Tucson Tale #5

This is my final Tucson Tale. I tried to publish this before leaving Tucson, but my blog app went on strike. So we’re back in Ottawa and I’ll soon be returning to my primary subject—food.  Dealing with the tiny kitchen in the casita has taught me interesting strategies and compelled me to create some interesting dishes.

For this final tale, I want to pull together the loose ends of the southwest hiking experience. Therefore, I will answer a question that I know has been niggling, if not at the front of your minds, then way at the back:

Why do I wear fingerless gloves while hiking?

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To begin: These are my weightlifting gloves—leather on the palm and nylon on the back. Weights feel more stable when I wear them: no slipping around. These gloves are very common in the gym, but apparently non-existent in hiking country, except for yours truly.

Why? Read on, but be aware that this is not a tale for the faint-hearted. It involves body fluids, rocky danger, and evil cacti. Ready? Here goes.

First of all, it is not true that horses sweat, men perspire, and women merely glow. Let’s face it, ladies, we SWEAT! In fact, my palms sweat so much hiking up a steep incline on a hot afternoon that I can barely keep a grip on my poles. Weightlifting gloves to the rescue! And once I started wearing them, other benefits came to the fore.

Falling: Although I’ve built up my stamina, there’s not much I can do for my aging, and failing, sense of balance. Once I start teetering, well…oops! I’ve tumbled on trails and stream beds, usually backwards once my backpack comes into play. I do two instinctive things: (1) bend forward so that it’s my…er, well-padded bottom that hits stone, and (2) put my hands out to stop my fall. The gloves’ leather palms have saved my hands from gravel, rubble, sharp stony edges, and just all around rocky nastiness.

Peeing (ladies only): When that urgent call comes in desert and mountain terrain, follow these instructions:
1. Find large bush off the trail. Go behind and face it.
2. Since foliage is meagre, you may wish to have spouse act as a shield, bodyguard, and lookout. Have him stand behind you, his back to yours.
2a. If you want him to be close, do not lean backwards when squatting. I once managed to pee into spouse’s shoe heels. I regret to report that, even in good marital relationships, gallantry only goes so far.
3. Use tip of hiking pole to check that underbrush does not house fire ants, scorpions, rattlesnakes, etc.
4. Squat, using gloved, and thus protected, palms on ground for stability (see balance issue above).
5. You know the rest.

Evil cacti: When hiking, it’s the hands which swing and are most in danger of whacking a cactus. And the cactus that most generally is at waist height on a trail’s edge is the prickly pear.

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Innocent-looking prickly pear cactus

When a hand, sans glove, meets the pad of a prickly pear, bad things happen.

First, a big spine lets you know that your hand has entered forbidden territory. Ouch! You back off immediately and apologize to offended cactus. You now think you’re off the hook, but alas no, the pissed-off prickly pear unleashed its second assault with the first. You just don’t feel it right away.

Please examine the close-up of a prickly pear pad. Notice that, at the base of each spine, is what appears to be innocent, golden “fluff.”

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Innocent, my eye.

The tiny bits of fluff are bunches of small, barbed needles, called glochidia. They are so hairlike that you can barely see each individual one. I didn’t initially feel them pierce my skin, but within minutes, I knew I had a problem. Wikipedia describes it so much better than I can.

“Glochidia may be difficult to remove. Yanking out the bristles may result in leaving one or more 20-30 micrometre sized barbs in the skin. Attempts to suck out the glochidia are likely to result in their attachment to the tongue. Popular methods of removing glochidia have included spreading adhesive plaster over the area and ripping it off quickly or using melted wax.”

Fortunately, I managed with tweezers over the next few days and, very fortunately, did not end up with dermatitis. Not surprisingly, I haven’t tried to replicate this experience while wearing gloves but, dear readers, could they do anything other than help and protect?

May this hiking tale inspire glove-wearing among a certain subset of hikers: women of a certain age whose hands sweat, whose balance is going, whose bladders are twitchier than they used to be, and whose love for cacti doesn’t extend to intimacy.

Yours in hopeful trendsetting, Claire

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