About four years ago I realized that I actually had a bucket list. I was driving down the road in my car, listening to the radio and they were talking about Bucket Lists. Up to this point, I didn’t think I had one. But as I drove, the first thing that popped into my mind was Tevis. The more I thought about this, the more I wanted to complete one of the toughest (if not the toughest) endurance rides in North America. Holy Cow, I have a Bucket List, I better get on it. But of course I can’t complete my Bucket List on a horse that would make sense to complete it on…in other words an Arab. I wanted to complete this on a Mustang. I got a horse 2 months later that I had hoped would fulfill my newfound bucket list item. I worked him for 7 months and realized that HE had NO desire to fulfill my bucket list. A year after my epiphany, I found Jim. The ad said “Forward Mustang”. Forward and Mustang aren’t two words usually used in the same sentence. So I purchased him. In the first 5 rides, he took off on me three times. Yep, he was forward! To this day he will pull something like that at almost every ride…including Tevis. All the horses went left, he thought right was a better direction (because it was East-he always wants to go east) and off we went. More on that later.
Fast forward three years. Now he is a solid endurance horse. He looks like a plow horse on steroids. Starting last Winter I really focused in on this goal. It is amazing how consuming this became in my life. What became a nice surprise was when I did a conditioning ride with my friend, Gina and found out she also planned on Tevis. Riding together, sharing ideas, and having someone with the same goal were priceless. She called me one day and told me we were going to be sponsored by Action Rider Tack. What?! A sponsor?! I was thrilled, humbled, and scared all at the same time. I went into the office at Action Rider Tack and thanked Carla Winkler, the owner, and told her that I was now scared because my chance of finishing this ride was about 33%. I didn’t want to blow the sponsorship. She was so gracious. She understood and wanted to support us in our effort. I can’t thank Action Rider Tack enough for that. From them I received support, sponsorship, but no pressure. It doesn’t get any better. Well it does, but more on that later.
Three weeks before Tevis, Gina had a gut feeling that her mare may be suffering from ulcers so she had her scoped. The Vet found ulcers and that crushed her dream of going. We had not planned on riding together at Tevis, but to share so much with her in our dream of Tevis, I felt her pain like it was my own. I was heading down without her.
Two weeks before the ride, I was making myself crazy with doubt. I told my husband Mike that if I didn’t finish Tevis this year, that I would go back next year, AND I would get a puppy. It is so funny because those were the first tentative plans I had AFTER AUGUST 1st. For a year, AUGUST 1ST was IT. Nothing existed AFTER AUGUST 1ST. It was such a stress reliever to see past that date, and to have something silly to think about after that date. I doubt I would have gotten a puppy, but it was such a fun thought in a time frame AFTER the ride, that it took much of my stress away.
I shouldn’t have been stressed; I had the most amazing crew. Crew Chief, Patty Surowski organized a 50 page 3-ring binder for the rest of the crew. (I don’t know if it was actually 50 pages, but it looked like it.) My husband, Mike Motschenbacher, and dear friends Lisa Schram and Christine Karas were my other crew members. It was the most perfect crew because Mike, Lisa and Christine are all pretty laid back and easy going-which balanced out with my Crew Chief Patty that had everything organized to the minute detail. Patty’s biggest challenge was to herself not to overwhelm the rest of the crew. But that 3-ring binder was priceless. At Robie Park, when Mike started to realize he didn’t really know how to get anywhere, Patty had him turn to page 3 of the notebook, where the map from Robie To Forest Hill was located, and explained in detail (with a color map as a back drop) how to get there. To top it all off, because Gina couldn’t come, I also had Carla Winkler and Sarah Crampton from Action Rider Tack as crew members. Interestingly, I needed EVERY member. They were all running around and had priceless jobs that needed to be done.
I did a pre-ride with Beret Meyer on Thursday. We had such a great, relaxing ride up to No Hands Bridge and back. It went very quickly and cemented the finish in our minds. We decided that if we could, we would start the ride together.
That night at Robie Park I think I slept better than Mike did. He was so worried about getting out of Robie and getting to Forest Hill. The plan was to drop the rig at Forest Hill and if he could, hitch hike to Robinson Flats. He just didn’t know if logistically he could do it. I finally suggested that he just go to Forest Hill and stay there. I had FIVE crew waiting for me at Robinson; I would be fine without him.
We both fell asleep and missed the bear going through camp that kept up poor Carla and Sarah in their tent. The alarm went off at 3:30. I had a great breakfast and got ready and suddenly realized that I was kind of late tacking up. I get Jim tacked up and left my crew and trotted toward the start. There is Beret and we talked, laughed and had a pretty relaxing start. I was shocked. There was one horse that was dancing around a bit, but otherwise every horse was ‘all business’ going down the trail. Now I was fairly close to the back of the pack, but it was very uneventful.
At about 2 miles into the ride I felt my left stirrup slowly slide down my saddle. I was trotting along with a large group of horses and it felt like my left leg was on an elevator going down. I told Beret I had to stop. She offered to stop with me, and did. I pulled off and sure enough my fender had broken on my saddle. I asked Beret to keep going, and reluctantly she did. I pulled out the duct tape and I could see where the stitching had come undone so I duct taped the crap out of it. What I should have done… and didn’t… was check to make sure the stirrups were level before I had done this. It wasn’t even close. I crawled back on by 15.3HH horse on the ‘off side’ and off we went. I was so afraid to put much weight in that stirrup, which wasn’t a problem because it was about 3” longer than the other.
Amazingly, I was still riding with people around me, so I said screw it, I can ride that way, and I did until I got past the Squaw Valley Ski Resort. A little side note here. I am not a spectacular rider. I have had enough dressage lessons that the trainer doesn’t deny I have ever been there. Riding on that trail, over hwy 89, up past the ski lifts for 10+ miles without stirrups made me want to kiss that dressage instructor on the lips.
Along the trail I pulled out my phone and texted Patty that my stirrup broke, and called Mike and told him he had to take the extra set of fenders and that he DID have to go to Robinson. Good luck, I love you, good bye. Poor guy.
Before the ski lifts was Jim’s great opportunity to go East and he took off on me. I couldn’t dig down into my stirrups to turn his head but got him turned anyway. Go core! There were volunteers, water and green grass past the ski lift and I hopped off and reinforced my broken fender with more duct tape and twine that I had in my saddle. I wrapped, knotted, wrapped the other way, knotted, and wrapped and knotted one more time so that I could actually use the stirrup. BUT, alas, I made the stirrup too short this time. I get on and said screw it, I can ride this way. After a mile I came to my senses and had to undo the many, many knots I had made in the twine.
At this point of the ride I was on survival mode. The feeling I got in my gut when that stirrup fender broke was “There goes the ride, but at least I get a puppy.” So now my goal was just to ride on as long as I could until I was overtime. At squaw I heard one volunteer asking another if I was the last one. He said “No, there are about 15 more.” When I was undoing my amazingly knotted twine, most of those riders passed me.
It is funny how things work out, because I was by myself from that point until Red Star. Jim drank out of every bog, he went at his own pace through the technical rocks, and he grabbed a bite to eat some of the high mountain grass. I never expected to be by myself on Tevis. But Jim and I do well by ourselves, and usually he prefers it, so it was such a pleasure just experiencing this trail just the two of us, at our own pace. There was a rider off his mule before Red Star. He had a concussion and a couple of riders were tending to him and didn’t need help, so I continued on. I trotted into Red Star and was shocked at how many horses were there. Because Jim had tanked up at the bogs, and everywhere else, we quickly got through Red Star and continued on. Those wonderful riders that had tended to the down rider passed me and I was by myself again for most of the way into Robinson. My poor crew, I got there so much later than I expected. I got there at 11:38 and cut off was 12:00. Little did they know this would be a theme with me and that they would stress and worry for only 17.5 more hours.
What I didn’t know until later is that Mike got to Forest Hill, parked the rig and tried to hitch hike to Robinson. He went out on the road and stuck his thumb out. Cars just kept going by, and nobody stopped. He went to the entrance and stood there for a while with his thumb out with the same results. He went up to a volunteer and told her that he was trying to get to Robinson Flat, that my saddle broke, and he had the piece to fix it. She yelled over at another volunteer and told him that he HAD to take this guy to Robinson!!!! His rider’s saddle broke and he had the piece to fix it!” The other volunteer dropped what he was doing and drove Mike up to Robinson.
My crew was better prepared than an Indy 500 Pit Crew! It was priceless having Carla and Sarah from Action Rider Tack there because my saddle needed a major overhaul, and they know this saddle well, they sell them, so they were on it! Christine grabbed the saddle, put it in the cart and she, Lisa, Carla and Sarah were off with it. They fixed the saddle, resupplied food, water and elytes in my bags, changed the pad, etc. Patty and Mike stayed with me and made sure Jim was comfortable.
When I got to my crew spot it was a hive of activity and Jim happily munched, Lisa massaged his backend where she found a knot in his muscle and I sat and watched it all. There was no chaos, they didn’t bother Jim, they just did their jobs and made everything work again, including me. Carla had to wait in the long line for the green blood draw card. Poor girl, but having her take on this job took so much stress off of me. All of those little details that the crew took care of made my ride easier. When it was 3 am and I still had the energy to keep going, I really think it was because I didn’t have to worry about all of the little things they took care of.
Jim and I had done the section of the trail between Robinson and Forest Hill at the Tevis Education ride. It was so interesting how much happier he was on sections he knew. We passed many people through here. I got off and hand trotted him down the canyons. We loved playing in the American River. At every stop the volunteers were so amazing.
We came into Forest Hill at 8:12. Cut off was 8:30. Yep, I like to keep my crew guessing. Again, they were rock stars taking care of Jim and me. I was on Jim at 9:10 and waiting for my time to leave and it was dark already. I left Forest Hill and there are more volunteers guiding me thru half the town. It was VERY quiet going through the other half of Forest Hill in the dark. I got off and hand walked him on the pavement. At this point I had done most of the ride by myself. I don’t mind riding Jim by himself and I had been so concerned that at Tevis we would never be by ourselves. Well that certainly wasn’t an issue, and at this point I wanted some company. Well I found it. I got in with a group of riders once I got on the trail and we had a great time. It was the first time I had a conversation with riders, finding out where they were from, what was the story with their horses, etc. It was great. Jim loved that section of trail and led a good portion of it. There were riders close enough ahead that we could tell where the switch backs were. I think that was the most fun we both had.
We got into Franciscos and again it is chaos and there are so many horses everywhere! Jim and I get up to the vet quickly but I had lost my time-in slip. At this point my mind was not working well because I was tired. I went and got another slip and vetted him through. I wanted to get him vetted while there wasn’t a line, so afterwards I then could let him eat and relax. I was fumbling around, probably talking to myself when a volunteer came up and took over for me. He could tell I was functioning at the level of a 5 year old and he did everything but hold my hand in the porta potty. This gentleman made me eat, made me drink and directed me to the porta potty. He walked Jim up to the mounting block so I could get on. We had 15 miles to go on the ride, and I am still so close to cut offs that I hadn’t thought I might actually get this ride done. I was just going until they told me I had to stop.
As I was getting on Jim, the volunteer said “You know you are going to finish this ride.” I was mid-mount and just stopped. “I am?” I am dumbfounded that he said that. “Why do you think that?” It hadn’t dawned on me that I might finish. That moment in time will be forever emblazoned in my mind. That volunteer has no idea what affect those words had on me.
So I left the vet check feeling pretty darn good. Now we were on the trail by ourselves again. Jim was going along, but he was now on a section he hadn’t done before and he didn’t like it. He did a pretty impressive Western Pleasure Jog, complete with head down sniffing for ‘his people’ that he had gone into Francisco’s with. I didn’t know we had left before them. We had 3 riders come up and we all trotted along then he pulled off to go pee. He had no interest in catching back up to those riders, he didn’t want NEW people, he wanted HIS people. So we rode into Lower Quarry by ourselves.
At Lower Quarry I had a real scare because I had to represent him. He had intermittent lameness on left front. It went away when he trotted faster than his newly loved gait ‘The Western Jog’. So we continued on. I was pretty darn paranoid at this point. Who needs caffeine when I have been chasing cut offs all day and NOW a vet saw an intermittent lameness. My crew is at No Hands and I guess I acted a little zombie-like and scared them, but my mind was so focused on Jim. At Robie Point I got off and walked all the way down until it started climbing again. NOW Jim’s people are passing him, and he isn’t happy about that. I tried to get on and couldn’t because he was jigging and I had forgotten to tighten my cinch when I had mounted at Lower Quarry. I don’t know how I had ridden with it so loose. So I got it tightened and got back on. I had people ask if I wanted them wait while I mounted and I told them no. How nice was that! Very nice! I walked him in most of the way and we crossed the finish line at 4:59.
At the stadium again he had to be trotted out twice. While doing the second trot out I thought to myself that I was so proud of this horse, and that I didn’t even care if we were pulled. He was amazing and we did the ride. I got back to the Vets and they looked at each other, smiled, and told me congratulations. I about passed out. My big old 15.3HH Mustang finished the ride. The feeling that comes over a person when they see a horse give that much is unexplainable. He just kept going. What is even more amazing is that when Gina pulled his shoes, he had an olive sized rock in his left front foot. It was embedded in the middle of his frog. That tough, tough horse continued on with that rock in his foot.
That ride is so interesting. I think some people do it and never care to see the trail again. Me, I was planning next year on the drive home. If that ride gets stuck in your head, I think it gets pretty cemented in. I have finally stopped dreaming that I am on the trail. I would wake up and wonder which check point my bedroom was at.
On one side I hope I forget this desire to go back to Tevis. On the other side I never want to forget this ride. I want to again experience every section, every check point, and every rock on this amazing trail.