(Photo credit to Sarah Farnsworth.)
Note from Patti:
Anyone who knows my friend Pam Karner knows that she is a force of nature. She is a veterinarian and a Ride Manager and an endurance rider, and beyond that she is unfiltered and generous and hilarious and just a wee bit unhinged. [I say that unapologetically both about her and to her, for the record.]
In every image I have of Pam, we are laughing.
(Photo credit to Kelsey Eliot.)
In 2018, she finished the Mongol Derby, a feat that would be epic for someone half her age.
If anyone saw the video circulating around Facebook after this year’s successful Gaucho Derby, she said the reason she did it was because she didn’t want to shrink.
(Video credit to Erik Cooper.)
She sent me the videos and the story below a couple of weeks ago and I asked if I could share it on my blog; I don’t think Pam has any clue what an enormous fan club she has. Like most remarkable women.
Pam is an inspiration, and to say she isn’t shrinking at 68 would be just a wee bit of an understatement.
Go, Pam, go!
Edited to add: Pam shared this podcast with me to share with all of you. Stevie Delahunt’s interview: https://www.warwickschiller.com/podcast/ (And yes, Pam gets a mention as well!)
MY PATAGONIA STORY
“THE GAUCHO DERBY’
My dear friends, this is a bit long so please don’t feel obligated to read it. I just couldn’t figure out what to cut!
What a group of diverse, interesting, exciting, fun party animals! We met in El Calafate and the party was in full swing immediately.
Things quieted down a few days later as we drove eight hours north to who-knows-where over many dirt roads to arrive at “Start Camp”. Seven hexagonal domes that, despite being pinned to the ground, refused to stay put thanks to the challenging Patagonia wind. The doors were the first to go! Each dome created ways to keep their doors on. I was lucky to have two engineers in mine!
Camp was on an estancia (La Perseverancia) that had 10,000 sheep and 800 Hereford cattle. There was a large communal room that served for meeting and cooking. We had a phenomenal cook whose job it was to fatten us up before our ordeal. The wine (Malbec of course) was available 24/7. We had lessons on navigation, familiarized ourselves with the tack and the horses, learned how to use our emergency “In Reach” device and got scared to death by the medics! Making weight caused much nail biting amongst us. 10kg for tent, sleeping bag, food, stove, set of dry clothes, the saddle bag itself…not much room for extras! Some went back multiple times to weigh, each time removing an object they had thought invaluable!
I so enjoyed listening to Toby and Sarah, the Swiss brother and sister pair in my dome. They just made me laugh without any idea of what they were saying. I asked if I could start with them.
“Of course, you can!”
I think they were too polite to say no so I lucked out! No guarantees of course just start off and see how it goes. Most of these things sort themselves out on the trail.
I met Ciara in the bathroom at Start Camp. We had not expected a shower and I had only a 6inch x 6 inch towel of sorts. I was contemplating no shower, what’s two extra days? Ciara was there with a towel in the shape of her hand, smaller than mine and she was contemplating the same thing! I know a kindred spirit when I find one. There were now four of us, a team.
The start was late as these things always are. Each rider had chosen a horse number from the hat. They then had to catch that horse. HA HA! The horses were not going to make that easy! Our fellow riders were allowed to help but no Gauchos. We developed some clever strategies and helped each other. Then tacking up…the horses did NOT like our saddlebags. Just getting them securely fastened behind the saddle was a feat. The best way to guarantee a bucking horse is to have loose or unbalanced saddlebags! Next best is a slipping saddle. A tight girth is as necessary as an air canister to a scuba diver. There are tricky ways to do this which I will only share one on one!
We did not start the race until everyone was mounted…the horses were keen and pretty worked up by that point. When the gun went off, the only thing I could do was gallop away with the rest. The ground is very uneven, but these horses negotiate it so well especially at a canter and gallop. I had fashioned an “oh shit” strap to the front of my saddle which I gladly held, butt deep in the saddle, feet forward and let him go!
My first clue to the overall theme of my Gaucho Derby ride came about 5km out from where we would stop that night. My stirrup suddenly broke. I managed to reach down and rescue it and ride with it in my lap. When I dismounted my chaps fell off and I discovered that I had lost the extremely essential lead I had “secured” to the saddle. The trend was quite worrisome as we could not have gone more than 40km! A wonderful man (Cristóbal from Chile) came to my rescue. The stop was at a hut of sorts where Gauchos sleep when herding. There was a pile of scrap metal in the back. Cristobal found the exact right size nut (crazy, right?) that I needed and made it work. I found a spare lead and sewed my pants with cow suture that I had brought.
Bingo! Back in business.
The foursome worked immediately. I had much anxiety about navigating and had been tutored by Tim at home. Compass, map, and GPS training. We were serious. I had my special pencils from Zak and a clear ruler and a super compass that worked in the southern hemisphere. The crux of it is this: I didn’t use any of it once we got going! I had the compass around my neck under my clothes, it made me feel close to Tim but never took it out! A Gaucho at start camp had told me “Don’t worry, go in the direction your GPS directs you and when you run into a mountain, go around it.” Well, that’s pretty much what we did. We used our maps, although being 40 years old they were not always accurate…forests expand!
(Photo by Sara Farnsworth.)
We each had a unique role, mine was often but not always the pace setter (“go faster!”). And the forest guide. My nickname was “Tree Snake” as we slithered through some ungodly thick forests. Toby was primary navigator with Ciara helping. Ciara was also our bog specialist. She comes from an area in Ireland where there are lots of bogs so had an eye for them and where we must go to avoid them. Sarah was our morale-lifter; her favorite phrases were: “We will get there” and “It’ll be OK!”. She said them so seriously and easily it makes me laugh even now! Sarah would often ride in front as well and sometimes set her own path much to Toby’s dismay.
The first night of camping…horses hobbled and tied to bushes as we had been instructed. Alas three horses in the morning!! Sara mounted up and found Toby’s horse across the river and partially up another mountain. What joy when we saw her return ponying Toby’s horse!
We were not always on our own. There were unavoidable race holds due to accidents and bad weather, so we kept getting swept into the large group behind us. The Kenyans and the Mexicans, among others. What fun they were! It’s hard to ride in such a large group so we kept splitting off. One night all of us camped in a forest. There must have been twenty horses. That’s the night I got a black eye from my horse being naughty. It became quite fashionable to sport a left black eye. Ciara got one from her GPS flinging up. There were others with stories as well! That night after settling down, Jaco’s (So Africa) horse got loose, Simon (Kenya) heard it and chased it most of the night!
I managed to continue breaking equipment. One night I was tired and not paying attention. This is truly a fatal mistake with these horses. They do amazing things for you all day long but are easily spooked and quite reactive. I was removing my saddlebags unevenly (wrong!), my horse spooked, pulled free and was off running in the middle of the rocky river, my bags first flying then dumped in the river, my steed free to keep running! I was able to rescue the bags and catch the horse. We repaired the broken saddle bags with paracord and zip ties but much of my gear was never the same. Fortunately, the dry bags kept my sleeping bag and food dry.
I must get back to the bogs.
There are two different kinds of bogs, green and rocky. The green ones we had Ciara to help us with but they were still tricky and we had some close calls.
The rock bogs are an evil enigma. You would be walking up a shale mountain, watching every step closely and suddenly drop entirely to your horse’s belly in a bog! I went completely in and fortunately had a horse willing to give his all to fight the evil! He thrashed and thrashed until he hit a bit of hard ground and pulled us out. I was quite shaken and didn’t lead for quite a while.
And the mountains, oh the mountains. The winds would screech past us. The Condors just glided by. We had to hold onto our helmets and the horses seemed to be moving in place. These were the spots that I most appreciated Toby and Ciara navigating and Sarah’s reassurances. We were in Star Trek, this couldn’t possibly be real.
Of course, the Guanacos had escorted us with their screeching during our climb up and would meet us again on our way down! Their cries echoing through the mountains. We were in their territory and did not belong. They were quite clear about it. I had Guanaco for dinner one night and enjoyed it immensely!
And the horses, the magnificent, truly amazing creatures who made this possible. I can never give enough credit to them. Each day was a “new normal” as we came to know them and their abilities. We asked for more than we had the day before and were always granted it. It brings tears to my eyes thinking about it.
Yes, we had a few challenging ones, especially Toby and a few slower ones but they never disappointed. I never would have imagined that there were horses capable of the feats we asked of them. I distinctly recall sliding down a shale mountain on my butt holding the reins of my horse who was sliding next to me on his hocks and butt. No drama, we just had to get to the bottom! The vast territories that these horses and their owners must navigate to care for the extensive herds and flocks could not be done by anything but a horse of this caliber. The horses are strong, willing, and built to do the job. I was fortunate to ride a pure Criollo for my 3rd horse. He was like no other and I will never forget him. He had a kind of strength of presence I have never experienced. Many of the other horses are crossbreds. The Criollo has been crossed with draft breeds to create a larger bred that can hold a large cow or bull when necessary. These “machines” as they felt to be at times, were absolutely in tune with their riders. A kind word, a pat and especially a song or gentle whistle evoked ears back listening, there was a constant conversation.
I think one of their traits that most impressed me was self-preservation. When we crossed rivers, they drank. Anything green, they immediately ate, when tired climbing up a mountain, they would stop for a breather and then continue forward. Without being asked. Wow!
The scenery, the landscape, these words sound so removed. We were overloaded every day with such diversity and vast beauty that it will take some time to unwrap it. It was “the norm” to climb shale mountains in the desert and then drop down into a verdant valley before returning to climb some more with snow covered mountains and glacier filled peaks on the horizon. It was almost too much to take in. The color of the glacier lakes is seared into my memory. A lone wild stallion standing far, far away atop his mountain watching us traverse his territory. These are the images that will never leave me.
The terrain is so remote that our veterinarians and medics had to ride horses with a pack horse to their check points. They would set up camp at the base of a mountain (out of the wind as best they could) near grass and water and wait for us. It was a joyful sight to catch the orange color of a tent miles in the distance, usually several mountains away but a reality check, yes, we were headed in the right direction!
It was hard to believe that the finish line was just in front of us. My spooky horse almost got me off when startled by a hare but NO! it couldn’t be another fence! Yes, we could see the finish flags but still had to find another gate in a very long fence snaking its way up the mountain, the last hurdle, our least favorite task as well. But alas, we did it and tried to come cantering across Bonanza style except the flags scared my horse who started a chain reaction of horse crashes across the line! FUNNY and fitting! Equal 13th place although there have been some adjustments to that apparently. Who cares, I would have done nothing different, it was awesome, and I thank my friends for their devotion to each other and our horses!
I was awarded the “Gaucho Award”. It has something to do with being the most Gaucho-like and is considered an honor.
I could not have done this without our amazing team! Cheers to Toby, Sarah, Ciara, and me!
Needless to say, the party from pre-race continued at post ride camp in grand style!
PS We raised over $10,000 for the Enfield Food Pantry! I want to thank all of you generous people who contributed. This is a very worthy cause and just watch it grow into a bigger vision of food acquisition, distribution, and lifestyle change. To donate, go to: https://enfieldfoodshelf.org/