Monday, January 18, 2016

2015... in Review

Looking back on the year, it felt somewhat disjointed and out of sorts. But despite some missed goals and disappointments, I realise that I rode in some absolutely amazing locations and continue to appreciate just how lucky I am to live in such a lovely area.

We had our ups and downs, but finished the year on an up with ailments either diagnosed or at least on the mend, and starting 2016 positively.


This month marked the driest year since records began in 1877 for our area - the whole state was in trouble, and our lovely dry winter - whilst good for horse conditioning - did little for the parched reservoirs that were dropping to record low levels (for example, Folsom Lake, one of our closest, was at 15% capacity by December).

Over Christmas/New Year, pft and I made our usual trip south to the desert and went horse camping at Catalina State Park down near Tucson, AZ. pft wasn't riding horses, so we only took Fergus and bicycles. It snowed and we froze our butts off, but had a good time nevertheless. The scenery is so gorgeous down there - and best of all, it was slop-free. Ash drove over for the day and we spent a happy afternoon walking deckers in the snow.

I love it there, but the two-day drive to get there is definitely a damper.

Catalina State Park, near Tucson, AZ

Later that month, the horrible Charlie Hebdo shooting occurred, raising many questions in my mind about freedom of speech and ramifications thereof.

20 Mule Team 100 was on the calendar and I decided to give myself some "just in case" insurance by getting both Roo and Fergus fit for 100 miles. I ponied Roo off Fergus at high speeds (gosh, his legs can extend - something I wouldn't in a million years let him do under saddle), and had fun having them both along.

In the knitting department, I churned out this excellent star beret in one weekend. Love it to bits, but it's hard to wear because I'm never quite sure how to put it on:

Star beret


Sally came to visit and we took Roo and Fergus out on the high trail for an afternoon of speed work. This was yet another time when Roo went out under saddle but I wasn't on him - which was a recurring theme throughout this year.

Most people have sporting heroes and mine is musher Brent Sass. Brent has the best approach of anyone I know - his motto being "Attitude is Everything" - doing his utmost to make the best of even the worse situations. Last year he came so close to winning the 1000-mile Yukon Quest before flipping off the back of the sled in a moment of exhaustion and giving himself concussion. This year he was back again, wearing a helmet buried under his layers of hats. Figuring out a helmet that is going to work in -60°F/-51°C took some doing, but it paid off and he won - despite oversleeping on the trail by several hours towards the end of the race, causing his followers to have minor panic attack and think that, once again, "something bad" had happened. It ultimately provided a nail-bitingly close finish, with many hours of hitting <refresh> <refresh> <refresh> following the tracker - and he finally won, beating the 2013-2014 champion Allen Moore.

At the end of the month, Fergus, Spike and I headed south for 20 Mule Team 100. We rode with Kaity and had a lovely time in what turned out to be one of the best spring flower displays in years. Kaity's mom, Carol, crewed for us and took care of Spike for the day - for which I am mightily grateful.

20 Mule Team, near Ridgecrest, CA


After two and half years, I got my braces off! And felt like I had a mouth of someone else's shiny plastic teeth.

The AERC Convention was a fun weekend - at dinner there were four decker-owners in a row... and mine was the only one who (news from home) had TPed the back deck. I came home minus all my sweaters and jackets and had to contact the hotel's lost and found - thank goodness I have friends in Reno who could go and retrieve them. Lastly, I did my homework and filled out eight (count 'em) 100 mile surveys that I'd promised the AERC research vet, Olin Balch.

Inspired by the Adhere guy at the convention, Fergus and I embarked upon a search for squishy feet inside his boots to give him more concussion protection. This proved curiously prophetic later in the year.

Uno got ridden (something that needs to happen more often) at Cronin and Roo and I took to the Larimer Trail in hot and humid conditions (and, bravely, in an S-hack... not the best choice for him) and got chronically lost on the way home exploring the area behind Larkin's.

Larimer Trail high above the Middle Fork of American River, looking down on the River Road used on Tevis


Fergus, Roo, and I headed for a weekend of 50s at NV Derby. Luckily I parked at the end of the trot-out lanes, because whenever we got back to camp, the horse left behind screamed incessantly, necessitating fetching it and taking two horses through the vet check. I opted to let Fergus out a little "to see what he could do" - and the result was a 25th place finish in a field of 72 - but an "I see something on the left front" from the vet at the finish (we completed, but it was there).

(Coupled with an "I see something" at the first vet check at 20MT - it was enough to make a girl nervous that something was brewing ...but predictably not loudly enough to tamper my enthusiasm).

The next day Roo got a top-ten finish tagging along behind Connie and Dave. Although in a field of only 21 starters it was a slightly less spectacular result, I still felt like I worked hard.

Snow that afternoon meant that I couldn't get home, so I spent a frigid, blustery night camped out alone at Washoe Valley (pones bundled in their blankies) before driving back over the mountain on Monday morning when it cleared - on an absolutely crystal clear morning of crisp white snow. Gorgeous.

Fergus, overachieving at NV Derby
Photos Gore/Baylor
Roo holding his own and getting his first top-ten

Towards the end of the month, there was a horrific 7.8 Earthquake in Nepal - lots of destruction in the country and a nasty avalanche at Everest Base Camp. That put paid to the climbing season for the second year in a row.

With our success at 20MT, I decided that Fergus and I would make the trek to Wyoming to do the Big Horn 100. With lots of climbs to get ready for, we spent a good few mornings climbing the Powerlines at the end of the lane.


The whole family (well, pft, Finn, Spike, me, n' Roo) went to the High Desert ride over in NV. I'd never done it before and we were to chaperone friend Dionne on her horse Storm's first 50. It was exactly what was needed - a nice relaxed easy-going 50... pouring rain the day before notwithstanding:

High Desert, near Stillwater, NV.
Roo wondering about the thunder clouds, Storm trying to pretend she can't see them.

Another first - pft took me to the drive-in to see "Thor" for my birthday.

To get our second part of the Triple Crown, Fergus and I went to NASTR 75. Inspired by his performance at NV Derby, I once again let him move out - we were even leading the ride at one point, much to my embarrassment - with the predictable result that he went lame at 60 miles. <slap forehead>

Although interesting and educational, playing "top ten" wasn't remotely enjoyable and won't be happening again - not least because letting 1200 lb horses run on hard dirt tracks is not conducive to good health. A subsequent visit to the vet on Monday produced a "sore feet" diagnosis (I had been resigned to a suspensory injury at best, so this diagnosis was met with some degree of disbelief) and I consequently made the decision to move to slightly beefier Renegade boots for better concussion protection.

Despite the vet thinking Fergus'd be OK for Big Horn 100, I wasn't much enthused by the idea - I always prefer to give a good break after any injury, and didn't think that travelling 2000 miles round trip on a "he'll probably be OK" gamble was a great idea, so our Big Horn plans fell off the calendar.

Finally, after many years of good service, my Miata let me down by nearly not making it to work one morning. We got trucked home, courtesy of US Rider, and the problem was deemed a faulty ignition system. Couple that with being about 100,000 mile past needing a timing belt change, Miata has been moved to the garage for some TLC.


June 5th marked the real start of summer with the annual erection of the back deck sunshade (this year tied to a tree, rather than a cinder block - high tech).

With a visit from friends in England who we'd promised to take camping looming on the horizon, we took a trip up to Faith Valley to reccy the situation. pft mtn biked, the dogs romped, and I rode Small Thing (who managed to kick Spike in the chin on purpose, dampening the fun day). Love it up there.

Faith Valley - across the meadow

Faith Valley - evening quickie on our day of arrival

While we were there, pft got a puncture and Small Thing ended up tied to a tree - no big deal. But he then had a small meltdown when he got his leg over the lead rope - not usual for him who normally sees such things as minor inconveniences. Once we got home, I figured out why - it looked like he'd gotten his legs caught in the fence a few days before we left without me realising. As a result, the fence at the bottom of his paddock wasn't as good as it had been and needed replacing - particularly as that would be Kaity's horse Ani's paddock during Tevis week, so pft and I spent a happy weekend scrabbling in the dirt, pulling out the old (now long-buried) fence and replacing it with new.

Spike n' me do fencing

Knowing this year I wasn't going to ride Tevis, as soon as it got vaguely hot, I shamelessly cranked up the a/c in the car and drove to work in the nice cool. I'll take the little pleasures as needed.

At the end of the month, I spectated the WS100 run - this year giving impromptu help crewing for a runner from the East Coast. As always, in awe of the runners - and enjoyed spending the day in Foresthill and the evening down at the river crossing.


This month saw us cram in as much as we possibly could.

We took the dogs and mountain bikes to Utah, camping - and had one of our best trips to date. Starting at the Wedge - the scenery was amazing, the place deserted (excitement and interest whenever we saw a car off in the distance), and we had a fun time mtn biking the Good Water Rim Trail... a LOT.

Good Water Rim Trail - most amazing, unexpected scenery 

Good Water Rim Trail, a quarter mile from our camp

We spent the second half of our trip at San Rafael Swell, behind the reef, visiting Wild Horse Window cave, Goblin Valley during a spectacular thunderstorm, and finishing up with a hike through the slot canyons of Little Wild Horse Canyon.

Our camp "behind the reef", San Rafael Swell

Wild Horse Window cave

Goblin Valley

Goblin Valley

Little Wild Horse Canyon

Little Wild Horse Canyon
Little Wild Horse Canyon

We were then home for a week, before setting off once more to Faith Valley to set up for the Kind family's camping trip. We had a fun weekend, mtn biking, horse riding (not as successful as hoped, but we were able to salvage some rides out of it), and ending with a trip for pft, Dave, Elliott, and Austin to the Flume Trail on mtn bikes/running.

Small Thing disgraced himself at Faith Valley, but to be fair I put him in a bad situation so take full responsibility for my own stupidity. Unfortunately, however, his behaviour filled his imaginary jar almost to the brim with black balls and it would be Christmas time before we got everything back under control.

Finally it was Tevis week ...


...This year it was Kaity and Ani competing, and Ash, Carol, me and Renee crewing. We got her in, we got her out, and as a team we did a great job. High Five Us! ...Oh, and Kaity and Ani finished on target, so I guess they did good too ;)

After meeting sisters Ali and Jessica at Faith Valley, once we were home, we hooked up and did some fun conditioning rides with Ali on Roo. Although he did plenty of conditioning this year, most of it was either on the end of a lead rope, or with someone else in the saddle. We had plans this month for Bridgeport - Fergus one day to get him ready for VC100 in September, Roo the other; followed by Tahoe Rim - Roo's favorite - to ramp him up for the Riding Dead 100 at the end of October.

Well, best laid plans... Bridgeport was cancelled due to a wild fire, so I ended up having to take Fergus to Tahoe Rim out of necessity. The ride went well but I came out of it in poor shape - mostly from holding him back all day, as well as muscling him around that tight course. My ducks weren't in a row ready for VC100, but I thought I could pull it together in the next three weeks.

Early one morning Finn was out on the back deck barking at squirrels... and continued to bark and bark and bark. Finally pft went out to check — only to see a bear about 50 feet from the back of the house. Oh.

I made some feeble attempts at putting white balls in the ST's jar - not with great success when we once again ended up with him rearing and me yelling. Needs work. I persevered (mostly by avoiding the horses running the fence) and got a couple of shorty rides in, but not with any degree of confidence.

Early in the month pft thought he'd pulled a stomach muscle which gradually got worse over time. The Dr thought it might be a hernia, so he started undergoing various tests to figure out what was going on.

My mumma said she was tired of knitting for babies and I talked her in to knitting me a cardi. When it showed up, I loved it.

My lovely cardi


The exciting "moment" for this month was me attempting to trim Hopi in the breezeway of the barn, him having a minor flip out, which escalated in to bigger flip out, followed by me leaping into the hay shed to get out of his way - and him following me into that tiny space. Awk. We managed to get out of the situation unscathed, but it was one of those "life flashing before your eyes" moments.

In a continued effort to get Fergus in better shape for VC100, I had Tom Mayes come out and work on him with some eye-opening results. What I thought was a developing "hunter's bump" turned out to be muscle atrophy on his rump cause by him being jammed up all the way to his shoulder (might explain some of the back atrophy also). Tom suspected that he may have ran into something with his shoulder at some stage and had been carrying this problem around for a while. He also had some similar blocking to his innards, which possibly contributed to my vague impression of his "failure to thrive" this year - it was hard to keep him in good weight. I hoped that this bodywork would help him feel a little better.

pft's health issues continued with a sleep study to see what his apnea might be doing, along with some chiro work to try and relieve his stomach/muscle/back problems. Neither was terribly conclusive.

Our final conditioning rides for VC100 were cancelled due to smoke from the Butte Fire about 35 miles south of us. This fire, which burned enthusiastically for a couple of weeks, ended up consuming 475 houses, 343 outbuildings, 71,000 acres and killing two.

We were well socked in with smoke, raw throats from breathing the air particles, and things were so tinder dry we were living in daily dread over the possibility of any fires starting.

Smoke from the Butte Fire at home

On Saturday 12th, we watched in horror as footage unfolded of what was to become the Valley Fire - strong winds blew what should have been a minor incident into an inferno in a matter of minutes, injuring firefighters and ultimately growing to 50,000 acres in 24 hours. That fire topped out at 76,000 acres, with four deaths, and burned most of the towns of Middletown, Cobb and surrounding communities - 1958 structures burned.

On Sunday 13th, a small fire started a few miles from us and although I could hear the air tankers to the north of us, I couldn't see them in the already thick smoke. They got the fire out quickly and it turned out to be an arson/triple homicide.

It was not a good month for fires.

VC100 happened on 19th - and I think I was already sufficiently unsettled that it just didn't seem to go well, despite Fergus having an outstanding day on paper. I came home exhausted and dreading the fact that I needed to "go again" to get Roo ready for the Riding Dead 100 at the end of October. I knew I'd have fun once we were there, but my heart really wasn't into the commitment needed to get him ready, so although I was bummed when the ride was ultimately cancelled, I was actually secretly relieved.

Poor Roo - Bridgeport cancelled, replaced by Fergus for Tahoe Rim, and RD100 cancelled. My goal to get him to 2000 miles this year was slipping away, despite only needing a couple more 50s to get us there.


"Winter" arrived on October 1st with me having to put socks on for the first time in months. Always a sad day when you have to put away your Tevas.

October turned out to be what I needed - play with no pressure.

The weather held and pft and I (in shorts, natch) took the dogs for a day trip playing in the South Yuba River at Big Bend near Rainbow Lodge just off I-80. Finn got car sick on the way up there, but once we arrived we all had good fun playing on the rocks. Spike amazed us by falling in the river but not caring one jot - swimming across and then swimming back again (this was after he was too wussy to cross the small creek at Faith Valley). He was fearless leaping from rock to rock (and falling in occasionally, before bobbing back to the surface again, legs scrabbling), while Finn was cautiously reticent.

South Yuba River near Rainbow Lodge

Family photo, South Yuba River near Rainbow Lodge

Because of being slammed at work, and being burned out after Virginia City 100, all I wanted to do this month was explore new trails and ride short distances - I was done with coming home exhausted. Erin and I drove up to Silver Fork (between 50 and 88) and explored the trails - climbing up over the ridge between Caples Creek and Silver Fork. The Silver Fork canyon is quite something to see and Roo was in an excellent mood. It was a good relaxing day.

On the ridge dividing Caples Creek and Silver Fork of American River (photos Erin Riley)

Roo snorkeling in Caples Creek

The next weekend Roo and I drove up to Donner Summit on our own and explored the PCT south of I-80 - from New Donner Summit to Old Donner Summit. Such fun technical trails, with no-one to please but ourselves, we had the best time. It seems like I never get up on these trails until late in the year - and then only have a short window before the weather turns to play up there.

Donner Lake from Old Donner Summit

For the final weekend of October, neighbour Becky and I trailered back up to Donner Summit and this time took the 15 mile Castle Peak Loop north of I-80. It had snowed the night before, so we were squeaking in under the wire. Most of this trail is up above 8000 ft, so once the weather turns, you're done until late June at best. I was feeling a little pressure that Roo needed to be ready for two days at Gold Rush Shuffle in November to meet my goal of getting him to 2000 miles. He was fit, but we hadn't done a lot of mileage or long trotting. I hoped that the over-abundance of muscle-using rocks, not to mention the climbs, would set Roo up. 

Although I knew we wouldn't be going fast, I hoped the amount of climbing and the degree of difficulty would give Roo an all-over workout to get him ready for two days at Gold Rush Shuffle in November. (photo Becky Batson)

Back side of the basin behind Castle Peak (photo Becky Batson)

Front side of Castle Peak, looking down on Round Valley towards the Peter Grubb hut (photo Becky Batson)


Dionne and I did a last conditioning ride from Twin Rocks to the Auburn Overlook in the middle of the month. Roo did well and was quite cheerful the entire ride.

I hadn't ridden there in years and although I knew Folsom Lake was "low", I was quite unprepared for the complete absence of lake - and the resulting rock-pile covered moonscape. Very cool landscape to see. The sandy "lakeside" trail was also something I hadn't ridden on before and I made a mental note to ride there again when a) I needed sand work and b) when El Niño hits and everywhere else is sloppy.

My plan for Gold Rush Shuffle was to do two x 50s with Roo to get him to his lifetime mileage of 2000 miles this year. Dionne and I were going to ride together with Roo in chaperone position to be a calming influence.

I hadn't gotten a chance to trim up Roo's feet before the ride, so ended up doing it the day before which I think was a mistake - I trimmed him too short and right from the start of the ride he seemed very subdued. This was ideal for Storm who was quite excited by the whole proceedings, but he didn't get any more enthused at time went on. By about mile 40 I wasn't sure we were even going to finish the ride at all, as he'd lost all impetus.

Having ridden the 55 there last year and gotten caught out in the dark, I still had PTSD from the experience, but this year the trail in the dark was well-marked with glow-sticks, Roo cheered up towards the end and got his completion, despite being a little off. We were given the option of a recheck to start the following morning, but knowing how he felt, I was almost certain we would not be riding the second day. Sure enough, a recheck wasn't necessary - he was still stiff and not moving freely the next morning, so that was the end of our season - finishing up 15 miles short of our 2000 mile goal.

So all in all, a mixed year, endurance-wise. I made a bunch of stupid mistakes that didn't do Roo or Fergus any good and although we had some good results, my impression of the year was one of disjointedness - rides cancelled, rearrangement of plans, and uncertainties that went with it. You live and learn.

On the health front, I finally got fed up with the tendinitis in my left elbow and went and got some physical therapy. The wussy arm started out with 55 lbs of grip pressure (compared with 90 lbs in my good arm) and through (what at first seemed like very wimpy) exercises, it gradually worked its way up to 75 lbs. Best of all, by January the pain finally went away and I could start picking up coffee cups and cans of beans without wincing.

In the middle of the PT, I opted to add a yard of gravel to our parking area - which helped greatly when the rains came (we were getting tired of squelching in sloppy mud trying to get in and out of cars), but didn't help my wussy elbow.

pft had yet another sleep test and was fitted out with a CPAP machine which meant that he started sleeping properly and not thrashing around, yelling, at night. His snoring was gone and he slept quietly all night long. Despite being concerned about having to sleep with a mask, it turned out to be a non-event. Good stuff.


...and the rain started. After a four-year drought, this winter they promised an El Niño event for us - and indeed, the drought appears to be over.

Early in the month, Finn came in from morning feeding restless and shaky. Spike was due in for his rabies jab that morning, so we took Finn along. X-rays were clear so he was diagnosed with a mystery back ailment and sent home with pain killers, muscle relaxants, and anti-inflammatories. and commanded to stay quiet for ten days. Within a week he was back to normal, but it still gave us a scare.

In a last minute flurry of tests (ultrasounds, x-ray, MRI), pft's mystery "hernia diagnosis" was finally dispelled and it was concluded to be a bad bout of spondylolisthesis (his vertebrae don't stack one on top of the other properly - and one in particular is about 25% off center, pinching nerves and causing peculiar pains in hernia land).

We got wise and signed him up for the second time with Symmetry - a physical therapist who specializes in straightening people out. They helped him in 1996 when he broke his leg and got all tweaked up. Almost immediately their series of exercises began helping again and pft began to improve.

Once again, I started up working on a quilt that I began making several years ago. I love the design, but the individual pieces take forever to put together - particularly after I came up with a extra-special design of my own making. I think it'll be pretty good by the time I'm done... some time in the next millenium.

Throughout the year, we had a multitude of babby chooks get hatched, and an even bigger number of chooks disappear under mysterious circumstances, such that we're down to our lowest numbers in a long time. With the population decimated, I may have to resupply from outside stock next spring - something I haven't had to do in years.

At the end of the year, we headed south for our annual Christmas getaway in the desert. This year we opted for the easy and camped out at Kaity's place in Apple Valley for the week. The horses lived in her arena, while we plugged the trailer into her barn (necessary for CPAP power) by running an extension cord through the skylight. It was well below the temperatures we were used to (12°F / -11°C at night, warming to a pathetic 45°F / 7°C on the warmest day), and because we had Grizzle with us, we had to run the propane heater 24 hours a day for nearly ten days straight (interestingly, that used less than two tanks of propane). Towards the end of the visit we were starting to lose the battle against condensation, with ice on the inside of the window every morning.

We did civilised things like go to the cinema (Star Wars - the Force Awakens), eating out, playing cards, sightseeing, hiking with the dogs, and watching endurance friends in the Rose Parade on TV on New Year's Day.

Day 1 of riding nearly ended horribly when, in my nervousness, I forgot a crucial piece of equipment.
Luckily no harm done, and we went on to ride five days straight for a total of ~22 miles. 

Kaity and I rode five days in a row - which meant that Small Thing and I worked out our differences (thanks to some quality time in the round pen before each session) and refilled his jar with white balls. He behaved well the whole time, and I learned some coping skills with him when things start to turn south. I think we are back on track for a good partnership.

And so 2015 ended on a good note with one of the best sunsets I've ever seen:

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