This weekend was spent in Buckfield, Maine at the Northeast Challenge endurance ride. We left on Friday morning with the whole family in the truck, 3 horses (Mojo, Teddy, and Duchess) on the trailer, and plenty of camping gear. After a little over 5 hours of driving, we arrived at a gorgeous base camp in a hay pasture. The sites were all marked off to show clear division of where your area was. Since we brought 3 horses, we were allowed to use 2 sites. We gave the horses a little break to eat some grass and drink water before vetting in. With just under 50 riders, there was no wait at the vet check. This was the first ride for Alex as a rider, Teddy, and Duchess, so we planned to keep it conservative during the ride.
The rider’s brief was at 5 and immediately after was a pig roast for dinner. The ride manager invites all the land owners (over 40) that allow the trails to cross their property to join the camp for dinner. The food was great and we got to meet some new friends around camp. Ride camps get quiet early the night before a ride. By 8pm the sun was setting, the temperatures were dropping, and everyone was headed to bed.
We got up at 5:00 to eat breakfast and watch the 100 mile riders head out at 6:00. The temperatures dropped into the low 40s overnight. The horses were happy to have a layer for warmth. Alex started the morning with a cup of hot water (we forgot to pack tea bags) and Vicki had a cup of coffee to warm up.
There is a note on our endurance camping packing list: “pack clothes warmer than you expect to need”. That was definitely true this time around. We started the ride at 7:00 with layers of clothes on for the first loop of 13.8 miles. The horses were peppy and ready to go. We didn’t take a break until 5 miles in when we stopped for some grass and water.
The trails through the woods were phenomenal. There was a lot of up and down through the mountains, but also plenty of areas that were flat and fast on grass paths through the trees.
We finished our first loop of 13.8 miles with a 4.8 mph average. It was a little slower than we planned, but the goal was to make sure we didn’t over stress Duchess in particular. We also knew the second loop was faster and we could make up a little time if needed.
All 3 horses cleared the vet check within minutes of arriving at base camp. We chose to go back to our trailer, remove tack, and let the horses have free time in their paddocks. The hold is only 45 minutes long, but this also allowed Alex and Vicki to eat food without holding horses. Anna and Amanda were our ride-crew for the weekend and had everything ready for us. We all had to shed layers of clothing for the second loop as the temperatures hit 70F by 10:00. Luckily, that’s about where the mercury stopped for the day making it perfect weather.
We headed out on our second loop which was 17 miles (although we thought it was only going to be 15 miles at the time). We managed to bump up our speed to an average of 5.4 mph on the second loop.
At the end of the day, we finished 30.7 miles in 6:09 (yes, 6 hours of saddle time). There was 3,768 ft of elevation over the ride. All three horses did wonderful and Alex and Vicki both had a great time (although Alex did say he wants to do more conditioning for himself in the future).
We chose to camp for a second night and watch the 50 mile riders finish (the have 12 hours to ride 50 miles, including 2 45 minute holds) and the 100 mile riders (24 hours allowed time including holds). I’ll confess, we didn’t stay up much past dark to watch 100 mile riders do vet checks and holds. This morning, there was a pancake breakfast and awards ceremony for the 100 mile riders. Three of the riders present completed the East Coast Triple Crown this year, which is the same horse/rider team completing these three tough 100-milers: the Old Dominion 100 in June, the Vermont 100 in July and the Northeast Challenge in August.
As the awards were being handed out, Vicki leaned over and whispered, “Dad, I want to ride the Triple Crown one day.”
I want to throw out a huge “Thank You” to Blaine, Sarah, and everyone else who made this a wonderful weekend for our family. The kids were talking about “next year” and who will ride what distance. Amanda is planning to toughen up and put the miles on her pony to be able to join the fun. We look forward to seeing everyone at more rides.
We will be purchasing this photo, along with others from Wanda Clowater. Support your ride photographers!