Being an AERC Ride Manager has its challenges.
Chiropractors from all over will soon be summoned as those who have taken it on nod in near-violent agreement.
There are so many reasons we throw in the towel, permanently or temporarily, or contemplate doing so.
Perhaps writing about it all after a weekend of only a smattering of sleep is unwise. I recognize that I’m exhausted, and on an emotional tidal wave, teary and touched with joy and gratitude, then frustrated by the “why do we do this?” moments that every Ride Manager knows all too well.
Ride management means worrying. Over the course of the last ten days I’ve worried over the following: Too many entries (since we have a limited camp size), too few entries (since a horrible forecast and the usual attrition meant they were dropping like flies in the seventy-two hours before the ride), the weather (which I’ve learned I can do nothing about but fret over nonetheless), my newbie riders, having enough food and lodging for all of my volunteers and riders and the others who pop by for a free meal (I didn’t, but a last minute grocery run fixed that), the interstate construction near our ride camp, whether the trail markings would stay up (many didn’t), the last minute porta-potty charge from the Park, and the condition of our trails (which like most, are not made better by a deluge of rain).
These are all things I have become accustomed to over the years, although they still occupy that corner of my brain that runs in constant-spin mode like a player trying to run a CD that’s not quite right.
I am convinced that it is my Polish heritage that makes me feel I must be sure everyone is fed, housed, warm and cared for, and I’m fiercely protective of the family and friends that rally to help each year we manage our ride. It is a tight-line walk to make sure there’s enough food for those who have come to labor at their own expense for free, and those who have paid to join us for a meal (especially after riding 30 or 55 or 75 miles) and to have not enough based on my natural tendency to say “come on, join us, what would you like?” I sway between wanting to be a good hostess and the edgy irritation of feeling taken-advantage of from time to time.
The foolishness of working with a State Park where the rules, the fees and the bureaucracy mystify and modify is something that grates, but on most days is brushed off with a “what can you do?” philosophy. From time to time, my tactic has become staggeringly close to the ol’ “better to ask for forgiveness than permission” philosophy. That leaves this rule-following girl in a state of simmering agitation. This year we got a smaller-than-ordered tent, and only part of it to boot, but that was quickly remedied by a let’s-not-piss-them-off query and an innocently curious “oh dear, weren’t we supposed to get the 20×40 tent?” as I showed them my contract and tapped on the exorbitant tent rental charge. (The new tent arrived within the hour, with the other left there as a handy spot for overflow and a sheltered spot for the generators.)
The topic of profit and loss is a moot one. We lose money every year on the ride. Some years we lose lots, some years we come tantalizingly close to a profit, unless you try to account for fuel and time and the stuff our businesses donate, or wear and tear on the psyche or the four-wheeler, never mind the time lost on paying clients for a couple who both own consulting businesses. This is a project of passion, not a business enterprise. Still, it is uncomfortable and frankly nonsensical to work so hard to lose money. At least to anyone who looks at it objectively. Or sanely.
As with most events, 20% of the riders cause 80% of the problems. I try (unsuccessfully most of the time) to handle that with frankness and twisted humor that I realize borders on smarm. It keeps me from pinching people, which I realize could be viewed as assault in most jurisdictions. Someone once told me that I don’t suffer fools gladly — truer words never spoken — and I know most Ride Managers stood far longer in line when they were handing out charm. I envy their patience. My sharp-tongued moments give me little pleasure though. I instantly regret them even as the devil on my shoulder tells me the recipient had it coming.
Those 20% are balanced out, always, by the 80% that handle bad weather and mud and trail vandals and unfortunate pulls with aplomb and good humor. Those that point out that the trail markings are great, or say, “hey, I have a prize to donate!” or let me know how grateful they are that we have the ride. Those whose horsemanship I admire and whose endurance impresses me. Those who jump in to help without being asked. Those who can fill out an entry form in its entirety or perhaps cover it with smiley faces or a cute note saying they can’t wait to come.
By all accounts, the ride was a huge success. The vast majority of my WNY Green Beans came through their first Limited Distance ride with flying colors, a couple of others are experiencing the steep learning curve in our sport but seem undaunted. No riders were injured, no one got lost, and while there were some pulled horses, they all appeared to be for minor lameness. No horses were treated, none got that look in their eye that scares me half to death as a Ride Manager. Even Mother Nature only spanked us half-heartedly. After heavy rains Friday night, we had only scattered showers (and hail!), but plenty of sunshine on Saturday, and cool temperatures that were kind to the horses. The leaves on the trees were at their glorious peak, crimson and orange and yellow and stunning. Our 75s, who had until 1 a.m. to complete the ride, spoiled the skeleton after-dark staff by finishing the ride by about 9:30 p.m. We were almost unsure what to do with ourselves as we sat around the tent, eating Jelly Bellies and sharing outrageous stories. The 75s refused to head out to do another loop to give us a sense of purpose.
But this year loads of our trail markings were vandalized, an unusually high percentage. It turns out that the Park itself may have been the culprit, trimming back the branches with OUR trail marking ribbons in addition to the branches, marked in orange surveyor tape, that were slated to be trimmed back by staff. It got handled with a flurry of calls and texts and nieces picking up boxes of surveyor tape at the farm and cleaning out the clothespin inventory of the Dollar Store on their way to the ride camp — tying ribbons even as they drove out to join us. Add in a stoic husband, a friend who fortuitously offered to bring her four wheeler to the ride a day early (“just in case”) and a couple of ride-managing friends who fixed much of the damage on horseback as soon as it was found, and the crisis was resolved. But always there is a price.
And it is that price that weighs on me each year we run our ride.
It is the price of asking those closest to you, those who you know would do nearly anything for you, to do one more thing –make one more run, cook one more meal, clear one more trail, to potentially stand in the rain all day long one more time– that tests me and leaves me contemplating throwing in the towel each time.
It struck me again this morning, as I lie in bed after a successful ride, and a sleepless night, recounting in my head all that needed to be done for the awards briefing and the arduous clean up after.
Have I asked too much?
It is the same question I ask during each 100-mile ride I’ve ridden, at some point when the trail is tough or my horse or I are at a low point. Each time, that simple pact between my horse and me, as honest a relationship as exists on this earth, has left me with a horse that tells me in a way that only a 100-mile endurance horse can, no, we can do this. Let’s keep on keeping on. You keep riding, I’ll continue to carry you.
It is these moments that I find most humbling in our sport. It is those ventures to the well to ask the question again. And sometimes the answer is “yes.” Sometimes when that horse tells you he can go on, full of heart and loyal work ethic and what Dr. Lynne calls “go-gettyness” — the fact is that a wise partner will decide it is time to stop.
This morning, when my brother and his wife showed up, as promised, right on time for the awards breakfast, just at the moment I panicked that they might not show up (irrational, because they always do), hot breakfast casseroles in hand, moving pans in and out of an oven in a flurry of potholders and tinfoil, I confessed to them that I couldn’t ask again.
It was just too much.
They assured me it was not, as only family can, and I brushed it all off to get the food out and served and the awards handed out. And now I get to decide whether or not to believe it is so.
It weighs on me now even as I type, photos uploaded, results waiting to be written up and submitted, filthy muddy laundry in the washing machine, trailer full of leftover t-shirts and mugs and recovered ribbons and Solo cups and all of the detritus of a ride managed and finished and packed up for another year.
I compare it to asking a woman immediately out of labor when she thinks she’ll have her next baby. Perhaps it is better to wait.
There were hugs and the kindest words from riders. There was enthused promises to be back next year from each volunteer and HAM radio operator. There was sincere and heartfelt empathy from those closest to me, who know, truly know, just what it is like to ponder the question.
Camp was left pristinely clean by each rider. I found myself welling up with tears when I walked around doing a final inspection; it does not take much to make me cry apparently. Even a lack of horse poop will do it. Ribbons and stakes around camp had been gathered by folks who meant to lighten our burden. I pulled down the AERC banner and removed the few remaining ribbons and the AERC sign that I’d taped up near the highway exit, and headed for home. Rich had already made two trips and was on his way with the big trailer. It was like the circus coming to town in so many ways; a flurry of activity and excitement, and suddenly, all packed up and moved out. Quiet again.
I stopped on the summit in the Park to return a text message. I got a Facebook post, one from a person I’d only peripherally mentored before he came to the ride — he and his daughter had made it to the halfway point and called it a day. His post was a series of lessons he’d learned at the ride, and it was the fifth that made me cry again.
“Patti is not as mean as she thinks she is.”