I'm pretty sure I now know the meaning of 'endurance'. We're back from our lovely weekend on the slopes of Mt. Adams, near Troutdale, WA. Absolutely gorgeous views, snowcapped peaks, tall firs, lovely meadows, wonderful trails, lots of happy horses and riders. So, why the comment, you ask?
At my last 50 mile ride, Home on the Range, I did great until the last mile, where I ended up getting off my horse, putting my head between my knees and waiting until the world quit rushing around. We finished, the horse was fine, but after that I've been doing more conditioning rides and I really worked on what I'd eat and drink at the next ride, so I wouldn't have this problem ever again. Well....
We rolled into ride camp around 3 pm on Friday, got camp set up, vetted in, met some friends, took care of the horses and hit the sack pretty early. None of us slept well, a common problem before a ride - lots of excitement! We were up at 4:45, ate a good breakfast, got the horses ready and hit the trail a little after 6 am. We had a little bit of excited horses, until we got out of camp and then both Galen and Allie settled into their work. Nice loose reins, long, steady walk to warm up and then a good trot up and down stunning trails. Both Wendy and I had to comment on how many trees the ride manager's crew had to cut up - the numbers were amazing! At the ride meeting, they mentioned 80 downed trees cut on ONE loop. I think they undercounted. We started at the back of the pack, wanting to just finish in a reasonable time with happy horses. Our first loop of around 13 miles took us a bit over 2 hours, which was a little faster than we really wanted to go. So, after a short vet check, we headed out for loop number two, where we got into a very nice pace, traded leading back and forth and enjoyed the scenery. This loop was around 12 miles and we did it in around 2 hours again. Lots of up and downs and we trotted most of the downhills. Now, the day was starting to heat up a bit. We had our lunch hold, and the horses both thought they should roll, which didn't work with tack still on. We all had our lunches and then moved out at around 11:30. So, so far, around 4 1/2 hours of riding. We got into the third vet check at 45 miles at 3:34, so now we were really slowing down. I had ridden without half chaps on, thinking they would cause too much heat build up. Bad move, as the trotting downhill was really working my calves and the stirrup leathers were most definately THERE. I'm sure that to save my calves I changed the way I was sitting and then OTHER parts started complaining. Once again, the trails were gorgeous, but this was a very long loop - 20 miles to the next vet check. We had some lovely views of Mt. Hood, met a bunch of snow on the trails (horses thought it was much too late in the year for snow), but now by the middle of the loop I was hurting more than a little. Not too bad until the final 5 of that 20, but we still had one more vet check and then 5 miles in. It was around 80 degrees and the horses handled it beautifully, eating and drinking whenever they could, no problems with them. We got into the last vet check and I crashed. I got off Galen and basically ended up on the ground. Thank goodness for Wendy and for the wonderful lady that gave me some frozen sugar water. I just laid there for a bit, while Wendy trotted out the horses and grazed them. They were fine and after a few minutes, I was able to get up, soak my head, drink more (really, I was drinking plenty of water, had electrolytes, Power Bars etc). We only had 5 miles to go and I had Wendy to drag me in, so we got on and headed out. I'm pretty sure that if I had been alone, I would have pulled at this point, as I basically hung on to the saddle and let Galen follow Allie in. He was great, not trying to get ahead and catch everyone (he's quite competitive), but being careful so I didn't just fall off. I was thinking very hard about pain relievers and I'm sure I was riding like a sack of potatoes. The last 5 miles took almost exactly 2 hours and that was (for me) real endurance. Not fun at all and I did think of telling Wendy to go on ahead, but then decided that would be stupid, as I was close enough to falling off that it would be unsafe. So, even though she was doing pretty good and the horses were fine, we went very, very slowly the last bit. I did make it into the finish line and Monica was there waiting with the camera, a chair and a beer (hail to Monica!) so I crossed the finish at 5:24 and collapsed in the chair as Monica vetted Galen through. He got all As again and gave a little attitude during the trot out (probably soooo tired of just walking!).
So, what did I learn? First of all, being humbled can happen at anytime. I had thought (!) I was conditioned enough for this ride. I was in better shape than at the last ride, my horse was going great, I thought I had fixed the holes in my eating and drinking routine and everything seemed to be going well. I had plenty of time to think during that last 5 miles and I think that the combination of the heat (although 80 really isn't that hot, we haven't had a day at home yet that's over 70 and I've still been conditioing in a winter jacket) and the hills got me. I'd rather it's me that is the weak link than my horse (who was AWESOME), but dang, sometimes getting a little older sucks. The stuff that used to be so easy just isn't any more. Obviously, just (ha!) working on the farm, riding at home and conditioning, is no longer enough to keep me fit. I had thought my fitness was fine, but was very definately proved wrong. Thankfully, I had a good friend that took care of me on the trail (thank you Wendy!) another good friend in camp that took care of my horse when I couldn't (thank you Monica!) and now I have to treat myself like one of the horses and get in better condition. It's pretty obvious that Galen could do much more, but he's stuck with me, so I need to get up to his level, or at least closer to his level.
We're planning on going to Klickitat Trek in 2 weeks, unless Annie decides she will foal over that weekend, and I'm going to be smart and go down to a 30 mile LD. If all goes well, I'll do 2 (it's a 2 day ride). In the meantime, I will suck it up and really start conditioning myself. Sigh. Well, in the long run, this will be a good thing! I'll be in better shape and can do my wonderful horse justice.