June 21, 2016

Crewing for the Old Dominion 100

Have you ever crewed? If not, you should. I think that every endurance rider should have to crew at some point.

Here's the deal. Crewing is hard. This is made even more so when all holds are away from camp. It is a whole lot of unloading, carrying heavy things, stressing about finding the perfect spot, setting up, waiting, becoming anxious when the rider isn't arriving on schedule, going into psycho mode of activity when they arrive, tacking back up, taking everything down, carrying it all back and reloading it and then repeating this again and again. 

There is no reward of a belt buckle, t-shirt or recognition at the end. If you are fortunate, your rider will have some sense of all the effort you put into their ride and is nice to you. If you aren't, well I'm not sure how some riders at the OD managed to keep their crew for the entire thing. I would have left them stranded. 

But even with all of that I loved crewing. I loved being a part of a team and helping Liz make her way through the ride. It helped that I was with an amazingly hardworking and fun group of people that made it almost like a big party in the mountains between periods of effort.  

OD 100 has five away holds and then the finish line. There is an additional hold for riders that is crewless. I have tried to write this story a bunch of times as a play by play, but it was extremely long and I got bored writing it. I figure if I am bored writing it, then it has to be a snoozer reading it. Instead I will give you guys the quicker version.

Team Q consisted of Liz's mom (D), her boyfriend (D+), fellow blogger and rider Saiph, Saiph's husband (C) and myself. This was the first time I met Saiph and C and I am so so so glad that she came to crew when her riding plans had to be scratched. I had a lot of fun getting to know those two and I am honored to now call them my friends.

Our job was to do everything for Q so Liz could concentrate on herself. This meant that we untacked, sponged/scraped, vetted her, fed her, electrolyted her, and tacked her back up. D and D+ were in charge of feeding and keeping Liz happy. If Liz tried to help us, we shoved her aside. She worked hard out on the trail while we had fun. Her hold time was time for her to finally relax. 

Birdhaven Vet Check 1 
This check was probably the nicest area we had all day. It was a large grassy field under the cover of trees.  While there was plenty of space, all distances would be coming through it so it was a bit tight. I was thankful we were the first group in and that we would be out before it got hectic with the shorter distances. 

The only issue was that parking was super tight and a long walk from crewing. Since it was our first hold, we hadn't made it into a groove yet and we fumbled a bit carrying everything over and setting up. 

Our holds included:
2 fully stocked, large coolers of people food
saddle dolly
2 types of hay
grain
2 large muck buckets for water
additional buckets
crew bag
electrolytes
multiple chairs
some miscellaneous stuff I am forgetting

This hold went by fairly quickly as it was only 15 miles in and the riders were going fast while it was cool and the trail relatively easy. The front runners came in only about an hour or so ahead of the main pack and it was interesting to watch them come in and manage the hold. Definitely eye opening for this mid to back of pack rider. 

Bucktail Vet Check 3 
We had issues here. Part of the problem was that we went straight from Birdhaven and drove the 40 minutes to Bucktail. Liz wouldn't be seeing us again for 5 or so hours, but we all agreed that it would be better to get settled and then wait at the hold.

The driving directions were not accurate and when we pulled in they hadn't set it up yet so we just sort of guessed that we were in the right spot based on trail ribbons, water troughs and the few others who were already there. The hold area was just a one lane paved road that went to the trail head and circled back around like a lollipop going uphill and then back down as you drove around the circle. The only areas available for crew were along the edge of the road and they set up vetting in the center of the circle. We chose a lovely flat spot with room to spread out right across the road from the water troughs and on the up hill side of the drive. We unpacked and set up everything and then got busy eating lunch.

Saiph and C headed out to get ice for the coolers and a bag to use for cooling Q if needed. As D, D+ and I were sitting there the volunteers showed up and walked over to us. They told us we had to move. We were not happy. We explained that we had everything set up and that there were no signs directing anyone, but we lost and still had to move. Adding insult to injury all they used the spot for was to park their cars. In prime crewing real estate.

Look, I understand volunteers are super important especially in a huge ride like this one. I get that without them the ride is lost. But they don't need to take up crew spots to simply park their car.

Ok...rant over...

So we moved everything across the way to the downward side of the road but still near the water troughs. As we moved they informed us that this happens every year. Ok...then put a sign there saying no parking or something.

The rest of the hold went fine and we talked, read some books, D went out on his mountain bike and then hung the hammock and took a nap.

As the riders started to come in, it was obvious that this was not an easy place to crew from. Most of the crews were stuck way at the top part of the loop and could not see the riders as they came in. In fact, I watched a lot of people spend the hold running up and down the hill to see if their rider was in sight. As the riders stopped by the water troughs, some were super nice and called for their crew and waited patiently for them to arrive as they got started untacking and sponging. Others sat on their horse and screamed angrily for their crew and then laid into them when they came huffing and puffing. It wasn't pretty and I don't care how hot and tired the rider was, it was unacceptable behavior.


Big 92 Vet Check 4 
Getting to this check was easy and we actually found a small pocket of cell reception for the first time all day. It was so nice to get to check voice mails and texts.

The volunteers were setting up the lights as we pulled in. Liz was now running about 40 minutes ahead of cut off and it would be getting dark before she came in. We parked the vehicles just off the road and were able to just drop everything out of the truck. The only thing we had to carry were the muck buckets of water.

I think we all took a nap here. I slept in the hammock lulled to sleep by the fresh breeze that had sprung up, watching the leaves above me dance. When I finally awoke, I was refreshed again and made my way back to the group.

We anxiously awaited Liz and I was relieved to get a text from her saying that she was doing fine, moving slow and gave an estimate of around 9 pm for her arrival. It was such a luxury to get to hear from her and plan accordingly.

A lot of things changed at this check and I kicked myself for the rest of the night about it. Liz came in and I handed Q off to Saiph instead of taking her myself which put me in charge of the ride card instead of me handing it off to either C or D to guard with their life. Liz changed her pants and I believe she went from her hydration pack to her saddle bags as well. Plus it was dark. This all matters at the next check.

Laurel Run Vet Check 5
It was way past dark at this point. The check was nicer than I expected it to be. This was the crewless second vet check for Liz and I was picturing a cramped little spot. In fact it was larger and nicer than the prior two except the parking was tiny and a long way off.

Liz came in saying that she never got her rider card back. My stomach twisted and my heart dropped. I had been in charge of the card. Me. My responsibility. I swore I had gotten it back from the vet, but she didn't' have it in her other pants or the hydration pack, so that was the best explanation. The prior vet check was closed down. Thankfully they gave her a new card telling us to find the old one. I was lost in my own thoughts during the entire check trying to remember what happened to the card. Did I not get it back? I swore I did.

Q trotted out with Saiph and had a head bob. Crap. Without the old card to compare to the vet just had to take Liz's word that she was perfectly fine 8 miles ago and nothing happened along the trail since. I was worried sick. He let us represent and the hold was spent looking her all over. Saiph palpated a little pain, but no heat to her front left (I believe) leg. I trotted Q out for the second time, so that Saiph's more trained eyes could watch along with Liz. She was better, only intermittent and they got the green light to continue on.

Birdhaven Vet Check 6
Back to the first stop of the day, almost 20 hours since we had last been there. Sine it was so close to camp, I asked if we could detour and let me talk to the head vet to see if they could locate her card. The head vet said not to worry. They would find it if the vet kept it. This eased my anxiety a little, but I still wanted that dang card in my hands.

We waited back at Birdhaven in the dark. We were all tired and worried.  Liz was planning on taking it super easy to see how Q was doing, but she was only running about 30 minutes ahead of the cut off so she didn't have a lot of wiggle room.

And then we got giddy and it was ridiculous and fun and amazing and wonderful and I would have rather been there sitting in the dark after being awake for 20+ hours with these people than anywhere else in the world. It was my happy place.

When the rider came in ahead of Liz she said that Liz was hand walking and mentioned something about Q that I didn't catch. My heat sank. Was she lame? Would she have to pull 6 miles away from the end??

When Liz came in she said Q was fine. She hand trotted her to see how she was going and she was fine. Liz would be trotting her out for the rest of the ride as she knew her best and could get her going. Q trotted out with improvement from the previous hold and the vet seemed not concerned at all.

The Finish Line
Finally a check without needing to unload! All we needed here was her saddle dolly and a fleece cooler for Q. The finish timer was out cold asleep and I sat down on his platform waiting with the others staring up the dark trail hoping to see the headlamp of their rider.

We chatted, laughed about the day and tried our best to stay awake. Saiph, C, D and D+ had gone to the camp site to clean up and prepare and then joined us at the finish line where we laughed, talked and worried as the minutes ticked by.

The other riders still on the trail started to come in and I would jump up and scream a loud congrats their way. They all looked relieved to be finished. The other rider that I had my eye on that day was Jesse. He was one of the two I rode with during the night and he was riding the OD Cavalry style: no crew, no stashed supplies, no help from anyone whatsoever. I was so happy to see him cross the finish line with a very good looking horse.

When Liz made it across the finish line, it was one final untacking. Saiph and I threw the cooler over Q and walked with Liz to the final vetting and then back to camp. Saiph poulticed her legs and then we all crashed.

The Next Day
I was using my van with all the seats down and an air mattress. It was pretty comfortable and had the benefit of minimal set up and take down. Rider breakfast and awards was at 10 am, but I awoke at 8:30 and couldn't get back to sleep. It was only a 3 hour night, but I felt ok enough.

At breakfast, yummy pancakes and sausage as promised by Saiph, Liz unfolded her green camp chair we had set up at every hold for her and there it was. Her rider card. Stuffed in chair. I was so relieved to know that I hadn't forgotten to get it from the vet. My guess is that it was placed in the chair when she went to shower and change and then it was dark, so nobody saw it as she headed off and we repacked everything. It was dark at the next hold when she used the same chair again and everyone was so tired that again we missed it. Thankfully, nothing bad happened due to the missing card.

And then it was all over except for the long dive back home. I was exhausted, sore and happy. Liz was a wonderful rider the entire time even after the ride card mishap and never once yelled or got snippy the entire time with any of us. I would crew for her again any time. 

6 comments:

  1. I can't say thank you enough for all you did. <3

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    1. Any time!! You were easy to crew for.

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  2. It was so great to see you again, even though I didn't get to spend the whole 24 hours with you guys. Hope to see you out there again soon <3

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    1. I always love running into you at rides. By the time I saw you again at 3 am I was pretty out of it between being tired and worried about Q and having lost that blasted card. It was nice to have you guys there at the end. I seriously don't know how Mike does it all by himself crewing for multiple horses. It is exhausting!!

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  3. I had such a BLAST crewing with you! I now think crewing for a 100 together is one of the best ways to get to know people! ;) I'm still working on my post but I am TOTALLY including the skeleton pirate porn conversation we all had at 3:00 am! ;D

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    1. I agree!!! Nothing helps better than spending 25 hours together in the middle of nowhere :) I can't wait to see you again!!!!

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