Local equestrian traverses Utah
July 26, 2016
Ria McCarthy, who graduated this spring from Wasatch High School, rode her horse, a wild mustang, 600-plus miles across Utah. She started June 15 at the Arizona border 30 miles east of Kanab and ended at the Idaho border on the east side of Bear Lake. It took 28 days to complete the ride, including a day's rest at her aunt's house in Bicknell and a two-day stop in Heber City to replace horse shoes and sleep a night in her own bed.
Ria has had a passion for horses for as long as she can remember and a sense of adventure that was instilled throughout her upbringing. Last fall at the "Impact of the Horse" event held in Heber City, she watched the movie "Unbranded." Immediately after, Ria, who trained and showed mustangs yearling for two year at the event, declared that she was going to ride mustangs across Utah from Arizona to Idaho.
Ria got to planning, pushing her dad to pore through maps with her, getting him sucked into spending hours studying possible routes. In November, over the Thanksgiving break, the two headed south to do a bit of reconnaissance and put a visual to the maps they had studied.
Next was to figure out a horse. In January, she bought a 7-year-old gelding mustang named Stoney. He would be the first horse she ever owned and a project for sure, but she felt she could get him ready in time.
Soon it became clear that a second horse would be necessary. If anyone was going to be able to join her for parts of the ride, they would need a fit horse to keep up. Also it seemed when she didn't have a support team right with her she would need a pack horse. Shortly after, at the Antelope Island Endurance ride, she met and test rode her second horse. Ixcha, pronounced (eatcha) was a troubled, energetic 6-year-old mare that stepped out nice and liked to move. She would be a perfect match.
Ria, Ken, Jen, Athena (Ria's dog) and her two mustangs, 10 bales of hay, several bags of grain, mountains of tack, saddles and camping gear headed to the Global Endurance Training Center in Moab. They would learn to glue Easycare glue on boots, (a rubber horse shoe hiking boot). From there, the crew headed down the road to the House Rock Valley and the Arizona border, east of Kanab, to start the journey. A broken axle on the trailer only half a mile from the Arizona border meant she had to ride south to the border as well as north to the Idaho border.
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Although she and her horse "Ixcha" were the only ones to complete the whole ride, she was not alone. Her dad, Ken McCarthy, rode many days with her, helping navigate the maze of trails and dirt road that had to be pieced together to find a route that wasn't on private land, had enough water for the horses and took them in the right direction. While Ria and her dad were navigating the trails her mom, Jen McCarthy, was driving the truck and trailer over miles of highway and dirt roads, dealing with flat tires and dead truck batteries, finding the next place the two riders would emerge from the wildness.
The ride started in the hot deserts of southern Utah and followed the Paria River north into the high pine and aspens forests of the Boulder Mountains. Averaging over 24 miles per day, the horses needed special feed to provide the energy needed to keep up the pace. Ria's biggest day was 30.5 miles, with 5,500 vertical feet of climbing. After a long day on the trail, she would meet the truck and trailer with all the feed and camping gear, take care of the horses' feed and grooming, feed herself, then dig into the next day's maps with her dad and study the route before setting up her tent, crawling in to record the day in her journal and fall asleep.
After their day of rest in Bicknell, the ride took them over the Thousand Peaks Mountains and then on through the Fish Lake Mountains to I-70 just east of Salina. Several times, Ria and her dad picked out trails that were on the maps but after riding up the trail for several miles it would just disappear, leaving them climbing over ridges and logs trying to find a way to get to the where they were going. It would leave them leading the horses for miles through dense sagebrush, forest and boulders.
Another challenging issue were biting flies and mosquitoes. Some days, they would be so bad the horses would get wild eyed and completely stop listening, wanting to just run as fast as they could to get way from the bugs. Fortunately, there were only a few days that bad.
The route climbed up out of the Salina Canyon onto the Wasatch Plateau and the Skyline Drive. The Skyline Drive is a series of dirt roads that travel the length of the Wasatch Plateau. For 110 miles, the route barely drops below 10,000 feet. Some of the roads were still blocked by snow even though it was the end of June. Here on the dirt roads of Skyline Drive, Jen got to ride her mountain bike along with Ria and Ixcha while Ken drove the truck.
On the July 1, Ria dropped down off the Skyline Drive onto Highway 6 and started up into the Strawberry Mountains. She made it from Highway 6 to Strawberry Reservoir in one day. She loaded Ixcha into the trailer and took her down to Heber to replace a boot that had been thrown the day before, clean all of the tack, purchase and reload feed and give everyone a rest.
On the Fourth of July, they trailered everyone back up to Strawberry Reservoir to start where they had left off. This time, Hayden Anderson and his mom, Patti Freeman, friends from Wallsburg, came along to ride a couple of days with Ria. It took two days to get over the mountains from Strawberry to Pine Valley on the Mirror Lake Highway. Here Patti and Hayden left and Ria and Ken headed up the North Fork of the Provo River.
It was supposed to be an easy ride up and over to the top of the Weber Canyon, but once again the trail became almost impassable, at least with horse. It was only 24 miles, but it was the longest day of the trip. They had to ask the horses to climb over piles of logs, cross deep swamps, wade rivers and push their way through thick brush. Five hours after the estimated arrival time, Jen became kind of worried. After finally making it to camp, Ria said it was the longest day but not the worst — that was the day with all the biting flies.
At this point, the route finding became very difficult, not because of the lack of roads or trails, but because of private land.
"We were very fortunate to know the Cannon Family, who were able to get us through the top of Weber Canyon," Jen said. "But from I-80 on to the Monte Cristo Mountains, we weren't so lucky. Deseret Land and Livestock owns all the land from I-80 to Highway 39 out of Woodruff — 200,000 acres, and they said we could not cross their land."
That meant Ria had to ride Ixcha 24 miles along Highway 16 out of Evanston, Wyoming, with trucks and cars flying by at 70 mph. Jen went along on her bike to keep a buffer between the speeding vehicles and the horse carrying her daughter.
From Woodruff, they went west into the Monte Cristo Mountains and back onto public land. The end was now in sight, only 75 miles left to go. From the foothills of the Monte Cristo Mountains, Ria could look out and see the incredible blue water of Bear Lake in the distance. On July 12, Ria and Ixcha rode out of the hills and up the shore of Bear Lake to the Idaho border where she rode right out into the lake for a swim to celebrate the finish of the ride.
The McCarthy's would like to thank all the people who helped with this adventure. There were so many kind people that helped out both before the ride started and along the way — Andy Bown from Midway, who was so generous with his time, knowledge, equipment and horses; Mike Duggin from Daniel with his horse packing gear and trailer transport; Christoph Schork from Moab for his horseshoeing education and sharing his vast knowledge and experience of endurance riding; Kathy McCarthy for putting up the whole crew at her house, finding certified hay and giving lots of advice on local routes; Thomas the rancher who let them camp in his corrals and entertained them with stories of the Paria River history; the Anderson/Freeman family for driving miles of dirt roads following Ria and giving Ken and Jen a break; Garrett Ford of Easycare for supplying boots; and Bo (the mayor) and Hugh Holman of Woodruff for being such great hosts to a weary group of travelers.
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