The Grand Canyon, what an amazing place! It is one of the 7 natural wonders of the world and it is easy to see why when you are its north rim.
One of the great things about endurance riding is the beautiful places you get to experience while on your horse. Many of which I would never see if it wasn’t for my horse and this great sport. We got to experience the East and North Rims of the Grand Canyon along with sections of the Kaibab National Forest and had just about perfect weather while there. There were also lessons to be learned along the way and a wee bit of excitement…
The nights were chilly and the days warm. The first day Desi was feeling good and we rode with the front running couple but fell behind by about 10 minutes through some muddy spots with kelly humps that I wasn’t willing to go as fast through as they did. So we left the lunch stop/vet check 20 minutes ahead of the next horse and 10 minutes behind the first ones. Since it was the first day of a 5 day ride there were multiple trails and instructions. Desi and I came to a multi-trail intersection and the paper plate with the arrow for Day 1 LD pointed the way to go… well sort of. Evidently the angle I came into the plate made it look like we should turn left so we did. Some hoof prints and trail ribbons seemed to confirm that it was the right choice. Desi stopped and balked a little but she had done this in the past to let other horses catch up to her (she is VERY social) and I wasn’t going to fall for That again!
Desi being the self-preserving horse she is stopped at almost every mud puddle (and there were many of them from all the rain the previous week) but only drank from some of them. Mud puddles not only have hydrating water but they have natural electrolytes in them as well.
After awhile I began to think I had taken a wrong turn or missed a turn so I doubled back but found no intersection that had been missed. We went quite a ways and I began to really know I had missed something somewhere… So back we went and met up with another rider who apparently was as off track as we were. Now I knew where camp was versus where we were just not where the correct trail back was and if we went back to camp without doing the proper trail we would be disqualified. Desi had done too much work not to get credit for at least some of it! The other rider decided to take the main road back to camp while I decided to go back to the area of all the directional plates. Desi was not amused.
It was obvious what had happened once I got back to the paper plates. I had come into them at a funny angle and actually should have gone straight across the intersection and into the trees. Now I was in a hurry to get back as we were approaching our time limit and I wasn’t sure just how far it was back to camp. Desi saw no reason to hurry as we had done an extra 10-15 miles and time limits mattered not to her.
I knew my husband, Walt, be worried but had no way to contact him as there was no cell phone service and there were no more checkpoints between us and camp. Particularly in light of our last bizarrely adventurous ride (read about it here) I knew he would be having heart palpitations. Try as I might Desi would not speed up. Gratefully we got to camp 45 minutes to spare. Walt had asked every rider if they had seen me and all answered with a resounding, “no.” I got in just in time as Walt and our friend, Pamela Miller, were just getting ready to come find me. Pam had also ridden the LD and knew the most likely spots for me to take a wrong turn or miss a turn. It would have been dark soon and they didn’t want to wait as the temperature at that elevation plummeted with the sun and I had little in the way of provisions with me.
Though Desi and I were never in danger of being out in the elements after dark, it did bring up a discussion about what should be on my saddle. Some rides have radio guys at multiple checkpoints so the ride management knows if you have gotten off track or had some sort of incident but others have minimal checkpoints and a lot of wilderness. Having water proof matches, drinking water, and protein/granola bars are a good minimalist approach. A satellite phone, gloves and even a lightweight poncho are great additions.
At home I use an app called Road ID, it allows me to put in contacts to let them know by text that I am going out on a ride, how long I expect to be gone and a link to track my ride. If I am idle for 5 minutes my phone vibrates and I have to click a button to cancel an alarm. Otherwise it will alert the contacts I have entered. This gives peace of mind to family and friends as I ride out alone a lot. It’s a free app and a good safety net.
Desi got to stay in camp and rest the next day while I rode my back up horse, Mariah. We rode 30 miles and she did amazingly well averaging 10 mph with easy recoveries. Desi did the next 3 days in a row and just got stronger with each day until she was pulling to be in front the last day, keeping up with horses that were on their first and second days. The weather was perfect and the rest of the ride uneventful. We met many great folks while there. Due to injury Walt was unable to ride the last half of the 2016 ride season but he was the best crew guy a rider and horse could ask for. And Promise, our Rat Terrier, was his constant companion. Both of them made quite a name for themselves among the other riders and ride management.
We did go up to the North Rim lodge so Walt could experience the grandeur of the Canyon in a relaxed manner. I encourage you to put the North Rim of the Grand Canyon on your ‘must see’ list. Even better from horseback and with a companion.