Back in 1969 my mother Lona Sweet rode the Tevis on her little POA stallion S.S. War Bonnet. He was the first registered pony to complete the Tevis. There was a big to-do with Animal Regulations not wanting to let them go but the Tevis vets said that Bonnet was in good shape. Mom said that she had such a good time on the ride, Bonnet was so eager to go. They placed in the 40's somewhere abouts. Bonnet and Mom went on to complete many more rides together afterwards including NATRCs Reserve Championship in 1970. They won a place in the Hall of Fame of my heart and I've always admired Mom for what she was able to accomplish with her little pony stallion.
Later when I grew up I had the opportunity to buy one of the last Bonnet babies out of a darling little black welsh mare Varnis Born Black. I named her Meggie. Meggie was such a rascal escaping all the time that I almost gave up on her. Finally when she was eight years old I began to train her seriously with Tevis as our goal. I was (am) scared of trail riding and all the boogies out there, but was able to rise above it. We were both bitten pretty bad by the bug of the back and beyond, and pretty soon my family was eating TV dinners while Meggie and I were out eating up the miles. It wasn't just me, Meggie is crazy for the scenery and the thrill of the rides. By the time Tevis 92 came around we were ready. Meggie exploded at the start from excitement. She covered a lot of ground but it was all sideways and backwards. Terrifying actually. So we were near the end of the pack leaving Robie Park. Meggie just kept trotting with all her heart, up hill and down. We were just making the time limits into the vet checks. Fifteen minutes to the cut off at Michigan Bluff. Whew! That was a close one. The whole Tevis was a fabulous experience. I went through all the emotions, happiness, despair, fear (mostly of the dark). I did a lot of praying and little Meggie? She just kept trotting. Towards the end I was begging for anything but a trot. Have you ever ridden a pony trot? I was grateful for the river because it's too hard for Meggie to trot when she is swimming. We finished in Auburn at 4:30 in the the morning . And if that darn pony didn't run away with me as we went around the circle at the fairgrounds.
Today Meggie is the proud mother of two boys by DR Thunder Bask. They are bigger than their mother and are looking to be Tevis contenders too in the future. Meggie will live in my backyard for the rest of her life and in my heart forever. We will see you out on the trail and on the rides. Look out Tevis Here we come!
Robie Park to Squaw Valley
At 3:30 am My alarm went off in the little pup tent where I had actually slept pretty good. I t had rained most of the night so everything was soaked. It was dark so everyone around started lighting lanterns to see by. I had my clothes right there in the sleeping bag with me and put them on, shivering. I was cold from nerves. I crept out to check on Meggie and to make sure she was fed. My trusty crew member Alex was right there putting the food out. We had had a hay bag hanging from the horse trailer all night and Megs was on a picket line, so she could wander around eating.
I got a food drink for my self and a banana. God, was I nervous. I visited the out house several times. ( Just a delicate way of saying diarrhea and vomiting.) Since this is a common occurrence for me at the beginning of endurance rides I was somewhat comforted.
Time was a ticking and it was time to saddle up to ride over to the starting line (which I didn't know where it was.) Megs was all prancing but still under control. My sister Donna helped me to mount up. My crew and I said our goodbyes and good lucks. Then Donna walked us through the forest and the dark to the start. Along the way I sang my theme song for Donna, 'Climb that mountain'. It talks about fording rivers, climbing mountains, low valleys and the such. It's a religious song and I felt I might need (or meet) Jesus on this particular ride.
The starting line was a milling around mess of jumpy horses, bundled up people with hushed voices tucked up against the bushes and trees, and an occasional number called out into the uncertain darkness of the morning. Donna stood next to the other people and I stayed close by, as close as I could stay on a jittery pony. They wouldn't let me back behind the number takers where it was less crowded. At 5 a.m. the man shouted out something that I remember as "Let the ride begin!" and all the horses took off. Meggie though decided that sideways was a good direction and we covered a lot of ground without crossing the starting line. I finally bailed off before having an accident and stood there trembling with my head between my knees. Okay... I was thinking.. Yeah I'm scared and this is the scariest thing I've ever thought of doing in my life but we have trained two years for this and my crew would kill me if I chickened out. Donna came running up asking if I was okay. Other than having wet noodles for legs I was fine. So with that internal struggle over with, I mounted back up on the bouncing black pony and began the ride.
The first few miles are through the forest on fireroad and trail, and dare I say it again...dark...yep...REAL dark! I finally caught up with some people who knew the way and followed them. The other riders up ahead on the trail looked like ghosts floating through the trees with the glow sticks hanging from their saddles. Someone had built little bridges over some of the streams and we clip-clopped over them, because of the rain the night before they were real slippery. Meggie though is very sure footed and we didn't have any problem. Day was breaking and it began to be not quite so hard to see. We reached the highway and people were there to help us with traffic control. On the trail into Squaw Valley there was a log across the trail to keep out motor bikes and little ponies. Pissed Meggie off so she just jumped it. The rider behind me laughed and suggested we enter a show. (Maybe later.)
In Squaw Valley we could get horse water and say hi to my cheering team, The Bellamaks. All along the way were people saying encouraging things and then we headed up to the top of the mountain. The sun came up. I could see clouds covering Lake Tahoe. This was a heck of a climb up the mountain. That little pony kept going like the little engine that could, one foot after the other. Up on top of the mountains surrounding Squaw Valley, I could see the whole view down below, the clouds over the lake, row after row of mountains, forest forever. Meggie and I were hot on the trail of Vickie Green and her daughter Erin, but had to stop to take a breather up by the monument. There was a man taking pictures and I was a little concerned because I was too. His were the official ones, mine were little pocket camera pictures. If I never got up here again, I sure wanted to remember it.
At this point in the ride, riders usually have a choice of two trails that end up at the same place, and just have different terrain, same distance (I think).This happens at the monument at the top of the mountain. Barbie Bellamak had told me which trail to take because one had a huge dropoff that she didn't know if the pony could jump down that far. This year, 1992, they told us all to take the other route for some reason or another. After the rain storms the previous night the trail got all boggy. Meggie hates bogs and mud and generally thrashes around in it. Which she did but we lived. The trail wandered around on the side of the mountain through thick brush and pokey stick bushes, over little rivulets of water and more bogs. This one lady was sponsering two teenage girls and she kept saying encouraging things to them like "Now don't go giving trail to everybody that comes along". Personally I think she was a little panicked at this point. And sorry to say, they resisted giving trail, even when asked. Meggie just kept on their tails and trotted along as best as she could. Truth is I can't remember Meggie ever breaking out of a trot the whole ride.
Somewhere along the way we started into thick forest, big towering pines and panoramic views over cliffs. I lost the mother as she and the girls pulled out in front of us on the fireroad. So we teamed up with another girl whose horse was a little tired and traveling at Meggies speed, pony steady. At some point I got off and took pictures of Meggie enjoying the scenery. It was incredible looking out over a cliff, bluff, whatever and knowing there was no one for hundreds of miles. I had the thought how absurd it was that I was in the middle of a horse race and we were all alone way out here. Yet we all agreed that this was a race so we kept on moving as fast as we could. Some times we were on ridges and trails and sometimes on fireroads. Meggie was still moving real good and not tired. We came to the first brief stop where the people just checked the horses pulse and respiration and watched them trot. God, it was good to get off and let Meggie drink some water. This was just a short stop and soon we were back on the trail. It wasn't too hot yet. More trotting, trotting, trotting. we were speculating when we would get to Cougar rock, one of the scariest places on the ride. Each year there is a photographer on the side to get pictures of everyone going up it. More forest, more trotting and after awhile (which seemed forever) we could see some people up ahead whrough the forest and this incredible thing began to emerge from the forest. COUGAR ROCK!! A giant craggy rock that had implanted itself in the middle of the trail, as big as a house and looking like a Mac truck bearing down on us. We had no choice but to somehow climb up and over this......thing. I could see the scrape marks that denoted the trail and where untold numbers of people and horses had scaled Cougar rock before us and someone had so kindly painted on little arrows giving hints to the route to take. The girl on the big tired horse went first and Meggie sat back and planned her strategy. I could see she was plotting in her little pony brain. (Meggie probably would have been very good at chess.) When Megs was ready she went up to the rock and somehow went up the slippery vertical rock. The first step was higher than her back. I trusted her though and knew she would get us up this if it was at all possible. Only once did she stumble half way up but she regained her footing and finished the climb. I love that pony. I whooped and hollered before hitting the trail again.
We passed by elephants trunk, a good stretch of trail that is on the side of a mountain and just slick sandstone, granite, something slippery. I can't remember if there were anymore people, or water stops before we came into Robinsons Flats , the first vet check. I just know I was real glad to recognize my father-in-law and son at the side of the fireroad. They said the vet check was just up ahead and we knew that we had made it about 35 miles so far. It was close to the cut-off time but we still made it on time. So my son handed me a peeled orange and we hustled into the stop.