Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Eddy Turn: Owyhee Fandango 2010

Among the files of my life headed "Horses," "Fitness," "Cooking," "Writing," and "Career," is another whose label reads: "Whitewater." I'm nearly as familiar with the gentle rocking of a river as I am with that of a horse's back.

When navigating our narrow, technical, Northwest rivers, the eddy turn is a useful skill to possess. It's a maneuver in which the oarsman positions the raft so its stern just misses a mid-river boulder. A couple well-timed pulls on the oars draw the boat partway into the pool of slow current below the rock, holding the stern in place while the faster current swings the bow around. The result is a reset angle and brief pause that enable the oarsman to set up for obstacles below.

I thought a lot about eddy turns on Sunday, as Consolation and I trotted alongside the Snake River during Day 3 of the Owyhee Fandango Pioneer ride. A month ago, despite rapid training and conditioning progress since February, the 60 at Owhyee Spring found us stalled in an eddy of balkiness and lack of enthusiasm.

I described in this post several changes I made in the hope of improving Consolation's performance at our next ride. Now, the time had come to test whether those changes would sweep us back into the current, or leave us stranded mid river.

With hopes and spirits high, Ironman and I pulled into the Teeter ranch around 3:00 on Saturday afternoon. We selected our camping spot carefully...


...jogged around to loosen up before vetting in...


...and headed to the ride meeting.

In the midst of two weeks of wind and rain, the manager announced, we were to enjoy a day of sunny skies and moderate warmth. We 60-milers would follow an out-and-back trail that led across the desert to a vet check at a neighboring ranch (15 miles), then dropped into the Snake River canyon and looped around some petroglyphs before returning along the same trail to the vet (30 miles), then headed back to ridecamp (15 miles).

I crawled out of my sleeping bag at 5:00 the next morning to feed Consolation and get her hoof boots on while Ironman -- may blessings rain upon him! -- made coffee. Consolation's body sang with quiet energy as I swung astride and headed for the starting line. Looking good, I thought. Looking good.

We started immediately when the trail opened, having no need to hold back as I used to do on Aaruba. There's a lot to be said for Consolation's easygoing demeanor. "Race brain" is not a problem. And yet, much to my delight, she had plenty of controlled speed to offer as we trotted down the road and off into the hills.


We let the leaders string out ahead of us, settling into a bubble where Consolation traveled happily along to the first vet check. And what a vet check it was! She spent the 50-minute hold up to her eyeballs in green and dew-soaked grass.

I was about to mount up when another rider asked if I'd mind having a riding partner. "Not at all!" Thirty miles is a long way, and company sounded good to me.

As we started into the long loop, my new friend Carrie explained that her mount, Kasey, had exhibited poor appetite at the check and was therefore under careful observation. We paused frequently during our trek to the canyon, offering tufts of desert grass that Consolation ate and Kasey mostly refused.


Down in the canyon, however, it was Consolation that became the potential problem. Typically a good drinker, she refused to touch the river water that was our only source of hydration. I kept a close eye on her those 30 miles, but her eyes remained bright and her attitude positively brilliant. Imagine my surprise to discover that she actually wanted to race!

We flew down the trail, threading our way between sagebrush and looping the petroglyph rocks, ignoring the Memorial Day assortment of fisherman and ATV riders, trotting and cantering our way back to the vet check for another set of A's...after Consolation took her customary scuba dive in the water tank.


I thought we might lose Carrie and Kasey at that check. Halfway through the canyon, Kasey had begun to exhibit the rapid, shallow breathing and flared nostrils of a horse experiencing inversion, or "panting." Typically, his performance was otherwise fine and he even recovered his appetite as we approached the end of the second loop, but inversion (in which the respiration rate exceeds the pulse) is a classic sign of overheating, which can lead to serious problems.

Thankfully, Carrie and her crew were able to cool Kasey sufficiently and gain veterinary approval to carry on for the last loop. I was glad to have his speedy influence, for Consolation had finally slowed down a bit. I'm sure those last 15 miles would have been much more difficult without Kasey to pull her along.

She kept up, alternating between a trot and canter, sometimes rushing enough that I had to apply some rein. That would have been fine, except that one of my reins broke 6 or 7 miles outside camp. I tied it back to her bridle with a bowline and we carried on despite her annoyance with the swinging weight of the knot.

Though Kasey's inversion returned early in the loop, we all arrived safely in ridecamp to claim 5th (Consolation) and 6th (Kasey) place, with a ride time of 8:25. Consolation vetted through with a B on gait, apparently due to a mild cramp in her hindquarters. (She seems quite all right now, but I'll give her a full two weeks off, just to be sure.)

Some of the mathematicians among you are wondering what's so great about averaging 7.1 miles per hour. That's a pretty moderate pace for endurance -- a perfectly good, steady, long-distance pace, but hardly the stuff of champions.

But compare it to our speed at Owyhee Spring, which came in just under 6 mph. Add it to Consolation's new found enthusiasm for the sport. Consider that lifetime mileage is (in my book) preferable to first-place finishes. You see? For Consolation, for now, 7 mph is "champion" enough for me.


Perhaps our slow start at Owyhee Spring was merely an eddy turn in the rapid of Consolation's endurance career -- a pause in which to reconsider, redirect, and make the necessary changes to prepare for what lies ahead.

And what is that, exactly? I have my eye on Sunriver...
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On an unrelated note, I'm sorry to say that I've had to reinstate use of the word verification feature for comments. I removed it months ago upon your request, but alas, the spammers have found me. My apologies for the inconvenience -- please don't let it keep you from leaving comments. They're my favorite part of blogging!
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10 comments:

Lori Skoog said...

Kudos to you and Consolation for doing such a great job. I love the way she dives into the water.

schadowrider said...

Thanks for another fantastic post and congrats on a great ride -- I really enjoy reading your posts! :-) You've definitely been a big influence/inspiration in re-energizing my work/play with Schadow (not that we'll ever do such "serious" riding, but you're an inspiration nevertheless!).

-glenn

Mena said...

Congratulations on the stellar ride! Consolation looks soooo good. So... just to clarify, pervert or hermit? :-P

So guess what? I had a "loose dog" experience today, thankfully nothing broken... on either me or Apollo, anyway. Cannot say the same for that poor mutt who is probably now missing teeth. Apollo has got some guns for back legs.

We are almost ready for our first LD ride, the Old Dominion in Virgnina (June 15+/-), and all thanks to your influence! I just want to say thank you for introducing endurance to me. If it were not for your obvious enjoyment and pursuit of the sport, Apollo wouldn't be so happy as he is when he's on the trail. So thanks, girl, and keep on keepin' on.

Merri said...

woohoo! go consolation!
see you in September!
- The Equestrian Vagabond

enduranceridestuff.com said...

Congratulations on a successful ride - sounds like you had a good time! It was a nice day and a nice trail. :)

Chris said...

Been awhile since I've read posts here! Consolation is gorgeous! Love the "scuba diving" ;)

Congrats on the great pace and 5th place!

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