Approaching Virginia City (note the V on the hill)
On June 28th I rode from Reno to Virginia City. (For our non-Nevada fans - Virginia City is a famous mining town in the mountains south of Reno. It's heyday was the 1860s and many historic buildings still survive, giving it a distinctly Old West vibe.) I went with a friend who rode his mule. Our 15 mile ride included more than 2,000 feet in elevation gain, traffic, lots of wild horses, and rocky terrain in some areas. Sage carried pretty close to the full load that I plan to take on the big ride. Unfortunately, Bella could not accompany us on this ride because the hotel we booked was not pet friendly.
We started out around 10 am. It took about 6 hours at a slow pace with several grazing stops. Sage seems to get into a head down - keep walking zone, which is nice. He's not the fastest horse, but he's steady and will go for miles and miles... which is what you want when you're trying to cross the state! I tried to alternate riding and walking (especially in really rocky areas) to give Sage some respite from weight.
We did have to ride through one neighborhood, with narrow shoulders and lots of traffic. I realized quickly that most people don't know how to drive past a horse. Lots of people zoomed by us at high rates of speed and not much distance. It made me nervous, but luckily Sage is okay around cars. Otherwise, we followed a good off-road trail the whole way. We passed several herds of wild horses, including one where some of the young stallions tried to approach us. Not wanting to risk a fight, I waved my arms and made loud noises to keep them at a distance until we could get past. Sage was interested in the wild herds, but not overly so.
At one point we stopped to graze and when I was not paying attention Sage stepped on his reins. Luckily I had breakaways so the leather just snapped. I tied a knot where they broke to get us through the rest of the ride and it worked just fine. Lesson learned on why it's so important to carry a spare bridle/reins on the trail!
Riding into Virginia City was a bit surreal. It felt as if we were transported back in time. The tourists loved it! We made a stop inside the bar at Piper's Opera House. And I mean inside...
The bar owners got a kick out of having us inside. Sage was a little nervous (it was his first time in a bar after all!) but he handled it with his usual calm acceptance. After that, we rode to the other end of town where I put Sage up for the night at a private home with an empty stall. With Sage bedded down I headed to the Tahoe House Hotel in the heart of Virginia City. Riding during the afternoon with the sun beating down on us took a toll and I definitely felt it. But, after a quick rinse in the shower and a big dinner I felt right as rain. After a good night's sleep, I headed back to Sage the next morning. We saddled up and began the decent back down the mountain.
Again, it took about 6 hours for the return trip. Sage definitely knew we were headed home and he had some pep in his step. We saw several more herds of wild horses, but again the passings were smooth.
All in all I'd say it was a nice ride! Next up, we're doing another test ride next week. Starting at Washoe Lake, we'll ride up to Virginia City again (solo this time and with Bella, and no hotel!) and then return to the lake to camp. The goal is to do these test rides as often as possible from here on out until the big ride. I should also mention that we'll be accompanied by a filmmaker from NYU who is making a documentary about wild horses. We're honored that she has taken an interest in the Nevada Discovery Ride and decided to include it in her film! She'll be back in Nevada in September, to join us for the ride out from Baker, and then she'll pop in throughout the ride to film.
Well, we're now just about 60 days out from the ride. Two months left to get trail ready!
Here's some more photos from the test ride...
The latest updates from Samantha on the Nevada Discovery Ride.