Once again I was hopping on a plane in order to get to a ride site. However, this time I was heading up north to Fort St John, BC wherein I was advised that the forest fires had died down and were not infringing upon the riding trails. The reason the fires had died down was because it snowing, and snowing, and… well you get the picture. I arrived to a complete white out. Luckily, I thought, I had reserved a 4×4 so I shouldn’t have any problems getting to the ride site. But when I asked the rental agent for my 4×4 I was told that all had been given away and the only vehicles left were minivans. The rental agent advised me as long as I stayed in town, I shouldn’t have any problems.
So I drove out of town after picking up the essentials at the local grocery store. It was still snowing. I drove about 60 km north while it was still snowing and came upon a handwritten sign that read “camp” with an arrow pointing to turn. I turned and it was a gravel road with a foot of snow on top. I drove about a mile and noticed about 50 tents in a field. I thought it was really unusual for ride camp to have so many tents and no horse trailers in sight so I kept driving, the snow was getting deeper and finally the van just stopped as it could not plow into the snow any further. I grabbed my phone to call the ride manager to see if someone could drive out and help clear a path so that I could drive further however, there was no cell service. I tried to back up but the van was just spinning out on the snow turning to ice and it was fishtailing closely to the ditch.
Of course, there were no shovels or even an ice scraper to help dig me out. I didn’t want to get my riding gloves wet, so I dug with my bare hands in the snow until I reached gravel behind each tire. During the digging, I remembered a conversation with my friend Elroy wherein he asked whether I wanted to join him to ride at Mount Adams in Washington. I told him “no” as I really wanted to get in more training at this 3 day endurance ride in Fort St John. I asked him why he doesn’t want to attend this ride. He told me that the weather was often unpredictable and it was such a long drive that he didn’t want to take the chance. Did I tell you that Elroy is a very smart and experienced endurance rider?
I finally got back in the van and waited until I could feel my hands again before slamming that van into reverse and pinning the gas. Luckily we popped back up on the tire tracks that got me into that situation and I backed up for a mile until I got to the sign that said “camp.” This time, going a bit slower, I noticed the important word above “camp” – “Fire.” Well, that explained all the tents and lack of horse trailers. I got back on the highway and drove another 5 miles and arrived at “ride camp”.
Most of the conversation around ride camp was how to deal with all the snow on the trails and our horses hooves getting all balled up with the icy snow. There was rain in the forecast so our hope was that the rain would wash away the snow for tomorrow’s ride.
My horse for Saturday’s 50 mile ride was a cute little black mare. I was warned by her owner that she can be a bit excitable at the start line before heading out onto the trails. I handwalked her through the snow for about 15 minutes before getting on. The melting snow was quite slippery and that was not a good mix for an excitable mare. When I mounted she proceeded to tell me she did not like my saddle, nor me, nor the prospect of waiting for our start time. Every time I turned her around she gave three little bucks in protest until finally she slipped on the snow and sat down. Fortunately she popped back up and one of the crew members for the day, checked her over and gave me the ok to start the ride.
It was tough going on the trails. The mud was knee deep in parts and it really sucked the life out of the horses. Since the riders couldn’t see what was underneath the snow in spots, most of the horses came back with little cuts from branches or bushes that couldn’t be avoided. The bridge crossings were dangerous and slippery and most were quite lucky to have not incurred further damage. Quite a few horses were pulled or rider optioned as it was too early in the season for such tough terrain.
I handwalked my little mare the last two miles to the finish to ensure she passed the vet check. She was tired but still in good spirits in order to pass her vet check with mostly A’s.
I was not as lucky during day two as my saddle didn’t fit the little round bay mare I was given to ride. Right from the beginning I could tell she was not impressed as she was really twitchy and generally unhappy. I mentioned it to my crew as I didn’t know the mare as well as they did but they told me she was usually that way. The first loop was 25 miles and it really took its toll on her. She ended up getting pulled due to saddle fit issues and all the little cuts and abrasions from the hidden dangers below the snow.
More bad luck appeared and my horse for day 3 didn’t pass the vet check. Since there were no more horses to ride, I changed my flight and came home a day early. At least coming home early gave me a chance to finish off the planning for my burger and beer fundraiser, which I might add, turned out to be a great success. I am so happy to have received such a wonderful turnout from the local community as well as friends from near and far.