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[RC] [Guest] DVE 2002 Day 2 - Ridecamp Guest

Merri Melde chalkbox89@xxxxxxxxxxx
DVE 2002
by Merri Melde, deputizing for Nick Warhol

A ferocious wind kicked up at times during the night; apparently 5 horses
got loose from a pen but were, fortunately, quickly recovered. Raffiq
himself was loose, but hanging out in the sagebrush near his uncle Zayante.
A quarter moon hung like a jewel below a planet at 5 AM when I got up.
28  25-milers and 84  50s saddled up (28 and 79 finished) for the day, to
Ballarat and up Pleasant Canyon into the Panamint Range, a lollipop loop up
top, back down Pleasant Canyon to Ballarat and back to Indian Ranch.
Zayante was very lively going up the hard dirt road to the first Vet Check
at Ballarat, pulling on me hard. He had an agenda today, and being
conservative was not on the list.
       While enjoying every ride I do, always in the back of my mind is a 
worry about the horse Im on. Is he traveling perfectly? Did that stumble
hurt him? Hes not going his usual pace  is he alright? Did he eat and rest
enough? Did he get the right amount of electrolytes? With Zayante its
always in the front of my mind. Hes older, he has arthritic flare-ups; with
all the mileage under his girth I certainly dont want to do anything wrong
on him. Id pulled him once before when he wasnt going just right..
       On this hard dirt road I thought I detected a slight favoring of his 
front  especially when he cocked his head to the right, mad at me for not
letting him gallop this measly little stretch to Ballarat. Could his ankle
be bothering him? I had Charlie the vet look him over good at the Vet Check;
we trotted out twice for him, and Zayante seemed fine. Maybe a slight hitch
in his gitalong, Charlie said, but only slight. I could always turn around
and come back if it got worse.
Continuing on was just fine with Zayante. I could tell immediately this was
one of his favorite days of the DVE. Gretchen and I followed the other
horses up Pleasant Canyon, but somehow Zayante and I ended up going up
Unpleasant Canyon. We were still surrounded by horses, but Zay was NOT a
happy horse today. He wanted to attack that 10-mile, 3500 climb, and
walking over the very rocky ground was not a way to do that. He felt good
enough to run up it, and I know this horse, and I know he would have if I
would have let him. He loves hills, the steeper the better, and going slow
is not how a proper warhorse takes them. But we had 2 > more days, 143 more
miles to go, and the footing was bad, and I wanted him to go slowly and
carefully. Zay would have none of my reasoning. He got in a lather, and had
his head cocked sideways in his way of showing frustration and braced
against the reins that were cutting into my fingers. Good idea today, that
Finally we sort of compromised if he couldnt trot forward, hed trot up
and down - the Zay Jig. I let him trot when the rocks werent too bad, and
he jigged the rest of the way. Fair enough. The lather disappeared, and I
rode the Jig.
Red canyon walls towered above us, the sun-facing side dotted with barrel
cactus. We passed the old remains of a higher gold mining ghost town with
old buildings, mine shafts, ancient rusted vehicles. The dead young horse we
had to pass in the middle of the trail was a bit scary to Zay. Snow covered
the peaks of the Panamints we glimpsed through breaks in the canyon walls;
and at around 5000 we started getting into icy spots.
Zayante had just accepted the wisdom of walking through the real rocky
parts, and just when we hit another icy patch, he decided to go back to
jigging. Thats a bad idea wearing 4 Easy Boots, and instantly they slipped
right out from beneath him and he fell down. I cant recollect exactly what
happened, but I somehow landed on my feet next to him. I mustve thought I
could help him to his feet, because I just stood there holding onto his lead
rope. These things happen so fast you dont have time to think, otherwise
Id have gotten the hell out of his way.
When he tried to get up, his feet slid out from him again, and he fell back
on his side, and some part of him whacked me in the leg, and it finally
reached my brain to get the hell out of his way.
Zay slithered on his side like a snake on oil before he finally scrambled up
and whinnied, Holy Cow I hadnt planned on that! Raffiq whinnied back to
him, Are you OK? Gloria Vanderford ahead of us stopped to ask if we were
alright; I said we were fine.
But were we? More worry engulfed me. Did Zay hurt himself? Should I turn
around right here and go back? He seemed to be fine  he hadnt fallen hard,
and wasnt limping. But would it show up 5 miles up on top and wed be stuck
up there? And yikes, what if he had fallen on me? No place to land a
helicopter around there  the only way out was the 7 miles wed come slowly
We continued on, but Gretchen also hopped off and we walked on foot beside
our mounts. Considering my disinclination for hiking fast uphill a mile
high, trying to keep up with Zayantes big walk  and on slippery ground now
covered with an inch of soft snow - was not easy. I lasted about a mile
before I had to get back on. I took off his 2 back Easy Boots to give him a
little more traction, and I got back on him.
Once the snow got deeper the footing was better  it was dry snow, but now
the road was steeper and it was like slogging through very heavy sand. We
crossed into Death Valley National Park, passed the turn-off to Sparrows
gold mine, had a drink out of a bathtub filled with spring water, and kept
climbing. We met 7 of the front runners trotting their way speedily down the
snow (how did they keep their footing??). One of them said, Theres a
surprise up there for you. What could that be?
We wound on up through a pinyon forest, ensconced in its permanent blanket
of snow for the winter. We reached Rogers Pass at 6560 feet, and it wasnt
the strong cold wind up there that almost blew me off Zayante, but the
stunning view into Death Valley and the Badwater Basin (below sea level),
and the jumble of Black Mountains and the Amargosa Range and Greenwater
Range. Climbing the last steep hill, we could also see the Owlshead
Mountains covering the southern horizon. Now I knew what the surprise was,
and why Zayante wanted to get up this canyon so badly - he knew what was
waiting here on top.
From there, Gretchen and I hopped off and led our mounts down, down, down
the jeep road; and we were grateful for the deep dry snow in which we could
take cushioned, huge sliding steps down. Without snow, the road must be
terrible footing, steep and rocky. We dipped down into a valley, then had
another short steep climb; then it was back down in the snow(on foot), where
we met our uphill trail, and then down that long, very long Pleasant Canyon
back to Ballarat. When Im not in a hurry  and I never am - I dont like to
ride horses a long way downhill. It must be hard on their joints, especially
an old guy like Zayante. So we walked on foot at least another 4 miles, and
at Zayantes power walking pace. All 4 of us were dead tired when we caught
sight of the Vet Check in Ballarat.
Ballarat, now a ghost town, was built in the 1890s for housing and
supplying mines of the Panamint Range. Its decline began in 1905 when the
Ratcliff mine closed. Today all thats left are several old buildings and a
Mike, bless his wonderful crewing soul, had food waiting for us and the
horses, and we all stuffed our faces. Zayante passed the Vet Check with
flying colors - no stiffening from his fall and no evidence of lameness in
that right front. With the fuel stop, we trotted most of the hour back to
Indian Ranch.
It was getting dark, and Zayante felt so perky he started looking for things
to spook at. When he spooked so hard at something, what I dont know, that
he fell to his knees, Raffiq led us bravely (almost nothing bothers him)
into camp in the dark. Kudos to those finish line folks Ray and Kathy
Sansom, waiting out there patiently in the cold and dark for all the riders
to come in every night.
Once again, Mike had the horses home ready, and started on dinner for us
tired 2-legged folks.
After a ride theres still a lot of work to do, and theres no sense
stopping till youve done it: blanket the horses, ice their legs, take the
Easy Boots boots off, clean the horses, mud and bandage legs, drink that Dr.
Pepper Ive been dreaming about since noon today, attend the ride meeting,
put on second layer of horse blankets, walk the horses, finally eat my own
food (I gave up trying to be self-sufficient and feed myself, and mooched
off Mike and Gretchen again), feed horses again, bum a lovely shower, and
crawl in bed by 9 PM (I also gave up my tent and surrendered to the couch in
their motor home), exhausted. My body throbbed to the tips of my toes and
fingers, and I had the muscle twitches as I fell asleep. That was one long
50-mile day  though of course my horse did nearly all the work.

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