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[RC] Arizona - Riding at last! - Steph Teeter

(photos, results at http://www.endurance.net/international/USA/ 2009ValleyoftheSun/)

After another year of traveling, and riding other people's horses and having other people ride my horses I decided it was time to get back into riding, really. I miss the simplicity of AERC rides, I miss being fit and I miss my horses! We did a few rides last year, but nothing like in the good old days.... So I starting thinking about hauling down to Death Valley for the first ride of the year. John and I could take 2 horses and ride and then stick around for January and February rides in Arizona, camping out at Rusty and Kevin's house in Scottsdale... John was not wild about the idea, I think his idea of the 'good old days' was just staying home, come rain or shine. But he agreed to at least drive down with me and then we'd see what happens after that. The horses got their coggins and travel papers, everything in Oreana was cleaned up and ready for winter and Merri's watchful eye. (Merri loves winter and snow in case anyone has noticed :).

So we were ready to roll... and then it started snowing. Really really snowing, Montana snowing, North Pole snowing.. and cold. The creeks froze, the hoses froze. Snow to the north, snow to the south, and driving a horse trailer on snowy icy roads is simply not fun. So I alternated between days of hope and days of resignation. Beautiful winter walks, long winter nights, checking the weather forecast every 30 minutes. Christmas came, and we had a wonderful dinner with family and friends, maybe the next day? maybe not. By now I'd given up on Death Valley, but the trailer was still packed and waiting and there were still all those other winter rides down south. Finally the weather turned and on December 30 it starting raining, and raining, and then the sun shone and the roads were cleared and on December 31 we made a run for it. Loaded up and left ... and didn't stop till we made it to Arizona! There was still snow all along the sides of the Interstate through Idaho and Utah - and it had even snowed in Las Vegas - so we just kept driving. Offering water to the horses, fresh hay, but no overnight stop. We finally arrived, 19 hours later, totally exhausted... but we made it.

This is the fourth year that we've parked at Kevin and Rusty's place and they are as welcoming and tolerant as ever! Good people, good company and great friends. And I really do love the Sonoran desert. Land of saguaro cactus and palo verde trees, coyotes and sunny days and cold nights, rocky mountain peaks and sand washes. It's a beautiful landscape. They have some great trails right out the back door - just a mile from the boundary of Tonto National Forest and the Rio Verde River.

And FINALLY we made it to a ride! January 10 was the Valley of the Sun ride, a 50 mile course within McDowell State Park - a beautiful section of fairly pristine desert, carefully managed for horses, hikers and bikers. Designated horse staging areas and campgrounds, trails are well designed and well maintained, and well used. No motorized traffic is permitted in most parts, so it remains quiet and peaceful.

This was the second ride put on by Irene Murphy using the park trails. The first was in November, there was one scheduled for December which had to be cancelled, then the January ride, and finally one more at the end of February. On this ride, her second, everything was well organized, she knew better what to expect - and with only 30 riders it went quite smoothly. We rode very slowly - taking 9 hours do to the 50 miles! But I didn't want to jeopardize the remaining winter rides by over-doing it on our first! There was a lot of rock and quite a bit of sand wash, so we just took as much time as was allowed to save the feet, and save the legs, and enjoy the scenery.

We started at 7am, with the sun just coming up and a big round moon just going down. And we finished just after 5pm with the sun just going down, and a huge full moon coming up. Spectacular! It was just perfect really. I had been craving that feeling of numbness and fatigue that the miles can bring on - that constant forward motion (plus a little sideways motion when we passed the bikers). That sense of just watching the scenery go by. And perfect weather, sunny but not too warm for the horses, jacket in the morning, long sleeves in the afternoon. The final 2 miles back to camp were through a sand wash. We walked most of it to rest the horses, and savor the final miles - when we entered the wash the sun was still warming our backs, and as we rode through the wash toward camp the sun disappeared and the temperature dropped, the sun's radiant energy gone, and warmth of the day sucked out by the violet cloudless sky.

We vetted the horses through, they looked great - though we were all a bit weary and ready to be done - just the way it should be! Gene Nance and Sid Varges were the vets for the ride, and Sue Nance helped and scribed all day. More Arizona transplants, who had moved down from the north county. It was fun seeing them down here. We were chatting and then Gene pointed to the mountains - the highest ridge was still purple from the last of the sun's rays bending round the globe, and one of the biggest and whitest moons I've seen was just becoming visible - and we watched as it rose - full and round. Sid commented 'look at that, one can almost feel how fast the earth is spinning to see it rise like that.' Indeed, as we watched it got bigger and rounder and then the purple faded from the mountains and there was the big old full moon, dominating the night sky. And I think I heard a coyote howl just about then...



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