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Old Dominion (aka Beast of the East) part one - Shannon Loomis || The Beast of the East - on the 55 Mile trail - April Dobson
My Old Dominion - Nancy Sluys

Old Dominion (aka Beast of the East) part one - Shannon Loomis

June 13 2011

**Warning: The following email will be long and tedious, as brain and fingers are still slightly numb)**

Sooo. How to start. My saga actually started forever ago. My 11 year old daughter expressed an interest in trying 100 miles. She finally has a horse that might be capable of 100 miles, her little Morgan mare, Angel, who finished all 250 miles of Shore to Shore in 2010. Old Dominion is our closest 100, only 140 (or so) miles directly east of us, over the big mountains on the VA-WV line. My Morgan gelding and I completed the OD 100 in 2009. So, months ago, during the winter, when it seemed forever away, I said, sure, why not! And I talked a friend of a friend, Karen Bell of NC, into joining us.

Unfortunately, as soon as my truck heard we wanted to go over the mountains, it started to act up. The check engine light came on. Repeatedly. My radiator sprung a leak. Various valves and doo-hickeys cracked. So it has been in the shop. Repeatedly. Finally, I asked the mechanic if it would hurt to drive it if the light came on while towing my trailer to VA. He said no, just take it slow. I picked it up from the shop on Wednesday, forked over more wads of money, and it was running great. No warning lights, zooming along fine.

After a few really hot, frantic days of packing, we were finally ready to go. The horses were freshly shod and sported strange new haircuts. My husband was shanghied into pit crew service with only a few token protests and the threat of being bound and tied to the hay rack on top of the trailer.

Thursday night boasted a thunderstorm that dumped almost 2 inches of rain on our house and Friday dawned so muggy that you felt like you were drowning just walking to the barn. But the weatherman said it was going to cool off over the weekend so we loaded up and headed East. Two hours into the journey, the check engine light came on. I ignored it. The campground was already packed by the time we pulled in at 1 pm. Luckily, Karen had arrived late the night before (really late, she blew a tire on her rig that tore the fender off of her trailer) and saved me a spot not too terribly far from the vet check.

We passed the vet check with flying colors, although my gelding was not appreciating the humidity - did I mention we ride Morgans? Karen and her giant Arab, Sammie, also passed and we unhooked the trucks and packed like we were going across the Sahara. Her husband, Mike, was crewing for her and being from the Southeast, he is very experienced in cooling horses in heat and humidity. We love Mike.

The rest of Friday passed in a blur of heat and bugs, followed by the world's longest ride meeting, with the trail guy saying things like - "now this climb is really steep, but then you get here and you can make some time" and "these switchbacks are really long, but you get here and then you can make some time" and "there might be a few rocks on this trail..." (I waited for the reassuring part of that statement but that was it).

Finally, bed! We had to be up early early for a 5:15 am start. And the rain started around 2 am. It stopped just before 4, so the morning was damp and chilled but felt like it was going to be a scorcher....


I do not have my notes, but I think 37 started the 100 (6 calvary) and 75 or so started the 55. I do not remember how many started the 25. There were a million vets (I think 13) and what seemed like tons of volunteers to help out.

At 5:15 AM we headed off in the gloom and fog of predawn and promptly took a wrong turn. Fortunately, we figured it out quickly, but it did not seem to bode well! The first loop took us through the woods and up a very steep pipeline trail. I will now say that there were rocks. Just to get that said. Pretty much, if you weren't on a gravel road, you were on rocks. The first loop was 17.2 miles to the Bird Haven vet check. My gelding's brain was fried because he thought we were heading back to camp (this vet check is also the last of the day, so we have to backtrack slightly towards camp). He took about 15 minutes to pulse down, which is unusually long for him, but we all three passed the vet check and waited 45 minutes to go out again. And the sun came out with a vengeance, heating everything up to broil.

Back out on trail, the second loop consisted of 19.1 miles or so of hell. We went up. And up. And up. Over rocks that make the videos of Cougar Rock look very inviting. We were riding with Paul, a Calvary rider from Missouri, who regaled us with stories from Tevis and the Ozark ride this spring. (He thought I was a junior rider all day and that Karen was sponsoring both Morgan and me. Every time he saw Karen alone, he would ask if her juniors had been pulled. I like Paul.) And then the real rocks came out. And we went up some more. A few 55 milers went past us, I am not sure how they made time up the mountain, but I later heard they were pulled at Laurel Run, the second check.... Management provided water troughs at the top of the mountain, thank the endurance gods, and we went downhill over some more rocks into Laurel Run. By this time, my gelding, Quest, was panting in the heat but no crews were allowed into this check. Fortunately, volunteers descended on us like locusts and even had a bag of ice! Morgan's mare, Angel, came down quickly, but Quest couldn't stop panting. I had Morgan wait for me but I was starting to panic that Quest wouldn't pulse down and Karen and Sammie had already passed the check, so would have to wait for Morgan if she was going to have to go on without me. Finally, after 20 minutes, we passed into our 45 minutes hold but they held our card for an inverted CRI, so would have to come back for a recheck before we went out. Karen graciously offered to wait for Morgan but Quest passed when I took him back to the vets - he just had to chill out in the shade and eat for 10 minutes or so. We heard rumors that the trail out of this check consisted of 6 miles of gravel road straight up. Sammie, Karen's big Arab, is a flatlander horse, so she planned to walk the steepest parts of the trail and headed out without us.

The rumors turned out to be true but fortunately, our Morgans are not flatlanders and maintained a steady trot up the gravel road as the sky darkened and thunder rumbled in the distance. We caught up with Sammie (and another horse whose name I do not know but she was ridden by Nancy from NC and we rode with her off and on all day) before he hit the water troughs at the top of the road and we all headed into some beautiful woods together as the rain started to fall. As we negotiated the rocks and slid our way downhill in the rain, we hoped it would stay overcast the rest of the day, but the rain stopped and the sun came out just as we hit the 3rd check at Bucktail around 3 or so (management kept our ride cards and the day has blurred together, so the times are guesstimates). Quest was still panting but with Karen's husband, Mike (did I mention we love Mike), we got him down and pulsed through and back on the trail. And then it got really hot.


We left Bucktail all together and boogied to the Wates Run hold, which was just a gate and go. The trail was really fast and went by easily, the best section of the day. The hold was on the top of the ridge, with shade, but the air was so still and hot, and the water fairly warm from sitting in the sun all day. We pulled saddles and stuck the horses in the woods and Quest managed to pant off his heat enough to pulse down, thanks to help from Karen and volunteers. We headed out again, swapping back and forth with Paul and Nancy and a couple of Calvary riders (one of which was a Rookie Team - first 100 for horse and rider).

The trail into Big 92 (vet check 4) was only supposed to be 11.2 miles, but it went on forever and ever and ever. We finally passed the two Calvary ladies for good and picked up another lady on a nice gray Arab as we headed down the switchbacks. I was told the switchbacks ended in a gravel road, and then only a mile into the hold. We trotted about 3 miles on that gravel road. I must admit I was very cranky and tired by the time we finally made it into the hold. I was fried. I was done. Send for the trailer and put me in air-conditioning done. My husband, Jeremy, talked me down as Mike helped attack my horses with ice water (we love Mike). The sun was going down. It had to cool off eventually. We were 3/4 of the way. Both horses were sound and passed the vets easily. So I put on my big girl panties and got back on my horse. Sammie headed off without us again but we wouldn't catch him until the next hold. Now it was dark, but we had a nice moon and the trail was mostly more of that gravel road that I was cursing as we came in but thanking the endurance gods for as we were able to cruise along it in the moonlight. I did have one moment of panic as we hit a section of road without seeing a glowstick for what seemed like forever, but Morgan was able to talk me down and on we went.

I just want to add in here that the OD must own stock in glowsticks. They were not overly generous on the road, but when we had to cut across a section of tough ground, it looked like they marked every 30 feet or so. And coming into Laurel Run for the second time, the sky was lit by generator powered pole-lights. This time, we were in only a few minutes before Quest pulsed down. This time we only had 20 minutes of hold but the horses were eating so well we delayed 5 minutes to give them time to pack more feed in their bellies before we set off for the last hold.

This trail was not quite as conducive to trotting after dark but we picked our way along, trotting where we could, walking where we had to until we hit the glowstick runway that guided us into the last hold, Bird Haven. I have seen less lighting on aircraft carriers.

This hold went easily and 20 minutes later we were back out. The night had finally cooled enough to need light jackets and the moon was starting to hide behind the ridges. We walked the last 6 miles into camp. Quest knew he was heading back to camp and was walking at Tennessee Walking Horse speeds, picking his way through the rocks and trees. We found out that they must have used their glow stick allotment at the last hold, but Quest knew where he was going and lack of glows was not a hinderance to him! The woods spit us out onto Happy Valley Road, about a mile from camp, right on top of a turkey farm. The smell of that farm hit you right in the back of the throat, the way maggot stench does, but it meant camp was moments away, so we welcomed it.

We finished around 4 AM, 15 or 20 minutes behind Karen and Paul (who was appalled that Karen abandoned her juniors!). We woke up the out timer and smiled for the camera as Jeremy walked us back to the vet check, where Karen and Mike waited for us. We pulled our tack and vetted out within minutes.... Done. Finished. Over.

The vets all day were awesome. We were obviously back-of-the-packers and they were patient and calm and smiling all day. They were encouraging, willing to wait for a pulse to come down for a few minutes if necessary, joking and talking us up as much as they could. I never had one cross word from a single one.

5 riders finished behind us, Nancy had hooked up with two other riders to finish around 4:45 and then the two Calvary riders we passed after Big 92 finished at 5 AM, with 15 minutes to finish.

Completion rates: 25 miles = 92% 55 miles = 74% 100 miles = 76% Calvary riders = 100%

So we did it. Me and Quest, Morgan and Angel, Karen and Sammie. Thanks to Jeremy and Mike (we love Mike!). My fingers and toes are numb. My legs bruised because I never did find any half chaps before the ride. I think my brain shut down and has never quite recovered. Morgan was 1st Junior and 1st Rookie. We all got shiny buckles and a nice photo from Becky, which I will share as soon as I find it. Don't ask me who won or BC'd, my brain is dead, maybe someone who was close to the front knows....

The End