|December 5 - the start||December 8 - the questions|
|December 6 - settling in||December 9 - the answers|
|December 7 - getting ready||December 11 - After the fact#1|
|December 7 - the sand||December 11 - After the fact#2|
There are several resort hotels along the beach (Persian Gulf) where the various countries are staying, so it is a bit spread out. I'm at the Hotel Meridian, where most of the Europeans are staying - plus British, Japanese ... and I think the Australians. It is such a big complex that one can easily get lost. It is absolutely first class. Marble floors and walkways, the best food I think I've ever eaten - and an incredible variety of International cuisine. All of the meals are buffett style. There is inside and outside dining. Grills where lobster, lamb, shiskibob, etc are sizzling and impossible to pass up. Live music during dinner - 3 charming Arab men playing accoustic guitar - toe-tapping, sing-along songs - John Denver, Simon and Garfunkel ... that type of feel-good music. Plus another band out by one of the pools playing jazz and light rock - all very proffesional, and the Arab accents add a nice touch to the familiar western songs. The people here are very gracious and friendly - and the atmosphere is relaxed.
I had breakfast this morning with Lew and Hanne Hollander (riding for the Danish team) - we spent almost 2 hours drinking coffee and sampling the food. For some reason my appetite knows no bounds! Then took a walk/jog along the beach - perfect white sands, clear warm water, warm and silky air. Saw some of the US folks (Ona Lawrence's contingent - Pat Murray, Dorie Jackson, Ellen Betker, Dale, plus Sharon Foss) on the beach by their Hotel and made plans to go into Dubai this evening for shopping. (these folks are into having fun!)
The horses are all quarantined at separate barns so there is no opportunity to see the US riders and support crew for now. But all is well with the US team. There were some minor problems early on but everything has been resolved and all of the horses are doing well and on track. The trails are available to riders from each barn only at scheduled times. The security is quite high here as they are taking great precautions to avoid any sort of contamination or health risk.
The organization is a little shaky still - things like barn passes, printed schedules, etc are a bit bottle-necked. But, that will all come together soon - I can't imagine the logistical challenges of an event of this size. But the really important stuff - the horses and riders - are under the best of care. And the rest of us are enjoying the luxury and relaxed atmosphere so much, that it's just impossible to fret too much.
Well, that's about it for now. I'll log on again tomorrow, and maybe have a little more news about the teams. From what I've seen so far (which is not very much!), the French are going to be real contenders. The Belgians are in good shape, and are hoping to ride a smart conservative ride, and finish their entire team. They are in good spirits.
later, Steph Teeter
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Not a lot of news to report yet... tomorrow there is a chance to see the course - but there are a limited number of 4WD vehicles, so only one person from each Federation will be allowed to go. This has quite a few folks upset, but communications are so poor that there seems to be very little opportunity for the Federations to voice their opinion. It is such a large production... so many countries, that there seems to be a large void concerning information dissemination. There is no printed schedule per se, just a few notices posted at the hotels and the OC center ... Seems to be a fair amount of tension and frustration.
I walked out to the gate/entrance to the training trails yesterday evening to wait for the Belgian riders to return from their training ride. An Aussie fellow was the gate-keeper, keeping track of each rider that left, and making sure their return was noted. Very strict control. Gates are locked at 6pm, and riders better make sure they return by then or they have to find another way into the complex. The sun was a huge dull red ball, slipping behind a row of date palms, as we watched some of the last riders return. I made the mistake of wearing shorts, and as the lorries of workers (mostly Pakistani) drove home on the road past the gates, I was treated to leering grins and hoots. Being rather slow... it took me a while to realize that it was the bare legs that were causing such a raucus!
I went into Dubai today with Susie Morril (grooming for Hanne Hollander) and two others from the Danish contingent. We had a blast! Visited the Gold Souk - the old gold market secion of Dubai - lots of tiny shops crammed into alleys, the smell of incense, windows filled with gold jewelry, imports, bags of spices and dried fruits. The 'Creek' which runs through the city was lined with colorful dhows, fishing boats, bustling with activity.
I wish I had more horse/race news to report, but I just don't know much. Tonight there is a welcome party for all so I should be able to at least catch up on the gossip.
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Last night the standard was set for pre-ride parties - these guys really know how to treat their guests. We gathered by the pool at the Jazirra hotel (where the officials and VIP's are staying). The wine was flowing - the barrels ran dry early in the evening so they had to bring in bottles of vintage reinforcements. And I don't think there was a drop left by the end of the party. The pool was lit from below and cast an eerie light, along with clusters of lit torches along the paths. There were little food 'stations' scattered about with grilled shiskibobs and lamb, shrimp, spice sauces, tables of finger-food such as deviled eggs, bite size sandwiches, fruit tarts, eclairs...
There was no live band, but a dj - who played quite an assortment of music - starting with Arabian music (and of course the belly dancer to perform to the music), rounds of rock, country (all of it danceable) and ending in the wee hours with familiar oldy favorites by artists such as James Taylor, Elton John - the kind of music that makes everybody want to hug each other (and of course the wine had it's effect).
It was great to see everyone gathered together for the first time - all the countries wore their colors, so one could pick out the different nationalities. National pins were traded - and a few shirts were traded too! I got to meet more Ridecamp folks - Desire Haanen (Holland), and of course Wolfgang from Germany, Nancy Spencer, Monika Smith (Canada), and lots more. Teddy Lancaster (Runningbear) finally arrived, and Roger Rittenhouse is also here, with his products set up at the US barn. The US team is in great shape - I saw Darla, Wendy, Ona and Shirley, and they were shining with excitement. I caught a glimpse of Danielle, but never did get a chance to see Valerie or Patti. All of the team horses are in terrific shape and spirits are high.
We're all paying the price today for having too much fun last night, but now as the race draws nearer, the focus will narrow, and all attention will be on getting ready. Now it's time to stay serious.
The course 'drive-through' which was scheduled for yesterday was cancelled and re-scheduled for today - I'm headed over to the stable in about 15 minutes to meet up with the rest. Each federation has access to one 4wd vehicle, and only 4wd's are allowed. Even with the 4wd's several of the vets and officials got stuck yesterday when they went to survey the course. Deep sand drifts to negotiate - and apparently it's hard to judge their depth from inside the vehicle. So everybody departs today with ropes and chains and extra water.
So ... I'm off to the desert,
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So we all met at the entrance to the Ghantoot Polo Club (this is where all of the barns that stable the horses are). 40 countries - and at least one 4wd rig per country. We played musical jeeps for a while until everybody had a vehicle to ride in. I ended up going with Bill Anderson and Glenn ? who are part of the Kanavy crew - they had extra room, and the Belgian rig was full, and I welcomed the chance to speak English instead of struggling with French.
2:00 and we're all ready to go. 2:30 and we're all wondering if we're at the right place. 2:40 and Jim Bryant showed up - apparently the native guide who was to lead the procession through the desert had gone to the wrong place and had been waiting for us. Big sigh of relief, the trek is still on, ten minutes later the guide arrives and we're on our way.
We didn't start getting stuck in the sand until about 20 miles into the journey. We left the highway via an old access road, and kept heading inland on rapidly degenerating 'roads'. There were camels everywhere - some running toward us in curiosity, some just staring, some making love calls (or maybe they were threats). There's really nothing like seeing these inelegant beasts roaming the wilds... yes, this is Arabia.
We kept diligent track of the time and mileage between the start at Ghantoot, and the pit-stops. The p-stops were small stations with tents - tanks and barrels of water, and probably eventually more amenities. We have been assured that there will be water every 5 km along the course. (the horses will need it!!).
Somewhere between P-2 and P-3 we started hitting the deep sand, and then the fun started. We were feeling pretty cocky - keeping our speed up, zooming and fish-tailing through the deeps drifts in the track ... until the car in front of us got stuck. No problem, bodies poured out of rigs and pushed and heaved to get the stuck rig started again.
Meanwhile rigs started dropping down below us and attempting to go cross country to get around the stuck rig. So of course they got stuck. Then they tried going above us cross country. Yep they got stuck too. And we were also hopelessly stuck by then. It was looking rather grim until a UAE national (our hero) came along and with a quick smile let air out of our tires - to 20 lbs pressure, another quick smile and he was behind the wheel, confidently slogging our rig through the deepest sand until it was in a better position. Our hero deflated more tires, and we all helped each other push, and 30 minutes later we were on our way. The real trick was the tires. This is not like driving through snow or mud (Bill's from Montana, I'm from Idaho, we were both clueless in the sand). There were a few more minor episodes, but eventually everybody got the hang of driving the dunes... and we straggled into the vet check area.
The area is still under construction - there were close to 100 workers busy erecting observation towers, laying pipe and electrical wires, building huts for the vet officials, etc. It is going to be an incredible vet-check complex - and they will be working around the clock for the next 2 days to finish it. Each nation will have a large shaded area, with a water tank and *huge* fan ... looked like it should be on a jet engine! I'm not quite sure what the horses are going to think of the fan... but what a cool thing! The in-gates to the vetting area are thatch roofed 'huts' - I'm sure they'll have electricity, cooling, etc for the officials who are in waiting. There are grandstands, concession sheds, observation towers ... you name it. It will be the permanant vet-check station for races in UAE.
We still don't know a lot about the course and how it all fits together with the p-stops. The map has not been distributed yet, but there is a chef d'equip meeting tonight and hopefully all the unanswered questions will be answered, and maps distributed and we can all relax a little... it's getting a bit worrisome not being able to jell our plans for crewing - transport to vetcheck, p-stops, etc. But it will come.
And this course is tough!! I was told a lot of it was hard sandy road.. well from what we saw, I would say that at least 25% will be deep sand - in drifts across the roads, and in large dunes. (and Truman ... I think this sand may rival the Ocallala sand! It blows dusty, penetrates everything, is finer than the finest sugar... it's real sand.) Everybody is worried about the course, worried about the horses, all the things they *should* be worried about in a ride of this magnitude, so I'm hoping that reason will reign, and people will take the course slowly and with great caution. It's going to be an incredible challenge for horses not used to the sand. It's going to be a challenge for horses that *are* used the sand... the muscle power required to move through this stuff is incredible. And 100 miles is a long way. And yes, the days are hot and sunny, though the humidity has been quite low - hopefully it will stay that way.
I hope to have a little more info tomorrow.. it's dinner time now.
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30 degrees this afternoon (I'm not real sure exactly what that is in Farenheit - I think around 85 - it feels *hot*). Prediction for the next few days is the same. There's a constant breeze near the coast, but in the rolling dunes it is much stiller. It will be hot. On Leo's ride this morning he observed his horse, Orfeo, at the canter - on the firm surface his heart rate stayed at about 108, when he cantered at the same speed in the sand it shot up to 150. Hard work!
The chef d'equip meeting was a little less than hoped for. The answer to all of the questions was 'you will find out tomorrow'. But they did distribute maps. And of course the map is unlike any I've ever seen at any ride. The King had them done by the army. They cover a huge area, and have an incredible level of navigational detail - I'm not sure what the army thought they were for ... but they are beautiful enough to frame. (a far cry from the photocopied topos and line drawings with different colored markers for each loop that we're used to :)
I spent this morning shopping for supplies. Darcy Bean was at breakfast and had no other plans so she went with me to the UAE co-op where we searched the aisles for familiar items such as sponges, strings, buckets, etc. Found almost everything we set out for, ...plus a few cool things that weren't on the list but couldn't be passed up. When we got back to the hotel I bumped into Hal Hall who was looking a little dazed - he had just arrived this morning after landing in Dubai, then put back on the plane since the flight was destined for Abu Dhabi (along with his luggage) - they arrived in Abu Dhabi but there was nobody to greet them, finally got the visa straightened out and had to take a bus back to Dubai. Oh well. Hal is with the Japanese team - he helped them purchase horses last year for Tevis, and he and Ann have been training the horses, and helping other Japanese riders get qualified for this event. They have a team of 4 horses - two from US, and 2 from Australia.
I saw Teddy today (Runningbear) - her shipment still hasn't arrived and she is really really mad. She spent all day yesterday at the docks, never got a straight answer. She was supposed to set up her stuff today, and many riders were counting on her for items they had ordered or planned to purchase. Ooooh she's mad! I'm glad I'm not her shipping agent...
More rigs went out today to try to better understand the course. Since they now have maps, they should be able to figure out how the loops, vetcheck and p-stops are designed. And of course most countries have gps units which will be quite useful. Cell phones also abound - even the riders will be carrying them if their team was able to procure enough. They're becoming in short supply.
I heard from Lone (chef d'equip for Denmark) that there were 6 rigs that broke down yesterday from their romp in the desert. So now the rental agencies are insisting that the rigs have a native chauffer. I don't know that this is the greatest thing since the natives have a reputation for being a little over-zealous behind the wheel ... but at least they have more experience in the sand. Lone also told me that two of the Swedish riders were injured during the course drive - from being thrown around in their rig. One suffered a broken rib, the other injured her foot (maybe a broken bone also). I don't know the current status - should find out more this evening, but I think they'll still be able to ride.
Tonight there is a general meeting where all answers will be given - and probably 1000 anxious people in attendance ... let's hope the answers are the right ones!
I heard a story about the Russian riders ... there are only two. They had to travel through Poland before leaving for Dubai and when they got to Poland did not have the proper papers so they were thrown in jail for 5 days, while their horses were left on the truck. True?? Hard to say, but it seems to fit with all the other wild things happening!
Well... I think that's about it for now. I ordered a pot of coffee before I started typing. The pot is empty, I'm totally wired, and think a jog on the beach is in order before I explode!
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Here's some course info:
|Loop 1||- 40 km, first hold is 40 minutes|
|Loop 2||- 35 km, second hold is 40 minutes|
|Loop 3||- 36 km, third hold is 50 minutes|
|Loop 4||- 37 km, fourth hold is 20 minutes|
|Loop 5||- 12 km|
Cutoff time for finish is 2:25 so they are allowing 21 hours total ride time, rather than AERC's rule of 24 hours.
After the riders enter the gate into the crew area, they will have 30 minutes for their horse to reach criteria - which is 60. There is no time penalty if the horse is presented to the vet before he has settled at 60 or below, but there are only two opportunities. If the horse is not at 60 on the second try, he's eliminated. The holds begin after criteria is reached.
We still expect a little chaos on the crewing course - certainly rigs will be stuck - but most are arranging to make one trip and drop crew off at the checkpoints rather than trying to move from point to point as the riders progress.
The vetcheck looks to be very well organized, and the lay out is good also.The actual crewing areas (shaded canopies) are a bit small, but teams are allowed to set up additional facilites behind the designated area.
The Kind (Fiyaad?) was at the meeting answering questions from the teams as well as the organizing committe. He did very well. He has a sharp quick wit, and gave us a few laughs - he also successfully sparred with some of the more obnoxious/aggressive people whose questions sounded more like accusations.
So, we're off to the barn - vet inspections, trot-outs, packing, mane braiding... it's really getting exciting!
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You all know just about as much as I do at this point. There were problems with the results tracking software that began early in the afternoon, so they eventually went to a manual tracking. Periodic announcements were made regarding pulls and early placement of the front runners, but since I was unable to be at the gates, and didn't have time to take notes, even that information was lost to me. We will have to wait until the final results are released and published.
Here's a few details..
The UAE team was a sight to behold! Their crewing area was a flurry of activity and high spirits. The love and admiration for Sheihk Mohammed is incredible. We all felt terribly dissappointed when he was pulled. The UAE went on to finish 4 riders in the top ten, although they did not have a team placement.
The US team finished silver, team riders to complete were Wendy Merendini (6th place), Darla Westlake and Shirley Delsart. Ona Lawrence and RC were pulled - RC was lame at the trot-out after the 4th loop. He was sound again after a short while, and they think his problem was a ball of sand under his padded shoe.
The New Zealand team finished first - what a great surprise to all! But I can't tell you anything about the individual riders. All of my notes and the list of riders and teams are locked in Leo's car, he's at the barn, I'm at the Hotel. Plus the Endurance Net and SmartVision websites are being blocked for now (censured) so I can't get names and numbers from the starters list.
And the Belgian team finished 5th! They rode as a team, very conservatively, as planned. They walked all of the soft sand, and cantered whenever the footing allowed. They maintained a pretty good steady pace even during the heat of the day. Their horses were getting stronger all day, and the cantered most of the last loop last loop (12 km). Riders were allowed to have a vehicle escort since it was so dark, and the last 12 km was on a good road so they were able to move as fast as the horses were able. Needless to say the team is thrilled. When we vetted out at the final check, and were told of our team placing the nearby buildings shook with hoops and hollers!
The race to the finish between Valerie Kanavy and Fausto Fierucci was spectacular! I was unable to be at the actual finish line, but there was a gigantic television screen (the size of the old drive-in movie screens) that broadcast the finish to everybody in the crewing area. The two gray horses came into sight, both galloping quite close together, and then Jedi went into turbo - it was really amazing, he just burst ahead, Valerie was urging him on with everything she had. Awesome.
More details... I really wish I had more to tell you. The closing ceremony is tonight, so all of the results should be published by then. The BC judging was suppose to be at 10:00 this morning, but (this is what I have heard) some of the horses were stuck out in the desert - either at the vet holding area, or on the van I'm not sure. At any rate, it has been moved to noon. I've borrowed some money (my wallet is still in Leo's car) so will take a taxi out to the stable. And should learn more then.
I rode home last night in the horse van - after a 2 hour wait at the vet hospital/holding area on the course where the horses were evaluated, blood samples, etc. I loaded on with several of the Jordanian team (who I believe finished 4th overall). The first 1 hour was over very bumpy, sandy, road and the horses were incredibly frightned - the van rattled and shook over the washboard area. I was holding Leo's horse and another Belgian horse, Greece, who was wild with fear ... very tense. Once we got to pavement, and the horses were able to relax somewhat, I got a knock on the stall door, and there's Potato Richardson! He invited me and the other Jordanian up front for the remaining 1 1/2 hour drive. Much nicer than being in back with the horses -and of course Potato had lots of good stories to tell! We finally arrived back at Ghantoot at 3AM.
So, gotta run and catch a taxi - and hopefully hook up with Leo and get my stuff! I promise to write more later. I was unable to log on last night when I returned to the hotel. Again - many thanks to the great on-site reporting by Lara and the rest.
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Believe it or not, I still don't know much! It's just incredible. I *think* the BC award went to one of the UAE horses. At the presentation awards, there were 3 horses left in contention, 2 UAE horses and the Italian horse. The awards ceremony last night in Abu Dhabi was an incredible production - they called it an 'Operetta' - it was a dance, music, lightshow extravaganza. 50,000 people in attendance. Fireworks, Arabian horses, camels, singers, etc. Absolutely amazing. But the actual awards and announcements were lost to most of us. The military had the area gaurded since His Highness and his family, and the other Sheiks were in attendance. We viewd the presentation of awards on tv screens placed high in the stadium arena. It was conducted in Arabic (minimal and inneffective transation). When Valerie's win was announced the entire stadium was booing and hissing ... a little scary. The cheering for the Nationals was deafening though.
And sad news for Belgium - they did not receive the Bronze afterall - the times were re-evaluated and the Bronze was awarded to Australia.
Congratulations to the Australians!
(But oh the Belgians were devastated).
After the awards extravaganza in Abu Dhabi, there was another awards ceremony at the Jazirra hotel. I didn't know about it (you can't believe how difficult it is to know what's going on!) and went back to the hotel, but I spoke to Hall Hall this morning, he said they finished at 3AM, with an award for everybody!
I still can't find a copy of the official results, yesterday before the buses left for Abu Dhabi, the officials were given a copy which I saw breifly.
The official websites - the UAE site, and the SmartVision sites ONLY have results from other rides which were held here recently. There is nowhere that the WEC results are posted. If you go to the UAE endurance page, the results of the Nov 11 ride are posted...
I'll post more later when I feel that I am able.