Monday, April 1, 2013

Goat Heads

Some goat heads found in my running shoes after a recent run along Lake Lowell.
Thorns are a part of life in Idaho.  The most infamous thorn in our Southern Idaho Desert is the Tribulus terrestris, better known as the "Goat Head."  These little nasties have been known to stop bike tires in their tracks, even with Slime or other sealants protecting the inner tubes.  They can stab into the paws of pets, into bare feet, or puncture the supplemental cushion units in running shoes (let me introduce Nike No-More-Air Trainers; squish, squish, squish).  One of the nastiest aspects of these thorns is that they grow outward from a center root, as a blanket across the ground near roadways, sidewalks, or trails.  Once the thorn pierces the passerby, the seed is carried away until it breaks off, leaving the thorn impaled into the victim, allowing the plant to disperse into high traffic areas until the trail is a minefield of prickly enemies.  You don't even have to be on a trail to get one of these.  On more than one occasion  I've been cruising along on a smooth, clean piece of asphalt on my road bike and been the unsuspecting victim of these nasty buggers.

If you see this little nasty guy, get your weed spray and go crazy...
Photo: Forrest and Kim Starr
Goat-heads are mentioned in cycling circles around here in the same way Barack Obama is mentioned at the Republican National Convention.  That is to say, they are the scorn of the cyclist.  One of the worst things about getting a goat-head is that shortly after embedding itself in your tire the head breaks off, leaving behind the quarter inch thorn, nearly invisible to the untrained eye, so that after you pull over, fix the flat and resume the ride, the little devil will puncture again, leaving you with two flats in the span of about 100 yards.  The same thing happens when they get into your pet's paw, working their way deeper into the flesh pad, causing infection and excruciating pain.  

Pardon me while I get all philosophical for a moment...
Thorns come in all shapes and sizes in our lives.  (Yup, I went there.) We get stuck by thorns in all aspects of our lives, often when we least expect it, or at least can't see them coming.  We can be cruising along in life just fine and then we hear the deflating sound of the air slowly leaking out of our tires (hissss).  Sometimes we have what we need to deal with the interruption, other times, we are left powerless and have to get some help.  I've changed hundreds of flats over the years of working as a bike mechanic and as an avid rider, but even I have made the call or taken the long and lonely walk home after I've exhausted my supplies of spare tubes, CO2 cartridges, or patches.  I've had to throw away shoes that have been ruined, death by pincushion, only after spending my hard-earned money on them.  I've seen friends have their pets hobbled, left limping around by a hidden impalement.  Just like the goat-heads, thorns in life can do major harm, working deeper and deeper, or cause recurring "flats" after you think you have the problem fixed. Fortunately, in life and in endurance sports, there is always hope for the next day, the next ride, the next run, the next race, etc.  Personally, my relationship with Christ brings me hope.  For me, its the only flat-protection I can rely on.  I know that even if a puncture occurs, I'm not going to be left stranded, that the wound can be healed and that I can be restored and back on my way in no time.

I have to say that for the past few days I've been dealing with a major thorn.  Its hard not to be bitter, to feel hopeless, and have your outlook on the future skewed by the negative impacts of a small but significant set-back.  My wife helped me snap out of it, but truthfully, being positive about the future when the thorn is still deeply embedded is very difficult.  I had to be reminded of the hope that occurs through the healing of Christ in my life.  I also had to be reminded that even in the midst of the lonely walk home, carrying the bicycle in one hand and the carbon fiber super-shoes that make great pedaling platforms but very poor walking devices in the other hand, you're still out there, in the midst of life; and the choice exists to make something good out of that walk or to be scornful and bitter.  I've noticed a lot of things when forced to slow down because of a thorn that I would have missed otherwise.  In the midst of a set-back, look at in a positive way, if you can, ask Christ to help, and enjoy the moment for what it is, not what it could have been.

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