April , 2002
My Leatherwood Quest by Howard Bramhall


PART ONE
We left town in the middle of the night, near 10:00 PM. Somehow, I had convinced the wife that this was a prudent course of action to take so we could get to our destination by check in time. I figured the drive would take 11 hours or more, and I had no intention of missing one minute of rental time allowed at our Leatherwood cabin. No checks had bounced, most of the credit cards still worked, and I felt confident that as long as diesel stayed under two bucks a gallon we would meet our goals of spending a week in North Carolina near a wisp of a town named Ferguson. The wife wasn't very keen on the idea of me driving through the night, but I had convinced her the cool weather was good for the horses. She and my daughter could both sleep during the drive, and I was so pumped up for this trip there was no way I would pass out while driving the Interstate at 3 AM. I had tried to take a nap earlier in the day, but the excitement running through my blood would not allow such activity; I was acting like a little school girl anticipating ownership of her first horse, except my new horse was the mountains of western North Carolina. It had been three long years since my last visit and I hadn't realized, till now, how much I missed their beauty, especially when viewed from the back of a horse. After I loaded up the horses (Rebel, War Cry and the mare, Moonlight Princess) and made sure the trailer had working lights (a rarity with my rig), we were on the road. And we hadn't gotten a quarter mile from our house when I noticed the fog rolling in. Damn, this will slow us down for sure. And it did. Fog, off and on, till Jacksonville. And way too many trucks. I don't like passing trucks while hauling horses. My bumper pull trailer starts to sway if I get a truck in front of me, one along side, and one behind. And, for some reason, these new tires I just had installed on my pickup did not feel right. I should have stayed with the Michelins. Great; death on the highway, pulling 3 horses in a dilapidated trailer while the wife and kid are sleeping. And, why do so many truckers drive this time of night? And what the heck am I doing out here with them? We get to Charlotte at sunrise. I'm hoping to beat the rush hour traffic, cause I know it's coming. And we do although it had nothing to do with my planning. My plans never work out so I don't even bother trying anymore. I just hope I get lucky; and this time we did. The road to Ferguson, from Wilkesboro, on Highway 268, winds and curves to such an extent I knew we were very close to our final destination named Leatherwood, a horse friendly community like no other. Here horses come first; cars, trucks and the humans who drive them, take a back seat. I found myself hoping nothing had changed in the three years since my first discovery of this remote, and very special, part of the world. I recognized it right away. This picture had been appearing in my dreams quite frequently lately. The valley of lower Leatherwood, the winding creek named Elk, the low level mountains surrounding the two barns and several other large buildings. Luscious green pastures and lots of horses. Nothing gaudy here (except, maybe, for me) and landscaped to perfection. I had returned to paradise, and this time I had bought my wife and daughter to witness it all with me. God does visit this part of the world quite often and it's very apparent he adores horses. I spotted Abby right away. She was walking from the restaurant towards where I was parked, waiting to unload some tired horse flesh. Abby is the cutest, friendliest woman I know (next to the wife, of course) and she gave me a hug to let me know this part of our journey had been successfully completed. She showed me where our stalls were and gave us all a quick tour of the barn. As I was unloading all our tack and accoutrements I had to interrupt Abby, on several occasions to ask her where I could put a certain type of item. I had to explain that I was not used to so much class in a barn. I felt a bit out of place, but Abby made me feel so welcomed that I soon lost that feeling. I could tell she was busy, getting ready for the endurance event she was managing, which was taking place in less than 48 hours, so I tried not to bother her as much as I normally would have. Abby called the cabin rental person in charge and persuaded them to let me and the family check in 5 hours early. Man, I had made some really good time driving here. You'd think I was in a hurry or something. Anyway, I'm not sure if Abby did this out of kindness or to get rid of me, but it worked. We got our keys and after walking the horses around, then putting them in their immaculate stalls and feeding all three, we headed up to a cabin appropriately named "Top of the Mountain." To get to our cabin you drive though a security system, after punching in a code on a keypad, that raises a wooden barrier. As I saw it come up I found myself hoping I wouldn't break this system during the week. I tend to forget codes and such, and after a few beers I might want to see how strong and brave that arm is with my truck bearing down on it at 50 miles per hour. The arm finished rising and away we went. And, right away, we started climbing. Up and up and up we climbed, for a mile and a half (that's what it said on our map), around curves that circled round and round to the point you were bracing yourself to keep your seat. What a cool road this would be to skate board down, if one were so brave to try such a thing. And we started getting some mountain views that you just don't see in Central Florida. Those Florida Gator rednecks had truly arrived and it kind of reminded me of the Clintons living in the White House. Like the Clintons, us being here seemed out of place, but man, did we plan on having a good time while it all lasted.

PART TWO
I asked my wife, Erica, what she thought of the place so far. I knew that I had really built up the whole notion of Leatherwood months before leaving for our vacation, but I was afraid I might of overdone it a bit. She told me, so far, for once in my life, I hadn't exaggerated, and then she looked at me and smiled. I love that smile and know when I get it I'm not in the doghouse. To get to our cabin I had to drive up an incredibly steep hill, which was actually our driveway. The driveway wasn't paved like the road from the stable, it was made of very loose gravel, which made the climb an adventure. After making the 120 degree right turn onto the driveway I realized the hill was so steep I needed to back up onto the paved road, where it was more level, so we could get a running start. Not much traffic in Leatherwood to worry about, but I did look in the mirrors just to make sure I didn't back into anyone going down the mountain. Are you with me so far? I took the truck out of overdrive and then floored the diesel peddle. The propulsion caused the truck to go up the hill so fast and at such an angle Jennifer and Erica both screamed, in unison. They were scared and yelled out again when the back end of the truck started to sway to and fro, as the rear tires lost traction and it looked like we might hit a tree or two, while rapidly climbing the road to our cabin. I remembered doing this three years ago (I had stayed at the same cabin; why mess with perfection?), but it was much more fun this time with two screaming females. The driveway leveled off and we all got out of the truck. "Dad, are you crazy? asked Jennifer as she exited our truck. Erica said, "Jen, you're old enough now to know the answer to that." haha. Then the three of us just stared at what was to be our new home for the week. The cabin was all wooden built in that log cabin design that's so popular in this part of the world. It had two stories and a very large outdoor Jacuzzi; something that comes in real handy after a long day of riding. There was a porch around the front and another one around the back, with spectacular mountain views from both. A gas grill large enough to cook out for a redneck hunting club, three or four rocking chairs, a lover's swing and a hammock, tied between two large trees, in the front yard. And, from our west porch, there was an overwhelming view of the Blue Ridge Mountains with the star attraction being Grandfather Mountain. Grandfather was the largest mountain on the Blue Ridge chain coming in at just under 6,000 feet. I knew cause I had looked all this up on the Internet. And there he was, staring right back at me from my twelve o'clock porch view. Howdy, Gramps, you and me are going to get to know each other's face purty well whenever the lack of clouds allow me to see ya. Now, my wife, she likes to hike. And I knew we were going to do some of that during the week, but my plan was to ride horses every other free moment. I wanted to learn the trails of Leatherwood better than anything. I was even planning on taking the horses to other mountains in North Carolina, especially to a place called Cold Mountain, but when I came to realize the logistics of it all, I concluded this would not be possible. I decided to stick with learning Leatherwood. Distances have a way of getting longer and longer when you sit down and figure how fast you can travel trailering three horses up and down these mountain roads. Time travel comes out of warp drive and takes the pace of our ancestors traveling by covered wagon here in the mountains. For the next week, to make up for the fact I wasn't going to have the time needed to visit that part of North Carolina, I decided to pretend Grandfather was Cold Mountain, every time I looked to the west from our cabin porch. One day, before I die, I will achieve my personal quest of finding Inman's tracks back to his beloved and the place they called home. I highly recommend ya'll reading this book ("Cold Mountain", by Charles Frazier) sometime if you haven't already done so. My hardback copy, worn and tattered, was sitting in my truck cab. The picture on the cover of the book, depicting those mountains, was identical to the view from my new porch. OK, enough of all that; I've probably bored most of ya'll to tears with my rendition of those mountains. I'll stop for now, but please forgive me if I have a relapse. After a much needed nap, the three of us headed back down to the barn. Some of the endurance riders were arriving from different parts of the south, and I noticed we even had a few Yankees. I met Skip and his wife, from the land of pleasant living (Maryland), a couple from New York, who actually wanted to meet me, probably to find out what I looked like in person (and I don't think it's an older version of Harry Potter, as someone has suggested, although I do still act like a kid). Even though it's rare for anyone to want to do this, it's been my experience that I know I will disappoint them in person; I always do. I'm not sure what they're actually looking for, but I do know I ain't it. lol. Michelle, from the panhandle, was there. She had been camping by Elk Creek since Monday, and like us, was staying a full week. Michelle loved these mountains and trails and said it was the best place she has been to for endurance training. Michelle has been all over the world, including the infamous United Arab Emirates, competing in the sport of endurance. We all decided we had to hit the trails together as soon as possible, which would be early tomorrow (Friday) morning. Duane and Nina were, also, there. They come out to Leatherwood, from Raleigh, every free week-end they can, to do some serious training. All of these folks, Michelle, Nina and Duane, are top competitors, and just the idea that they talk to the likes of me touches me deeply. I go out of my way to try and make them laugh, with little success, just so they continue to do this. Duane offered to take us all on a trail ride the next day, if we wanted, to show us one of the more popular views from a place called Raven Rock. Erica, Michelle, Jennifer and I readily accepted the offer. My horses would have more time to rest up from the trip and should all be fresh tomorrow. And then I saw her; across the road at the other barn. She has an unmistakable look to her, that blonde hair, those legs, and she usually wears shorts when she's not riding, no matter how cold it is. She's my favorite endurance rider, even ahead of my gal, Val, and the mere sight of her, here at Leatherwood, just about made me cry. Nina's mom, Susan Kasemeyer was here, and I knew there would be some serious joke telling going on this week-end. If you ever want to know anything about anyone or an answer to any question including the big one, "What's it all about?" just ask Susan K. If she don't know, there is no answer. When God has a question, he goes to Susan.
[RC] Back from Leatherwood.

BACK FROM LEATHERWOOD
Man, I gotta tell ya'll, I'm moving. I'm moving to the mountains, just as soon as I can. Course I still have a year or so left on my probation, but as soon as that's over, I'm heading north, but staying south, if you know what I mean. I just fell in love with the mountains of North Carolina. 34 degrees in April? NO problem. I loved it. What a view I had of Grandfather Mountain! To die for, and if you ride those trails like me, you just might. Actually, I might not be able to afford those North Carolina real estate prices, but I hear the mountains in Tennessee are a real bargain, and just as pretty. Watch out Susan K., you might have a new neighbor. I'll write about Leatherwood tomorrow sometime, as soon as I get some sleep. Just rolled in from a ten hour haul and I am truly exhausted. But the horses did great and I'm a proud flatlander. And anyone who completed that 50 miler at Leatherwood, my hat is off to you. If there is a more difficult 50 anywhere else I would sure like to see it. Abby and Phil did such a fantastic job at this ride; I can't believe I missed the 2nd and 3rd year. I'm so glad I got there this time. I bet next year they fill up quick when the word gets out as to how this year's ride went. It will never be another Biltmore cause I think they can only fit in a hundred or so riders, and that's a good thing. The bad thing is they might have to start a waiting list for next year already! All I can say is save me a spot for 2003 cause I'm coming back. I miss it already.

PART THREE
I tried to sneak up from behind on her, but she was way too sharp for that. "Oh, heck, I heard you was here," she says to me. "Yea, I get that response a lot from folks when they find out I actually did show up to a ride," I responded. Then, Susan starts in right away. "There were these three men sitting in a bar, talking......" Another terrific joke, and I just love listening to her tell em. I spend some time with her, watching her do stuff to prepare for Saturday's ride. We discuss how tough doing a 50 at Leatherwood is, and I let her know that I'm only doing the LD, which is the most difficult 25 mile ride one can ever do. I'm one of the few folks who will drive over a thousand miles (round trip) to ride a horse 25. "Is the wife doing it with you and Jen?" she asks. "Nope, I think Erica is going to volunteer at this one since I scared her a bit. I made the mistake of letting her know it took me just under 6 hours to finish a 25 here three years ago. Course, that was my rookie year in the sport. I'm hoping to shave off at least 30 minutes this time." As I continue talking with Susan I notice we are constantly interrupted by folks who know her (she's like Mayor Guliani at these rides she's so popular and well known), saying things like "Hey, Susan, I see you got Trouble with you today." And they weren't talking about her horse. haha. After awhile, I let her be since I see she has lots to do and I know our talking is slowing her down. I didn't want her to get too much of me all in one swoop, it was going to be a long week-end, even though I knew it would all go by quicker than a blink of an eye. Life has a way of traveling that speed when you're enjoying yourself as much as I do at a well run endurance event like Leatherwood. But, between you and me, I could have stayed with her all day long, just listening to her talk. I did see Phil a few times while hanging around the barn. Phil is the only person I know who lives at Leatherwood year round. I hadn't seen his place yet, but I heard it was the most beautiful thing you ever did see. I think Phil owns something like 80 acres, which is just an incredible amount of land, especially here in the mountains. Anyway, the Leatherwood Extreme Challenge Endurance Ride was all Phil's idea 4 or so years ago, and with Abbie's help, they both have put together something really special. Phil was busy on a 4 wheeler with a chain saw on his lap. Looks like he was heading off on one of the loops to cut up some recently fallen trees that were blocking the trail. I started hoping none of them landed on me or Jennifer during the ride. The next day the three of us awoke feeling fresh and ready to go for a ride. Unfortunately, my mare, Moonlight Princess, had lost one of her shoes. We all agreed that Jennifer would sit out the ride to Raven Rock so Erica could experience the trail with Duane and Nina leading the way. Funny thing is I had told a few folks about this endeavor yesterday and when we all started saddling up I counted over 25 riders. Duane had expected about six. Nina started in on me, right away, saying to those around her that there's the telephone, the telegraph, and the tella-Howard. I thought it was quite humorous her saying this since Nina is one of my best sources of information, next to her mom. haha. Now Duane is more on the quiet side compared to his informative wife. But even Duane seems to enjoy teasing me when he gets the chance. He told me that he really enjoys coming out to Leatherwood on the week-ends and was wondering just how often I planned on sticking around, since he knew I enjoyed it also. He said he would hate to have to give up those week-ends all together. I told him not to worry, I can only afford to do this once or twice in a lifetime, so he wouldn't be seeing too much of me here at Leatherwood. Funny thing is, I remember Phil and Abbie wondering the same thing. As I saddled up War Cry and Erica saddled up Rebel, we both seemed to have a little trouble with the new cruppers we had recently purchased. Couldn't figure out which way the end thing went around their tails. Erica told me, "No, I don't think it goes that way. How they gonna poop?" I said I thought that the poop will find it's way out and that part of the crupper will just get a little brown. Yuck! As we waited for the other 30 riders to start saddling up (yea, the number kept growing) it was apparent that War Cry did not want to leave Princess, who was causing quite a commotion in her stall. Both horses started talking to each other, each lamenting on how terrible it was for them to be separated like this, and War Cry was bound and determined to act like I was making him go without his consent. This caused Rebel, my only safe horse, to start acting up with Erica. She started talking, to no one in particular, like she does when a horse makes her a bit nervous, and I knew our adventure was just beginning. Of course, everyone else's horse did not perform in such a manner; any rider nearby found out that Howard's poorly trained horses were gonna give them all quite a show. If you've ever wanted to know if your personality affects your horse's behavior all you gotta do is ride with me. Craziness is contagious and it can cross over to different species. You should meet my dog! Finally, we headed out along the road that parallels Elk creek. We went down this normally non busy road, but of course, today there was much more traffic than normal due to riders coming in for the endurance ride. Duane eventually led us off the road, through someone's side yard to get to the trail. War Cry made noises the entire way, to let everyone know how he got his name; you'd swear this guy was a stallion instead of a gelding. Rebel and War Cry look like brothers, they both have that flea bitten gray coloring and are about the same size coming in at 15 hands. War Cry does have a shorter back and his gray coloring runs a bit darker than Rebel's. Erica had calmed her horse and herself down a little and started to enjoy the scenery as we began to climb up the mountain. The terrain was quite rugged and I remember having to duck under one branch that one of the front riders had caused to swing back and forth. I wasn't used to avoiding one that actually was moving, especially since I had to sit at an angle while climbing a mountain, but everyone seemed to get through it unscathed. Up and up we went with not much room to trot and a canter was out of the question. I kept saying (you know I can't keep my mouth shut with all these endurance riders around me) how beautiful it all was and telling Duane, our leader, how he was "the man" for taking us all out here. He responded that a good tip would be appreciated so I gave him one. I said, "Don't do Leatherwood without some fresh shoes on your horse." Seemed like a good tip to me, but I think Duane already knew that.

PART FOUR
Debbie, from New England, who happened to be stalling her horse next to ours at the barn, was riding behind me. She seemed to be enjoying the trail, and even thanked me for inviting her along. I told her anyone who rides along with me is very brave indeed and thanked her back. I truly enjoy the company of endurance riders especially when we aren't all racing and actually get a chance to talk with one another. Even though most of the trees were bare missing all their leaves (I don't think Spring had yet sprung here in the mountains) the mountain views were incredible. To the west I know I spotted Cold Mountain, even though most locals would say such a thing is not possible. I saw Inman trekking along those mountain paths, fighting off the Home Guard who kept trying to kill him, and getting closer and closer to his beloved. Throw in a running brook alongside the trail and I knew things couldn't get much better. Even War Cry had finally shut up and was taking in the scenery. One thing I noticed is neither of my horses did their normal Arab sidestep spook during this ride. Such a thing could literally take you over the edge but the horses seemed to know this was not the day for such silly behavior. These creatures know how to survive. I've been riding with spurs lately, just to get more control of my horse, and I was glad I had them on today. When War Cry would get a little too close to the edge, where some of the drop offs were quite intimidating, I'd spur him (just a touch) on that side to get us closer to the safe side of the trail. After about an hour or less, we had all reached our destination. Now, Duane announced, comes the fun part. We were to tie our horses, or have someone hold them, and hike down the western side of the mountain to get down to the ledge that was Raven Rock. He said it would be safer to go down in two separate groups, so Erica went down with the first one while I held on to Rebel and War Cry's reins. I had no intention of tying my guys to a tree on top of this mountain. When the first group got back it turned out that the second group consisted of only me and Nina. Seemed like no one else in the second group wanted to risk their lives climbing down a mountain with me tagging along. Nina led the way and pointed to a rope tied to several trees that led down to the Rock. "You might want to use that," she says. The trail was so steep this rope was the only thing to keep you from falling off. Going down wasn't that hard for Nina so she talked and talked about life and such. I didn't say much cause I was having trouble breathing, walking, and holding on to this rope all at the same time. I found her conversation quite interesting and if I ever spent an hour or so with her I'd have enough information on every endurance rider in the Universe to write a book. I even tried to tell her some things that I thought Nina might not know, but every time I did she'd say, "Oh, yea, I heard that." Next time I'll just have to make up some stuff to see if I can get her on something she doesn't know. I do believe Nina has some sort of photographic memory. We finally got to Raven Rock and, from there, had the most fantastic view of lower Leatherwood, the creek, the winding road, the two large barns and pasture. You could see where the riders were pulling in and parking their rigs. It was quite a sight. Then it was time to climb back up that hill since we didn't want to keep them all waiting for the two of us. If it was only me down here I bet they would have taken off, except maybe for my wife, but since Nina was with me, they were all still there when we got back up. This time even Nina didn't talk very much, climbing that mountain literally took one's breath away. I'm going to fast forward here, just cause I feel like it, and thought ya'll might get a kick out of this one. It's Saturday, the day of the ride, and my wife is one of the volunteers working in the P & R area. My buddy, Jim Holland, who is in the 50, has just finished his first loop. For those of you who don't know, Jim has been around the sport longer than anyone can remember. In fact Jim has told me it was he who actually invented the sport of endurance while working for the Pony Express, but this has yet to be validated. Jim's crew area was located close to the P & R location where my wife happened to be working. Joan, Jim's crew of one, was performing her duties, which normally consist of doing everything while Jim sits in a chair and takes a break. Since Erica wasn't very busy at the time, she happened to witness the following between Jim and Joan: Joan had just finished taking Jim's horse, Sunny, through the P & R and the subsequent vet check. She handed the vet card to Jim who studied it closely to see what grades the vet had given Sunny. When he was done looking at the card, he said, "Now Joan, I happened to notice it took you one minute and 22 seconds to remove Sunny's tack before you started sponging. We need to shave off at least 30 seconds from that time so here's what we're gonna do. When I come in next time I want you to position yourself on Sunny's right side. I'll get off the left side and as I'm loosening the cinch I want you to remove the breast collar and crupper. Then you remove the saddle like you normally do and proceed with the sponging. That should do the trick." Now I don't know about you, but when Erica told me about this later that afternoon I gagged on some food I was swallowing and had to spit it out, or die, because I was laughing so darn hard. The phrase "shave off 30 seconds" stuck with me that entire night and I can't tell you how much fun I had repeating it to Jim and Joan when I saw them at the award's ceremony. My NASCAR hat is off to Jim and I'm going to send Bill Elliot Jim's email address so Bill can get some good advice on how his pit crew can shave off a few seconds while refueling and changing the tires. haha OK, let's get back to Friday. Sorry to do that out of chronological order, but I just had to get that one out. It just cracks me up every time I think about it. And, Jim, remember you did say I could write about that one, even though I waited until you had finished a few gin and tonics before I asked. The 30 or so riders completed their Raven Rock adventure without any injuries, horse or human. War Cry began letting Princess know we were on our way home as soon as we hit the paved road back to Leatherwood. And, even though it was a mile or so away, I could hear her answering back. The power of a mare is awesome and must be appreciated for what it is. That night Abbie gave us all a preview of the show to come as she discussed, in detail, the three separate trails. The 50 milers were leaving at 6:00 AM on the pink trail, the 25 milers at 6:30, also, on the pink. It was obvious that Abbie knew every inch of the three trails and she let us know where we'd be able to trot or canter our horses and where it would either be a steep climb or descent. I picked up on the fact that there wasn't much area to let your horse run, most of the trails were steep, going up or going down. Welcome to the Leatherwood Extreme Challenge! Tomorrow, the adventure would truly begin.

PART FIVE
I must say sleeping in a heated cabin on top of a mountain does one's soul a world of good. And for the first time at an endurance ride, I actually did get a good night's rest the night before Showtime. What a difference it makes, having your horses in a barn over a mile away. It's a heck of a lot safer than sleeping in your tent wondering if a loose horse is going to stampede your campsite maiming all inside. I do believe this is why you see so few endurance riders sleeping in tents anymore. The fear of death and a great line of credit will get you a safe goose neck trailer with sleeping quarters every time. It rained late Friday night. I even heard some thunder and had to get out of bed just to make sure I was really in North Carolina, and not back in Central Florida, where that particular sound is almost a daily occurance. As I looked out my window, spotting an occasional flash of lightning, I could see the bolt's reflection illuminating those Blue Ridge mountains. Whew, I am where I was supposed to be. All was well, so I went back to bed. Jen and I woke up early, around 5:00 AM, without me having to knock on her door. My kid is so into this sport and the fact that I don't have to get her out of bed this early shows me how much. I wanted to let Erica sleep in as long as possible, but knew we had to be at the barn before the 50 milers started. Once 6:00 AM came around I figured they would close off part of the road that we drove down to get to the barn. I found myself wanting to be in the 50 miler, but I just had a feeling none of my horses were ready for a Leatherwood 50, even though all three of them had done that distance down in the flatlands. Although we do train in deep sand, I don't think anything prepares the horse and rider for mountains and rugged terrain except spending time in that environment and doing serious training there. Erica got out of bed and the three of us made the drive down the mountain to the barn. It was not raining but you could tell, from the puddles, that it had earlier. Erica and Jennifer had both slept so soundly that night they hadn't heard any of it. I bet most of the endurance riders who were camping out heard it. As we pulled in to the area near the barn I couldn't find anywhere to park so I ended up in front of the restaurant where a sign said "Restaurant Parking Only." I made the gamble that they wouldn't ticket or tow away my truck. I almost wrote out a sign that said, "Phil and Abbie told me I could park here," but decided that might get me towed away for sure. Erica said she'd move it to an open spot close to the barn as soon as one became available. She knows how much I do love my diesel truck. Jen and I both got our tack ready and I fed the horses. All three of them were so jumpy, with all the activity going on, I became concerned that they wouldn't eat like I wanted. I started thinking I should have come down here at 4:00 am to feed them, like I normally do at a ride. That cabin is spoiling us for sure, but what a way to go. I saw Michelle walking around and asked her why she wasn't on her horse getting ready. She told me she had decided to pull out of the 50 because of the rain. Since I knew she had already ridden the trails earlier in the week preparing for this ride, her decision, which I know wasn't made lightly, concerned me. But I had come too far, and there was no way I would pull out of a ride because of rain. I had driven almost 600 miles, one way, to take my horse and Jen's a measly 25 miles and we were gonna do it; I didn't care if it starting snowing (wouldn't that be exciting?). The weather was cool and damp, temperature was in the low 40's with a forecasted high close to 70. Even though the humidity was high, I found myself enjoying the change from Florida where it actually hit 90 degrees last week. I started wondering how much longer our credit cards would keep us here hidden away in the cool clouds of the North Carolina mountains. Not long enough, that's for sure. Jen saddled up Rebel and I did the same with War Cry. I had planned on riding my Paint for this ride, but she looked like she had lost some weight to me recently, so I decided on going with the Arab, who so far seemed to really enjoy this rugged terrain. Our start time was getting closer and I heard Nancy, time keeper of the South extraordinaire, announce, "ya'll got 5 minutes." Here we go. I didn't bother with the crupper; I just don't like using them (messy, messy, messy) and didn't think it was necessary. Breast collars though are an absolute must here and I tried to make sure my adjustment was just right, not too tight and not loosey goosey. War Cry doesn't have much of a chest or a gut, for that matter; he's the only horse I own that takes a 30 inch western girth. And I had to get really creative with the breast collar to get it anywhere close to his chest. Jen told me she was "ready to rumble" so we both exited our stalls with our horses simultaneously. Princess started acting up, but War Cry didn't seem as agitated about being separated from her as he was yesterday. I think my coolly named horse knew what we were about to do. I just love the feeling I get in the pit of my stomach at these rides; the excitement, the adrenaline kicking in. I don't think I'll ever tire of it. I wonder what Jen feels? It must be the coolest thing in the world for her. Probably what I'm feeling times ten. Jen and I mount up, Nancy gives her count down, and Abbie leads the controlled start in a 4 wheeler. A good size group of just under 60 riders departs, slowly at first. Jen and I inch up in the middle of the pack cause I know, once they release the controls, it will be difficult to pass anyone for quite some time. We follow Abbie along the horse trail that bypasses around the wooden arm barrier (I had yet to destroy this thing with my truck) and we all continued down familiar territory for me and Jen. I know most of the riders haven't seen this area because very few are renting a cabin here. And I only gave that security code out to thirty or so riders who wanted to see my cabin. Bring along a six pack of beer and you receive time in my Jacuzzi and the magic code that lifts that arm. haha. Abbie turns a corner, pulls off the road and shuts off the 4-wheeler, letting us all loose on our own. The first part of the trail is actually a narrow paved road, and up it goes, right away. We travel past the covered swimming pool, the tennis courts and a camping area with a large erected Tee Pee, which I bet is just full of young kids in the summer time. The road soon turns to dirt and a rugged rocky trail. I remembered Abbie telling us last night this first loop begins with a two mile climb. And, so far, it looks like she was not joking. The pace is mostly a quick trot with an occasional canter. Some folks try and pass, but most riders seem to be content staying where they are. War Cry is in front of Rebel and he's raring to go. Up and up we go and War Cry acts like it's nothing. I have yet to hear this horse pant, but I bet I hear it sometime later today. He wants to pass the horse in front of him but I hold him back. This magical feeling of true horse power, first thing in the early morning mist, with 60 other horses and riders is just so damn cool!

PART SIX
The drop offs are so steep I don't want to endanger us, or others, by trying to pass anyone right now. The time for that will come soon enough. Most of the riders seem to feel the same way, but there is one guy (there always is) behind Jen and me who goes flying past us, like he is racing for a million bucks in FEI prize money. I see him coming and position my horse so he has to pass us on the outside of the trail; the side that drops off. If he's in such a hurry it will be his neck that takes the risk of breaking, not mine or Jennifer's (when War Cry moves to one side Rebel follows immediately). I know AERC has a rule about blocking trail for riders who want to pass, but I wonder what the rule is when passing while going up a narrow, dangerous mountain trail? Being a flatlander I truly did not know; I must ask Susan about this later. If this rude rider falls off the edge, he'll be lucky if anyone stops to help him. I'll stop for the horse, but this rider is on his own. There are two distinct groups in front. I see the front runners, a group of 7 or so, separating from the second group, the one Jen and I are in. The front group is doing more cantering, and the leader of our group has slowed down to a trot and occasional walk. I can tell others want to pass her, but because of the narrowness of the trail, they wisely elect not to do so. Jen and I are getting horses and riders breathing down our necks because the non-elected leader of our group is going too slow. I find this first loop quite awesome because you can see most of the riders ahead of you as the trail zig zags up the side of the mountain. At Florida rides I'm lucky to see two or three riders ahead of me, the trees and level ground only allow short distance views; here I see twenty or more riders ahead of us, and if I turn around I'll spot the other 40. After the 2 mile climb the trail widens and levels off. We're on some kind of ridge line here and a coup takes place changing leaders in our second group. Jen and I follow the new guy making his charge (a male appropriately wearing a helmet with an American flag type cover) and start passing several riders who have yet to join the revolution. I'm surprised at how wide and level it is here and we go at the pace we travel frequently down in Florida, the canter. For quite some time the inclines and declines are not at all steep so we stay in that gait, or the extended trot, for quite a bit longer than I thought possible here at Leatherwood. The air is cool, the footing firm with little to no rocks, the horses fresh, and if this feeling isn't the most exciting and exhilarating one in the world, I don't know what is. The fighter pilot can have his jet aircraft, the NASCAR racer his super fast car. All I want from life is to be on a competitive horse, right here, right now. And this quick paced ridge line, with beautiful views, just adds to the thrill and enjoyment of it all. Michelle, you're gonna regret not going out today when I tell you about this one. The trails, so far, are so dry you wouldn't even know it rained last night. You can burn out your horse traveling too hard and too fast during that first loop. I've seen it happen quite often and I think it's the gallop and fast canter that will do this quicker than anything. That's why the horse has, or should have, an efficient extended trot: my most favorite gait to travel in during either an endurance or a limited distance event. And I downshift War Cry into this gear after ten or fifteen minutes of cantering. I'm still amazed at the pace we can travel here. Even going down hill we stay in the trot. The descent is not a great one, so Jen and I just sit back in the saddle and down the hill we go. It's not the extended trot, but it is the trot. Halfway through the loop, at a water stop, I realize that we are almost traveling at the pace we do in the flatlands of Georgia and Florida. Erica will think we've lost our minds when we pull into the vet check. But, I'm guessing that there are over 20 or so riders ahead of us so we won't be the only ones covering ground like this. Even here at Leatherwood, the Limited Distance training run is what I've seen it transition into at the other rides I attend. Make no mistake, it's a 25 mile race, nothing more, nothing less. And if anyone who comes in at one of the top ten positions tells you otherwise, they are not being entirely truthful. I'm not saying everyone who enters a Limited Distance run races like they just stole a horse and are running from the law; but I am saying that the front runners do, and God help them if their horses are not prepared. You won't feel like much of a winner if you're sitting under a tree holding your horse's lead rope making sure the IV needle doesn't come out. I know, cause I've been there and don't want to ever go back there again. Our horses are really into this cooler weather; they aren't sweating and, as I sponge War Cry off I notice his skin is not warm at all. Just amazing! Temperature, along with humidity, is everything to a horse. Maybe living in Florida, training in that awful heat with matching dew points, is paying off after all. War Cry and Rebel have both turned into mega-horses this morning with this 45 degree weather. And it's quite obvious they are enjoying it as much, maybe even more, than Jen and me. I'm loving this all so much I want to let out a really BIG SCREAM as in YESSSSSSSSSSSSS, but I don't only for fear of a horse and rider reacting to the noise and falling off the ridge line into oblivion. The field finally starts to spread out. Jen and I continue keeping up a good pace. I'm starting to wonder if, maybe, we should have entered the 50 here after all. Ah, but it's still early, we have much more to do. And there's always that dreaded vet check. Both of my Arabs, lately, seem to come up with this subtle head bobbing, and the Eagle eyed vet never misses it. "So sorry Mister Howard but your horse appears lame and I'd advise you not to continue." Ha, I just love hearing that one when the horse was perfectly fine out on the trail for the last 14 miles. My favorite is when all the vets get together and make you trot out your horse one more time. You know you're toast when this happens. I think I still hold the record for the most trot outs at one vet check (7). By the time I was done I was Grade Three lame and no longer fit to continue. My heart rate would not come down and my respiration was inverted. Someone suggested I remove all my tack and hose off everything except for the rear end. Another suggested an IV and started to shave off some of my chest hair. Then this guy comes over, shoves a funnel down my throat and proceeds to pour Lite Salt into my stomach, which happens to be loaded with ulcers. The affect from all that salt makes me burp and fart, simultaneously. The subsequent pain in my stomach, from the salt eating away at the ulcer openings, causes me to freak out completely. I remove the funnel, pull out the IV and begin screaming to the crowd that has gathered around me, "Pull me, please. As God is my witness I can go on no longer. And will someone please hand me my clothes?" And, Nancy marks me down as pulled, "RO", for Rider Option. haha I

PART SEVEN
From that last paragraph you could probably surmise that I've gone completely whacko when it comes to the sport of endurance. If I were a younger man, and could find the horse to do the job, I would actually consider doing a hundred mile ride (yea, I know, I've changed considerably from those early days). Since I cannot turn back the hands of time and haven't found a horse that I think is capable of such a feat, I stick to 50's and 25's. I do believe that one day soon my daughter will attempt a hundred mile ride. Heck, she's ready now, but I don't have the horse that is at that level. But, I do know a few folks who do and I'm working on them for her whenever I can. One of the things that did my heart good was to see Nina, of all people, riding her young horse in a 25 here at Leatherwood. It was the first time, and probably the last, that I would ever see her doing a Limited Distance event. She and her husband are both renowned hundred milers. And I knew she knew Leatherwood better than most riders here since she and Duane come out to train on a regular basis. And, believe it or not, there was a seasoned Pan Am rider here at Leatherwood also in the 25. They were doing the LD as it was intended: for training. Jen and I are still on the first loop, colored Pink, and we have 4 miles left. So far, the loop, except for the beginning, is much easier than I ever expected. We seem to be descending, gradually, so I think we'll be in the valley sooner than expected. Rebel has yet to pass me and War Cry; Jen has actually told me to slow down a couple of times. This is a first, but I do as asked. I think trotting down these hills actually makes my overly competitive daughter a bit nervous. We still descend and I hear the running brook which means we're close to the valley. We go past an old barn, cross a creek, which connects to the brook (OK, I have no idea what differentiates a brook from a creek; I'm just trying to be creative here) and follow the trail that parallels the road leading to the two large barns signifying the end of this loop. We pull our horses back to the slow trot and even walk for a little hoping to get their heart rates down. Both my Arabs have fantastic metabolics and I'm hoping to slip ahead of some folks at the vet check. Competition is in my blood today (yea, I know it's just a training ride); I'm in total shock that we've done the first 14 mountain miles in an hour and 45 minutes. Quite a change from the last time I was here. We get to the vet check area and there's a lot of activity going on. Michelle spots us and asks if we need any help. Are you kidding? I should have a sign on my back that reads, "I Always Need HELP!" I know that my wife is busy in the P & R area volunteering so I jump at Michelle's offer. She has large buckets of water, racks for your tack and just all kinds of cool stuff she had set up for her 50 mile ride; the one she didn't go out on. I make sure not to tell Michelle I think she might have made a mistake. I know she has a temper and a stupid remark like that might set her off. Michelle has a very cool hand held electronic heart monitor and starts playing around with it. Jen and I take our tack off and start sponging. In less than 5 minutes time our Miss Helpful announces Rebel is already down. And so is War Cry. Just amazing! To the vet area we travel. Michelle yells out, "Walk, Howard, don't run, they're close." Erica is busy with another horse and rider, and I don't think it would be appropriate for her to P & R us anyway, so we go to one of the other volunteers. They give us both a time in and we proceed to another section where the vets are located. The line is small and there are three vets working. We vet through just fine although both Rebel and War Cry got B's on gut sounds. The vet asks, "Are they eating on the trail?" Obviously, this man has not seen the trail. I wanted to say, "Ah, well, I haven't gotten them trained on eating rocks and downed trees yet, but we're working on it." I kind of lied and said they were eating fine, which they would soon be doing in their stalls. I had already messed up their morning feed so I was planning on making up for it right now. We put the two Arabs in their stalls, Princess lets out a sigh of relief, I throw together some soaked beet pulp with grain and electrolytes and then I wander over to watch the wife work. I bet she has a few stories to tell me about some of these timid (sic) endurance riders. And, when she gets a break she does. She told me the Jim thing, which I already let ya'll in on (next time you see Jim ask him why Howard calls him "30 second Jimbo"), and then she tells me about a 50 miler who got upset with her a little while pulsing in. Erica, evidently didn't yell out the in time loud enough for Nancy, the gatekeeper of all records, to hear. So this rider says to my wife, "You need to be more aggressive." Now, those with a short fuse probably would have lost it, right then and right there, to show this lady just how aggressive they can be, but my sweet wife just walked over to Nancy and got the time for Miss "Gotta go, gotta go, gotta go right now" endurance rider. (Don't ya just hate that stupid commercial?) Jen and I were tacking up for our second and final loop when a volunteer comes rushing in to Abbie and announces "a horse is down" out on the trail. They figure out where the horse is located and Abbie and the head vet all take off lickety split. This does not sound good and I'm wondering if it's on the same trail I'm about to head out on since the 50 milers are doing the same order as us, just sooner. Remind me to fill ya'll in later on this horse down story. It might sound familiar. So far we've completed 14.5 miles and have 11 to go on the yellow loop. Now Michelle has already told me the Yellow loop is the killer; the most difficult one here. The third loop is the Blue one but only the 50 milers get to experience it. Anyway, the first part of the Yellow coincides with the Pink, so we get to do that 2 plus mile climb all over again before branching off to the East. The horses travel a bit slower now, they're not tired, but not as excited as they were early this morning when traveling with 60 other fresh pace setters. We spot a rider up ahead and I remember seeing her in that very first group earlier. I tell Jen we're gonna follow her for a while. And we do. One thing I've learned is if you can get someone else to take the lead, and they set a good pace, your horse will follow and it will be less stressful for him than it is on the lead horse. Sort of like what the NASCAR guys do when they "drag" (tailgate) behind another race car, but with the horse it has nothing to do with cutting down the wind resistance. We're cutting a little off his anxiety level and giving him an incentive to keep moving.

PART EIGHT
This time, the 2 mile climb seems steeper and much more difficult than the last time we were here. At one point War Cry just stops, while going up a hill. Jennifer passes me and continues upward. War Cry is panting so I ask Jen to stop for awhile cause I can tell Rebel is breathing hard, also. The weather has warmed quite a bit, maybe close to 60 or so, and that, added to these mountain climbs, are starting to take their toll. We walk up the last stretch of climbing and stop again where the trail levels off. The horses catch their breath, and we proceed to trot, but it's not a fast one. As soon as we branch off where the Pink and Yellow separate, the trail turns into the rocks from Hell, everything becomes incredibly steep and rugged. The footing is the worst I've seen all day. We get to an area appropriately named "Slick Rock Trail." Some of these rocks protrude upward of 18 inches or so and they are everywhere. And, we have found the mud Michelle was so worried about, remnants from last nights rain. This is the Leatherwood I remember from three years ago when it took me six hours to do 25 miles. And the steepness just increased dramatically. We walk down the hills and are lucky to get a trot out of the horses going up. I think the canter just said Bye Bye for the day. On and on it goes. We stay behind our newly elected leader, but quite often she'll get ahead of us, and then we eventually catch up to her. Jen stays ahead of me on Rebel, who seems to be faring quite well but I think it's because he has "The Flea" on his back instead of me. It's at this point, midway on the yellow loop going up an incredible incline, that I know I made the right decision not entering that 50 miler here. Whoever came up with this route has one sick sense of humor. We reach the last water stop and a volunteer tells us we have 4 miles left to go. He then announces there are only 5 riders ahead of our group of 3. Uh oh, someone just threw a carrot in front of us. I did not want to hear that and I'm wondering what happened to the 17 riders I know were in front of us after that first loop? And the answer is we passed them all at the vet check, no doubt about that one. So, of course, we all take off, knowing that riders behind us will be gunning for our positions. I make the mistake of telling Jennifer how this ride offers the coolest prizes of all the rides I've attended; even to the LDers. I see the look of greed on her face as she whispers something in Rebel's ear and he begins to canter up another steep incline. And, as I predicted, three other riders from our rear gain ground and try to pass. One of the riders from that group says, "50 miler coming through," so I slow down and let her pass. As she does I see a W on her horse's butt and realize she pulled a fast one on me; she's a 25 miler, with a very good sense of humor. I've seen some riders do unusual things to get that coveted top ten award, but this one is a first, and I did think it was quite clever. The other two riders, young girls who look to be 16 or so, pass me and Jennifer. As the three of them canter up the hill while Jen and I walk I tell my daughter that we'll get them in the P & R. "Their horses looked tired, Jen. And remember, we're here to train and ride all week long so if we come in at eleven and twelve it's still pretty awesome." No comment from my teenager. Sometimes, I wish the volunteers wouldn't tell us what place we are in cause I'd rather not know. The last 4 miles were the most toughest, grueling miles I've ever experienced anywhere. The sun is out, I'm now wearing only a sweated up T-Shirt, with my jacket wrapped around my waist, and I'm started to think of getting off and walking my horse. The only thing that stops me are these Ariat boots I'm wearing, that are not made for walking. Next time I'll be wearing sneakers if I can find a pair that will allow me to keep my spurs on. I've never experienced this kind of fatigue so early in the game. It will be quite interesting to see how the 50 milers do as far as completions. Last year, here at Leatherwood, the 50 mile completion rate was less than 50 per cent, and it's no wonder. Quite a few folks exceeded the time limit. Up to the very last mile we're still climbing. This has got to be the toughest and longest 4 miles I've ever experienced. I will keep this loop in mind and will avoid it like the plague during my week long stay. I will experience the Blue loop, which I hear is almost as bad, just so I can do it, but I think my week will be spent traversing, over and over again, the lovely, much more level, ridge line pink trail. Princess, my mare, looks great in pink anyway. We come upon a rider who is walking his horse, our former leader earlier this morning, wearing his American Flag designed helmet. He hears us coming and mounts up, not wanting us to pass. We start descending and I swear if this isn't the final trek into the valley I'm going to seriously question the distance of this loop. Down and down we go, leaving the rocks from Hell, and finally, praise Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Confucius, and all other spiritual entities, we get to the paved road that takes us back to the barn. I'm exhausted, War Cry is definitely tired, and I will never forget this loop till the day I die. Yellow has just become my least favorite color. We lumber back to the barn trying to avoid Princess' gaze. It's going to be difficult enough to get our horse's rate down to 60, which will signify the order of the 25's. That's our finish line and it's one of the rules that really do make the LD a learning experience. Even though I do feel Jen and I have an advantage by doing 50 milers, I know that we would never have completed one here at Leatherwood. If you complete a 50 here you should seriously consider stepping up to a 100 miler. Michelle is fresh and perky, compared to Jen and myself. She helps us again, wanting us to top ten. I think it's a Florida thing; we all do feel kind of out of place up here in these mountains and stick together. Out comes the magical monitor and Rebel is mid 70's. We sponge, scrape, sponge, scrape, over and over again. Michelle checks out War Cry and he's just a bit higher than Rebel. I'm wondering how he's going to do his trot out for completion once he does come down? Well, I won't drag this out much longer. Aren't you glad I'm not writing about a 50? We'd still have two more loops to go if I did that. haha, Howard at Leatherwood, part 49. Bear with me just a little longer. Because Steph and John have this 17K limit put on any post to Ridecamp, I will have to go to part nine, but it will be the final part, I promise. You do want to hear about that downed horse, right? Besides, I'm really anxious to hear Lisa's version knowing how some of her ride turned out. Get to typing Lisa, and don't forget those Wendy jokes. Wendy was one of the few folks brave enough to visit my cabin, and when I took her up our driveway she screamed louder than Jennifer and Erica combined. lol.

PART NINE
Anyway, Jen and I did top ten (8th and 9th). To be quite honest, I fully expected to get pulled, especially when attempting to trot out War Cry. He stopped on me half way and I was tugging on his reins the entire time. He, obviously, did not want to go on. But, by some miracle, the vet said, "Completed, we'll hold your card for BC. Next." Now, lets get to that horse that went down, and guess where it happened? Yep, you got it, on that dreaded yellow loop. Now, keep in mind what I'm going to tell you falls under the category of rumor and innuendo and has no element of truth, whatsoever. I don't want to bad mouth anyone (I'm still recovering from my battle with that woman from North Georgia) and this entire story falls under the category of complete and total fiction. Anyway, the downed horse was ridden by a 50 miler. It was this horse and rider's first ride (Rookie Horse, Rookie Rider), ever, in the sport. No LD training, no visiting the ride as a volunteer, none of that. The horse was a Quarter horse and the rider was from the local area. I head that he was bragging to some folks before the start of the ride of how he was going to kick some Arab butt with his incredible horse, cause he knew these trails and they had trained for this very hard. He fully expected to win his first ride here at Leatherwood. "50 miles ain't nothing," he said. Well, he did come in quite fast after the first loop, which was the pink one. Then he hit yellow, and I hear he kept pushing his Quarter horse, to the point where the poor fellow went down on him. Just laid down on the trail. By the Grace of God, one of the riders who witnessed the whole thing just happened to a vet, and she carries stuff with her while riding. She administered something to the horse, my guess is a shot of banamine, but I don't really know. She then made sure a volunteer was contacted and that they were to go running back to the barn to get some serious help up here, right away. Abbie, the head vet, and a volunteer with a trailer, were contacted and they all went up the mountain for this horse. If you've read my story on this subject (Death Visits Ridecamp) you can probably tell I have more than a passing interest on this aspect of endurance. Even though I didn't start out on a 50 miler my very first ride, I did pick up on the competitive nature our sport has to offer and, when I did do that first 50, I had a similar thing occur to me. It's something you never forget and it let's you know that you really don't ever completely know your horse as well as you may think you do. It has changed my attitude about endurance totally and, hopefully, for the better. (He who thinks he knows, doesn't know. He who knows that he doesn't know: knows). That's from Joseph Campbell, btw, not me. Anyway, the gentleman was quite humbled on that trailer ride back to the barn. I got to talk with the person who brought he and his horse down that mountain and the rider was just so apologetic and upset with himself, you couldn't stay mad at him no matter how wrong you might think the whole thing was. He, obviously, loved his horse, and was just extremely green to be attempting to win a 50 mile ride here at Leatherwood. He didn't even know about electrolytes and some of the other useful information you learn along the way. And, he certainly did not know that you should start out this sport traveling slow. And, I knew if someone were to tell him, before this all happened, to train with LSD in mind, he would think you were trying to sell him illegal drugs. But, I bet he knows what LSD stands for now. The horse recovered and I don't think it even ended up on an IV. I'm not sure if the rider stayed on for the awards or not; I doubt if he did. But, I can guarantee you he left camp with an entirely different attitude, and respect for this new sport he had decided to become a part of. And, as serious as it all was, I bet he never forgets the experience and I hope he returns to try it all again someday. I know I took off almost 6 months after it happened to me, and I came very close to quitting the sport all together, only to crew for my daughter, a job in which I performed quite poorly, because, you see, I still wanted to ride. I knew that I was meant for this sport, but felt, somehow, that, maybe, the sport might not be meant for me. At the awards that night Phil presented us with some great prizes. (Jen and I both received this embroidered blue, long sleeve shirt that says "Leatherwood top ten, 25 miles). You should have seen what the 50 milers, top ten, received. Custom made jackets, also embroidered, that had to be worth more than their price of admission. I bet Phil kicked in the money for this from his own coffers, cause the math would not add up to allow for these incredible awards, after paying for the vets and other debts incurred when putting on a ride, especially one with the class of Leatherwood. The coolest thing they did was give Nancy, time keeper extraordinaire, one of these jackets. And, as Nancy went up to get hers, she received a standing ovation. We all just love Nancy to death. When Susan Kasemeyer went up to receive her completion award Phil made the mistake of given her the microphone. Actually, Susan, who is anything but shy, took it out of Phil's hands. She started talking about how terrific the ride was and then she said something to the effect that she may have been hallucinating out there on the last loop, cause she was so high, literally, up there on the mountain top, she swore she saw a male pilot flying one of those jetliners up close, and damn, if he wasn't wearing any clothes. And she looked right at me while she said it all. I almost started to cry, cause I knew she was alluding to one of my stories where I swore I had a conversation with a female, dressed in similar fashion, on my last loop, when I actually did complete my first 50, almost 3 years ago. These endurance friends, if you're lucky enough to keep em, will last you a lifetime. Thanks to everyone: Michelle (we never would have done so well without your help and knowledge), Susan (for just being so damn cool), Abbie (I bet I'm not the only middle aged male who thinks you're the cat's meow), and Phil (the inventor of the Leatherwood Extreme Endurance Challenge and a super fellow). I'm finished now. I bet ya'll are relieved to hear that. Please email me, personally, not on ridecamp, if you enjoyed it. Even if you didn't, if you bothered to read all this, tell me how bad you thought it all was. cya, Howard Potter (the chirpless and wingless bird who is able to take flight while atop the spirit of a horse)

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