Hard Way Learning

On September 18, 2009, in Nature, by Meghan

No matter which way you look at it, Mother Nature is smarter than you. To plead ignorance or to possess arrogance amidst wild places is akin to signing oneself up for the possibility of a smooth, luge-ramp ride to death and/or moderate maiming. I have hard-way learned this from the following first-uncomfortable-now-humorous experience.

More than three weeks ago, Jeff and I met up for what you could call an “adventure run” to a deep, snaking, backcountry Sierra Nevada foothills canyon. The map showed that this particular canyon possessed trails and local folks confirmed as much, and we headed out to see for ourselves. By map, our journey appeared to have three legs that composed a rough circle: a double-track dive from 4000 feet to 1500 feet elevation into the depths of the aforementioned canyon, a rolling river bank contour along a primitive trail, and a 2500 foot canyon climb-out via single-track.

The route was exactly as the map predicted, replete with the unadvertised additions of jaw-dropping scenery, fresh black bear footprints, and poison oak by the acre. Jeff and I plowed right through the above-your-head poison oak shrubs whilst exchanging commentary like, “Do you really think this is poison oak? It’s so big and it looks weird!” and “Eh, even if it is, I don’t react to it.” As they say, ignorance is bliss, and we were blissed out.

Poison Oak grows proliferately in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

I developed low-level concern when I got out of the post-run shower with a small rash on my neck. In about 2 hours, however, the rash disappeared, my concern abated, and I forgot all about the poison oak exposure for a time. About 3 days later, my lower left leg broke out into a massive, red, broiling blister field. Slowly but surely for the next 7 days, the mess expanded to pieces of my right leg, both thighs, one butt cheek, one arm, a spot on my stomach, and swatch of back. My skin felt hot and itchy, like my insides were trying to scratch themselves out. I couldn’t stand the feeling of clothing against my affected skin, but I covered my arms and legs because I feared scaring others with my blisters and boils. I lived for more than 2 weeks in literal physical misery.

Today, I’m on the mend. The itches come and go. I’m back to wearing shorts and short sleeve shirts. My wounds are healing, but they still illicit stares and verbal inquiries from other people. Through this, I have learned: ignorance is but momentary bliss in the wilderness; Mother Nature provides just a degree or two of latitude for such deviations from being backcountry safe, secure, educated; and, I will never, ever walk through poison oak again.

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9 Responses to “Hard Way Learning”

  1. JeffO says:

    From a different Jeff…
    I ran through some poison ivy a few years ago. I didn't break out and thought, maybe I'm no longer allergic?
    I kept running through it once or twice a week. Then I broke out. not severely at first, but it grew steadily until it covered half my body.
    If it gets in your lungs, it could potentially kill you.
    What I found out is that the oils that cause the allergy have to build up. A tiny amount is all it takes.
    Nothing seems to stop it.
    Balms treat the itching and general discomfort, but nothing seems to kill it. (Maybe a strong antihistamine?)
    What worked for me was Tecnu Extreme poison ivy scrub. It can only clean the oils away, and the infected fluids from the boils. This keeps it from spreading.

    I'm not pretty and no one has ever said I'm charming, but somehow I sweet-talked a gal who was hawking it and she gave me an entire tube of it!

    It's best to use Tecnu right after exposure to poison oak/ivy/sumac. This can keep you from breaking out at all.
    Your clothes have to be washed thoroughly in hot water with lots of soap.

    I hope you feel better soon.

  2. Deb says:

    Whoa, that is crazy stuff. I had no idea you would get such a strong reaction from that. Did the same thing happen to Jeff? Hope you're feeling better soon!!!

  3. Bryon Powell says:

    I'll scratch your back if you'll scratch mine!

  4. E-Speed says:

    sounds painful! Glad you are recovering from it!

  5. Backofpack says:

    I saw a minor outbreak on a guy's arm a while back, and that more than convinced me to watch for it! Problem is, I'm still not sure I'd recognize it when I see it. There's not much around here. Glad you are feeling better.

  6. jeff says:

    oh, meghan! i'm so sorry that you had such a bad reaction to the poison oak! you sure were laughing hard at all my "nature avoidance leaping", though.

    i, too, ended up with a small patch on my left shin. nothing too bad, though. well, i guess we'll just cross that trail off our list of routes to run. either that, or we head out there with a crew and clear it for the 50k route. 😉

  7. Danni says:

    That sounds absolutely miserable. Absolutely positively miserable.

  8. Bob - says:

    Nice Meghan, no injury feeling good now let's run through poison oak, your always pushing that envelope huh 🙂

    Seriously, how can u beat my treadmill training?!?! — LOLOL

    OK ur right I would sacrifice a

    (mess expanded to pieces of my right leg, both thighs, one butt cheek, one arm, a spot on my stomach, and swatch of back)to run on the trails!

    but!!! if it got on BOTH my BUTT checks I would have to reconsider 🙁

  9. Rick Gaston says:

    Wow that just sounds amazingly awful as I'm sure it was. Don't know how you managed to get some sleep. Did it leave on it's on, with over the counter stuff or did you see a doc? Good to know that you are on the mend though.

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