Like many in Squamish, Nichole Murray has a hankering for extreme adventure.
Unlike many, however, her adventures involve horses, plural.
Murray, 48, has recently been chosen from hundreds of applications as one of 20 competitors in the Gaucho Derby, a 10-day, 500-kilometre multi-horse race in Patagonia, Argentina.
"I think I cried a little bit," Murray told The Chief about being accepted into the race. "I couldn't believe it."
The adventure race calls itself "the world's toughest horse race," and it is easy to see why.
With no outside assistance, Murray and the other racers will be responsible for riding and caring for two horses, navigating between checkpoints and camping each night at spots across the Andean foothills.
Rider weight is limited to 85kgs, including everything she wears, 10kgs of gear including food and shelter, and 20kgs of horse-related tack, such as saddles, stirrups, and hobbles.
"A lot of time right now has been spent weighing every little thing and seeing how many grams it weighs," Murray said.
She is very excited about having included a 750 milliliter decanted bottle of wine in the mix, she said, with a laugh.
"So I will be out there, probably on nights one and two — it won't last much longer than that — with my feet up looking at these mountains and have a glass of wine," she said.
This is the first year this particular race has been held, but its organizers have staged horse races in Mongolia and other types of races all over the world.
"I am very excited," Murray said.
Murray started riding horses again five years ago, after a long hiatus since she had ridden as a teen.
She currently has two horses and has camped with them, so isn't too intimidated by the prospect of camping with horses on the race — though they will be unfamiliar animals supplied by the race organizers at various intervals.
"That will be a big unknown, not knowing the horses' personalities," she said.
Another challenge may be confidently navigating the course as she hasn't done as much wayfinding as she would like.
"But looking at the terrain there, it is very similar to the Chilcotins here and I have mountain biked there and it is where I take the horses camping, it is similar terrain. So, I think being able to read the land a little bit is helpful," she said.
The pre-race training starts on March 2, with the race itself held March 5 to 14.
Murray leaves Squamish on Feb 25.
Today’s test ride was perfect in so many ways! 1. What if your horse is terrified of saddle bags? 2. What if one horse is in go-mode and the other is in whoa-mode? 3. What if your horses can’t decide whether to snuggle (for the first time ever) or fight (for the every-time ever)? 4. What if you drop the lead rope? 5. Easy access to the flask of whisky is key. 6. Rope/rein handling is key and to add looking at a GPS qualifies it as juggling. Im so fortunate that my 2 horses have trained me in all of these points. The only thing I need to adjust is: 7. If you’re short, the bottom of your hydration pack must somehow clear the top of any behind the saddle gear. #horsepacking #endurancetraining #travelingwithhorses #backcountryhorsemen #campingwithhorses
In terms of preparing, Murray says she really just looked at what she already does.
"I know I can ride easily for 6.5 hours and that not be too difficult. I know I can camp," she said. "So if I look at each individual component, I know I can do all of those things. Everything will just be a little bit increased," she said.
Murray said her goal is to finish and not necessarily to win the race.
Watching how the more competitive folks on the race fare will be interesting, she said.
"I am lucky that I do a lot of things by myself," she said, noting she solo mountain bikes and camps.
"It will be interesting to see how that is for other people."
She has an online fundraising campaign on GoFundMe, called "Quest for the Gaucho Derby" to offset the cost of the race, her travel, the loss of income and expense for the care of her own horses while she's away.
She also plans to donate a portion of what she raises to the Canadian Horse Rescue and Re-Homing Society, canadianhorserescue.ca.
Follow Murray on Instagram @nicholemurray.shenanigans.