Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Fruita Halloween Tale Part 1: Tumbleweeds, Blood & Gore, and the Caloric Gradiometer

In this 2-part post I will give you, the reader, 3 valuable tips. The 1st tip will be specifically for readers who do not have small children. The 2nd and 3rd tips will be specifically for mountain bikers.

Trick-or-treat-Orlando-735256 First Tip. Halloween is Saturday. You need to go buy some candy. OK, that was a lame tip. You probably already knew Halloween was this Saturday, and you probably already bought candy*. I promise the next 2 tips will be way, way better. But to make this first (lame) tip just a titch more valuable for non-breeder readers, let me follow if up with this Special Bonus Tip.

*No, none of those kids in the photo are mine. I couldn’t locate any Halloween pics of the Trifecta any more recent than 2006, so I just googled this one. Man, I am a lame dad.

**Special Bonus Tip**: Give candy to trick-or-treaters. Only candy. Do not- I repeat, do not- give toothbrushes or fruit, or Jehovah’s Witness literature or anything else. Just candy. You will think you’re clever, or like some great public servant or an “out-of-the-box”, big high-ho kind of guy or whatever by giving floss or what-not, but my kids will not think you are cool; they’ll just think you’re a pompous jerk. My kids’ teeth aren’t your problem- they’re mine. Just give them some candy, already.

For those of us with small children, Halloween is already of course top-of-mind. And one of the fun things to do with young kids this week is to tell them spooky Halloween stories. Unfortunately, I never seem to be able to come up with any good ones. But this year, I have a great one. And though it’s not appropriate for small children, it’s a great one for nature-loving mtn bikers. It includes a spooky plant, a terrifying spider, and creepy tale of human flesh.

The Tale

IMG_3058 Friday night Vicente, OC Rick, Hunky Neighbor, Young Ian (pic left) and I headed down to Fruita, Colorado for a weekend of mountain biking and camping. We generally do 2 of these “Guy Trips” per year, usually down to the Hurricane/St. George area in Southwest Utah, but we decided this year to try something different.

Tangent: Way back in Life 1.0, in the early 90’s when I lived along the Colorado Front Range, I used to visit Grand Junction/Fruita fairly often. Back then it was a little-known, lightly-visited area with few other visitors. Excepting a quick pit-stop-ride when passing through in 2003, I hadn’t been back since 1995. I was shocked at the change.

IMG_3061Fruita’s proximity to the Colorado Front Range, with its higher (relative to the Wasatch Front) population base, has fueled growth and visitation that has “Moab-ized” the formerly sleepy farm town, lending it a similar Disney-esque atmosphere, full of bike shops and bike-toting SUVs, invariably with Colorado tags beginning with the letter “M*”

*Boulder County.

Nested Tangent: In fairness, part of the problem is that a much greater proportion of Coloradans than Utahns are into (non-motorized) outdoor sports. No, I have absolutely no data to support this, but I’ve lived in both places, and I’m telling you, it’s a fact.

This factor- proportion of outdoorheads- is something other outdoorheads so often fail to think about when targeting places to live. Yes, Boulder has wonderful recreational opportunities for outdoorheads, but it also has about a zillion other people just like you who also moved there for the recreational opportunities. On the other hand, consider Las Vegas. Don’t laugh. Las Vegas has some of the best backcountry- and probably the best national park- access of any major metro area in the US. It has outstanding hiking and mountain biking within minutes of The Strip. But trailheads 15 minutes outside of Vegas are practically never crowded, because Vegas doesn’t attract outdoorheads.

WatcherLions caption It’s still a fun, beautiful place to visit and ride, but it reminds me of how great we have it here in Utah. We had a great time, but our next Guys Trip will take us back to Southwest Utah, and the un-crowded trails and easy camping of Washington County.

We camped the first night in Rabbit Valley, just inside the Colorado border, driving around till we found a site and setting up in the dark. We set up camp and had a beer or two around the campfire.

Tangent: Actually, we had several beers. When family guys go camping without their families/wives, this is not unusual. And like guys camping everywhere, we might’ve had just a beer or two more than we would have had, had our wives/families been with us. Which made us feel very happy and boisterous and self-confident and even creative. When this happens, guys are prone to come up with all sorts of Great Ideas. The vast majority of the time we forget these Great Ideas before the following morning, and on those rare occasions we do remember them, we invariably realize, in the light of day, that our ideas in fact sucked. But my reason for going on about this is that I actually remembered one of my ideas, and it is Awesome. And even better, I’m going to share it with you right now.

My Best Idea Ever

Like most guys, I would like to be very rich. But, again like most guys, I’m too disorganized and innately slacker-ish to actually do the hard work of getting rich. So, again like most guys, I secretly wish that I would come up with some amazing idea to get rich quickly with little or no real effort. In other parts of the country this often involves coming up with a brilliant idea for some new technology or what-not, but here in Utah, it almost always involves either a Ponzi scheme or a nutritional/dietary supplement. Lately we’ve had a rash of Ponzi-schemers getting busted here in Utah, so I’m more oriented toward the latter. Utah is full of companies marketing various nutritional/dietary/health products- juices, bars, gels, what-not- and because they’re not required to seek any kind of FDA approval for any health or nutritional claims they make*, they can tout whatever dietary benefits they want, with absolutely no corroborating science! To be sure, each one of these products has a “scientific” explanation for how it works, but it’s kind of like the “science” behind the Transporter or the Warp Drive in Star Trek in that it sounds really scientific to an eighth-grader, but it doesn’t actually… uh… do anything.

*Thank you, Senator-For-Life Hatch.

So we have lots of companies making all sorts of harmless, tasty and overpriced treats here in Utah, but I have one that will beat them all: Calorically-Gradiated Snack-Foods.

Yummy treats- like cookies for instance- have lots of calories. So sometimes people will eat just half a cookie* in an effort to avoid consuming so many calories. This may work to a point, but it means enjoying only half the pleasure of the cookie. What if- instead of eating 50% of the cookie and intaking 50% of the calories, you could eat 90% of the cookie and intake just 10% of the calories? With my new line of Calorically-Gradiated Snack-Foods, that dream will now become a reality.

*I was inspired in this by my coworkers who take half a donut during Friday donut hour and then put the other half back in the box. Yes, I know some of you read this blog, and I have 2 things to say to you. 1) Commit. Eat the donut or don’t eat it; don’t be the Hamlet of donut hour. 2) If you insist on eating just half, throw the other half away. I am not interested in in eating your fondled-then-rejected donut half.

CCookie1 In regular cookies, the calories are evenly spread throughout the cookie. But my cookies will be baked in a special thermo-convection oven which utilizes my new company’s proprietary technology device- the Caloric Gradiometer- to concentrate the calories in one small (dime-sized) spot on the cookie. We mark this spot- the Caloric Activation Nucleus- with red food coloring, and you just eat the entire cookie, except for the little red part. Isn’t that an awesome idea?!

Back to the Tale

Man, I better get on with this post. OK so we woke up this next morning and the desert looked open and sunny and beautiful. And as I walked around a bit I noticed- as I always do- the vegetation. There was a lot of the standard stuff- Juniper, Bitterbrush- but mostly what there was, was Tumbleweeds. Big, free-rolling tumbleweeds were piled up in draws and against trees and rocks, and little growing, live tumbleweeds were growing all over the place. In fact you couldn’t walk 3 feet around our campsite without shoes for fear of getting stabbed. Ah well, what’s more “Western” than Tumbleweeds, right? Only…

Sutherland-body-snatcher Remember that scene at the very end of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978 version), that lady who has somehow managed not to fall asleep and get pod-ified for like a week is sitting all hollow-eyed on a park bench and Donald Sutherland walks by, and she’s like “Psst- hey Donald*, it’s me!” cause he was like the other last-surviving human. Only he’s not, and he turns to her and points and opens his mouth and makes that horrible shrieking noise and then all the other people around turn and start pointing and shrieking and no one is really human because they’ve all been pod-ified and you realize how awful it is and the movie ends…

*I can’t remember his character’s name in the film.

TWeeds1 OK, that’s exactly the deal with Tumbleweeds. When Columbus landed in the New World, there wasn’t a single tumbleweed anywhere in North America. When Lewis and Clark trekked to the Pacific, they never saw a single tumbleweed. When the Golden Spike was hammered in, completing the first transcontinental railway, not one of the men who built it had ever seen a tumbleweed*. Tumbleweeds are just that- weeds- and yet they’re such phenomenally, amazingly and ubiquitously successful weeds that the vast majority of us just assume they’re part of the “Real West.”

*After typing that, I realized that might possibly not be true. Many of the railway workers were Chinese immigrants, and I suppose it’s possible one of them saw a tumbleweed in Western China. Although probably most were from Eastern/coastal areas. I’m way over-thinking this.


All About Tumbleweeds

Tumbleweed, or Prickly Russian Thistle* (PRT), Salsola tragus, is native to Eurasia. Salsola is part of the Amaranth family, and so far as I can remember not closely-related to anything we’ve covered in this blog. If you’re not familiar with amaranth, the most closely-related things to it with which you may be familiar are probably spinach, beets and carnations. IMG_3053S. tragus is a weedy shrub which after maturing and pollinating, dries up and breaks off at the stem. In this blog we’ve looked at all kinds of seed-dispersal mechanisms. We’ve seen seeds that get blown away by wind or by water; we’ve seen seeds that get collected and buried by birds and squirrels; we’ve even seen seeds that hitch rides on passing dogs and mtn bikers. But S. tragus disperses seeds by rolling. The broken-off plants are blown for miles, rolling across the open countryside, shaking and spilling off seeds as they go. The seeds typically germinate the following Spring in loose soil and require little moisture. As you might imagine, Salsola does well in dry, windy**, open landscapes- like the American West.

*The name ”Russian Thistle” gets bandied about for several other weeds, including at times one we’ve looked at previously, Musk Thistle, Carduus nutans. But this is the real “Prickly Russian Thistle.” Don’t be fooled by cheap imitations.

**Oh, and unsurprisingly, they're wind-pollinated.

PRT Seedling In 1874 a shipment of Russian flax seed arrived in South Dakota which was contaminated with PRT seed. If you haven’t been to South Dakota, here’s the best one-word description of the place I can give: Windy. Within a few decades, tumbleweeds were ubiquitous throughout the West, piling up against fences, filling arroyos, and (later) snagging mtn bike drive-trains.

leafhopper PRT tumbleweeds aren’t just annoying; they serve as a ready host for the Beet Leafhopper, Circulifer tenellus, (pic right, not mine) which is the primary transmission vector for Curly Top Disease, a major (viral) plant disease that attacks everything from melons to spinach to beets to tobacco. As tumbleweeds roll across croplands, they spread these virus-loaded insects to new hosts.

IMG_3053 PRT has been nearly impossible to control. The species has huge genetic and morphological diversity, continually adapts to local conditions, and has evolved resistance to common pesticides. Possible biological controls include a weevil (Lixus salolae) a mite (Aceria salsoli) a moth (Gymnancella sp.) and a fungus (Uromyces salsolae) but none have yet progressed past the research stage.

IMG_3055 It gets worse. A handful of other Salsola species have been similarly (accidentally) introduced to North America from the Old World and one of these, possibly from Africa, S. kali, has apparently hybridized with S. tragus to create a new, polyploid species in Southern California, thus adding to the fearsome diversity and adaptability of these weeds. Prickly Russian Thistle is the ultimate Western Horror Plant.

After a leisurely breakfast*, we decided to start off the day with a ride on one of the Rabbit Valley trails, which BreakfastOCRick had ridden before and assured us was great. But as we embarked on the ride, one of OCRick’s less endearing qualities began to manifest itself, and it is this: The further away from a place he is, the surer OCRick is of that place’s geography. Right now you could call OCRick on the phone and ask him about a trail he hiked in New Zealand 5 years ago, and he’d be able to give you step-by-step directions with details such as fallen logs and where the best shade-trees were.

*Why does it take 5 men camping until 10AM to eat breakfast and pack up? Oh right, cause we were up so late designing the Caloric Gradiometer…

OCRabbit But the closer OCRick actually gets to any given place, the more his memory of the geography of that place fades, until, a mile into the trail, he is completely and utterly lost.*

*Then, when you finally figure out where you are and get him to the next junction, he’ll say, “Oh that’s right, I remember this!”

But fortunately, we had a map. Not because any of us had brought a map, but because there was one at the trailhead, and this leads me to the Second Tip: Always photograph maps at the trailhead. (pic below, right)

IMG_3015 Think about it. You stare at the map at the trailhead like crazy, trying to memorize it. Then you go ride it, and 30 minutes later you get to an intersection and you rack your brain trying to pull the picture in your mind. But if you’re riding with a camera- or even a camera-phone- why not take a photo of the trailhead map that you can refer to over the course of the ride?

The ride was one sand-trap after another, so we cut the loop short and drove over to the 18 street trails North of Fruita, IMG_3022a network of rolling singletrack spread out below the book cliffs. We climbed Prime Cut over to Chutes & Ladders and started working our way East, up and down over successive alluvial fans. The trails were fun, the weather overcast but pleasant, and we were having a good time. At a junction we paused to re-group and I kidded Vicente how this was one of the first rides we’d done together where he hadn’t crashed. Yes, I really said that. Yes, you know what’s going to happen next, right?

The Blood & Gore Part

After a stiff climb, we rolled down a fast, twisting descent, Vicente in the lead, me right behind. On a fast, dusty, left turn, his front wheel washed out and he went down.

Vicente- as I have mentioned previously- crashes often. So I wasn’t too concerned when we slowly got up and picked up his bike. But he was a bit rattled, and carelessly plopped his front wheel down in a stand of Prickly Pear (Opuntia sp.) I grabbed the bike from him, and while Vicente groaned and took stock of himself, Hunky Neighbor and I spent the next 5 minutes pulling needles out of his tire, hoping to avoid a flat. Vicente complained that his shoulder hurt, and after a moment I looked up. I was crouched by his tire, and he was standing next to me. And as I looked at his arm, I noticed something was missing: a 1” wide by 1.5” long by 5/8” deep hunk of flesh. A veritable divot was missing from Vicente’s forearm. And as he turned his wrist, I saw the underlying sinewy layer of flesh- muscle? tendon? I’m still not sure- rotate inside the arm, independently of the surrounding skin and subcutaneous fat.

Now, I don’t have a close-up photo, and if I did I probably wouldn’t post it. But I am telling you now, it was really, really gross, like something out of a zombie movie. In fact, if you read SkiBikeJunkie’s blog, you probably saw the horrifying recent photo of his forearm injury. This was worse- not because it was bigger (it wasn’t)- but because a chunk of flesh was missing.

But right after the accident, before any of us realized the extent of the injury, Ian snapped this shot of Vicente checking his tire, and you can see the location (but not the detail) of the divot.

Divot Mountain biking as I have for many years, I’ve seen my fair share of injuries, and my standard for a “Bad” injury is simple: If, after seeing the injury, I know more about human anatomy than I did before the injury, then it’s a bad one. This met the standard.

I turned to Hunky Neighbor, also crouched by the tire. The look on his face- a look of trying-to-look-cool-while-suddenly-horrified- told me he’d just seen the divot as well. And his stare told me that he was seeing the exact same look on my face.

Our ride-plan had just changed.

Next Up: Night-Time Horrors, and the Divot of Human Flesh...


KB said...

I have some of the exact same Fruita photos... I rarely go into the town itself but it sounds like it's really changed. A few years ago, there were like 3 restaurants, one bike shop, and a grocery store.

Sand traps in Rabbit Valley? Hmm. I'm heading out there in a few weeks, and I've never run into bad sand traps. But, I'm sure that they were caused by people from Utah, not Boulder County!

Sally said...

That's funny... just a few days ago, Saturday, we intercepted a massive tumbleweed migration north of Longmont. I'd never seen such a huge herd of them, all bent on crossing the highway. Looked left (upwind), and it seemed they'd never stop coming, even though many were killed crossing the road! Reminds me of early descriptions of bison herds, or maybe tarantula crossings...

Ski Bike Junkie said...

I'll concede that Vicente's missing ounce of flesh was worse than mine, but I was surprised you'd suggest that tumbleweeds are worse than tamarisk. But it makes sense if you consider how much more area tumbleweeds cover.

Watcher said...

KB- Utahns never skid. And our children are all perfectly behaved and well-adjusted, our lawns are always green and we never sing out of tune. Now I’d like to talk to you about a ground-floor opportunity with my new line of snack-foods. :^)

If you’re going to RV, only trail #8 was a mess. Everything else we rode (#3,#4,#5) was fine. And OCRick claims it was great earlier in the season, so maybe it’s a late season-drying-out thing. Also I think the motorcycles have worked it.

Sally- Those tumbleweeds are indeed reckless- they sound a bit like my friend Vicente!

SBJ- Tamarisk is indeed a Horror Plant. But I picked tumbleweeds for 2 reasons. First was the area covered, as you pointed out. Tamarisk is a nightmare, but only along/near watercourses. Second was its ubiquity; everyone knows tamarisk is an exotic, but most folks have become totally indoctrinated that tumbleweeds are “normal.”

KanyonKris said...

Yes on the candy tip. When I was a kid we had neighbors who handed out low/no-sugar cookies - awful. We threw them at their house.

Yes, taking photos of maps is a good idea. A guy up in Park City took a photo of my map since he was getting lost in the maze of trails. I should have taken a photo of the Klondike Bluffs trails because I steered our group wrong and it took 15 minutes to find the Baby Steps trail head.

Yikes, that divot is nasty. Did you find the chuck of flesh for him so he can keep it in a bottle? Is there a Flesh Fairy who will give you money for it?

Yeah, tumbleweeds. A pile of them were packed against a fence in the Bookcliffs are in Fruita and I drove my bike through them. Those suckers add a LOT of drag, I almost didn't make it. My legs were all scratched up.

Kevin Vigor said...

As an engineer, your "calorically gradiated cookie" idea actually caused me physical pain. That's *exactly* the sort of thing the marketing guys come up with after one of their "brainstorms", from which they emerge giggling and smelling mysteriously of patchouli.

"There!" they say, "we creative types have done the hard part, now you just need finish up a few details. We've promised it to the customer next week; should be plenty of time, right? The sales force is completely excited!"

And a little bit of my soul dies.

In the famous words of Pauli, "That's not right. It's not even wrong."

Anonymous said...

Random Thoughts:

I guarantee** that if you invest (give/gift/whatever) your money with me, you will make money!!! It's easy and takes no effort. Tell all your rich friends and family. Send your gold and money to thanksforyourmoney.com.

**Guarantee not valid on the planet earth.

So, where can I invest in this idea of yours? It sounds as good as my 2 am ideas, whether from a night of drinking or waking up from a dream.

I didn't know PRT was non-native to the West. I figured old western movies were factually accurate with tumbleweeds blowing around. It is amazing to see how fast new species can adapt and take over. FYI, I get more tumbleweeds stuck in my spokes than leaves in the brakes.

I started taking phone/camera pics of TH maps about a year ago on unfamiliar trails. It really is a timesaver, eliminating all those stops to find where you are and getting lost. It's a Good Tip!

The gash is pretty gruesome. Are you sure this isn't just a spooky Halloween story? Did you find the missing flesh or is it still crawling around Fruita? One of the guys I rode with this past weekend also crashed and burned - broke his hand and bruised his rib. Man, injury filled weekend.

mtb w

Watcher said...

Kris, mtb w- More on the fate of the “divot” in coming in Part 2…

Kevin- Sorry- I would’ve replied earlier, but I spilled a bottle of Tahitian Noni all over my Agel starter kit. Fortunately I had some cleaning spray handy… Yes, but you’re forgetting the secret of nutritional/dietary supplements- they don’t actually need to work.

maggie said...

Caloric Gradation - can you make it work with wet foods, say...ice cream? puddings, perhaps?

Watcher said...

Maggie- But of course! Kevin Vigor, Gradia-Snack’s new VP of Product Development, assures me that caloric gradiation of soft foods will be no problem. But he cautions against aggressive pre-consumption stirring or mixing of such food, so as not to rupture or otherwise compromise the structural integrity of the CAN (Caloric Activation Nucleus). Happy Snacking!

Enel said...

Okay, the Donald Sutherland photo freaked me out because that movie seriously freaked me out as a kid, and I can vividly remember that particular scene.

(Also, I scare my kids by telling them about "body snatchers" and then pretending to be one....sick, I know.)

Very interesting about PRT. Did not know any of that.

That would will be fine, just wash it out with Camel Back water and sew it with some dental floss. Dress with a tire boot and you're good.

Finally: Elbow pads people!! All the time because it is the mellow trail that burns you.


KristenT said...

I had problems at a recent rally race with tumbleweeds.

As in, they would jump out in front of my car as I was approaching, and then get impaled on the light bar mounts and proceed to shed pieces throughout the rest of the stage. Over the hood, into the windshield. Yes, I giggled. No, my co-driver did not find it as amusing.

On a longer straight I actually watched as two tumbleweeds faked their jump into the road, then actually jump right as I got to them. Jerks.

They smell yummy though.

That divot-- yuck. That will teach me to read this blog during lunch.

KanyonKris said...

Can you stop the Gradia-Snack hamster wheel long enough to post part 2?

Watcher said...

KKris- Sorry man. Part 2 will be tomorrow. I need tonight to get the Awesome Graphics done. And I have this, like, "job", that keeps getting in the way during the day...

KristenT- Do not read part 2 during lunch.