Thursday and Friday were both hot as hell (highs in the upper 90s) with insane humidity.. we heard rumors the heat index was 117 during the vetting in on Friday. But a front was coming through, and the anticipated strong thunderstorms arrived Friday night about 10pm.. and went on until 2am. Who needs to sleep anyway, right?
At 3:30am Saturday, the alarm went off. We got the boys ready and off we went. It was the 25th anniversary of this ride ride/run, so there were fireworks at the start. Luckily none of the horses seemed to mind. The day was pretty close to the forecast: very very humid, highs in the mid 80s, with storms predicted between 1-4 as the last of the front came thru. It was 76 when we started on trail at 5am!
This ride is like no other, as we are sharing trail with ultra-marathoners. They run the same 100 mile trail that we ride. Because we have holds and they don't, we generally leap frog the same runners all day, which is really fun.
Vermont is either uphill or downhill..
What might have been the only flat section we saw all day (and can I tell you I was sponging myself just as much as I was George):
The locals are super supportive of the ride, which is over a lot of private land. They not only put out water tanks, they often run 100s of feet of hose out to the trail for us. I am not sure I can even describe the delight of getting to the top of yet another grueling climb to find a water tank and a hose!! You can see even the runners appreciate it.
Things were going according to plan until between the 3rd and 4th holds, when George developed some nasty girth rubs. Yet another example of tack that works for 50s not making the grade once the distance increased (from hold 3 to 4 was mile 50-70). I moved the saddle back more than normal and changed to a different shaped girth and left the hold with it basically flapping in the wind, in the hope of making George more comfortable (as well as applying liberal amounts of body glide and desitin). But as we continued down the trail - esp on the downhills when the girth must have swung forward - he was moving in a way that let me know it was bothering him.
The lady we were riding with (a lovely woman from South Carolina who happened to have been parked next to us) said that her husband had once finished a ride without a girth at all, because of the same issue. I figured I had 3 options: rider option and not finish, keep going with the girth loose and hope it didn't worsen to the point of making him lame, or go without the girth. Because we were running slowly, I wasn't sure that I had enough time to walk the remaining miles on foot.. and I had attempted to walk up a hill on foot earlier in the day and didn't make it even halfway up. So how was I going to cover that many miles in time?
So at the next pit crew point (this ride is also fun in that it gives your crew specific places they can meet you on trail with stuff), I took the girth totally off the saddle. We had 6 miles from that point to the last hold, so I figured if it worked great. If not, I would just walk on foot to the hold and see how the time was and decide from there. I stood on the back of the truck and DH held my stirrup while I climbed onto my unsecured saddle. By this point it was totally dark out, so I whispered to George that it was all on him, and off we went.
I rode EIGHTEEN MILES with no girth. I can still hardly believe it. When we came into the last hold, people were floored. But George's girth sores were no worse, so on went more desitin and back out on trail we went for the last loop. In the end, we crossed the finish line about 2:30am. In a sweet twist of fate, not only did both boys get their completions, but we also tied for 9th!
I could not be more proud of George. To think that only a few months ago he had major eye surgery and we weren't even sure he would live, forget get back out on trail again!!