Saturday, October 22, 2011

10-22-11 BCHC Live Oak Camp & Ride

The BackCountry HorseMenAndWomen of California had their annual Camp & Ride up at Live Oak, and I went out for a stroll with some mule gals.

Length: 6.2 miles
Duration: 2.5 hours
Difficulty: Very easy riding. But Tobe has had a "hitch in his get-along" since Catalina that appears after a distance, and today it kicked in pretty severely at 1 hour/3 miles. His back legs seemed to be in pain, and he was very difficult to handle on the trail, and after the ride I took him to the vet for xrays and ultrasound to try and determine the problem. He'll be on layoff, on painkillers and anti-inflammatories for two weeks. 

Altitude gain: 960 ft 

Grade: I

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 When we arrived at Live Oak Camp this mule deer and friends crossed the road right on cue.
 Tobe was happy to go out on the trail with some pretty mules, in a place we very much like to ride in.
 The chalk hill rides above the river plain, we usually do a big loop and then end the ride coming down that white trail on the right.
 The first access gate, made to keep the cows and wild bucking horses inside. I so clearly remember how insurmountable this gate once was, and now I can open and close it from Tobe's back. The gate didn't change, I did.
 First view of Cachuma Lake. A beautiful sight, and this is the jewel of local riding areas.
 It is pretty well dried out after the summer, but just traveling across empty areas has a calming effect on equine and human.
 The stately oaks are such an iconic symbol of the Old West.
 The bucking horse mares and colts have no fear of riders, and Tobe always calls to them and it is a bit of a rodeo to keep him from running off and becoming a wild thing.
 The dry riverbed, the same one we crossed at belly-deep fullness this winter. In a land largely without seasons the ebb and flow of water in the frontcountry and the grass cycling colors are welcome markers of time.
The shadow riders survey the terrain.
And then patient Tobe got fussed over at the Alamo Pintado equine veterinary clinic, with the latest in ultrasound and xrays, as if he were an expensive racehorse from one of the nearby thoroughbred farms. For now, the Rx is rest and anti-inflammatories, and we'll hope to be back out on the trail in a few weeks. Poor guy!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

10-18-11 El Woodie

Tobe had a week off while I scrambled with business concerns, and in mule fashion he let me know today that he was NOT happy about having had a boring week. He was cranky, which made me frustrated, so we opted to just go for a 90 minute walk out on the Elwood Mesa rather than something more ambitious. Lots of bicycles and hikers, lovely weather, just a stretch of the legs. 

Length: 3.7 miles
Duration: 1.5 hours
Difficulty: Very easy riding. We just took a stroll. The only scary parts were the bicyclists who came up rapidly behind us without warning and the geese, who were having a very large assembly.

Altitude gain: 130 ft 

Grade: I

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 In dappled light the eucalyptus groves are a pleasant buffer between the housing areas and the Mesa.
 The groves are home to lots of monarch butterflies, which can be seen fluttering whenever you visit the area all year long if the day is warm enough. Some nesting areas are forbidden to us, where the trees are covered with resting butterflies, so here we skirt the edges.
 Turning out onto the Mesa there is a marine layer coming up from the South. Clear and hot here in Goleta, it was socked in fog in downtown Santa Barbara.
 Ever-present on the horizon, the oil rigs. Today in my fancy it looks like a tattered pirate ship at anchor.
 The colors! The intense blue of the sea and sky, with the marine layer a pastel grey coming up on the horizon like another set of islands.
 The mirror shimmer lagoon is filled with resting birds.
 Yes, yes, both Tobe and I would rather be up in the front country mountains of the Los Padres Forest than on a golf course in suburbia, but better to have a short walk than another day bored in a paddock.
 Even on such a manicured world as a golf course the geese are a wild element. A very big gaggle were presenting a hazard, and Tobe was NOT at ALL sure they were safe to pass by. Thus I do not have a close-up photo.... it was a both-hands-on-the-reins kind of promenade as we went past, even though the geese honked dismissively at us and waddled just a few feet out of our way, I couldn't be sure they wouldn't all take wing.
Ah, the Shadow Lad, admiring himself perhaps, or thinking how tasty that highly cultivated grass might taste.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

LAPD Mounted Platoon 10-8-11

The annual LAPD Mounted Platoon fund raiser ride, that I decided to attend just to get a feel for what the people who do mounted police work are like. Everyone I met was very pleasant, and I am sorry there is no opportunity for me to volunteer with a similar organization in my area. I donated a $100 gift cerTATficate to the silent auction, and had a lovely lunch afterwards. Tobe was the only mule in attendance.

Length: 14.3 miles
Duration: 5.5 hours
Difficulty: Very easy riding. In deference to the fact that there were 100 riders in the group the trails were all on either asphalt or dirt roads traversing Griffith Park in the mountains just above Hollywood. Good for conversation, not challenging. 
Altitude gain: 1750 ft 
Grade: I

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 We met up at the LAPD Mounted Platoon headquarters on the edge of the LA River, bordering Griffith Park.
 The first order of the day was a briefing, introduction of dignitaries, and description of the ride. Then we walked out on city streets with heavy escort and prepared to enter the park.
First, up and over a freeway overpass, over the LA River and  the 405, with both water and cars rushing beneath us and eedjits honking at the sight of horses above.
There I am between two men who turned out to be high ranking captains of their respective divisions. It was a real pleasure to meet them, and have enthusiasm for equines as common ground.
 We headed up into the park, and 100 people is a very big group, a long line of slowly moving animals and fine for conversations. Everyone I met, from commanders to captains on down to mounted officers who regularly work the streets on horseback, was a well-spoken and interesting individual. It did my heart good to have a day spent in the company of people who take great pride in what they do, an image of police not often presented in the media.
 Looking out into the smog, the towers of downtown Los Angeles.
 The first sight of Griffith Park Observatory, familiar to millions as the place James Dean played chicken in "Rebel Without a Cause."
 Going into a massive tunnel, the sound of all those hooves was a bit deafening. Good de-spooking!
 Coming out of the tunnel, a beautiful crepe myrtle tree in bloom.
 We stopped frequently to let out of condition horses catch their breath. Tobe got a lot of interest as the only representative of his kind, and he behaved well.
In fact, we both had a nice time and Tobe is quite stoic about whatever I ask him to do. In this photo he looks like he is pulling a wagon, leaning into the job. I look like I'm sitting in an easy chair, a pretty accurate indication of who is doing all the work on rides.
 But I could tell he was seriously bored. Coming off of our technical trails triumph on Catalina this was just going for a walk in the park. On roads. But he humors me and goes where I ask him.
 This was the photo I was so looking forward to taking, and unfortunately this was as close as we got to the famous HOLLYWOOD sign. I had suggested to the parade organizers that they arrange to have an equine event photographer document the ride, and set up in a place where people could pose with the sign in the background. That didn't happen, but I did think people would have liked the opportunity to get souvenir photos to show they had ridden in this famous place. We would have had to go on a different route to make that possible.
 From the highest vantage point, looking out over Glendale and seeing the smog of LA wafting in from the right.
 Looking out over the central downtown Los Angeles section, and that speck in the central horizon is a helicopter that came up from the downtown LAPD division and buzzed us, squawking the intercom. I thought it a bit reckless with that many skittish horses up there on a mountaintop, with steep drop-offs at the trail edges, but hey, cop humor or rivalry between divisions I guess.
 Then on the way back down an elderly man who was diabetic passed out in the saddle. Fortunately quick thinking people caught him before he fell, and he was administered some trail mix bars and gatorade. If you are going to have a medical emergency on the trail you probably couldn't have chosen a more capable group! Later we saw him at lunch and he looked just fine.
The last act was crossing over the LA River to get back to the Mounted Platoon stables. The river was rather swift flowing from rainfall 3 days before. The slick concrete was a bit of a challenge, but we bunched up the animals and there were no problems. There we are in the middle, setting a good example of wearing a helmet!
Another interesting day of asking Tobe to do something we hadn't done before, meet lots of people and animals, and look out over the smoggy city of Los Angeles and be glad we live in Santa Barbara, and head home tired and happy.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Las Caballeras Trans-Catalina Trail 10-2-11

The last day of our island week, and I really wanted to do the Trans-Catalina Trail. So I was very pleased when a group of five decided that we would do that route on our walk out and back to Twin Harbors. We all packed up our tents and belongings, left our campsite cleaner than we found it, and then started off on the trail.

Length: 7 miles
Duration: 3 hours
Difficulty: Extreme riding. Very difficult. There were sections with drop-offs that went so far down straight to the sea I had to tell myself to just trust in the mule and hold on. I was very pleased that we went up it in the direction we did, there were some nearly vertical places that would have been much harder to come down. A BIG rush of accomplishment to have ridden this.

Altitude gain: 1290 ft 

Grade: II!!

 Probably a scary sight for any men reading this blog, but seriously funny to the women on this campout: the Man Trap necklace! Victor rat traps filled with various occupations of men, shown here are a farmer and a diver, and an appaloosa horse for a cowboy. Call the theme Mardi Gras and keep an open bar and you never know WHAT the gals will come up with.
 Today was the end of the party, so after we packed up we started out. My group decided not to do the part of the Trans-Cat trail that was closest to the campground, and I'd ridden it a couple of days earlier, so I was OK with that. They said they wanted to save the animals' strength for the really technical part of the trail, and not knowing what was involved I took their word for it and we did the first part on the road.
 Then we turned off into the wild, and struck out across the landscape toward the peaks.
 Gnarled ghostlike trees and cactus filled the landscape, in its dry cycle of summer sere grasses.
 One last look back fondly at the Little Harbor, now just a memory and a goal to call us back here next summer.
 Then up so high that the mainland suddenly became visible on the horizon. Soon, soon enough we would be returning there and picking back up the reins of real life.
 A nearly vertical climb, with some rocky sections that required the animals to plant their feet and jump up. We riders just held on for dear life.
 Because if you turned to look down, the steep drop had no hope of catching yourself on a tree or bush............ it would be a slide to oblivion.
 My favorite photo from the whole trip, it captures the stark beauty of the land and the compelling calm of the sea. All from the top ridge on the very edge. Getting to this point, and seeing this, was a beautiful affirmation of all the hours I have spent learning to ride well. This took bravery, skill, and a darn good mule!
 And there is the mainland, looking like an island itself in the marine layer.
 All the time we were trail riding we'd been looking out to sea, but now, turning our faces toward home, the mainland compels us.
 The trail was wide enough at this point to drive a jeep, or walk two animals abreast. But it was very steep........ just ahead of us here it disappears utterly as it plummets down a hillside.
 But we made it, and once again stood on the hill overlooking Twin Harbors and the pretty sailing ships anchored there.
 But no, it can't be that easy. I had been thinking I needed maybe just one more buffalo photo, and these huge lads were just before the gate above the town.
 I know, they look like they are just dozing in the sun........ but actually, they look like a Ford truck parked on the side of the trail when you walk by them.
 This is a sign for the Trans-Cat trail, in front of the Yacht Club. Arriving back at Twin Harbors brought the grand total of miles ridden on Catalina Island in this week to 45.3, a number I am quite pleased with.
 This flag with a stylized graphic representing Catalina was on the wall of the Yacht Club. It is a building built as barracks for soldiers during the civil war, that is now owned by members who each maintain one room there for their use when they sail over from the mainland. We were graciously given a tour of the interior.
 And this poster was on the wall of one of the rooms.............. I would have liked to have taken a photo this good in real life, but the iPhone does not have a zoom lens and I couldn't ever get up the foolhardy courage to get up close and personal with an animal that could decide to have a bad day and stomp me.
 So then it was time to board our own yacht, the sturdy Pacific Star, and with my "Sea Bands" firmly on my wrists and some OTC pills and a dram of faith, onward to the mainland.
Homeward Bound. Part of the decorations for the annual Buccaneer Days festival, a Pirate farewell to this enchanted land.