Sunday, February 25, 2007

Liberation & Accumulation - January 6, 2007

I jumped into my car at 5:00 PM to cross Phoenix, east to west, to make the 300 plus mile drive to Warner Springs. It took me more than 90 minutes to get to the western perimeter of the city, and I felt the density of the population around me. It seemed like a good idea a few days earlier when I had agreed to drive through the night to ride a 50 on an exceptional CMK horse, CR Zebra Splash, with Clydea Hastie at the revered Warner Springs Endurance Ride.

I sat in a room for most of the day on Friday with five Mayors from the Phoenix area who were asked to share their 20-year goals for their cities. The Mayors addressed their answers with a surprising lack of creativity or acknowledgment that issues of diversity would become key in accommodating the eight million people that will move in over the next ten years. They talked about adding more of the same instead of evolution.

As the lights of Phoenix grew dim behind me and darkness of the desert set in, I was reminded that this sport - this great escape - takes us further away from the heel-biting reality of life in a big city than anything else on earth. It was an interesting juxtaposition. It provides the ultimate meditation that is borne through the left foot right foot focus of endurance.

The dust storms that brought the highway speeds down to 40 mph were stressful and I began to think it would have been safer to stay home. There were overturned tractor-trailers lying beside the highway. The clouds of blowing dust made driving seem like a game of chicken with the other vehicles on the road. I was relieved to turn south off Highway 10 and start heading up the hairpin curves of the mountain range to the west of the Salton Sea. The change of environment led me to realize the allure of The Ride is as much about liberation of the soul as it is about accumulation of the miles. There is no other motivation greater than liberty itself that would lead me to drive for seven hours into the unknown.

The start of the race was upon us before I blinked. It was 22 degrees - real cold by Arizona standards. There were more than 60 frantic horses at the start, some bucking, some bolting, most riders with that same look in their eyes of fear, excitement and hope. The next 13 miles were a teary-eyed blur of the helter-skelter roller-coaster effect of a fast horse on a fast trail of trees, rocks, sand and single-track furor. What fun. Sue Summers said the trail would be technical: now Clydea and I knew exactly what she meant, and we had fun with that notion for the rest of the day.

Whoosh. Before we knew it, we were at the first vet check. 20 minutes to let the horses settle and replenish fiber and carbs. There were scores of volunteers to time, pulse, scribe and serve. There were buckets of Gatorade, trays of fruit and donuts and hot coffee. There were flakes of grass hay and alfalfa; buckets of grain littered randomly across the vet check and volunteers offering hot mash to horses who were less shy about indulging than the riders. Before I blinked a second time, we were back on our horses and off up the beckoning mountain in front of us. We rode in the lush green of streams that wound their way under appreciative trees and across clusters of rock that bound it all together. It was trail that led us up to the second vet check along hairpin mountain single-track and views that stay with you and permeate your very being.

Whoosh and we were at vet check two. The horses still felt strong and vetted through without event. The sun's strength was no match for the wind, which kept us cool and the horses eager to eat the bounty laid out on the ground before them. We enjoyed the prosperity of the buffet of cold cuts, cheese and bread for sandwiches. The hour hold ended and we turned around and set off back down the mountain; through winding sandy trails and across rocky outcrops that towered high above our target of the Cheney Ranch below. Dr. Woolley talked about stem cell research and cutting new trail as we wound our way down the hill. All the while, the horses pulled us back to the out check, where Elfta pulsed our horses in and then fixed a shoe on a horse next to us. We drank more hot coffee and laughed about the technical trail and enjoyed the space that the trail had put between the riders.

There were just ten miles left and the horses felt like they were settling in to the rhythm of the day. We cut up under the old growth trees and up along the rolling prairie that just rolled eastwards and on beside cows and hikers. Six miles later, we came upon a trail stand of apples and cantaloupe and water and Gatorade and more smiling helping hands. The horses bobbed in the water tank for apples.

Four or so more miles down across the prairie and we were home free with plenty of horse left and the addictive euphoria that you only get at the end of the ride. Fifty miles richer and alive, really alive.

That night in the lodge while the fireplace roared hot springs flowed, we filled our bellies with cuts of beef au jus and pork and baked tomatoes with green beans and creamed potatoes. Thank-you Terry Woolley Howe and your army of friends and helpers! What a ride, what a glorious ride.

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