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[RC] Big South Fork 100 mile story (long) - Sluys Guys

Big South Fork 100 Mile Endurance Ride

When I came to Big South Fork I really did not know what rides I was going to do. It was a three-day pioneer ride with a choice of distances each day. I had brought two horses and had pre-registered in a 30, a 50 and the 100 on Saturday. I finally settled on a 30 for Thursday and the 100 on Saturday with a rest day for me in the middle. I rode the 30 on my mare, Shady Rock Rose, who is returning to the trail from maternity leave after producing a beautiful filly last summer. This was her test to see if our spring and summer of conditioning was paying off. We had fun as I let her pick her pace and she finished easily in about 4:15. To my surprise she placed 8^th and had the high vet score in the BC judging. She passed the test with flying colors and our weekend was off to a good start.

The day off gave me a chance to organize my things for the long ride on Saturday. My husband and ace crew member, Bill, was laid up at home with a bad back so I was going this one alone. I packed some things that someone would take to the two remote vet checks. All the other vet checks were in camp and I had conveniently parked just across the road from the vet area so I formulated a plan to time in, go to my trailer to remove tack then go to the pulse timer and vet then back to the trailer to rest and refuel.

The morning of the ride was foggy with a light misty rain and fairly cool temperatures. The ride, which was to start at 6:30, was delayed until 7:00 because the visibility was so bad. There were 13 who started the 100 and I was hoping to stick with some riders so Blue would have company. I have ridden Big South Fork many times before in NATRC competitive trail rides so knew the trails fairly well so when the riders in front of me turned up the hill just past Charit Hostel I had a sudden feeling that we had taken a wrong turn. I called ahead to the people in front of me but everyone kept going. I got my map out and tried to read it while trotting and realized that we were supposed to change from orange and black to plain orange and go straight at that turn and we were still on orange and black. I called ahead “If we get to Hatfield Ridge we have definitely taken a wrong turn!” Sure enough after about a mile we came to Hatfield Ridge. The few folks who were within earshot of me looked at their maps and agreed that we had gone wrong. Darn! Just what we needed at the beginning of a hundred mile ride! We headed back down the mountain and put ourselves on the right trail. We had gone an extra 2-3 miles by making that mistake. Unfortunately there were 3 riders that did not figure out their mistake until they arrived at the vet check too early. They had to later make up the mileage but were eligible for completion only.

We were keeping a pretty good pace and came into the first remote vet check at 20 miles in 2½ hours even with our wrong turn. That was a bit faster than I had intended to ride at the beginning but I was still hoping to stay with the other riders. Blue vetted through just fine and settled in for some carrots and alfalfa.

The second loop went just as fast but at this time of the morning the temperatures were climbing into the 80s and the humidity was extremely high. I realized as soon as I came into the check that I had made a mistake by going too fast. Blue took a while to pulse down and looked a little stressed. He was having a hard time with high humidity. I finally got his pulse down which was work since the water available had been sitting in the sun and was not cool. This hold was back at camp and it was a busy part of the ride for everyone so I was on my own with no crew. Luckily a tank truck arrived to fill the troughs and the water was fresh and cool, some folks came over and helped me sponge and scrape him. His pulse steadied and I presented him to the vets but his CRI was high so they held my card for a re-check. Back at the trailer he ate and drank well and I sprayed him off with cool water and let him hang out in his pen with Rose while he ate. After about 30 minutes I took him back to the vets and he had completely recovered and vetted with all As. Whew! Disaster narrowly averted and a big lesson to ride my own ride. Since the re-check had taken some time away from Blue’s eating I decided to wait a little longer before leaving the vet check so he could tank up. I went over and told Angie Fura, whom I was riding with at that point, that I was staying for a while so that they could go on. We’d be bringing up the rear.

The third loop was the worse for us as now Blue and I were alone which he dislikes and we were repeating a portion of the morning trail, which he hates, not to mention it was the hottest part of the day and the humidity had not let up. Still concerned about his condition I kept a much slower but steady pace, more like what he was used to from his NATRC days. I spent extra time in the creeks and made sure that he did not get as hot as he had before. It took me about 3 hours and 15 minutes to do the 14 miles but Blue was looking good. By the time I passed the timers and stopped at my trailer to drop off the saddle his pulse was down. We went right to the pulse takers and through the vet check with all As again. I was confident that we would make it through as long as we took it easy.

The next segment followed the White Oak Loop trail to the Cumberland Valley Trailhead where there was another remote vet check. This was the most fun section of trail as the footing is firm sand and the trail is fairly level, winding through white oak forests. Blue remembered this section from the past and we boogied right along as the sun went down. The air became cooler and our energy picked up. I had packed my Ipod for this loop just for fun and it seemed to be playing just the right music for trotting. Bob Marley, Bonnie Raitt and old time mountain waltzes all had the proper beat. I felt like we were doing musical dressage down the trail in the light of the half moon. The bats started dancing with us, swooping around us and past us and sometimes flying down the trail in front of us. I was a bit nervous about that at first but they seemed passive and I started enjoying their presence.

The trail continued for quite a while, as it was 15.4 to the vet check. We were deep into our trotting rhythms when all of a sudden I saw lights through the woods. I gave a “hootie hoo!” and was greeted by cheers from those waiting. It was 9:15 and they had expected us around 10:00. Blue and I had made up 45 minutes with our fun. Blue was hungry, I mean really hungry! He started devouring everything in sight. Apples, carrots, alfalfa, oats, he just couldn’t get enough. He drank lots of water too. This is where the magic crew fairies really helped me. When I arrived a group of folks surrounded us, put me in my chair and gave me yogurt, took off Blue’s saddle, gave him water, sponged him and took him to the pulse taker (I did insist on trotting him out myself since he always does better for me) and hung out with me in the dark. Thanks Lori, Angie, Robbie and whoever else was there. The riders before me had just left moments before I arrived so I didn’t feel quite so alone anymore.

It was only 12.4 miles back to camp and our second to last hold but in between was a bear of a mountain to climb. We left the vet check and made our way along a level, sandy trail for a few miles before descending to a bold creek. We followed the creek for several miles alternating trotting and walking the rocky sections. I was proud of the steady pace Blue was keeping, as he tends to lose motivation when riding alone. When we hit the big mountain Blue slowed to a walk as he negotiated the steep 2.5mile climb. He put one foot in front of the other and marched up the mountain without stopping. A mile or 2 after we reached the top we came to a road crossing. Blue remembered this as the 2 mile marker from his NATRC experiences here and got quite excited and really picked up the pace towards home. Little did he know that he still had 20 miles to go after he got back to the camp.

Once again through the vet check and his condition was getting even better, he really was doing well. He was still ravenously hungry and I was starting to wonder if I was going to run out of feed. Becky Siler was there waiting up for me ready to lend a hand and it was much appreciated. She took care of the horse, which allowed me to take care of myself. We headed out for a ten-mile loop that we would then repeat before finishing. Blue really didn’t think this was a good idea, after all, his mare and all his feed was back at camp and the bats were out there on the trail. He crawled out of camp like a slow motion movie and it wasn’t until the horse trailers were completely out of sight that he started listening to my leg cues. Once we got going he got into the spirit and we hit another good rhythm with the music playing in my earphones. Once again the bats were following us and they were fun to watch. At one point something sailed by us and clung to a tree and when I shone my light I realized it was a flying squirrel. In my head I remembered this as a fast flat loop but after the first 5 or 6 miles of good footing and level terrain we hit a gravel road that had some pretty steady climbs. Blue used this as a good excuse to slow down. His motivation was really waning and I was having to sweet talk him for a good trot. He still looked great so I know it was a mental thing.

The last hold was a short one and we headed out one more time. Remember, I said that Blue really does not care for repeat loops and this was certainly the case at 3:30 in the morning and we had been riding alone for nearly 60 miles. If he thought the last loop was a bad joke he thought this one was a nightmare. He felt strong under me, though, so I kept urging him on. We made a compromise, if he would trot 10 steps he could walk 10 steps and we kept chugging along. He just really didn’t see the point in this last loop. After all, the 2-mile marker was almost 20 miles ago. It wasn’t until the last turn for home that he got his spark back and then he almost didn’t believe me that it was almost over. When camp came into sight his ears came forward and he pranced a little as he neared the timers. The fire had died and folks were bleary-eyed but everyone was glad we had made it and they could now go to bed. His final vet check was the best of the whole night, I had taken good care of him and that earned me a “Good job!” from head vet, Otis Schmitt. I got Blue comfortable and spent some time rubbing his legs and just making sure everything was ok. He was glad to see Rose and there was plenty of food waiting there for him that Becky had been so nice to set out. He munched and I marveled at our accomplishment and how this big-hearted horse went so far alone just because I asked him to. When it was all said and done we finished top 10 and turtle in our second 100-mile ride. What a night!

Thanks to all who helped us to make it! Thanks also to ride Eric and Nelia Rueter and all the crew who made it look easy (but we know different!)

Happy Trails, Nancy Sluys and Indigo Blue (100 mile horse!)


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