Monday, August 11, 2014

City of Electrifying Rocks

The lightening was flashing all around us as we zig zagged our horses through the trees and brush. The horses were tense and the air filled with electricity. As the trail wound around we'd see the bright flash and hear the crack of the thunder directly above us. With one deafening crack of thunder I was accused of screaming like a girl! It was just a small scream but the danger was real as we scurried down the mountain side as fast as we dared.

This was true endurance at the City of Rocks Pioneer ride, August 9. Day 3 had begun as a gorgeous morning and turned to thunder and lightening. Most stories start at the beginning, this one starts backwards, near the end.

The four of us; Suzie Hayes, Tamara Baysinger, Jodie Lucas and myself were doing our best to dodge the storm that had formed around the mountain tops that afternoon. The trail had climbed and taken us to Indian Grove at 7600+ elevation, then the trail went down switchbacks and through the trees, rocks and water bars with some rather tricky footing.

In between lightening bolts the comments made were:
"Tell my husband I love him!"
"Hey did you realize your horse is the only one here with steel shoes and the rest of the horses are booted?"
"I'm not having fun anymore!"
"Head for the cave."

On down the switchbacks we continued, knowing that we were going to run out of cover once off the mountain, and then we'd be in the open sagebrush. Once we made it to the cave we'd have refuge from the lightening. It was beginning to rain as we came to the big rock overhang in the pines. We all bailed off our horses and Suzie says, "This will be great until the flash flood starts." We all laughed and joked and made more smart remarks while the lightening flashed and thunder pounded the skies. I untied my long sleeve shirt, thankful I had kept it just in case of bad weather. Not that it was going to keep me dry but it'd be better than nothing. Tamara took pictures of us smiling and laughing on the outside, but cringing on the inside.

Then it got quiet, no thunder booms, and we decided we could get back on and venture out. That decision was a bit premature as we only went about half a mile when we had another jolt and thunder clap. Suzie was in the lead and yelled "If anyone has a better idea let me know!" We were still trotting, trying to keep the horses in control on the narrow windy trail. Somehow I had ended up in the lead and Thunder was doing great, zigging and zagging along when a lightening bolt flashed down right before us! Thunder dived off the trail with me clinging to his side with every fiber in my body. It was trick riding time and somehow I pulled myself back upright and we trotted on.

We passed the Beef Jello Banana trail and I shouted back "Hey Beef Jello Banana. That must have been what the last guy was eating when he was struck by lightening!"
"Oh shut up!"

I could see the wall of rain approaching from our right as it passed over the valley floor. We were going to get soaked!  But I was sure as the deluge would reach us, the thunder and lightening would move on. At Circle Overlook we hesitated briefly to let the horses drink. I'm thinking hanging out by water tanks in a storm is not a smart move. We trotted on, with another 1.4 miles to the road crossing and the equestrian trail as the heavens opened and the torrents of rain fell. Here was Suzie's flash flood on the way. At the equestrian trail with another 1.4 miles to the trail head, water was beginning to pool and the ground was getting slick under our horse's easyboots.

We trotted behind Suzie, she said, "Hey when we get to the finish let's have a four way tie! "Works for me" I said, I was just thanking Jesus to still be alive! We trotted on. The thunder and lightening was thankfully behind us, and by the time we reached the trail head the rain was reduced to a sprinkle. We stopped at the water tanks to see if the horses wanted a drink. We are all dripping wet and Tamara says, "Jammer says he's had enough water, thanks!"

Now it was only about a mile to camp, the sun cast a light shadow as the storm moved on, and we wondered how the riders behind us would fare in the storm. It would be about 2 and half hours before any of the others became visible to those watching in camp. And in our urgency to get out off the mountain and out of the storm, we had nearly caught the second and third place riders!

That was day 3, and it made the first two days seem rather peaceful, easy and uneventful. It definitely put everything into perspective. We had faced a terrifying danger. Any one of us, including riders/horses ahead or behind us, could have been crispy crittered in a split second. But we all persevered and endured. And that's what endurance riding is and why we don't have crowds of people out there trying the sport. We were in a very remote area and our choices were few. I guess we could have stayed in the cave a bit longer but just getting to camp was our real goal.

Beth and Brass on day 1 - City of Rocks

The City of Rocks ride held in the City of Rocks National Reserve is one of the most beautiful places I have been lucky enough to ride in. It's located near the small town of Almo, ID. not far from the Utah border. The rock formations throughout the area are amazing and attract many rock climbers. This land saw over 250,000 emigrants pass through on the California Trail in the 1840's and 1850's, all hoping to get in on their share of the Gold Rush. I was told later that night by a local fellow that he had been in that country moving a herd one day when a lightening bolt came down right between him and his buddy who was riding a little ways behind him. "For a moment" he said, "we both thought we'd died. But luckily neither one us were hit."

Day 1 trail up - day 3 trail down

The ride had begun on August 7, and the first day we had ridden up the switchbacks to Indian Grove and across to the rock formations known as Bread Loaves. On day 3 we did it in reverse, riding down the technical mountain trail. It seemed a lot tougher going down and I know I've ridden down that trail before but never that fast!!

A Steve Bradley shot of Beth and I on day 1 City of Rocks

On day 1 I had been aboard Thunder and was sponsoring my friend, Beth Nicholes, on The Big Brass. We were having a good ride and Brass was doing well even though he had no mountain trail experience over such rugged and tight footing. But Brass went lame at 42 miles, left hind. We walked in and had some riders catch up to us that had gotten lost earlier. We kept walking and hoping Brass would be better at the finish, he was sound at the walk but gimpy at the trot. Sadly Beth and Brass did not complete. Brass appears to be fine again though, we took good care so as not to worsen whatever his injury was. I have a feeling his muscles just got very fatigued even though he did a 50 in June, it was more than what he was ready for.

On day 2 we went up into the Castle Rocks State Park. More great trails and beautiful rock formations. I rode with Tamara Baysinger and Jodie Lucas. I led us all astray and took a wrong turn, following green ribbon but not the green and orange. ACK! Despite the delay Thunder and I finished 6th and now had completed two out of the three days. And since the story began backwards - you already know about the last day!

Despite the nasty storm Thunder and I had a phenomenal three days with the fastest time for 3 day horse/rider teams! Thunder finished with all A's on his vet card and looked great. All he wanted to do was eat!  Steph Teeter and her wonderful crew of helpers did a superb job of marking trail and hauling the water! There were water tanks every where! The vets did a wonderful job of taking care of horses. This is truly a gorgeous area for a ride! We really had quite an adventure, just one I hope we don't have to repeat for awhile. Dodging lightening bolts is really not my idea of a good time!

Another Steve Bradley photo of Thunder and I on day 2


Dom said...

I would have been grateful for the downpour...

...because it would have washed away the evidence from when I peed myself!

How scary. I'm glad everyone was ok. You had me on the edge of my seat with this one. Congrats on an awesome finish, and stunning photos along the way!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing! Beautiful pictures to go along with the adventure!

Funder said...

What an amazing, terrifying ride story! Grats to all of you!

Anonymous said...

Great story and pictures! I'd love to do this ride one day. Just a note for the future - caves are actually bad places to shelter from lightning, they won't protect you. Apparently your best bet is to be well away from any trees or structures and then squat down and hug your knees (cue joke about kissing your *** goodbye), something about making yourself as small as possible and the lightning having to travel for less distance (and hopefully not through your heart) if you do get struck. And spread out from your group so multiple people don't get struck at once. I researched this while stuck in my car in an electrical storm once, too afraid to get out and put my horse back in his pasture :)