Tuesday 27 April 2010

The Snake River (earning a Murphy Burger)

This last trip to Spain I was struck by how much natural beauty there is, all over the world. Sometime I think we're so special here in the USA and the 'New World' - to have the most beautiful land, our mountains and deserts and canyons and rivers, etc etc. But some of the mountain passes we saw in southern Spain were as beautiful, or more so, than anything I've seen here in the USA - comparable to Yosemite.

Yes, we are lucky to have areas of such natural beauty (maybe luckiest) but it's because of our huge national park system and and public lands, and because we are just barely coming out of the pioneer stage that it seems unique. There's still so much unsettled land out there, we don't have centuries of civilization leaving grasslands where there were once trees, and forests planted in rows where there was once natural forest, leaving marks everywhere (which is beautiful in a different way). Our 'old' history is the native american, the aztecs and incas, and they didn't leave much of a mark! just a few crumbling remnants (e.g. Machu Picdhu :) and pueblos ... and scattered piles of obsidian flints, and drawings on cave walls, and doodles on boulders.

There's a stretch of trail along the Snake River which I love. The Snake River is a major river in the northwest USA, fed into by various mountain sources, and eventually emptying into the Columbia River, and into the Pacific Ocean. The Snake's origin is in Wyoming in the Yellowstone Park region, flowing into and out of Jackson lake. It gathers in volume as it flows westward across the southern Idaho plains. This river has carved immense canyons in it's downhill journey, primarily due to episodic flooding of glacial formed lakes (Lake Bonneville, Lake Idaho) during the ice ages.

For as long as 11,000 years ago Native American people lived along the Snake River. There is a very special section of the river which is littered with huge rounded boulders, sometimes called 'Murphy Melons' by the locals.
These boulders, often as big as houses, were formed as huge chunks of basalt broke away from the walls of the river canyon as it was growing deeper and experiencing massive flooding episodes. These chunks of basalt were rolled down the river, farther with each flood, becoming rounder as the edges were broken off, and finally coming to rest along the river bank as the ice age retreated. The boulders formed a patina - from the tumbling and the weathering, and were the perfect palette for the drawings of the people that lived along the river so long ago.

I've taken several rides along this trail - 'The Petroglyphs' - having been shown the area by locals soon after we moved here. It is very special, and still available to anybody that can walk, bike or ride down to it. Years ago Carol and I hiked another section of the Snake River Canyon - downstream from the Petroglyphs trail, and upstream from Guffy Bridge - an old railroad bridge that was built across the river to transport gold and silver ore from the mines at Silver City to Boise, where it would be processed and sold. The old rail bridge was converted to a public 'foot' bridge by the Idaho Historical Society, and now connects Celebration Park on the north side of the river, to Owyhee County on the south - with a quietly used and maintained trail system.

We were scouting for 'really big loop' ride possibilities - what if we could ride up one side of the river, and down the other? The options were to cross at Swan Falls dam (too narrow and scary, that wouldn't work) or at Guffy Bridge - a great crossing. But, there were these unpassable boulders, those huge chunks of basalt that tumbled down from the canyon walls. As we hiked the connection between Guffy Bridge and the Petroglyphs trail we thought - nope, not for horses. (unless our friend Charlie wants to come over with some dynamite).

But - leave it to Tom Noll and Frank (the horse) and Whiskey (the adopted Owyhee mustang - who went home with Tom after a ride in the Owyhees as an orphaned colt in the back seat of his van) (or so the story goes...) - leave it to them to try that unride-able trail and deem it ride-able. The Whiskey Traverse. Or so they say....

So, not wanting to subject my riders to a trail that would cause undo fear or harm, we set out to test it ourselves. Merri/Jose and Carol/Sooz and me/Batman (new superhero horse) - hauled over to the river and rode up that unride-able trail, and then back down that unride-able trail, and sure enough - it can be done. Let the horse pick it's way through the boulders, they make it seem so easy, stay out of their way and just stay balance. no problem!

So now we CAN ride down one side of the river, and back up the other. Of course there's still the issue of being a long long way from base camp - and until I come up with a point-to-point ride we're still bound by home range distance - so it will be an 'up the river, and over the bridge to the other side' ride. It's a start!

And of course after our long and dangerous ride we had to stop in Murphy on the way home, for a famous Murphy Burger. Another mission accomplished!

more photos from our ride at http://www.endurance.net/International/USA/2010Fandango/gallery/WhiskeyTraverse/index.htm


p.s. Fernando, are you reading this? if so, Hola to you and Paco and the whole Maximoto team from Steph and Maxi!

Sunday 25 April 2010

On A Mission

It seems like I'm always on some mission or other - driven by goals, by time lines, by events. I suspect my life is one big string of missions, and if I find myself with down time, nothing driving me, no mission I'll go and make one up.

But yesterday I had a real mission, simple and well defined: find a piece of trail across Browns Creek (actually a point where two drainages come together and empty into the real Browns Creek which comes down off the mountians. I needed to find another way to get up to Toy Mountain, and the section of beautiful trail and granitic boulders above Alder Creek. The road we usually use is so nasty rocky, and this alternate would be much nicer.

So - out comes Google Earth - I can see where I want to start, and where I want to end, but really don't know if there's a good passable trail through there. We rode through there years ago (John and Carol and I) and found a very cool corral made of rocks, and found our way through and out - but it was too long ago to remember if it would make a good trail for an Endurance ride. so - a mission!

Merri and I loaded Jose and Jaziret (Rhet) in our small trailer, printed out a picture off Google Earth of the terrain in case we needed a reference, and headed south. Perfect day, full spring here in the Owyhee front, fresh smelling desert from a recent rain, sun, ahh... And the cattle have just been turned out on the upper pastures, lots of mama's and baby's, looking pretty happy with all the grass.

It actually turned out to be ridiculously easy to find a way through. We fiddled around going out, looking for options, climbing up over the bluff and looking down into the creek, then meandered along another drainage. We were on a nice open hill where we could see down into the drainage, and also see the mountains to the north and west and south, Merri said - hmm... lots of obsidian. Lots of shavings! and when we started looking closer we found bits and pieces of arrow heads. It must have been a preferred location for obsidian knapping. Very cool.

We rode on down the hillside, to the flat where the two drainages came together. Merri noticed a big nest, and two red tailed hawks flush out of the tree as we approached. They both settled on the point of a big rock above and watched us.

And right below them was the old rock corral! bingo! somebody went to an amazing amount of effort - and time - to build this corral. It must have been a labor of love, because there are certainly easier ways to make a corral for your horses - or cows, or whatever. But it was very cool.

We then found a trail, and followed it wondering where it would go. It did exactly the right thing and a mile later we were at the road that I wanted to find. We picked out the granite bluff hills which would be part of the trail, surveyed all around getting oriented so that we could find it again from the other direction. An easy ride back following the trail, and then we cut up through the creek instead of on the bluffs above. Another trail (thank you mama cows) and a little bit of brush and creek crossing, and right back where we started. Perfect. A new little section of trail through a very pretty little drainage. Fandango day 1, it's all set now.

And tomorrow we have another mission: test a section of 'dicey' trail along the Snake River - that connects our often used trail along the petroglyphs to another section of river trail that leads to Guffy Bridge - an old rail bridge that is no longer in use, but goes up and over the river and drops back down onto the north side of the river. Carol and I hiked this section of trail years ago, and at the time we both thought it would never work for horses. There are some big boulders that are too close together for easy passage. but... Tom Noll said he's ridden it several times, you just have to get off and let the horses figure out how to get through. well ok, we'll give it a try. It would be a fantastic trail all the way down the river to the bridge. we'll see!

And in between these nice little mission packages, I'm unpacking, unwinding, marking trail for Regina's ride next weekend, getting things in order for the Fandango ride next month. Catching up on work after the incredible Andalusia trip (after which I got really sick with bronchitis or some horrible thing - after a day of hypothermia in the Sierra Nevada mountains (Spain) and a night of serious partying and dancing till the wee hours (Spain) - aahh... but it was worth it!)

Its so very good to be back home. Funky little place on Picket Creek, southern Idaho, the Owyhee country and it's very un-Scottsdale-like in appearance and attitude. (no Hummers and Mercedes here, just lots of beat up Chevys and cows). But it's all great, we're so lucky to be able to see the world beyond our home circle.

so tomorrow, the River!


more photos - http://www.endurance.net/international/USA/2010Fandango/gallery/brownscreek/

Wednesday 21 April 2010

Adios Andalusia

Raid Kaliber Andalusia - http://www.endurance.net/international/Spain/2010AlAndalus/

I just spent the day going through results and photos and summarizing each day, creating a few more galleries... closing up. I also put up a little gallery of the people 'behind the scenes' : for every horse and rider there are a dozen people working for and around them. Setting things up, taking them down. Arranging meals, transport, paperwork, trail marking, trail un-marking, trail finding, camp finding. New trail, old trail. New towns, new city councils to smooze. New vehicles, repairing old vehicles. Phones, computers, printers, cameras, etc etc. All so we can have fun and ride!

A totally amazing event... it's going to take a while to come down from this one. So intense and consuming for so long. The people become family, helping each other out. Laughing together, sharing the highs and lows, sharing the trail. Drinking and dancing together. The horses learn to put up with everything and anything and eat when they can, and drink when they can, and rest when they can.

And I feel that I've been touched by the history - the enormity of the passage of time and the changing culture and landscape. The Romans defeated the Carthaginians and conquered Andalusia. The Vandals moved briefly through the region during the 5th century AD before settling in North Africa. The Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula (including Andalusia) in 711–718 marked the collapse of Visigothic rule and the establishment of the Islamic Empire era. Then came the Christian conquest: C√≥rdoba was conquered in 1236 and Seville in 1248. The fall of Granada in 1492 put an end to Muslim rule in the Iberian peninsula. ...that's a lot of different people and cultures, each having their own effect on the culture, the architecture, the food, the agriculture. Every city we went through had crumbling or well maintained remnants of a people that lived here a very very long time ago. On our day off in Grenada I had a chance to visit La Alhambra - a palace and fortress complex constructed during the early 14th century by the Moorish rulers of the Emirate of Granada in Al-Andalus. Spectacular!! and so old...

Thanks to Soto and his team - keep it up! (I'm already looking forward to next year)


Home Again (I'll follow the rain)

John met me at the airport at midnight after a long long long long 24 hours of airports and lines and flying and landing and more airports and more lines and more flying. I was really lucky to get a flight out when I did, my scheduled flight was one of the first authorized to leave Barcelona in a few days. (Iceland's volcano!) So I had it pretty good, but it was very chaotic in all the airports. Many tired passengers, all the flights were bursting at the seam, security lines and check in lines were impossibly slow.

But - I discovered the game of Su-Doko - the numbers game - and it kept me occupied most of the flight home! (Seville-Barcelona-Newark-Denver-Boise) . I'd seen people playing it for years during flights and sort of scoffed. But it is really addicting!! The little Su-Doko game book I bought was from the airport in Barcelona, in Spanish, and I've been working my way through it, figuring out how to play it more efficiently with each game. The fellow next to me on the flight from Barcelona to Newark dove into his pile of Su-Doko games as soon as the plane took off and I (very surreptitiously) watched how he played, picking up a few tips. It's a great way to pass the time on a plane!

So now I'm home at last, and it is very very green and raining! I guess I'm the El Nino girl this year - following the extreme weather patterns around the world... Arizona and Andalucia have both had record winter and spring rains. And our little corner of Idaho desert is wetter and greener than I've ever seen it. But wow, I had the chance to experience TWO spring's - watching the Sonoran desert burst into incredible bloom, and also Andalucia - wildflowers galore. I haven't seen Oreana in the daylight yet (couldn't sleep more than a few hours last night - I think I've forgotten how to sleep a regular night's sleep - and I was dreaming in Spanish!). But I could see a lot of tall grass and flowers along the road and driveway - so now I'll get one more Springtime!

Now, with a cup of coffee, I'm sitting at the desk with Sam the Siam cat, enjoying the plants and blossoms from last years garden on the table near the desk (I bring them in before it freezes and Merri kept them faithfully watered all winter). Ready to summarize the Raid Kaliber Andalucia extravaganza. It is really an amazing event but on by extraordinary people. They know how to make things happen - are masters and improvization when things go astray - always always laughing and smiling and causing others to do the same. Spanish time... and my god these people know how to have fun.

The last night in Cazorla we had awards at the Juntamiento (city hall) with much fanfare, capped by Jose Manuel Soto singing the anthem of Andalucia. Then a big dinner, then dancing the night away! Dancing and singing (Soto would grab the microphone every once in a while and sing along with the DJ's picks). When he wasn't singing he was dancing with everybody else. Lots of free-form dance technique (YMCA, Gloria, I Will Survive...), lots of Spanish-Andalucian music which transformed some of the riders and staff into expressive Flamenco dancers - some of them were really good! It was so much fun, I finally dragged myself off to bed at 3:30am.

The birds are chirping noisily outside, the sky is lightening, Sam is purring with her head on my wrist. Good to be home!


Monday 19 April 2010

Andalucia - this is Endurance!

This is what Endurance riding is meant to be. I have so had it with FEI and flat races and loop courses... for me that is not Endurance, that's a long version of a track race. Everybody that loves this sport should take a look at what Soto and his team have done. Five hundred kilometers of trail in eight days of riding. From Sevilla the heart of Andalucia, to the Atlantic Ocean where the Rio Guadalquiver finds its destination - where the city of Sanlucar de Barrameda was built to guard this important port. Through farmlands with olive trees, cottonwood forests, herds of sheep and goats that roam the rocky hills which are too steep for anything else ... to Grenada where the Moors built one of their last cities of retreat as they fled this land - to Cazorla - to the source, the nacimiento of the Guadalquivir - a tiny pool of water that gathers strength as it falls out of the mountains, the river that is the life blood of Andalucia.

This is Endurance - this is magnificent. The course is not easy. There are sandy stretches along the Atlantic coast, trails through marshland, through Donana National Park - the most important National Park in Europe both in size and in diversity of flora and fauna. Through farmland and villages, over mountain passes with steep rocky trails and long climbs. Long days, and easy days - and combined over eight days together it is true challenge for horse and rider.

And it is also a ride through history - centuries of civilization still stand as forts and castles and Roman era bridges, Arab palaces, Castilian cathedrals, stone and mud walls and houses crumbling with age or maintained through the generations. People of mixed ancestry, people that enjoy life like none other. Spanish time... different from the rest of the world. The laughter and chatter and good food, wine. I'm sure what we're experiencing through this even is a little beyond the 'real world' - but that is part of what makes it such an amazing and consuming experience. Day after day the focus is the motion - horses crossing the land, support rigs making it possible, organizers making it happen. From late nights of meetings and dining and taking care of the horse - to early morning starts at some new unlikely location. The same horses, the same people, different land.

Jose Manuel Soto and his team have created a true Endurance Ride.

I'll write more later - soon we're packing up to drive back to Seville. I fly home tomorrow (assuming the airports are open). It's going to be difficult to transition back to the real world!


Saturday 17 April 2010

It's gonna be a race!

With one day left to go, there are four teams (Equipos) vying for first place. With a seven day overall time of 26:54:50 the #3 team of Paulette Maldera (riding Louna Rivoiron) and Daniel Maldera (riding Otello de Rivoiron) are in first place.

photos: #3 Paulette and Louna and #3 Daniel and Otello

Three minutes behind at 26:50:10 are the #2 team of Pierre Chambost riding Mourad del Sol and Jean Pierre Lerisset on Massar.

photos: Pierre Champost on Masser and Mourad and Jean Pierre Lerriset on Mourad

With a time of 27:02:27, #8 team Veronique Gaillard (riding Loukom) and Yvan Gaillard (riding Nasir de la Loze)are 7 minutes behind the leaders.

photos: Veronique Gaillard on Loukom and Yvan Gaillard on Nasir

The next closest team is Jose Antonion Aguilar Viana riding Rayito and Baney with an overall time of 27:44:10.

photo: Jose Viana riding Baney

The Equipos division is two horses, and either one or two riders.

The Binomios division (one horse and one rider) has a clear leader after the seventh day, the pair of Eduardo Sanchez and Hidalgo Hermes with an overall time of 31:26:16.

photo: Eduardo and Hidalgo

The next closest Binomios competitors are Germany's Heike Blumel on Lens Armstrong and Swiss rider Elsbeth Brunner on Capoe.

photos: Heike and Lens and Elseth on Capoe

But with a lead of 2:49 over these two, Eduardo and Hidalgo will be hard to beat!

Complete standings after day 7 - dowload pdf

Photo galleries and results from all seven days

From Grenada to the mountains (brrrr....)

I'm finally warm and dry. Still listening to the rain fall outside. There was a news flash on the TV this afternoon about the heavy rains and flooding.

The morning was beautiful - though there was some creative navigation going on as people tried to find the place to start from today - and the start was a bit late. But spectacular!! The snow covered Sierra Nevada mountains were magnificent, windmills dotting the valley. The sun was breaking through the clouds as the riders headed up into the hills - and in and outof the fog. The trail was entirely through a national park - high mountain pass of 9000 ft, still snow in places.

On the way down it started to hail - and then really hail - and then rain/hail and then rain. I was riding with the camera crew in one of the Rhinos, which is entirely open, and it got mucho mucho frio!!! The hail was stinging the eyes making it hard to see. Antonio was driving with his face covered as much as possible. We got totally drenched, there were little snow drifts on our clothes, and the water pooled into the seats soaking our pants. Antonio's hands were clenched on the steering wheel and I could see the water streaming from his gloves. Every once in a while I could hear a grunt from the camera guys who were standing in the back of the Rhino - well actually they were hunkering down as best they could. Nothing like being in the driving rain and hail while going down the road at 30mph with no cover! I was scrunched down as best I could, but there's not a whole lot of option there...

But - the horses did fantastic today! They all had a day of rest yesterday, and the looked really good, and fresh, this morning. Riders were happy. Cool wet weather isn't quite so bad for riding, and I think it was actually perfect for the horses as they could move along quite quickly. The riders didn't seem too miserable. The vets and timers and all were looking pretty wet and cold though.

The 'press core' (me, Susanna, Michael and Paula) rode back down the mountain with Xavier - in the car! Very wet, very cold, but this crazy guy is always making me laugh. He even put on some great latino music for us to listen to. We stayed with a few of the front runners, but then it started raining again, so hard that it was impossible to take the cameras out. We followed an amazing old narrow road down to the finish, and just before we got there Paula spotted a cafe -'stop!' - and in we go for a cup of coffee while Xavier went on to the finish. The coffee so good, and so warm to hold in the hands that we each had two :)

So now we're outside the town of Guadix - the hotel is delightful, very charming and friendly and homey. And FAST WiFi! Meeting is at 8:30 - we'll get the scoop on tomorrow's ride which will finish in Cazorla - the finish for the entire event - in Cazorla. I can't believe how fast the time has gone. Meanwhile volcano's are erupting, Poland has lost it's government in a plane crash, Europe is stuck with no air travel. (I'm sort of hoping the ash drifts down south so I get stuck in Seville long enough for the annual Festival de Sevilla - a week of singing, dancing, horses.. I wouldn't mind catching a day or two of that!

That's it for now. (shiver...)


Friday 16 April 2010

Leaving Grenada

no time to gather photos - just an update:

tomorrow morning we start the 7th day. into the mountains we'll go - there is snow at 9000 ft so we've been told to dress warm.

Today was 'descanso' - a day of rest in Grenada. Several of us spent the afternoon being tourists - we visited La Alhambra - one of the most amazing places I've seen. From the time of the Moors - the year 1238 (that's REALLY OLD) - incredible. I'll post photos, and a little more on the history of this city on the hill, later - mas tarde.

What an incredible thing this event is.

Two more days of race. There's less than 5 minutes difference between the first and second place 'binomios' - single rider, single horse. The 'equipos' - two horses, one or two riders - have a little more time spread, but with two days left anything is possible. I spent quite a bit of time tonight talking with one of the riders - a Basque, from northern Spain. He's riding a mare that he's had for several years. He and this mare rode across Spain, from shore to shore and through the Pyrenees mountains, three years ago. They took three months to cross the country. He's riding the same mare in this ride. His first 'race' - many miles together, but never to compete.

so... a few hours sleep tonight, then up early, and off again.

buenas noches :)


Wednesday 14 April 2010

Tuesday the Thirteenth

Ok - there's no way I'm going to be able to keep up! I'm going to have to wait until this is over for the real story. I'm not sure who is still in the race, and how the times and results are going - there is so much to tell, but it's going to have to come later. I'll keep posting bits here and there for now.

Here's the total of what I had time to write yesterday (which btw was Tuesday the Thirteenth - an ominous bad luck day in Spain. (really, it's a Tuesday not a Friday here)):
This had been quite the day... it seems that everything that could go wrong did. This morning the riders had to trailer 90km from Sanlucar de Barrameda to the starting point for the ride to Ronda. People got lost trying to find the starting pont, so the start was delayed quite a bit.

flat tires (people got lost)
three cars broke down
people got lost
very long difficult trail
Tuesday the Thirteenth...

As I write this we're still at the stables and it's after 9pm, they're still trying to sort out rigs and trailers (all the ATV's and Rhinos need to be transported) and the trailers belonging to the broken down trucks need to be hooked to something. The ride briefing and another sponsor reception is at 10pm (it was supposed to be 8pm but everything has been delayed. Tired riders and horses - it was a VERY challenging course today - mountains, hard roads, steep trails.

But - it was absolutely spectacular country - amazing scenery. I have a zillion photos to sort through. It never really rained, but the clouds followed us all day - nice and cool for the horses, otherwise it could have been an even longer day for the riders.

Now as I write, it's the following evening.. but I'll have to add to yesterday's summary, that the evening's reception, ride meeting and awards were held at the museum in Ronda - the Mondragon's Palace, known also as Palace of the Marquis of Villasierra - built in the 13th century, when Andalucia was still governed by the Moors (N. Africa & Arabian). The munincipality of Ronda opened the museum to Soto's group - for the pre ride briefing wine sampling, then upstairs for the ride briefing, the premios (awards) and finally the real reception back downwtairs in the main room of the old palace - complete with an incredible Morrocan garden (Chefchuan), old tiled ceilings and arches... beautiful. and perched on top of the cliffs. .Too dark to see the view - but the city of Ronda was built on top of a cliff, really - some of the older buildings blend perfectly from the stone and adobe to the natural cliff material - it's really incredible. There are still remnants from the Roman times, as well as Moors and later Castilians. I have lots of pictures, but none do the city justice. It is a spectacular old city full of history and beauty.

And today was another amazing day - I have lots of photos - again! - it was cold this morning and I hunkered in the van working on photos and stuff for much of the morning. The afternoon was very pleasant tho- I rode the trail with Soto and a camera crew in the Rhino - through wheat fields, and olive groves, and finally climbing up and over the hills into the valley of Antequera - the site of the Cathedral Saint Augustin, built in the 1500's, it was actually a monastery. A wonderful lunch (more food tonight) with local dishes, plenty of vino...

Tonight we have the ride briefing, another reception, cena (dinner)... good thing I'm getting more exercise these days!

I'm posting photos at the coverage page - http://www.endurance.net/international/Spain/2010AlAndalus


p.s. it is now three hours later, I fell asleep with the computer in my lap, woke up some time later when Ines called to see if I was coming to the ride briefing and dinner... it took me at least ten minutes to just get one eye open. I decided that tonight I'm going to have to pass on the activities and get some sleep.

Monday 12 April 2010

Donana National Park

I'm sitting in one of the back rooms of the Hotel Guadalquivir pub/restaurant trying to get caught up. It's almost 10:30pm, just got back from the ride briefing and awards ceremony - it was held in an old bodega, La Gritana, where they have been making Manzanilla - Sherry - for a century at least. Huge old 'cave' in the middle of the city of Sanlucar Barrameda - the city at the mouth of the Guadalquivir River where it empties into the Atlantic.

And after a complicated ride briefing (tomorrow is going to be a logistical challenge) we were treated to bodega samples - dry white Manzanilla, and a sweeter golden sherry. Both were very good, It's a beautiful old city - I wish I had more time to explore it! But, I'm sitting here in a quiet corner, eating tapas, drinking a glass of vino tinto, can't complain. I don't have a drop of Spanish blood in me... but I feel so at home with the people here - maybe it's just the Andalusians - a culture of horses and wine :) I absolutely love the people and the land and the music of Spain (a little flamenco playing in the background). mmmm....

So, today: It was really early (5am) and really dark when my alarm went off. Today I would go with Antonio in one of the Rhino's (overgrown ATV) with one of the TV camera crews. Really dark, a little chilly - I wore a pair of riding tights under my jeans, and a few layers, but didn't have my a coat. I had left it with Ines on the ATV the day before and never got around to going to get it - and she was still sleeping at 6am (having worked most of the night before) so I was a bit shivery, and ended up with Soto's jacket - actually it had his daughter's name on it, but nevertheless it kept me warm and I felt very Andalus-y all day :)

The riders left from the Virgin Church in El Rocio at 7am - still pretty dark - but they were led out of town by the organizers and various ATV's and Rhinos and support vehicles. It was cloudy and it stayed too dark for photos pretty well into the morning. We wound though the outskirts of town, aroused a few pastures of sleeping horses - one group followed us for a while, led by a gray which glowed in the semi dark forest. Nice. We entered the Donana Preserve again (one of the largest National Forest preserves in Europe) and started picking up the sandy trails and roads. The forest was in various stages - tall trees, medium, small - different stages of management. I asked Antonio about the shape of the trees - they only have the high limbs, the trunks are tall and curving and very elegant. Antonio told me that they keep the trees limbed like this because the summers get very hot, and wild fires are not uncommon - and the trees don't burn because the combustible needles are so high off the ground. Makes sense. beautiful too.

We had a little more daylight as the riders approached the beach - it was really wet and swampy in places that had been dry and dusty when I rode it 2 years ago. Flowing creeks, small lakes - lagos - that we had to drive around, the horses sloshed through them since the footing was still firm and sandy. And then to the beach, la playa, for the next 25 miles. Amazing. A few miles along the beach and then the vet check.

The afternoon was mile after mile of incredible beach. They started the ride so early this morning so that it would be low tide for the riders - long stretches of firm sand along the waves. After the vetcheck which was held on the beach below a village, we entered the preserve again. Pristine (for Europe) beach, dunes, controlled access. Soto obtained special permission to bring the ride through here, along with the support vehicles. The only other souls we saw were fishermen. It stayed gray and stormy all afternoon - a spit of rain for a few minutes, but that was the worst of it. By the time we got to the finish outside of Sanlucar de Barrameda the sun was starting to break though in spots.

The horses and support rigs had to be ferried across the bay - the mouth of the Guadalquivir River - deep channels for commercial ships, strong wind, the ferry was swept sideways as it crossed the open water. For a few hours it made trip after trip across the bay with horses and rigs. It was an amazing - and tiring - afternoon - cool, windy - stopping all along the way for photos. The camera crew was a riot! they really worked hard and I'm not sure how they'll ever sort through all the incredible footage of horses galloping along the beach, crossing the dunes, chasing up huge flocks of gulls, splashing through the shallow waves.

It was hard work for the horses though - many of them looked quite tired at the finish. So many miles of sand, the third day for some of them. And I think some went pretty fast for the first couple of days. The real challenge is to finish all 8 days on the same horse. Tomorrow the terrain changes. We'll drive to a staging area an hour and half outside of Sanlucar, and start there. The trail will now start climbing into the mountains. Tomorrow we'll finish in Ronda (a very old spectacular city - with some original Roman structures still in place).

I didn't get all the photos from yesterday processed yet, but there are still lots more photos and results and stuff at coverage page - http://www.endurance.net/international/Spain/2010AlAndalus/

Another day!