't mention empty
water troughs,
right, Warpaint?)  I'm happy to report, once again, that the trail was
well marked, the
weather was impeccable, there was always water where it needed to be, and
plenty of it.
        Who were we riding?  I was thrilled to be mounted once again on
the one and
only Zayante, the horse who, before this ride, had 9,655 AERC miles.  How
many horses
do you know that have made it to ten thousand endurance miles?  Not many,
let me tell
you.   I started riding Zay two years ago at this ride, when my horse was
injured.   Since
then, Zay has taken me through 1,100 miles of multi-day rides.  Yeah, I'd
say he's fun to
ride.  It's hard to describe him.  He's got this business-like attitude
towards endurance
that keeps him happy and excited to go down the trail, mile after mile
after mile.  He's
incredibly strong, he's energetic, he's smooth, and he's always looking
happily ahead
down the trail with ears forward.  Someone described him very
appropriately as the
Energizer bunny.  The fact that he's brilliant white in color with a
really pretty face
certainly helps.  Okay, he has some minor flaws: he jigs on occasion, he
spooks at stuff
sometimes, and he has this classic sneer that he uses on just about every
other horse on
the ride.  Big deal.  I'll take ten more horses just like him, thank you.
        Judy left Warpaint, the spotted wonder, at home again this year,
due to a nagging
sore foot.  It's too bad, since Judy and Warpaint have the most miles
together as a rider
and horse at the DVE: 800 miles.   He's getting up there in years, and we
sure hope he
can make it back next year for 200 more.  Judy brought our new horse,
Wabi, down for
his second ever ride.  He's the guy we bought to replace the early retired
Shatta, but he's
been a bit of a lazy bones in his conditioning rides.   Judy was going to
do a limited
distance ride on him on the first day to see how he'd respond.
        Our eight-hour drive down from the Bay Area with Wabi went well,
as usual.  As
long as there is food in front of Wabi, the sky could be falling and he
wouldn't care. After
stopping for a horse break at Lost Hills on I-5, we arrived at Jackie's
house on Tuesday
evening and set up camp in the back.  The weather was cold, but not as
cold as it has been
in the past.  I calculate how cold it is based on things that freeze.
Frozen horse water
buckets, pretty cold.  Frozen water buckets and frozen garden hose, really
cold.  Frozen
water buckets, garden hose, and water in the trailer- BRRRR!   All of the
above have
happened down here.  Based on my incredibly accurate cold rating scale, it
was pretty
balmy.  We spent a relaxed morning in Ridgecrest getting gas, groceries,
and Judy's
required Latte, then after loading up Zayante, we headed out to the start
of the ride at
Valley Wells, just north of the scenic and ever delightful Trona,
California.  Why go to
Belize or Fiji for a vacation, when you could spend a week in Trona for
much less
money?  (those who know the place will now shake their heads.)  Judy and I
went out for
a ride to warm up the boys- Wabi was far from being a slow poke.  In fact,
he was
moving right along in his relaxed sort of manner.  Judy was so happy with
how he felt
after our 30-minute ride, she said she could leave now and still be happy.
Hmmmm.   We
prepped everything for the ride, had a nice dinner, (Turkey Burritos, I
think,) and went to
the ride meeting, where Judy started helping Jackie with the rider
registrations and
changes.  Know how to make a ride manager crazy?  Have them manage a
multi-day.  I
bet three-quarters of the riders in the event made at least one change of
rider, horse,
distance, laundry, who knows what else.   Jackie just takes it in stride
as she tippity taps
everything into the computer.   Our friend Rebecca Jankovich had not shown
up yet; we
were a little worried, since this was the maiden voyage of her new
trailer.  Did I say
trailer?  I mean rolling palace!   She pulls into camp in this giant, I
mean big, Silverlight
living quarters trailer, all of five days old.  This baby is plush!   They
were still trying to
figure out what went where, and what all those little switches did as the
sun went down.
        The first day started out with nice weather- cool, but not cold,
with a nice cloud
cover.   Judy and I rode out of camp together a few minutes after the 7 am
start.  Zay was
just bopping along in his normal manner, sneering at everyone in the ride.
Wabi was on
the gas!  He was jigging a little, and wanted to go faster.  This is good!
Well, maybe not
so great, but I'd rather have him be in a little bit of a hurry than
standing still.  The ride
cruises over to the outskirts of Trona, past a few garbage dumps and some
Very scenic, and lots of stuff to spook at.   The trail heads up into a
nice, long sandwash
that takes the riders up a long canyon at the base of the mountains.  We
were riding along
with Ken Cook and his tough little Rocky horse, just enjoying the morning,
when we
spotted a wild horse, way up on the side of the mountains.   We could
barely see it, but it
was cool, watching it work its way through the really nasty rocks, way,
way up on the top
of the ridge.  Then in a few minutes we saw a rider, on foot, following
the horse!  Uh oh.
Not so much a wild horse, it seems.  I could not believe where that horse
was going.  He
was going up, away from the trail, as high on the mountain as he could
climb.  We
watched it climb away, with the rider following on foot, stunned that the
horse would
choose to go up there.  It looked like a person could not walk through
that stuff.   At the
bottom of the wash there were people waiting for the horse to come down,
but it could
not get down the back of that mountain.  The rider eventually caught up to
the horse,
when it could go no further, and made it back to the trail. A few minutes
later we hit the
LD vet check, where Wabi was at 56.  It was a pulse and go, so we trotted
along through
the perfect desert for the remainder of the loop into lunch, where Judy
was done with the
ride.   Wabi had done great!  This was his second ride ever, and he had
done exactly what
Judy wanted- just have fun and not get him tired.  Zay and I spent our
hour eating, and
after lunch we headed back out with Rebecca, her sister Emmaline, and Gary
Webb on
his backup horse George.   Since Judy claims my SR saddle when she rides
Wabi, I used
another saddle for the first 25 miles. I switched back to my SR at lunch,
and when I
swung up into the seat, I felt right back at home.  You forget how
wonderful your saddle
is until you don't ride in it for a while.  Up and over the Slate mountain
range, with a long
walk off the horse down the back side.   From the top, you look North up
the valley and
see where the finish is, in Ballarat, but it looks like it is still 25
miles away.  After a walk
down rocky road number one, we mounted up and trotted the next 90 minutes
or so, all
the way up the valley.   The footing was perfect due to recent rains.  No
dust, just loam.
What could be better?   We finished in great shape, our horses looking
perfect.   Day one
completed, Zayante mileage is now 9,705 miles.

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