Sunday, February 25, 2007

Ghost Riders In The Fog

Last Friday our local riding group had a 40 km the fog. Spring weather in Egypt is as changeable as it is in other places and while it was clear when we got up to feed horses at 5 am, by 6:30 you couldn't see more than about 20 metres. Our ride was in the desert, an area not known for its landmarks at the best of times, so this looked to be an interesting experience. Seventeen horses and riders gathered at Dr. Ali Abdel Rahim's stud farm at the edge of the desert for the start. Horses were checked by local vets to be sure that they were ready to go, we were given a quick briefing, told to follow the splashes of white powder in the desert and then given leave to depart.
The trail led from the edge of the farmland up the hill to a plateau that is used by the sand miners who excavate sand and gravel there, leaving winding trails around holes and hills of unclaimed gravel. From the starting point though, the plateau couldn't even be made out. The usual riders in more of a hurry moved off quickly, but Cristina and I took our time along with a couple of other women who were new to the group. We ride in the desert here all the time so the likelihood of our getting lost in the fog was fairly low, but the other pair were strangers and we were a little concerned.
The horses moved off happily up the hill. I was riding Dooby a 7 year old gelding who has an enormous fast walk and long legs that dwarf those of Cristina's gelding Nayzak who is rather slight but very fast. Small as he is, Nayzak is faster than Dooby when we let them really move out, so they are actually very well matched. The other two women were riding horses that walked so slowly it was rather painful. On one hand the trail was marked, but not all that well and Cristina and I felt rather guilty just riding off into the fog and leaving them.
The faster riders had taken off quickly leaving us with an empty desert spotted randomly with some hoofprints, the odd tire track and some white powder. Over the plateau, the trail followed some dirt tracks and the trick was to spot the spot that showed whether to turn right or left, but about 8 km into the track, the trail came out onto a wide open space where the riders could have taken any direction. This part of the track was one that had us a bit confused because we were coming into a familiar wadi from an unfamiliar point, and with the still clinging fog, it was hard to get our bearings. We trotted on, checking behind us for the other women every so often, figuring that at least they could get an idea where the trail went by seeing us in distance.
As we circled one of the flat tabletop hills at the end of the wadi to head south to the homeward stretch of the trail, the sun began sneaking through the fog and the landscape was much easier to make out. We stopped worrying so much about the newcomers following us and let the boys out to stretch their legs. The leaders were just cantering along merrily quite a ways ahead of us; we had no concern that we might catch up. In fact on the way in Cristina did some quick calculations on time and realised that she wouldn't be able to go out for the second loop because she had to meet her family for a lunch later and the time would simply be too short. Having decided that we wouldn't be doing the second loop, when we ran into an old friend on the trail who wasn't in the ride, we stopped to chat much to the confusion of the two women who had been following us up to that point. Well, it was all about fun anyway.

We did warn the organisers that they were going to have to get either a drag rider to keep tabs on the last riders or someone in a jeep starting from the next ride. Cristina and I have been bringing along some horses and monitoring their recoveries and this was the last checkout ride. Dooby has an irregular heartbeat and can't be relied on to recover properly to the needed 64 beats per minute despite the fact that he loves the competition and can cruise happily for ages. Nayzak, on the other hand, drops to 40 beats per minute quickly, making him a good partner for either Nazeer or Bunduq. Next time, no last place for us.

copyright 2007 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

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