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Tevis 1999- The All Alone Ride (part 1)

Nick Warhol

Tevis 1999- The All Alone Ride
Nick Warhol

You can't miss this horse.  He stands out like a porcupine in a nudist
colony, or a 90 pound fresh salmon on the floor of a donut shop.  He
doesn't't look like many of the horses at Tevis, in fact he looked like only
one other that was there.  He's Warpaint, the Endurance Appaloosa.  My wife
Judy let me ride the spotted wonder at Tevis this year for a couple of
reasons.  My horse Shatta's suspensory  is still mending- he can't do any
rides until next year.  Here I was, bummed to the max without a horse, when
Judy decided to take pity on me and let me give him a try at the castle Rock
50.  I finished the ride and had a great time, so I did the Oakland Hills 50
a few weeks later.  I finished that one after a slight detour down the side
of a mountain, but hey, not even plunging down a mountain can stop that
horse.  (Not even Gary Fend's multiple attempts to make SURE I got lost on
his trail could stop me!)  The kicker was winning a free entry to Tevis at
the AERC convention.  Wouldn't't you know it, those entries aren't't
transferable, not even to a spouse.  Since I had been having so much fun on
the horse doing conditioning rides she decided to give me a shot at my third
Tevis.  I finished the first one on Zion but got pulled at the finish, last
year I finished really strongly on Shatta's first Tevis and got my first
buckle, and I wanted another one this year.  For some reason this ride seems
to grab hold of me: there's something very special about it.  I'm not sure
how to describe the attraction except to say that the ride is a challenge,
and I really like what head vet Mitch Benson says about this particular
ride:  It's 30% horse, 30% rider, and 40% luck.   I was really depressed
when I found I couldn't't ride on Shatta, and became just as excited when I
realized I was able to do it again.

I changed the horse on my entry from Shatta to Warpaint and began to get
ready for the ordeal.   We drove up on Thursday morning before the ride and
set up camp in our usual place, just down the road from the start area, back
in the forest a little bit.  One thing about this ride that I'm not crazy
about- it's the second dustiest place on the planet, second only to wherever
is dustier.  You begin to get used to the dust in everything, including the
food, water, clothes: you get the idea.   At least it wasn't windy.   It did
seem a bit cooler this year- that's a good thing for Warpaint.   As relaxed
as I seemed to be about the ride, poor Judy was a bundle of nerves until we
got checked in.  I took him out for a few miles to warm him up before the
vet in, and after our ride he passed the vet check just fine.  Once we got
checked in I really began to think about the ride.   Yep, we're going!  This
horse is a real pain-in-the-ass before, during, and for a long while after
the start.  Here I was, about to go and ride Tevis on a horse that just went
crashing down a cliff on (my) his last ride because he can't/won't stand
still, ever.   I'm a pretty confident type of person, since I know I can do
the ride, and I know he can do the ride.  Last year I had no problem going
right to sleep the night before the ride.  This year I found myself lying
awake in the camper thinking about the Granite Chief Wilderness and what it
was going to be like going through there on a horse that won't stop or stand
still.  What about the California loop and those (gasp) neat 500 foot drops
to the American River just inches from the edge of the single track trail?
I remembered how much fun it was to jam through there on Zion, and even more
fun last year on my horse, who was perfect.  There's dust on the roof of the
camper.  What will those trails be like on this ballistic horse?  I wish
that horse out there would shut up so I can get to sleep.  Would Warpaint
calm down above Squaw Valley?  What time is it, anyway, and why is Judy
asleep?   How am I going to get through the start without running over
people, or going off the road?   Oh, shut up and go to sleep.

Ride morning came way too soon when the alarm went off.   My riding buddy
Sally Abe came along this year to help with the crewing since she wants to
ride this thing, perhaps next year.  She and Judy had things well under
control.  We had a nice, relaxed morning getting ready.  The horse was even
standing reasonably still while getting tacked up.   Judy and Sally pulled
out at 4:30 to drop off the truck and get to Robinson Flat, leaving me in
the dark on the back of a horse who was VERY alert and jigging already.
Like I have said before- he thinks the ride begins once you hop up on his
back.  I jigged up and down the road for about 15 minutes and headed to the
start.   We jigged past the number taker and tried to find a spot to stand
in the crowd.  Except that he does not stand.  I found a nice little spot
just off the road where we spent the final 10 minutes jigging in a small,
square pattern.   Funny- if you stop him, he'll pause for a second, then
just go sideways, through bushes, trees, Honda Civics, whatever.  Of course
it's not really that bad, but he just won't stand still.  I discovered
something in that 10 minutes that would save me this day: as long as he kept
moving forward he was fine, even when moving forward at a half a mile an
hour.  He will jig slower than a cat can walk, but as long as he's not
stopped, he was fine.  Hmmmmmm.

The Start!  I was riding by myself this year, which helped me on Warpaint.
We started moving up the road, and as always the pack would stop, then go,
then stop, then go, etc.  This would drive Warpaint nuts!  Once we got going
we only stopped a few more times, but I hate to think of what some of the
riders were thinking of me and my sideways horse.  It was so dusty I can't
believe I could breathe that stuff.  Absolutely terrible.  Maybe Tevis needs
a three tiered start, sort of like a foot race?  Let the people who are
planning on going faster leave at 5 minutes until 5, let the next group go
at 5, then let the slower people leave at 5 after.  Who knows, it might help
the crazy congestion and dust of that start.  I wasn't having any fun at all
until we got to the single-track trail.  At least by then it was only a
single line of horses, not two or three abreast.   Except that the first
time I had to stop for traffic, Warpaint paused his two seconds and went
sideways, right off the trail.  Okay- this won't work.  It was then I
remembered the little, bitty, jig at the start. When we got started again,
I held him back and made sure there was at least 50 feet of space between me
and the horse in front of me. When I saw the horses in front stop I'd haul
him down (no small feat) and get him into that half a mile an hour jig.
Know what?  It worked!  Perfectly!  I'd creep up on the horses in front of
me, and just as I'd get close they would move, and I'd keep my distance
again, then slow down again when they stopped, and so on.  I was really
jazzed since it worked.  At last I found a secret that really seemed to
work.   From that moment on I used that technique on all single-track trails
until after Robinson flat.

We blitzed along the normal trail towards Highway 89 but then took the new
underpass.  Some people watched Warpaint sort of jump up the rip-rap rocks
since he thought that would make a nice short cut.  Dumb horse.  Strong, but
dumb.  Rather than head up the parking lot to the ski area we immediately
started climbing on a new single-track trail that was a good climb, but was
very dusty.   The pace was faster than I liked, but this horse feels like a
train climbing hills like this.  The 50-foot rule worked perfectly all the
way up this climb.  It was really nice except for the dust.  We were way up
the mountain by the time we passed the base lodge.  The trail continued
climbing and eventually dumped us out on the main ski run about a quarter or
so of the way up to the top.  I really like this part since I've skied here
so many times.  The road is wide as we jigged up the mountain.  We did some
trotting but mostly took it easy.  There were still a ton of horses around
here that were filling up all the little creeks where there was some water.
I knew the Ap was thirsty since there was no water stop at the bottom.  We
were about a half mile or so from the upper camp when we came upon the
aftermath of the Debby Lyons accident, all though I had no idea what had
happened until much later on.  All I saw was a rider lying on her back a
couple of hundred yards away being attended to by a couple of people.   It
turns out she was hurt badly and needed to be rushed to a hospital for some
emergency treatment.  We were all very relieved to hear that she would be
fine.  (as a side note- at the awards ceremony Debby's husband Jeff Herten
told the crowd about Debby as he accepted his buckle.  Apparently she told
him to finish the ride and not to worry about her.  What a competitor!
Helmets off to Debby, and get well soon!)

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