Riding with friends has made conditioning so much more enjoyable. I still think it is important to be able to ride out alone and it really has boosted Gem's confidence out on trail, but we both enjoy being with someone else so much better.
I needed another long ride in on Gem and have grown a little tired of the Clemson trails since we go there every single weekend. S was game to show me around her old favorite stomping ground: Sumter National Forest which is only 40 minutes or so from her place. Sunday morning I woke up at 0545 (ick) and headed out to the barn to grab Gem and then meet up at S's house. The hubby had hooked the trailer up Saturday afternoon and I opted to drive his car to the barn to leave him with the minivan in case he took W and the dogs out while I was gone. I remembered to grab my new pack and the Garmin and headed out on time.
10 minutes later I realized I had left my wallet behind (never a good thing) and turned around to go get it putting me back at the barn 10 minutes behind schedule. Thankfully Gemmie walked right up to me in the pasture (although she was none too pleased when I didn't have breakfast ready for her) which saved a bunch of time. Unfortunately, the hubby had taken the truck keys home without telling me and so I was stuck at the barn with Gem and a locked truck. Crap. It is a 40 minute round trip back home which I didn't have time for, so I did what any good wife does: called and woke up the hubby :) He arrived with a tired W and handed me the keys.
30 minutes or so later I arrived at S's. She has a nice 3 horse slant load trailer which is great for her mare, Ria, since she refuses to back off a trailer. Since my center divider swings open S asked if I would mind just plopping Ria in beside Gem and driving to the trail head. Sure!! It would save me from the annoying task of unloading Gem just to immediately reload her onto a different trailer since that turns into a 30 minute battle. This way we could avoid that on both ends. Off we went!!
On the way I found out there are 3 loops to ride on with really no other options so getting lost is pretty much impossible (HA!!) with a 10 mile, 12 mile and 16 mile option. S said she wanted to do the 10 mile and so we chose blue and tacked up and headed off.
There had been a big storm two nights prior and some areas were pretty deep slick clay, but the majority of the trail was still easily doable at a decent pace. My Garmin died 1.5 miles in (apparently you actually have to charge it from time to time for it to function, go figure!) but I wasn't too bummed about it since I knew we were doing a 10 mile ride with minimal chance of getting off track. By the end we were wishing we had that gps :)
We headed off down the trail with Ria in front. She likes to lead and Gem likes to follow so the partnership works out great. Unfortunately, the bugs were out in full force and with Ria up front she was getting the brunt of them. Gem did plow up ahead a few times to give her a break and even then the bugs stayed more on Ria. She just must be a sweeter mare than my Gemmiecakes.
Not too far in we were re routed onto a new trail S had never been on. There had been some changes in the year since she had been out on those trails with logging being done in some places and old, eroded trails given time to recover. We followed along the new trail chit chatting away and continued on the loop.
At one point about half way through the ride I decided it was prudent to check my helmet out for functionality :) There was a large branch at perfect head height spanning the trail. S ducked and continued on. I ducked too early and then S asked me a question and so I looked up thinking I was past it and instead hit it really hard at a trot smack on the head. Thank goodness I was wearing a helmet or I probably would have been knocked off Gem and knocked out. But since I always wear a helmet, I was fine and just continued on as if nothing happened.
Eventually we made it to a creek crossing that was awful. There was a small waterfall to the right, a rock ledge to the left creating a dam with a very deep pool of water behind it and these horrid man made netting sheets on the trail leading up to and away from the water. You had a small alley to go down as you went across. S decided to get off and hand walk Ria across, but I knew Gem would be ok if I stayed on. Once S reached the netting she said it was a no go. The netting was slick, hard and pointy and she was worried the horses would get hurt. There was a trail that went off to the left just before the creek and so we decided to try that out and see if it didn't lead to a better crossing.
We went. And went. And went. We started to get a little concerned when we passed the 4 mile marker again. I'm still unclear how the trails are. We had gone on and off the blue trail several times, picked up an orange trail (which she didn't know was even there) and then onto a red trail all while we were supposedly keeping on one of three separate and distinct loops with no interconnection or off shoots. This last year has seen a lot of changes up there with the addition of multiple new trails which for some reason they decided to not mark.
Anyway....we ended up back on the blue loop somehow without having crossed the creek again. And we safely arrived at the trailer again in one piece after a nice ride. Since my watch died we have no clue as to the exact distance travelled, but we went out and back the 4 mile stretch so that was 8 miles. Then we did the larger part of the blue loop which S knows is roughly 6 miles, so we are thinking we did about 14 or 15 total miles. A great conditioning ride!!
Afterward Gemmie looked awesome. Granted we walked quite a bit of it due to the poor footing and not knowing exactly where we were, but she wasn't even sweaty except under her saddle. And given the time it took us to do it, I could easily maintain that same pace and finish a 25 mile ride in the allotted 6 hours. We might be dead last but we could easily do it.
We loaded up and headed back to S's place. Half way back I realized something: Ria won't back off a trailer. When we had gotten to the trail head we unloaded Gem and then swung the divider open so she could turn around and walk off. This wouldn't be possible without unloading Gem. Crap :( So once back to S's I unloaded Gem to get Ria off. Gem of course then refused to get back on the trailer and I had to have words with her. S was laughing. Not at the annoyance of having to argue with Gem, but at the fact that Gem was just doing it to be a snot. S mentioned how once she realized I wasn't caving she just glared at me and walked on all ho hum. Stupid mare!!
Back home I unloaded her and she trotted off happily to meet her herd mates looking as if she hadn't done anything all day. That mare is fit and ready for an LD!