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.
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.