Last year, I posted about helping to put on the Wild West endurance ride here. This year, I helped out again. The event was just as much fun as last year, and just as much work. We spent the week before the ride putting up ribbons, putting out water troughs, organizing ride entries...all that good stuff. On Thursday, we headed up to the ride camp and the rigs started trickling in. By Thursday night the camp was full of riders. The event is three days, with both a 50 and a 25 mile ride on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, so there were lots of riders and, therefore, a lot of work to do. As well as marking trail, I cleaned people's ride camps when they left, helped the vets, and passed out awards. One of my favorite things about the whole thing is just how beautiful the area is. The event is held at Skillman camp, near Auburn, in the mountains. Whenever I'm up there, in the forests or on the trails near Tahoe, Auburn, or Grass Valley, I feel peaceful, like I'm where I'm meant to be. There are fewer people, less traffic, and more space than here in the Bay Area, and it feels like an escape.
Originally, I wasn't going to be riding because I didn't have a horse to ride, but Robert asked around and very quickly found me one. My mount for the day (I rode saturday, the second day) was an Appaloosa/Thoroughbred called Skipper. I'd never ridden him before, and on the morning of the ride, about ten minutes before the start, we found ourselves struggling with the stirrups and my pocket knife trying to cut holes to shorten the leathers to my length. It was lightly raining, not especially warm, and pretty foggy, and the horse was excited to go. He had already done a 50 the day before, but that didn't seem to be affecting his outlook much! Once we got the stirrups ready, I set off. This was my first ride that I really did alone, setting the pace and without a crew (although his owner helped me out at the vet checks when she could. She was also a ride volunteer). I had a new horse and a new trail and a whole day ahead of me. Awesome! Plus, it stopped raining right when we started, but had rained enough to keep the dust down. Perfect. I rode the beginning by myself, happily starting in between two groups. The trail started off on a rather rocky downhill, so I walked most of it, and then it opened up onto very nice dirt single tracks. Perfect for trotting, and we even broke into a cheeky canter on one long stretch. The bushes on either side were tall, making a sort of tunnel, and low hanging. I had to duck my head against Skipper's neck and, hunched over like a jockey, I let him run for a stretch. That was probably my favorite part of the ride. We slowed down and I got off to walk an incredibly steep downhill to a creek (where we had had to cut down a tree a few days before as it looked in danger of falling onto the trail) and then, because what goes up must come down, we walked up a big hill on the other side of the water. After that I fell in with some other riders and rode off and on with them the rest of the day. The last part of the ride was really cool - it was very thin single track switchbacks bordered by tall trees and lined with soft dirt. We walked and trotted to the end, then I walked him across the finish line and hopped off for the final vet check. We completed the ride between 3 and 4pm, and Skipper looked great. He's one strong horse! He went on to do the 30 the next day too, completing all 3 days, and I went back to cleaning camps and generally making myself useful wherever possible.