Tevis 2007 – A Crew’s Perspective
What a show, what an event, what a lot of work! I attended the Tevis again this year, as I intended to, but due to circumstances beyond my control, namely my knee surgery in April, I was unable to ride. I really wanted to ride the crazy thing again, as I intend to every year, but I couldn’t. Patience, Patience, Patience! This is a word that does not share residence with other words in my brain very well. What’s a rider to do when they can’t ride? Crew, of course! The day my wife Judy heard I was going to have surgery, she comforted me as a wife will – “Oh no, that’s no good. I’m so sorry. I’ll help you with your recovery. It will be okay – you will be better soon.” She gave me a nice hug. Thanks, sweetie. She then snuck outside, looked around to be sure I could not see her, pumped her fist up and down and said “YES!”, as if her Giants had just won the World Series. My outage meant only one thing – she would get to ride my Dawn on the big ride this year. He’s come quite a way in his first three years. (It’s amazing I have had him three years now. Where is this time going?) He has started 30 rides and completed 30 rides, including Tevis as his first 100 last year, which he pulled me through with ease. I didn’t want him to miss a chance to do the ride due to my injury, so Judy got the nod! My riding buddy Sally helped me beyond belief during my post surgery recovery by coming over twice a week and riding my boy to keep him going for me. Her prize? She rode him on the three days of the Wild West ride, where she had an absolutely wonderful time. She was just having fun and enjoying herself, but ended up in second overall for the three days combined. She decided then and there she was going to steal him, but is still working on her plan so I won’t notice. Perhaps spray paint Warpaint white and add on some flea-bitten specks and a pair of cute ears? She’s crafty!
Judy has started Tevis three times and finished twice, all on Warpaint the crazy Appy, but she has not ridden the big one since 1998. She has done 450 miles so far this year to help get ready, including 50 at the Mariposa ride last month on Dawn to get to know him. My crewing duties started the week before Tevis when I simply stuffed everything horse related we own into the truck and trailer, leaving only enough room for the actual horse. We had contrived a master plan on how to get Judy through the ride, since she always gets sick while riding at night. Sally and I would be responsible for anything horse related, while our friend Karen Bottiani (6 Tevis completions in 7 starts on her horse Blues!) would take complete control and care of Judy, especially relating to making her eat and drink. Karen was the mother hen all weekend, forcing Judy to just keep consuming calories and fluids. We drove up on Thursday afternoon as usual and parked out in the gravel overflow parking lot. The ride was kind of small this year, but I think people are figuring out the gravel is the hot place to park. Oh, oops, it’s terrible! Never park there! Stay away! Poison Gas! My horse was all alone for the first day and night out there; he does like company, and we were a little concerned about how he would be all by himself. No worries – he was just fine. He was calm in his pen, eating and drinking, but would call out and say hello to any horse that might pass by. On Friday morning more people started showing up, pretty much filling up the gravel area. Mister D was happy to have some neighbors to talk to as well. We took him down to vet in; Judy was still nice and relaxed as I took him through the vet line and got him his number. She weighed in at 160 pounds with my saddle and all her stuff – that’s 40 pounds lighter than my riding weight, certainly a good thing for the boy once the ride started.
Speaking of my saddle, Judy did not really like the way my 2 inch biothane stirrup leathers felt at Mariposa, so I switched over to her traditional 1 inch leathers. I had to disassemble the saddle to rig them up, but she liked the way they felt much better, so that’s how we left it. I was pondering one of the most important lessons I have ever learned in this sport – never do a ride, especially Tevis, with something new and untried. As I thought about it, I realized that her leathers were about 13 years old, so I suggested getting new ones. “Nah,” she said, “They should be fine.” None the less, while shopping at Janet’s place in the main camp, I bought a pair of new Zilco leathers as a backup. We were chatting about it over a beer in the shade, and Karen said that it’s usually the stitching that gives out, rather than the leather itself ripping. She suggested we check them out, just to be safe. Judy agreed, and went over and tugged on the leathers where they were sewed together. Rip!! They came apart with as much effort as it would take to separate Velcro. Judy’s eyes got real big; I felt so vindicated, especially as a crew! She took the other one – it ripped even easier than the first. I leaped in, took the saddle apart, and installed the fresh Zilco’s. She went for her warm up ride and reported they felt fine – we dodged a bullet there. Rule to self, AGAIN, even after last year where I did the same stupid thing, never use anything new or different at this ride! I won’t, ever again. (Except a water bottle, which we replaced)
While she was out riding, Sally and I prepared the crew bags for Robinson Flat, the wild and crazy vet check at 35 miles where the crew can see the rider for the first time. Crew Goal 1: Bring everything. We seemed to be bringing enough stuff to support the fifth Calvary on maneuvers, but that’s what it takes to be secure in the knowledge that we did not forget anything. I would almost be able to replace the p-trap in the kitchen sink that she may be carrying along in her cantle bag. I also spoil the horse – I was bringing eight, very large, ziplock bags full of different grains and goodies I can mix and match at the vet check, so he can really select what he wants to eat, and enough carrots to make a large herd of bunnies jump for joy. We finished up the prep and had some time to kill while she was out riding, so we had Gary Fend’s brother, Rick, take us out down the road to the start where we could go look at that stupid little ditch that caused so much grief just after the start last year. Look here – some nice ride management person has had it filled up with gravel. That’s a relief. Later on after dinner we wandered over to the ride meeting that takes just a little too long, and then set up for the night. The morning gets a little hectic around here.
The alarm goes off at 3:30am, so I got up and gave the horse his morning mash, complete with warm water from the camper. We got the horse all tacked up and ready to go while Karen made sure Judy had breakfast. The horse is so nice and calm. Crew Goal 2: Get her walking out of camp to the start at 4:30. At 4:30 I walked down the main road with her to the start in her designated Pen 3; it takes about 7 minutes to get there from the parking area we were in. She was the first horse to the pen, so I walked with her for a moment until the other horses started to show up. Mister D is walking, standing, so nice and calm. I said good bye, and told her to ride safe, ride smart, and have fun. I also told Dawn to take care of her. It’s funny – I was never worried about them, because I know she can do it, I know he can do it, but I still felt a little pang of emotion. I walked back to the truck in the moonlight, feeling a little odd about not being on the horse, but that’s okay, she will have a good ride. All these horses heading over to the start, and me heading the other way on foot. Its okay, she will have a good ride. I listen to all the people talking; they are so excited, it sounds so cool. Its okay, she will have a good ride. I’ll just keep chanting that to myself all day long. We had the camp all packed and ready to go at 5am, and could not pull out until 5:30, so we just stood in the moonlight in the cool air, hoping the ride was going all right so far. It was so funny – the rules strictly say no vehicles on the road until 5:30, (a great rule, for the benefit of the riders) so it ends up looking like the starting grid at the Indy 500. Everyone has their trucks staged and ready to blast off, and once the first one leaves, everyone dashes out in a pack to get down the dusty roads that lead to Truckee, then the freeway. The dust was pretty bad, but only for about 7 miles or so. Crew Goal 3: Get the rig to Foresthill without incident. Through the dust we went, then through town and onto the freeway heading west. Boy, some of these crews are not trying to follow this rule! These guys are pulling these big trailers at speeds of over 75 MPH! In the mountains, on highway 80, no less. I’m going 60 with bursts to 65 and am getting blown away. The mighty Pony Tug cruised effortlessly through the Sierra with nary a shudder. I remember in 94 when I made the turn off the freeway in Auburn in my old truck and had the power steering pump blow up. Not good for crews. Karen followed us in her truck to the Bath Road site in Foresthill; we pulled into the giant parking area, where we found excellent parking control. We found a nice spot to leave the rig, so we loaded up Karen’s truck and headed back up the small road that leads to Robinson Flat, about 15 miles away. Crew Goal 4: Get set up in Robinson before the rider gets there! No problem. Even with the 5:30 truck start, we were able to drop the rig, load up, drive up to Robinson, and get set up and ready by 9. However, if you were crewing for a fast rider in the lead, you would need a different strategy, or more vehicles, or both. The ride does a great job of leading the crew’s vehicles down into the vet check to unload and drop off the flotilla of equipment that everyone is carrying. Heck, I thought I had a lot of stuff? There are people with entire pickup truck beds full of crew equipment. Two spare saddles? Full size wheelbarrows? Wow! We had a nice spot picked out in the shade in the forest: the tarp went down, chairs out, horse buffet ready, water, rider food, everything perfect. Judy’s goal was to arrive at Robinson between 10:30 and 11. It’s now 9:15 and we get into huddle formation to create our plan. We are going to meet the horse, walk him to the water, let him drink, pull the saddle, splash him down, Sally takes the tack back to the crew area, I go with Judy to the P&R and vet, we get through and back to the area, Karen goes to work on Judy, Sally and me the horse. Sounds so easy! We walked up the trail entrance and began our wait. The leaders hit camp at 9:25 or so, moving right along, but slower than last year. We begin waiting and wondering when she will arrive. For those not so familiar with endurance riding, the word crew is spelled w-a-i-t. In my case I guess it is w-a-i-t and w-o-r-r-y. Probably everyone else’s, too. Crew Goal 4.1: Try like heck not to be nervous.
Oh, the waiting is hard. I know so many of the riders that pass by with their superb mounts; we say hi, the horse looks great, etc, etc, but what we are really saying is “Where is Judy?” A friend says she’s right behind me. Boy, that’s good to hear. Sure enough, she pops into view, right at 10:45, and is skipping along next to the horse. She’s all smiles and feeling great, as is Dawn. Time for our crack crewing plan to go into action! I lead my horse down the road to the in-timers, Judy gets clocked in, and then we walk to the water, let him drink, pull the saddle, splash him down, Sally takes the tack back to the crew area, I go with Judy to the P&R and vet, we get through and back to the area, Karen goes to work on Judy, Sally and me the horse. Did that sound familiar? It’s exactly what we did. Yay! Perfection in action so far. The horse looked wonderful for the vets. Judy is eating, as is Dawn. For you connoisseurs of mash, it turns out his favorite choice is a nice blend of Strategy, Ultium, crimped oats, some wheat bran, (no beet pulp) and water, with of course carrots. Lots of carrots. He’d eat them in his sleep, upside down, and under water. What kind of damage would he do in the Bunny Love factory? We limit him to one mash, then it’s to the hay: grass, alfalfa, and oat, of which he eats in a round robin manner. Crew Goal 5: Get her out on time! This worked too, but not without a hiccup. They have an exit CRI that was not carried out real well. They wanted you to arrive at the exit CRI “A few minutes” before your exit tine. What does that mean? Apparently the pulse takers did not know, since they were doing people at all kinds of different time. Some people waited, some not, there was sort of a line, but not quite. I just sort of said “please do him now” and got his CRI. We timed it so she had to wait for about a minute before her out time, and as the clock flipped, off she went, right on time. Whew! The whole atmosphere for us becomes completely relaxed as she rides out. We walked back through the carnage to our crew spot, packed up, and walked back down the hill to the truck. We had our lunch of chicken pops and egg salad as we drove back down the hill to Foresthill, where we will have to wait for about six hours to see her again.
We stopped for ice and some supplies, set up the camp back at the truck for her arrival, got all ready, and now, well, we wait for five hours. Ugh. Crew Goal 6: Try not to be too bored. We walked around camp a little, had more snacks, sat in the shade, talked to some friends, then went back to the truck. Now only four hours left to wait. I went into the camper to try and take a little nap – it will be a long day, and the air was still pretty cool outside. While I was asleep, Sally came into the camper, well she tried to, but fell off the high door step, right onto the tongue of the trailer. She hit hard, right on her ribs, and really hurt herself. I was convinced she had broken some ribs, since she could barely move or breathe without extreme pain. She said no to going to the hospital for a while to see how it felt, since she did not want to ruin the day for anyone. She sat for a couple of hours, then we walked down to the paved road that leads the riders into Foresthill to wait for Judy. It’s a lot of fun – you get to see everyone, and everyone cheers for all the riders as they approach the check. Judy’s goal was to arrive between 7 and 8; she arrived at about 7:25 or so. She wasn’t quite as chipper looking as she was at Robinson, but oh man, Dawn was! She climbed down and gave the horse to me – he dragged me up the road like a little grey steam train. We left Judy in the dust as we walked to the water, where we stripped his tack and hosed him down. The horse looked totally fresh – he’s pretty amazing. Up to the main crew area, where his pulse was already way down, same as last year. We let him eat a bit while Judy walked over, looking kind of tired, but still okay. She had started getting nauseous already, at Michigan Bluff, about an hour earlier. Not a good sign at this early point, since she usually does not start to get queasy until later at night. We went to the vet – I trotted the boy for Judy, and wow is all I can say. CRI? 52/44. The vet looked at him funny; I just smiled and hugged him.
Back to the truck where we started our crack crewing again. All was going well, except poor Sally could not really move. She did some light massage on Dawn while he scarfed like a hungry dog. You have to love that. I spent the first 20 minutes on him, while Karen worked on Judy. She was sitting down, looking not too energetic. She was not tired really, but more weak from the stomach problems. Karen forced her to eat and drink, which she did: some Gu, milk, some chips, but not what I’d call a feast. I asked Judy how it had been going, she replied: “This horse is unbelievable – he is so strong, and wants to go faster than I want to. He feels stronger now than at the start!” I told her “Look at him – you have a ton of horse left here, you can pick it up and let him out a little more if you want.” She realized she really did not like riding much faster than she was doing, so that’s cool, she was right on her schedule, which on this ride you have to be. Crew Goal 7: Tell the rider what they need to hear. This one is pretty important. You need to be supportive, especially when the rider is not feeling as well as they could. We told her how great she was doing, right on time, and just look at the horse. We cleaned up Dawn and tacked him back up while Judy changed some clothes and prepared for the night. Back to Crew Goal 5: Get her out on time. I am really focused on this goal, (Ya think?) so we had her waiting at the out timer with a minute to go. Perfect. I told her ride safe, ride smart, and have fun. She hopped up, smiled, and off she went into the evening on my boy. I got that little pang again, but knew she’d be okay. You have to know her, I guess. The only creature I have ever known who can be more stubborn and tough is Warpaint. The two of them have always been quite a pair.
Now it’s really time to wait. We walked back to the truck, talking to riders, friends, and crew people as we went. It’s a good feeling to have your rider still in it. We cleaned up camp and drove out of the check as the last shades of day left. As we drove down the dark highway, I kept looking up at that moon, like I always do in this ride. That moon taunts and mocks me when I don’t finish, but last year Dawn and I owned it. This year I had to let Judy take her best shot at that moon, hoping she would defeat it. As we drove I kept putting myself down on the trail, riding my favorite section, at night, on my horse: stop it and drive. She will be fine. We drove down to the fairgrounds and parked the rig in the parking lot. Note to self: next time put it out away from the other rigs. We had Sally go directly to bed and try and sleep, since she was hurting pretty badly. She felt bad for not being able to help, but she was injured. Karen and I drove over and prepared the stall for my horse, who would be arriving in about 4 hours. I know he will be arriving, off the trail, not in a trailer. Crew Goal 8: try and get some sleep. It’s now midnight thirty, and we are sleepy, having been up for about 21 hours minus a quick nap. We went and looked at the official rider status board – none to helpful. They had been having problems with the rider status system, so people had been calling friends at home with a computer to have them check the webcast for them, since it was better than the actual information we got at the ride. Way to go, Jackie Floyd and crew! I should have brought my hand-held. We did try and get some sleep, but a lot of the people in the parking lot were not being very considerate of people trying to get some much needed shuteye. I know everyone’s excited, but come on. Next time I’ll park away from the other rigs. I think I slept for about an hour, partially because of the talking and trucks, but the other part found me thinking about Judy and Dawn.
At 3:00am (yawn) we woke up and went to the actual finish line at the overlook. Once again, the main rider status board at the stadium has no updates since Foresthill. There are lots of people there at the finish waiting for their own riders, and as soon as they pop out of the darkness, the crowd will cheer and clap. It always seems to be someone else’s rider coming in, though. I expected Judy in between 3:30 and 4. The one and only Julie Suhr was there, dozing in a chair, waiting for her daughter Barbara White to get her 28th completion. The mind just reels at this one. Crew Goal 4.1 again. Man, I’m nervous. Just be calm. I know they can do it, but where are they? I check with the finish people that have a radio. No, not any information from Francisco’s or the quarry. Every few minutes a horse or more comes up the trail. They are so happy, and they should be. Great job, every one of you. Here comes Robert and Melissa Ribley – Judy had been riding with them earlier, so maybe she’s almost here. More waiting. A grey horse! Nope, another happy rider. Where are they? Here is Barbara – hooray! Judy was ahead of her at Foresthill. I’d pace, but there is nowhere to walk. Then we hear it – the radio report that everyone has been waiting for. The finish lady holds the radio up in the air – the guy is announcing rider number and the status at the quarry. It was absolutely great – picture 50 crew people leaning over the fence, silent, looking at each other with big eyes, listening like it was a radio broadcast about the end of the world. As soon as a crew’s rider number is mentioned, and their Quarry departure time, the crew people will shout “YES!” and share high fives. One rider’s number is announced, but has been pulled at the Quarry. Their crew is just so depressed. They stand motionless, stare in disbelief, turn, and slowly walk away. Number this, blah, number that, blah, come on! Then: “Number 110, that’s one, one, zero, in the quarry at 2:52, and Out at 2:59.” The relief is like falling into a vat of ice water. Now I’m awake! I know she’s going to make it. Now its time for the math. Six miles, flat road along the river, the bridge, the road, the trail, an hour, or 1:15. She will be here at 4:15 or 4:20. She has until 5:15 – no problem. Its 4:15, 4:20, and at 4:22 my Dawn appears out of the dark, looking just fine. Everyone is cheering as she rides up and gets her finish slip. I hop over the little fence with his blanket and hug her as she gingerly steps down from the horse. Oh yes, the horse. He heads for the water, drinks big, and then looks at me to say, “Huh? Its over? We have to stop?” He looks incredible, and trots briskly for the quick overlook vet check. I lead my horse up over the wooden bridge and through the field that takes us to the fairgrounds and the official finish. I have to keep pausing to wait for Judy, since she’s moving a lot slower than the horse. Dawn doesn’t care, he just drops his head and eats grass. Karen and Sally are with her, congratulating her and talking about the last part of the ride. It turns out she had moved right along on the California loop, but then had done quite a bit of walking in the last few miles due to feeling so sick. We get to the post ride vet check – pulse 48, and the trot is kind of scary. We boom down and back at a trot that is almost a flat out run; the vet smiles and signs the rider card, just like last year. They did it! Judy surprises us all when she says: “Give me back that horse. I’m doing the victory lap!” She climbs back up on Dawn and takes off at a huge trot around the track at the stadium. I sure wish I had this on video! Dawn looks like he just started. What a horse. And what a rider – she toughed it out, since there was no way she’d quit as long as the horse was still going. This is endurance, this is the Tevis.
It wasn’t hard to get Judy to head to the camper for a shower and sleep. I took my boy to the stall, where he headed to the food and went nuts. Crew Goal 9: take care of that horse! I let him eat for 30 minutes, then led him out to the big sand arena to roll. He flopped all around, after which he got up and took off at a trot across the big arena. Egad. It was almost 6 am before I wrapped his legs and left him in his stall eating. I staggered to the truck and slept for about 2 hours. We got up and went to visit the horse – still eating and happy. Karen left early to take Sally home to get checked out; the good news is she only suffered serious bruises to her ribs, but can’t ride for a couple of weeks. (Now I’m riding her horse for her!) We hung around for the awards ceremony, where Judy collected her third buckle. Some highlights that impress the heck out of me – Robert Ribley: 10th buckle. Sandy Schuler, 20th buckle. Hal Hall: 26th buckle. Barbara White: 28th buckle. Now my boy is two for two here. We are on our way towards my career goals for him: 10,000 miles and 10 completions at Tevis. We are closing in on 20% there now, and I could not be much happier. I’m so proud of both of them. See you next year, but from the saddle!