Tuesday, August 11, 2015
2015 Tevis Cup: Honor and Grit and Kristine Hartman
Tevis Cup rider Kristine Hartman takes the slogans "No Wimps" and "Put your big girl panties on" to new levels.
August 11 2015
by Merri Melde-Endurance.net
With a less-than-50% chance of finishing to begin with, the 100-mile Tevis Cup, one of the hardest endurance rides in the world, is tough enough to ride and complete even when everything works out right.
But breaking an arm in the middle of the ride, and going on to finish it? That takes some extra special chutzpah that most of us mortals don't have. "It's called having a high tolerance of pain, thrown in with being tough, or thinking they're tough, and also stupid, or certifiably crazy," says Kristine Hartman, a rider who did just that on August 1st.
And it was all because of Amber.
At 27-years-young, in June a paddock accident took Kristine's once-in-a-lifetime horse, FS Amber, that Kristine was fortunate to have for 20 years. "I did my first 5 Tevises on her, and she meant the world to me," Kristine says. "Twenty years, and I bet 20 million memories will continue to make me smile, laugh, cuss, cry and talk about so many Amber moments. I was blessed."
Kristine and her husband Mike had Amber cremated, and when they got Amber's ashes back on July 2nd, that's when she decided to ride Tevis again, and take Amber's ashes with her, to scatter along the trail. Kristine thought it should be a "mare thing," so she chose to ride Mike's horse Count on Tessie Flyin, in Tessie's first 100-mile ride.
And everything was fine, in the first part of the ride. The pair was moving along well, covering the first 36 miles into Robinson Flat, the first vet check, in 32nd place, and less than an hour behind the front-runners. Tessie handled everything well: the crowd of 200 starters, the rugged trails through the Granite Chief wilderness. Next came the 32 miles to the next vet check at Foresthill, through the steep and deep, hot and humid canyons.
Everything was fine then too, until 5 or 6 miles from Foresthill. That's when it happened, at the bottom of Volcano Canyon. Kristine had been off running the downhills, and as she was close to the bottom of the canyon and at a flat spot, she remounted Tessie. Tessie walked the last two little switchbacks down into the creek - "we're talking the kind of creek where you think, How the hell can anybody fall in this?" - and Tessie got her hoof wedged in the rocks, and started to panic and scramble and stumble. Kristine thought, She's going down, I better bail, because if Tessie fell on her against the rocks, Kristine was going to break a hip or a leg. Kristine says she is good at tucking and rolling, "but you can't tuck n roll when you're in a creek bed with rocks and boulders!"
She hit the creek face first, but put her left arm out to block her face. "I remember coming up and being totally wet, and having water dripping in my eyes as I was trying to jump up to see if Tessie was okay."
As Tessie scrambled back up, the mare's left shoulder and leg were covered in blood, starting a panic attack for Kristine, thinking her horse was badly injured.
"It's actually kind of funny as i think about it now," Kristine says. "I didn't realize it at first, but my left elbow was pulsing blood out, and it was shooting onto her. And being wet, and being a gray horse - just picture it - you're shaky, trying to evaluate your horse, look at your cattywampus saddle, get it situated, and check out Tessie. I kept reaching down for water and throwing it up on her shoulder to wash the blood off, and I couldn't see a cut. Then I'd reach down and look under her belly, and then the blood would be down her shoulder and leg again, and I kept thinking, Oh my God.
"Then it hit me, duh, she was okay. I was the one who was hurt. I remember talking to her - I was in a pocket with nobody in front and nobody behind me for a while - I even told her, 'Tessie, I think my arm's broken.' It hurt really bad."
Kristine tried to stick her elbow in the water to slow down the bleeding, but with the water too shallow to hold her elbow down in there, she found it simpler just to lay down in the creek, holding a patient Tessie's lead rope in her other hand. "I remember laying there for a couple minutes, thinking, 'Okay, okay, let's relax, get the breathing back.' I couldn't get the bleeding to stop, so I finally said 'Okay Tessie, we gotta get out of here!'"
Kristine's foremost concern - now that Tessie was uninjured - was not getting to Foresthill to get help. It was to keep the blood from soaking her bright yellow hydration vest. "Isn't it funny how we don't care if we get dirty, but since that vest was made to soak up water, I didn't want to get it bloody, so I was keeping my arm out like a chicken wing!"
She started feeling ill after walking up a few switchbacks, so she managed to mount Tessie from the off side. Then she left the driving to Tessie, as she fumbled with opening a roll of vet wrap with her teeth and one good arm, and winding the wrap around her elbow. "Tessie was amazing. She trotted along; she was just awesome! She was rating herself so well, climbing the switchbacks; then she would trot on the flat. And the whole time I was wrapping my arm, I just put the reins down on her neck, and she was just going like a good girl."
Eventually the two reached the top of Bath Road, the approach into the vet check at Foresthill. The final 50 yards of road is lined with crews and spectators, who cheer tired riders and horses on in, giving spirits a lift. "About all I remember is Tessie trotting along, coming into the crowds. I love the memory of the sound of the crowd. Everybody's cheering, and it's always fun. So the cheering went from 'Clap Clap Clap Yay!' to 'Oooooh!" when they saw my arm, which I was still holding up like a chicken wing."
Things got a bit fuzzy after Kristine rode up to her crew, including husband Mike, who lifted her off her horse. "Honey, I hurt my arm," she remembers saying. She kept worrying about getting Tessie through the vet check while everyone else was worrying about getting Kristine to a doctor. "I'm fine!" Kristine kept insisting, though she was going into shock.
A nurse in the crowd ran up to her with a washcloth full of ice, and Kristine was worried about returning her white washcloth covered with blood. While Kristine's crew took over vetting her horse in, Mike steered Kristine to the area where the horses were treated, and he sat her down in a chair. "Next thing I knew, I was not feeling good," she says. "I started to pass out, and they laid me down on a tarp, and then next thing I knew, the ambulance and fire truck were pulling right in there for me." Whereas most of the rest of us probably would have felt relief that help had arrived, Kristine was discomfited. "How embarrassing!"
she has her riding crop beside her, ready to get back to riding!
With everyone staring down at her, making plans to take her to the hospital, she insisted she was fine, and wanted to continue riding. Her blood pressure was low; her blood sugar was low; her hydration was low. They wanted to give her an IV, but she said no, she wanted to ride. One man, "kind of stern guy," asked if she was going to let them take her to the hospital. Kristine kept repeating the mantra, "I'm fine, I'm going to go ride, I'm going to finish this ride! How many times do I have to say it?"
It was all about Amber, you see. "I'd been spreading her ashes the whole way. I was determined to spread those ashes the whole rest of the way!"
Kristine signed a waiver refusing medical attention, other than having her arm wrapped. "Then of course I got the really bad shakes." Her crew helped her put on dry clothes, and stuffed food and liquid down her. Mike bandaged her arm further for padding, with yellow vet wrap to match her outfit. "That's important!" Kristine laughs.
She was only ten minutes late leaving Foresthill at 7:27 PM for the last 32 miles of her journey to Auburn with Tessie and, in spirit, Amber. "My arm hurt like hell, but I was on a high. It's amazing. To me, it shows you what the human body can do. Yes, I had a little shock and felt a little faint, but I got determined again, and off I went."
Through Francisco's at 85 miles at 10:57 PM, and the Lower Quarry at 94 miles at 1:07 AM, she rode, and the vets checked her elbow at each stop, as it was "puffing up pretty big" beneath the vet wrap. And along the way, she scattered Amber's ashes, all the way through the victory lap at the finish line in the stadium in Auburn, at 2:15 AM, in 25th place.
Tessie passed her finish vet check, and after the cheers and hugs subsided, and Kristine walked Tessie back to her crew, it hit her. "All of a sudden - it was hard to admit - I said 'I'm not feeling good!' and I started to pass out." She had to lay down on the bleachers by her horse, who was busy eating. "That just shows that after your adrenaline wears off, then your body is again trying to protect things it needs to protect."
It still wasn't until 9 AM the next morning that Kristine got around to visiting the hospital. It was too late for sutures for the gashes, but they did cast her radial head fracture of the elbow. She refused pain meds (as she had all during the ride), though she did accept antibiotics, since she had laid in a muddy creek trying to staunch her blood flow.
Kristine didn't - and still doesn't - really understand what all the fuss was about. "Yes, it hurt, but I have a high tolerance for pain. I didn't even question that this was going to stop me from riding, so when I came in to Foresthill, and Mike and crew and people were saying, 'Ohhhhh, you're not going to be able to go on' - hearing those words… I thought, 'What!? Sure I can!'
"I never even thought I would not go on. I absolutely had to finish to honor Amber."
The joke among Kristine and Mike and her crew is that it was really Amber who threw Kristine off into the creek one last time, down in Volcano Canyon. "That's because for the 20 years I owned Amber, I came off of her a lot," Kristine says. "So she was probably up there snickering in her spirit. I was having a great day, doing this in honor of her, and she had to be like, 'OK mom, here's one more from me!'"
Kristine is grateful for her husband Mike and her great crew, which included all her three kids, together for the first time at the same time at the same ride. And she's thankful for her horses, and the event that is the Tevis Cup.
"Boy I'm proud of Tessie. She was incredible! It was an amazing event and very spiritual spreading Amber's ashes over the entire 100 miles. And Amber's spirit was so much a part of Tessie and I."
photos by Tevis Webcaster Volunteers and Mike Hartman