Earlier this year, I made the decision to volunteer at Big South Fork instead of entering the 50. I offered to mark trails and hoped to have 3 horses to help me do that.
The HorsesTanna did something to his right front at Biltmore in May. He's progressed from stall rest and pasture rest to being worked lightly 2-3 times a week (which I haven't had time for the last 3 weeks...), but he still wasn't up to the mileage required for trail marking. So I left him at home to hang out in the pasture.
Serts is my 27-year-old retired Arabian. He taught my nieces how to ride and did a few LDs. I retired him a few years ago, but was hoping to bring him into condition enough to help me mark 8-10 miles of trails each day I was at Big South Fork. Alas, after getting him going a bit, he dropped too much weight being ridden twice a week at 6 miles each. So I decided he really is retired and left him at home with Tanna to hang out in the pasture.
So that left me Sasha. She has had her challenges this year, but she was fit and sound and ready to go!
|The dogs after we arrived at camp. Notice the dog on the cushion is the smallest at 3.5 lbs!|
So Tuesday morning, I loaded Sasha in the trailer and Daniel drove off with her. I hopped into our smaller truck and followed. My job this week: mark trail. Daniel's job: camp water & trail water.
We arrived and set up camp where Sasha would get the most shade. The forecast was for the high 80s, low 90s all week. Pretty hot and humid for this ride.
I saddled up and headed out for several hours to mark a 16 mile loop that would be used on Friday and in the 100.
Trail Marking Philosophy
|Sasha during a break with her trail marking gear on.|
My trail marking philosophy is pretty simple and based on a priority system.
- Mark the turns with 3 ribbons on the side of the turn. Try to mark enough before the turn to get a cantering horse to shift gears and direction in time for the turn without ending up in a heap.
- Confidence ribbon after the turn. Hang a ribbon down the trail that is visible from the turn.
- 2nd confidence ribbon. Hang a ribbon down the trail visible from the last confidence ribbon.
- Confidence ribbon if a trail goes off to the right or left, but the trail goes straight. Hang the confidence ribbon just after the intersection to get the eye going that way. If really confusing, use a second confidence ribbon.
- Otherwise, put a ribbon up every 1/4 mile even if you think there's nowhere to go.
Using this philosophy, the slower riders should see a ribbon at least every 5 minutes as long as they're moving. The mid-pack riders will see a ribbon every 2-3 minutes and the front runners will only see every other one.
There are other techniques, like, what to do if there are no trees where you want your ribbon. Or if we're allowed to use signs stapled to the trees (X pie plates are my favorite) or if multiple trails come and go through a single 5, 6 or 7 trail intersection. Those are super fun to figure out.
I've missed trail marking and was very happy to have the opportunity to do it again.
|Sasha and me ready to go out and mark trail!|
Sasha isn't used to being ridden every day. Generally I give her a day off between training rides. But Wednesday morning, I got up, grabbed some breakfast and saddled her again. She was not amused during the saddling process, but once I was mounted, she perked her ears and settled to her job.
|Laurel Creek crossing at the bottom of the hill from Jack's Ridge loop.|
We headed down the Jack's Ridge straight-away and dropped down to Laurel Creek, marking the black and red trail for Friday and the yellow trail for Saturday. We continued on to the river crossing, then I started marking blue for the Saturday ride and continued with red and black for the Friday ride. Yellow continued across the river and blue came from across the river. I could see blue and yellow ribbons waving in the breeze. Theresa had already been busy.
|River crossing. The water was way down due to limited rain.|
Sasha and I climbed the long haul up to Duncan Hollow Road until we saw Daniel waiting in the shade. He had come to pick us up so we didn't have to do the last 5ish miles since the rest of the trail was accessible by truck.
Back in camp, I unsaddled and fed Sasha. Then lunch, then Daniel and I headed back out to mark the trail from where he'd picked me up to the finish line. After we marked that, we drove to the spots where the trail met with roads to be sure any markings already put up were still up.
Then I went for a short run near camp.
First Night Ride
|Night ride with a headlamp.|
Not my first night ride. My first night ride was 8 years ago and I had a horrible accident. But this was Sasha's first night ride. I saddled her up yet again. She again was not amused, but was happy when we got going.
We headed out from camp as the sun was disappearing behind the trees. I wanted the head lamp light to just be there and not startle her by turning it on from pitch black. She's used to headlamps from people handling her on the ground, but to my knowledge never under saddle.
|Sunset on trail. The last vestige of light.|
|The same view the next morning.|
On a recent trip to REI, I got a new headlamp that was on a good sale and was able to try it out from horseback. It's a Petzl Reactik+ and it has reactive lighting where it will get brighter when it's dark and looking farther out, but will dim when looking at a map or if it gets a little brighter (like coming out on a gravel road with a good moon). It connects to my phone via Bluetooth to be able to adjust the settings.
I did like the headlamp. It was a bit too bright in the woods. The settings are confusing to me so I wasn't able to fully fix it but I'm happy with it.
Sasha moved out great with the light and wasn't spooky. She did spook fairly hard once, but it was just slamming on the brakes and then moving forward again before I half realized what had happened.
On a side-note, 8 mph in the woods at night feels like flying. :-)
On this ride, Sasha began to eat every chance she got. She'd been grazing some on the other 2 rides, but this ride I think she just wasn't sure what I was up to and she'd better eat. I stopped 3 or 4 times and just let her chow down for a few minutes. Good training.
Thursday morning, I got a little later start due to my night ride. But again, I saddled up Sasha to go add some turn ribbons I noticed missing on my night ride. Sasha stood resigned for saddling instead of trying to sidle away. She still had a great attitude and work ethic once I got on her. She just likes making faces at me.
This ride we stayed closer to camp and just did the loops close in, checking markings and adding a few ribbons here and there. Then I was done. I returned to camp and consulted with Eric (ride management) and everything seemed done and taken care of. Wow, very cool!
|Sasha got to hang out the rest of the week. Her job was done.|
Since I had all afternoon left, I changed into running clothes and had Daniel drop me off near a hiking trail. I originally planned a 5 mile run, but Daniel wanted me to run a couple of specific trails to get the GPS tracks to put on Google Maps. That plan would take me about 8. I was ok with that.
|Creek crossing on the red/black and yellow trail.|
Some of the trail was really rocky and steep, so it was sort of a hiking run. I ran where I could and hiked when I couldn't.
|West Entrance Trail head|
I missed one of the trails that Daniel wanted me to get, so I ended up running 10 miles instead of 8. I got a message to him through my inReach satellite communicator to come pick me up at another trail head so I didn't have to run back to camp and add another 3 miles to my run.
I used a single water bottle and refilled it from the creeks with my Sawyer Mini water filter. It was a lot nicer to carry the water filter than multiple bottles of water.
|I made a wrong turn before this intersection and had to backtrack.|
On one of the trails, I came very close to a black bear who was about 20 feet off the trail. I was running along watching my feet; you know how you do when you're trying not to trip and face plant. I glanced up and off to the side and there he was! I was so shocked to be so close to him. I saw him first (I guess I run with a light step??). Thoughts of what to do if he decided to come my way flitted through my mind when he glanced over his shoulder and freaked out when he saw me. He ran away very fast. No pictures, but that's the closest I've ever been to a bear!
Back at camp, I got a shower and attended the ride meeting.
Daniel was in charge of water for the ride so he was gone a lot the next 2 days taking care of that. I hung out in the vet check and helped write down scores on vet cards.
Saturday night, we hung out in the vet check for the 100 mile riders, until a rider came up missing. Daniel and I went out searching for awhile. Finally the rider was found on the wrong trail by another rider and brought back to camp. That could have ended badly. I'm glad it didn't. All of the 100 milers were done by 4 AM, so I headed off for a few hours sleep before getting up to drive home.
I had a lot of fun at this ride. Probably the most fun I've ever had at a ride without actually entering any of the events. Thanks to Eric and Nelia for letting me mark trail and hang out all week. Thanks to Tamra for all the yummy food. Thanks to Melissa and DeeDee, the vets that got to put up with me the most. Thanks to Samm, Nancy, Jim and Nina for their awesome timing as usual. Thanks to Miles for babysitting water troughs at the Cumberland Valley Trail Head so they wouldn't go missing. (The ride lost 4 water troughs last year due to theft.) There were lots of other volunteers, but these I interacted with the most.
It takes a village, folks. If you're not riding, there's probably a job to do. If you see something not being done, it's probably a lack of workers, not a lack of caring. Approach the ride manager and make it happen.