November 3rd, Cowboy and I completed our first 35-mile endurance ride! The excitement and joy were quickly followed by fear as my boy became ill then tragic as we were running for our lives along with an entire community in the Northern California town of Paradise as a result of the Camp Fire.
This is my story, there are so many more people who have suffered far greater than me. But writing is my therapy and this is my journey-we completed 35 miles and we're still going.
We were all smiles on our way out, riding both alone and with riders along the trail. We were met by endurance riders throughout with words of encouragement, support and friendly faces. A wonderful group of people that I will always appreciate and hold wonderful memories close to my heart.
I came off of Cowboy with a surprise deer and injured my knee about 6 weeks earlier. Before the first vet check my knee pretty much gave out and although I didn't realize it until pictures much later-I was leaning heavily to the right offsetting the pressure to my left knee. Cowboy's heart of gold carried me through the entire distance, he ate, he drank, walked with me when I couldn't ride, held steady when we left groups of riders behind or when they left us behind. We had 8 ½ hours to complete our ride. The end was in sight with only minutes to spare and about a mile to go. We had to give it one more push. I crawled back on and asked my boy to run-off we went. I hoped off about 600 feet from the finish and began to walk, those waiting at the finish line-said run!! We made it over the line at 4:28 pm, Cowboy pulsed down at 4:29. Tears sprung to my eyes as I was told we made it-one minute to spare. My goal this year was to finish-we had done it!
Cowboy's vet check was good-we had our first completion! The euphoria of that day crumbled when on Monday morning I noticed he had left his dinner from the night before and would not touch his breakfast. At first, I had thought the beginning of a colic. He never laid down but was hanging his head down about an inch from the ground. He stopped drinking, stopped eating, gut sounds weren't great-but he was pooping and peeing. By Tuesday he had a fever, on Wednesday my most wonderful vet in the world, Dr. Jessie, came to check my baby out.
When I returned, my baby's temperature was not lower-it was blazing to 104.5! I hosed him off, gave his next dose of banamine and fruitlessly attempted to get him to drink. In a bunkhouse 10 feet from his stall, I cracked the window open, so I could hear his every movement and painstakingly made it through the night. Never, ever ask if things can get worse-they most certainly can.
Thursday, November 8th-the morning that would ultimately change everyone's life started out for me at 6:30am. I awoke to find a bit of a low-grade fever-nothing close to the night before. My boy was refusing food and still had not taken in a drop of water. There's a small pond about a half mile from the ranch-I decided I was going to give him his medicine and walk him down to see if I could find a patch of green grass to tempt him into eating. The sun was just coming up, he walked easily next to me as we made our way-a flock of geese-noticed us as we were working our way down to the pond and soared into the brilliant blue sky. Success! A 10x10 foot patch of green grass-Cowboy began munching happily away as I found a comfortable place to sit with my back to the east.
My husband sent me a text at 7:36 asking how's Cowboy? My response-Fire! A brief phone call between us where we exchanged get what you can and get out and come down to the ranch. Our next communication was while I was filling the last water container at 9:29 he sent me a text, "the fire has crossed Skyway I can't get out of Magalia" I told him to go up-the only other option of getting out. He told me was going to try. That was the last time I heard from him until several hours later.
By about 10 am I knew that Cowboy had a virus-with the amount of days that had elapsed from when he first showed symptoms-he had caught it at the ride I had just gone on. Coronavirus and contagious. I have a Ford Ranger pickup truck, my only option to hook my trailer to. I decided it was better to have the transmission fall out and die trying to get out then to not try at all. I was bringing halters to the lowest barn with a clear view down Round Valley Ranch Road, the dark smoke and fire was now very close. I didn't have the ball to hook the trailer to-I asked the owner of the ranch John (an absolute hero if ever there was one) if he had an extra. He thought there was a stack of them on the side-choose one. Well, as luck or miracles would have it-I found only one, and that one fit my truck!
With the help of another hero, T, a neighbor, assisted with getting the truck hitched up. His wife, yet another hero worked with me and N to try and get Beau loaded. He would not do it! After several attempts I had to say enough, we have to go. I got Cowboy loaded and our caravan of trailers began our journey through even more hell. I stopped on the way out and met John who was in his tractor. My comments were along the lines of-you have to get out! He said he was staying, he said he would take care of the horses and to go. Not knowing if I would ever see my friend again or the 20 babies left behind, we moved down the road which was already on fire.
During the drive to Clark Road I received another phone call, my daughter was fleeing the fire near where it had started, she was trying to get to my granddaughter who was in school in the path of the fire, my son and his family were trying to get out on another road. It's surreal, the range of emotions one goes through. Mini breakdowns which you only allow yourself seconds to feel-to numb blind actions of survival-pushing away feeling anything and only acting-moving forward; giving up-not an option.
Cowboy had to be moved one more time-he's behind the roadblocks-but his health is improving; Beau and the other horses are alive and well-as are a few other neighborhood animals that made it. I am in awe of John, the owner of the stables, who stayed behind and saved my Beau and his horse friends at the ranch. Many of my friends, family and colleagues have lost their homes, many lives have been lost and the ridge has been decimated by this disaster. What I thought was going to be "just" a limited distance 35-mile endurance ride has turned into so much more. I have more drama to add with Cowboy in the last few days, but just received word my area is now open through the escape route my husband took. 35 miles and counting-ride on!