The third annual Tonto Twist was run on Saturday January 18, 2020. This is Arizona’s only stand-alone 50-mile ride (no LD or Intro option), and limited to only 55 riders. The ride was once again managed by Lancette Koerner, and co-managed by Ellen Hickey and Wendy Letteer. Despite suffering from a debilitating accident (that involved a rambunctious hay bale) that put Lancette out of riding commission for several months, she was not going to let anything prevent the Tonto Twist from happening! The ride route was largely unchanged from the previous years, with only minor reroutes to accommodate washed out trail from the winter rains. It consisted of 3 loops: Loop 1 (Bulldog – 30 miles) followed by an hour hold back in camp, Loop 2 (Goldfield – 14 miles) followed by a trot, pulse, and go back in camp, and Loop 3 (Prospector – 6 miles). Although all checks were back in camp, there were several stops along the route where crew could come out and meet the riders to provide some on-trail support.
The Twist is a deceptively challenging ride, with a combination of steep and rocky climbs, twisty single track, deep sand, as well as a decent amount of flat desert trail that allows riders to move out. The ride takes place in the shadow of the Superstition Mountains, one of the most iconic landmarks in this part of the state. The first long loop of 30 miles is the most challenging and requires riders to carefully manage their horses through difficult terrain while keeping an eye on the pace to ensure they didn’t fall too far behind. Most of the elevation gain occurs during the first loop, including some very steep technical trails as well as long pulls in deep sand. Crews had access to their riders at Bulldog Canyon (Mile 16), Usery Mountain Regional Park (Mile 20), and Prospector Park (Mile 29). Riders without crews were also supported at these checks by an army of volunteers who provided horse and people water, hay and carrots, and helping hands wherever they could be of assistance. Thank you to all the volunteers! Once riders passed the Usery Park checkpoint, the trails opened up into really nice desert footing, and then it was back to the rodeo grounds for the hour hold and lunch provided by management.
The second loop followed the same trails out for the first few miles before forking away from the trails of Loop 1. There was more climbing and technical terrain, though not as much as the first loop, and fun scenic trails past the iconic Goldfield Ghost Town (and the sounds of the wild west gun fight that happens in the Ghost Town streets throughout the day). After looping through camp again for the pulse and go vet check, it is back on the trail for the final 6 easy miles. A few glow sticks helped mark the turns for the tail-end riders finishing in the dark. Riders once again had the option of utilizing the Ride with GPS navigation app (in addition to the traditional ribbons and paper maps), and the voice cues were spot on all day.
Riders came from all over the continent to be part of the Twist, including California, New Mexico, Nevada, and Canada. The weather was perfect all day, with a breezy 68 as the high and a cool 41 first thing in the morning. The breeze helped many of the horses keep cool, as many of the equine competitors were sporting thick winter coats. As noted earlier, there was an army of volunteers who helped make this ride happen. This is truly a premier ride on the Arizona calendar, and it could not be done without all the support. Lancette said “since I was still recovering from my broken pelvis and shattered wrist there was much I could not do. Ellen, Wendy, Bob Mallia, Robert Hickey, my husband and daughter Tiffany Zehring and grand girls, made sure everything was taken care of.”
The perpetual “Faster than a Speeding Bullet” trophy (First Place) and BC went to Susie Kramer and A Ali Aseel (Steel), who set a course record with a ride time of 6:19, knocking 26 minutes off their winning time from 2018 (they came in 2nd in 2019). This makes back-to-back wins/BC for Susie and Steel at AZ rides in 2020 – awesome job! The turtle award went to Shannon Conley riding Triton, who crossed the finish line with a ride time of 10:50. 33 of the 43 starters completed the ride, with 4 Metabolic, 4 Lameness, and two Rider Option pulls. No horses needed to be treated, and the wonderful vet crew of Dr. Debra K Freiberg and Dr. Peggy Brosnahan took excellent care of the horses all day.
In addition to the standard First Place, Best Condition, and Turtle prizes, the Tonto Twist post-ride dinner had awards for many other accomplishments:
· First 5 Riders to Sign Up (Jill Askew, Ashley Wingert, Susie Kramer, Brad Person, Leona Beveridge)
· Top Ten Finishers (Susie Kramer, Tracy Fink, Sandy Dory, Corina Voll, MJ Fridley, Kacy King, Marianne Martin, Lisa Pallini, Dayna Weary, Pam Brimhall)
· 1st Junior (Micheala Cartrette)
· Junior Mentor (Brittany Cartrette)
· Mid-Pack (Brittany Cartrette)
· Mentor Award (Barbara Fredy, Tammy Gagnon)
· Lucky 13 (Leona Beverage)
· Hard Luck Award (Lisa Doring)
· Oldest Horse (Stephanie Duross on the indomitable 27-year old Hadji)
· Most Bubbly (Victoria Olson)
· Farthest Traveled (Mark Borden – 603 miles!)
· Almost-the-Turtle (Shari MacFarlane)
As in previous years, all riders who were attempting their first 50-mile race were recognized whether they finished or not. And as a special surprise, all entries for these riders had offers of reimbursement by the “Pay It Forward” sponsorship from Andrea Maitland. Our first 50-mile riders were: Micheala Cartrette (Junior), Tracy Fink, Doug Nicholas, Corina Voll, and Pam Brimhall. Congratulations for taking the plunge!
Corina, riding Nashville, said “My first 50-mile endurance ride was the most awesome experience and so worth the hours of training and conditioning as who does not love more hours in a saddle on your best friend. The event was so very well organized and with the most awesome group of volunteers. The scenery was epic and watching my horse carry me all those miles left me in awe yet again what these amazing creatures do. The amount of encouragement, kindness, congratulations and prizes where awesome!” Corina, an artist, is planning to ‘pay it forward’ next year by creating a custom oil painting as one of the ride awards – what an awesome idea!
First 50 (and Junior) Micheala Cartrette agreed. “Having my first fifty as the Tonto Twist ride was amazing. I couldn’t pick a better fifty. The view, the landscape, and the terrain made it perfect. It is crazy to me that I would only have twelve hours to do it. But, I had a great ride partner – my mom (Brittany Cartrette) – who kept us on track and on time. It was also great to have her as my ride partner because it made it a lot easier to handle the pressure and anxiety of the race. Though, she may have wanted to leave me with all of my singing and random jokes! I was lucky enough to ride my grandmother’s (Effee Conner) horse who had done several fifties in the past, Zip a.k.a XYZEE. He was truly my partner through the race as we worked together to get through the fifty miles. We joked that he was Eeyore, because he just clomped down the trail not worrying about any other riders. At the finish, both me and my mom were pushing ourselves to the finish both in pain but still light in spirits. But, my mom and I finished hand in hand until she cheated and beat me to the finish!” Congrats Micheala!
And finally, the last award of the night – the Spirit of Endurance Award – went to Ride Manager Lancette Koerner, who was presented with a beautiful white embroidered vest. This was a super-secret award this year, as we knew that Lancette would NEVER nominate herself, as she is as humble as she is generous. In fact, Lancette thought that no Spirit of Endurance Award was going to be handed out this year, so when her good friend and assistant ride manager Ellen Hickey started reading off everything Lancette has done to support our Arizona endurance riders…well let’s just say there weren’t many dry eyes in the house that night. “I was shocked when I was presented with the Tonto Twist Spirit of Endurance Award,” Lancette said. “I would like to say thank you to all who were involved in honoring me with this award. Being a member of AERC and riding Endurance since 1996 has brought immense joy into my life. My equine partners, the beauty of the trails we have traveled and the dear friends I have made along the way are memories I treasure. I simply cannot imagine my life without Endurance. To give back in some small way to the sport I love by introducing others is my hope. Perhaps another’s life will be touched just as mine has.”
Official ride photographers Susan and John Kordish were out on the trail capturing photos of riders going through the beautiful Usery Mountain Park. To see all of the official ride photos, head over to their website at AZ Cowgirl Photography.
For everyone who can’t get enough of this fantastic ride, or for those who missed it this time…start planning, because the 2021 edition of the Tonto Twist 50 is already sanctioned and on the AERC calendar! Save the date…January 16, 2021!
And that’s a wrap! Next up on the ride calendar is the Land of the Sun 2-day ride held out at Boyd Ranch in Wickenburg on 2/29 and 3/1. In addition to an Intro distance (Saturday Only) as well as 30 and 50 mile distance each day, LOTS will also hold Arizona’s only 2-Day 100. For those who are unfamiliar with the 2-Day 100 format, it is similar to doing back-to-back 50 mile rides EXCEPT that the same horse/rider team must finish both days in order to get a completion. If the team is pulled on the second day, then no miles count even if the first day was completed successfully. For those entering the Saturday ride, you may see some of our Burro Cross running teams out there with you following the Intro route! We love our long-eared trail running partners and are so thankful that many of our AZ rides have welcomed our burro buddies into the AERC events.
Thank you to Andrea Maitland for compiling and submitting the ride report.