Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Dowdy Draw: Mesa Trail

Sunday dawned early and I discovered that when one rides 8 miles either straight up or straight down, the front of your thighs is somewhat sore. J got up and was sore all over. She opted to not ride, which left me with the option of riding out from the barn or hauling the trailer on my own. I opted to try it on my own. K and I made arrangements, I made myself lunch and headed to the barn.

I love back up cameras!!

I was able to hitch up the trailer on my first try, then pull it around and loaded my horse. I felt like such an independent adult. Knowing I can do that on my own is a great feeling, but I would prefer to share the responsibility with J. She's a great driver. I got K and Eddy (who trotted onto the trailer) and we headed for Flatirons Vista. I cut the first corner a little tight and bumped the trailer on the curb, which kind of shook me up, but I will know next time.

When we got to the trailhead at Flatirons Vista, we got the trailer parked and the horses unloaded. I pulled out the soft rubber curry comb and started on Ashke. As I moved to currying his barrel on the left side (using my right arm) I felt something pop in the middle of my back and all of a sudden I couldn't move, or breathe, and the pain radiating from the spot was enough to pop beads of sweat out on my forehead. I told K something had happened and I needed to sit down. I sat in the trailer doorway for a moment, struggling to take a full breath and not cry, feeling the pain radiating through my torso. I wondered if I needed to go to urgent care. I wondered if that was what a gallstone felt like. Or kidney stones. Or maybe a heart attack. I thought about calling J and having her come rescue me. K came over to check on me and talked me into taking some Advil. I did that and drank some water (thinking if it was kidney stones, maybe that would help. I know, not a rational or reasonable person when I am in pain.) K asked me if we should load up and head back, which I replied with a resounding no. Moving slowly I was able to get the gloves on Ashke, get him saddled and the saddlebags attached. I was very stiff through the middle of my back and having problems bending over, but I figured once I was on the horse I could ignore the pain. Which actually worked until we got back to the trailer.

Our original plan was to ride the Marshall Lake trail, which is open and very barren with lots of rolling hills. It was the ride we were on when K lost her phone a month or so ago. When we went to get on I asked her if she wanted to do the entire loop, which would make the ride more like 20 miles than the 13 she had first calculated. She was game so we headed west out of the parking lot.

I cannot describe the thrill it gives me every damn time I ride under the Flatirons of Boulder.

We rode across Flatirons Vista, then down Dowdy Draw.

There was one scary moment on this downhill, when we stopped to let someone go by and I took the next pic. As I was putting the camera away, Ashke (who never likes to stand still) started back down the trail and managed to step off the edge with one hind foot. K said it was the scariest thing she has ever seen. Ashke maintained his balance and kept us upright, but I can see how people could fall off the trail on the Tevis ride. In Ashke's defense, there was vegetation there, but it was hiding a drop off in the bank that you couldn't see.

The picture worth falling off the side of the mountain for.

At the bottom of the draw is a stream that has a fairly steep approach that I have always gotten off and hand walked Ashke down. This time, I stayed on and asked him to carefully take us down. He hesitated a moment, trying to decide if the way I wanted him to go was the best option, then carefully took us down to the water. It was maybe three inches deep but he took a good long drink anyway. There were several bike riders waiting on us and I apologized for the wait. One of the guys said "It's all good, I could stand and watch him drink all day." But it was said sincerely, actually, like he really meant he would stand and watch all day. Eddy followed us once we were out of the way, pausing very briefly to flip the water with his nose, then came up the trail behind us. The guys on their bikes laughed and waved as they proceeded on their ride. 

As we came up the trail toward Community Ditch, there was a pit toilet off the side of the trail. K suggested we stop and use it while we could. I agreed and we rode past the Ditch toward the building that held the toilets. I said to K, "You know, we really should ride the Mesa trail to Chautauqua Park. We could do lunch there and ride back." K said, "That's a really great idea, since J isn't with us and that trail is closed to bikes." So, we decided to do that ride instead, since J can do the Marshall Lake loop with us.

I stood and held the horses while K went to the toilet. Just as she came back out, Ashke suddenly flipped his head up sharply and snorted in alarm. As his head flipped up some kind of bug (which had stung him) flew off the end of his nose and whacked me in the side of the face, just next to my eye. It was buzzing when it hit and I yelped and swatted at it. It hurt like hell. I really thought I had been stung. Ashke was flipping his nose up and down still squealing a little bit in pain. I had a welt on the side of my face between the edge of my helmet and my eye. K looked and said there wasn't a white spot (stinger puncture) and although she was sure it still hurt, she really couldn't feel anything. Ashke tucked his nose into my hand and rubbed the skin back and forth for a good five minutes. I think it got him right on the front of his nose above his lip and between his nostrils. We both decided our injuries were a long way from the heart, so we continued on our way.

As we head toward the Dowdy Draw trailhead to cross the road and hit the Mesa Trail loop.

On the far side of the road that leads to Eldorado Canyon (another place we need to explore) heading toward the Mesa Trail.

We crossed the stream coming out of Eldorado Canyon and got down to water to let the horses drink.

Ashke drank long, deep and well. He has figured out the need to take care of his water intake.
Eddy, not so much yet, although he does like to splash and try to lay down.

K told me the trail was 7 miles from the trailhead to Chautauqua. With the four we had already ridden, that would make it a 22 - 23 mile round trip.
That sounded doable.

The trail was pretty rough, though, showing signs of the heavy flooding of 2013, and aggravated by the heavy rains this year.

You can see the washout to the right of the trail. Although the first part was fairly easy to ride, it was straight uphill. For almost two miles. We trotted and cantered a bit at the beginning, and then the horses just put their heads down and powered up the hill.

Still going up. It was about this point in the ride when I hiker going the other way offered us $100 to let him and his wife ride our horses (we us leading them I assume) back to their car at the trailhead. I think both K and I considered it, but I hate to hike in the paddock boots, so we laughed and kept on.

And then the trail began to get more difficult. And there was a rumor of a rattlesnake, but we didn't see or hear it.
We were still going up and it was getting steeper with more severe trail damage from the rain.

As the trail became steeper, it also became rockier and more technical. There were steps built into the trail, some of them at least as tall as Ashke's knees. This required Ashke to lunge up the trail in a series of small jumps. It was also incredibly rocky, with rocks forming some of the "steps" we had to go up.

Maybe two miles up, Ashke ripped his right hind boot off. K saw it immediately and told me I needed to stop. I dismounted and removed the boot, recognizing that the gaiter was completely ripped off the outside edge of the boot. The glove doesn't fit his feet well enough to continue like that and I had no duct tape with me, so I pulled both back boots. That was the set of rocks we were scrambling up that made me think "I wonder if this is what Cougar Rock is like". Trust me,  I understand that Cougar Rock would be a hundred times worse, but this was pretty intense for us at that point.

We topped off one of the climbs and crossed a small meadow. 

At this point I think both Ashke and I were done. There was a really steep part of the trail, where we were lunging up a series of steps at least knee height and in some places close to chest height (the horses could walk up them like a person so sometimes there were smaller rock parts that could handle a footstep that we couldn't utilize) and Ashke just stopped, chest heaving and looked back over his shoulder at me like I was freaking crazy. I had to agree, but at that point it would have been worse (maybe) to turn around and go back. I was calculating in my head the possibility of taking another way back, by linking to the trail system in Boulder and taking another way home to the Marshall Lake loop. (Got to love the trail system in Boulder - they all link together).

And then we would have a repreive in the footing.

But it wouldn't last. Eddy tried going off trail, but Ashke wasn't happy with that option, since it was still rocky.

There were rock walls maybe 12 to 14 inches tall to help control run off and trail maintenance. That was fun. Especially on the downhill.

Lots of sumac and some poison ivy, which K was very good at identifying.

Eddy led for a little while, but he just got slower and slower and it was hard to keep Ashke behind him. We moved ahead. There was a small trickle of water at the bottom of a small gully we crossed and Ashke drank well from it too.

The trail was just pure rock. With steps. And rock walls.
Rougher than Indian Creek and about 400 additional feet of elevation for the day.
Not really what we had planned to do. In my defense, I had no idea that the trail was like this and K said it was a lot rockier than the last time she had hiked it several years ago.
The scenary was awesome though. And there was a nice breeze in the morning to help keep things cool.

About this time I asked K what time it was (almost one) and how far we had traveled (3.6 miles since the trailhead which meant we had another 3.4 miles to go) so we opted to stop for lunch.

Our lunch stop spot, which concided with the connection to another trail. 

Just after we dismounted and I started putting my lunch together, a woman walked up and started talking to us about endurance. She used to do LDs on her Appy/QH horse and really missed it. We chatted about horses and running (she was trail running) and the damn trail we were on, while K and I ate lunch. Based on her information and what K remembered, we opted to take an alternative route home. After we were done eating and drinking and hanging with the endurance rider turned runner (she did endurance in Georgia and doesn't have a horse here) we swung up and headed east.

East meant we moved out of the trees and into the blazing sunlight. And the wind died, so it was plenty warm.

Even down below the ground was rocky.

Undulating prairie, with tall grass and hidden cactus.

The Eds trucking a long. You can't really see it but he had a very contented look on his face.

From a distance we could see the stock tank, but wasn't sure there was water in it because it was so dark. There were cattails and other plants growing in the water, with a thick blanket of moss on the top. Ashke flipped the water and moss with his nose until the water was clear and then he drank deeply. Under the moss, the water was clear and crisp looking and I was tempted to sample the water myself. It reminded me of a scene in Savage Sam, where the Indians made a mesh out of green grass to strain out the blicky stuff from the water. I wondered if I could do that here. Then Ashke thought about climbing into the stock tank and I was yanked back to reality. 
I did not test the grass mesh theory.

We had a couple of nice canter moments on the trail, which was not as rocky as what we had been traveling down.

After traveling east, we turned South again.

And we were a long way from where we had started. The haze is actually smoke from Washington and Idaho trying to burn all the things.

Headed back toward the mountains and back into the rocks.

Seriously, this trail was the rockiest we had to do on this ride. Although not by much compared to the trail leading over the Mesa. 

We stopped at the stream/river and let the horses wade. Eddy finally drank (14 miles or so) and then we crossed back across the street to the Dowdy Draw trailhead. K and I talked about the quickest way to go home. We could turn east and ride community ditch to the Greenland plateau, or we could back track to Dowdy Draw and ride back up it. K thought the community ditch would be the easier ride, but I was pretty sure it would be longer. I called J to tell her we were probably an hour away from reaching the trailer and then I still needed to drive us home. I told her I would call her when we reached the trailer and let her know we were okay.

K and Eddy took the most direct route back to Dowdy Draw. There were some really nice places where we could canter and the boys were very willing to move out. Even after all of the altitude and rough trail they both had gas in their tanks and were willing to go. Cantering through the grass along the edge of the creek was magical and both horses moved in a smooth, ground-covering canter. Maybe even a touch of a gallop along there. Somewhere in that ride from one trailhead to the Draw, I began calling Ashke my Braveheart. He was so willing.

And then we were striding up the Draw, with long, strong walking strides.

Eddy and K turning the corner on the switchback coming up the Draw.

On the top of the Vista, we cantered most of the way back from there. At one point, Eddy had cantered away and Ashke had just watched him. I was letting him choose his pace and was willing to walk home if he wanted. He glanced over his shoulder at me and I said, "If you want to canter, canter." He snorted and took off. Three strides in he slammed on the brakes and came to a complete halt long enough to poop, then launched himself into a gallop after the Eds. We walked the last half mile in to the trailer (rocky trail) and then set the boys up with their after ride mashes. I was exhausted when I called J to tell her we had made it back. She could hear it in my voice and offered to come park the trailer for me. I took her up on the offer, wanting to be a little less exhausted the first time I try to back the trailer into it's space. 

I checked Ashke's back and he was a little sore on the right over his loins. I was not surprised. We did another 1750 feet in elevation plus he was jump/lunging up the rocky trail for a good portion of the day. I made the mistake of not pulling the BOT blanket on him (for which I must plead fatigue) and by the time I got him home he had stiffened up. He was sore to the touch at that point, and almost cringed away from the water as I was washing him off. I rubbed Sore No More into the tender spots on his back and tucked him into his stall with his mash. He will have off until Saturday.

When I checked him Monday morning, his back was still sore, but only in the loin muscles, where he would have over used them to propel himself up the rocks. I did some light massage and some deep energy work on the area, which seemed to help. By this morning, he was as good as new, with no reaction to any specific probing of his back.


  1. With rides like those I can't see how he couldn't do a LD easily. He has got to be one of the most fit horses out there.

    1. Thanks. I guess my biggest concern at this point is traveling fast enough to make the time cut off. And if I can make it. I haven't been able to walk since Sunday. The front of my thighs were overworked and my right side from ribs to hip is incredibly painful. Sometimes I think I'm just too old for this shit. As Indiana Jones said "It's not the years, it's the mileage."

    2. I agree with Sara. I think you both could do an LD with your eyes closed! An LD is only a few more miles than your longest ride so far, and looking at To Teach A Mustang's LD photos, you ride much gnarlier trails than Shamrock. Pace is not an issue when horses at rides are motivated to move out, which is a common phenomenon! ;) Adrenaline is a huge motivator and pain deterrent. Believe me: I'm not out doing 20-mile conditioning rides because it is mentally exhausting outside of a competitive setting. So you're really a lot more hard core than you give yourself credit for! ;D

      As for age, there is no such thing as too old when it comes to endurance. Have you heard about Pat Oliva? She lives in MD and she is a frequent flyer at TROT (Trail Riders of Today) rides with her little Arab. She was just inducted into the AERC Hall of Fame. She still actively competes...in 100-milers...and she is 72!!! http://equimed.com/news/people/pat-oliva-named-hall-of-fame-person-at-aerc-convention

      I *know* that you and Ashke can do it if you decide to go for it! :D

  2. I can't say I didn't feel tired just reading this post. What a tough trail! But what absolutely gorgeous, spectacular views you had while riding! Beautiful.