by Merri Melde-Endurance.net
August 1 2016
Part 1 is here.
There is a whole 'nother science to crewing for the aspiring top 20 or so Tevis finishers, which I discovered inadvertently, when, on Friday evening, I drove up to Sailor Flat - closest spot you can get to Robinson Flat, the first hour hold vet check at 36 miles. I thought I'd camp close by Robinson in the cool mountain air, instead of staying in hot Auburn or instead of getting up at o'dark:30 Saturday morning at Robie Park and joining the 5:30 AM 3-hour race down the mountain, to Auburn, (and Starbucks), and up to Robinson.
To my surprise, I discovered many crews already set up to camp at the bottom of the hill, loaded up and ready to get in the morning line to drive up to Robinson to drop off the crew gear. One man discussed with his crewmates, "Should we be ready to go at 5:45? 5:30?" I said, "What, 5:30 in the morning?"
"Well, yes, the line-up of cars starts before 5:30, and the first ones allowed up the hill started at 6 AM." Seriously?
They were serious. The top riders don't just have one set of crew. They have at least 2 sets - sometimes 3, I was told - crews that drive the rig to auburn saturday morning, crews whose sole goal is to get set up at Robinson flat early to get a good shady crew spot, and crews who go straight to Foresthill (the second hour hold vet check at 68 miles) to set up and get a good shady spot. I was rather blown away by this 'secret society' - which was not secret at all, just something I was completely unaware of, since I've only ridden at the back of the pack, or crewed for back-of-the-pack riders!
Everybody was indeed gone by the time I got up at 7:30 AM, and I enjoyed a leisurely camping breakfast with coffee. I caught the bus shuttle up the hill at 8:30 AM to Robinson Flat, and waited for the first riders to come in after 9 AM.
And powering down the tree-lined dirt road into Robinson Flat at 9:20 AM flew Kevin Myers' two geldings, Stoner and Far, with Jenni Smith and Rusty Toth aboard. Arriving 6 minutes later came a crowd of horses, led by 75-year-old Jesse Caswell, his gelding Appolo LH trotting along just like he knew what he was doing, since Jesse wasn't holding onto the reins. Neither appeared concerned about that.
30 riders, including the usual expected front-runners arrived within 10 minutes of Stoner and Far. Suzy Hayes and Tony Benedetti were just 10 minutes back of them.
The big, unexpected disappointment was the elimination of Jenni and Stoner with a front lameness. After his hour hold, Rusty led out of Robinson alone on Far.
Julie White and LR Bold Cody were next, followed by Jesse Caswell, Coloradoan Jacob Cukjati, the Fords, Jeremy Reynolds, Christoph Schork, the Blakeley family, the Donley family. Lindsay Graham and Monk were in 15th place, just 13 minutes back of Rusty and Far.
the Blakeley family leaving Robinson
Positions held pretty much the same coming into Last Chance at 50 miles just before noon. The top 16 riders were within 24 minutes of each other, with Julie White and Cody leading Rusty and Far by a minute. Christoph's GE Pistol Annie was pulled at Last Chance for metabolics.
Christoph and Annie leaving Robinson
And next on the trail came those formidable canyons, those hot muggy long steep climbs and descents, where, as Suzy Hayes put it, "That's where strategy comes into play. Tevis is a thinking man's game."
You can see who handled the hot canyons best by how the horses look coming into the second hour-hold vet check at Foresthill, at 68 miles. Karen and John Donley were the first to trot up the long paved road lined with spectators and crew, 14 minutes in the lead. The Fords were next, their crew waiting with buckets of ice water and sponges.
The Fury getting sponged down
Rusty and Far were next, 12 minutes later, with Rusty leading his hot horse in.
Another 5 minutes back came Lindsay and Monk, looking perkiest of all, trotting up the hill right on to the in-timer.
Julie White was 7th. Jesse Caswell was 8th, with Appolo still steering, 43 minutes back of the leaders. Jeremy was next, followed by the Blakeley family.
You won't see the Blakeleys with a well-oiled machine of crew members. In fact, you often don't see them with any crew. Parents and Junior son and daughter are completely self-sufficient and will always cool their own horses and vet them in, whether anyone is there to help them or not. Wasch said, "We have some really nice older folks who take our trailer back to Auburn, and then bring our stuff to Robinson and Foresthill. They have been doing this now for a couple of years, and it worked really well for us. But we don't need much help, we are used to taking care of our horses." Riding Tevis cavalry style - carrying everything they need on themselves or their horses' backs would probably not be much more difficult for them, and if they had to ride the 100 miles back to Robie park to fetch their trailer, they'd probably contentedly do that, too!
Suzy and Tony arrived next into Foresthill. With their steady pace, and eliminations of riders ahead of them, they'd moved up to 13th and 14th place, 1 hour and 8 minutes behind the leaders.
I enjoyed watching the well-orchestrated pit crews working on Suzy's horse Atlas, and Tony's horse Antez in a shaded crewing area. Different people kept an eye on the horses' feed, ice boots, prepping gear for the last 32 miles of trail, keeping the horses cool, and cleaning them off, while Suzy and Tony got to rest up and eat. First class horse and rider pampering!
The Donleys left Foresthill at 5:05 PM with a shrunken 9-minute lead over the Fords (The Fury and Cyclone pulsed down a few minutes faster when they arrived). It's the last third of Tevis, with 32 miles to go. The Blakeley hopes of finishing the whole family ended at Foresthill as Sanoma's gelding Karahtys Last Dance was eliminated for surface factors. Wasch had stayed back to wait for them to get a re-check with the vets, so he left for Auburn 16 minutes behind Gabriela and Barrak.
Gabriela and Barrak leaving Foresthill
After The Longest 17 Miles Of Trail Ever, riders arrive at Francisco's checkpoint at 85 miles. The Donleys, arriving at 7:36 PM, still held a 6-minute lead over the Fords, with Jeremy and Lindsay 16 minutes back. Just 47 minutes separated the top 11 riders; and with 15 more miles of rocky trail and a river crossing with darkness coming, anything could still happen. And it did - John Donley's mare My Mamselle was eliminated for metabolics, a tough ending after a long day.
John and My Mamselle leaving Robinson
Karen Donley and Royal Patron left alone with an 8-minute lead over the Fords, but they caught her over the 9 miles to Lower Quarry, the last check at 94 miles, all 3 pulsing in at the checkpoint at 9:04 PM. Jeremy and Danire arrived 4th, 28 minutes back, and 14 minutes ahead of Lindsay and Monk. Julie White and Cody were next, followed by a close group of Jesse Caswell, and Gabriela and Barrak. Coming in together in 10th, 11th, and 12th, were Tony, Suzy and Rusty.
Karen and Royal Patron left Lower Quarry in the dark, two minutes ahead of the Fords, and she was stalked every step of the way. She made her way solo to the finish line, arriving at 9:48 PM, after 16 hrs and 33 minutes on the trail, in first place, 19 minutes ahead of Lisa Ford and GE Cyclone, and Garret Ford and The Fury. "She was so full of go," Karen said at the finish. "They [the Fords] were pushing me so hard! I couldn't take it easy. Today was the day!"
The Fords congratulated her after they had all passed the final vet exam. "Congratulations. We tried, but we couldn't catch you," Garrett said, shaking Karen's hand.
The rest of the Top Ten finishers trickled in over the next 2 hours. Jeremy and Danire finished 4th, Lindsay and Monk 5th, Jesse Caswell 6th.
Who is this Jesse Caswell from Redding, California? He was a West region fan favorite, for sure. "All in a day's work," he said after crossing the finish line, though he was likely more thrilled than he let on.
Since officially starting endurance riding in 2009, he's done just 49 rides (completing 33 of them), but has been dreaming of finishing the Tevis "all his life." He'd previously only attempted a 100 mile twice, once in 2011 and the Tevis Cup in 2012, both resulting in pulls. But he expected he had a Tevis horse in Appolo LH, a 10-year-old gelding, whom he bought as a yearling because he liked the "Tevis sire," Sanskrit. "I didn't put a saddle on him until he was 5, and I didn't race him until he was 8," Jesse said at the finish. "I've been dreaming of this for 50 years," he said of his Top Ten finish. "Now I've gotta go find a new goal." Jesse gave credit to Easycare for help with horse feet and boots, and to his enthusiastic, dedicated crew. "I couldn't have done it without them!"
Gabriela and Barrak Blakeley finished 7th and 8th.
But wait! After soundly covering 100 miles of challenging trail, and after walking in the last mile or so from the finish line at the Auburn staging area to the Auburn stadium, where the mother and son remounted and took their victory lap, as Barrak's horse MCM Last Dance - the 2014 Haggin Cup winner when finishing in 7th place - entered the vetting lanes for their final vet exam, "Emmers" trotted out lame! He had cramped up behind. "We'd been worried about a bruise in his front foot before the ride, but he was perfect all day - and now this!" Gabriela said.
It was a great disappointment, but Barrak took it so well, smiling and shrugging and gently stroking his horse - the perfect young example of sportsmanship. Garrett and Lisa Ford came up to congratulate him and commiserate. "I've been pulled at the finish," Lisa told him.
"You did great," Garrett assured him. "You've finished Tevis 3 times, you've been pulled late in the ride, you've been pulled at the finish, and you have a Haggin Cup. That's not bad!" Garrett and Lisa took over sponsoring Barrak in last year's Tevis when his mom was pulled in the last half of the ride. Lisa and Cyclone, who finished 3rd, escorted Barrak and MCM Last Dance to a 4th place finish.
Barrak's pull moved Julie White and LR Bold Cody into 8th, Tony Benedetti and FV Abu Antezeyn to 9th, and Suzy Hayes and Greenbriar Al Jabal to 10th. Rusty Toth and Auli Farwa finished 11th.
Many a tear was shed as Rusty and Far arrived at the stadium, with the IR4KM inked on Far's butt. Rusty called it "undoubtably the hardest ride I've ever done."
It was Far's 7th Tevis finish in a row, his 68th completion in 68 starts. It was Rusty's Tevis 5th finish, a happy, sad, emotional ride on Kevin Myers' beloved horse.
The night crept on toward dawn as the clock ticked down to the 5:15 finish deadline. 87 out of 165 starters completed the ride, a 52.7% finish rate.
Crystal Turnage and Dream Makker crossed the finish line at 4:53 AM in 73rd place. "We did it. No words, only happy tears. My heart overflows," she said afterwards. "I honestly did NOT think we were going to finish - I didn't. I just figured we'd get as far as we could and help to mentor Pam Anderson along the way. [Pam rode her gelding Shezada Saheem in their first Tevis.]
"We had to trot twice for the vet at Robinson Flat; the vet saw something but it was inconsistent. He couldn't even pick a leg, just 'hind end,' and we were cleared to go. At Foresthill we had to trot THREE times, and then they held our card and we had to come back for a recheck before leaving. Again hind end; Digs was just getting stiff standing around getting cooled and pulsed down. He felt great once moving out on the trail. Talk about nerve-wracking!
"Leaving Foresthill I put his rump rug on to throw down coming into every check and would walk him around and massage him before vetting. It worked!" Kevin Myers - who gave 4-year-old Digs to Crysta in 2010 - would be so proud of their accomplishment.
At 3:44 AM, the gaited horse with the now-most finishes at Tevis ever, John Henry, crossed the finish line, for his 5th Tevis completion, earning Lisa Schneider her 6th buckle. Team John Henry was thrilled. Is it any coincidence he shares his name with of one of the toughest most successful Thoroughbred racehorses ever?
Lisa and John Henry leaving Robinson
4:58 AM: Kyoko Fukumori and Rushcreek Shawna cross the finish line, the first Tevis completion for both of them. Kyoko finished with Shawn Bowling on Rushcreek Spur and Frank Smith on Rushcreek Swoosh. Lisa Bowling, Shawn's wife and crew, said afterwards, "They all finished the Tevis Cup with smiles on their faces after 24 hours of grueling heat and trail! Horses looked great all day!"
A few other notables on this year's Tevis: Barbara White's attempt to earn her 34th Tevis buckle aboard the 15-year-old mare Djubilee (they'd finished Tevis together in 2014 and 2015), ended early with the mare's elimination for "surface factors" - in this case back issues - at Robinson Flat.
Pat Chappell completed her 21st Tevis aboard the 12-year-old mare Dusty Starshine Zarif.
Pat and Dusty, left, leaving Robinson with Janet Walker and Echcentric DPA
Heather Reynolds and Elaine Lemieux finished Tevis in 61st and 62nd place at 4:41 AM after a rather adrenalizing event on the trail climbing the cliff trail into Michigan Bluff near 62 miles. Elaine's mare "Benz" took a mis-step off the trail. "I looked down and it was crazy STEEP and about 1000 feet down," Heather wrote in her blog. "I yelled to Elaine to jump off. She quickly bailed off as the mare went off the edge that was on our left…" You know the ending of the story - a silver buckle for them - but you can read the rest of Heather's hair-raising account here!
World adventurer and endurance rider Devan Horn - second in the 2013 1000-km Mongol Derby,"the longest and toughest horse race in the world" was attempting to earn her 3rd tevis buckle, riding Willemina DeBoer's 10-year-old gelding, Frisia Maas Armando. They crossed the finish line at 2:18 AM, but were pulled at the finish line. It's always a big blow to get disqualified at the finish line - that very thing happened in the Mongol Derby when Devan finished first, but her horse failed to pulse down (it was later determined the horse had a cold). But Devan took it in stride. "I had a great time. I love this ride."
Willemina, left, and Devan, right, leaving Robinson
And it wasn't till several days after the Tevis that I discovered I'd been talking to yet another Mongol Derby competitor, and winner from 2014, Sam Jones from Australia. We were sitting on the fairgrounds bathroom floor waiting in line for the shower Sunday morning, and talking about her first Tevis ride.
"I'd been posting around looking for a Tevis horse and wasn't having much luck. I went ahead and booked my ticket anyway, then Jesse Jarret provided his wonderful stallion Itinerent Majestic." Jesse accompanied her on the ride aboard his gelding Smoke Deuce. Stevie Murray was "Tevis Crew Extraordinaire," for them. "We simply could not have done it without her."
Jesse was in fact the 87th and last finisher at 5:01 AM (Sam clocked in 81st, at 4:58 AM). "The whole ride was stressful," Sam said, "due to some decisions we made early in the ride. We were always up against the cutoff times. And later in the day my little stallion would start to stiffen up at the vet checks. I was worried since the Quarry [at 94 miles], and I was worried about him when we got to the finish line. But he got himself together, and that amazing little stallion trotted right out for a completion."
Jesse hauled 3 horses across the country from North Carolina. Sam said later, "It was a major achievement to get a team of horses across the US to the ride, and to have two out of three horses finish at Tevis is testament to Jesse's training and dedication."
That's what Tevis is for all the participants, from riders to crews to ride management to the hundreds of volunteers helping to hold the epic event - it's all dedication, it's great leaps of faith; it's hopes and dreams of good luck.
And it's the sharing of good memories and happy times with those friends and horses that we forever hold tight and dear in our hearts.
Kevin, 2011 in Colorado on Far
top photo: the Blakeley family riding into Robinson
More from the Tevis Cup here: www.endurance.net/international/USA/2016Tevis