Traffic jam ‘whoas’ Pony Express |

Traffic jam ‘whoas’ Pony Express

Ron Bell helps Alaina Raabe of Sparks get started on her leg of the Pony Express ride Thursday in Genoa.
Brad Coman

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The annual Pony Express reride got off to a bumpy start after the riders of the California portion arrived over an hour late to hand over the mochila to the Nevada riders at Woodfords, but the time was made up by the Nevada with seven minutes to spare.

Nevada Chapter Pony Express Vice President Ron Bell reported two issues that occurred during the California portion.

A horse had thrown a shoe, and the riders were stuck in a traffic jam in a construction zone.

In Woodfords, dozens of people, and one celebrity golden retriever named Henry, crowded together beneath the shade of the Mad Dog Cafe’s awning as they waited for the pony and riders to arrive. Some ate ice cream, others drank beer. Children ran around with posters hoping to be signed by each member in red. But all eyes faced south, hoping for a first glimpse of the riders.

“We took care of their time loss,” said Bell. “This association is like a big family, and we utilized a lot of teamwork and had very quick exchanges at the relay points.”

The riders averaged a time of around 12 seconds at each relay point, said Bell, which included two people removing the mochila from one horse, getting it placed on the second, and the rider re-saddling and taking off. By the time they reached Carson, they were 7 minutes ahead of schedule despite starting an hour behind.

For 19 months between 1860 and 1861, the Pony Express was the only way for mail to traverse the wilds of the West. Riders would relay satchels of notes and telegrams from the United States into the then-territories.

In its 158th anniversary year, the National Pony Express Association embarked on its annual relay in honor of the famous mail service.

This year marks the first ride for Sam DiMuzio, who was described by Bell as being “so damn excited she can’t hardly stand it.”

She never lost her grin despite the heat. She’d heard about the ride from a friend who rode last year, and signed up immediately with her 11-year-old mustang named Apache for this year’s run.

“I’m a huge history buff,” said DiMuzio, “and I love the Pony Express, because of the lore. History is amazing. It tells us where we’ve come from, it shows us how tough people can actually be. Riding across Nevada in the desert is incredible. It’s 85 right now and I’m already dying. And the riders who used to ride their horses for 10-15 miles with no water nearby in temperatures higher than this? Those are some tough people.”

What everyone agreed on, both riders and visitors alike, was that the history was the most important part of the reruns, and they were taking the responsibility upon themselves to keep it alive.

“When the Pony Express was going on, that’s history now,” said Bell. “What you did yesterday, that’s history. And today, we are creating history. We’re living it, breathing it, tasting it. It’s not only about keeping it alive, it’s also about creating it ourselves. There’s the history you read in books, the history you hear about, and the history you live and make yourself. Which one do you think you’ll be able to remember best?”

As far as the Bell family is concerned, they’re all involved with creating that history. Ron Bell’s son Grant and his nephew Brian are riding this year alongside Ron, and Ron’s wife Susie is one of the several nonriding support members who help on the sidelines. Come next year, Ron’s niece will also be joining the ride alongside her family.

Women were finally allowed to join the ride in 1990, after female members threatened a lawsuit citing gender discrimination. Some riders in the ’80s argued that women weren’t being invited to ride for authenticity’s sake. However, the actual Pony Express riders were small, lightweight 11-18-year-old boys riding ponies, which is no longer the case.

“Now, what they should’ve done is invited women back in the 1860s,” said DiMuzio. “They were looking for lightweight people. We’re a lot tougher than we look. The thing is, if you want an association to have members, they have to be open to everyone. So invite the ladies.”

This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the National Trails System, which includes the Pony Express National Historic Trail.

The ride began 3 p.m. Wednesday at Pony Express Plaza in Old Sacramento.

The last rider will arrive in St. Joseph, Missouri 8:30 p.m. June 30.

Commemorative letters and personal mail are carried 1,966 miles during the 10-day ride.

The rider was scheduled to cross the Nevada-Utah line in Ibapah early this morning between 2 and 3 a.m., and should be arriving in Wyoming by 7:30 a.m. Monday.