September 18, 2014

Just Another Manic Sunday

Miss Sexy herself.
Had you told me 4 1/2 years ago that someday I would plop Gem on the trailer, drive out to the park and ride for 18 miles alone, I would have laughed in your face. The mare who would alternate between stubbornly planting her feet and not moving an inch to bolting and careening out of control is now a trail machine. Oh the ride was not without issues, but honestly how could I possibly complain when I got to spend 5 hours on her back in the woods on a random Sunday?


But it is also humorous, so here is my story of the longest 2 hour trail ride.....

After all the tire inflating and changing commotion I didn't pull into the trail head until 11:30 am. It was misty, moist and more than a little creepy to be the only one there. The hubby had left the barn to go home and feed W and was planning on coming down to hike a little later. I figured on 2.5 hours to do 15 miles.

Now I don't like to brag, but when you are good at something you are good and I am the best at getting lost. I swear I could get lost going in a straight line. Knowing this I stopped at the trail map and grabbed a paper copy to take with me as well.

Whoever planned the trails at Sumter must have either been diabolically evil or had a mean sense of humor because while there are 7 different color coded trails not a single one is a loop that can be started and finished at the trail head. Why not just make single color loops and add in some short cut trails? That's how I would have done it, but nope...this person decided that every single trail would be a point to point trail to nowhere.

I studied the map and in order to get the miles in that I wanted I decided on the following harebrained plan:

- Take the blue and yellow loop out of the trail head until it dead ended 5.75 miles later
- Then head onto the purple and yellow trail which would eventually just be the purple trail for 9 miles
- Hop on the .75 mile green trail
- Turn onto the 1.25 mile grey trail
- End up of the blue trail to go back to the trailer

Ha! Like that was ever going to happen smoothly, but I had my trusty map and a good horse so off I went with my head in the low hanging clouds. Of course I promptly got lost trying to even find the blue and yellow trail head, but one mile and one un amused mare later we finally found it and were off.

The blue and yellow loop was through the dense forest and the ground was a mix of fallen leaves and pine needles covering up slick red clay. The going was slow, but I just kept in mind the saying "don't hurry, but never tarry" and kept up a pace that the trail would safely allow. It was very well marked with little bright blue and yellow signs and I was in high spirits.

Up and down and around we went along the single track through the forest. Nobody else was around and the ground muffled her hoof steps leaving the only sound audible to be the all too frequent

"Yuck! Are you serious?! Get off me! SOB!"

occurring as we crashed through spider web after spider web after spider web. Seriously, 4 miles in I had already counted 30 now homeless spiders and just gave up keeping track. The fall in SC is beautiful but it is also a time for all spiders to come out and make massive webs, so beware!

I think the only real incident on the blue/yellow trail was a bridge of doom. We rounded a corner and saw this:

Me: Go Across Gem.
Gem: Snort, back up.
Me: I said go across, Gem.
Gem: Snort, back up, spin, go home.
Me: Argh. Fine. I'll walk you across you big baby.

Now, generally I dislike letting her win and rarely get off to maneuver an object, but the previous wooden bridge (which she crossed just fine) was very slick and she slipped a good bit. A brief risk/benefit analysis showed that winning this one just wasn't worth a broken pony. So off I got and on the other side I decided to just stay there and jog a bit. About a mile later I was back on and we were nearing the end of the first trail. Without getting lost! Ha!! Take that manic trail designer man.

Purple/yellow was up next and was a large 9 mile arc. I found it easily enough and happily it began as a nice wide and more importantly not mushy or slick access road. I checked the Garmin and made a mental note that around 15 miles it should turn into green.  It was so nice to have firmer land again that I asked her to canter. Which she did. Right past a sharp left turn. Sigh.

Now let me just cut in with a side note: purple is a very crappy color to put on trees to mark trail. It is dark, blends in easily and requires very good light to see. Please, don't ever pick purple to mark trail. big deal. We easily got back on track. The ground was a lot firmer and allowed for a good trot for most of it. Gem was doing well at this point and I was still hopeful that we could finish in about 2.5 hours since she wasn't sweaty or breathing hard in the slightest.

The trees began to die out and I could tell this area had been logged in the not so distant past. Most of the ground was covered in new forest wood and very tall weeds. Birds were more plentiful and with a wider trail the spiders were no longer a problem. The next few miles flew by.

Purple trail: dry and more open

Less trees= less spiders

The purple trail even had purple mushrooms
At about 8 miles out we popped out of the logging area and onto a power line path which lead to an access road. I had thought about cantering down the path, but it was super rutted and dove back into the denser woods pretty quickly. When we popped onto the road we waved to a friendly ranger driving by.
Power lines or some sort of access path
At some point we popped out on the road again and had to walk up a large hill quite a ways. The ranger passed us on this road as well. I wonder what he was doing out there? I felt bad for Gem, so I jumped off and walked her up the hill on foot.
And then 2 miles later we hit a wall.

Big time.
From mile 8 to mile 10 the woods were denser, the spider webs appeared in even greater numbers and the trail was so overgrown that the only way I knew where to go was by spying the next purple marker and heading towards it.
Where did the trail go?
Maybe between those trees?

Please tell me we don't have to go through that!
Mile 10 saw a break down.
We were crawling down the trail at a whopping 1.5 mph, we had been out for forever and I was mentally struggling with the thought of 6 more miles of spiders, horrible trails and a horse who just didn't want to be doing this anymore.
The spider webs were coming so close together that when I dodged one I would smack into the next with the side of my face. And the spiders on this side of the trail? HUGE.
Gem had her own breakdown at about the same time. She just stopped dead in her tracks. She flung her head from side to side to side to side and refused to move. I hopped off her and went around to see her face covered in webs with a big old spider walking up her nose. I hurriedly wiped the spider away and attempted to clean up as many of the webs as I could. Apparently I wasn't the only one getting covered and she was just as frustrated and annoyed by it as I was.
I decided it was time for her to get another break, so I just walked her down the trail.  My garmin pretty predictably drops mileage on twisting trails with a lot of tree coverage. I was at just over 11 miles per the watch and figuring in some dropped miles I knew I had to be within 2-3 miles of finishing the purple trail.
We walked along with me on foot and popped back out onto an access road. Only there were no signs of where to go.
I looked straight ahead and saw this:
No trail, no marker
The road ran to my left and right and I couldn't see any markers either way. The map wasn't detailed enough to show all the roads or where to go exactly. It was more of a suggestion. I chose left and walked up a bit.

After a half mile I still wasn't seeing anything on the trees except logging markers, so we turned around and walked down past our exit point and down on the road.

After another half a mile, I still didn't see any markers. Crap.

I walked back up again and then called in the troops.

The hubby was out hiking and I called him to see where he was. He happened to be back at the trail head and walked over to look at the map. He said that any road marked on the map had a right turn associated with it, so go right.

I went back to the right, but still saw nothing.

I had two options:

1) Travel the road until it ran into something and hopefully use the map to figure out how on earth to get back to the parking lot.

2) Turn around and go back the way we came

Turning around really wasn't an option right then. The thought of going back another 12 miles for 24 total miles when I hadn't eaten anything all day and I knew Gem had to be thirsty wasn't appealing. Plus those spiders. I couldn't handle any more spiders. At least the road was void of spiders.

So I called the hubby again and told him my plan. He jumped in the van and came looking for me. It is the reason he usually hikes while I ride. It is a safety net in case Gem and I get separated, hurt or lost. It sure came in handy Sunday.

I hand walked Gem for another mile or mile and a half and then told her she needed to toughen up and get going, so I hopped back on. She was still moving out just fine and felt refreshed being on an open, easily seen and spider free trail again. In fact we put in our best times on this road 14 miles into the ride :)

Around a bend and we saw the hubby!

Sweet rescue was at hand :)

I gulped down a pepsi and asked where on earth the access road went. All I had to do was follow it until it came to a T and then turn left and then make a left onto the park entrance. I then knew exactly what road I was on. It was the same road (although farther down) that I had travelled with S the last time when I tried out her Coolback pad. Yay!

Alternatively, the purple trail was off in the woods to my right and I could have jumped back on it. Apparently I needed to go right out of the woods (which I did) and then there was a cut back into the trail on the right side that I had walked right past. The hubby drove down while I went ahead and he took a picture of it. It was all overgrown.

I debated about hitting the trail again and finishing the path I had started, but honestly the thought of all those spiders and crappy trail versus this nice wide, clean road was not very appealing. Gem and I took off down the road and put in an 8 minute mile for the last 3 miles :)

All in all we did 16 miles per the Garmin, but probably at least 18 (maybe even closer to 20) in real life knowing how much it tends to drop in areas like that. It took us 4 hours and 52 minutes. With no food or water for either of us.

The hubby drove back and waited for us at the trailer and Einstein got to meet Gem who wasn't very amused.

She looked and felt great at the end. No back soreness, no leg swelling and not really all that tired. I was soo happy with her and how brave she was through the entire day. She really was a super star and I really believe that she will be ready for her 50 in October.


  1. What a great training ride! Spiderwebs and all lol

  2. Those were way too many spider webs, but what an epic training ride! These frustrating rides make for the best stories later on. ;)

  3. Love the pic of Einstein and Gem's hoof!


    1. Just last night I threw a toy for Einstein to fetch for like the 100th time and I mentioned to Dusty that he reminds me a lot of Zephyr. He is the first dog I've had that actually fetches. Hero would just look at me and make me go bring it back to him and Bones will run after it but not pick it up.

    2. Welcome to Spaniel ownership. Weiser is nearly as ball-obsessed as Zephyr was. We were trying to not let him have one unless we were actually playing fetch, but then he started eating acorns and we needed a distraction...