Monday, July 24, 2017

The Tevis Board of Governors: A Year-Round Labor of Love

July 24 2017
Story and photo by Merri

Tevis Cup fever peaks every summer, but for many people, it's an all-year - or lifetime - obsession. Riders, crews, volunteers, and Board of Governors members all look forward to this annual weekend in July or August under the full moon when horses and riders carry out the tradition of following the 100-mile Western States Tevis trail from Lake Tahoe to Auburn, California.

The Tevis Cup Board of Governors of the Western States Trail Foundation (WSTF) works tirelessly year round to continue Wendell Robie's tradition of this ride that he started in 1955. "The Tevis Cup 100 Miles One Day Ride represents the Foundation's commitment to the ideals of a pioneering experience along historically significant trails that traverse the scenic wilderness of the Sierra Nevada Mountains from east of Squaw Valley to Auburn," the website states. "The founders of the Tevis Cup event offered their vision of a majestic riding trail penetrating the wild beauty of mountain peaks and valleys hallowed by the Washoe and Maidu tribes and later crossed by explorers, settlers and gold-seekers. These founders declared that the virtue of such a trail would lie in helping preserve the historic significance of its route and would encourage people to return to a simple life perhaps furthering their appreciation of nature, history and the outdoors through the humane use of horses. Horsemen can trade the hectic world of traffic jammed freeways and skyscrapers for a realm of natural splendor while passing through cathedral-like groves of virgin forests that shelter vast numbers of wildlife. Therein lies the essence of the Tevis Cup Ride and the historic Western States Trail."

The name Barbara White is synonymous with Tevis: familiar to many as the person who has the most number of Tevis finishes (34), and of course as the daughter of Julie Suhr (22 finishes) - often called our First Lady of Endurance. The Tevis Cup fever runs high in their family.

What you may not know is that Barbara has been on the Tevis Board of Governors for 11 years. And you may not know what that means to Barbara, and you may not understand what being on the BoG means for all the members. It is a labor of love.

"It's easy to think that all the WSTF does is put on a 100 mile ride annually. In fact, the mission statement requires a lot of effort for education, veterinary research, and historical research which keep the Board busy all year," Barbara said.

"The Western States Trail Foundation is a non-profit corporation. The structure of the Board is committees, each committee headed by a governor who chooses the rest of the committee.  Committee people can be on the Board or not. Most Board members serve on several committees. The entire Board meets four times a year and votes on things such as rule or policy changes brought forth by the committees."

The very trail itself is a monumental challenge every year, and the last decade has been most testing, with one cancellation due to fires (2008), several other years of fire scares, and, 2 years, including 2017, just the opposite problem - too much snow. 2011 was a nightmare, with a fire delaying the usual summer date, and a shocking 22" of snowfall at Squaw Valley 3 days before the new October date, which caused a last minute scramble and miraculous effort to change the trail to an out-and-back from Auburn. Likewise, a high snowfall in the Sierra over the winter left some of the regular trails impassible this summer.

Barbara explained, "The Ride Committee makes most of the decisions for the Ride itself in terms of trail, volunteers, getting the permits, planning the ride week, etc. With 100 unique miles on a point to point course, it's challenging every year.  There are many property owners, ranging from the US Government to someone who may own an acre, all of whom must give permission and be insured every year.  Mother Nature throws many curve balls, but an incredible Trail Committee, in concert with the Western States Endurance Run, maintains and prepares the trail, working year round with an army of volunteers.

"The WSTF has dealt with fire, snow, raging rivers, endangered species, disgruntled property owners, opposition user groups, and other adversity over the years.  The commitment and generosity of those for whom the trail and event mean something keep it alive."

This year has been one of the most testing in terms of finding a passable trail. "About a month ago, there were four possible routes being considered.  The decision to cross the American River at Poverty Bar was made just a few days ago and finalized the route.  Too many people to name, both on and off the Board, have been instrumental in getting it all figured out this year, but Ride Director Chuck Stalley and his wife, Pam, deserve a lot of credit for not just throwing up their hands and taking up some other hobby to be passionate about.  They epitomize endurance."

Despite the year-round work, and the sleepless days and weeks surrounding the 24 hour event itself, it's clearly an obsession for some people. Or, let's just call it what it clearly is: a healthy addiction. Barbara agrees. "It's hard to 'quit Tevis.'  Some of the most active volunteers are former governors. After the Ride, those who worked hard sleep for about a week, except for those noble souls who get busy, right after the last finishers, taking down the trail markers.  The Board meets in October, and it all starts over again."

Put simply, the Tevis Board of Governors never stops, and Tevis is really a year-round event. "I don't think anyone realizes how much the BoG does," Barbara said. "New people are surprised when they join the board, and it is understood that it may take a couple of years for them to find their places.  Although the terms are two years, most people stay on for a long time and consider it an honor.  It's an interesting cross section of very committed people. 

"The 'work' doesn't feel like work because of the widespread belief on the BoG that the WSTF and the Ride have value and should endure through time.  Doing so gets more complicated and expensive every year.  Recognizing that this year is the 62nd Ride proves, I think, the tireless devotion of the BoG over the decades."

It is work, but it is enjoyable and rewarding. "It's a fun board because there is very little ego in it - it's about getting a job done well, and drawing more and more people into the unique realm that is the Tevis. 

"There's an addictive and cultish aspect to it all that makes it hard for many to escape…"

So next time you see a member of the Tevis Board of Governors, introduce yourself, and tell them thank you. Because if you've got the Fever, you might find yourself in their shoes one day.

*top photo: Barbara White and Djubilee, vetting in for Tevis 2013

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