It was to be a perfect evening for mountain biking - low 80's and breezy - with well maintained trails, and an experienced veteran, Tim, along to point out things like gearing ratios, weight distribution, following your line and such.
I'd borrowed his wife's extra bike, and after a couple of spins around the parking lot to get my bearings, we hit the trails.
I should mention, I own a bike and ride fairly often, but what I own is essentially a stripped down ten-speed - thin tires, heavy tubular frame, and handle bars like ram's horns pointing down - and its primary use is to navigate between coffee houses, bars, theaters, and galleries throughout the downtown area.
Typically, the most perilous obstacles to such meanderings are the occasional drunk, patch of rough-hewn asphalt, or vacuous vehicular operator - all fairly easily avoided.
Traffic lights abound, after all, and I hardly ever run into any of those.
Enter... the Cactus.
The thing about mountain bike riding in Arizona - there's a fair amount of cactus. There's the iconic, some would say, majestic Saguaro. There's the almost equally well known prickly pear, indigenous to more northern climes. And then there's the Staghorn Cholla.
Myself, I've never found Cholla all that visually appealing, or even noticeable, really - just a part of the landscape, something that receded into the background.
They're sort of thorny and dirty, and tend to attract a fair amount of debris, looking most like a mound of something you'd rake up from hell's own backyard (spines, thistles, brambles and thorns being primary components, with maybe a little dirt and leafy bits thrown in for good measure).
Did I mention my rash?
Well okay, it's not really a rash. Just looks like one. A little raised red bump for each point of introduction with my new friend:
So... about 5 minutes away from returning to the car, I was riding point when Tim called out to take the right line on the drop into an upcoming wash. Which sounded sufficiently daunting that I turned my head away from the path and called back to him to come around.
Then I turned back.
Say hello to my little friend.