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Vermont 100 - Saturday

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Ride Stories
Patty's Story || Lost & Found

Patty Stedman's Story

Hey Ridecampers!

Ned is 15 this season, with over 2000 competition miles and eight seasons to his credit, and the most frequently used phrase when I talk about him and our endurance competition plans is “he doesn’t owe me a thing.” He doesn’t.

All those miles on a body that is not classically made for endurance – too big, too warmbloody, movement more suited to dressage than the profound daisy-cutting efficiency that is ideal in endurance, heat management issues, a topline only a mother could love, a profoundly opinionated temperament that often lands us in “I refuse to go 1 mph faster than this” territory. But stoic, and never a quitter. (A slower-downer, but not a quitter.) Recently, his chiropractor started talking kissing spine in his SI region – which would be a reasonable explanation for his lifelong aversion to steep downhills and the ongoing issues we’ve had with loin soreness, which I’ve always sworn was not related to saddle fit, but the work, based on the patterns of soreness. I’ve managed Ned with a huge dose of worry and a lot of paranoia over the years.

So my younger horse, Ace, physically more suited to endurance, has been getting primed and prepped for a 100, and Rich and I decided we’d head to Vermont for the 50 with the two veteran horses, and ride together, with Rich understanding that Ned and I would be slowing he and Sarge down mightily.

My friend and dressage instructor, Dorothy, who has now ridden Ned twice on LD rides (25 and 30 miles) agreed to travel with us and crew, since all of the holds at the VT ride are away from camp, and she felt she owed us for the privilege of riding Ned in those LD rides. (Stop laughing.)

Thursday we had an uneventful drive to Vermont (thank heavens, after the last trip to Pine Tree where I had far too much truck adventure), got parked at the top of the hill, beside the pond, overlooking the entire camp and the valley (gorgeous!) and settled in.

Friday found Dorothy and I taking the crew directions and checking out the hold locations, with me explaining what we’d need and which direction we’d be coming from, and where they’d likely park her (huge turnout for the ride would mean tight parking at the holds and on-trail fly by crewing locations). We had a little “narrow road incident” but managed to get all of the holds checked out, and we were ready for Saturday.

Let’s not forget therun. I forgot to remind you that this ride is run concurrently with a 100 mile ultramarathon. Same course, same time. The runners (100 mile) start at 4 a.m. to the overwhelmingly loud speakered-in Chariots Of Fire soundtrack, the 100 mile riders start at 5 a.m. , the 75 mile riders start at 9 a.m. and the 50 mile riders and 100 km runners start at 2 p.m., ensuring most everyone will get to ride/run in the moonlight.

It is very odd to sit around on ride day and wait for the ride to begin at 2 p.m. We putter and pace and walk the horses and check and recheck our crewing stuff, try to eat a little lunch, and when we head down to the start, we learn there are 60-some horses going out. We know from our pre-ride the day before that Sargeis going to be a handful. He’d been there before and come in 3rd, and he was well-rested and well-fed and full of piss and vinegar.

So when 2 p.m. came, I let Ned leap into a big trot and out we headed, in the lead. I figured that discretion was the better part of valor and that, frankly, we’d be safer up front than in a pack of 60 horses, all charged up and heading down a wide road. We were right, apparently. Dorothy said it was a rodeo a minute or two after we left. We never even felt the charged-up atmosphere.

First 12 mile loop took you around the neighborhood and back to camp. The course, generally, has a lot of hard packed gravel road (at least half the course) but also areas of single track trail, challenging, and almost everything is either going up, or going down. It was warm, and most of the trail was single track (not Ned’s strong suit) and he fought and blundered his way through it, at 16+ somethingoranother hands, he is not in the least bit catty, but was determined to keep up with Sarge.

Back to camp for a 15 minute stop and go, and we were the 7th or 8th to arrive. The most remarkable thing happened there, however. Sargestuck his head in a bucket, and he ATE. We worry over Sargehorribly. He’s a notoriously terrible eater on 50s, having done entire rides on, say, granola bars, or even carrots, if they were the food of the day. Or a few mouthfuls of grain at each hold. And here he was, matching Ned mouthful for mouthful (Ned being a Champion of Eaters). We were tickled.

Back on for a fly-by trot past the vet to ensure we’re still sound (no real “vet check” at this hold) and head 8 miles to Tuacknback Farm, this gorgeous place where we will join up with the 100 mile riders and runners and the 75 mile riders and finish the rest of the trail together.

We are still near the front, passing and occasionally being passed, reminding people who missed turns (several, actually – I’m always surprised how little attention riders pay to trail markings), and still going at a blistering pace, we start climbing a hill. I can tell we’re getting close to TuacknbackFarm, this absolutely gorgeous, pristine farm with stone walls, split rail fence and the most beautiful yellow and fieldstone outbuildings, but I’m accustomed to coming up the road and around (having done the 100 there twice in the most recent years). As we climb the hill, the riders in front of us slow to a jog. Ned does not jog, so we trot on past them, climbing, climbing and damn, we pop up and there’s the vet check – we’d come in from the other direction, and in a million years I never would have let Ned come in so hot or so fast if I’d had any idea. I was sure we were still a ½ mile or so out. (Duh!)

This hold was a zoo. Riders from every distance, crews everywhere. Somehow we spot Dorothy and we find our way to her, twisting and turning through the maze of muck tubs and horses and crew members. Ned is HOT. I strip his tack and we start spongeinglike mad. Dorothy had ice water, but it still took me a good ten minutes, at least, to get Ned down, and then just barely, to a heart rate of 64. I took Sargeto the vets, Dorothy took Ned, and I was dreading that Ned might flunk the CRI. Sarge did fine, and I heard the vet say “64” (just barely making the pulse parameter) for Ned, then watched Ned trot straight and sure (and with no dangling willy!). I hear little of the rest and take Sarge back to our spot, all As. He starts eating immediately (AGAIN!) and Dorothy approaches with Ned.

“How was his CRI?”

“All As.”

I grab his card. 64/60 is his CRI. Just fine. I start to grab a sponge to cool him some more, instinctively assuming he was still warm. I touch his shoulder. He’s begun to cool. Phew. I leave him alone and let him simply eat. He continues to cool beautifully. Damn, dodged that bullet. Grab some Gatorade myself, laugh about the fact that you don’t eat or drink as well when you’re going this fast, and relax for the rest of the 45 minute hold.

From here on out, we are on familiar trail for both Sargeand Ned. It’s30 miles, but they know exactly where they are going. Ned, in particular, suddenly seems to realize (to his great relief, I’m sure) that I was not lying when I told him he only had to do “half of the ride.” (Just the 50 instead of the 100.)

I’ve got to say something about the homes and farms in this area. They are absolutely postcard gorgeous. I mean, immaculately kept, but not necessarily formal. Rock walls and perennial gardens, casually laid out but obviously beautifully kept. Everything matching – barns and houses and outbuildings – and well … just breathtaking views down into valleys and up to the mountains. This is, for me, bar none, the most beautiful ride that I’ve experienced.

It’s18 miles to the next hold, with two fly by crew stops, and now we start to see a few runners. Since we are making such good time, these are the front runners of the runners, and they are actually RUNNING, looking good (they’re at 70 miles or so at this point). When I did the 100 the first time, it was about 9 p.m. rather than 5 p.m. when I came through this hold and I’ll tell you, the slower runners looked far rougher than this group.

Two women were running together, and wechatted as we went by. “Hey” one of them said, “can you order us a pizza?”

We responded that we’d take care of it, and pop a bottle of red wine for them back at camp.

We saw them again several miles later (the horses have vet checks, the runners have aid stations, so they often separate and then meet up again) and told them that Dominos was on the way.

We ride on and off with another rider, and hit a section of trail that Ned hates. This was his low point, this section of trail, in the last 100. It’s a roughly two mile long stretch of downhill single track. Loamy and twisty and a must-walk trail for Ned, and for most any horse. Somehow it seems that with the SI issues, it’s more comfortable for him to trot downhill, as much as that goes against MY judgment – a 1200 pound BIG beast pounding downhill on gravel roads. I tell myself to ‘trust him’ for the entire ride and where he WANTS to trot downhill, I let him, cringingevery stride. But here, we walk, and he pouts, and I tell him it will be over soon, and it eventually is, and when we hit another gravel road, he leaps into his big trot, flips his head around several times, relieved to be done with it, I’ll bet.

A fly by with Dorothy at Rojek’sgorgeous farm, where we travel down their groomed trails, wisely choosing NOT to jump the little cross country fences strategically placed here and there. We sponge for a few minutes, but don’t linger, heading right back out at a booming trot.

The trail takes us back to a spot within, no kidding, 1/10 of a mile of the camp, where we meet Dorothy for a quick sponging and a snack, and Ned pouts around the corner. As I sponge him, he rests his chin on the flatbed of the truck. Literally. He has been here before, he knows the trail, and he is sulking, as he knows he’s not finished yet, he’s not going to camp (and it is SO CLOSE that he can smell his paddock), but I was really relieved that when Sargetrotted off, he gladly joined him and seemed to be over his pout in short order. There is no mistaking how Ned is feeling at any given moment. If you are not listening, he will tell you more loudly, rest assured.

We hum right along to the next vet check. I know where THIS one is, and how we’ll come in, so we wisely walk up the hill into it, so that Ned is not blazing hot. We told Dorothywe thought we’d be there at 8:30, but it’s only 7:51. Oopsie. She’s not quite totally set up when we arrive, but we manage to sponge and get the boys vetted in the indoor arena. I’ve never been to this vet check when it’s been light before, and it’s a lovely spot. The arena has been watered and it’s a pleasure to trot the horses out on flat, firm footing with no little dips or soft spots, and they both look great. Art King, who knows Ned, vets him, laughs with me that he’s impressed that I’m riding two of them in today’s ride, and we both marvel that Ned seems to respect Dorothy enough (or something!) that he doesn’t drop his penis and lag behind when she trots him out.

We get our out time and damned if Sargedoesn’t spend the entire hold eating again. This is a short hold and we need to get our glowsticks on our breastcollarsfor the night riding. We ask Dorothy to check with the out timer about what place we’re in. 7th and 8th. Wow. I tell Rich again that if he wants to go ahead and leave Ned and me, we don’t want to hold him back, but it’s my birthday and Rich says he’s having fun, and that we’ll ride the whole ride together.

It’s12 miles with two fly bys to the finish. Ned is absolutely certain where he is now. It’s just starting to get dark in the woods, the roads are still bright, and he does not need the glowsticksto follow the trail home. He’s making sharp turns like a motorcycle and I am laughing out loud.

I point out to Rich where I hallucinated on my first hundred, seeing a house and a TV on in a second story bedroom at 3 a.m., when in fact there was just a little lonely blue glowstickhanging from a tree. Ah, memories of good times.

We both have a ton of horse left, and they are begging to go FASTER.

The first section of the trail is roads, so the boys simply fly. We pass two other 50 milers,and two riders in the 75. We head into the woods, into some fairly trappytrail, and do some walking. Back out on the road and flying again, and we hit the first fly-by, do a bit of sponging, tell Dorothy we’ll see her at the fly-by at the cemetery and set off again.

We are still moving fast. Occasionally we climb a hill at a trot and Ned hints subtly that he’d like to walk, and I ask him to, yelling ahead to Rich that Ned needs a break. But that is only occasionally, and Ned takes his little breathers, then leaps back into a trot and catches Sargeand passes him, and it starts all over again.

We go so fast that Dorothy is not there when we get to the cemetery.

Now, this is a bit of a quandary. No crew, and of course, when she arrives, she’ll simply wait for us, thinking we haven’t arrived yet. Luckily there is another crew there, for a rider who is well behind us and they take our numbers and agree that they’ll let Dorothy know that she missed us and that we’ll see her at the finish line.

Phew.

Not ten minutes later we HEAR our truck drive by on a road nearby. Ah, those Ford diesels. This one enhanced in various ways that makes it sound as unique as the cry of a mother’s individual baby. (I guess. )

It’s fully dark now and we’re 2.4 miles from camp. This is amongst the most technical parts of the trail, and I remember both dreading it and looking forward to it (almost home!) on the 2nd100 we did here. Back then, fatigued and a little sore, both of us, and having to navigate tight turns and narrow, rocky trail and washed out sections and tree roots and lots of up and down dipsy-doodles was not easy.

It’s different this time, as we are holding the horses back. We insist that they walk some sections, but then, when they offer to trot, we let them. At this point you’re following glowsticksbut trying not to steer, as a glow stick ahead could have several sharp turns in the trail before you reach it. It’s a tricky game of trust, and staying out of the way, and staying in a half seat, but upright and ready for a change. When Ned started cantering on this section, I started giggling uncontrollably. He’d drop out from under me (dipsydoodle down), rise up in front of me (little uphill) and make turns that made me grab mane and laugh out loud. It was scary and nutty and some of the most fun I’ve had on a horse.

A little section of road where we passed our last runner – “looking good!” (as if we could SEE him!) – and back into the woods, where the glowsticks were now sitting in milk jugs, signaling that we were about ¼ mile of the finish.

Still, down the hill, the boys wanted to trot. I insisted to Rich that we walk since I didn’t want to do a face plant when Ned tripped so close to the finish (turns out one of the 100s did just that at about 90 miles, remounted, finished, then went to the hospital because she was so badly bruised – she was released and at awards in the a.m.).

Finished. 9:51. Remarkablehow there are SO MANY people there at that hour, as opposed to midnight and 4:30 a.m. when I’ve finished before. 5th and 6th place. Rich insisted I come in ahead of him although on any other day, we’d have done it the other way, since we both knew Sargepulled Ned along to some degree. (But it was my birthday, so in lieu of a card … ) All Asfor our final vetting! Rich wanted to stand Sargefor Best Condition, a privilege for only the Top Ten riders. I declined, knowing that 1 hour from the finish Ned could not be easily convinced to act peppy for a trot out – he was done, he knew he was done, and well, let’s face it, he didn’t owe me trotting out like a horse who had done nothing. Heck, he didn’t owe me what he’d just done.

We putzed around down at the finish line area for the hour to pass to stand Sargefor BC. They ate EVERYTHING we had while Dorothy and Rich headed up to get the truck. I mean, laughingly arguing over the last of the carrots and the apples and the dengie and the oats in the little buckets, knocking over one another’s and then swapping, and then nickering when it was all gone and I brought out the last of the granola bars until Dorothy could return with more slushies. Alone with the boys, I had a nice cry on Ned’s shoulder, thanking him and reminding him that, no matter what other horses came along, he’d always be “the one.” Of course, he already knows that.

Sarge looked very good for his BC trot out (thanks Dorothy!) but the horses who won the ride were an hour ahead and the math just didn’t add up, and he didn’t win. We saw lots of horses looking really good at the finish, which was a pleasure.

Settled the boys in for the night, blanketed them, sent Dorothy back to the hotel, and threw some dinner on the grill (I’d done the whole ride on Gatorade, a bottle of V8 and three cheese curds). A hot shower and I crawled into bed in the trailer.

“It’s11:50 – you’ve got ten minutes until your birthday is over. Is there anything else you want for your birthday?”

Hmmm. Let’s see. So far on this birthday, I’d netted:

A top ten finish out of 63, I think, horses on a tough course on my prior-to-this not fast horse …

A healthy, sound, veteran horse wanting to go faster at the end …

Another horse who suddenly learned to eat on this ride …

The privilege of riding with my husband past beautifully kept homes and farms and views that would take your breath away …

With runners far more insane than us …

Nope, I had it all.

Happy Birthday to me!

With thanks to all the landowners, runners, organizers and volunteers who made the VT ride possible …

--Patti Stedman (NE)