by Guy Neenan
No doubt some cycling associates will be interested in the recent toning of physique and surge in cycling performance they’ve witnessed in me. There is some caveat in the story of getting a prescription for betamethasone ointment and using it while maintaining an athletic lifestyle. You must pay dues of searing muscle pain, infernal prickle, itch, and oozing disfigurement of the skin, appalling medical haste, baulking pharmacological service, and side-effects that include virtual sexual impotence.
In tangent is a story of de-rigging. When you raft the Colorado River thru the Grand Canyon, you must “Rig to flip”. My prescription followed a chain of events beginning with a calf injury that enabled me to do some sunbathing while my 15 rafting companions spent about two hours de-rigging our five rafts on the last day of our 16-days rafting and camping along 220 miles of that magic canyon.
“Rig to flip” means lashing or attaching everything on the four oarboat rafts and the paddling raft with friction buckle straps and carabineers. Ammunition cans, drybags, food boxes, groover (toilet), six-gallon carboys of water, etc. must be lashed tightly to the frame of the raft. Even the oars have retention lines. Only paddles and people are untethered. Flipping is a real thing. Our captain, Ed King had three rafts overturn in the Crystal Rapids on his previous trip. “It won’t happen again.” is his promise. Each day begins with more than an hour loading the rafts and lashing everything. Although this trip is sans flip, the list of items that need to be retrieved from the river includes one 5-gallon pail, one can of (floating) beer, a baggie of gorp, an oar, an ammo box, a frisbee (several times), several paddles, and six or seven people. Yes, a can of beer will “float” on the Colorado River because of the viscosity and upwelling of the red slurry. The Canyon is gorgeous for many miles. “Gorge” means less than 100 ‘-wide, up to 100′-deep, and roiling with the energy of 15,000 cfs of silty red water.
I was lucky to be drafted to serve as boatman for the Captain. I would ride the raft while Ed oared. I’d help navigate, spot, signal, hand-up water, gorp, or a fuming cigar to him, spell him by oaring on flat stretches, and occasionally steer thru some of the easy riffles. Often Captain King would command, “Tie-down that thing”.
One day I lapsed and failed to securely strap the ammo box carrying the “Kitchen Scrubs”. This was a small 50 caliber ammo box containing handwashing, dishwashing, and chlorox solution. It was indispensable at every lunch stop and camp. It was very accessible on the deck, lashed with the can that carried our emergency satellite phone.
A large motorized commercial party boat attempted to pass us as the river bent around cliff of red Tapeats sandstone. The party boats have 55-horse motors and up to 24 tourists who spend about 8 days on the river. One to three motorized commercial parties would pass us each day. The power boats usually give rafts plenty of time and adequate space when passing. This time the commercial guide lapses. He fails to realize the speed of the water, attempts to gun-past us on the left. The soft-sided boat gets swept directly toward our left baffle. He cuts the motor, rudders full left, shouts “Sorry”, and belts us like a giant bumper boat. Ed and I brace and duck. The little raft is punted down the river and the loose box of Kitchen Scrubs flops into the ruddy drink.
The little ammo boxes are perfect for boating. They’re painted white. They’ll bob on the water for a while. “I got it”, shouts a party boatman. With a little backing, he reaches into the river and retrieves our scrubs. My lesson’s learned. Now I’ll always rig to flip.
Actually it’s my inability to de-rig that has led to my enhanced cycling performance and lost sexual capability. I suffered a pulled gastrocnemius (calf) muscle while derafting at the beach at the camp below Matkatamiba camp. I was derigging when a companion, Ramon asked for my assistance. Ramon’s on Chef team # 3. Tonight, team 3 will prepare a meal for 16. He’s our star grilling specialist by acclamation. He’s a very strong paddler, a good singer-songwriter, and a mature attorney with a strong command tone in his voice. He’s gathered several dinner items in his arms and cannot deraft at the moment because the bowline of his raft has slackened and the raft has drifted a little offbeach. He’s in a hurry to prepare dinner, and doesn’t want to take the time to drop the goods and pull his raft to shore. “Hey Guy, come over here and pull this boat to shore or your dinner will be a half hour late!”
With unthinking haste and excess energy, I take a hero’s leap from the baffle of my raft onto the beach. I’ve miscalculated the landing. The beach is inclined 45 degrees and I pivot over the ball of the left foot before the ankle is fully extended. The searing pain is at the top rear of the calf. I stagger to the raft, pull Ramon home, and begin to whimper and limp about camp.
Pam’s a nurse. She’s right with me and prescribes cold water soaks, elevation, and ibuprofen; 800 milligrams every 4 hours. We find a bottle of ibp in one of the medicine boxes and the dosing begins. For the remaining seven days, I’ll be the poster child of the party.
The dream trip continues. I miss the hike up Havasu Creek. But I’m able to hobble-up Elve’s Chasm, swim, oar, paddle, cook, continue my functions as Groover Captain, and thoroughly enjoy the odyssey. Sometimes I’ll ride the raft with my left foot inside a pail of 70 degree river water or lay on the deck with the left foot elevated on the side of a pail. I leave the heavy lifting to my stalwart companions. I’ve got a good reason to lounge-around on the beaches with one leg in a bucket of water and one foot in the sand while everyone’s rigging and derigging. Every day I dose 2.4 grams of ibp.
Now if I’d been mobile on our last day of derigging, I would have joined my friends to unstrap everything, remove the frames from the rafts, deflate, and roll-up the rafts in preparation for loading all onto the trucks at our disembarkation at Diamond Creek landing. But I’m still hobbled. I feel it’s better for me to stay out-of-the-way of my busy companions, pull a paco pad aside, and finish tanning for my back and chest. I have no idea that there’s a common side effect of ibp; sun-induced skin rash. With final physical effort, I watch my friends load each 20 mm ammo can of solid human waste onto the tommy gate of the truck. There’s one, two, three, five cans of solid product that I needn’t lift. Probably 300 pounds of it. The load of off. The Groover Captain has retired.
I can’t wait to see my dermatologist. You don’t want to know about that hideous purile eruption that began on my lower back. Now a rash of vesicles has spread to my chest with a prickling itch that intensifies at night. Serous yellow-tinted puss erupts from tiny ulcers at the tip of rosy-red bumps. I google scabies. I feel crawling on the skin. I’m ready to incinerate the sleeping bag.
“You have a rash affecting the trunk. That’s not the pattern of scabies. What medicines are you taking?” asks the Doctor. “Ibuprofen, aspirin, and exercise supplements.” She follows-up with aspirin and supplements, but doesn’t ask about ibp. She diagnoses “unspecified dermatitis” and prescribes a “strong ointment”. “If that doesn’t take care of it in 10 to 14 days, we’ll have to do a biopsy”. OK, give me ointment, quell this rash now, I’m thinking. I don’t care if we have to drill my body later. I’m so miserable I’d consent to a lobotomy.
Later, I’m thinking. It’s wonderful I’m not infested with ectoparasites and have a note for the clear. Why was the doctor so interested in medicine side-effects? I google “skin rash ibuprofen”. Holy moly. I’ve been taking 2.4 grams for 16 days now.
What’s flustrating is to wait on the pharmacy on Monday. “We don’t stock this item. We’ll order it and have it for you on Wednesday. The cost will be $138 (for 2 ounces). No, there’s no generic form.” I’m told. I’m tough. There’s a callous over my brain. It’s been 8 days of hell already. I’ve got some topical diphenhydramine gel to get bye.
On Tuesday I’m preparing to do the weekly Metcalf Mauler bicycle ride. My calf is still sore so I won’t really hammer up the hill. I check my voicemail. It’s the pharmacist. “This medicine is no longer manufactured. We have no substitute. Nothing works like this medicine. It’s very unusual. Your doctor will have to prescribe something else.”
Joan shows up for the Mauler ride. She’s a DVM and knows about medicine. We regroup at the eucalyptus grove and Jim mentions he’s got some prednisone medicine left-over from a treatment he had for raging poison oak. “That’s for me!” I insist. I explain my struggle to get the treatment for ibp toxicity. My cycling associates are skeptical. They think I’m just exaggerating to amuse them and begging for dope. I unzip my jersey and show them the incontrovertible stigmata oozing from the chest. Everyones’ appalled. Joan exclaims, “Well that’s a common side-effect of ibp and other NSAID’s. Tell your dermatologist you’ve got a sun-induced ibuprofen rash”. Raft, leap, hurt, dose, sunbathe, itch, maul, and learn. Thanks, Joan.
Wednesday, the doctor has straightened-out the pharmacist. I pickup a tube of clear ointment containing 0.05% of the hard-to-get anabolic. Let the healing begin. And let my Mauler buddies be forewarned. Soon the swelling will go down, the quads will appear blocky, the sprints snappy, and the homers more frequent. But lest I be envied, google “side effects topical steroid”. Holy moly. My voice is breaking.