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Big Horn 100 - Shell, Wyoming

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2006 Steph's Story || 2006 Joyce Anderson's Story || 2006 Dr Dave Brown's Story || 2003 Tom Noll's Story

2010 Stories:
Bighorn Stories - Cindy Collins || Bighorn: The Most Unpredictable Ride of Them All - Kevin Myers
Bighorn Crew Story - Carrie Thornburn || Ronnie's Report,Big Horn 100, 2010 - Ronnie Eden
An Outlaw Rides the Big Horn Trail - Tom Noll & Frank || Big Horn 100 2010-And Beyond - by Lucky 6 Nellie(with help from Marirose)
Another Big Horn Crew Perspective - Dan Ward
Darlene & Lumpy do the Big Horn 100, 2010. Our Epic Adventure, Part I - Darlene Anderson
Darlene & Lumpy do Big Horn 2010, our Epic Adventure, part II - Darlene Anderson
Darlene & Lumpy do Big Horn 2010, our Epic Adventure, part III - Darlene Anderson
Darlene & Lumpy do Big Horn 2010, our Epic Adventure, part III, the Final Installment! - Darlene Anderson

Bighorn Crew Story - Carrie Thornburn

I came along as crew and groupie of one for Frank (the horse) and his buddy, Tom Noll (the dude). It was my first trip to Wyoming, and I was dazzled by the scenery all along the trip through the Teton, Dubois, Thermopolis, and up to Graybull. I am sooooo going back.

Tom was undecided about the ride until about a week ago. Frank is in his 20's now, and Tom wasn't sure he wanted to do a tough 100 like this with him. However, when we rode the Strawberry Fields ride in Utah last month, Frank did all four days and was so strong that the vets encouraged Tom to show him for BC on the last day. Since Frank was running so well, and has strong connections to the Big Horn (he won it one year), it all came together that Frank could do what might be his final 100 ride at the 40th anniversary of the Big Horn. So off we went.

We were the third rig in camp when we pulled in on Thursday. It was a very different setting from the rides I had done at the Teeter's place in Idaho, or the Strawberry Fields camp we had ridden out of in Utah last month. This ride camp was on some treeless, dry lot property belonging to a really nice couple named Sharon and Mel. One of the first things I did was borrow their lawn mower and mow down the dried cheat grass around Tom's cowboy hippy van and trailer, and Mel let us hook up Tom's van to his power in the shop. We actually used the refrigerator! This was just too sweet!! Tom parked his rig so we were close to the side of an out building and had a sliver of shade it provided us for our camp chairs and Frank. We opened a few cold, frosty beverages from Colorado, and took our ease from the hot sun. I don't know if it was triple digits, but it sure felt like it. Later that evening we cooked corn on the cob for a potluck with the other Northwest people. Max Merlich brought hamburger made from a steer ("Chuck") he had raised, and we had quite the feast. The Bad Girls passed out Tiaras and garters to all their endurance team members and wannabes. Max Merlich in a tiara and garter is really something to see. Not every 6' -something mule riding dude can carry that look off.

The next day we hooked up with Tracy and Dan Blue from Minnesota and went swimming in the creek outside of Shell. That was awesome. I guess that the ride camp used to be on Trapper Creek Road, and folks could just dunk in the creek there, but we had to take a short drive and walk across a vacant pasture to find our swimming hole. Certain parts of my anatomy stood up and saluted from the bitingly cold mountain water, but Tom dived right in. He's nuts. Eventually I eased in up to my ears and did some swimming myself. It was really fun. I hadn't swum in a river or creek for years, and I'd forgotten how neat it is. We played "aqua stick" with Kilo and the Blues' two dogs, and passed a really nice time there.

Anyway, we got back and hung out with Max Merlich, his wife Lisa, and Darlene Anderson and waited to register and vet in, and everyone's excitement, anxiety, and anticipation was palatable. Tom V. who had been organizing the ride for years had suffered a heart attack a week or two earlier after he had had back surgery, and was in a nursing home. Many people were concerned for his health, and how this event might affect the ride. At first, there were only about 10 rigs in camp, but as the day wore on, it filled up. Tom V. got himself sprung from the nursing home, and drove into camp. He looked pale and weak, and he stayed in his car (hopefully with the air conditioning on), but he drove circuits around camp and answered questions as best he could. Some things (like when would the weed-free hay be delivered) he couldn't answer because he'd been in the hospital with more important things on his mind, but he was very available and eased a lot of the pre-ride jitters that riders were feeling. Big rigs suddenly started pouring in with licence plates from Minnesota, New York, and Texas joining the ones from Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. This was the biggest ride I had ever been to so far. It seemed huge to me.

After the vets and ride management arrived late Friday afternoon, we quickly checked in and the lady vet (she had an accent, I think her name might have been Irina) painted the number Tom had chosen in yellow on Frank's hip. She added a few sprinklings of pink polka dots around the number for panache, and Frank and Tom were officially fit to begin. Later that evening, we caught a ride with the Blues to the ride meeting and dinner at a community center in Shell. We packed the place, and they had to set up extra tables for the latecomers. There was supposed to have been a bus to haul everyone there, but something happened and the bus never showed, so some riders went back with their trucks to pick up the folks who needed a ride.

Jeannette, the ride manager, led the meeting. There were many questions about the trail, as many of the riders had ridden previous years there. One thing that stuck (ominously) in my first-timer's mind was when Jeannette semi-jokingly said that "... if you're going to get pulled, do it at Antelope Butte, because if you get pulled at Jack Creek, we can't get a rig in to get you, and you'll have to walk your horse to the Ranger Station to get picked up". I mentally started reviewing what I had packed in my crew stuff at that point. Jeanette said how they had had some trouble getting all the trail marked because of blow-down timber fall that week, but that there were new trails and that she was working hard to make everything as perfect as she could. There were flashing red lights for the night parts, and lots of little flag (like the lawn service guys put on freshly treated lawns) markers on wire sticks clearly showed turns with triple flagging.

Jeannette introduced some of the long time riders at the dinner. She and Tom V. were absolutely thrilled with the exceptionally large turn out for the ride. I got to meet Regina Rose's friend, Kathy Arnold. Kathy had sold Frank to Tom years earlier, and it was fun to hear all about how that had happened. Kathy's sister had marked the Big Horn trail from Frank in years past. Dinner was delicious, and the band played a good cover of some Creedence Clearwater Revival tunes. Riders and crew studied the maps, and everyone breathed a palatable sigh of relief after getting good food and information about what to expect. People were getting their game faces on. It was hours away now.

4 a.m. came and we saw our riders off in the dark. I rode along with Tracy Blue's husband, Dan, his two Australian cattle dogs ("Wedgie", and "Tucker"), and Tom's dog, "Kilo". It had been so hot, that we didn't want to leave the dogs inside the trailers. Dan and I listened to the weather report: "20% chance of thunder showers and/or rain". It was so stinking hot that it seemed unlikely we would have to deal with cold at all. Still, having lived at 6,000 feet elevation for 20 years or so, I went ahead and packed my winter coat, extra sweatshirt, knit hat, ski gloves, and extra socks along with shorts, tank top, and sun block in my back pack. Tom had two windshirts, an extra set of riding tights and bike shorts in the crew bag to supplement his riding clothes. We were more concerned about the heat, and since he'd be moving, we didn't think he'd need much for clothes other than a possible change for chaffing or if we did get the 20% rain. We made sure we had beau-coup electolytes and Equine Senior mash to keep Frank hydrated, but right before we left, I added a rump rug to the crew bag for good measure, just "because".

Our first vet check was in the most beautiful country. I saw so many deer in the wildflower sprinkled meadows, and even a cow and bull moose hanging out near a pond. It was absolutely gorgeous. I was soooo envious of the riders getting to ride through such a magnificent place. The sky was blue with fluffy white clouds overhead, and it was refreshingly cool- almost cold. I put on my sweatshirt. It seemed like it took forever for our first riders to get there. One other crew member commented to me that she was happy to see that riders were "riding smart" since there were some grueling climbs during that part of the ride. Finally I saw Max and Darlene, and they told me that Tom was coming about 10 minutes behind them. Frank (who is a 20-something marvel of a horse) had sorely tried Tom's patience (and pre-breakfast low blood sugar) with a case of "race brain" over the first leg of the ride, but he looked great and wasn't showing any sign of fatigue. Irina the vet gave him the first of three hearty "Fit to continue!" proclamations, and after downing some yogurt and granola, Tom decided to limit Frank's "race brain" stimulation by riding alone.

It was a good strategy. Tom and Frank arrived at the second vet check a good half an hour to forty-five minutes earlier that I was expecting them. Tom had that glint in his eye. His focus was on. It had stayed cool with cloud cover, and now had started to rain lightly. I was glad that I had Frank's rump rug. I hand-grazed him, and Tom helped Walt with his Easy Boot. This was where the 50's and 30's ended, so there were a lot of horses and people. Jeannette, the ride manager, was cooking hamburgers, and it was a cheerful (if damp) ride camp.There was a bus with tables set up in it to eat in out of the rain, and the camp hummed like a well-oiled machine. After Tom rode out again, I got a hamburger from Jeanette. I special requested one that "was still mooing", and got some good ribbing from some cowboy old guys there. That was one tasty burger. The rain was picking up as we pulled out of camp. I saw Dave Rabe in his customary riding garb (denim shorts and white tank t-shirt) and hoped he wasn't getting cold. Dan told me a story about Dave riding in a winter snow storm in that outfit with the snow crusting over his bare thighs. I decided that endurance riders like Tom and Dave must have high cold thresholds. Either that, or they're nuts. There was a flash of lightening as we headed toward the long drive up to Jack Creek.

Then, it rained buckets. It was a cloudburst downpour. Torrents of rain, COLD rain, like you've never seen hammered us. The dirt road turned slick. "Greasy". Then it turned slick and steep. Dan had this huge water tank that stood vertically in the back of his truck, so he normally drove kind of slow anyway to prevent it from falling over, but now we had the added challenge of not fishtailing off the side of the road as we made our way painfully up the 40 degree angle of the wet, clay road. It was nail-biting. I wasn't sure we were going to pull some of the hills, even in low 4x4. There was quite a few trucks coming down off the hill toward us on the road, and that made it even dicier trying to find places to pull over to let them by (and vice- vesa) while not losing precious momentum in the mud. I was beginning to wish we had a winch just in case. But we made it, joining the other mud-crusted crew vehicles at Jack Creek. I looked around for Max's crew. I didn't see them. They were driving in a Volkswagen Jetta. One of their crew members (Kendall, I think was her name) showed up later on foot. She had to get one of the other crews to take her back to their car to get their gear because the Jetta was stopped at the top of a hill to make sure it didn't get stuck in the mud.

Jack Creek was a cold, wet, miserable camp. One of the first things I did when we got there, was pull Tom's dry clothes out of the wet crew bag and put them in the cab of the truck. The lady in the big rig truck next to us needed help backing in. She was worried that she wouldn't be able to get back out of the meadow we were parked in, if she nosed in. She was from Texas. She had never driven that truck before. Dan backed her truck for her, and I helped her unload some of her stuff. She had these really neat coolers and rump rugs made like patchwork quilts out of ride t-shirts from Texas and Oklahoma rides. I had never seen that before (besides the quilts used as bedspreads) and thought that was a great idea. I want to look her up and get her to make me a rump rug out of some of mine.

The hold at Jack Creek had two options: Option 1 was to hold for one hour, then ride the loop and do a pulse and go down the last leg of the ride. Option 2 was to hold for a half an hour, ride the loop, then hold for a second half hour. However Tom was riding alone, and was about an hour or so ahead of Dan's wife Tracy who was riding with Walt. Walt and Tracy were taking it a little slower because Tracy's anglo-arab Diego was barefoot. Walt's pasofino, Thunder, was shod, but had lost a front shoe, lost an Easy boot, then lost the other front shoe in succession by the time they rode into Jack Creek. Anyway, they were planning to do the one hour hold. Tom, on the other hand, was opting for the two half-hour holds. This created a bit of a logistical challenge for me, as I (and Kilo- Tom's humungo - and now, soaking wet- dog) would need to get a ride with someone else in order to do both holds for him, or Dan would have to wait around with me for Tom's second hold after Tracy and Walt left. Dan was very understandably anxious to get the hell off that greasy road, but he very graciously offered to stay later so I could offer Tom my dry coat or clothes after it dumped rain again all over us a second time, and I knew he had no more changes of clothes. I was really worrying about our riders getting soaked twice before the long hard ride down over the slick rock in the cold, dark. All of our riders were tough, but hypothermia happens even to the tough.

And our tough riders had a few added wrinkles to the already formidable challenges of terrain and weather. Walt had no change of clothes for even the first dump ("I'll just get off and run to warm up", he tells me cheerfully). He also was diabetic. Tracy was recovering from broken ribs from a recent wreck. Frank's in his 20's and Tom, an ultramarathon runner, is nuts (as we established earlier) and doesn't register pain. I didn't want to be a mother hen, but I was more than a little worried about them.

Then I saw Mary Rose leaving the vet check on her mule, Nellie. Mary was carrying a bouquet arm-load of the red trail marker flags. Evidently, Mary was going to be marking the trail back to camp as she was riding it. As I watched with slack-jawed dismay in the pouring rain, her mule shied sideways under the swaying bundle of train flags. "Shit", I said, my anxiety level ratcheting up a notch. I learned later that the reason Mary Rose was marking the trail while riding it, was that the trailer Jeanette was hauling the 4-wheelers in to do the marking herself had slid off the greasy road.

I think it was around 5:00 when Tom came through. He practically blew past us, without offered clothes etc. Tom knew that he didn't have any time to waste, in order to keep some kind of cushion of time for whatever misfortune might be happening in the last leg of the ride, he had to hustle.

There was lightening and thunder. The vets were waiving the second hold to get people off the mountain. The Texas girls came in. A couple of them got pulled. Their horses might have had stifle pulls or something from all the climbing up and down they had to do in that obscenly greasy mud. Kathy Arnold's horse was too tired to continue. Kathy ended up leading the Texas girls out when they walked their horses out later. I heard later that they spent a long, cold night waiting at the ranger station for the trailer to come pick them up. I think it was the same trailer that had slid off the road earlier that night. It took some time to get a wrecker to come pull it off the side of the road.

We waited and waited, our anxiety for Tracy and Walt increasing. Finally sometime around 8:00, they came in. They, too, blew past us without stopping for food, water, etc. They had a long, cold ride in the dark ahead of them. We could hear them from far off though. They were telling jokes about boogers, or some dumb thing. It was still pouring rain.

We inched our way back down the mountain and went back to ride camp. We dumped the dogs, fed and watered Dan's other horses, changed into our dry clothes, and headed out to the final stop (no vet check, though) which was Trapper Creek, about 9 miles, I think, from camp.

Now, it got surreal. We'd been up for 20 hours or more. I kept falling asleep in mid conversation with Dan as we drove. Or I'd be dreaming, and I would suddenly realize that I was saying something out of my dream aloud, and I'd hear Dan say, "Huh?". We parked near the former ride camp site. The sky had finally cleared some. The stars were amazing. I remembered a line from one of my favorite movies, The Lion in Winter : "...the sky was positively pocked with stars. What eyes the Wise Men must have had to have noticed a new one."

Suddenly, there was a voice, a headlamp, and a rider!.. Callie, Lois Fox, somebody else... I started out of my dopey drowsing. I heard snatches of conversation from invisible riders in the dark, "... that damn slick rock almost did us in..." Then I recognized Kevin and Rusty. "Tom's right behind us", one of them said. "We had no trail markers at all up there and got so lost. He got us through that with his GPS. He had the coordinants in it from a couple of years ago". Then, there was Tom. Still with the glint in his eye, still focused intently on his timing and pacing. Off he trotted in the dark, headed home. I breathed a sigh of relief.

It seemed like forever, when I, again, startled out of a half-sleep when I heard Dan say, "Tracy, it's me, Dan". Tracy was there. She was weeping. She had been lost. She had gotten separated from Walt when they ran into a group of riders with a very ill Cindy. The other riders rode off, and Walt and Tracy stayed with Cindy. Tracy went to get help, she said, and Walt stayed. She was exhausted, with about one raw nerve left. Dan tried to talk her into letting him walk her horse in for her, but she wouldn't have it. If Diego finished, he would be the first barefoot horse (no boots!) in the history of the Bighorn, to complete. She was focused on doing that. Dan sighed in acceptance of his wife's drive, and we returned to camp.

At the gateway, the volunteer asked us if we could give them any updates about the status of how many riders were still out there. The volunteer named off about 12 people still missing and now over-time. We told the volunteer who we had seen, and that they should be on their way in.

I saw Tom and Frank back at the trailer. I tried to stay up and wait for Tracy, but we needed to get warm, so we crashed. A few hours later, I awoke to hear Tracy talking outside Tom's van. Walt was still out there. Lanie was still out there. Dorothy Sue was still out there. Tracy was in a panic. She had not come in after we saw her last. She'd gotten turned around on the remaining trail, couldn't find the trail markers, and had retraced her steps repeatedly, trying to find people. Diego was now lame from crossing and recrossing the graveled road. She'd been told that everybody was in, but she knew Walt and the others weren't. She'd contacted Search and Rescue.

The Search and Rescue guy was really nice. He made some calls and came back with the good news that everyone had been found and accounted for. Nobody was hurt. Cold, wet, exhausted, yes. Hurt, no. At breakfast, I heard snatches of everyone's adventures. Breakfast was good: Jeanette cooked up a huge amount of pancakes, french toast, and ham. Awards were presented, completions acknowledged. Jeanette told us about her adventures with the trailer sliding off the greasy road to Jack Creek. She looked exhausted, too. When it came time to present t-shirts, someone said that the t- shirt should read, "I did the Bighorn 100". Then another person chimed in with, "No, it should read; The Bighorn 100 did me". We all laughed. It was truly an epic ride.