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Moonlight 50 Story - Sandy Howland

So I guess Im supposed to write a story! My first version was a 3 sentence blub that we survived. That just wouldn’t do!

In short, I am writing to report that my Tennessee Walker and I completed our first 50 at Moonlight In Vt. I am so proud of my boy!

Now for the story.

We had a uneventful trip up from New Jersey. Sherry Morse, myself, and Lauren Brown (our unsuspecting crew) left NJ at 4am sharp to beat the nasty NYC and Ct traffic. We made it up to Vt in 7 hours and change and got a gorgeous parking spot down the hill. In retrospect, it would have been nice to be UP the hill.

Skipping forward to Saturday, boy was it nice to start at 2pm. Many people warned us that the 2pm start would get the better of us. Let me tell you, I could do a 2pm start from now on! It was great to have the morning to putz around and get ready slowly, not to mention sleep in past 4:30am.

Sherry and I started off in the back of the pack to prevent Doc from getting any race-brain ideas. Let’s just say the boys had other thoughts. The first 5 miles were an arm-stretching, feet flying, fire-breathing mess. The boys were ready to GO! However, after the first several miles they settled into the old routine and cruised along the trails. I have to say that I think the first 20 miles where the hardest. I didn’t know what to expect. The trails were technical. I was anticipating some climb up a monster ski slope or hard gravel-laden roads. The first stop (a gate and go) went well. Doc ate and drank (which has sometimes been a issue). I don’t particularly recall the next 8 miles. All I know is that the trails were filled with beautiful views, well marked, and had lots of rolling hills!

We were slow. We were averaging a little over 5mph. I didn’t expect to win this; in fact we had not-so-jokingly said that our goal was to “win turtle”. We were well on our way! At this point I was a bit worried about Doc. According to the HR monitor he was running up in the 160s (really???). And, I had my doubts. I had worked hard to condition him to the best of my ability, but I’m my mind thoughts keep leaking in… “well he’s not a arab…Maybe that’s what I really need” and “don’t be disappointed if you don’t complete”.

Coming into the first hold things were looking mediocre in my mind. Doc was hot and looked tired. He did drink well, but hadn’t eaten much along the trail. We got into the first hold and our crew stuff was there, but no crew. WHAT! We started throwing tack and tangling ponies as they dove for the feast that had been laid out. We promptly sponged and then headed over to get vetted. Doc passed with mostly flying colors. Art King told me that Doc needed more e-lytes. I had bought some Lyte Now in weeks prior after much research (we have had lots of “upset tummy” issues). So, as Doc was eating and drinking voraciously I dosed him up. At this hold we also had to don our glow sticks and reflective gear since we were going so slow. Had we practiced that? No. It was interesting J but glow sticks got attached in a variety of ways and we were headed off into the setting sun with full bellies!

This is when things started to pick up. We hit a lot of road. Boy can we boogie on the road. Doc was in his element! Now, we weren’t fast, but we were moving and the Boys were happy! We were cruising. Doc has decided that eating along the trail was in fact a good idea. He was also drinking well. We at some point in this loop we meet up with Paul Sidio who was riding Cavalry. We rode with him for much of the remainder of the ride. Paul and Piper helped up pick up a nice steady pace in the woods and Doc made sure we made time on the open road. During this loop all my doubts left me. Doc felt fantastic. He was moving out freely. No arguing, no pushing, he was a walkin fool! It felt damn good to be out there in the what-was-soon-becoming-night flowing down, around, up, and through the Vermont country side.

Hold 2 was in the dark for us. As with the first hold, the boys came in with voracious appetites. This time Lauren had picked up a bunch of tips from watching the other crews. She took over. Not only had she not set up things the way we wanted them, but she has mixed all the feeds together and had everything all mixed up and had set things up so we were separated by the truck and saddle racks. The Boys LOVED IT and they didn’t have to bother each other to see what was in the other one’s bucket. Out of sight, out of mind. Way to go Lauren. That was a huge success. We vetted through quickly. Doc was looking strong and Dr. Otis only had good things to say aside from a twinge of back soreness. I was ecstatic! We had made it 38 miles and my Walking Horse was on fire!

Back out on the trails it was night. The moon was high in the sky and lit up the dirt roads. We ran into lots of runners at this point. Doc couldn’t decide if these crazy humans were worth catching up to or not. Some he would want to, others he decided were not meant to be part of the heard. It was fun. The trails in the woods were very dark. Early on I had decided that I wanted to take the minimalist approach with no head lights, not flash lights, just a few glow sticks and a reflective vest. I love riding in the dark and Doc has always been smart about it. Well, it was dark alright! Those few intermittent miles in the woods I was riding blind. Doc however, picked his way through carefully. I didn’t hit one branch (ok, maybe one); he didn’t take one bad step. When out on the roads Piper, Scutch, and Doc were happy cruising 3 abreast heading on at a nice clip through the moonlit countryside.

At the Silver Hill Road Pit Crew we lost Paul. He kept moving, but we stopped as the horses were ravenous and Lauren had coffee! From there on it’s a bit blurry, but I do recall being so very proud of my horse and so very sore. We slowed down a little after this but kept moving. We were almost done!!! Sherry kindly reminded me that it wasn’t over yet J

We made it those final miles with smiles on our faces. We all came into the final vet check ecstatic. The horses once again ate and drank well. We vetted through quickly. We were the last of the 50s. We were the turtles. WE MADE IT! Our first 50 was completed with flying colors under the moonlight in Vermont!

Sandy Howland