Monday, January 1, 2018

Death Valley Encounter, Day 1: Panamint Valley

I have to start with a bit about the trip to the ride itself.

Demon and Hoss started fussing under the divider with each other almost immediately upon loading. I tied them both, not short, but enough to prevent any real reaching under the divider. The trip was uneventful until we stopped at the Walmart in Adelanto. I was sitting in the cab clearing my notifications when the trailer started rocking. Demon has in the past been known to start pawing mindlessly, and I assumed it was him acting up when I hollered and went back to see what was up. I climbed up on the side of the trailer and looked in at Demon, who gave me a wide-eyed look and tilted his head toward Hoss.

At this point I noticed Hoss's hind leg did not look quite right. There is no way it should be at quite that angle. In a bit of a panic, I ran back and opened the gate.

Hoss was sitting on his butt like a dog, held up by his lead rope just enough to prevent him from tucking his front legs. He immediately tried to exit the trailer, but his head was still tied. His foot hit the spigot on the 55 gallon drum, opening it and creating a flood of water in the midst of his predicament. I yelled at him to whoa, and ran around to untie him. Once he was freed, I told him to come on out and he was able to get out of the trailer and gain his feet with little trouble.

Letting my heart rate come down, I started asking Hoss to move about a little to make sure he was OK before re-loading him and heading on up the road. I was looking Hoss over when a car stopped and the most exuberantly excited young man (I'd say mid-20s at most) asked in the most breathlessly awed voice if he could have a picture with Hoss. I can honestly say I have never seen someone in this particular age group so enthused to meet a horse. Hoss was, of course, an incredible ambassador for his species and stood quietly for petting and to have his picture taken. I really wish I'd gotten a picture of those two young men with Hoss. It was truly enchanting and did quite a bit to distract me from the distressing situation we had so recently found ourselves in.

Once picture time was over I made a thorough inspection of Hoss. He has a fresh wound on the very tip of his ear, either bitten by Demon or caught in something in the trailer, and multiple nip marks from Demon trying to get him back on his feet. My best guess is either Demon got hold of Hoss's ear, or he got it stuck, and set back, causing him to fall. I doubt having him loose would have allowed him to get to his feet on his own. There simply was not enough space. His effort to get out when I opened the gate makes it clear to me his only chance to get up was to be afforded more space. He's fallen in the trailer enough times to support this conclusion.

We arrived at camp and found a spot to park. The night was uneventful, other than arranging with Lora Wereb, the "official" XP massage therapist, to give Hoss a massage and checking over while Demon and I were riding on day 1.

The morning was clear and cold, yet far warmer than normal for this ride. Demon was amped and ready to get his endurance ride on. We saddled up and left about 10 minutes after start time to let the hot-shoes get well down the trail. Demon was super happy to find himself once again on the endurance trail after a long hiatus due to (human) illness, surgeries, vehicle failures, and long distance trips.

In years past, this trail was ridden in a "clockwise" fashion. This year it was done widdershins. This meant coming to the ETI trail early in the day. The ETI is a single track trail which drops down into the Panamint Valley. It is a beautiful and technical trail, and there is some advantage to going down before lunch rather than up it after lunch. Coming to it with a fresh horse is nice in that the horse has the energy to deal with the rocks and dips. On the other hand, there's something to be said for going up it with a horse who's had some of the stuffing taken out of him already.

Demon did very well, but my fall with DC at Virgin Outlaw in 2016 has left me with a slight fear of drop-offs, especially with an enthusiastic horse. Looking back I can say he never did anything remotely dangerous, kept himself on the trail straight and true, and was careful if fast. In the moment all I could imagine was toppling off the edge in a moment of imagined equine inattention.

Looking down into the Panamint Valley
Once we made the valley floor we set off at a good clip for the vet check. There were several areas we had to slow for "moguls" in the jeep road. I had been forewarned of this and advised to simply go to the edges or off into the desert for better travel. Demon, however, is a stickler for the rules generally, and did not think going off trail was a good idea. So I would simply ask for a walk through those areas and we'd trot when it flattened out. Besides, my hip has gotten worse, and it starts hurting enough to change gaits anyway. It worked out for both of us.

The vet check was perhaps a mile from a mine. Many vehicles were traveling around, and Demon found them quite fascinating. He ate a bran mash, but otherwise spent his time watching the vehicles traveling to and fro.

Those mine vehicles, they are super interesting!
After the lunch hold, we took back to the trail. We did intervals of walking and trotting to the Nadeau Toll Road, originally built by hand by the earliest settlers of the area. It is truly a feat of human engineering and grit, when one recognizes just how much work had to have gone into carving the road from the hillside.

Nadeau Toll Road
At the top of the Toll Road, where it intersects with the Wildrose Highway, we were meant to cross the highway. I knew this. While Demon was having a drink I was thinking we would be crossing the highway. But when he finished, I noticed ribbons up the hill. There were no ribbons toward the highway. I thought, well, perhaps we're supposed to go up the hill then cross the highway. So up the hill we went. And followed the single track. And I forgot we were supposed to cross the highway.

I think we made maybe half a mile before I thought to look at my GPS and realized we were off track. We turned back and found yes, we were meant to cross the highway right there. We got back on trail and headed down toward camp.

Most of the rest of the trail was slightly downhill or flat, so we made fairly good time heading back. Demon had started to flag on the Toll Road but got a second wind and trotted most of the last bit as strong as he'd started.

We finished in about 8.5 hours, an admirable finish. The new girth I'd gotten from Teddy Lancaster of Running Bear worked very well, despite having been tested a whole three quarters of a mile before we headed to the ride. Demon was super pleased with himself when we were done, and tucked right into his dinner. One day down.

1 comment:

  1. I was a nervous wreck, taking my less-than-surefooted Baraquinator to the GC, but he never gave me a moment’s worry (we did, however, stay well back from the edge :-)