The 3/4 point

Courtney is in her second year of endurance and her second year of competing my horses, but this is the first time that we've managed to camp and ride together; and it was Abelino's first time at an endurance competition -- so we had a lot of time together both in camp and on the trail. It was good quality time of the kind where you've been together for a couple of days and worked and sweated and had fun together and the talk kind of dies down and that's ok because you're all comfortable enough together that the silence isn't awkward, like it can be in some social situations.

But one thing we talked about is that we have ambitious plans for this year. Our first short term goal is to do the 2-day 50/50s that are coming up and then the 100 mile ride at the Bluebonnet in April.

And so over the course of the weekend, I spent some memory on my first 100 mile ride. It was at the Armadillo in '93 and aside from bright-eyed enthusiasm and ambition, I didn't really have all I needed, going into it, to finish. You can talk all day about grit and heart and sheer strength of will, but I finished that night (morning) only because I had a good horse and better friends than I deserved.

I could write thousands of words on the experience of doing your first 100 deep in the Piney Woods of East Texas, but the thing that comes forefront to my mind now, as a writer, is the element of human nature. What I'm musing on is, I think, a kind of survival instinct in our heads that we have to, quite literally, turn off in order to succeed in the Worst of Times.

It's a battle of heart and mind, of logic and emotion.

One of the only clear memories I have of that night is sitting in the dirt in the middle of a forest service road at some hour wee early in the morning, with said undeserved friends, crying that I was certainly killing my horse to continue (I had the delusion that he was foundered) and throwing up because I had begged and smoked an unfiltered camel (I don't smoke).

I had hit 'the wall', mentally, emotionally and physically and I really had nothing left. But there was something in me that wouldn't let me quit. I didn't have it in me to go on, but I didn't have it in me to quit either and so I was at an impasse.

On a subconscious level, I was reaching (fighting, clawing, scrambling) for a reason to quit that had nothing do to with me being a quitter and had nothing to do with me giving up. So you see, with everything else gone, I still had a stiff neck and a tattered remnant of pride. I needed something, anything, to be wrong with the horse so I could be (figuratively) carried off the field and put to bed with the secure pretense that I'd made the right choice.

But it wasn't the right choice. My friends knew that and stood by me. They carefully examined the horse. He was fine. They took the cigarette away and gave me some water and washed my face. I'd ridden nearly 90 miles in about 18 hours and I was that close to being done. Ten miles is short enough to spit when you've already been that far -- and that was the encouragement I needed. A leg up on the horse and a slap on his hairy butt and we were back out into the woods.

We made it that night and did another 100 the next year.

But there came a time in my life when it wasn't the right choice. I pushed too hard when I should have pulled back and I suffered greatly for it. I learned what real pain was and I learned fear of pain that was truly debilitating.

And that fear kept me from finishing three more 100s and with that sad record, it's been ten years since I started a 100. Is it fear or realism?

* I'm older now, obviously, heavier and less fit.
* But I'm also smarter.
**I think, smart enough to make the difference.
* The memory of the pain and the failures has faded.

I have three horses that show every sign of being good 100 mile horses and I have friends that are at least as determined as me to make it through.

And so, I think I'm prepared for that late ride exhaustion. Not to suffer it, but to head it off before it takes hold. We'll go into the ride with a good nights sleep. We'll eat and drink like we should and we'll support each other throughout.


... so why am I going on about it here? Because, as a writer, I'm looking at my characters. I'm rubbing my hands together and cackling and thinking how I can use these memories to deepen the trauma and conflict in my stories. I can use them to make my characters more human and more real.

I can give them that dark fear that quivers deep inside and whispers "Don't be foolish. It's better this way..." I can shake their confidence and give them that doubt, and I can even see them fail. Because I know they'll come back smarter and stronger and more determined for it.

3 comments:

Lynn Reynolds said...

Egad, Sue - a 100 mile ride?! I'm impressed that you ever did it, even once. That's such a cool accomplishment and more than most people have done! Best of luck making it again, but even if you don't, it's still pretty neat that you're willing to try!

Sue L said...

Thanks Lynn. I admit it's a fine line between being optimistically ambitious and foolishly optimistic, but we're committed to giving it a good try! :)

Val said...

Ack, I have only the foggiest of memories left of Shawna/my 1st 100 ('95), other than the fact that it was COLD AS HELL!!!
[but I had to go back & verify our time => 18:48]
Wynk & I did better in '01 at Armadillo => 16:02
Since then, the planets/my ponies/my own physical condition have never been in proper alignment to complete another 100 (started a couple on Quig but never finished). Of course I have high hopes for Baraq-baby!