I went climbing last weekend for the first time since May, and I was disappointed with my performance. Back in Colorado Shaun and I were climbing routes that were 5.10-5.11 difficulty every day. Last Saturday I could barely break 5.8, and wore myself out trying to get past the crux move on a 5.9. To add some serious injury to that insult I discovered a rash beginning to form on my left arm Monday morning...
I went rock climbing at Reimers Ranch and all I got was Poison Oak. (For all the climbers who are looking to climb out at Reimers who ended up here because of a search engine: the poison oak I got into is to the right of the bee cave, you can't miss it.)
Of all the plants that I will highlight in this blog, these are the only ones I officially hate with a passion. I know, I know, hating a plant sounds a little ridiculous, so maybe a better way to say it is to say that I would rather they didn't exist at all, or I wouldn't shed a tear at their extinction. The plant belongs to the genus Toxicodendron, and is known to the unfortunate outdoorsman as poison oak. It has an oil (called urushiol) that binds to the surface proteins on your skin cells. Your body then recognizes the cells as foreign invaders and this causes an auto-immune reaction. Over the next two weeks your body goes through a miserable civil war between your epidermis and a T-Cell mediated immune response. The war does not end until your immune response is done completely metabolizing the urushiol along with any cell it ever touched. SUCK.
Up close and personal with my favorite plant in the whole world.
Poison Oak and I have a bit of a history together, so I knew it right when I saw it. I recognized it growing out of the route we were climbing and yet I climbed on. I assumed I would stay out of it for some reason... STUPID. Apparently I mashed my left elbow down into it real good at some point. From there I scratched the urushiol underneath the fingernails of my right hand, and from there I spread it to the rest of my body (save only one special place PRAISE THE LORD!). It's just about everywhere by now, both arms, both legs, my torso, my head and neck, my left foot, and inside my belly button (can't really explain that one). The thing about urushiol is that the places that receive the highest dose get a rash first, and the places that got a lesser dose continue to pop up all over during the course of the first week. This leads one to believe that they are still spreading it, when in reality all the spreading was done before you took your first shower.
Sounds terrible huh... it gets worse. This crap gets way worse... I'm talking longevity.
The worst part is that the urushiol will stay on objects it came in contact with, like the climbing rope and all my gear for example. So now I must give everything a good scrubbing with a soapy water/ rubbing alcohol mixture and hope that it's gone (there is only one way to find out). Also, I must make the decision to never, ever, use Shaun's rope again as it was practically dragged through the stuff. A new rope is 200 bucks.
So not only did I not climb well, I am absolutely miserable for the time being. I am going to make an appointment on Monday so I can get some high-strength corticosteroid pills/cream. Till then it's a Benadryl every four hours and an Aveeno bath before bed. The itching is so bad, I have to practically put myself in a Benadryl-induced coma just to sleep more than four hours at night.
Still, it could be a whole lot worse... I could be sitting in some ashes scraping myself with a piece of broken pottery. No matter how bad life gets we can always tell ourselves that Job had it worse. Abbey has been really gracious with me and my uncomfortable impatience this week, and that alone has allowed me to keep my sanity.