Trails and Tribulations: Itching to Ride

Fifteen percent of the population is lucky enough to be born without an allergy to urushiol, the active ingredient in poison oak, ivy and sumac.

I am not one of the lucky ones. Since I first started scrabbling around in the woods I have always had a couple awful cases every year. Some of them are my fault and involve drunken bonfires and hikes, careless root chopping and mountain bike rides through the woods in shorts. Sometimes I seem to do everything right and still get it. Either way, there are few things that make me more miserable than poison oak. I have had it in my eyes, on my junk and everywhere in between.

And as much as I hate it, poison oak is one of those things that you just learn to live with around the trails. You learn how to take care of yourself (you won’t catch me in short sleeves) and for something as good as carving a berm or riding a set of doubles, I’ll put up with a little itching every year.

Obviously I am not a doctor, but I have picked up some tips over the years.

Poison Oak/Ivy/Sumac tips:

  • Learn to identify the leaves, bare branches and roots.

Poison Oak leaves

  • Avoid it like raw sewage or hot lava.
  • If you are going somewhere gnarly, wear pants and long sleeves.
  • Secondary exposure (from clothes, pets and tools) is how most people get it. Wash your shit and hose down your dog.

Clean your tools to avoid secondary exposure

  • Wash yourself with a poison oak soap after exposure (Tecnu, there are a bunch of natural bar soaps, Fez Naptha, dish soap in a pinch (it strips the oils)). Wash where you don’t want it, not where you think you touched it.
  • If you know you touched it sprinkle dry dirt on it immediately and pour lots of water on it.
  • The more you get it, the worse it gets (I don’t care what everybody says about getting it once and being cured. They are full of shit). So, take a little break from the woods after you get it real bad. It’s a histamine reaction, and the next time will be worse.
  • You can look into some homeopathic and food solutions (honey, pills, etc.).
  • I have had some success with over the counter acid reducers (zantac, etc.). The blistering, itching and oozing is a histamine reaction and these drugs block Histamine (H2 specifically).
  • Don’t itch it. Keep yourself calm and cool. Heat makes it worse. Try to stay sane.

Ask Jeremy Kaiser how he doesn’t get it. He is allergic to it but one time I saw him get drunk at the POWS trails, rub it all over himself and chase me around with a branch and after not showering and partying all night, he still didn’t get it.

Poison Oak avoidance techniques from the FBM site:

Jackson Allen

Dirt mound enthusiast. Amateur blogger. Professional hot mess.