Suppressed Memory, Remembered

07.3.2006 | 5:18 pm

Saturday, BotchedExperiment and I went on a big ol’ mountain bike ride. Tomorrow, I’ll write all about it – and there’s plenty to write about; it was one of the best mountain bike rides I’ve been on all year.

Today, though, I want to talk a little bit about pain. The worst, most sustained pain I have ever lived with. So bad that I had forgotten all about it—my subconscious mind’s way of allowing me to go outdoors again—until reminded of it last Saturday.


A Little Nettle

In the shade of the mountain, vegetation grows thick and lush in Grove Canyon. At a certain point, the plants grow so tall and close in to the trail that there’s no way you can avoid having them brush against you as you ride. Since we were riding early in the morning, this meant our shoes, legs, and gloves got soaked from the dew on the plants.

It also meant that we each got a good dosing of stinging nettle.

Now, stinging nettle is not a big deal for me. It mostly just causes amusement-level pain that I notice when it first hits me, then fades quickly.

Saturday, though, I must’ve hit a batch just right, though, because my entire left shin lit up bright red for about twenty minutes.

And that’s when I remembered.


Evil Portents

About four years ago, Kenny and I rode up Squaw Peak road on our mountain bikes. Like we had dozens of times before, the plan was to ride up at top speed, then bomb down the narrow, very steep singletrack from Hope Campground back to Provo Canyon. It combined a great climbing workout with an adrenaline rush payoff.

The standing tradition was that the first to the top got the honor of leading out on the descent. As usual, that meant Kenny went first. I gave him the ten second headstart (gives dust time to settle, and reduces the likelihood of a one-person crash turning into a two-person pileup), and then took off.

The thing about the Hope descent is that once it starts, it never levels off or slows down. You just fly, the whole time, grinning even as you know that you could turf it—and turf it badly—at any moment.

About a quarter of the way down, I felt something flicking against the underside of my right thigh and the back of my calf. I knew what it was instantly: a weed had got caught in my cassette and was whipping against my leg with each rotation of the wheel. No big deal, no reason to stop.



I continued to the bottom, the “thwish-thwish-thwish” sound and feeling following me the whole way down.

At the bottom, I pulled up by Kenny, laughing—as usual—from the adrenaline that accompanies a white-knuckle descent. I leaned over and started picking the weed out of my cassette.

“Dude,” said Kenny. “That’s poison oak.”


Please, Just Cut Off My Leg

Twenty minutes later, the back of my right leg—starting right below where the shorts ended and going to about halfway down my right calf—was red and itchy.

Within two hours, it was unbearable. Blistered and burning. I was unable to stop myself from clawing at it, even as I knew that I was just making it worse.

And from there, it just got worse.

The burning and itching on the back of my leg became the center of my universe. I could not wear pants. I had to sit on the very edge of chairs. I slept on my stomach (and I never sleep on my stomach.

If I’d had a chainsaw or even one of those guillotine-style paper cutters, I’m reasonably convinced I’d have taken matters into my own hands.

That feeling did not go away for about twenty days.


  1. Comment by Unknown | 07.3.2006 | 6:28 pm

    Oh man, I’m sticking to my road bike…

  2. Comment by Unknown | 07.3.2006 | 6:54 pm

    Dear God, man.  Not an itchy leg.  Oh, the thought of it sends shivers down my spine.  Imagine how much different, and better, history would be if we were all made of such tough stuff, men who go toe-to-toe with vicious, stinging plants.
    Sergeant:  Sir, we can’t go over the top.  Fatty’s leg itches!
    General:  Good God, man.  Not his leg!
    Sergeant: Yes, Sir.  I’m afraid it is.  Poison oak.
    General:  Zounds.  Very well then.  Telegraph the Hun.  The Somme’s off for today. 
    Sergeant: Right then.  Better luck next time, Sir.
    Pericles:  What’s that boy? Why are you stopping?
    Pheidippides: It’s my leg sir.  It’s quite itchy. 
    Pericles: You don’t say.  What’s the problem then?
    Pheidippides: Poison ivy, I think.
    Pericles: Is it really bad?
    Pheidippides: Not yet.  But I fear I’ll have to sleep on my stomach for a while.
    Pericles: Very well then.  Stop here.  We’ll call the run you just took "The Marathon" in honor of our great victory over the Persians.
    Pheidippides: But it was only 50 yards, Sir.
    Pericles: Well, if that’s the best you can do for Athens, so be it.
    Deck Hand: I can’t go with you to get help sir.  My toes are cold.
    Sir Ernest Shackleton:  Oh dear.  Are you certain?
    Deck Hand: Indeed, Sir.  ‘Tis true.
    Sir Ernest Shackleton: Is it bad?
    Deck Hand: Oh, yes it is Sir.  They are quite cold. And itchy.  
    Sir Ernest Shackleton: Frostbite, son?Deck Hand: Oh no, Sir.  Just athlete’s foot, I think.
    Sir Ernest Shackleton: Well, I guess we’ll all just have to die here then.  Can’t send a man out with itchy feet, you know.  Wouldn’t be cricket.
    Hope these barbs don’t bother you as much as stinging nettles, poison oak, blades of grass and all the other vicious plants out there Fatty.  Have a happy Fourth, and don’t hurt yourself on the Ambrosia at the family picnic.  That stuff can kill!

  3. Comment by Unknown | 07.3.2006 | 7:11 pm

    Al, you forgot the Leonidas and the Spartans at Thermopylae.
    Only people who have had a really massive allergic dermatitis (and then, surprisingly didn’t seek medical treatment for it–what’s up with that, Fatty?) can appreciate the agony.
    If you’d like, Al, I’ve got some special toilet paper that will help you come to an understanding of the pain involved with poison oak. . .

  4. Comment by jim | 07.3.2006 | 9:16 pm

    The last time I had poison ivy/oak it covered my entire body.  The good news is that doctors tell me that the more area it covers the less prone you are to ever getting it again.  I have not had it for 18 years now.

  5. Comment by BIg Mike In Oz | 07.3.2006 | 9:26 pm

    After the first paragraph I thought I was going to have to wait until tomorrow for a decent read.  But then my second favourite subject just jumped out of the second paragraph and rolled all the way to the bottom of the page. 
    Not mine, yours.  Well not yours specifically, but definitely not mine.

  6. Comment by barry1021 | 07.3.2006 | 9:51 pm

    Well with all respect  (and a huge LOL) to Al M., I too thought folks that were down for the count with P. Oak or Ivy were just, well Al already summed that up. Until the time I got it on my arms–after three days, they looked like raw hamburger and they were dripping so much i had to tie a cloth around my wrist to soak it up. So FC, once again you show your true grit, if not your knowedge of local flora. But geez, what Julia said…you are not enticing us to go off road….

  7. Comment by Unknown | 07.3.2006 | 10:03 pm

    Actually Botched, I’m suffering from some kind of bad allergic reaction due to a mountain biking misadventure of my own right now.  My lower legs look like somebody drew hundreds of dots on them with a red pen.  Replace "dots" with "tiny little burning, painful, itchy blisters" and you have a pretty good idea of it.  It looks like severe razor burn.  They ooze the most interesting orange-y semi-clear fluid ever if you scratch them, and nothing takes away the itch except bursting them and squeezing out the good.  Which only works for a little while.  It is major suckage, but I’m not sure it’s the worst pain ever, and I’m still sitting pretty much the same way I always have, slouching and scratching myself.   The time a guy re-arranged my face in a brawl, breaking sinuses and jaws and stuff was probably the worst pain ever.  I was sneezing chunky blood clots out of my broken sinus cavities for a couple months, breathing through the nose caused a stabbing pain, and chewing food made it feel like there was an electric wire touching the nerves in my teeth and nose.  I could feel the vibrations of every sound with the bones of my skull.  I’m guessing bIG MIKE can relate to that. 
    I didn’t share all that earlier because I was too busy being crass and hurtful to people with disfiguring skin conditions and associated tales of dermatological trauma.  I’m only sharing now because it’s an hour before my Pushing People in Wheelchairs Down Church Stairs group meets, and I had a couple spare minutes to unburden my tortured, itchy soul. 

  8. Comment by Unknown | 07.3.2006 | 10:26 pm

    Al, personally, my worst epidural reactions have only rated a bout a 5 on a pain scale of 10, but it was enough for me to realize that type of problem could reach a solid 7, which isn’t fun.
    Anyhoo, have fun with the cripples.
    P.S. Al, I can’t believe that A) someone picked a fight with you (for those of you who havn’t seen pictures of Al, imagine a NFL tackle only hairier) and B) you got your ass kicked. What, were you all drunk?

  9. Comment by Katie | 07.3.2006 | 11:14 pm

    Oh Man that blows.  I am highly allergic to poison ivy, and once (a neighbor was burning it) i got it all over my body.  Including the inside of my mouth, throat, ect.   Pain oh man.
    But you have to think…maybe the pain from the poison oak was less than a potential crash from attempting stop and remove the twig?
    But you never know. 

  10. Comment by Andrew | 07.4.2006 | 12:30 am

    Not everybody surrendered to the Red Threat:
    Xerxes: If you do not surrender we will throw poison oak at you.
    Leonidus: Then we will fight in the shade.
    I’m pretty sure that’s how it went.

  11. Comment by Unknown | 07.4.2006 | 12:46 am

    He was bigger than me Botched.  And he sucker punched me.  I was stone cold sober, which only made it hurt worse. 

  12. Comment by barry1021 | 07.4.2006 | 1:01 am

    Cool, Al- I am putting that "orange-y semi-clear fluid" note next to my bloated picture on the ‘fridge." Should help with the diet. For everyone in the house, come to think of it.
    NoName–Poison ivy inside your mouth?? I am gonna send Al right over to kick your neighbor’s ass.
    Al–he sucker punched you? I am sending Botched right over to kick his ass. Maybe Botched and his closest dozen friends. i would do it myself but I have this mortal fear of sneezing chunky clots out of my broken sinus cavities. I think it’s hereditary.

  13. Comment by Hillel | 07.4.2006 | 1:38 am

    I’m a pretty new cyclist, and I fell over the bars the other day, and landed with the bike on top of me in a field of nettles.

    Try telling me they don’t hurt after that.

    And worst of all, I lost my lunch sack out of the panniers and didn’t notice for a while…

  14. Comment by Ade | 07.4.2006 | 5:05 pm

    Me too. Mountain biking is dangerous.

  15. Comment by Jsun | 07.4.2006 | 5:33 pm

    Since everyone else shared their lame poison plant story here’s my short version (dramatics excluded, gratuitous bike content included), plus a bonus story for the non-bored.
    Two young lads were bush-wacking, with state-of-the-art-1988-mountain-bikes on our backs, through the deepest parts of the local park and resevoir.  It was an all-day epic adventure that rewared me with a classic case of poison ivy, (the other lad didn’t get it, geez, some friend) and not knowing what it was, I scratched it tell I orgasmed and then scratched some more.  It was quickly spreading all over, like an albino’s sunscreen at a beach-blanket bongo, creating gigantic puss-filled boils that kept me from wearing tight shirts, long pants and shoes for weeks.  Not too big of deal, except my job required a neck-tie (a skinny 80’s job), plus matching ensemble.  I didn’t lose my job, but I never advanced higher than dipweed with the dipweed either.
    Perhaps that dripping substance could be used for something on your bike, like a lube or a lock-tite. ??
    Another great itchy and scratchy show item are fleas.  Its been a while since we’ve had to deal with them in our household, until this morning.  As I was getting outa bed to got to work on this great national holiday, my pregnant wife of 9+ months, who gets up in the middle of the night, says oh so casaully "the cats brought in a rabbit again, and there are fleas".  Since the ol’ lady is knocked I was on my own for this one, which is okay, because who wants to go to work early on the Fourth of July anyway.  So I proceeded to make a double strong coffee for myself, douse the cats and dog with a stylish flea killing hair mousse, dismantle the couch and pet beds, and carry everything out on to the front porch where it all recieved a dusting of toxic powder, a good hoovering, and a anything else I could think of to ward off the lttle critters.     I managed to get everything and everyone cleaned up and back in order and was only 3 hours late for work.  Ugly itching incedent avoided. 

  16. Comment by barry1021 | 07.5.2006 | 1:36 am

    Maybe you ought to insist the cats dine outdoors, LOL. We draw the line with Speedo-he can do a show and tell at the door, but that’s as far as it goes. He’s a great hunter though.
    Hey speaking of fleas, I read somewhere that the male flea’s reproductive organ is one of largest relative to body size. Another reason why I should lose 40 lbs, I think….if you can’t grow the numerator, shrink the denominator.
    Well another contender in the TDF bites the dust, Valverde went down hard, too bad. I heard Dekker and someone else went down because of a nasty pothole. This is what happens when you have a 30 hour workweek. I gotta believe that Hincapie is thinking "hey I can win this!" Unfortunately he has three teammates that are thinking the same thing. I wonder if Bruyneel has the power and determination to choose a leader at some point. Otherwise maybe Floyd and Levi have a better chance..
    Can you imagine if Lance was in the TDF this year and Ullrich was out and the Tour went thru Germany the day after they lost in the World Cup??
    Well Happy Independence day!


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