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March 31, 2011 7:19 am

SPORTS GUY and the oobleck

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There are a lot of things Wyoming guide books warn hikers about — bears, mountain lions, bacteria in the water. None of them warn about oobleck.

For those of you without a child or who may have forgotten your Dr. Seuss, oobleck is this green substance that sticks to everything. While many are probably under the impression the 1950 Caldecott winner is a work of fiction, the truth is that Wyoming is full of oobleck.

Now, admittedly, it isn’t green, but it’s out there. We just call it mud.

I recently took advantage of spring’s first mild weather to cure my winter cabin fever and reacquaint my legs with the trail. I was barely a mile along when I had my first encounter with Wyoming oobleck. Naturally, it came at a location that featured many large thorny plants on one side of the trail and a substantial drop off on the other. In other words, avoidance was not an option.

Now, the fascinating thing about Wyoming oobleck is that it doesn’t look all that dangerous. It looks like any other mud you’ve seen in your life. It is only after you’ve stepped in it that you realize your conundrum.

It starts with the feeling that an invisible pair of hands have reached out to grab your boots, pulling them several inches into the ground. As you attempt to extract yourself, you realize those invisible hands have also added five-pound weights to your feet. Once you’ve navigated through the quagmire, you realize just how sticky Wyoming oobleck truly is.

Scrape it off. Stomp it off. Shuffle it off. Try whatever method you want — all you will ever succeed in doing is smearing it around. Meanwhile, that feeling that someone stuffed a shot put into your hiking boots will persist as you trudge onward down the trail.

But that’s only part of the fun. If you think the stuff is clingy when it’s wet, just wait until it dries. My brand new trail boots are now safely encased in something slightly harder than concrete and nowhere near as brittle. A hammer and chisel might be my final option.

Despite this strong sticky attraction, there is one other trait unique to Wyoming mud that sets it apart from its counterparts in Montana, Colorado, Oregon and every other state in which my feet have logged extensive mileage. When encountered on any sort of hillside, the stuff is darn near frictionless.

Look, I don’t understand the physics behind it, but I know this — my odds of coming to a complete stop on a sheet of ice are better than my odds of coming to a complete stop on a hillside covered in Equality State oobleck.

I encountered a slop-covered slope so insignificant that a pitcher’s mound would have resembled the Absarokas by comparison. My trek down was a perilous journey that made me look and feel like an Olympic downhill specialist. My attempt to climb back up those few feet had me running in place better than any gym membership treadmill ever could have.

I hope every coyote in the Wapiti valley had a good laugh at my expense as they watched the spectacle.

So as temperatures climb and folks start to journey back into the outdoors, be sure to be bear aware. Take along plenty of water. And by all means, watch out for the most insidious of surprises — Wyoming’s very own oobleck.

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