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[RC] [Guest] Death Valley Encounter 2002 Day 1 - Ridecamp Guest

Merri Melde chalkbox89@xxxxxxxxxxx

DVE 2002 - Day 1

by Merri Melde, deputizing for Nick Warhol

Is there a better place to be on the planet December 28-31 than at the 4-day
Death Valley Encounter in the southern California desert? Storms and snow
all around us; flooding in the Bay Area and LA; but could anyone ask for
more perfect weather in the Panamint Valley and Mountains surrounding this
200-mile ride? Cold crisp mornings, sunny, almost warm afternoons; following
historic trails and sites of the 1850s immigrants and miners; a fine group
of nearly 100 riders a day, fine friends, and an exceptional group of
volunteers crewing and helping with the ride. . . read on and I believe this
is one multi-day you may not want to miss next year.
I usually spend my winters in Ridgecrest, CA riding for Jackie Bumgardner,
who for the 17th year has put on the DVE. I really desperately wanted to
participate in this ride  my first multi-day ride  because December 28th
is the 3rd anniversary of a horse-kick-in-the-face that almost killed me.
This was the first time since multiple surgeries and healing I was able to
make it here for this ride. The only downside was that Nick Warhol would
not, alas, be able to make it for this ride, which meant that I would be
stuck riding Jackies famous 18 or 23-year-old 10,000-mile plus white
warhorse Zayante, and many of us know how much Zayante despises multi-days
and how much I dislike riding this horse. Oh, and did I mention that Zayante
almost died from strangles 2 months earlier? (First time hes ever been

Day 1
Day One began at the base camp of Valley Wells in the Searles Valley.
Gretchen Sam from Bridgeport rode another of Jackies horses, Royal Raffiq,
with Zayante and me. I thought Id outfit Zayante in a sidepull, thinking
hed be relaxed these 4 long days. We started out under clear skies, wrapped
in layers against the 35* chill. At 7:00 AM, 15 riders on the 25 mile-loop,
and 94 riders on the 50-miler (15 and 85 finished, respectively) headed for
the outskirts of Trona, now a potash mining town, then headed up a sandy
wash, skirting the base of the Argus Mountain foothills lining the valley.
Zayante energetically pulled us along, not totally thrilled with the slower
pace Id picked for him to hopefully last 200 miles. It was an easy warm-up
12-mile ride to the Vet Check for the 50-milers back in base camp.
       Then we headed out east toward the Slate Mountain Range. Zayante plowed 
tugged his way up this long gradually-climbing jeep road into and to the top
of the Slates at 3600 feet. Up there, a beautiful view of the Panamint Range
greeted us across the valley - chocolate mountains dripping with caramel
topping, dissected with millions of rippling canyons, ending in the Panamint
Valley, 1300 feet below us. Gretchen and I hopped off and walked down the
jeep road, following 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 1850s. We stayed on foot all
the way down the now-rocky terrain into the Panamint Valley, where Sparrow
and his newly-shorn Poodleranian, Pest, awaited with welcomed water and hay
for the horses.
       We continued north along a dried-up salt lake 10 miles along a kind
meandering jeep road, surrounded by scrappy creosote bushes and a few
cactuses trying to make a living in the harsh ground. The only other sign of
life was an occasional raven that hopped around and croaked at us as we went
by. Looking at the miles and miles of desert, and the maze of mountains
surrounding us, and thankfully only imagining the terrific heat of the
summer, it was so easy to envision but hard to imagine those brave
immigrants struggling across the sands with their oxen and loaded wagons,
lost and not knowing the way out. We were clipping along at a steady 8 mph
trot on jeep roads, where they must have been lucky to make 8 miles a day on
no roads.
       Zayante knew where he was, knew where he was headed. He was a beautiful
brilliant white bundle of energy floating above the tan sand, in the golden
winter light, a happy horse in the Panamint Valley. I let him go on a loose
rein, walking when he wanted, picking up a trot when he wanted. Raffiq
followed faithfully and steadily behind us, taking the lead when he thought
the old man had walked too long. We lapped and overlapped Sue Benson on
Rocky and Becky Hackworth on Stylish Gent several times, both of them also
wanting to get their horses through the 4 days of the ride.
       The second Vet Check just before the ghost town of Ballarat was a 
wind-less place to tank up on water and food for the hungry horses and
riders. From here, it was about 7 miles to the new base camp of Indian
Ranch. For about 10 years, base camp had been here in Ballarat. Zay thought
it should still be in Ballarat. Did I mention Zayante had previously
completed all 4 days of this multi-day Death Valley Encounter 5 times? That
his total completed mileage in the DVE over 9 seasons was 1465 miles? He
tried to turn into the empty campground at Ballarat. I had to steer him
north along the road. He kept trying to stop, could not understand why we
and the other horses were not stopping here, where hed always stopped for
the day. For about 5 miles I had to work on convincing him that this one
time I actually knew more than he did, that we were at a new base camp this
When our stablemates Maggie and Adonis, ridden by Rebecca and Emmaline,
caught up with us, Zayante reluctantly drafted on in behind them. We arrived
just before dark in our new camp, where Zay seemed to say, Ah ha! I know
where we are now! We finished in the middle of the pack and vetted through
fine, ready to get pampered for the evening and relax.
The only problem was there was no red trailer  Zay and Raffiqs home  to
tie to. It was still out at the last vet check carrying supplies and waiting
on the rest of the riders and horses. This turned out to be no problem,
however, as the usual helpfulness of fellow endurance riders erupted.
Rebecca took time out from caring for her own horses to rearrange her
trailer so Raffiq could fit in, and provided hay and water and blankets for
both horses. Ken Cook - formerly known as Friend of Wabi; now also Friend
of Zayante  offered a spot on his trailer and hay and water for Zayante,
and later Judy Long (Nicks wife) supplied us with more hay.
When the red trailer returned, Gretchens fiancie Mike helped us shuttle
supplies and horses back and forth; and by the time we got Zay and Raffiq
settled, fed and watered and their legs done up, and the ride meeting
attended, and the horses walked again after I mooched food off Gretchen and
Mike in their luxurious mansion on wheels, and my tent set up (which half
blew away the first time I set it up), I was exhausted. It was 9:30 PM and I
hadnt stopped moving since 5 that morning. I might have been the last one
up in camp at that ungodly hour; there was not a peep out of a human or a
horse under the brilliant desert stars.

Merri Melde
Vagabond (but Ridgecrest, CA in the winters)

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