It’s Called Ride and Tie

 

I run.  A lot.  But, I am not fast.  Non runners are impressed by my resolve (insanity), health (why else would anyone run on purpose?), and unstoppable (ludicrous) urge to never DNF (Did Not Finish).  Runners, though, will eventually get around to asking my pace, or my PR (Personal Record) in a specific race distance.   When they learn that my pace is a mediocre 10 minute mile and that my PR’s put me squarely in the middle of the pack, they are either pleasant at my non-achievement, or unsure how to follow up.  Pity?  Advice on how to get faster?  Offers to train me?  Now, I am dedicated to my mediocrity.  I run around 30 miles a week on a regular basis.  When marathon training, that number falls closer to 40.  Running slowly, that’s a lot of time spent pounding the pavement, or the trails.  I am proud of my achievements – I’ve finished four marathons.  Three were on trails.  One was in Death Valley.  Two were the Black Mountain Marathon – which is a trail marathon run in the winter, through snow, ice, and cold, up the mountain and then back down it, and I am preparing to run it again next month.  Yaktrax, shoe traction devices are usually required.  And I love it.  Every minute.  Ok, maybe not every minute, but I do love it.  I read somewhere recently that some sports scientists think that we don’t build a strong running base until we’ve been at it consistently for ten years.  If that is so, I didn’t start seriously running until eight years ago.  Maybe I will magically find new lungs and legs in three years and run a BQ (Boston Qualifier).  Since I am over an hour off, that would be amazing.  Finally, my hard work will pay off!  But I am not holding my breath.  No, I run because I do love it.  The feeling after a run, when I am eating a bag of chips and chugging a Coke.  The beautiful trails I have seen.  The moment when everything clicks and I am gasping towards the finish line faster than the last time.  The people I have met out running, both in races and out training – when you’re slow and definitely not winning anything (probably not even an age group award), you can make friends with others out there struggling away.

I’ve recently discovered Ride and Tie – a relay race that involves three partners, one of whom is a horse.  Yup, a horse.  Let me explain – Human #1 takes off at the start on the horse.  Human #2 follows behind on foot.  Human #1 at a time or place designated by the team (but not usually the same place or time as the other teams out on the trail) stops and ties the horse to a tree, then takes off running.  Human #2 catches up to the horse, unties, mounts, and passes Human #1.  Then the cycle repeats.  I’ve been lucky enough to find people out there willing to let me ride their horses, since I do not have one of my own, though I have loved horses since my mom first boosted me up on Queenie, the resident Shetland Pony at the barn my sister was taking riding lessons at when I was four years old and she was eight.  My sister is also the one who introduced me to Ride and Tie.  These races range in distance, but my favorites have been 25-30 miles.  I’ve chased off bears and wrangled rattlesnakes off the trail.  (My partner, trotting up behind me on our horse, “What are you playing with now?”)  The runners in these races are endurance athletes, many do back to back races two days in a row.  I love the intellectual challenge of Ride and Tie – in regular races, all I have to do is put one foot in front of the other, not fall, and make sure I eat and drink.  Sometimes, I can convince myself to run faster.  Sure, it is a mental game, but only with my own limitations.  In Ride and Tie, I have to be constantly considering not only how I feel, but how my partner and our horse feel.  Steep hill?  I should slow the horse down, and tie somewhere in the middle so my poor partner isn’t running up the whole thing.  Rocky ridgeline?  If I am out front, running, I probably won’t see my horse and partner for a while since they have to slow down.  Vet check?  Mandatory at the beginning, middle, and end of a race, the horse’s heart rate has to slow to a certain point, and he has to pass other tests as well, such as being properly hydrated.  Runners have to switch at vet checks, so strategy is involved there too.  Run the horse in too hot, and as you run out on foot, you know it’ll be a while before you see your teammates again.  The more often you tie, the faster you can typically complete the course, but that means you have to mount and dismount constantly – most teams learn to do this from both sides of the horse though a horse is traditionally mounted from the left.  Some partners are stronger runners, and some are stronger riders.  During a race, this can change rapidly since a lot can happen over 30 miles.  If your human partner is tiring, then you might have to run more.  Some teams go into races knowing that one partner will run more than the other, and plan ties and pace accordingly.  The horse has his own thoughts and opinions about where to go on the trail, and even the most steady horse will spook when he sees certain things in the woods – like a hunter dragging a fresh killed deer.  Those who aren’t familiar with riding will say we get a rest when we mount up, but that isn’t necessarily the case.  Riding muscles get sore too, and steering, holding on, and changing pace all require work.

This past season I raced 289 miles in 12 different races, ranging in distance from 10 to 30 miles.  I rode six different horses, with nine different partners, in three different states.  At the East Coast Championship race in Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, my partners, Diana, Stetson, and I finished second!  In the national individual rankings, I finished 5th in 2015.  I am very proud of that.  Every run I go on, I am thinking about Ride and Tie season, reflecting on the fun, the laughter among teams, the friendly competition, the constant joking, and the mental fortitude required to finish these crazy races.  My Ride and Tie family is broad, and contains some of the most diverse, entertaining, and tough people (and horses!) I’ve ever met.  We’ll race each other, testing ourselves and the terrain, during the day, then laugh together over a fire in the evening, good natured jokes flying over anecdotes from the race.  There is nothing like the start of a Ride and Tie.  Horses cantering off into the woods, runners huffing and puffing behind, searching the trees for your horse, wondering if you missed him (happens quite frequently, magically these 1,000 pound animals find ways to camouflage with the trees), then chatting with the competition as you tackle a particularly muddy patch of trail together, listening for hoofbeats behind you, quick exchanges with your partner, all the while managing to stay on a horse, or your own feet, on technical trails in all sorts of weather.  I’ve been moved to tears on those trails, of joy, of pain, of frustration, but mostly I am running with a smile on my face, in between forcing gels and snacks down my throat.  

I must thank Greg Bradner, Diana Burk, Rick Noer, Mary Gibbs, Sarah Krueger, Greg Cumberford, Courtney Krueger, Rick Koup, and Janice Heltibridle for partnering with me this season.  Likewise, Mary Gibbs, Lea Krueger, Carol Federighi, Brian Coss, Greg Cumberford, and Janice Heltibridle for letting me borrow and ride their horses – it is not only incredibly generous, but also brave, to allow someone else to ride your horse off into the woods.  Also, Bob Heltibridle and Lea Krueger for always being selfless crew members, especially Lea, who crewed for us with a broken leg!  Last, but definitely not least, my husband, who supports my love for this insane sport, and even though I’ve only managed to get him on a horse once, has spent countless hours waiting for me at finish lines of various races.  For more information about this sport, click here: Ride and Tie.

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Cumberland Island National Seashore

When I first heard about Cumberland Island National Seashore, it seemed like a magical place full of wild ponies, sea birds, maritime forests, and peaceful beaches.  The reality was that magical.

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island National Seashore

On our drive to St. Mary’s, Georgia we stopped for dinner at Tios in Columbia, South Carolina.  They served meat and vegetarian food, but offered vegan cheese for any order on the menu.  We took advantage of that and were very happy with the results.  Yummy tacos and burritos!  Upon arrival in St. Mary’s, a precious, quiet town on the water, before we could take the ferry to the island, we stayed the night at the Riverview Hotel, a relic of the past, replete with the requisite ghost stories and lounging cat.  All the rooms are unique, and are named after different people or things.  We stayed in the Nimitz Room, named for Admiral Nimitz, a naval officer during WWII.  We saw no ghosts, but did see the cat.

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island National Seashore

In the morning, we explored the visitors center while waiting for our ferry to Cumberland Island.  The weather was warm and sunny, wonderful conditions for a weekend on the beach.  The ferry ride itself was lovely, as we chugged across Cumberland Sound from the St. Mary’s River.  We landed at the Sea Camp Ranger Station, where we were given some rules and regulations before being given our camping permits.  We were planning to stay on the island for two nights, and were able to get both of the camping spots we wanted.  As soon as we were told we could camp at Stafford Beach our first night, we shouldered our packs and headed into the interior of the island to follow the Parallel Trail to the Pratts Trail.  Not an overly taxing hike, no hills, we hiked the three or so miles through maritime forest relatively quickly and set up camp at a large site right off the trail.  I spent the entire time looking for any of the feral ponies that roam the island.  It wasn’t until dusk that I heard, and then caught a glimpse, of two trotting by our campsite.  By then we had made our way to the ocean to touch our toes to the Atlantic waters and collect shells.  There is an abundance of shells on the island, and since they are considered a renewable resource, visitors can take home as many as they can carry.  We spent a peaceful night sleeping under the stars, lulled to sleep by the pounding waves.

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island National Seashore

The following morning, we meandered south along the beach, looking for sand dollars and picking up shells.  By the time we arrived back at Sea Camp, I had amassed a huge stuff sack full of shells!  I later decorated our dining room table with them – so we always have a reminder in our home of this truly magical place.  Anthony found two intact sand dollars.  We pretty much had the beach to ourselves, and it was a gorgeously sunny day, magical indeed!

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Back at Sea Camp, we established camp once again, in a secluded spot surrounded by trees.  Even though this is the most popular spot, and many people haul tons of stuff off the ferry to this nearby campground, it was still quiet during the night.  Once we had set up our tent, we took a walk to the ruins of Dungeness – which was a Carnegie mansion built in 1884.  It burned down in 1959, but the ruins of this magnificent house with beautiful views and solitude are still standing.  Rumored to be infested with snakes, visitors cannot actually enter the ruins, but can wander through the grounds and appreciate the lifestyle the Carnegies and their friends lived on this out of the way island.  They threw lavish parties that lasted for months, and enjoyed summers of leisure.  Only populated with the wealthy (and their slaves and servants) before it became part of the NPS system, Cumberland Island has always been a special place to its residents.  While walking around the property I spotted a small herd of feral ponies, and spent lots of time photographing them and refraining from approaching them.  Though used to people, they are wild animals.

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island National Seashore

We crossed back to the Atlantic side of the island and walked up the beach in the fading light of the day.  After enjoying our couscous over our camping stove, and playing cards, we settled down onto our camping pads for our last night on Cumberland Island (at least on this trip – I hope we can come back and explore the rest of the island sometime).  The next morning we boarded the ferry, with some sadness.  The following day meant back to work and impending winter.

On our way home, we were able to stop at one more NPS site – Fort Pulaski National Monument.  Built in the mid-1800s, Fort Pulaski was first occupied by the Confederate Army during the Civil War.  Fort Pulaski was believed to be impenetrable, but new weapons had been invented, and the Federals took advantage of this.  Fort Pulaski was attacked from Tybee Island and the Federals were able to get the Confederates to surrender within 30 hours.  The fort has been preserved and restored enough so that we were able to walk through many of the underground tunnels, as well as examine all the interior rooms.  After this stop, we headed back home to Asheville.

Assateague Island National Seashore

Ocean City

The next leg of our spring trip took us to Ocean City, Maryland.  Since it was off season, we were able to stay right on the beach very easily.  Our hotel room overlooked the ocean and the sunrise – perfect beginning to a beautiful visit.  The town was pretty quiet, lots of businesses were still shut down, waiting for the swell of summer tourists, but we still managed to have fun and enjoy the beach.  I took a morning run on the boardwalk, dodging construction workers as they pull up the old planking and replace it with new, smoother walkways.

Assateague Island National Seashore

We spent the day at Assateague Island National Seashore.  I had been there twice before, because when I was younger my sister and I were obsessed with Marguerite Henry, an author who wrote many books about horses, including several set on Assateague Island and nearby Chincoteague.  The horses are actually the descendents of domestic animals that were set free.  During the film about the wildlife on Assateague, we learned how these animals have adapted to the unique conditions on the island.  We were able to do some walking around the beach and the inland areas, as well as drive around looking for horses.  The Maryland herd, in the National Seashore, is managed by the National Park Service.  The Virginia herd, separated by a fence, is managed by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department.  They graze on the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, which we visited that afternoon.  For lunch we stopped at the Sea Star Café.  They only have a take out window, but had several vegan options.  I had a very filling hummus wrap.  It was a windy, but sunny, spring day, so we sat outside enjoying the warmth.  On the Virginia side, besides searching for horses, we also visited the Assateague Lighthouse and climbed to the top, up the winding staircase, to great views of the island and the ocean.  We also managed to stumble on a round up of the Chincoteague herd, but tired of waiting for the horses to actually show up.  Apparently they were running way behind schedule and so we decided to head back to Ocean City.

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