Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Did shorter route, no High Sierra riding, tarnish Tevis?

Auburn Journal - full article
By Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer

The 56th Tevis Cup ride was like no other, with early autumn snow keeping the endurance event’s equestrian teams out of the High Sierra and shortening the usual 100 miles of hard riding.

But that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of rookie rider – and new Tevis Cup buckle recipient – Charles Cowan of Yacolt, Wash. for this year’s event.

“It never crossed my mind,” Cowan said Monday. “I was happy all the way.”

Cowan picked up his prized Tevis – “100 miles in 24 hours” – buckle at the awards ceremony in Auburn on Sunday. He was one of 123 finishers from a starting field of 176.

“I’ve never been to an endurance ride so well-organized, particularly in relation to what happened,” Cowan said.

This year’s ride was in danger of being shut down by snow not once but twice. In June, Tevis organizers decided snow depths were too heavy in the Sierra to allow the ride July 16 and it was postponed until Oct. 8. Then a freak, early snowstorm – the earliest in recent memory – dumped 22 inches of snow at the start line.

The Western States Trail Foundation board decided Thursday to remap the Tevis route so that the ride could go on this year at lower, snow-free elevations. The postponement came three years after heavy smoke and the threat of wildland fire cancelled both the Tevis ride and Western States 100 endurance run from high in the Sierra to Auburn.

Kathie Perry, president of the Western States Trail Foundation and 21-time Tevis finisher, said Monday that riders were given the option of pulling out after the route was changed Thursday and getting their fee refunded. On Friday, the number of riders was down to 187 from 198 and by start time, 176 were at the Gold Country Fairgrounds.

The race started and finished in Auburn for the first time. Normally the riders would start out from Robie Park in Truckee on Saturday morning in August or July. The postponed ride was to start at Truckee.

Perry said the board could have chosen to cancel the ride. But with cooperation from the state Parks Department, the U.S. Department of Forestry and the CHP, clearances were given to reroute the Tevis to start in Auburn, travel out to a point 38 miles east near Michigan Bluff and then double back on the trail to Auburn’s Gold Country Fairgrounds and the traditional finish line at McCann Stadium.

“What I’ve heard is people loved it because we put a ride on for them,” Perry said.

Rain and cooler temperatures which would have put a damper on the ride, were back by Monday.

“We got some luck and a window of good weather on our side,” Perry said.

Perry said that the shorter distance – about 89 to 91 miles instead of the usual 100.1-mile route – didn’t tarnish the luster of an event with an international reputation among riders for its tough conditions. About half of the Tevis horse-rider teams usually finish and earn buckles. This time around, the buckle percentage was up to 70 percent.

“It just adds to what we’ve accomplished,” Perry said. “To the board’s credit, we showed we could put it on, no matter what.”

Greenwood’s Potato Richardson, a 21-time Tevis finisher, was one of the riders who ended up without a finisher’s buckle. Richardson’s Arabian mare completed the route but was pulled at the McCann Stadium veterinary check. Richardson said he felt there was “plenty of horse left” and that he’ll be advocating a rules revamp for more clarity on defining horse health.

Richardson said he knows at least a couple of riders who pulled out because the Tevis ride this years wasn’t the same traditional route.

“You could say it was just two back-to-back, 50-mile rides and that it didn’t go over Cougar Rock (a landmark high point in the Sierra),” Richardson said. “But cancellation would have been financially catastrophic for the ride committee. They had a big task and they pulled it off. And finishers this year can come back next year to earn their Cougar Rock buckle.”

That group of returnees is likely to include Washington state’s Cowan, who said he’s already looking ahead to Tevis in 2012 – and climbing Cougar Rock.

“The ride itself was just magnificent,” Cowan said.

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