Before I had even left to go to the ride, I was waffling on the idea of riding two 50's back-to-back. Considering Diego had only done ONE 50 to date, at Rides of March, in 11-something hours, and knowing that Cooley Ranch was considered to be one of the harder rides in the region, I was somewhat doubtful as to our ability to actually complete 100 miles that weekend. When I had first arrived at the ride, the Vet Secretary had me down as doing two LD's, but I knew I for sure wanted to ride at least ONE 50. I would rather have completed only one 50, and not gone at all the second day, than to have done two LD rides. So I had them change my Saturday entry to the 50, and we left my Sunday entry as the 30 for now with the mention that I could/might change it at the end of the day Saturday. However, at the end of the day Saturday, Diego was obviously tired so I elected to just ride the 30 on Sunday. I had been toying with the idea off and on Saturday, that I would maybe try to ride the LD alone. While Diego was happy to keep up with the group, I wanted to see how he would pace on a ride entirely on his own. We've truly only ridden by ourselves a handful of times. Most of our conditioning rides are done with company of some sort or another. And while Diego is happy to lead, be in the middle, or follow behind, I wanted to see how and what he would do without having a buddy along to help encourage and/or tow him with any sort of pacing. Plus I figured I'd be pretty safe to try my experiment on a Day 2, when he was a little less enthusiastic all around. =)
Sunday morning saw a much calmer Diego. =) Getting tacked up was no issue and I only had to walk him around a bit to just get him moving and ensure that he looked good and wasn't any worse for the wear and was indeed ready to go again. Diego was relaxed but forward, I was able to mount up and ride out of camp a couple of minutes after the actual start. The start was the same as yesterday for the first 3 miles, up the hill, down the hill, steep up hill, gradual small down, another big up, etc. The cloud cover was pretty thick and it as actually misting on us. I had a moment of hoping I wasn't going to need a rain jacket, but continued on undaunted. Initially I was riding off and on with a couple other horses, passing and/or being passed, but I kept Diego to a walk on the up hills while they were trotting some of them so we started to spread out. At the top of the hill, we went right instead of straight/left to get to the vet check in a shorter course than the day before. As I crested the hill, I got off to continue down on foot. I was walking past a clump of trees and could hear a bunch of rustling and "Whoa! Whoa! Stand!" from the other side. I peered through and could see a guy on foot, trying to get his saddle adjusted while his horse danced around and generally made things difficult. I asked if he was okay, he responded that he was. I stood there for a while, thinking that moving off would probably just upset his horse more, then got impatient with his faffing and continued on down the hill with Dig. We had only gone another minute or two when from behind I heard more loud crashing and shouts of "Whoa! Whoa!" and I turned around just in time to see the same guy, mounted now, come crashing around a turn, his horse trying to run away with him, as the guys slid to the side, pulling his saddle with him, and hitting the ground. Thankfully he kept hold of the reins so I didn't have to try to deal with catching a loose horse. He got up and said he was okay, walked down the hill on foot to where I was and I held his horse for him while he got his saddle readjusted, cinched SUPER tight, and then remounted. He was going to wait for me to get on, but I told him I was planning on just walking till near the bottom and he continued on - thank goodness.
I walked on for just a bit longer until things started to level out. I got mounted back up and rode past some tractors and other logging equipment, including a large stack of cut redwood trunks, a machine that cut them into boards, and the resulting piles of boards and sawdust. Diego didn't bat and eye and went right through the middle of all of it. In just a short bit, we went past a volunteer who was manning the gate into the sheep pasture. After having seen Dig's reaction to the sheep at the vet check yesterday, I was keeping my eyes peeled for the little buggers. =) We were happily trotting along when we crested a hill and the sheep were laid out like a fuzzy gauntlet on either side of the trail in a flat open grassy area. Dig stopped and took stock of the situation. I hopped off and started to lead him through. Once he realized that the sheep were scared of the big bad horse, and were in fact moving AWAY from HIM, he didn't care anymore and I remounted and rode the rest of the way through the flock. In just a few hundred yards, we arrived at the gate out of the pasture and at the vet check for a quick trot by (no check at this point ~ 5 or 6 miles).
When we reached the top of the steeper longer hill into the vetcheck, he stopped and turned to look at me, "Um remember Mom, you got off here yesterday, twice." So I obliged him and dismounted and we continued on in. It was warmer and a bit more humid today. I scooped water on him at the troughs and then continued over to the P&R area. He was close but still a bit high, hanging around 64 when criteria was 60. I told the lady it seems to take him about 5 minutes, and sure enough, at exactly 5 minutes from our in time he pulsed down to 60. We went over to our little crewing area and GUESS WHO ATE HIS LUNCH?!? Yup, lesson learned from yesterday and Dig put his head down and ate and ate for our entire one-hour hold, only taking a break to go be vetted. Vetted through with all A's on the card too! Everyone in ear-shot had to listen to me gush on about how fabulous he was doing and how proud of him I was and yadda yadda. =) I did manage to shut up long enough to eat most of a sandwich. At this point, we were around 12 miles or so into the 30 and my out-time after the hour long hold was 10:30-ish something as I recall (7 am start).
We left out and followed the same trail as loop 2 from yesterday, down the road, across the river, and then parallel to the river on a fairly flat road up to a house with a trough and hose, another mile or so past the house, and yesterday's trail turned left while we continued on straight. I *think* this was new/different trail from past years as management has been working hard to make Day 2 a bit easier, or at least not HARDER than Day 1 as in the past. The loop 2 that the 50's were doing today (not the LD) was still challenging, but was all new trail and quite beautiful from what I heard. While this portion seemed to fly by in the blink of an eye the day before, I realized how far it actually was today. Riding by ourselves was a bit of a challenge as it gives you so much more time to be exactly in the moment and focused on every small thing. I think I multi-task pretty well and enjoy watching the scenery, monitoring the footing, while also chatting with my fellow riders - which helps the time pass more quickly. Instead I had to just chatter on at Diego or in my head to myself - totally doable but it did make things seem to take longer. Dig just chugged right along though, strong steady forward trot, probably in the 8-9 mph range. We had another tricky crossing on this road, a short sharp ditch into some rocks (no water) and then an equally steep opposite bank. Again, I could tell he was going to hop it so I got off so he could clear the 3+ ft gap in a single bound - from a stand still. Eek! Eventually, we reached the lollipop portion of this loop and turned left into the creek bed, following the river, crossing multiple times, going along through the deep sandy/gravely footing for about a mile or so before starting up the one (and only) big climb on this portion of the loop. Dig just put his head down and started marching. At a walk but up and up and up we went. We were passed by one girl and her horse, who were trotting/jogging off and on and while Dig thought about keeping up, I encouraged him to just keep walking so we did, until finally reaching a glorious old weathered and half falling down barn at the summit of the hill. This ranch must have been beautiful and very interesting back when it was in full-scale running herds of livestock.
At the top, we had another of those hills that you look at and wonder exactly how you are going to get down. So I slithered down. I honestly considered just squatting and trying to slide down half on my butt. It was steep. Like a dysfunctional slinky Dig and I managed our downward descent. I would slither ahead and then stop to catch my footing, he would just keep trodding along behind me, sliding himself every now and again. Eventually it wasn't as steep and I was able to walk more normally. Down, down, down we went until we reached a creek crossing at the bottom. Since I was already off, I grabbed my scoop and poured the water on while Dig drank deeply. Two riders caught up to us at this point, a heavier-set older lady who rode up exclaiming, "I've about had enough of these F*@$%! hills!" I found out after the ride, that was Ruthie Waltenspiel - the original Ride Manager/Founder. =) We chatted for a few minutes while the horses drank and grazed and when leaving, the encouraged me to go ahead, since I had the faster horse. I expressed my doubt at this, but in fact Dig proved them wrong, hitting the road and just happily settling into his brisk trot again - and away we went. I was starting to get a bit concerned about time. It was noon and we had to finish the ride, and be pulsed down by 2:15. I knew we were going to have to hustle it in and keep going in order to make it on time. In short order we were at the end of the loop and back on the out-and-back portion of the road. Dig did SO GOOD with having to pass and be passed by the 50-milers going the opposite direction. We actually had quite a bit of common trail where this occurred, and he just got better about it as the day went on. Cruised the 3 miles or so back to the house, off to jump the ditch again, got hosed down well and cooled off at the trough (I even hosed myself a bit), and then back on to trot trot trot down the road toward the river.
Finally reached the large river crossing. At this point, it was 1 pm and I had an hour and fifteen minutes to go the last 4 miles, but these miles included the huge 2+ mile climb along the paved road to the vet check. We set off, trotting where we could, following the paved road away from the vet check and toward camp right after crossing the river. Dig objected a bit to the left hand turn, knowing food and goodies were at the check to the right (someone is finally developing a sense of direction), but continued on when told to do so. We walked off and on, and I was so grateful to have on boots so I could just trot down the asphalt road when needed/wanted rather than having to deal with the narrow shoulder in some spots. We went through a small grouping of houses and then started the climb. At this point, I was cussing LD's and how you have to ride a faster overall pace to finish a LD on time as opposed to a 50 because the hold time deducts more of your overall riding time. We were already over 6 hours total elapsed time, so I was glad for the 30 having an additional 1:15 for those additional 5 miles. And so we walked, and walked, and walked, and climbed that monster hill. Dig was hungry and would head toward the side of the trail for grass - I would steer him to the larger clumps of long grass, where he could grab a big mouthful and then eat it like a child slurping spaghetti, chewing the stalks down as we went. Shortly before reaching the 1/2 way mark, we were passed by the first place 50 mile horse, just trot, trot, trotting up the hill. I was impressed. Wow! There was a water trough near then, he drank and moved on right before we go there. Dig drank happily for quite a bit. The next 2 horses in the 50 nearly reached the trough as we were leaving. They knew they couldn't catch the guy in front of them (Robert Weldin?) and were more concerned with the lady coming behind, who had a strong downhill horse and they thought might push that final mile down hill to try to over take them. So they also were trot, trot, trotting up the hill. Dig and I were suitably impressed, but neither of us felt much compulsion to JOIN them in that endeavour. ;)
I'm watching the time this whole climb... wishing I had paid attention yesterday to how long it took us. I know I have a mile of down hill into camp from the very top. I'm wanting to reach the finish line no later than 2 pm, to give me a full 15 minutes to pulse down if needed. So in the sun we continue our march up, and up, and up the hill. Finally, there's the dirt turn off from the road! It's 1:35, another 5 minutes of climbing maybe to reach the actual summit. Up, up, up - you can do it Dig! I'm so proud of you! We finally crest the top and I let him walk a bit to catch his breath. Then I ask, "Can you trot?" and he says, "Sure! It's downhill!" and off we go, down off the mountain. I got a little teary-eyed - so overwhelmed by what we had accomplished this weekend. We trotted down the hill and walked into camp around 1:45 or so. I took him over to the water trough and scooped him, and sure enough, in just about 5 minutes he was pulsed down and we had our official finish time (I think it was 1:49 - so total ride time would be 5:49). We went back to the trailer and pulled tack and Diego happily dove into his food and ate and ate. They told me at the finish that I only had a 1/2 hour to vet out (??? It's been so long since I rode a LD I had no idea) so I let him rest and eat for about 20 minutes before heading over to get our official completion. He did it!!!! 80 miles in two days on a tough, tough course. So impressed with my horse! I honestly cannot say if I am more proud of our mid-pack finish in the 50 on Day 1, or the fact that he went out there and conquered the Day 2 30 totally solo and a bit tired, riding our own ride, in such a relaxed and impressive manner.
I'm still blissed out and in awe of what we did. =)