Thursday, October 29, 2009

Fruita Halloween Tale Part 2: Creepy Spiders and the Divot of Human Flesh

Catching sight of our expressions in each other’s faces, Hunky Neighbor and I snapped to and got to work. We needed to a) cover/patch the hole in Vicente’s arm, and b) get him someplace where we could get it stitched/repaired/filled/whatever-it-is-they-do-for-missing-divots-of-human-flesh.

Tangent: I just love starting multi-part posts this way- right in the thick of the action, like after a cliff-hanger episode. But mostly I like it because I imagine someone who hasn’t read the blog in a week or so checking in and being like, “Huh? Who? What? Hole in Vicente’s arm? OMG!- What happened??”

The Long-Awaited (And So Worthwhile) Third Tip

And it is now that I will reveal the Third- and far and away most valuable- 1st aid kitTip: Ride with a 1st aid kit. I’m always amazed at how few mtn bikers do. Different riders have different philosophies as to what they carry when riding. Some prefer a minimalist approach, with just a couple of bottles and a CO2 cartridge in a jersey pocket. Others prefer a Camelbak with some tools, snacks, a pump, maybe a couple of spare parts and an extra layer of clothing. I won’t debate the merits of either approach here*, but both easily allow the inclusion of a minimalist 1st aid kit. Yes, minimalist, because when you get down to it, this is all you really need: Roll of Gauze, Tape**, and Something to Cut the Gauze With.*** My kit has a couple more odds & ends, the most useful of which has been a pair of tweezers.

*No, I won’t debate them here. But I am curious, if any other hydration pack-using mtn bikers are reading this: It seems that I am (very) frequently loaning/giving water, food, tubes, patches, cables, duct tape, bandages, etc. to bottle-only mtn bikers. It is just me or is this your experience as well?

**This doesn’t need to be medical/1st aid-type tape; I carry short lengths of duct tape and electrical tape, both wrapped around my hand-pump.

***I actually carry a small knife, but that’s primarily so that I look bad-ass. Most multi-tools have a small cutting blade.

OCRick and I both had 1st aid kits, but neither of us had ever bandaged anything like The Divot before. Hunky Neighbor* and I conferred, and quickly decided on the following: 1) a rolled-up ball of gauze inserted into the divot**, 2) the remainder of the gauze roll wrapped around the arm/wad/divot, and 3) a length of duct tape once around to keep thing in place.

*Not a doctor, but is married to one.

**Yes, this was the grossest part.

Bandage Schematic Vicente, remarkably, was calm and only in mild pain. We actively discouraged him from examining the wound, and I don’t believe he observed the structural/rotational aspect I described in the previous post. As we completed the bandage and re-packed our gear, something was bothering me. I snuck a furtive glance over my shoulder, casting a glance about for … something red. I looked again. No sign of it. We mounted up and started rolling back, taking a cut-off trail back toward the trailhead.

As we set out I admonished everyone to keep things mellow and to walk technical sections*. Pretty much everyone complied… except Vicente. He rolled 2 sections that made me hold my breath, including a rutted slope down into a gully that- I am not kidding- all the rest of us walked after him.

*So as not to encourage Vicente to ride them.

Hospital1We made it back to the trailhead in less than 30 minutes and were driving shortly after. Hunky Neighbor googled a hospital on his iPhone (yes, he’s one of them) and then phoned in for directions. We made it there in about 15 minutes.

Fruita’s hospital is small but brand-spanking new. The staff is prompt, cheerful and courteous, and the waiting room was empty. Vicente was admitted in about 2 minutes.

Hospital2 In the waiting room the 4 of us twiddled our thumbs about and made chit-chat. Then one of us- I think it was Young Ian- asked, “Did any of you guys see it?” It quickly turned out that we’d all looked for it- The Divot- while pretending not to- but none of us had spotted it.

“Where could it have gone?” we all asked. Everything within 30 feet was brown, olive or tan; you would think a 1” x 1.5” chunk of bloody red flesh would show up… But none of us had spotted it. We all sort of shrugged and mumbled a bit more, somehow resigned but uneasy that we’d left an actual piece of our comrade out in the desert.

Vicente emerged in about 45 minutes with bandaged arm, knee, a dozen or so staples (which we couldn’t see) and prescriptions for codeine and antibiotics. He was smiling and we all laughed and walked back outside and… into the rain.

Our standard Guys Trip Weekend Plan is to ride during the day Saturday and Sunday, and also night-ride Saturday night. This is particularly important in the Fall when daylight is limited, because otherwise you’re looking at a LONG time around the campfire… But night-riding in the rain is just too much of a downer. We hemmed and hawed a bit, went by the drugstore to fill Vicente’s prescriptions, and then killed more time eating dinner in town. After dinner it was still spitting a bit, so we decided to head on over to the Kokopelli trailhead and see if the weather would let up.

We arrived just as darkness was setting in and the lot was emptying out. There were some picnic tables under an awning nearby and we went over to kill some more time and take shelter from the rain. I walked over, my headlamp lighting the way on a dark, rainy, spooky night. I’m fairly tall, about 6’2”, and the edge of the awning was only about a foot or so above my head. As I approached the awning, at the very last minute, my headlamp lit up, about 8” in from of my face- this:

CFS Boo Spiders are way cool when you spot them walking around on the ground in broad daylight. When you practically bump your face into them on a rainy night, they can give you bit of a start.

Thanks to last week’s tarantula encounter out in the Oquirrhs, we already know a bit about spiders and their anatomy. But one of the things we didn’t talk about is the incredible diversity of spiders. CFS Prey There are something like 40,000 species worldwide, and what’s cool about this spider is that when compared and contrasted last week’s tarantula it really showcases the diversity and breadth across the order Araneae. This gal- a Cat-Faced Spider, Araneus gemmoides*, hasn’t shared a common ancestor with a tarantula in over 200 million years- longer ago than when we last shared a common ancestor with kangaroos! It’s called “Cat-Faced” BTW, because the design on the top of the abdomen is thought to resemble the face of a cat. It’s sometimes also known as a “Jewel Spider.”

*Special thanks to Andrew over at BugGuide.Net for his help on the ID. What a wonderful site.

A tarantula is in many ways considered a “primitive” spider, in that it exhibits many of the supposed characteristics of very ancient spiders. Its fangs for example, move up and down, and its only webs are those lining its burrows or those used by the males to deposit sperm packets upon*. Since then, spiders have evolved the sideways-moving fangs common to most of the world’s spiders, and the ability to spin a variety of sophisticated web types, including Funnel webs, Dome webs, Sheet webs, Tubular webs, Tangle webs, and the type of web most of us think of when we think, “Spiderweb”, the Orb web. The Cat-Faced Spider is an Orb-Weaver, with sideways-moving fangs.

*Actually called “sperm-mats.” Yes, really. That’s what they’re called.


At least once a month in this project, I stumble across a topic where, once I get into it, I suddenly think, “Wow! I could do a whole blog on this!” spiders_webs Spiderwebs is one of those “wow” topics. Overwhelmingly, a given species of spider spins a specific type of web. Traditionally spiderwebs have been viewed in terms of 5 stages of complexity and sophistication, with stage 1 basically a trip-line or two in front of a hole, while stage 5 is a full-blown orb web. It was generally thought that each of these stages evolved from the previous stage, which in turn led to all sorts of fascinating examples of very distantly-related spiders having evolved very similar web designs. But now some researchers believe that orb webs have been around far longer than originally thought, and that other, apparently “less sophisticated” web designs may have evolved from orb webs. In this “monophyletic” view of orb-weaving, orb webs may signal an ancient and common ancestry between distantly-related species. The whole topic is unsettled, complicated and absolutely fascinating.

Side Note: Part of the problem is that neither spiders nor spiderwebs fossilize particularly well.

Arachno-Tangent #1: Just to give you a taste of the amazing variety of web-types, here’s the Coolest Spiderweb Ever. New Guinean spiders of the genus Pasilobus build triangular webs. The triangle is bisected by a single strand, called the mid-line. Then the mid-line is joined to the sides of the triangle by between 4 and 11 pairs of lines. These “catch-lines” are the only sticky strands in the web.

Pasilobus Web3 Now these catch-lines- and here’s the cool part- are connected to the mid-line by very strong bonds, but to the sides of the triangle by very weak bonds. So when a fly hits the catch-line, it breaks off on the outside, and then the fly is left hanging from the broken-off catch-line.

Pasilobus Web2 The spider then scoots down the mid-line to where it connects with the broken-off catch-line, reels in the catch-line and bites the fly. How cool is that?

All About Orb Webs

Regardless of how orb webs evolved, they work very well. Like nearly all spiderwebs, they’re generally vertical. Vertical webs are likelier to catch a flying insect (insects spend most flight time moving horizontally) and retain struggling insects (if an insect frees itself from a given strand, it tends to fall down.) Orb webs utilize 2 very different types of threads. The first are strong, non-sticky threads which provide the overall strength and structure of the web, and along which the spider can move rapidly. In most orb webs these are the radial threads, or the “spokes”. The second type are the sticky threads between the spokes, which ensnare passing insects through adhesion or entanglement.

Due to the spoke-like nature of the radial threads, the spacing between sticky lines becomes greater the further one gets from the center.

Nephila WebArachno-Tangent #2: Spiders of the genus Nephila have evolved a neat solution to this problem. As they spin the web outwards from the center, they periodically “re-spoke” the wheel of the web to increase the density of radial lines as seen in this graphic (not mine*.)

*BTW, if you’re interested, the paper from which I pulled this graphic makes a strong (and very readable) case for the polyphyletic view, that orb webs have evolved independently multiple times.

Now, here’s the really cool thing: I came across this tidbit while researching spiderwebs for this post. And I thought, “Nephila… Nephila…. Where have I come across that before?” And then I remembered: The Golden Orb Spider that we saw back in March down in Costa Rica and about which I posted in the Creepy Crawly Post.

So I went back and checked my old photos, and sure enough, you can make out the “re-spoking” in the web. Wow.

respoke nclavipes Moral of the tangent: save your vacation pics!

Most orb webs are asymmetrical, rather than a perfect circle, and the “stretched”/bigger part of the web is almost always the lower half. The reason for this is that once an insect has hit the web, the spider needs to reach and bite it quickly before it escapes, and spiders can move down across a web much more quickly than they can move up it.

Orb Web1 There’s another common reason for web asymmetry; the logical place for an orb-weaving spider to hang out- in terms of access to all parts of the web- is in the center. But center placement can make the spider visible to passing insects, and in fact this is why many spiders only hang out in the web-center at night. During the day many spiders stay in a “retreat” off the periphery of the web, which is connected to the web-center by a “trip-line.” But since the spider must travel first from its retreat to the web-center before proceeding to the prey location along the nearest radial line, it makes sense to place the center as closely as possible to the retreat.

The Cat-Faced Spider is the largest orb-weaver in the Western US. The irony with spiders in general of course is that size in no way corresponds to danger to humans, and this is absolutely the case with A. gemmoides. CFS Parts It avoids people, hardly ever bites them, and when it does is about as bad as a bee or wasp sting. The big ones you see in the webs are always females (males are much smaller) and you almost always see them in late Summer or early Fall. The reason for this is the same reason you don’t notice Sunflowers until late summer- they’re “annuals”. They hatch in the Spring, grow throughout the summer, and mate in the Fall. Females lay a single egg-case, and then die a few days later. Cat-Faced Spiders never encounter either their parents or their offspring. This in contrast, BTW, to tarantulas, which live for years or even decades.

IMG_3034 The spiderlings scatter by “ballooning”, and the few that survive often take up residence by awnings and eaves in and around human habitation. A. gemmoides- lie pigeons, dandelions and brown-headed cowbirds- is one of those creatures that has benefitted from human settlement, and in fact they appear to have adapted to human habitation to the extent that they favor web-sites near lights, as they attract passing insects in the evening.

So scary-looking as they may be, Cat-Faced Spiders are pretty much harmless and eat lots of bugs. Leave them alone when you find them.

We killed time, with some minor bike maintenance until it was fully dark and the rain petered out. It hadn’t been enough to soak the trails and so we ventured out for our night-ride. IMG_3036We rode Rustler Trail, a beginner loop by day, but a thrilling, smooth, fast, twisty roller-coaster of a ride on a cloudy, moonless night. We liked it so much we did a second lap, which Vicente sat out, as his anesthetic was wearing off. (Video kind of lame, but none of the night-ride photos turned out. No really, here’s what they all looked like, right.)

Following the ride we returned to Rabbit Valley to camp for a 2nd night. The sky was dark and forbidding, but the rain held off. Tired from a long day, we sat by the fire or a bit and called it a night.

Later, much later, I awoke. The sky was still partly cloudy, with just a few stars peeking out in Perseus and Cassiopeia. Something was nagging me. My mind wandered for a bit before locking onto it: Somewhere out in the desert right now, a small nocturnal rodent had found a delectable meaty morsel. Seizing it hungrily in her jaws, she scuttled back to her burrow to share the treasure with her brood, and together they feasted… feasted on a divot of human flesh!

Happy Halloween!

Post-script: On a serious note, I wish this were the end of the Halloween tale, but it’s not. Returning to Salt Lake, Vicente’s wound became infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. On Tuesday a surgeon reopened the wound to clean it and remove additional debris, and in so doing had to make 2 additional incisions, each 3+ inches in length. He left the wound open for a couple of days and put Vicente on stronger, intravenous antibiotics. Today Vicente returns to the surgeon, hopefully to close the wound. He’s scheduled to fly to Brazil tomorrow for a conference; he’ll know today if that’s still the plan. Wish him luck.


maggie said...

I'm a little disappointed by the lack of gore photos.

Anonymous said...

Yikes, this is one scary Halloween post! And, for added bonus, I learned a boatload of cool stuff about spiders. Normally I would have skipped over the creepy spider stuff, like fast forwarding a DVD, but I actually got into the web thing (love the pics/graphics). Though, it might be due to the fact that I didn't have to actually look at spiders. Had no idea there were different types of strands.

BTW, excellent tip on the first aid kit. Invaluable. Almost no riders carry one but its the first thing everyone asks for in a crash. Though, I would add aspirin or something else to reduce swelling, particularly useful in potential broken bone cases.

When I first started riding 6 years ago, it was cool when others asked for stuff from my camelback - kind of like being the hero coming to the rescue. Now, its more annoying that others go "too light", either hoping nothing goes wrong or they figure to rely on others. Of course, I am a bit of an overpacker so I need the big camelback for even short 1-2 hour rides. Plus, I am strong believer that they are kind of a safety item - cushioning the blow if you fall on your back. BTW, I never understood the small camelbacks that don't fit much more than your keys.

Anyway, great 2 part post. Hope Vicente does have a happy ending (no, not that kind!).

mtb w

KB said...

Oh my, I hope that Vincente is doing better. Based on my many experiences with wounds that my dogs have gotten, I thought "infection" as soon as you described it.

I didn't have time to look back at your previous posts about spiders to see if you already posted about this. But, one extremely cool thing about the spiders is that they use hydraulic systems to move their legs - in contrast to most animals who use direct action of muscles on bones or exoskeletons. One of my earliest mentors discovered this cool mechanism.

I don't carry a 1st aid kit but it sounds like I should. I'm always looking for the tiniest things to remove from my Ergon pack to keep it light - but some gauze and tape really wouldn't break my back.

I loved your comment about your back compression making you shorter as I'm getting taller. If I get my neck fixed, I might gain another inch on you!

Sally said...

Ahhh, the fate of the divot. Why a rodent? Why not say, a tarantula, or a warm-blooded carnivore?? Just curious.

Another excellent story and huge educational experience. I've been watching Araneas for years, but I must lack curiosity—learned more about them in this post than ever!

Chris said...

"... something red"

I almost spewed my OJ (something orange?).

Quick healing Vincente

KanyonKris said...

Good conclusion to the cliffhanger from part 1. And the graphics were worth the wait.

I use a camelbak for rides over 2 hours, but for short, local rides I go light. My current bike setup is pretty reliable and I haven't had to walk out or bum parts or tools yet.

Did you check the ends of his bars? I've known riders to get "core sampled" by a bar end if it's not plugged.

Here's hoping Vincente heals fast. After what he's been through, he shouldn't have to miss a trip to Brazil also.

Ski Bike Junkie said...

I want to point out two things in the non-debate about camelbacks, not that any fingers were pointing at me or anything.

First, the one instance where you gave me water, it was because we lengthened the ride when we saw hunky neighbor. I would have been fine otherwise.

Second, on a lunch ride earlier this week, my colleague, usually a camelback user, didn't want to bring it and got a flat. My repair kit in a water bottle saved his bacon as we forced a 29er tube into a 26" wheel. So it goes both ways.

I don't usually use a camelback, except on long rides like when I go to Fruita or Moab, but it's mostly because I don't like keeping the bladder clean. Sometimes I bring my camelback just as a pack to carry stuff and still drink from a bottle.

That really sucks about Vicente getting infected. I wasn't real happy about all the scrubbing that went on with my arm, but it kept it from getting infected, so in hindsight it was a very good thing.

KanyonKris said...

SBJ - Yes, bladder maintenance can be a hassle. But the newer anti-microbial CamleBak bladders are amazing. I abuse mine regularly (leave water in it for a week or more in the hot car) and have yet to get anything more than a few spots of gunk.

I used to always wear a camelbak, but seeing the core team going light made me rethink it. I have enjoyed not wearing something on my back for short rides - just feels better.

Watcher said...

mtb w- good tip re: aspirin. Reminds me, I think I’ve cleaned my kit out of ibuprofen, need to re-stock.

KB- I did not know that about the (partially) hydraulic legs of spiders. Just read a Straight Dope piece about it and it’s fascinating. Thanks for the insight. And what? You’re getting another inch? I will have to start wearing heels…

Sally- purely whimsy. For all I know it could’ve been eaten by ants or a coyote or even a human cannibal (probably from Boulder County ;^))Anytime I’ve ever left anything edible out while camping, it’s been a rodent that got it. About 10 years ago I went on a desert trip with some of the same guys (Not Young Ian- I think he was in 8th grade then), and in the evening we had a few (OK several) beers. At dawn I kept hearing this foil rustling. Finally I sat up and there was a bag of mustard-flavored pretzels moving across the ground in fits and starts. Turned out one of us had left it out and a kangaroo rat had gotten inside.

Kris- I think his grips cover his bar-ends, but good thought. I’ll ask him.

SBJ- Oh that’s right- I did give you water! Wasn’t actually thinking of you when I wrote that, but thanks for the reminder. OK so just a nit in the continuing non-debate: It would go “both ways” if you gave a tube to a guy with a camelbak, but not to a guy with, uh… nothing. That’s just “being nice” (which is of course commendable.) I can’t bring myself to ride even a mile without a tube and pump (or cartridge); I’m just thinking of flatting the whole time.

nick said...

I always take a camel back, since I go through a lot of water. I also do most of my riding alone, so I try to have everything I'll need. I realized halfway through a low-key ride around prostitute bluff that I'd left my pump and multitool in the car, and I just couldn't enjoy the rest of the ride with that nagging at me. When I do bike with people they usually have enough water, but several times I've saved people from a sad hike out.

In short, I'm a tremendous weenie and I probably overpack all the time. I think I'll add some gauze and tape to my standard kit though, after reading about that adventure.

maggie said...

btw, your arm cross-section is brilliantly rendered. The what-not is particularly well drawn.

Ski Bike Junkie said...

If the pack is cumbersome enough that you don't want to bring it, I'll argue that bottles and repair kit are better than just bottles.

I'll admit I've "ridden naked" a couple times. In fact, I'm presently out of road tubes (waiting for team order to arrive) and recently rode AF Canyon solo (40 miles RT) with nothing to repair a flat.

Enel said...

KB: Very cool about the hydraulics.

Watcher: There is no missing flesh. With a deep laceration like that, the elasticity of the collagen in the skin simply really pulls the wound apart. Hope Vicente is doing better. (check out collagen's structure some time it is very cool)

The most amazing thing about a wound like his is this: If you just leave it alone, it will heal all by itself leaving actually not too large a scar at that. This is called "secondary intention healing", it is slow, but works fine. Humans did not always have surgeons to stitch them up.

First aid kits are over-rated unless you are days away from help. Vicente could have ridden out with the thing open and been no worse for wear.


Watcher said...

Enel- Thanks for piping up re: the divot. I feel better if in fact we did not leave a piece of Vicente behind. The surgeon closed him up Thursday and green-lighted him to fly; he’s in Rio.

I disagree though re: the kit. In the last dozen years I’ve patched- or seen patched- up 6 (that I remember) bad lacerations, 4 of which were facial. All but one the victim rode out, and could’ve done so fine without a bandage, but it would’ve meant a continual stream of blood into the eye in one case and into the mouth in another. I can’t imagine why that would be worth the “convenience” of not carrying a teeny roll of gauze weighing about an ounce.

Chris Doubleday said...

Gauze good idea. Toilet paper (in ziplock) even better. Travel light with emphasis on multi-use.

Enel said...

That is why I also recommend a light full face helmet as well:) keeps the teeth/face intact. The problem is that helmet manufacturers do not make any light full faces anymore which is completely stupid.

No problem. I carry duct tape, good tweezers (a must out here)

Maxipads make good bandages as well.

Dyno said...

coincidental article (sadly, not a lot of info captured tho) on the oldest known preserved spider's web

Lucy said...

Hope Vincente heals quickly.

Good post to read at 6 PM on Halloween. Thanks.