Tevis Cup Part 1
Whoa, Gara! Calm down. Sorry, Marol!” Jen exclaimed, squeezing her legs together to keep her horse from backing. “It’s okay, boy,” she reassured the lean, muscular grey Arab gelding, realizing how wet his neck was when she patted him.
Agitated, Gara was not tired. Despite trotting, cantering, and galloping the last twenty miles, he remained in tune with his task, moving his head back and forth, scanning the terrain while traveling forward, turning his ears this way and that, independent of the other. The perspiration Jen felt was from the adrenalin rush, the thrill of the race. Gara’s anticipation started as soon as Jen placed a saddle on his back. He was sweaty even before the person in the front yelled: “Go!”
Jen’s personality exacerbated Gara’s tendency to super-amp. Her eyes displayed a steely will; her strong jawbone suggested stubbornness accompanied the determined actions. Jen was a lovely young woman shaping her short brown hair in a pixie-style, long enough to show everyone she was a girl, but short enough not to have to fuss with it.
Jen held her toned body taut as she rode out Gara’s little tantrum. “Whoa!” she repeated. It was now mid-morning, three hours into the ride, and the temperature was rising. Any remaining morning coolness vanishing with the unrelenting onslaught of the harsh, ascending sun.
The group moved in the predawn darkness through Squaw Valley and climbed twenty-five hundred feet to Emigrant Pass. Now they bunched together at a bottleneck in the trail.
“Whoa, whoa,” Jen yelled, as Gara backed into Marol’s horse, again. Babe was an elegant brown and white Tobiano paint filly, a thoroughbred and quarter horse mix. Jen owned both Gara and Babe.
Marol, a charming blonde in her late twenties, had long, silvery blonde hair and a British accent. Marol and her brother Hugh were visiting from South Africa. Jen allowed Marol to use the young filly for this uniquely American endurance ride.
When Gara backed into her, he pinched Marol’s left leg against the saddle. “Oww… that hurts, Jen,” Marol complained.
“Sorry, Marol.” Jen’s eyes traveled over the group of riders ahead, and she sighed. “We’re waiting to get over Cougar Rock.”
“Calm down, Jen,” Marol said. “You’re the one who has done this, remember? Where’s that rosewater we’re supposed to be drinking for calmness?”
Sometimes Marol didn’t know if Jen’s friendship was good fortune or a wicked curse. Jen’s intensity was hard to handle sometimes, and Marol wondered how much she wanted to invest in the nascent friendship.
Jen, edgy and irritable, leaned away from Marol, first focusing on someone ahead of her, and then looking downward at Gara’s hooves. She looked everywhere but at her friend while still registering her complaints.
“Afterwards, this fellow comes up behind me… and he wants to tell me about his riding history. But, we’re in a race. I told him I needed to catch up with my partner. I didn’t know if you were in front of me or behind me, but it didn’t matter. I just pulled off the trail and let Mr. Talkie talk his way right by me.”
Marol liked horses as much as Jen, and despite their differences in everything else, the two got along well.
“I never realized you so competitive, Jen,” Marol said. “Your stress is causing Gara to work up such a sweat.”
“Probably so,” Jen agreed, still irritated by something.
“Jen, calm down and enjoy this, please? You’ve told me every two hours for the last three days we have a hundred miles to go, and we have twenty-four hours to do it. What happened to that thought? We’ve gone twenty miles in three hours so we can do eighty more in twelve hours. That plus two one-hour waits puts us in at eight-thirty, nine-thirty, ten-thirty tonight if we continue at this pace,” Marol calculated, as they made their way single file on the spine of the mountain. Looking to either side of her, she could see the tops of rock-covered and forested mountain peaks scraping the cloudless, azure sky. She slowed Babe and stopped until Jen caught up, so they could ride side by side.
“Are you ready for Cougar Rock, Marol?” Jen pointed to a large grey rocky volcanic outcropping at the peak of the trail. A fellow was standing a hundred feet in front of the summit where the path branched into a Y.
“I guess. Why is that guy there?”
“He’s pointing to an alternative path, a longer one you can use if you think this way is too hard.”
“You mean, I take the flat way?”
“Inexperienced riders go that way. Do you want to follow the sissy path?”
“Oh, for Pete’s sake, I don’t think so.” Marol liked Jen’s ballsy manner, but sometimes it forced her to make decisions too hurriedly, like now.
“Okay, I’m ready,” Marol said before she was ready.
“Remember, lean forward in the saddle, Marol, and let Babe have her head. And keep her moving until you are up to the top. You need to stay confident. Most of the problems at Cougar Rock happen because the riders become tentative. Don’t give your horse a chance to think about what you ask of her. Just keep her moving forward.”
“Must I go first?” Marol looked up the one-hundred-foot incline of hardened magma, uncomfortable in her decision to do what few others had done before her. The sharply angled hillside forced the horse to traverse the rock face in a semi-crouched, hopping stance, using embedded rocks as footholds to get traction.
Jen nodded, yes.
Taking a big breath, Marol pushed Babe forward. Approaching the rock incorrectly, she overshot the launch area. Pulling Babe backward a few steps, Marol refocused to the right, and urged Babe into a second try. Leaning forward, she grabbed her horse’s mane to keep her and the saddle from slipping backward and squeezed her legs, yelling, “Hah, yah!” Babe lurched forward as Marol hunched above her withers and dug her heels into the stirrups.
“Don’t lean too far forward or Babe will hit your head on a forward lunge,” Jen yelled.
Inching and clawing her way foot-by-foot up the slope they reached the top, Marol relaxed and eased into the saddle.
“Congratulations!” The spotter positioned at the top yelled. “Have a great ride!”
Soon Jen joined her, and they cantered single file along the narrow mountain ridge. Once the path spilled onto forest service roads, they were able to gallop side by side, maintaining speed while praying the horses remained sound.
The trail leveled after Cougar Rock, and the two women cantered along the red dirt fire road, trading conversation as whimsically as two eighth graders on their walk to school.
“How long have you known Rory, Marol?”
“Roughly a year. Hugh and I met him on a pig hunt when we were filming scenes for our otter documentary. Why do you ask?”
“He sure acted familiar this morning.”
“Well, we’ve gotten to know each other.”
“You were with him on the trip to Iraq when Katie and René disappeared, weren’t you?”
“Yes, everything ended horribly.”
“How did it happen? Rory has shared no details with me.”
“Katie and Rory were on their honeymoon in Cyprus. Afterward, she met her co-worker, René, to go to Iraq to study a brucellosis flare-up in the Kurdish mountains above Mosul. But they were involved in a military squirmish. When they were hiding in a temple in Lalish, ISIS overran it. Reinforcement soldiers killed the invaders, but neither Katie nor René’s bodies were found. No one knows what happened to them.”
“Have you gone there yourself; has Rory checked it out?”
“We can’t until ISIS is cleared from Iraq.”
“So, no one knows whether or not they are alive?”
“Rory believes Katie is still alive. He says that’s why he has been having visions.”
“Visions? Of what?” Jen asked.
“He thinks they are signs from Katie. He thought he was going crazy. Then Pelipa, Katie’s friend, told him she was still in touch with Katie, that she’s alive, far away, and can’t get back yet.”
“Why would Pelipa know that?” Jen wondered.
“Rory says the ladies developed a special bond during a healing ceremony when Katie laid hands on Pelipa in the hospital. Katie brought Pelipa back from near death.
They have been able to communicate spiritually since. Pelipa says she knows Katie’s thoughts."
Jen looked at Marol but said nothing. Not sure she believed any of that stuff, she didn’t want to offend her South African friend.Instead of continuing the conversation, Jen clicked at Gara pushing him into a gallop. Marol urged Babe in pursuit. They rode in long, loping strides, maintaining their pace for forty minutes, alternating galloping and cantering into the grassy meadow that was Robinson Flat. Signs directed them to the vetting station; the place teemed with horses, riders, and ground support personnel.
“Can I have your rider card?” A trail secretary asked as Jen dismounted. Jen handed her card to him and walked Gara to the water trough. The fellow jotted the time she arrived and handed the card back.
Marol sat in the saddle, surveying the vet section, looking for someone. “There he is! Hey Doctor Rory!” she yelled in her South African accent. Although he was thirty feet away, Marol could see his bright, blue eyes. She was drawn to those eyes.
A stocky, handsome man in a cowboy hat looked toward Marol, squinting to see who it was.
“It’s me, Marol! Marol Pemberton!” She announced to the hills.
Rory nodded and laughed when he recognized who it was. He waved back.
Marol rode to the waiting queue and dismounted, hoping Rory could find time to talk to her.
“Hello there. May I see your card?” the secretary interrupted Marol’s thoughts.
“Oh, sorry. Sure, here. What’s the pulse recovery?”
“Sixty,” a technician replied as he placed his stethoscope to his ears to focus on Babe’s heart rate. He nodded, “You’re looking good. Go there for the vet check,” he explained, pointing to an adjacent queue.
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Tevis Cup: Cocaine Eggs, Chapter 2