By Laurelle Walsh
The Ride to Rendezvous, a four-day/four-night horse-powered journey through the Methow Valley, sets off next week on what Washington Outfitters & Guides Association (WOGA) calls “the adventure of a lifetime.”
Hosted annually for the last 17 years, the Ride showcases the services provided by professional horse packers. WOGA’s membership also includes llama packers, hunting guides, and sport-fishing, rafting and kayaking guides.
Between 75 and 100 guests are expected on the Ride this year, along with an equal number of support crew, from cooks to gear haulers to wranglers to on-call farriers and veterinarians, who make the experience as smooth and trouble-free as possible. “We take care of you and your horses from the time you pull in to the rodeo grounds to the time you leave us at the end of the week,” said WOGA secretary Marva Mountjoy.
Most of the guests bring their own horses, Mountjoy said, but there is also the option of renting a horse for the trip or riding in a covered wagon driven by an experienced teamster.
Guests bring their own tents and sleeping gear, with meals, snacks, coffee and beverages provided. Riders unwind each evening, after a hard day on the trail, with hors d’oeuvres before dinner and campfire entertainment afterwards. “The guests are very well taken care of,” said Mountjoy.
Riders on horseback log a few more trail miles each day than those in the wagons, according to teamster Claude Miller. “We [the wagon riders] pretty much stay on the roads,” said Miller, adding that a “road” on the Ride to Rendezvous is often nothing more than a rutted dirt track.
Miller and outfitter Steve Darwood have been scouting the wagon route for the past few weeks to ensure that horses and wagons will have safe passage. “We cut a lot of trees this year,” Miller said, noting the large number that fell as a result of last winter’s storms. Tom Graves, Larry Zimmerlund and Brian Varrelman have also been out on horseback planning the trail riders’ route.
WOGA has partnered with the Wounded Warrior Project for the past five years to give recovering veterans the opportunity to participate in the Ride to Rendezvous. “We are so lucky this year to have five warriors on the Ride,” Mountjoy said. The outfitters and guides organization is sponsoring two warriors, and the local American Legion Auxiliary, the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce, and a number of generous WOGA members are pitching in to help three more veterans attend.
Shawn Graves and Mike Carroll, the first two wounded warriors to participate on the Ride in 2011, have become “regulars” and are now part of the camp crew, according to Mountjoy. “They didn’t know if they were going to make it this year, but we said they can’t quit. They’re part of us now.”
The path of this year’s Ride is what organizers call the “round-the-valley” route, taking participants over the trails and tracks of the upper Methow Valley. “We won’t be going through any of the ashes” from last summer’s fires, Mountjoy said. “We’ll see a couple burnt trees but we won’t be camping in it,” echoed Miller.
Meet on Monday
Ride participants will gather at the Methow Valley Rodeo grounds on Monday (May 4) to check in and prepare for their first evening in camp. A new feature on Monday at 2 p.m. is “Dutch Oven Delights,” a cooking class taught by camp cooks Andy Mills and Gale Brown. Participants will learn how to bake casseroles, biscuits and cookies over a charcoal fire and season the cast-iron pots used in camp cooking.
The cost is $25 and includes dinner at base camp. The class is open to the public. Register by calling the WOGA office at 997-1080.
After a cowboy breakfast on Tuesday morning, (May 5), the wagon train and riders will head out, passing through Moccasin Lake Ranch and into Elbow Coulee. Over the next three days the Ride will go through Sun Mountain trails, roll along the base of Virginia Ridge toward Mazama, and climb up into the Rendezvous for the final night’s camp.
Another opportunity for the general public to experience a bit of the Ride to Rendezvous is at Thursday night’s dinner (May 7) in camp, with entertainment around the campfire by Hank Cramer. Dinner reservations are required. The cost is $20 per person. Call the WOGA office for location and to reserve a spot this week or, after the Ride begins, leave a message at (509) 670-6255.
The Ride will make its traditional grand entry into Winthrop on Friday (May 8) at noon. The public is encouraged to cheer on the horseback riders and covered wagons as they roll through downtown to kick off ’49er Days weekend and the 27th annual Packers’ Rendezvous.