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Trail triage

Local experts offer tips for various hiking and biking vexations



Barring another May snowstorm, our state's proverbial 300 days of sunshine beckon to outdoor indulgence. But of course, there are the little aches and pains that come with the summer outdoor activity season.

To quote Ben Franklin, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That's certainly true for hikers and bikers. So, do all the things you know to do: Make sure all of your gear is in good repair; check the weather and the terrain you're covering in advance; assume muddy trails after rain; consume water and snacks; bring a friend if possible; let someone know where you'll be and when you'll check in. That last part can sound like bragging, but bragging a little beats being humble and dead.

Also, bring a basic first aid kit — something with bandages, antibiotic ointment, rubbing alcohol, tweezers, first aid scissors and moleskin, at least. Consider adding superglue and duct tape as well and, if you're on a bike, a spare tube or patch kit, as well as a mini-pump and a chain repair tool. And get comfortable with your repair equipment; it's easier to learn in your backyard or apartment than at night, in the rain, in a half-inch of mud with two hungry, crying children in tow.

OK, then: You're ready for things to go wrong. Things like ...

Cuts. Dead skin can trap dirt and other debris next to a cut, which is a huge infection risk. Remove any ragged bits of dead skin along the edges with a pair of first aid scissors or, in a pinch, nail clippers (disinfected with rubbing alcohol, of course). Damp paper towels or baby wipes are great for cleaning dirt and gravel out of any cut, especially road rash. Antibiotic ointment is as important as your bandage — use it, especially on the aforementioned road rash.

Also, though it will sting, superglue will seal larger cuts in a pinch, even if they're still bleeding. "Don't cheap out," says Jeff Jackson, a local search and rescue volunteer and Scout camp guide. "Find the kind that sets in less than 10 seconds."

Blisters. Blisters form when the outermost layer of skin separates from the tissue beneath, usually due to a mix of friction and moisture. The gap between the layers then fills with fluid to protect and heal the lower layer of skin.

To keep blisters from forming, make sure your gear fits correctly, and wear a layer that pulls moisture away from the skin. A good pair of hiking socks will protect your feet. But if you feel a blister forming ...

Jackson says to look for the hot spot — the red, warmer spot where your skin has been rubbed — and cover it with duct tape before the skin starts to separate. This puts a protective layer between your skin and your clothes. But if the skin has started to separate or fill with fluid, hold off on the duct tape.

"Once [the skin separates], you have to remove the pressure, remove the friction, and keep it from popping," says Jackson. He suggests using two layers of moleskin — one in a ring around the blister, then another piece over the top.

If the blister has broken or popped, drain it, clean it, and use a bandage or superglue to reattach the outer layer to the tissue beneath, if possible. Like with a cut, this will sting, but it will keep you moving and get you home without an infection.

Splinters. Leaving a splinter in the wound won't always cause an infection, but it's a risk. Most splinters, cactus spines included, can be removed with a pair of sterile tweezers.

If the whole splinter is under the skin, you can ease it out with a sterile needle, if you're comfortable with doing that. Generally, though, Jackson says it's better to leave fully embedded splinters for extraction at home.

Going back to the cacti, some species have tiny clusters of barbed spines called glochids. If you get stuck with glochids, keep the affected area well away from your eyes and mouth. (If you think they hurt on your hand, imagine how they'll feel in your airways.)

Remove them in large groups with a strip of duct tape, then follow up with tweezers. For larger or deep splinters, seek medical attention.

Flat tires. Patch kits are lighter to carry than new tubes, but finding the hole in your tube can take more time than simply swapping it out. Torie Giffin, Colorado Springs Cycling Club member and Chick-fil-A Saturday ride organizer, recommends using Slime self-sealing tires for rougher roads and trails.

Be particularly careful of goatheads, the spiky fruit of the Tribulus terrestris, also known as the common puncture vine. Ask around any bike shop or cycling club, and pros will tell you which trails and roadways get overrun with the tire-thrashing menace, usually with a healthy helping of expletives. Giffin adds that while hard tubes are less likely to puncture, they're harder on both the rider and the rims.

Broken chains. To fix a broken chain on the trail, you'll need a chain tool. "Usually when a chain breaks, there needs to be another pin pushed out before you can put [the chain back together]," says Tony Hoewisch, owner of Ted's Bicycles. As noted above, practice with your chain tool before you hit the trail.

If your chain simply comes off, that's a much easier fix; you can just pull it forward and put it back on the chain rigs.

"Barring getting your fingers greasy, this is an easy fix," says Hoewisch. If you don't want greasy fingers, use a paper towel to handle the chain. Of course, if your chain keeps coming off, you might have a more serious issue and should take it in to the shop.

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