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Bandit Springs

Sponsored by Mustangs to the Rescue
in partnership with Ochoco National Forest
July 7,8,9

2015 Bandit Springs: A Treasure of a Ride

by Merri Melde
July 11 2015

There are rumors of gold buried in the Ochoco Mountains in central Oregon. As the stories go, in 1863, 6 bandits stole gold from sluice boxes, and robbed a bank, and fled with the loot on horseback into the Ochocos with the posse hot on their tails. They stopped near Burglar Flat, which is coincidentally, or not, very near Ridecamp for the Bandit Springs Endurance ride. Supposedly the bandits abandoned their horses and disappeared. Except, according to one story, four days after the bank robbery, a bullet-and-arrow-ridden man crawled into a stage station and mentioned "tossing some gold into a deep mountain spring flowing from the base of a large pine to hide it from the Indians." Another story says the bandits buried the gold at the base of a large pine tree while being attacked by Indians. The bandits, and the gold, were apparently never seen again. Keep this "large pine" theme in mind.

So there are old stories and old ghosts, and possibly old buried gold at the base of a large pine tree, probably a ponderosa considering the fauna, in the Ochoco National Forest, site of the long-running Bandit Springs Endurance Ride. This year was the Silver Anniversary, and put on for the 9th year by Jannelle Wilde and family and friends, who pack up and haul everything 5 1/2 hours away from home to put it on. This year's 2-day endurance ride plus other events was sponsored by (and a benefit for) Mustangs to the Rescue, in partnership with the Ochoco National Forest.

Steph hauled Owyhee Pickett Cricksters Smokey, and me and Dudley, and neighbors Carol and August, to Bandit Springs. It was a repeat appearance for Carol and Steph - from 21 years earlier - and my debut at a ride and a forest I've wanted to ride in since 2009, when I tagged along with Pacific Northwest rider Nance Worman, to watch and report and crew, which is fun but not quite the same as riding.

Over the 25 years of Bandit trails, you could consistently count on wearing your warm-and-humid weather riding gear and bandanas for the dust. Not so this year. In a delightfully cooler turn of weather events, we got rain, thunderstorms and mud. Not just mud, but I'm talking slick-snot mud for part of the ride.

Let me extoll the virtues of arriving an extra day early at Ridecamp. It's good for relaxing, when your proposed 6-hour drive becomes an 8-hour drive after your navigators aren't paying attention for doing other important things, and you miss one highway turn-off and end up on another highway, doing extra miles and a lot of extra road curves and scenic hill climbs, although you do get a delicious huckleberry shake out of it, although it was way too big and filling.

It's nice because you get your pick of parking spots in a lovely meadow (Burglar Flat???) bountiful with knee-high grass and beneath gorgeous Ponderosa pine trees, one of which I hugged but I didn't find any sign of buried treasure. It's nice because you can relax, instead of having to quickly unpack, saddle up to get a quick leg-loosening ride in, vet in, attend the ride meeting, scramble for dinner, and get ready to ride early the next morning.

It's nice because your horses can relax, falling asleep with their noses resting in their hay nets. It's nice because you can visit with some friends you haven't seen in a while. Had I known I'd see Janis Pegg there and she'd bring her banjo, I would have brought mine! It's nice because you can get a relaxing night's sleep without having to worry about getting up early to start your ride, unless a naughty horse bangs and stretches and tweaks his high tie long and hard enough that you have to get up and remove him before he removes himself, and just tie him right to the trailer. (DUDLEY!)

It's nice because you can have a leisurely Friday morning with plenty of coffee, before casually saddling up to take a nice warm-up ride on the 10-mile loop, to stretch your desert steeds' legs and get them used to some mighty tall trees and the closeness of the forest, and all that it houses.

Like Elk. Sure, our horses are familiar with deer. But deer don't often travel 50 or 60 strong in a pack in our desert, and they for sure don't make alarming screeching, shrieking, bugling noises like a flock of seagulls (or monsters) that get your horses wound up enough that you all need to jump off so you're not bucked off. Yes, 2 miles out of camp we were lucky to hear, then see, a mighty herd of boisterous, bugling adult and baby elk in a meadow, and we were not so lucky to have them spot us, and head straight for us.

Already dismounted off my increasingly excited big beast of a Dude, I threw my reins at Steph, and ran out to harass gently shoo away this big herd, who would have swept our horrified horses along with them. Yes, one person on foot can turn away a large herd of elk bearing down on them, particularly if you are nervous and adamant enough about it.

The rest of our pleasant 10-mile loop familiarized our horses with scary horse-eating stumps (which they would not look at twice on ride day), one of which was a fallen 374-year-old Ponderosa pine - Gary Pegg actually counted the rings - which proves there are some trees in this forest old enough to be hiding some bandit gold from the 1800's. We got to experience a little mountain thunderstorm on trail too… a little rain, a little lightning and thunder which I chose to ignore by just keeping my head down and not looking or listening to how close it was, because, what else are you going to do?

A couple more storms passed through Ridecamp throughout the day, with one near bolt of lightning and crack of thunder loud enough to scare one horse loose from his trailer tie.

On Saturday, five 75-mile riders and 3 100-mile riders started at 5 AM. 30 riders started the 50 at 6 AM, and 29 started the 25 miler an hour later. Carol and August led our trio out on the first 20-mile loop, and we wove through alpine meadows and pine and fir forest, over mostly single-track dirt trails, a little bit of hill climbs and descents, a decent amount of level trotting.

Gary Pegg did a lot of the trail marking, and he occasionally tacked up entertaining pie plates. If you ever get lost on a Bandit trail, you will certainly earn a pie plate proclaiming your section of trail next year! The trails were excellently marked, although we did lose one briefly in a meadow where the elk had dined on the ribbons. There was plenty of water on the trail, both natural puddles or springs, and water troughs at regular intervals. Abundant grass would have kept any horse's gut sounds at A levels (Dudley loves to work diligently to get A's on his gut sounds!). The melodic trilling of hermit thrushes are what conjure up memories of time spent in forests, and we were serenaded by them all day. Dudley found two turkey feathers on trail and had me stick them in his bridle, which rendered him rakishly breathtaking.

After a vet check and hold in camp, we set out on the 30-mile second loop, headed for the vet check about halfway out on that loop.

Some mighty intimidating thunderheads built up above us, and eventually smothered the sky with heavy gray or dark threatening blue clouds. Our horses trotted along enjoying the cooler weather in the 70's. Amazingly, the lightning never threatened, and the rain held off until just before we reached the out vet check, and it quit before we left back out on trail. With the sun out, some of the trails became almost steamy, in the humid way a forest can be.

But the clouds bulked back up, and just after crossing a lovely alpine aspen meadow the drops began to fall. Rainstorms come quickly in the mountains, and you better have your raincoat on before the drama starts. The downpour began, and the trails got slick fast.

I love the rain. I love the forest. I love riding in the rain in the forest. Only two cracks of thunder made a half-hearted intervention, so it was just a delightful rain storm (note: I am probably the only one who rode Bandit Springs who would use this adjective), dropping on us 6 wet chickens plodding through the dark, dripping forest.

It went beyond mud: the trails became slick-snot muddy. Dudley and Smokey handled the mud fine in their shoes, much better than August in his boots, whose legs were slipping in 4 different directions. I did get off once to lead Dudley down a hill, but my two legs slipped in four directions, and with an extra 2 inches of clay glued to the bottom of my shoes, I had to haul an extra 20 pounds-per-foot plus wet-clothed body back up onto an extra-tall horse (they get taller as the 50-mile day goes on, you know). So I stayed in the saddle after that, and let Dudley do his thing. We often got off the slick trail and walked alongside it through the grass for safety.

We saw no elk on the endurance ride, but we did see a wild horse (one horse, after following stallion piles for 20 miles or so along the "Stud Pile Parkway" section of trail). This bay horse (a lone stallion?) stood on a ridge and watched us go by. Dudley noticed him. Around 100 horses comprise the Big Summit Herd of mustangs in the Ochocos. They were probably originally turned loose (or escaped) by ranchers in the early 1900's when horses went out of style and their prices dropped, although recent genetic testing has linked the Ochoco Mustangs to Iberian and Andalusian stock.

Later we all noticed a huuuuuuuuuge white Charolais bull in a meadow, and we gave that big daddy a very wide berth!

We walked the rest of the way into camp, about 12 miles, because it was too slick to trot. We met a couple of the 75's and 100's going out on their last loop, buoyant despite the muddy trails. Jessica Wynne waited literally all day in a meadow not 5 miles from camp, to take pictures of all the riders.

We cut the finish time close - 20 minutes to spare - but we knew we'd make it. We finished somewhere in the middle of the pack - the others behind us, also walking in, also squeaked in under the wire.

"We are Mudders!" proclaimed our Ridecamp neighbor Ann Aganon and DWA Nadra, who, with Helen Bonner aboard DWA Emigree, finished the 50 just a few minutes behind behind us. Helen was thrilled to complete her first 50-mile ride in 3 years after some health issues.

21 of 29 riders completed the 30-mile ride. All 30 starters completed the 50 miler. The Blakeley family won 1st through 4th place, with Barrak and MCM Last Dance (last year's Haggin Cup winners) getting Best Condition. Starting well after the front runners, and finishing near cut-off time, we never saw the Blakeleys! There was a near 4-hour gap between 5th place and the rest of the field. That's when the rainstorm hit and turned the trails to muck!

4 of 5 riders finished the 75 miler, with Dick Root and OFW Alivia winning first place and Best Condition. 3 of 3 finished the 100 miler, with Hannah Summers and Salome winning in a ride time of 18:34.

Ride completion awards were Bandit Springs 25th Anniversary shot glasses, and a handmade keychain or necklace with a special rock of jasper or quartz collected from Doyle Spring - which we passed and drank from several times - tumbled, and wired. A big Bandit Springs Anniversary cake was devoured on Friday night (none left for Saturday!), and Paul Latiolais cooked a delicious jambalaya to go with the potluck.

While riders went out on Day 2's 25 and 50 mile rides under sunshine and almost clear skies and drying trails, we leisurely enjoyed (lots of) coffee and a Sunday morning breakfast of blueberry pancakes and eggs cooked by Mustangs to the Rescue. We packed and loaded up, sans any buried gold, for the 6 hour drive home... which took 32 hours.

But that's another story!

2015 Bandit Springs - Eileen Reilich

Thank you to everyone who made this ride happen this year!!!! I was there in 2009 and have been "jonesing", no lie, to go back ever since. The Ochoco National Forest is such a precious gem in our wild lands, it behooves us to at least go experience it! I decided to go back to Bandit Springs endurance ride because ( now pay attention here)... it was purported to be *easier than Renegade and harder than Outback*, you know this ride difficulty ranking is subjective but when RM's say it -- it is so.  

The Ochoco National Forest has WILD HORSES!!! Bandit Springs endurance ride this year was co-sponsored by Mustangs to the Rescue....... which organization held trail challenges and an awesome pancake breakfast on Sunday morning, the eggs and blueberry pancakes HIT the spot! Another cool thing was that the lady I have been calling THE KATE was there and I got to benefit from more of her knowledge once again, Kate Beardsley knows SO much about mustangs, the Ochoco Mustangs specifically, and I got to camp right next to her ( that is a whole 'nother story), just in casual conversation I learned so much more about the mustangs than I ever knew before. Awesome.  

I got to ride camp on Thursday to let my little horse acclimate to the elevation and get his gut sounds in order..... made camp, reserved spots for teammates and settled in to enjoy the forest. Folks, the Ochoco is just insanely gorgeous forest, such a pleasure to just be out there. Going for an extra day for me was made possible by the purchase of an extra cooler so I could use 20lb bags of ices instead of the smaller ones Ok, ride day..... My plan was my usual * plan to ride a 10 hour 50 miler* and then come in a 9 hours, which is my horse's 50 miler sweet spot. We set off smart and savvy and all work, no idea where in the pack of 32 we were, but we were moving along quite nicely. My mind is all about whether we can pulse down or not. I will never forget Les Rouska, Holly Rouska's husband saying to me after 20 miles, * good job, he is wayyyy down* my horse pulsed in at 48!!!!! I yelled and cheered...... Elayne Barclay said... even I don't get that happy when my horse pulses down. Well, yeah, this horse? whose history of bouncing pulse? yeah, we cheer! and then? got back to camp thinking, *isn't there something we should be doing?* OH! yeah! see the VET! That's a first, I was so happy my horse pulsed down, no need to see the vet! sigh..... second loop went great, pulsed in, but just as we got to the outcheck it started to rain, on went the poncho..... uhhhhh... didn't everybody do *poncho training* with their horses in case it rained? Chancey took it in stride,,, OH, mom looks like a giant blue flappy smurf? no worries, we are Fiiiiiine!". Pulsed down, my horse ate beet pulp right from the gallon bag and asked for more... he asked to eat grass all during the ride, all of these are FIRSTS with this horse. BUT,we got a C+ on back, he was a tad tender on the left side.... damn! So, I am so totally distracted thinking about what I can do to mitigate that back issue ( thank god I had a butt rug to use in my vet check bag!-- used it the whole last loop!)-- I miss a turn, Thank god for Jessica and Mike Cobbley, they got my attention-- so sweeT!  I came back and go on trail. 

And then....the rain hit, thunder, rain, a deluge, we needed an ark..... for awhile? the trails were ok but then? they were SO NOT OK. The aftermath of the deluge was---- that the trails got slicker than snail snot for the whole last loop which was at least 100 miles!!! (really 16 or so), we had to walk and mostly? we had to stay OFF the trail and go on the side of the trail ( shhhhhh, is that legal?), because our horses were slipping and sliding and all we could think about was leg damage.... and then when we got off to walk? the clay soil stuck to our boots and then when we put our clay stacked boots back in our stirrups? and then we had one more clay hill to climb? and we looked at the clock and said.... we have until when to finish this ride? I hooked up with Laura.... and her morgan mare Penny and we had a lovely time getting lost, getting found, laughing, and getting WET and swearing at the trails.... we asked everyone we saw... * how much farther to camp?* I swear, everyone said * 5miles*, no matter where we were.... agghhhh!  

BUT, we got to see a wild horse! we saw a Bay Stallion, he was simply magnificent, and we saw a huge white, Charolais bull, master of his domain!!!!, the experience was amazing, But, the best part was my horse pulsing down and getting a great report card, no after effects of all that damn clay!!!!! That was worth celebrating...... as was the well marked trails and amusing paper plate signs by Gary Pegg. 

 HUGE Thank you's to Jannelle Wilde, Gary and Janis Pegg, Spencer Falk, Elayne Barclay, everyone did a tremendous job managing this ride--- which from now on in my memory will be "Bandit Springs Mud Run: where horse and rider pit themselves against nature and win"! LOL, I hear there were very few pulls and that our head vet Cassee Steed Terry said she was surprised at the few muscular issues we had due to the clay ski hills we had to negotiate!  

Thank you and congratulations to my Hot 2 Trot teammates....our camp was a supportive happy place! All five of us completed that Saturday 50 miler with sound, happy-to-be-home, healthy horses and we had loads of laughs and conversations and champagne to celebrate!  Bob Bacon and Kat Miller saved my bacon by jacking up my trailer when it fell off it's perch!  One of the reasons I love being on an endurance team is the camaraderie, support, people to talk to and share stories with aspect of the team. Points are secondary to all of that.  I spent some years going to rides by myself, striking up friendships with random people who camped next to me and chatting with anyone I sat next to at ride and award meetings.... but those temporary alliances did not pan out into the long term pal-ships that being on my team has brought me; and that are so much more sustaining, at least to me.  I really encourage everyone who is feeling the need for more support, people to attend rides with, people who will support you and chat with you and share stories, goals, trials, tribulations and successes, either join a team or make one!  I cannot even count the ways this team thing has enriched my endurance life. Our team has a secret FB group and we have team goals, team conversations, team get togethers, team this, team that, and we share horsey stuff-- training, conditioning, resources, tricks, etc. It really is an amazing feeling to be a part of a team in this sport. and, you know? I always thought of myself as not a team player, but now? I really am and love it!  

Those pop ups we bought for shade? made for awesome rain tents giving us a sorta living room where we could gather to cook, eat, share stories and dry out tack and blankets and hay that got wet. 

I was especially happy to get to know Shelby Edwards more, she has some wonderful stories to share as well. We successfully moved her horse the lovely Phig to Prineville. Follow her blog posts to follow hers and Phigs' stories. http://nowshelbyedwards.tumblr.com/ 

The completion awards are truly one of a kind Jannelle Wilde explained that they are Jasper (sp?) rock gathered right there by hand in the Ochocos!!!!!!, the commemorative shot glass is awesome as well and will get used!  I am very proud to have participated in such an event! For those of you who like the math, I think I placed 13th of 32 riders with a ride time of 10 hours and 9 minutes, so yes, plan achieved...To Finish is to Win!

Eileen Reilich and Chance the wonder horse