We were bandits at Bandit Springs last weekend! Wahoo!
Craig and I decided to try out the ride this year. We've never been to it before and we weren't sure what to expect. My husband was a bit leery about the camp site for a big rig, and I've heard riders proclaim that this ride is difficult, (somewhat technical). But neither one was the case. The camp site was absolutely gorgeous and fairly spacious for large vehicles, and I didn't find the trail to be very difficult at all - the slight climbs up the two mountain sides were very nice and pleasant. It was well worth the drive to Prineville to go to this ride. The Ochoco national forest is absolutely drop dead gorgeous!!!! There were some fabulous "postcard" views from the top of the mountains! Definitely one of my new favorite rides.
Ox and I had a game plan. We were going out on both days, so I wanted to be very conservative with our pace. We entered the 50 miler on Saturday and started out down the trail at 6:00 a.m. sharp. It was awesome trotting through the mountain meadows as the morning mist was beginning to rise up off the ground. So beautiful. And it was nice and sunny in the morning too! The first loop was 20 miles long on the western mountain side. I held Ox back for most of it, and he wasn't very happy with me doing that. He kept shaking his head and wanting to go faster. But I didn't budge. Come hell or high water, we were sticking to our game plan. We trotted on the more level parts of the trail and walked up two big steep hills to get up to the top of the mountain. The view at the top was spectacular. We came back down the mountain and rolled into the first vet check feeling fresh and ready to go out again.
The next loop was a 30 miler with another vet check in between. We started out down the trail again, this time we were going across the road from camp in the opposite direction to the eastern side of the mountain range. The weather was still sunny out, and we chugged along at a good pace while slowing down for the climbs. We crossed several little streams, shooed some cows off of the trail, seen several mule deer, and also seen one of the so-called "wild mustangs" that are said to inhabit the mountain side. At 14 miles we rolled into the second vet check. While we were vetting through and eating lunch, a small storm cloud appeared over the mountain and spit a little bit of rain on us. Ox and I huddled under a giant pine tree, and I was glad the cloud burst didn't last very long. The sunny weather in the morning hadn't given any hint of turning bad, so I didn't even think to pack my rain coat when we were headed out of camp. The rain soon passed, and it was nice and sunny again. We started down the trail out of the second vet check for our last 16 miles back into camp. We had two good climbs up to the top of the eastern mountain and the views at the summit were really spectacular! We would come around a bend in the trail right into a high mountain meadow with groves of quaking aspens whistling in the breeze. There were some really cute old log cabins dotting the landscape as well. No joke - it was the stuff that postcards are made from! I still had plenty of horse underneath me, so we just enjoyed the scenery and parts of the trail.
Then it happened... We had about 9 miles to go and as we were starting to make our way down off of the mountain, I heard the booming of thunder in the distance. I looked up to see a large cumulation of giant black clouds rolling in and I said to the horse, "Okay, we gotta go." I really didn't want to be stuck up on top of the mountain with a giant storm rolling in. We trotted 4 miles down the mountain side and then the skies opened up with a torrential monsoon downpour. It was a flash flood type of storm. Ox kept his ears pinned flat back to keep the water from draining into them, and he kept attempting to stop and turn around in the middle of the trail to put his ass against the wind. We kept walking on down the trail, no matter what the conditions were - we had to keep going. I felt just as miserable as the horse did. I only had a t-shirt on, and it looked like I had just emerged straight out of a pond. Thank god I wore the brim, as it helped to keep my head dry and divert some of the water.
We only had 5 miles to get back to camp, so we trudged along down the trail. The trail itself was getting washed out really badly, and the mud was extremely slick and treacherous for the horse. We absolutely HAD to walk the last few miles for safety reasons, because his feet would slip and we'd end up sliding all over the place. We finally made it back into camp, and as we rolled across the finish line the weather let up and it became sunny again. I blanketed Ox and promptly changed my sopping wet clothes.
On Sunday morning the weather looked great, and it was beautiful and sunny outside again. We started out a little after 7:00 a.m. down the trail on the 25 miler. The first loop on the eastern side of the mountain was 15 miles long. Our conservative pace from the previous day was a great strategy and I still had a good amount of horse left underneath me. Ox had no problem climbing up the mountain once again. We clipped along at a nice slow trot and slowed down for the boggy muddy parts on the trail. After the first vet check we set out on our last 10 miles on the western side of the mountain. We did the 5 mile climb to the top of the mountain and then I heard it again - thunder! My first thought was "Oh hell no...!!!" Here we are on top of a mountain - yet again - and like some sort of strange dejavu... it's threatening to dump buckets on us once more!!! I wasn't looking forward to another repeat performance of Saturday afternoon's weather. There was only 5 miles to get down off of the mountain and back into camp, so I told Ox, "Let it rip buddy!" He was thrilled to oblige me. We came boiling down off the mountain at a fast 14 mile an hour trot, and I think that we probably broke some sort of land speed record flying across the lower mountain meadows. We blew into camp just as the storm was bearing down. I'm so glad that we made it back into camp, because this time around the storm brought lightning with it! Scarey stuff.
Dr. Cassee gave us our final completion vet check in the middle of the pouring storm, and afterwards we quickly ran for the cover of the trailer. I put the horse in the back to dry off, and I climbed in the front to change my dripping wet clothes again. I think that my boots shrank 3 sizes from all the rain at this ride! But it was fun. And the horse did really great with the changing conditions. Endurance is the name of the game.
So now I know that Ox can do 75 miles at a conservative pace without a problem. And it was a good test for future adventures. Despite the rain, Bandit Springs was a totally awesome ride! =:)