Despite having had aspirations over the past many years to ride Pai in either Endurance or Competitive Trail, it’s never panned out, thanks to injuries and bad timing and bouts of COPD. When I heard that there was a CTR scheduled in my backyard this month, I sent in an just-under-the-wire entry. It seemed like a good way to (1) re-introduce myself to Competitive Trail after a decade hiatus, and (2) take my newly pimped-up trailer for a dry-run.
Re the trailer: I decided, after last summer, to fix all the things that were making me bat-shit crazy about camping with inadequate power and Rubbermaid bin storage in a tiny space. To wit:
(1) The power sitchashun. The tiny, tiny solar panel on the roof of my trailer combined with a car battery were fine when it came to keeping my trailer jack charged. The system had no hope in hell of keeping me in power when boondocking for 5 to 7 days. After a day or two, my fridge was in its death throes. To address the Tragic Power Situation, the very clever and very handy Mr Wayde Andrews got me a couple of 6V deep cycle batteries, and we bought two 75W solar panels, and a charge controller. And hooked that mofo up to a reasonable fridge. Which brings me to…
(2) The fridge sitchashun. Before, I had a 1 cubic foot, chest-style fridge, supplemented by a cooler. Now, I have a decent RV fridge that has over 3 cu ft capacity. And it has a freezer. That means ice cubes for my G&Ts, and also the ability to store frozen fish. (I’m pretty sure I’m having a case of the vapours right now, just writing about it). I have a lot of stuff in that fridge, and it’s still not full.
(3) The storage sitchashun. What I had was bins that I had to drag out from some awkward, irritating space every time I wanted to get something – the cooking pans, the dry goods, the booze. Stuff was piled on top of other stuff. It bit. I now have shelves. And baskets. And hooks.
(4) The water sitchashun. I’d thought, last year, that upgrading to a 30L rolling water tank would be adequate. But nay nay. The rolling 30L tank barely made the cut, especially in areas where there was no potable water for hu-mans. Mr Andrews had our local plastics guys make me a 100-L water tank with a peaked roof that doubles as a saddle rack.
On top of these desperately-needed improvements, I replaced the massively oversized queen duvet with a smaller twin, laid down laminate flooring over the incredibly impractical carpet, and replaced my moderately functional, home-made doorway fly mesh with a proper magnetic bug screen. There’s a built-in dog crate under the bed. Between the practical upgrades and the aesthetic ones, the “living quarters” are now making me feel pretty darn princessy. I’ve gone from this
shit show reasonably functional but ultimately gangster scenario –
– to this bit of elegance:
I am in love with my trailer. I should marry it.
Camping at thhe CTR was a great way to test out the new rig and plan some tweaks. Plus: it was a CTR! They are always good fun. At Spruston, there was a modest rider turnout for what was a multi-day, dual discipline event. The small numbers made for a very cozy, friendly do. It was lovely to chat with other riders at length. I learned two excellent things: (1) the existence of the Mongol Derby, a 1000 km race that one of the gals present had completed, and which one of the 50-mile endurance riders is planning to ride, and (2) the existence of the Garden City Horsemen’s Club, who are pretty much in my back yard and who have been putting on organized rides for something like 50 years (who knew??).
Organizers Miki Dekel and Christine Pacukiewicz did a great job of setting and marking trail (even I, trail-loser extraordinaire, could not get lost), finding competent P&R crew, and making everything very laid-back and welcoming. The docs at Epona Equine Veterinary Services, from up-Island in Courtenay, who provided the veterinary judging, were great. (And Pai did a good job on her first CTR, garnering a second-place ribbon in our wee field).
Our ride was 15 miles through forest, with a little up and down but nothing too challenging. On my travels, I’ve sometimes been asked what the riding is like on Vancouver Island. The pics below aren’t from the CTR, but they are from Spruston (south of Nanaimo), taken last fall, and show a little of our local beauty:
The trails vary from winding single-track to wider quad trails to in-use or decommissioned logging roads, largely through ferny Douglas fir forest.
So after sorting out a few minor trailer bugs over the subsequent few days (read: asking the beleaguered but ever-game Mr Wayde Andrews to work like a dog to make me happy), I was off on this year’s adventure. First stop, after a wine-sodden evening in Langley with my good friend Deb, was Hidden Valley Rustic Horse Camp, just out of Merritt on Highway 97.
I first heard of Hidden Valley last year, when I was camping at Lundbom Lake. Some fellow campers waxed euphoric about the riding there, and over the past year, I’ve heard many other rave reviews.
The place lives up to its reputation. Spy and Pai and I arrived at around 4 in the afternoon, and were greated by the very friendly and enthusiastic owner, who sent me to a nice little corner campsite, and gave me the run-down on the set-up and the trails. I took Pai out for a short (1-hr) stretch-your-legs ride after settling her in, on trails that had gorgeous views and fabulous footing.
When we got back, I met my newly-arrived camp neighbour, Nichole, who was on her very first horse camping trip ever, with her horse Cricket. (This is what we all do, right? “That’s my horse! I’m in my tent and that’s my horse!!” And snap some pics of our horse. Who we are camping with. Which is awesome.) The riding world is a small place, and it turns out that I once examined Cricket when she was a Vancouver Island horse, back in 2003.
It’s not often I meet another chick camping on her own. Nichole is a very experienced camper and very can-do rider, and she and I hit it off well, and we ended up riding together the next day. We did two rides, one a nice 3-hour loop mainly up along the ridge with great views over the valley, and another late-afternoon ride to the Left Field Cider Company, which adjoins the trails. It is a most excellent thing to be able to ride to a cider house, hitch up your hoss, have a tasting, sit in the evening sun and look out over the hills, and then ride home again with cider in your saddle bag.
I could have stayed longer at Hidden Valley – I only brushed the surface of the trails in my 3 rides there – but, because Merritt is close and I can very easily ride there in the future, I decided to carry on with my plan to head out to Jasper.
Camp and Trail Notes for Horsey Folk:
The campground at Spruston has been developed over the past few years by the Central Vancouver Island chapter of the Back Country Horsemen of BC. At this point, after a lot of hard work by my local fellow members and like-minded volunteers, there are a couple of corrals in place on the verge of a large, level clearing, with trees for high-lining, a central fire pit, and a long drop toilet. It’s about a 20-minute drive southeast of Nanaimo, and borders the Trans Canada Trail.
Trails are reasonably well-marked, but it pays to have a look at the maps on the Central Vancouver Island Trail Riders website.
Camping is free. There is no water.
Hidden Valley Rustic Horse Camp
Hidden Valley has something like 18 campsites. There are 3 or 4 cabins as well (basically, sleeping shacks with an overhang for cooking) that would be an awesome way to go if the weather looked iffy – with a group of friends, you could always camp in your rig and use the cabin as a dry space for barbecuing or whatevs. There is potable water, and there are nice clean bivvies. And there’s a very nice shower (a loonie buys you 2 1/2 minutes of hot water).
The hosts are most excellent. Kids come around at night to sell firewood for $5 a bundle. Or, if you’re not lazy, just walk up the hill to the pile and help yourself.
Corrals are roomy. Setting up an e-fence corral on grass for extra space is A-OK. There is potable water, firewood for $5, and a hot shower house (!).
The maps are very, very good, and the trails are pretty hard to get lost on. We tried, but failed.
Trails have nice, sandy footing. Barefoot would be OK for most trails, though some are rocky enough that boots might not go astray.
Camping was $25.