Hi locals! My kid was traumatized at the Cal-O-Fest by the fox tales and other spiky things. Would you recommend a specific brand or type of gaiters and pants? I just booked our flights!
Anna, I'm excited to see you & the boys in Tucson next year. :-)
I can't offer any special tips for cactus-proof gaiters or pants...I just endure the pokes. But I do carry a comb to help remove chunks of cholla.
A friend wears O21E gaiters and then covers the upper part of his pants with duct tape. He says: "Gorilla Tape is the secret to my increasingly modest success. Other brands do not adhere as well." He gave me permission to share these pics of the pants & tape ensemble:
And...not gonna lie...some amount of cactus pain might be inevitable.
Cholla removal technique (flick it off with the comb -- it'll end up stuck in your hand if you try to grab it):
For Feather Cactus(Or something very light and irritating) use Elmers Glue. Works unbelievably well.
I have a pair of socks just like that.
Not a local, but I have found it far less scratchy than Alberta or any grasslands where we need ogaiters. I would only consider low running shoe debris gaiters and osocks/opants. Just resist the temptation to reach out and steady yourself on that "tree".
Thank you, guys! Amazing tips! Danny, what kind of Elmer's Glue?
There's more than one kind? (I'm guessing the normal white Elmer's Glue-All.)
Anna, Danny is referring to very fine cactus hairs called glochids (scientific name I learned after I got a rash of them embedded up and down my leg a few years ago...). I tried to tweeze them all out and it was just totally impossible. Then I thought I would try duct tape to pull them out but it wasn't sticky enough and that didn't work, either. I later read about the glue approach (the idea is like hair waxing), and I will try that if I ever have another bad glochid encounter. I think carpenter's wood glue might be even better than Elmer's school glue -- something really thick, tacky and sticky.
OMG Brooke! I guess thick pants are in order. I won't tell the kids. Getting more and more excited! Hugs.
Most of the tiny little hair cactus spines I've had came from getting too close to a prickly pear. Good to know about the Elmer's glue trick!
If it's any comfort, I live in Tucson and orienteer frequently in the desert and I don't bother with any added protection--just regular O shoes, O socks and 3/4 O pants. Sure, sometimes I get a cholla ball in my calf, but that's fairly rare and usually due to not paying attention to where I'm going.
I'm almost ashamed to say, but being from the North, I "know nothing", like the proverbial Jon Snow ("Game of Thrones" reference). I just went to the Tucson club website into the "New to Orienteering" section and did not find the answers. Google got me scared. If it was for me, I totally would not mind, but my twins' nature is literally not paying attention to where they are going. Please help me get prepared: our tickets are not refundable! ;) I am not going to bubble-and-ducttape-wrap my kids, I just want to be reasonably ready.
Do not panic --- cacti fears are greatly exaggerated .
I would be more concerned with rattlesnakes (early spring is the time they come out from winter hibernation, being very hungry),
also black widow spiders, falangas, Gila monsters.
yurets is right, (almost) all those things can be found in the Sonoran Desert. But when you see one it's an "oh cool!" kind of experience and everyone is jealous, especially if it's a Gila Monster.
For kids who might be prone to walking into things, I would actually suggest duct tape (or gorilla tape or whatever). Put some over the outside of their shoes and either gaiters or more duct tape on the lower leg. If they kick a cactus it will still hurt, but at least if they just brush one the needles will mostly be stuck in something other than their skin. And it's the pulling the needles out part that hurts. I've definitely just left cactus bits in me to pull out later if I get some in the middle of a race.
I've been known to put tape between my gaiters and shoes over the ankles. But once you identify what to avoid you can usually avoid running into them.
I've seen a roadrunner in the wild on a Tucson orienteering course. Never a rattler, Gila monster, or spider.
Got it! What about arms and hands? The friend in the picture has them covered. What temperatures are we talking about? How much water does one need of them in case of veering off course?
Desert vegetation. You'll get pricked more the first time you run in southern AZ. As you get used to what not to touch (pretty much everything that grows), you'll get better at avoiding it. The first time you grab a branch to steady yourself going down into a wash (erosion gully), you'll learn not to grab that kind of tree again. The first time you get a cholla ball stuck to your calf and instinctively reach to grab it, you'll remember never to do that again. Its easy to say "don't grab it"; harder to remember that until you've actually experienced it.
Cholla. This cactus has little balls of fine thorns that stick to anything. Its sometimes called jumping cactus - it doesn't actually jump out and grab you, but the hairs are so fine that its easy to underestimate and brush just a bit too close. The cholla balls periodically dry up and drop off, which is when they are most sneaky as they lie in wait on the ground. Step on one with your heel, and it won't go through your shoe, but it will attach to your shoe, and as you take your next stride, it will brush the calf of your other leg and get stuck. That's the most common way to get stuck with a cholla. Once you learn to recognize cholla, and recognize dropped cholla balls on the ground beneath and around them, you won't get many cholla.
Removing cholla with a comb works fairly well. If you don't have a comb, you can use a thumb compass and a small rock to pull out the cholla ball.
Desert vegetation is different in different areas, with great variation due to small changes in elevation and direction of exposure to the sun. Some areas are mostly grassland (there is some speargrass type of stuff - pointy seeds which work their way into socks and ankles), others have different varieties of cactus - not every area has cholla. Big cacti are easily seen and avoided.
Prickly pear is more prevalent in some areas than others - in some places it is easy to see and avoid - in grassland, smaller ones can hide in the grasses. Their thorns are relatively long and stiff, and if you kick one, it can penetrate the toes of most shoes.
I'll let someone else speak to temperatures in early March, except to say that in the dry desert climate, there is usually a wide variation between early morning low (can be near 0C) to afternoon high (which could possibly reach 25C or more). Temperatures warm quickly once the sun is up but if you are starting early you might want a windbreaker or if your hands get cold easily, light gloves. I have sometimes taken a pair of cycling gloves (open fingers, leathery palms), which are great for being able to grab a tree or rocks to scramble up or steady yourself going down.
The general rule in the desert is always carry water even if you think you're not going to be out long. Sweat evaporates immediately and you dehydrate much more quickly than you expect. Get the kids used to carrying a water bottle or small hydration pack.
Snakes should still mostly be dormant in early March. Another big rule is always see where you are going to put your hands. If you are scrambling out of a wash or up a rock face, don't reach where you can't see. Spiders, scorpions, and snakes all like sheltered crevices and hide beneath loose rock. Orienteering many times in AZ in winter, I've seen no snakes and only one scorpion (when rocks and gravel were dislodged by an orienteer scrambling up a slope in front of me). I have seen deer, an occasional jackrabbit, a few javelinas and coyotes, and lots of interesting birds.
Here's another tip: learn to identify creosote bush (Larrea tridentata
) and aim for them when running.
I often aim for creosote bush because they are pretty soft–especially compared to most other trees and bushes in the desert–and there's usually nothing else growing right next to it. This is especially useful in our flatter, low desert locations like like Ironwood, Lincoln Park and Greasewood Park. (Greasewood is another name for creosote bush.) We will use one of those maps on the Monday of SWSW.
It's also worth getting to know creosote bushes because they are part of what makes the Sonoran Desert smell amazing after it rains. Some people take a little branch of creosote and hang it in their shower to get desert rain showers.
When it comes to the fauna, you might send your twins to find cmpblla (Anna Campbell). She's helping out with course setting and should be around all week. Anna's a freshman at the University of Arizona and helps present at the Catalina State Park nature program
, which includes a variety of creatures that might freak people out. If you WANT to see a rattlesnake, she's the person to ask (they have some rescued snakes that the nature program staff care for). At orienteering events, she often gathers up a collection of kids hanging around the arena to search for lizards.
FWIW, my daughter -- who hates orienteering and dislikes nature in general -- loved looking for lizards etc. with Anna when they both lived in the same metro area.
This past weekend while control hanging in the desert I did something I hadn't done in many years, which was wear full length orienteering pants. I think having loose pants over the bottom of my legs worked quite well at keeping cactus bits from ending up in my skin. I did catch a few needles and cholla balls on my pants, but then they were only stuck in the pants and not in me. Or at least not very much in me. I guess for best protection one could wear a tight layer (gaiters or taped socks?) under a loose layer. One more tip!
Here is another tip for you. Before going for a run in the desert, do not shave your legs for a few weeks. This way pesky cholla will not get to your skin if you wear long pants.
I had a several millimeters long filament level cacti needle in my toe, tried to get out multiple ways and times, finally gave up and it eventually healed over into a raised bump that no longer bothered me. To my surprise, on its own one day it worked its way back out in September, from this year’s event so yeah over 6 months in there living its best life. Memories and fun were achieved in various competing ways in the desert.
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