September 9, 2002 -- Just for a week, every year, a loose-knit clan settles into a beautiful valley high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, turning it into a gypsy camp for ultra runners and Arabian horses. The event is the 32nd Annual Championship Ride & Tie.
The course this year is 30+ miles, up and down the mountains. Each team consists of three athletes: two runner/riders and one horse. The human members of the team take turns riding the horse and running, switching back and forth between the two disciplines. The pace for the horse is to run in spurts, and rest at the tie-in between runs.
Ride & Tie is one of the most exhilarating extreme sports yet invented &mdash and it is addictive. Ted Ruprecht, age 74, is going for his 21st Championship, which will tie him with his wife, Joan. Doyle Eggers, a newcomer to the event, says Ride & Tie is fun and a "neat family of people. Double fun." When contemplating his first Championship, Doyle summed it up by saying "it's about finishing and still being vertical."
The race starts in an open field. I start on the horse. My partner is on the ground. I'm to ride just over one mile, and then tie. It will take my partner a few minutes to reach the horse, during which the horse rests. Even elite runners cannot match the speed and stamina of a well-conditioned horse. With the horse aiding both runners, by providing a rest between runs, and by reducing the average minutes per mile, runners feel like superheros able to tackle unbelievable distances at altitude.
After a few miles the trail clears, teams spread out, and I'm back up on our horse, Findefar. I feel as if we are dancing, flying, weaving effortlessly through runners. "Coming up on your right! Passing on your right! Hi Melissa, on your left!" Runners point to the side the horse should pass on, wordless, sparing their breath for oxygen intake. Later, as horses overtake me on foot, I am grateful for the narrow trail. An excuse to step aside for a moment while the horses pass, and take a breather at seven thousand feet altitude. As we tackle the first of many endless climbs, one runner asks "Doesn't this hill ever end?" and another rejoins "Yes, I hear it ends at God."
Ride & Tie is exhilarating because of the attitude of the horse. There is nothing like the feeling of being on a team with this beautiful athlete. I suspect this is more exciting for the horse than endurance riding because of the pace. Horses are designed by nature to flee dangerous predators, but only need to flee for a short distance, a mile or so, and then return to grazing. This is exactly the rhythm of Ride & Tie, as the horse runs, ties, and then runs again.
Less than two months before Ride & Tie I was riding this same horse on Tevis, the Western States Trail Ride: 100 miles over the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Findefar was awesome at Tevis, but today I think he's having a whole lot more fun. He picks me out of a crowd as I shuffle up the trail, he greets me with an eager whinny. He can hardly wait as I fumble the untie. And he's back on the trail at a gallop as my right foot gropes for the stirrup.
Ride & Tie has become a family affair as enthusiasts can't resist introducing it to anyone who will try it. This year's World Championship winners, brothers Con and Todd Wadsworth, were back for their 5th title, followed closely by Jim Howard and Dennis Rinde 17 seconds later. Howard, who has five previous titles at this event, is already planning his strategy for next year. Con's wife and sixteen year old son won the short course event. Fathers ran with daughters, uncles with nieces, and a three-generation foursome of father, daughter and ten year old granddaughter teamed up with a friend to complete the short course. (Dave Posten; Rhonda Craythorn, Dave's daughter; and Shelby Craythorn, Dave's granddaughter)
After the race is over runners and crew are sprawled here and there in the shade: reliving and recounting every step of the race, every turn of the trail, every mistake and every second wasted. They are probably so sore they cannot walk upright. No matter. Next year's strategy is being planned out. I know what I need to do: speed work. I'm going to add speed work to my schedule. Just as soon as my toenails grow back.
For more information on Ride & Tie and complete results of the race, go to www.rideandtie.org.
Contact the Ride & Tie Association at 650-949-2321.