Saturday, September 3, 2011

In which we consider crisis preparation, part one: "Hunker Down"

Sitting around the campfire is a good time to just talk and talk and talk, and Sky and I spent several peaceful nights in camp doing exactly that.  We talked about our lives, our jobs, our families, our horses and dogs, the books we've been reading (booklist forthcoming in a future post), and all sorts of things.

Eventually, we ended up talking about horses and crises.  After all, some of our friends in the East were coping with the effects of Hurricane Irene on their barns and fences, and we are both practical people--we like to be ready for stuff rather than get ambushed.

I take this to a natural extreme.  I was raised by Boy Scouts: "Be Prepared" isn't a motto in my family; it is, rather, tattooed on our brains at birth.  After all,  our Swampland is in the strike zone for tsunami, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, not to mention washed-out roads, fallen power lines, and ongoing lousy weather.  All that stuff, plus disasters brought on by human action or inaction, can make for stress (at best) or injury (or worse) to you or your horse. 

Plus, there's always the unexpected. 

I figure, with winter on the horizon, it's time to talk about crisis.

I'd like to get reader input about how you plan to cope when things go wrong at home, in a ridecamp, and on the trail.

Of course, there's always a way to avoid crisis.  You could hire guardians to follow you everywhere, equipped with high-powered shortwave radio and gigantic first-aid kits.  Heck, you could refuse to go anywhere that would be more than 5 minutes response distance to the nearest world-class health facility or board-certified veterinarian. You could even refuse to leave home at all. Some people, in fact, refuse to venture beyond the Disneyland-certified safety of civilization.

I don't want to live my life that way, so I make a lot of plans for when things (inevitably) go wrong.

I'll sort this into three blog posts to keep from overwhelming everyone, and to allow everyone to think and share their thoughts and experiences:
  • 1.  Hunker down
  • 2.  Run like hell
  • 3.  Stand and fight
This post will discuss how--and why--you can stay safe by staying put.

There are plenty of reasons that you might want to stop what you are doing and hunker down for a while with your horse.  Maybe bad weather has moved in suddenly.  Maybe your truck won't start. Perhaps you, or your riding partner, or one of your horses has sustained a non-life-threatening injury. Maybe the road is blocked or washed out. Maybe there's blood.  Maybe there's a concussion. Maybe there's a bee-sting.  Maybe you are lost. 

I'm going to assume that your house and/or barn are well-equipped for "hunker down" emergencies.  You probably have food there (for you and your horse and anybody else who gets stuck there), even if means that he'll be eating hay without supplements and you'll be eating canned chili for a week.  I hope that you also have a supply of water for a few days if the power goes out or the water main breaks...and if you don't (yet), here's your reminder to go do that before winter moves in. 

We bought a $30 rain barrel to put under the gutter of the barn, and it stores 50 gallons.  That, plus the water tank that is also filled by rain gutters, gives us more than 100 gallons of water for horses.   We also have potable water in the horse trailer (25 gallons) in the camper (30 gallons), plus a bunch of water jugs stored in various outbuildings around the property.

What about in a ridecamp?  You aren't going to take your rain barrel to camp, so what happens if the road into camp washes out and you get stuck there for a few extra days?  Do you carry extra food and water for people and horses?  Do you carry warm/dry clothes for people, and a blanket for your horse?  What else do you do to prepare for an unexpected "hunker down" in camp?

Now, think about the stuff you normally carry out on the trail.  I have posted in the past about the Ten Essentials that the Mountaineers recommend every wilderness traveler carry.  These are:
  • Navigation (map & compass)
  • Sun protection (sunglasses & sunscreen)
  • Insulation (extra clothing)
  • Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
  • First-aid supplies
  • Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candle)
  • Repair kit and tools
  • Nutrition (extra food)
  • Hydration (extra water)
  • Emergency shelter (tent/plastic tube tent/garbage bag)
It is surprisingly easy to cary this stuff on a saddle without looking like a Sherpa--I actually carry most of it routinely, either on my horse or in my fanny pack or pocket.  If I needed to spend an unplanned night out on one of my training trails, I could do it--I might not be comfortable, but I could stay out safely if necessary. 

Can you?  What do you carry?  What do you NOT carry?  What do you think you'd wish for if you got stuck on the trail tomorrow afternoon?

Okay, the comment box is open.  I want to hear about your "hunker down" strategies and plans for when something goes wrong and your best option is to stay where you are.  Has anybody had to do this with horses?  Let's hear from you!

For those of you how have lived under a rock for the past 100 years without knowledge of the astonishing talents of Tom Lehrer, let me caution you that the following video/song is hilarious, but not NSFW!!!

Next post:  How to be ready to run like hell.

      In which I share some photos and vids from the recent adventuring

      On the trail at Elbe Challenge
      After tail-ending the Elbe Hills Challenge Endurance Ride, normally Sky and I would pack up our gear and go home like the rest of the crowd.  This time, however, we planned to stay some extra days and explore the trails that were not part of the ride. 

      Sky and I like to head into the high country for a week or so in August; however, this year the snow level stayed so low that the places we want to go are completely inaccessible.  Some of the trailheads are under snow, which means no high mountain adventure for us this year.

      Undaunted, we planned a different kind of trip:  stay after an endurance ride and mess around on the local trails.

      So that's what we did. 
      Fee stands at a hitching post on Buck's Crossing
      Permanent trail markers!
      A lot of the trails had permanent trail markers, which are an unaccustomed luxury. 

      Still, Sky used her maps to keep us on course.

      An important part of any Girls Adventure is food, and this adventure was no exception.  We ate royally in camp...and also on the trail!
      Trailing (native) blackberries -- very sweet!
      Black Gooseberries, which the guidebook says are "insipid in flavor"! 
      We also saw some interesting NON-edible stuff:

      Devil's Club berries--don't eat these!
      Thistle and thistledown

      Fairynesting material
      The trails were steep everywhere we went.  Many of the trails are built on fall-lines that are too steep to be sustainable, so they need constant work to repair the erosion.  The local riders tell us that they like steep trails, but I'll bet they would enjoy their trails more if they were built along better grades and wouldn't need so much maintenance every year.  As much as I like working on trails, I prefer to ride them.

      We walked a lot of the steep downhills, but we rode the uphills.

      Pretty, pretty, everywhere.

      And when we got back to camp, Pickles Marie Tinydog was glad to see us.

      Life is good!

      Thursday, September 1, 2011

      In which a Guest Blogger tells her story about Elbe Hills Challenge

      Everyone, say "hello" to Sky and her standardbred mare Cricket.  Sky wrote today's post about the Elbe ride.  The pictures all came from my cameras.

      Elbe Hills Challenge. Not For Wimps.

      This was the second year of the Elbe Hills ride and as a fledgling ride with fledgling ride managers, there were a few bumps that needed to be smoothed.  The biggest bump being the 400+ feet of climbing we had to do at the end of a hard 50 mile climb.  That part was the hardest to bear... just when you thought you were in smelling distance of the camp, up you go again!  And down you go again.... ugh. 
      But I am getting ahead of myself... lets start where rides really start... at the beginning!

      Tight quarters for horses and rigs (and Tinydog, center)
       I pulled in on Friday and met up with my Pirate buddy, Aarene.  She had saved a camp spot for me at the back of the Sahara horse camp in the Elbe State Forest.  The public camp gets used by lots of other horse campers and had to accommodate us all by squeezing in endurance riders where ever we could.  I nosed in and dropped my horse pen right next to my trailer.  It was tight, but we managed! 

      Backwoods horse campers rode all around us, big horned saddles and cowboy hats perched jauntily, an odd counterpoint to our rough and tumble helmets and biothane.  This was my first camp in 10 years of endurance where we mixed with a regular camp crowd and it took some getting used to.  I found myself making a point to remember it wasn't "just us".  That became pretty clear at the ridecamp meeting when we started a half hour late because management was out repairing ribbons and plate markers that had been sabotaged.  (Considering the amount of traffic on our trails, I thought the trails were marked quite nicely.  We only had one place where the ribbons were completely gone and we had to cast about at the intersection looking for the right direction.)

      Aarene's note:  I really thought the trail needed a lot more "confidence" ribbons.  I know I'm spoiled by Gail Williams' style of trail-marking, where you can see a ribbon ahead on the trail OR a ribbon behind (or both), but considering the number of twists and turns on these trails and the potential for vandalism by local riders or local elk, it isn't a waste to post a bunch more trail ribbons.  Ride management did use a lot more lime (actually, they used pancake mix!!) on the roads this year, which helped a lot.
      Sky adds notes from the USGS maps to the map supplied by ride management
      Once that was cleared up, the meeting continued on to outline what trails and roads and loops we would be taking for the day.  Another first for me was the wonderful building available for our meeting.  No one had to drag chairs down, it was outfitted with rows of picnic tables.  Later it served double duty as the dining room for our wonderful after ride dinner.  In the center of the room was posted a large topographic map of the terrain with all the regular trails outlined in color. 
      This giant map was posted inside the meeting hall
      Management provided us with corresponding maps and did a great job adjusting the ride loops to a more do-able endurance ride.  Apparently last year it was hard to make time as the trails aren't really very trottable.  These are mountain trails, they wind and twist and are narrow and full of roots.  Some rock is to be expected, bridges and dips and lots of climbing.  The place to make time was on the roads which were hard, but the edges were loose enough for trotting. 

      Aarene's note:  Ride management really listened to riders' comments from the 2010 ride, and the elevation gains and losses were much more reasonable this year (except for the afore-mentioned last-minute pitch up a 500 ft elk trail and a corresponding pitch back down the other side of it).  The trail contained frequent but not overly-long stretches of road to allow riders to "make time"...and we did!

      We started the next day at 6AM.  Still dark at this elevation and time of year.  I've started at dawn before, but never so pre-dawn that I wore my headlamp to the start line! 

      One of the few photos from the first loop--my camera doesn't like early-morning twilight!
      We stashed them away pretty quick though and began our ride at the back of the pack.  I thought we were the very last to leave camp, but we were passed within a mile by Heidi L. who took away that honorable position from us.  She finished 6th, so it worked out fine for her in the end and we were happy to "give trail" over to her and Ash.

      After that, we were pretty much alone on the trail most of the day.

       We climbed up and up and stopped to take pictures of the sun as it rose above the lake and mountains.  It was stunning!  Lovely weather accompanied us all day.  We wore cooling vests but only soaked them for one loop in the mid afternoon... I never felt really hot. 

      We sponged the horses at every chance we got though, they worked hard to drag us up to 3100 feet after leaving base camp at 1400 feet.
      Both horses drank like camels all day
      The middle of the ride was a repeat loop at the upper elevation.  I found it to be relatively easy, but the amount of trail vs road slowed us down over and over again.  We did the loop 3 times so it did get repetitive.  Good thing it was so beautiful.  The views of Mt. Rainier were amazing.
      It was everywhere, so Aarene dubbed it the "stalker" mountain.  She'd say, "oh, there's that Stalker Mt. again!"  We took lots of pictures and took our time.
       My horse had a little trouble at the vet checks.  She didn't want to eat all the delicious things I brought her. 
      While Cricket and Sky consulted the vet about low gut sounds,
      Fiddle happily gobbled up all the delicious stuff that Cricket had declined to taste.
      She'd only eat grass out on the trail. 
      The grass on the trail was very tasty!
      This was a concern, but it was the only issue so after spending extra recovery time at the vet checks we decided to just get back out and let her eat where she was actually eating.  On the trail!  We took  it slow and stopped for bites here and there and she improved by the time we got back in to camp.  As we were trotting the last mile, the mix of riders in camp became a problem as we ran into a couple of campers riding a stallion and dragging a large German Shepard on a leash.  They hollered at us to get back, but we needed to get back to camp... we were on a time limit!  After a little bit, they pulled off trail and we were able to finish our ride.  I sure was glad we didn't run into them on the narrow trails up above.  It would have been hard to get by them and cause us even more anxiety as we got in with only an hour to spare.

      And while an hour is plenty of buffer time... it was my closest shave yet.  I don't like cutting it that close on a 50.  A long day on the trail for all of us; the horses looked great by the end.  Cricket's gut sounds made it back up to a B and the two Standardbreds got A's on most everything else!  We had a grand time and came in 14th and 15th out of 21 entries on a very hard trail.
      Camp dinner as previously stated was delicious.  Corn on the cob, ribs, pasta, salad and loads of dessert.  The awards were that night and we all got a horse shoe hanger.  As the tail ender, I also got a new poop fork!  They called it the "hind end" award.  Cute.  Aarene and I traded awards... I got her pink halter from last year and she got the fork.  I have 3 already!

      Fiddle models the pink string halter--definitely not her color.  I didn't photograph the manure fork.
      The next day, we took a "class picture" of all the Standardbreds at the ride. 
      L-to-R: Fiddle, Aarene, Cricket, Sky, Hector, Penny, Effie, Morghan, Victor, Bunny, Heather 
      All the standies at this ride finished their distances!
      It was great to see so many at an endurance ride.  We adore these horses, they have such great minds.  As an example, see our videos of table walking

      Table-walking, not to be confused with "table dancing."
      This object is designed for humans to climb, not for horses.
      They just hopped right up... hardly any work at all. 

      After most of the camp left on Sunday, we moved across the road to a better equipped camp site where we could spread out and have a more private camp. 
      New camp site = lots more room!
      We stayed 4 more days and rode the trails again.  But that part is for Aarene to tell. Cheers!

      Wednesday, August 31, 2011

      In which I'm back from Elbe Hills, and horses mis-use the furniture

      This is going to be a busy week:  making sure the kids are all ready to start school, coping with all the laundry that I brought back from the ride at Elbe Hills Challenge, and, of course, dealing with the Zucchini Problems that grew while I was gone for a week:
      the banana is shown for size comparison
      To keep y'all entertained while I tunnel out from under my Domestic Responsibilities, here are a few videos that Sky and I took while teaching our horses an absolutely useless skill:

      I'll be back tomorrow or so, with more adventures to relate.  Until then, I must emphasize that Sky and I are Trained Nutjobs, and we do not recommend that you teach your horse to climb on furniture!