From the Ride Managers Perspective….2020

As a ride manager “the ride” starts as soon as you send in your sanctioning request.  For the Red Rock Rumble that was shortly after the 2019 ride was finalized.  You start looking for bargains on ride awards during Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday (ok, I will be honest….I only shop on line or local small business).  You find great deals on things horse people like, spend your money, log your receipt and put said awards in storage.  The whirlwind that is life takes over for a few months and then February hits…and COVID.  Well so much for a ride season we all said.  But maybe by the fall they will have things sorted out.

Sure enough, as the summer progresses, rides start to happen and AERC comes up with a plan for how to do rides safely with COVID.  Our state remained limited to gatherings of 10 until later in the summer/early fall when they lifted it to 50.  By September BLM was allowing larger numbers and our event would fall under outdoor recreational activities so we were able to get a variance to the 50 person limit as long as we did not gather as a big group.  No problem!  Get that AERC sanctioning request in along with our COVID plan and open up entries.  We also decided that due to popular demand we would do night rides and if you are going to be up till midnight anyway why not have a 75 mile ride.  Paperwork submitted and now off to help get Virginia City 100 marked.

Meanwhile the 2020 gremlins were fast at work.  Fires started burning all over the west making air quality unsafe for nearly everyone.  As Virginia City 100 approached it did not look good for air quality.  Lots of cancels due to lack of ability to train and Ride Manager Crysta made the right call to cancel.  Total bummer for so many people looking forward to a 100 mile event.  We should be OK, we are a month out.  Then the phones started blowing up with requests to host a 100 mile distance as well.  Hmmm, lets think about that?  Why not?  If we are doing a 75 anyway what is another 25 miles?  Everyone starts at normal times.

Gremlin shenanigans continued.  First week in October our area experienced the 4th fire close to the areas we use for the ride.  Many homes were threatened but none lost.  Did our trails survive?  Was the area to damaged to use?  Reviews were mixed so we went in to see for ourselves.  Two weeks before the ride!  We made it through and all was well.  We could use this area and it was still beautiful.  This ride is totally going to ROCK!!!  We were so excited.  Water was running and our trail plan was a go!  Entries were rolling in like crazy and people were pretty excited.  Take that 2020…you will not defeat us!

Then the unimaginable happened….another fire, one week before the event.  This time the gremlins pulled out all the stops.  The fire took out the entire southwest area of the ride.  Half our trail and the away vet check area were destroyed.  We spent a day licking our wounds and reminded ourselves that this is endurance and they call it that for a reason.  One hundred and fifty riders were depending on us.  No pressure.  So we dusted ourselves off, brought out all the maps we had, contacted local land owners and started over from scratch….6 days before the ride.  By now we had 150 entries for the 4 distances.  The water was running and weather was predicted to be perfect.  It was all going to be just fine as long as we could stitch together 100 miles of trail.  Take that gremlins!

Over the course of 2 days using 4 horses, 4 people and one RZR we got that trail marked.  Due to the short time we had to mark all the trail we did a lot using the RZR.  Gina drives because she is better at it and I walk because she tells me to.  There were a few on the fly adjustments to make when we found old trails and roads had disappeared and been fenced off.  Gina dropped me off with a plan to pick me on the next ridge when the road gets good.  After a lot of walking and hearing no sound of the RZR worried that maybe her good judgement had kicked in and she had ditched me.  Luckily for me the cells were working and I convinced her to come back and get me.  We would just have to re-route again.  For some reason she just believes me when I say this will all connect and it will be just fine.  We get to the last canyon and I have to go on foot again.  Gina heads off on the road to circle around and meet me at the bottom.  Apparently the road I sent her on did not go anywhere and she had to back track.  I could hear her off and on and wondered what was going on.  Then I saw her going down the road and right past where she was to pick me up, and she kept going.  Yep, I figured, she has finally had it with me and left me here to think about my life choices.  Oh well, I guess I will just walk in.  She must have had a change of thought or just took pity on me because she did come back to get me.  I am pretty sure she just didn’t want to leave me unattended to get any other crazy ideas.  We finished the day in the dark again and headed home. It was Wednesday before the ride.  Just a couple of last minute areas to do on foot Friday. 

The water to camp and to all of the cattle troughs comes from a spring high up on the mountain on the southwest side of the ride.  The water system is gravity fed and was installed back in the 1920’s.  Let that sink in for a minute.  The ranchers who hold the cattle permits also take care of the water lines.  We coordinate closely with them all year long and they are amazing guys.  Thankfully we have a great relationship with them.

Thursday before the ride we start moving everything out to ride camp.  Water buffalos, porta-potties, rescue trailers, supply trailers, RZR trailers, our own trailers and start setting up.  Upon driving in to camp we notice that the water leak we had discovered earlier in the week had been fixed.  YAY, better water pressure in camp.  Not so fast pilgrim….we had no water in camp and the cow troughs were going dry fast with the cows that were out there.  Ranch hand to the rescue!  Anthony worked and worked on the water lines all day and into the evening.  The fires had melted sections of the water lines in addition to the normal and regular breaks in water lines that are nearing 100 years old.  Call local land owners and make arrangements to get water from their wells for the ride.  This adds a lot of time to getting water on trail if we have to drive around but it sure beats canceling.  Several riders had opted the arrive early and they also joined us in setting up camp.  They became the parking crew.  We gave them an idea of what we were up against as far as space and what we needed help with.  These amazing riders jumped in with smiles and great attitudes.  Nothing like showing up for a ride and getting put to work.  Experienced ride managers know who they can count on to take care of things.  We are eternally grateful for these riders. (Nick Warhol, Gretchen Montgomery, Kaitlyn Cummins, Dennis Sousa).

Speaking of parking….did I mention that there had been 5, count them 5, fires in our area in the previous 2 months?  To say that we were in a high fire risk was an understatement.  And then there were those dratted gremlins.  Every plan had to have a backup.  This included parking well over 100 rigs pretty tight and with an evacuation plan in mind.  That means everyone backs in and gets close.  100s and 75s to the back, 50s spending the night, 50s going home Saturday then 30’s who would go home Saturday, and leave room for the am arrivals.  The parking angels did an amazing job organizing rigs, riders did a great job following directions.  While there were certainly a few folks confounded by the parking situation even they were smiling by the time this intrepid crew got everyone settled.  What a huge weight off the shoulders of this ride manager.

Back to Friday morning.  There was one section of trail that still had to be marked on foot.  It had gotten dark on us the day we marked this section (silly riders didn’t bring headlamps!) and we were fairly confident that our amazing horses took us home directly and not on the trail we needed to use.  So bright and early the ride manager and her trusty canine companion set out.  We hiked the 1.5 miles down a canyon retracing the way we had come up a few nights ago.  Feeling very impressed with the route our horses chose to bring us home that night and the beauty of the canyon I could not help but marvel at this sport of ours.  We found the correct trail and hiked ourselves back up the correct canyon.  Man this was a climb!  So impressed with what our horses do for us.  We get to the top, meet up with the road to camp, take a lot of photos along the way and notice the tips of some ears appearing on the other side of a rise in the road about 10 yards in front of us and closing fast.  It was a lovely doe trotting down the road toward us and she did not see us!  As the gap between us closed I prepared to jump out of the way, but which way would she spook?  I am too old for dodging deer!  With only a few strides to go she saw us and darted left.  So that story about grandma and the reindeer….well I don’t have the talent to put “ride manager got run over by a doe” to music so you are on your own there.  We collected ourselves and made our way back to camp to find out what mischief the gremlins had been up to there.

Upon our arrival Gina is ecstatic.  Anthony has fixed the water to camp and it is flowing great!  The leak at the entrance is going again but oh well.  We have water!!!  It’s nearly noon and a few early arrivals are showing up.  Time to get the arrival plan set up.  Due to COVID we could not do check in the normal way.  We decided to copy the northwest rides we had attended and checked riders in when they came through the gate.  Check in procedures included making sure everyone had a face covering, taking a temperature (with a no contact digital thermometer), handing out rider packets and completion awards.  Since many folks arrived before the Welcoming Team was set up I took to the RZR and made rounds around camp checking people in and then hand delivering rider packets to each of them.  I think this may have been the most fun part of the whole adventure.  It was so nice to meet nearly everyone in camp, put faces to names and to directly welcome and thank everyone for being there.  It really made all of the challenges worth it to see so many happy people grateful for the opportunity to get out and enjoy the sport we all love so much.  I saw people helping each other get parked and set up, meeting new people and developing friendships.  COVID may be trying to keep us all apart but in this ride camp it was bringing people together.

Friday seemed to go by in a blur of activity.  Renee and Dave were putting out water all over the place and filling troughs in camp.  The veterinary team was vetting in a never ending line of horses.  Everyone was being kind and courteous, following the guidelines and making things work when they needed to.  In order to keep from gathering we had small trail talks for each distance at different times.  It was actually nicer than the big formal ride meetings, from my perspective anyway.  We did it, we made it to Friday night.  Take that 2020!!!

Saturday began early at 4am with getting out ahead of the riders to put glowsticks on the first few miles for the 75s and 100’s.  Renee and I had a grand time enjoying the sunrise and then getting to see the riders about 1 mile into the ride.  The horses looked spectacular and the riders were all cheerful.  Hope they all stay that way for the next 24 hours.  What an amazing sport we have.

Now to get the 50’s and the 30’s started and the away Vet Check team on their way.  Rob Klix and Gina led the caravan away from camp.  They set up the best away check.  Remember the water problem?  Well, the away check has an amazing amount of water.  A pond and four troughs that are always running over with clear clean water.  In 30 years no one has ever seen this spot dry.  Guess what?  Yep, all of the water in the bottom of the valley was dry because some shooters had decided to destroy the holding tanks and the generator that feeds the lower tanks.  So we hauled 600 gallons of water into the vet check.  They set it up so beautifully.  Everything appeared to be running smoothly, people were smiling, horses munching on hay and wet mash, volunteers were helping, vets were vetting and it was a beautiful fall day in Northern Nevada.  What a great sport we have!

As the 30’s and 50 cleared the away check ride camp was getting ready to receive them all back in.  Experienced ride volunteers are worth their weight in gold.  With almost no guidance they set things up and started receiving riders before I could get back.  Upon my arrival I am told there is a bog in the meadow and it is eating horses and riders.  Fairly dramatic stories were coming in so I headed out to see what all the fuss was about.  Hiking into the pastures was no big deal.  I ride this ranch a lot so I pretty much know how to get through it and I could not figure out what the issue was.  We had routed everyone around the wet places and kept them up out of the wetter meadows.  I hiked along, with my trusty canine companion for a while until I came upon some riders.  They said “it’s really bad and it’s just back there” so I continued on.  I found a wet spot, marked around it and wondered what the fuss was.  Along came another group who told me “nope, that wasn’t it, it’s just back there a  little ways and man is it bad”.  So we keep going to another wet spot, hmmm, mark around it and run into some more riders “this is not the bad one.  The bad one is just back there”.  By this time I am fairly convinced that the riders are all playing a joke on me.  I am nearly all the way through the ranch, my feet are wet and my step meter is complaining loudly.  But on we go.  We meet up with some more riders, one of them is fairly well covered in mud.  It’s her first endurance ride, her horse fell in the bog, they are both soaking wet and muddy…and she is smiling and laughing!  Yep, she is going to be a great endurance rider!  So I continue to what looks like a wet spot.  That was not there a few days ago when I marked.  I walk across, it’s a little thick but not deep.  Oh well, if horse had issues I will just reroute it.  So I turn around to cross again and grab the ribbons….and sink to my knees in muck.  The bog was eating me!  Somehow I got out and managed to keep my shoes on.  I hear horses coming, they cannot come this way, it will eat them too!  Crash down through the brambles to a lower spot that I am pretty sure they can get through, break out into the open and start frantically waiving to riders to come down to me.  Of course they are thinking “who is the crazy lady trying to get us off trail, the ribbons are right here?”.  Mind you I am covered in bog muck, have just crawled through brambles and probably have sticks, leaves and ticks all over me.  Thankfully they were up for adventure and gamely followed me.  I told them this was way better and I had already walked it (sort of but not really, OK I may have lied).  I led them across and pointed them in the direction to get back on trail.  I then ran back up the hill through the brambles (I am so going to get ticks on me, I hate ticks, and snakes, I really hate snakes, do they live in underbrush near water?) to grab more ribbons, cross the bog of death, nearly get eaten again, to catch another group of riders and convince them to follow me.  Man are riders gullible.  Who, except endurance riders follows a crazy lady covered in bog muck and lord knows what else?  Get this group through and make another run up the hill, through the bog repeat.  On the fourth trip up the hill I think I lost a lung.  When I told the riders to “never mind the lung on the trail, it’s mine”  they just say OK.  Who says that?  Endurance riders are crazy!  One last trip through to make sure its marked well enough and my trusty canine companion, who was a red healer when we started and now is black with bog muck, and I start to make our way back.  The dog of course jumps in one of the ponds along the way to try to clean herself up.  We make it back to camp, covered in muck to see what else could possibly have happened.  All is well, great volunteers are running things, vets are vetting, the taco truck is serving up yummy food and things seem to be going OK.  Off to find some clean pants and dry shoes.

By now the 30’s are finishing, 50’s are winding up, 75’s and 100’s are heading out on the last 2 loops.  The sun will be setting soon so time to send the evening glow stick team out and start organizing the night vet check.  Super dude helpers Brandon Proctor, Josh Wertz and Mike Harris were taking care of things left and right for me.  These guys never batted an eye when asked to “run some water up the hill”, “set up lights for the vets”, “no, I don’t know how they work I have never seen them before”, “do the RZRs have gas”, “do the generators have gas”, “follow the pink ribbons and open all the gates then turn around and close them”, “what do you mean there is a flat on the water buffalo?”…these guys just fixed stuff, like everything, they just fixed things and asked for more. 

Time to head out to the night vet check for the 100’s.  Unflappable head vet Susan McCartney, Endurance Icon Ann Hall, crazy me and go to dude Brandon head out into the dark night to await riders at the 90 mile check.  There was no moon so the stars were over the top amazing.  The shooting stars were plentiful.  We could see the lights of the riders way off in the canyons.  Brandon is new to the group and this was his first volunteer experience.  What a trooper.  The first rider came in, all smiles and we went to work.  About that time an OHV came flying down the road toward us, did three fast circles in the vet area and basically shocked us all.  Not cool dude!  He stops, because he is lost, and thinks that screaming about his right to do whatever he wants and all his other rights etc.  He is obviously drunk, or something, and tells us his back up is on the way.  This has to be a joke right?  His buddy shows up, tries to calm the guy down, their girls are screaming, I tell the friend that there are horses on the roads, please slow down and that his buddy is his problem.  They commence to having a discussion, Brandon wants to know if we are going to have to throw down (uh, no, we don’t do that).  I call the sheriff and let them know what is going on (sadly this is not that uncommon) and they send out a patrol to canvas the area till we are done.  Seriously, what else could happen.  We all had a good laugh and were able to entertain the rest of the riders with our wild tales.

We made it back to camp about 4:30 with just a handful of 100’s left to complete.  All of the riders were smiling and in good spirits at the away check.  Their horses were doing great.  What amazing athletes, what an amazing sport.  VC100 manager Crysta was up waiting for riders when we got in.  What a trooper.  She had done the 50 mile ride and was up helping us with the final riders.  Now that is dedication and friendship.  Only in Endurance does this happen.  What a great sport! We needed that couple hours of sleep.

When the sun rose the next day it was over.  All riders accounted for.  No treatments.  Very few pulls.  Time for Best Condition judging for 75’s and 100’s.  Track down the 30 and 50 mile BC and winners to give them their awards.  Thankfully our in timer, Kathleen Davis, was able to hand out top ten and other odd awards as riders came in.  Not having an awards ceremony was hard.  As a ride manager you really want everyone to get their awards and recognition.  It worked out well in the end. 

Watching the line of trailers leaving that morning, saying “see you at the next ride” to friends new and old that we had not seen all year, yes there were hugs, then cleaning up camp and making plans to pull ribbons it was easy to see why this sport is so popular.  A total of 133 riders and nearly 50 volunteers showed up, front runners stayed up and cheered on the final finishers, people from all different backgrounds came together for the love of the horse, the trail and the challenge.  WE did it!  We all did it!  We met 2020 head on and we endured and we will continue to endure because we are all just that crazy – Ride Managers, secretaries, volunteers, vets, family, friends, crew and riders.  What a great sport!  Thank you all for making it happen.

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Tami Rougeau

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