Five Women Ride Backbone Trail

By Laurel Busby
Staff Writer

Five women, including 81-year-old Ruth Gerson, rode into Will Rogers State Historic Park last month after completing the first horseback ride of the Backbone Trail since its completion and official designation as a National Recreation Trail on June 4.

“I’m hoping this will inspire others to go for their goals,” said Gerson, who lives in Agoura Hills. “I’m very grateful that even with all of my surgeries—eight of them to my left hip—I could ride that distance at my age.”

Gerson said even though she “can’t walk real good,” riding still comes easy. She wasn’t sore or otherwise bothered by riding her sure-footed, 19-year-old mustang, Crystal, along the 67-mile trail, starting in Pt. Mugu State Park. Gerson planned the trip, which included rides that varied from 8 miles to 14 miles per day with four friends, Jeanne Wallace, 73, Janet Peterson, 63, Tracey Pot- ter, 53, and Kimberly Gustafson, 45.

Left to right: Jeanne Wallace, Janet Paterson, Ruth Gerson, Tracey Potter and Kimberly Gustafson complete the 67-mile Backbone Trail.

Left to right: Jeanne Wallace, Janet Paterson, Ruth Gerson, Tracey Potter and Kimberly Gustafson complete the 67-mile Backbone Trail.

Although all the riders made it through without incident, the ride is difficult, Gerson said. There are rocky portions filled with boulders, long climbs and a lack of water, which the group had to have brought in each evening by volunteers. Friends had also checked out parts of the trail beforehand for any debris, such as downed trees, then removed the trees to ensure the riders could make it through safely.

A favorite section for all of the riders was Saddleback Peak trail, “which has a lot of boulders and rocks,” Gerson said. “It’s not for everybody, because the horse has to be trail savvy. It’s very challenging, but it’s very pretty.”

The trail doesn’t have adequate camps to accommodate riders, so Gerson, who planned the ride in about two months, had to provide alternatives for two of the five nights. They stayed in their horse trailers near a friend’s home close to the trail one night; on another, they stayed and ate dinner at Calamigos Ranch, a conference center along the trail that Gerson’s husband owns.

Friends also brought them dinner, including pizza, El Pollo Loco, and In-and-Out burgers for three nights. “We were fortunate that way,” Gerson said. Throughout the ride, “we all enjoyed the views, and even though it was warm, there was a nice breeze because we were up pretty high.” During the ride, they met hikers and bicyclists, who were uniformly nice.

The women also got along well. Gerson had selected riding mates with good senses of humor who were also horsewomen with a strong awareness of the abilities of their particular mounts. “Most people don’t evaluate the condition of their horses well enough,” Gerson said. “They also may not know how challenging this road is. Our horses were tired, and they were in shape.”

This is one of many views riders saw along the trail.

This is one of many views riders saw along the trail.

Gerson knew the trail from experience. She had done a somewhat different version of it 25 years before in just three days, trotting often as part of an endurance ride long before the full trail was finished. She also is experienced with backcountry riding in general as she and her late husband had taken week-long horseback rides often in the past. She also works with Backcountry Horsemen of California to repair trails throughout the state.

“I’m hoping that this ride will publicize the Backbone Trail and the National Recreation Trail so others will enjoy it,” said Gerson, who will write a report on her group’s ride to help the Santa Monica Mountains management address problems, including one portion of the trail that wasn’t clearly marked.

“I’m also hoping the land managers will put in more trail camps, so other peo- ple can do longer distances.”

For some pictures and further information about the ride and trail, visit: www.smmtc.org/publicity/bbtride2016.php

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