To be allowed to continue the race, a horse must have a pulse rate of no higher than 60 and a respiration rate of no more than 48 breaths per minute. A horse can eat, drink and rest for half an hour before reporting to the vet, who also checks each animal's dehydration level and capillary refill time. Much attention is given to ensuring that a horse is in condition to continue; as far as the rider is concerned, you could tie a dead body in the saddle and still get a green light.
After both horses are fed and watered, Suhr collapses in a chair. She bolts down a hard-boiled egg, a banana, a chocolate bar and some orange juice, all the while telling Barbara and the crew what should be done next. "Get Rusghala in the shade, Barbara," she says. "Bob, make sure Gazal's leg boots are washed out." Then she gets up, soaks a towel in Gazal's water bucket and slings it over his neck to cool him off. A few minutes later, she takes the towel off Gazal, plunges it into the bucket again, sloshes her face and head with it and hangs it around her neck. "This ride isn't for the fastidious," says Bob.
Both horses pass the vet check, and at 10:15 Suhr and White strap on their helmets and ride off to the next major checkpoint, Michigan Bluff, another 27½ punishing miles away.
The day is heating up as the riders make their way along the Last Chance-Deadwood Trail, over which millions of dollars in gold were once packed out by mule trains. The trail becomes increasingly treacherous as it descends into the American River Canyon, ascends the steep to Devil's Thumb, drops off again into the blast furnace of El Dorado Canyon and finally rises by graded switchbacks to Michigan Bluff.
Once a thriving pioneer city of 3,000, Michigan Bluff is now reduced to some 20 houses, nearly half of them weekend homes for city folk. Bob arrives before noon and, as he has done during the past several races, parks the trailer under the catalpa tree in Al Pond's backyard. People are milling around on the town's only street; this is the social event of the year in Michigan Bluff, and the elite among the locals sit in armchairs, lined up along the thoroughfare, to survey the scene. It's hot and getting hotter.
Doug White, a marathoner, returns from a run out onto the trail to bring news of Suhr's and White's progress. The news is bad. "Barb took a header near Devil's Thumb," he says calmly. "She had quite a bit of blood on her face, but she's O.K., and the horse wasn't hurt."
Endless waiting. The hours drag by, and the temperature vaults into the high 90's. Finally, around 4 p.m., Suhr and White arrive at the Michigan Bluff checkpoint. Suhr's face is flushed from the heat, and White looks as if she went five rounds with Marvin Hagler. Suhr is in overdrive. She's hyper and talking very fast. "I feel fine, just fine," she says breathlessly. White, bloodied but unbowed, immediately tends to her horse. There's some concern that Rusghala may have injured a leg during their fall, and Suhr puts ice on it. "Barbara's helmet saved her," she says. "We were on a really rocky trail, and Rusghala stumbled and went down, and Barb went flying over her head. A nice thing for a mother to watch."
Suhr, born and raised in the Santa Clara Valley, took up riding as a girl of seven, much to the chagrin of her father, who frequently exhorted her to "get the horses out of your system." On moonlit summer nights she would sneak out her bedroom window, leap on her horse and gallop between the long rows of pear trees on her father's ranch, riding full-out until, tired and sated with happiness, she would slip back into the house. Years later, when Julie and Bob returned from their honeymoon, she found her father had taken down the corral and turned the little horse barn into a tool shed. "You're a married woman now," her father said. "You'll never ride a horse again."
And she didn't ride a horse for 18 years. But when she was 39 she bought a mare named Lady Kay, decided to enter the Tevis Cup and trained Lady Kay by trotting around the golf course. "I thought, We'll go out and ride all day and night and won't that be fun," says Suhr. Lady Kay was scratched at Robinson Flat. But the next year, riding a borrowed horse, Suhr won her first buckle. Immediately after crossing the finish line, she phoned her mother. "I made it," she said. Her mother replied, "Oh, I'm so glad you got that out of your system, dear."
After the vet at Michigan Bluff gives them the go-ahead, Suhr and White walk their horses down the street toward the trail. Bob and other members of their crew run alongside, throwing buckets of cool water over the necks and rumps of the horses, and drenching the riders in the process. "My next wife," Bob has said, "will have long, red-painted fingernails, live in a penthouse and play bridge."