Tevis, Part 2: Three Unkind Canyons

Race #2 (the second ‘race’ if you’re thinking about Tevis as three 30+ mile races) starts when you leave Robinson Flat (a high-sierra campground that is part of the Tahoe National Forest) and head down a long decline into the first of three unkind canyons. The first is shorter (four miles total), ending when you see Devil’s Thumb – an odd obelisk of rock coming out of the side of the canyon.

At the bottom of this canyon is the Swinging Bridge – a small suspension bridge that begins to wag when you step onto it and by the time you’ve crossed with a nine-hundred-pound quadruped behind you it really gets going. There’s kind of an unwritten rule that we go one at a time and all racing is suspended here. But before you cross the bridge there is access to the most lovely and picturesque creek below. You can walk your horse in up to his belly and douse him (we all carry small collapsible buckets and sponges on leashes) in lovely, cool water. Then back up the trail, arriving at Devil’s Thumb to hordes of Scout volunteers welcoming you and your horse, showering you with beverages and snacks. At this point the horses are serious about eating and drinking and it’s important to give your horse a good shot at both before you head a couple miles farther down trail to a short vet check at Deadwood.

Deadwood then casts you into the second – and by far the worst – canyon. Seven and a half miles of very careful travel takes you down, across a (thankfully stable) bridge and back up. The heat in the canyons can climb close to 120 degrees in mid-summer, and the trails are very narrow with a lot of rocky footing – sometimes just boulders to scramble down or up. As you finally near the end of this canyon you wander through a section of stark chaparral. I always imagine this is how lost cowboys died way back when. It’s actually given me a general distaste for chaparral, which cracks up my friends.

Water isn’t as readily available in the second canyon, so when you finally emerge into the quaint old mining town of Michigan Bluff you and your horse are undyingly grateful for the kind townsfolk who stand out in their yards and hose you both off. After a few minutes to catch your breath and drop your horse’s heart rate a bit, you head down trail a little ways to another short vet check.

The final canyon is brief and relatively shallow, landing you into the second major (hour-hold) vet check at Foresthill. Front runners start arriving at Foresthill around 4:00 in the afternoon, and if you show up much after 7:00 you are in grave danger of not making cut off. By this point in the race the horses are more spread out, coming in in clumps and singles.

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