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2016 Fire Mountain
Images by Merri Melde


38th Annual Fire Mountain Endurance Ride

30, 50, Introductory ride, Sunday 1*

2017 Fire Mountain - Nick Warhol

Baylor/Gore Photo

Fire Mountain 50, 2017

I had a great almost week down in the desert with only one glitch. I got really lucky driving down on Tuesday, leaving the Bay Area in the rain, and arriving in Ridgecrest in nice weather. Tuesday evening the storm blew in and closed highway 395 due to the high wind. Whew! That was close. Ride manager Gretchen Montgomery put me up in her house again with pens for my horses. (The ride base camp is a 5 minute walk away)

On Wednesday (after the daily morning hike in the hills) I went out on the bike and worked on the 20 Mule Team trail in the wind. Wind does not bother a dirt bike much. I figured out the new route to the 395 crossing since we can’t use bikes or quads any more on the old trail, and then scoped out the new 50 mile trail in the morning. I rode the whole 50 to check mileage. The desert was wet, which makes it perfect. Such fun!

On Thursday morning, in nice breezy weather, after the hike I got to work on the fire mountain trail. Gretchen has guys who mark it, then I go out and fill in ribbons, put chalk down on the turns, put up signs, and then ride it backwards on the bike to be sure it is marked okay for day 2 which is the day 1 trail in the other direction. I noticed I was coughing and sneezing a little, uh oh. The clouds rolled in as I finished loop 1; I headed out on loop 2 and was high up on the ridge when the front came in. I could see this black wall of rain heading right towards me, and yes, it hit. Whammo! The wind came, and it poured, hard, and even hailed. I continued with the trail, enjoying all of it but the cold. Wet desert is magic on the bike! Unfortunately my soaked gloves made my hands freeze, so bad that I had to stop and put them on my engine to warm them enough to open the clothes pin on the ribbons. The chalk was also useless in the downpour and wind. I finished the loop soaked and cold, and after a lunch break and drying out period, I finished the third loop in the sunshine. Thursday night brought more coughing and a sore throat, oh great. Just what I need.

After a short hike on Friday morning, Gretchen rode my Donnie with me on Sorsha, along with Peggy on Gretchen’s Coquette for 90 minutes or so. It went well except for a couple of spooks from rabbits. We spent the rest of Friday getting ready for the ride, with Gretchen doing tons of stuff, and me running errands and putting up signs out on the trail. The weather was supposed to clear, but it remained overcast with light rain on and off all day, and pretty cold. My riding buddy Ines Hofmann Kanna drove down on Friday afternoon to ride Donnie with me on day 1. She stayed in my camper at base camp while I lounged with my horses in the Montgomery Hilton, 5 minutes away. She camped next to Brenda and Jenni, but poor Jenni could not start due to her horse being lame on Friday night. Late Friday night I knew I was sick. Perfect. I did the best I could to sleep, but it wasn’t much.

Saturday morning came clear and cold, and zero wind. Finally! At 5:30 am, sick as heck, I walked the two horses over to base camp and we tacked up and headed out at 7. We rode out at the back of the pack with Kristin Ojala from the Bay Area on her nice mare Lani. She and I have been riding a little up here, with her helping Sorsha get used to other horses. Sorsha did pretty well at the start with so few horses, but she’s still too sensitive to horses being behind her, and in front of her if it’s not Donnie. She’s a little competitive in the morning. I can’t thank Ines and Kristin enough for helping me the whole ride. I’d just ask them to be in front of me, or behind me, or further behind. They were helping me do my ride on my young horse, and I really appreciate it. Sorsha did really well passing other horses and when other horses passed her- this was a real issue in my two rides. I was very pleased when a horse cantered past us, and she did okay when the 4 limited distance leaders came flying by later on. The first loop is 15 miles, some rocks and climbing, but a lot of nice wet desert. I had a strange problem in the last half of the loop- I was so sick that my eyes were burning, and the wind from riding was killing them. It made them burn, and it was so bad that I actually rode the last 4 miles or so with one closed the whole time, and sometimes both. That was weird. Blind Endurance! The first vet check went perfectly, I spent the 30 minutes with my eyes closed. I tried eye drops which them burn more. I had an idea- I had my bike stuff here, so I put a pair of dirt bike goggles on over my sunglasses, then put on my horse helmet. I looked really stupid, but it worked! Perfectly! I rode out of camp on loop 2 looking like a bug, but it solved my problem, and I could see again! And the goggles matched my helmet! Ines thought I should have done that for the pictures, but no. The weather was as nice as it gets in the desert- clear, cool to warm, and calm. I had a little bit of young horse excitement on loop 1, nothing bad, but it’s just not like riding Donnie. It’s fun to ride along with him with another rider on his back. It’s a neat view of my best pony I don’t get to see that often! Loop 2 turned into a fantasy ride; I left camp in a tee shirt. Sorsha was perfect, well, almost. Just once when Kristin came up a little close Sorsha did a little kick backwards: Kristin backed off a little, and that was that. It was absolutely fun. Ines and I took turns leading; Sorsha really prefers to be in front, which I love. And this horse can move. What a motor! Kristin led us down the valley for a couple of miles at a quick pace down to camp for our lunch on a fantastic trotting trail. I told someone at the check that if this were a test ride on this horse, I’d be getting out my big checkbook. She was absolutely splendid. If I sound happy I am. Wait till this horse is fit, and gets a few more rides under her saddle! The hour lunch went quickly, and off we went on loop 3. This loop has some fantastic trotting on it, which we did in wet perfect desert. We picked up Tim Martin on his new mare after his wife was pulled. Sorsha was even better on this loop. She just motored along, her motivation and forward attitude never once even feeling any different than she did at the start. I just LOVE it when you ask your horse to trot from a walk, and they just spring forward, instantly, even on the way out from camp. Donnie has always done that. The four of us just bopped along the whole way, and we even survived the infamous recliner chair that has been marking a turn for years. Sorsha drank well all day, and was eating the desert vegetation as we went. At the last water Tim led his horse for a while, so the three of us trotted down to the finish just as the sun was setting. The temperature started dropping about a degree every 5 minutes, but that’s what it does out here. The horses vetted out great- Donnie with his always CRI of 44/44, and Sorsha was at 40/40. This was her second ride! Well, technically third, since I stopped because of me at gold rush shuffle because of the weather. We had a nice ride dinner, and at about 7:30 I led the ponies back to Gretchen’s, put them up, went to bed and slept for 12 hours. I was sick, and no way was I going out on Donnie again today. Didn’t matter- he blew through the ride as usual. I loaded up and sneezed and coughed my way home on Sunday.

It was a great trip where I got to ride both the bike and horses in the perfect desert, which I really love. I’m happy beyond words with how Sorsha is doing. Wow. Thanks to Gretchen and Mike for putting me up in their house- it’s a plush way to do a ride. Thanks to Ines and Kristin for really helping me on the ride. Ines said I really had to twist her arm to come down to ride Donnie. Next stop- 20 mule team. I have not decided what I’ll do yet. I’d like to ride both horses again like this ride, but also want to do the 100 on Donnie. We shall see.

It was hard to hear that our dear friend Jackie Bumgardner passed away on Tuesday, the day I arrived. It was not unexpected, but that does not make it any easier. We will all miss her very much. There will be an unofficial small memorial service for her at the 20 mule team ride, a ride she founded, on Friday after the riders meeting. It will be a chance for people to celebrate her life and share a couple of stories about her. I have some. Godspeed, Jackie.

The annual Fire Mt ride is fast approaching. The endurance ride is scheduled for January 16-17, 2016. Both days offer a 50 mile ride or a 30 mile ride. Valley Riders is also offering an introductory 15 mile loop for anyone interested in endurance. Sign up early for a $20 discount. Entry forms are available at Aerc.org.

Base Camp: Base C amp opens at 11:00am on Friday, January 13 , 20 17 . It is locate d at the corner of San Bernardino Rd (aka County Line Rd) and Springer St.(double electrical pole line along the road), southeast of Ridgecrest, California. It is the site of the Valley Riders Equestrian Center and is currently undeveloped so camping is pr imitive (no electricity). There are accommodations, grocery stores and gas close by. Potable water will be provided. Porta Potties will be available. Base camp is at 2,500 feet .

Trailers are available for rent , go to hidesert trailerrntls.com . Their winter location is less than ½ mile from base camp and they set up in advance .

Horse pens are available for rent. $10 per night.

Check In: Pre - Veterinary check - in will be on Friday, January 15 , 20 16 from 3: 00 PM to 6:00 PM at Base Camp. All horses should be checked in and numbered by Friday evening. Riders who will be late, please call 775 - 376 - 6318 to set up a check - in time. Office op ens at 1 :00 PM.

Ride Meeting/Start Times: The pre - ride meeting will be he ld at Base Camp at 6:00 PM. All riders must start within 30 minutes after their designated start time – 6:30 AM for 50 - m iler; 7:00 AM for 30 - miler and 9 :00 AM for the introductory ride. (Subject to change at the ride meeting.)

The Trail: Riders will trav el on trails and dirt roads in the foothills of Rademacher Mountains southeast of Ridgecrest with all loops starting and ending at base camp. Hay will be provided at all vet checks and at some water stops. This trail is considered moderate and considered g ood for beginners with some mild climbs offering a great view of the Indian Wells Valley. You will be riding on Bureau of Land Management trails. NO SMOKING ON THE TRAIL.

Awards, Food and Fees: Ride Dinner will be approximatel y 5:00 - 7:00 PM Saturday and from 4 to 7 PM Sunday. Awards will be presented at base camp after d inner for the 30 and 50 milers. A ll riders completing will receive a completion a ward . Awards will be presented to top ten , first place in each weight category , 1 st junior , and BC for 5 0 and 30 milers . Entry fee includes the ride, vet exams, AERC fees, drug test fees, BLM land use fees, water and hay for the horses during the ride, awards and rider’s dinner. Extra dinners for crews or family will be available for $12.

Ride Rules: This is an AERC sanctioned ride and all rules will be enforced. See AERC rules at aerc.org 1. Juniors must wear an ASTM/SEI approved helmet.
2. There will be no ties.
3. The same horse and rider must pass all control points and stay on the marked trail in order to qual ify for awards and completion credit.
4. Any top ten finishers of the 50 or 30 mile ride who want to be considered for Best Condition must present their horse for the Best Condition examination within the time frame announced by the head vet.
5. Loose dogs in ca mp may result in rider disqualification. Please ensure your dogs are on a leash or kept within your rig.
6. Any abusive behavior or violation of any rule by a rider or associated crew will be subject to disciplinary action (i.e., disqualification and/or being asked to leave by ride management or a vet).
7. All horses must meet a pulse of 6 0 beats per minute within thirty minutes of crossing the finish line in order to meet Fit To Continue criteria and remain eligible for completion or placing.
8. Riders are respon sible for keeping track of their vet cards.
9. A $20 fee will be added when entering ride on or after January 15 2016.

INTRODUCTORY RIDE: (will be discussed at the pre - ride meeting – Saturday only )
1. Pre - ride and post ride vet checks are required for com pletion.
2. This is not a race and no timings or placings will be given, just completion awards.
3. No AERC membership fee is required for the 15 mile introductory ride.
4. Juniors can ride for the same nominal fee but must wear an ASTM helmet whenever mounted and be accompanied at all times by their adult sponsor.
5. Dinner is included will the introductory ride

2015 Fire Mountain: Confessions of a First Time Ride Manager

Friday January 23 2015
by Merri Melde

Not too many ‘Green Bean’ Ride Managers have jumped head-first into managing an established 2-day endurance ride, where everybody already has a certain level of expectations. But then, most people aren’t Gretchen Montgomery. A long-time endurance rider based in the Pacific South region with over 8400 miles, and newly-minted Decade Team with her horse Definetly Spice (formerly known somewhat affectionately as “Bitchy Spice”), the effervescent, personable high achiever is not one to turn away from a challenge.

Gretchen's many years of volunteering at the Eastern High Sierra Classic, Fire Mountain, Washoe, and Virginia City 100 rides, alternately as trail marker, vet secretary, finish line timer, and pulse-taker, built the foundation and confidence for stepping up into her new role as Ride Manager. "I’ve really wanted to take over the Eastern High Sierra Classic (in Bridgeport, California, in late summer) because that’s my home territory, and Jackie (Bumgardner) is ready to pass it on after 29 years, and I wanted that ride to continue," Gretchen explains. "And in the meantime, the Fire Mountain Ride Manager (Valerie Rogers) wanted to give the Fire Mountain ride up, but that’s been a long-standing ride too. So since they needed a Ride Manager this year, I volunteered.” The Fire Mountain ride takes place outside of Ridgecrest, California, in the Mojave Desert, where Gretchen spends her winters.

Recently retired from 25 years with the state of California, Gretchen’s previous job of Office Services Supervisor for the California Highway Patrol in Bridgeport brought her organizational skills into play as she was kept uber-busy with last minute on-line entries to avoid late fees, last minute entries at the ride venue (where no internet was available), checking AERC registrations, keeping track of 114 riders over 2 distances and 2 days, making changes for riders wanting to switch horses, or switch distances, or switch horses and distances, running back and forth to fill in as a vet secretary, checking on the in- and out-timers, helping with P & R’s, doing general maintenance, helping the ham radio volunteers to find an injured horse on trail, and playing the banjo. Playing the banjo? ... “I was a little crazy!” Gretchen laughs.

Managing the ride was made easier by excellent and numerous volunteers, particularly the Valley Riders club, a group of varied horse people from the area established in the 1960's. "This particular ride has soooo many volunteers, and I didn’t have to worry about the trail being marked, because there was already somebody in charge of that. I didn’t have to worry about setting out water, because somebody was already in charge of that. I didn’t even have to worry about the food, because one of the members of Valley Riders was all about cooking, and our facility has an actual kitchen right here at basecamp. So this was really good for my first time managing a ride - since this was the 36th year, people know what they're doing..."

Read more here.