As Ryan likes to say, "We are finally going in the right direction!" Yes, after passing our halfway point in Jarbidge we are on a westward course across northern Nevada to make our way back to Reno!
Our ride to Jarbidge was some of the toughest terrain so far, but absolutely spectacular! We rode 20 miles through the Jarbidge Wilderness on a tiny pack trail. We didn't see a single other person and felt like we had the place all to ourselves... with the exception of all the elk we saw! Sage is an elk magnet. We have seen so many on this trip. They are magnificent (and a little scary). We rode through the tiny town of Jarbidge which was quite exciting for the residents. (One lady told me it's been a long time since someone rode a horse through town!) And then we endured even more challenging riding, climbing several mountain peaks. It was tough going but worth it for the incredible views we received.
The past couple days stormy weather caught up to us again. Today we rode in the rain almost the entire day, but luckily I had all my waterproof layers. Sage was grumpy about it but he pulled through.
Some of you may have heard that we had a little accident last week. Sage got tangled up in some downed barbed wire. It was very scary. He suffered some punctures and lacerations, but it was an absolute miracle that the wounds were superficial. He's healed up now, but boy was I worried.
Lastly, I have to give a huge shoutout to the world's greatest trimmer - Cindy Nielson from Reno. She drove nearly 12 hours to meet us in Jarbidge so she could trim Sage's hooves. I am so grateful!
We're trucking along - about to drop down into the Owyhee Desert. I'm looking forward to seeing that country (and hopefully some wild horses). Otherwise, all is well. Everyone is doing fine and morale is high! Thanks for all your support!
We are getting a slow start today and I happen to have enough cell service to catch up on what's happening in the world and I am reading A TON of controversy over the recent Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board meeting and their 8-1 vote to recommend euthanasia of 45,000 horses in holding facilities. What a quagmire. I want to say a few things based on what I've seen during my current long ride.
As many of you know, Nevada is home to more wild horses than any other state. Riding 1,100 miles around the state at 3mph is a great way to really see what's happening on the range. I have definitely ridden through places that were dominated by cattle where springs (and good campsites) were cowed out. And I have also ridden through areas that were dominated by wild horses. In fact, one of the things mentioned in a lot of articles about the WH&B meeting is their visit to the Antelope HMA - an area that I just rode through and camped in. Some of the board members have said in interviews how overpopulated the area is with horses - and I can tell you based on what I saw just the other week, it is. I was absolutely shocked at the number of horses I saw in the valley and in the ranges surrounding it. I've never seen anything like it. They have completely dominated the landscape in that area - you can physically see it in the grasses (or lack there of), the sheer number of horse trails, and the area around the limited water sources. Even I - an ardent wild horse lover - was forced to admit that it was too many horses. In fact, when I was finished with my ride I was planning to ask the BLM what the heck was going on out there.
One thing that seems to happen though is that Nevada gets painted with a broad brush - people think what's happening in one area is happening in all areas. Each basin and range in Nevada is unique. Some places are cowed out and some are horsed out. It's just the reality. It's very easy to read an article and criticize but until you have been out on the range and seen the evidence for yourself then you just can't know what's actually happening. So, yes - in some places there are too many horses. In others, there may not be. It's not as simple as cows vs. horses, and it's not as simple as overpopulation or "on the verge of extinction" as some advocates like to say.
Now, onto this euthanization business. First of all, the board's vote is merely a recommendation to the BLM. It does not mean the BLM will go out and kill all the horses in holding facilities. But it is shocking to think about. It should be. And I think it was meant to be. But, as I have said over and over again and tried to emphasize with my rides - there are too many horses in holding facilities being cared for at taxpayers expense. Essentially you and I pay millions of dollars to warehouse horses for the rest of their life. It is costly, it is growing, and it is not sustainable. Those horses WILL NEVER be returned to the range. So what can be done? Everyone is up in arms about this vote, but how many of those people are actually going out and adopting from a facility? That is literally the only alternative to warehousing them forever or euthanizing them. Get those numbers down (in population and cost) and then the BLM can work on better management on the ranges, like the one I mentioned earlier. Those horses will be rounded up eventually and then they'll just end up in holding facilities too.
I was so excited that adoption numbers were up last year, but they weren't up by a staggering amount. They certainly weren't anything close to the historic highs. Go adopt a mustang. Stop breeding your backyard ponies. And reserve your anger not for a board made up of volunteers, but for the beaurocracy that has allowed this situation to develop over time.
Whew! Does it feel like the past 30 days has flown by for anyone else?! We've done about 465 miles or so to date and what an awesome adventure it has been. Today was actually the first day we had a real problem. I was surprised to find my route blocked today by a very large and very active gold mine! It had not been there when I scouted that section of the trail a year and a half ago. The best laid plans, as they say! Unfortunately the mine wouldn't let us ride through or around so our only options were to turn around and go back or go way out of the way to the east and then work our way back to the original route. We opted for the second choice, which puts us a little behind schedule.
Compounding the problem was that today we were supposed to cross Interstate 80. The original route (through the gold mine) would have let us cross at a very quiet and seldom used underpass. Going out of the way with the reroute put us at an exit with an overpass! I have never taken Sage over an overpass, let alone one over an interstate! But, we pressed on - and in his usual fashion, Sage walked across the overpass and was totally fine. Also, interstate exits here have cattle guards but no gates. Luckily we knew that in advance and came prepared. Ryan has been hauling a piece of plywood in the bed of the truck which we laid over the cattle guard so Sage could walk across. We hadn't practiced in advance, but Sage bravely crossed the plywood behind me.
But it it hasn't all been that dramatic. We've ridden through amazing ranges with stunning views where it felt like we were a million miles from civilization! We've seen tons of animals - antelope, deer, and two up close encounters with bull elk! Amazing! We've also seen lots of wild horses - and had our share of sleepless nights defending camp (and Sage) from their attack! It's scary to wake up to the sound of thundering hooves in the darkness! Sage also saw his first flock of sheep, which he did not care for too much.
Everyone is holding up well. Sage is super fit and muscled. He's eager to hit the trail each morning and has really picked up the pace. Bella has been doing some miles with us each day, generally in the morning when it's cooler. Ryan is looking more and more like a mountain man and is taking good care of us. I have lost quite a few pounds (my extreme diet plan! Haha) and have acquired quite the tan.
This week we'll try to get back on route and make our way to Jarbige. As usual cell service will be spotty at best, but I'll update when I can. Thanks for following along with our adventure and for all your well wishes! It means a lot :)
We made it up the treacherous road to Cave Lake State Park and since then we've climbed our two highest peaks of the ride! Beautiful views, but tough work. Ryan's parents drove down from Washington to camp with us for a couple days. It's nice to have company. Plus, this evening they're our horse sitter - and Ryan and I are driving into Ely to have dinner at our favorite restaurant to celebrate my birthday (tomorrow) and our anniversary (yesterday). We've seen lots of deer, elk, sage grouse, and one rattle snake this week.
We've traveled 300 miles now, which is crazy to think about! Still have a ways to go though. We may be moving slowly, but we're certainly making progress. We're getting ready to head into a tougher couple weeks, out of the mountains crossing a lot of desert. But, we have a good routine going and I'm not too worried.
Everyone is doing well. Sage is getting fit and muscled up. He seems happy and it's obvious he's enjoying exploring the trails. Bella is doing miles with us again now that her paw is healed. In short, all is well and we are having fun! We'll continue chugging along and I'll update again when I'm able!
We were going to take today off so I could find a dentist in Ely but I lucked out and found one last evening! Not only did he squeeze me in at the last minute but he was able to do a filling! So now that the tooth situation is all cleared up we'll continue on as scheduled!
We're setting out this morning from Ward Charcoal Ovens State Park, one of my favorite state parks because of its 1870s beehive shaped charcoal kilns. Today we'll head for our next state park, Cave Lake. But to get there we'll have to navigate a particularly treacherous seven miles of road. I did not enjoy that stretch on my last ride across Nevada so I'm not looking forward to doing it again but there's no other way so onward we go!
On day 8 our journey we had a special and heartbreaking experience. We decided to wrap up the day with shorter mileage and found a nice camp spot tucked in a thick juniper grove deep in the White Pine Range. We set up camp and Ryan drove ahead to scout while Sage and I stayed behind to nap. While I was dozing I was awakened by Sage whinnying. I looked in the direction he was focused and caught a glimpse of horse legs moving through the trees. I immediately ran to get my handy plastic bag (100% effective wild horse deterrent) but when I went to investigate the horse was gone.
A few minutes later Ryan returned and told me he saw a horse just down the road. I figured it was the same one I had seen and we agreed to be vigilant in case he returned. Sure enough, that evening Sage began whinnying again. We scanned the trees and finally spotted a horse creeping trough the brush. He was not charging, but slowly making his way toward camp. When he finally got close enough Ryan and I both were shocked to see that it was a very young colt, barely a yearling. Judging by the extensive wounds to his neck and flanks, he had very recently been violently rejected from his herd.
We immediately took pity on the little guy as it was obvious he was looking for companionship, not a fight. We let him continue his slow creep toward camp. Finally he got close enough that Ryan and I agreed we should chase him off. It broke my heart to chase him away with the plastic bag but I knew it was best for him to maintain a healthy fear of people.
The evening passed uneventfully and we eventually went to sleep. Around midnight I was awoken by a noise. I sat up in the tent and squinted to see what was happening in camp. The nearly full moon illuminated everything brightly and as my eyes adjusted I could make out two silhouettes - Sage and the young colt were nuzzling over the fence line of the corral! I couldn't believe it! I woke Ryan to look and we both watched in disbelief. Sage wasn't acting aggressive, quite the opposite he seemed to enjoy the little colt's company! We decided to let them be and fell back asleep.
The next morning when we awoke, the little colt was gone. During breakfast Sage gave out a little whinny and Ryan said, "Sage is saying 'Where are you Oscar?'" "Oscar?," I laughed. "It seems like that would be his name," Ryan explained. I agreed and so the little colt got a name. We talked about Oscar a lot that morning. He was so little, maybe too little to be on his own? Or maybe not. Either way we felt bad for him - wandering alone and no doubt scared. It was clear he was just looking for a herd.
After breakfast I saddled up and Sage and I hit the trail. Just a few minutes outside of camp and Oscar came bounding out of the trees to join us!
Oscar tentatively approached Sage, making the gumming or champing gesture with his mouth that young horses do to signify submission. Sage seemed totally at ease with Oscar. I figured if I mounted up it might scare him off, but instead as Sage and I started to ride, Oscar just fell into place behind Sage as if it were the most natural place in the world!
Oscar happily followed us for the next few miles, flitting around excitedly behind us, bumping into Sage, and occasionally snaking his head at Bella when she got too close.
After a few miles we came to a spring where some cows were resting. Behind them was a fence line and on the other side was resting a small band of wild horses. They saw us and ran to the fence line inquisitively. Sage looked at them with casual indifference, but Oscar went into a full fledged panic! He practically threw himself into Sage to hide, and I think if he could have crawled underneath Sage he would have! The whole time he cowered beside Sage he kept making the submissive gesture with his mouth. I felt so bad for Oscar - clearly terrified of the big bad older horses and desperate for protection - which he found in Sage.
I realized Oscar would probably follow us forever and for a moment I allowed myself to think fantastical thoughts. Maybe I could just take him with me and tame him on the trail? But as quickly as the thoughts came I forced myself back to reality. Not only is our journey too arduous for him, but it would be illegal to remove a wild horse from public land. Sobered by reality, we continued down the trail with Oscar close behind.
Eventually we came to a fence line with a cattle guard and I knew our time with Oscar was at an end. I got off and opened the barbed wire gate to let Sage through. Oscar tried to follow but I quickly shooed him back. Oscar again panicked and began pacing the cattle guard trying to figure out a way across. It was absolutely heartbreaking to witness.
I told Oscar to be brave, mounted up, and began to ride away. Sage let out one final whinny for his new friend. I refused to let myself turn around and tried, unsuccessfully, to keep the tears from my eyes.
Disclaimer: You should always keep your distance from wild horses. Even young ones can cause injury with their teeth and hooves. Also remember it is illegal to feed, touch, or harass wild horses.
Well we've been on the trail for two weeks now and let me tell you, every single day has been an adventure! You may have noticed that the tracking map hadn't updated in a couple days; that's because we're taking some much needed rest days. In fact, we will never travel more than six days without taking 1-2 rest days. These are crucial for us all to rest and recuperate and reenergize for the next week's leg of travel!
I'm not counting miles but I think we've traveled about 150 miles or so. We have seen amazing and beautiful terrain, lots of wild animals, and few people. In particular, just about every day we've had to deal with aggressive wild stallions charging camp - they always wait until after midnight when we're fast asleep so we're all delirious! Haha The sight of Ryan chasing after two naughty stallions with a tarp in his underwear under a full moon is something I'll never forget!
We have also seen elk, deer, antelope, and of course lots of cows. For the last few days we've been skirting some major weather and it finally got us at our camp for the rest days. We've had nasty thunderstorms, rain, and hail - but at least we can hide in the tent and I'm not riding in it!
The heat continues to be a challenge, particulary when we're crossing valley floors. We've been taking lots of midday siestas and riding in the evening when it cools down.
Sage is in great health! He is looking fit and strong. Bella for a little wound on her paw so she's been with Ryan for the last week or so. I'm not doing so hot - I broke a tooth and my poor feet are still reeling with blisters! We're making our way to the city of Ely this week and once there I will try to get an emergency visit to the dentist scheduled.
Other er than that - all is well! We're having lots of fun, lots of stress, and everything in between... Exactly how a long ride should be!
We just arrived at our campsite ending our 5th day on the trail. Things are going well, despite a few challenges. The biggest issue is the heat, which I expected. Luckily we have electrolytes for Sage and myself so we're pushing through. One day was so hot we took a siesta midday and finished up our mileage after sunset! We're now in the White Pine Range, enjoying some elevation and respite from the heat. Everyone is doing well. Sage seems to have settled into the routine of getting up at 5am and riding out around 6:30. My feet were not ready for the amount of walking I've been doing and I'm suffering from some nasty blisters, but otherwise good. Bella has been keeping up with us in the morning but joining Ryan in the truck once it gets too hot. We've seen quite a few wild horses and were charged by stallions several time, but of course I always have my handy plastic bag in my saddle bag to scare them off! We just missed some storms yesterday and today; they stayed just to the north of us. Anyway, all is well - we're covering some ground and having fun! Ryan's taking good care of us. I'll update again next week!
We're officially on the road and headed to the geographic center of Nevada. I'll post updates and pics when I have service. The tracking device will go live tomorrow morning when we start riding so keep an eye on the website to see where we are! Happy trails :)
It's hard to believe our big adventure is right around the corner after so many years of planning and preparation! Tomorrow morning we will load Sage and drive about 4 1/2 hours out to our start point - the geographic center of Nevada. Don't worry if you don't know where that is... most people don't! We'll set up camp and relax for the rest of the day. I'll probably take Sage for a short ride in the evening just to leg up a little. Some folks from the Bureau of Land Management are planning to meet us out there too and camp with us tomorrow night. Thursday morning we will get up at dawn, eat breakfast, tack up, and hit the trail!
I'm still in shock that we managed to get all this together - the time, the expense, the route, the gear, etc. I feel pretty confident that we did all we could do to plan and prepare for the expected things. Nothing we can do about the unexpected. We'll just have to take each day at a time and go from there. I have to thank all my sponsors for their support getting us to this point. Two and a half months is a long time to be on the trail. I'm a little nervous, but overall excited!
Remember, I'll have my tracking device on each day we ride. You'll be able to see exactly where we are on the map on the homepage of this website. I'll also post updates and photos here when I have cell service. Wish us luck and send good thoughts to us out there!
The latest updates from Samantha on the Nevada Discovery Ride.