It must have been a slow news week, because, Thanksgiving weekend, the CBC outdid itself in alerting listeners to the fact that Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland would in for a big storm within the next few days. Going by the frequency and urgency of the warnings, you’d think they were prophesying End Times. On the following Saturday afternoon – the day of the purported peak – as the third front approached the coast, the CBC was interrupting its regular programming to issue solemn “Updates” every 15 minutes.
Given the zeal with which news outlets reported the impending storm, people could be forgiven for thinking Armageddon was approaching.
A little backtracking:
Every fall, for the past five years, I have planned to attend some special weekend event or other with Pai. I don’t work much, but I do work Saturdays, and so attending something horsey on a weekend involves finding a fellow doc willing to take my shift, and taking my call if I’m scheduled on. If I’m going to the States, it involves getting a Coggins test and Health Papers organized. If it’s a competition, it involves months of training beforehand. And for every one of these events I’d planned for and trained for and hoped to attend, each fall for the past five years, it’s all gone to custard. Whether it’s been attending a super-fun hunt, competing in a horse trials, or riding a CTR, every single year we’ve been foiled by injury, illness, or weather.
The best one was the year we planned to go down to Lyndon, WA, with the Fraser Valley Hunt. We managed to overcome (1) a pulled shoe a day before I was supposed to leave (my wonderful farrier gave me an emergency shoeing), (2) Health Papers that went AWOL and only turned up on the day of my departure, and (3) a crazy day at work on that Friday. We made our scheduled ferry the night before the hunt…only to have pretty little flakes of snow start to fall a couple of km from my stabling. And the pretty, pretty snow fell and fell and fell overnight…. And the ground froze… And the hunt was canceled. All in, between papers and ferry and gas and a bottle of wine for the stable owner, our nice little sleepover in Langley set us back $500 or so.
Yeah, and that’s how it’s gone every fall for what seems like forever. So, this year, the year I had arranged a weekend off to ride Pai in the Limited Distance (25 mi) event at the Cowichan Valley Rail Trail Endurance & CTR… This year, when the weather reports turned ominous, I was gloomily positive that the ride would be canceled, and my plans would once again go pear-shaped. It just effing figured.
On Thursday morning, I got a call saying that half the competitors had pulled out because of weather concerns, and asking was I still game? You bet I was. Even though I hate being wet and cold, and even though the idea of horse camping in a field in the face of a monsoon was not making me turn cartwheels of joy, I was still game. I had arranged the weekend off. I was already packed. The show must go on, dammit.
The first and only other time I’ve ridden in an Endurance event was about ten years ago, at the Ride Over the Rainbow event just south of Merritt, on my 23-year-old Standardbred, Fred (The Rainbow trails are absolutely gorgeous, by the way – if you get the opportunity to ride there, do. There is camping as well.). Although I had competed in Competitive Trail with Fred for many years, riding the Rainbow ride, I felt like Endurance perhaps better suited my temperament. Now, after a decade away from trail riding competitively, I have been keen to try an Endurance ride with Pai. A starter-level Endurance ride in mid-October seemed like a good way to dip our not-quite-peak-of-fitness toes into Endurance. Pai and I had the spring Spruston CTR under our belts as a bit of get-your-feet-wet intro to competitive riding, and five weeks of riding on the prairies and in the mountains to start the summer off; on the downside, my 3-to-4 weeks in PEI in August had morphed into a 6-week stay that didn’t get me back on Vancouver Island until the middle of September. The horse had been parked in a field, getting fat. (Pai has insulin resistance, and gains pounds eating air. With 6 weeks off work (other than some longing done by a very nice friend), she’d gotten a little chubby, and had lost a little fitness.)
When I got home from PEI, we spent a month working our way back to cardiovascular fitness, riding out on local trails 5 days a week. Aside from riding the relatively short loops in Hemer Provincial Park, which is adjacent to Pai’s farm, we rode at Spruston, which has trails ranging from hilly single track through forest to mossy decommissioned logging roads – fantastic footing! – to active gravel roads. The trails pass a couple of lakes as well as the Nanaimo River, and offer some gorgeous views.
We also rode at Cable Bay, a mossy, ferny forest which is practically in my back yard – an easy ride from Pai’s barn.
And, on the recommendation of a friend, we popped down to Paldi just north of Duncan, to ride the Cowichan Valley Trail, which is a multi-use rails-to-trails route that is part of the Trans Canada Trail, and to explore some of its offshoots.
The photo above, taken five days before the Limited Distance Ride, is pretty much how I’d originally imagined an October CTR/Endurance ride might pan out – blue sky, crisp air… Ah, fall. But nay, nay. On Friday morning, as I finished up at work, the rain was bucketing down outside the windows.
The weather did clear a little as I did my final packing up, and it was actually briefly sunny as I headed out on the road with Pai in tow, but when I arrived at the ride base camp, the gorgeous Hi-Point Guest Ranch, two days of sluicing rain had taken their toll, and the field designated for camping was too wet to use. (Doug, the guest ranch owner, later told me that the pond had risen by about three feet over those two days). We were offered an indoor stall or an outdoor paddock, and, with most people having chosen to house their horses indoors, we scored what was the perfect housing for Pai: a big, lightly grassed paddock with an enclosed shelter that would keep her happy nibbling grass all night, and cozy should the promised tempest manifest itself. I joined the other campers in the gravel parking lot outside the indoor arena, and set up my little camp there.
While the night turned out to be clear, with a big bright moon, and no wind, the rain did start again the following morning as we were tacking up, and built up steam throughout the day until it became a relentless downpour. I had donned my full-on Man from Snowy River garb, and had hand warmers in my gloves and toe warmers for my feet, and had a saddle cover for the times when I walked the horse, so we maintained some vague semblance of dryness over the course of our 25 miles.
The ride route for both the CTR riders and the Endurance riders was an out-and-back south along the Cowichan Valley Trail, and then, after a hold back at camp, an out-and-back north along the same trail. Being an old rail bed, the trail holds up beautifully to days and days of soggy weather, and the surface does not get torn up by a dozen horses trotting up and down it. The flat route makes for a very inviting ride, over excellent footing.
The route took all but the Level I riders over the Kinsol Trestle, which spans the Koksilah river at a height of 44m (nearly 150 feet) – that’s like, way, way, way high up. It’s 187m (614 ft) long (about a block), and, in the slippery conditions, we were advised not to risk riding across the wooden surface, but to dismount and walk. My phone was so wet that I couldn’t get much of a pic (my wet fingers on the wet screen cover were useless), but the Victoria Air Photos video has some great footage.
In the end, despite the dire forecast, we had nothing more exciting, weather-wise, than what amounted to a long, pretty ride on a very rainy day. No one got trapped by falling trees and no one got blown off the trestle. Christine and Miki, who had organized the Spruston ride Pai and I attended in the spring, once again put on an event that was well-planned and well-run. Having the indoor arena at Hi-Point available for the vetting, and having its kitchen and lounge available for meeting, made a massive impact on rider – and vet (Andrea Plaxton from Epona Equine) – cheerfulness. I didn’t speak to a soul who hadn’t enjoyed their day.
Everyone else in the LD division had canceled, so Pai and I had no fellow competitors on our ride, but that was just fine. My goal was to ride a particular pace and have her come home in good shape. And so she did – we rode at a relaxed 6 mph, and my girl finished her final vetting with A’s in every category. Good girl!
And the “Storm of the Century” never really manifested itself. By the next day, the interwebz abounded with online comments like, ” ‘Storm of the Century’ downgraded after the fact to ‘Storm of the Weekend’ “, and “Storm of the Century: 2 stars, would not recommend.” Basically, fall arrived on the coast again this year. There was wind. Trees came down. There was heavy rain. Some ferries were canceled.
Yup, it’s October again this year.
Camp and Trail Notes for Horsey Folk:
Spruston notes on camping can be found in this previous post.
Hi-Point Guest Ranch and the Cowichan Valley Trail
The Hi-Point Guest Ranch is in Glenora, just southwest of Duncan. It offers camping, horse camping, and a B&B. Horse accommodations range from an indoor stall to an outdoor paddock to an outdoor paddock with shelter to setting up your own e-corral. There is an indoor arena, flush toilet, potable water, and electric hook-up should you need it. A short trail takes you up to the Cowichan Valley Trail, which is a multi-use rails-to-trails path that is part of the Trans Canada Trail. Footing is excellent and you can’t get lost. Cost for camping with a horse was something around $30.
There quite a few access points to the CVT, including a pull-out with ample room for trailer parking at Paldi. I haven’t checked it out, but the Glenora Trails Head Park is a staging area with horse corrals and camping available (note – you will be gated in when the park closes). Camping is free.