Friday, July 9, 2010

In which we break from camp stories for an important safety message

If you ride horses, eventually you'll undergo an unplanned dismount.

New riders fall off because they don't know what they're doing yet.

Experienced riders often ride longer, farther, faster, and higher, and therefore are at risk of more trauma if they do the dirt dance.

No matter how often you ride, no matter how tame your horse is, no matter how soft the ground is, do your family and friends a favor, and strap a helmet on before you mount up.

This Saturday, July 10th, is National Helmet Awareness Day.

If you don't already own and wear your helmet, this is a great time to get one and wear it--lots of manufacturers are offering discounts for helmets purchased on July 10th.

Maybe you already wear a helmet. Why not encourage a friend to strap one on when you ride together?

Maybe you've got an old helmet that has already taken a few trips to the ground. Did you know that helmets work once only? When a helmet hits the ground, the compression stuff inside it compresses, which means your brain will slosh rather than splatter. Once the compression stuff compresses inside, it's done even if you can't see the damage to the helmet--so take this opportunity to treat yourself to a shiny new brain bucket--they come in lots of cool colors!

Want some more reasons to strap your helmet on?

The Washington State Extension Office has excellent short videos on topics like Examples of Potential Brain Damage, ASTM-SEI Helmet Regulations and Testing, and Properly Fitting a Helmet. Spend just a few minutes watching these videos, and I'll bet you'll be racing out to your local tack shop to get yourself a melonsaver.

When you come back safe after your ride, I'll have more photos from the trails for you to enjoy!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

In which camping is a really good activity for a good dog

Camp is a good place for dogs.

In camp, there's pretty much always some piece of wilderness to be explored.There are work crews to supervise.
There's always somebody around to pet a good dog.And hey! People share food with dogs in camp!
And water, too.In the afternoon, it's okay to take a nap.
When you wake up from a nap, you can play!

Hanging out by the fire is always better with friends.

To be a dog in camp is a very good thing.

But, at the end of camp, after you've rolled in the bacon grease...'s nice to come home again.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

In which the Renegade Rendezvous was lots of work and lots of fun

Last year I was delighted to be able to squeak 7 days away from home, and spend the whole time in the mountains above Yakima, building and fixing trails with our friends and family.

This year we spent NINE DAYS in camp...which is the highlight of my whole year so far.

Let me share some typical camp activities with you.

I'm usually the first person awake in camp, mostly because I don't like to talk in the mornings before I've had a cup of tea and spent an hour or two feeding and walking the animals or reading my book. It always amazes me that I, who resist waking before 8am at home, am usually up and dressed by 6:30am in camp.

I feed the horses, then feed and walk the dogs. There's a lovely meadow trail that the dogs like to explore every morning, tracking down the overnight comings-and-goings of various rodents and forest creatures.

Luna always stays close to me, but Mimsy will wander far ahead with her nose full of snufflings and snorkings.Maddy doesn't usually emerge from her pupal stage without a lot of poking and threats of cold water and tickling. When Jill got to camp later in the week, I would wake her up and let her do the poking and threatening for me.

Breakfast is often communal, a good opportunity for ride manager Gail to tell us all about the tasks that need to be done during the day. We use the time between bites of french toast or breakfast burritos to figure out how we will divide up to get everything accomplished.

The camper overhang is a convenient assembling place on rainy mornings. On other mornings, we gather around tables in the sunshine to get directions from Gail about the trails we need to fix.

I've learned over the years that it's best to take notes when Gail describes a trail using hand gestures. She envisions the entire route in her head, because she has spent nearly 20 years on these trails. For people like me, who only visit here once or twice a year, trying to find "the big pine tree surrounded by the little pine tree on the right side of the trail" is made easier by taking down lots of detailed directions. It's not an exact system, but it works pretty well for us.

Assembling trail ribbons is a never-ending task. This year our trail marking was not only hampered by elk who like to eat the ribbons (weird, I know--plastic???) but also by people in Jeeps who repeatedly tore down the ribbons and scratched out the chalk marks. That's just plain mean. Most years the Jeepers are pretty nice people, but not this year. The forest ranger told me that they'd been having problems with them all season, and she didn't know what had changed.

Some trails only needed to be marked. For those, we loaded up horses and dispersed to several points on the trail, equipped with ribbons and milk jugs full of white lime powder and a set of loppers.Each team of two or three riders would mark 10 miles or so of trail in a day, and make notes of fallen trees that would need to be cleared and any other damage that would need to be repaired or re-routed before ride day. We try to mark the trail as clearly as possible, using ribbons on the trees, stakes painted with colors to match ribbons in meadows where there are no trees, and white lime on roads to indicate water stops and turns.After several seasons of doing this work, Hana and Fiddle have become very adept at walking or trotting for a tenth of a mile, and then sidestepping over to a tree so riders can hang ribbons. Our lateral work in the arena is really useful for trail-marking!Sometimes, groups of riders converge as we get close to camp. This is a good time to compare notes about the health of the trail, and the need for repairs or changes to the route.
If there's still enough daylight when we get back to camp, we go back out to sections of trail in the late afternoon to scout the necessary changes.
Sometimes we can repair a trail, using some basic hand tools.Other obstacles require a bit more muscle and power.

We had enough people working this year that we not only fixed the "essential" parts of the trail, we were able to address some of the issues on the "wish list." It was a lot of work, but the riders on Saturday could really tell the difference.

At the end of the day, horses graze in the meadow, and the people gather around the fire to swap stories. Here's one of the best stories.

Ryan didn't know I was recording it at the time, tee hee. Um, maybe don't listen to this one at work. It's not exactly inappropriate...but, well, you know.

Coming soon: how to fix a trail so it stays fixed.