The First of Many! Owyhee Canyonlands 2011, Day 1
Dawn in the autumn canyonlands is dark, brisk, tinged with dust, filled with the rustle of riders sharing coffee and mixing feed. Occasional whinnies send small thrills down our spines. We are here. It is time. In two hours, the first of five endurance rides will begin.
I arrived in the Owyhees with the intention of riding three days and volunteering two. Day 1’s trail ran along the Snake River, whose buggy, fishy shores have always failed to coax Consolation to drink. With the only other water being at a vet check at 15 miles — just on the cusp of when Consolation typically starts drinking — I decided not to risk it. I’d volunteer with Ironman on Day 1, and start riding on Day 2.
But then, my friend Karen Bumgarner offered her horse Blue, the sweet, 8-year-old Arabian with whom Consolation and I rode at Cheap Thrills. I debated briefly — the money, the threat of worse back pain later in the week — but decided not to pass it up. And so, dawn found us warming up Z Blue Lightning and Z Summer Thunder, who was staring down the 2,000 AERC mile mark.
We started as the frontrunners clattered out of sight, preferring to keep our horses quiet and relatively slow. A long week lay ahead; no sense burning too much wick too soon. Content to be in each other’s company, Blue and Thunder set out earnestly and carried on all day. An easy trail — particularly by comparison to the mountain rides at Pink Flamingo and Old Selam — carried us across the desert to a vet check, where Ironman took a break from vet scribing to hold the horses while Karen and I set about refueling ourselves and our mounts.
As the four of us munched, it became clear that a large number of riders who should have been ahead of us, weren’t. It seems that, just half a mile and one hill from the vet check, about 15 riders had taken a turn that was supposed to wait until after the hold. Management was just re-marking the section when Karen and I came through, but the error cost the frontrunners quite a few miles — up to 14, from what I gathered. Ouch.
Loop 2 took us 25 miles out to and along the Snake, which is broad and glassy between sage-dotted banks rising in places to dramatic canyon walls. On our way to the river, we trotted one of my favorite stretches of Owyhee trail, a winding arroyo with steep sides and sandy footing. (We rode it again on Day 5, which is when I took this photo — that’s Consolation’s mane in the foreground, not Blue’s.)
The horses felt strong and the day, though hotter than usual for the Owyhees in late September, relatively pleasant. We breezed back to the vet check for our second hold before we knew it, and had only 12.5 miles more to get home. Blue covered them easily, even sharing a little of his wonderful canter with me, and had already pulsed down when we arrived at the finish. Thunder — now a 2,000 mile horse — looked like he’d hardly been out out for a stroll.
Day 1 down! We untacked, washed Easyboots and horses, grazed the boys for a bit, reassembled our tack and crew bags for the next day, and managed to squeeze in showers for ourselves. Blue Canoe served dinner, the talk of ridecamp at dinner was the Great Getting-Lost episode, and for completion awards, Steph Teeter handed out magnets with little Owyhee ride scenes she’d drawn. At last, we crawled into bed (hooray for the new camper!) and let our weary bodies pull or whirring minds toward sleep.
Morning would come soon, and with it, 50 miles more.