Canyon Ferry Lake Endurance Ride 2014 (50 Mile) – Winston Montana

Canyon Ferry was an absolutely gorgeous ride with a nice variety of terrain. Last year (2013) I did the 25 (my only first place ride so far!). This year (2014) I did the 50, and I was glad I did if for no other reason than the scenery on this ride. It was an unusual ride in that the shortest loop was first, the medium length loop was second, and the longest loop was last. I do prefer to do the loops in order of long, medium, short, but I think that’s much less of a factor when you are having a good day than when you’re having a bad one.

I am paranoid about getting lost so at the ride meeting I marked my map up like a madwoman. One basic thing it seems many rides forget to put on the map is arrows telling you which way the loop goes, so I usually add that myself. I find whatever is said at the ride meeting I have to write down as I can’t remember it later due to DIMR (Distance Induced Mental Retardation)

Canyon-Ferry-Endurance-Ride-Map-MarkupCanyon Ferry Map

Loop 1 of the ride started out on a quiet dirt/gravel road, then through “jeep trails” in rolling ranch lands. This was a pretty tame loop with the only “obstacle” being an occasional car on the first couple miles on the road. We started mid-pack but alone, as I’ve learned this seems to work well for my horse, but she was a handful that day. Some friends caught up to us in the beginning but this wasn’t really helping so we let them move on ahead and did almost all of the ride alone. Here is my video of much of loop 1, the only loop I recorded. This is the second time I’ve used my helmet cam and the second time I did not have the lens adjusted correctly so tilt your head while watching – sorry folks!! But still, you can appreciate what a gorgeous day it was and the top-shelf scenery:

Loop 2 started out on the same road, then up another road, and across more rolling ranch lands, including some cattle. It included a water crossing in a flood irrigated field with an overflowing ditch or stream, which was nice for cooling off. It also went down a long draw. It was fun following the draw and zig-zagging along.

Loop 3 again started on the road and then went way way up across some former ranch lands that are now public land, providing amazing views of all of Canyon Ferry Lake at the top. You really feel like you are out in the middle of nowhere up there. It’s a good thing it was well marked because I don’t think I could have found my way down otherwise. After reaching the summit the first part of the descent was loose dirt/rock/gravel on a fairly steep slope that could be a little tricky but I was off walking/jogging the downhill at that point anyway.

For the most part the trail was very well marked. Me being me, I still missed a few turns and had to back-track, but as soon as I went back to where I went wrong, I saw there were flags RIGHT THERE that I had missed. The only confusing thing about the markings were some of the ones on gates. This ride had quite a few gates you had to open and close. The rule was “flags are on the right”. I have adopted a saying from someone that goes “Flags are on your right, unless they’re on your left”. Sometimes it was unclear whether you were supposed to open the gate and make a right to have the flags on your right, or just stay on this side of the fence with the flags on the left. Either way risking hitting the end of a fenced field or opening another gate at the end. I took a gamble on one keeping the flags on my left and it saved me opening the two gates we’d have had to go through to keep flags on the right!

There were a lot of water tanks on the ride, but there would be several tanks close together and then none for a good long time. I have a policy that at every water tank we take our time and I encourage Rosie to drink as much as possible. She sweats a lot and we tend to have B’s on hydration despite this, so I continue the practice. That last long loop had a lot of elevation and not a lot of water. But it was fine if you just filled up at all the tanks even when they were pretty close together.

We’d had a C on gut sounds at vet check 2 but I made sure she ate well and by the end of the ride we had As and Bs on everything. I think she looked better than at some rides where she had mostly A’s, so I was very happy. In this way it was our best ride yet. I had been wondering if she was a 50 mile horse. She is! Still my plan for 2015 is to tweak our conditioning a bit with the goal of consistent A’s on our report card.


We have completed one other 50, in a time of 9:28:02. A flat desert ride, but I practically had to drag Rosie across the finish line. More like “fit to take a nap” than “fit to continue”. The Canyon Ferry Ride was a different story. It started at higher elevation and had 4500 feet of gain. Even so, we knocked about 90 minutes off our time to finish at 8:03:00, and still Rosie didn’t seem tired at the end – so I am thrilled! I’m confident we could have gone out and done a 10 mile ride after that – truly a “fit to continue” finish.

I keep detailed training records, so I’ll be able to replicate or even improve the conditioning we did for this ride and help ensure good finishes in 2015. Other than the 25 mile LD ride a few weeks earlier (which we did in 3:24 and BC’ed – yay), we had only done a few rides over 10 miles leading up to this ride, and a lot of them were slow. Speed and average ride length were below our conditioning in prior years. So I was worried about this ride. I had been riding steady since January 1, though, and our total conditioning ride mileage was about double that of previous years, and we did almost 1000 feet of elevation gain for every 5 miles. 10,000 feet of gain for every 50! Therefore I’m thinking that steady riding over several months, ride frequency, and hills hills hills are the key to this horse finishing 50’s comfortably. Still, I do want to add a few longer and faster conditioning rides.

It’s a great feeling to have a good ride and know what it took to get there, hopefully we can do it again!!

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