Poison Ivy is Kind of Like Magic, Too

There’s a mysticism surrounding Trollhaugen in mid June. Keenan headed to Red Bull’s latest project for an urushiol-induced 24 hours in the woods.

Poison Ivy is Kind of Like Magic, Too

There’s a mysticism surrounding Trollhaugen in mid June. Keenan headed to Red Bull’s latest project for an urushiol-induced 24 hours in the woods.

June 14, 2023
Words By Keenan Cawley Events

Red Bull Bonus Track

Trollhaugen, Dresser, WI

If only my deadline were as tight as the competitor’s. They had a no-frills schedule. They had five hours to shred the nasty, taking turns filming all the goodies they could muster from the melting and muddy-ing snow with their partner, and then they had two-ish hours to condense all their footage to a minute-long video which was to be submitted to the judging panel. That’s not a lot of time. One might even say they were rushed. But I could’ve benefitted from such a crunch. If I had the same two hour turnaround for this article, my life would’ve been a breeze. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but watch (re: read):

Last summer, Benny Milam put together the Enchanted Forest video. It was a concept piece incorporating the mysticism surrounding Trollhaugen, his home hill, and how maybe the little bearded dudes can trick you into snowboarding on logs in June. Red Bull took the solo project and turned it into a contest with a contemporary twist. Instead of the traditional rail jams of yesteryear, this event paired up riders, and challenged them to film each other on the elaborate and arboreal course throughout the day, and then chop up an edit. The winners would be the team that put together the *coolest* video. 

Sam Anderson on sight for Pete Croasdale | Photo by: Stephan Jende

Maybe it was harder said than done because, from my perspective, both bespectacled and polarized, everyone made really *cool* edits.  Everyone did tricks that I had zero expectations of seeing, given the circumstances. With that being said, Rob Roethler’s dicey and dirty switch back 360, and Cole Solener’s banana-runt colored knee-slide were undoubtedly the *coolest*. And to be honest, albeit corny, everyone made *cool* edits, too, though none quite as fulfilling as Sam Anderson and Pete Croasdale’s. Nor was there one quite as feel-good as Egan Wint and Sierra Forcheimer’s. And even though those were the respected winners of Best Tricks and Best and 2nd Best Videos, there was no shortage of other superlatives that could’ve been awarded. Mike Liddle and Benny could’ve easily tied for the Oh, He Really Can Do Anything award. All the ladies – Grace, Jibgurl, Iris, Veda, as well as our 2nd place finishers Egan and Sierra – could’ve taken home individual Oh No She Didn’t awards for any of the slew of sideways sliding stunts they did on the precarious hunks of lumber. Juicy Joker would’ve won the Zip Line award for his likeness to a zip-line (I’m aware there’s a reason why yours truly didn’t get to name the awards) when he nuked down the whole path to gap-tap a tree that had no business being gap-tapped, much less to fakie. And 86 himself would’ve, in my eyes, taken home the 86 award, because he’s 86 and I think he always deserves an award for being himself.

Sierra Forchheimer through the forest with Egan Wint | Photo by: Stephan Jende

That’s what I would’ve written if I had the same deadline as the competitors. Shoot, I could’ve got all that done on the shuttle back to Minneapolis! But my deadline was 24 hours; I had time to kill. Time to convolute. I also had time to let the poison ivy I acquired that day really soak into my pores. Now I’m back home, sitting outside, typing, my keystrokes interrupted with intermittent scritches and scratches on my calves. For those lucky few who’ve never been afflicted by poison ivy, or her leafy siblings, oak and sumac, you should know that urushiol, the toxic oil the leaves bear, not only causes an itchy rash and blisters, but can also have profound neurological effects. I don’t think everyone experiences the psychosomatic side, but take someone like me for example, one who frequently finds himself surfing a semi-neurotic wave, and the mental effects of ivy begin to outweigh the physical ones.

Bubble vision. | Photo by: Stephan Jende

I didn’t find out until too late. And no one else even found out because it wasn’t supposed to be any matter of concern. The main concern was for the ticks. I saw people spraying tick repellent, many (most) were wearing snowpants, and everyone else pretty much steered clear of heavily wooded areas. I did none of the three but wasn’t too worried about it. I’ve had ticks on me. I know they suck. I know they can transmit Lyme Disease. I don’t know what to tell you though; you just pluck ‘em out. It’s all good. I was more worried about the blackberry brambles. Again, this was no concern of anyone else because all the brambles were off piste, and despite the piste itself being narrow, everyone was trying to stay on it. Everyone, that is, except for me and Holce. And Holce was getting frisky in a relatively bramble-free section. I, on the other hand, kept finding myself drawn further off piste, deeper into the woods, every run. And I’m not bragging about it; if I had the stones to try a fraction of the tricks that the real shredders were doing, I, too, would’ve stayed on course. But sometimes you’ve got to call a spade a spade and chuck baby in the corner. And by ‘baby’ I mean me and by ‘corner’ I mean a thicket of ticks and thorns. After my third plunge into a choice copse, Linda, a delightful local volunteer, came up to me as I was unstrapping. 

“Honey, you really oughta be careful down there.”

“Oh, I know. Sure are a ton brambles in here, huh?” I held up my forearms, dotted with tiny cuts – nothing in comparison to, say, Craig McMorris’s Predator-like bloodshed. Knees down were looking similar; dirty and lightly abused, thanks to the shorts I’d chosen to wear.

“Well, yeah, sure are. But you’re also jumping into poison ivy, dear.”

In a sea of polished problem-plants. | Photo by: Jon Stark

Goddammit. I’d assumed my days of dodging the shiny leaves were in the past. I certainly don’t see those polished problem-plants in my familiar turf that is the high desert, and I guess with such a long absence from them I forgot that they even existed. All I was looking at was the lushness of the woods. The soft sight of it all – grassy hills, twinkling leaves on the light wind. I didn’t remember the itchy quirks that lie in the plush overgrowth. Oh well. Too late.

Danimals and Brady showed up after I crawled out of the woods. Dan said there’s a lot of property on the backside of Troll and that we ought to go on a hike. I checked the time. Two hours into the jam with another three to go. Honestly, I figured if I didn’t go, I’d more than most likely continue jumping into poison ivy. It seemed to be in my best interest to go on the hike. But what about Dan’s? 

“Wait,” I said. “Aren’t you a judge?”

“Yeah,” he said. “But I mean… I’m judging the videos. They’re not even half-way done filming yet.”

Couldn’t argue with that. 

And I’m glad I didn’t; we saw some cool stuff back there. We went by Horsepower Hill and the jump where they launch cars off for the Total Off-Road Rally. Saw a turkey and a frog. The Dirte Weener muddin’ gully. Found a nice deer stand with a spring-fresh wasp nest in it. Dan told us about a dirt bike race he’s done through these woods and we tried to find the tracks. Flora grows fast in these parts, though. Eats things up. Makes you forget. Makes you sweat. Makes you itchy. We romped back through the forest to the course. This return offered more insight towards the peculiarity of the day’s event. There we were, just three dudes rollicking in Wisco’s honest backwoods, and then, all of a sudden, we’re standing on a strip of snow, listening to the ooh’s and ah’s from a crowd, the chirpy back-and-forth from microphoned Max and Stan, and the droning bass emanating from the Red Bull Assault Vehicle. What an unusually entertaining sight. 

Dan and Brady in the deer stand | Photo: Keenan

I thought about boarding some more but realized my toes were starting to blister from hiking around in snowboard boots, so I swapped them out for shoes and took to watching the tail-end of the session. Even though the snow was now filthy with mud and dust debris, and the riders were equally disheveled both physically and mentally, they all seemed to want to get just one more trick for their videos. I was glad to see it; there’s nothing quite like desperation boarding. I took some goofy photos, cracked jokes with old friends, and chucked Egan into a buzzer-beater nosepress front 1. By this time, the local boarders began flooding the course for the community jam, and I trawled down to the lodge to hit a few Spotted Cows on the deck with rotating company. It was remarkably perfect, ending the day perched on that porch, watching the sun sink behind the verdant hills. I could’ve been writing. After all, it was at this point that the riders were upstairs in the lodge, fidgeting relentlessly around their iMovie apps. But I couldn’t be bothered. Too many people to meet, too many friends to catch up with, too many Crayons to color with, too many tokens for Spotted Cows. It was the dream-evening to match the dream-day. And as it progressed and nightfall fell, the videos premiered and everyone cheered. The winners were given nifty snow-globes, sans snow, appropriately. Next thing I knew it was 10 o’clock and our shuttle back to the city had come to pick us up, only the driver, Colonel Sanders, said the bus was about to breakdown and that he wouldn’t be taking us. Back to the bar, I suppose. 

Eventually another bus showed up and whisked us back at who-knows-when-o’clock. Everyone’s road bevs got passed around until we went dry, somehow coinciding with our arrival to the hotel. My roommate and raison d’etre, Jon, hit the room swiftly to check under his gigantic testicles for ticks. He made it out clean. My other confidants hit the town. What was I to do? Hit the hay? Pony up to the club? I had an early morning flight, scheduled to leave in a couple of hours. I rationalized that I’d already made enough brash decisions for one day and Ubered to the airport to catch some rest there. Off I went.

Second place on the bus. | Photo by: Keenan Cawley

Only little rest was there to be had. It seemed the moment I closed my eyes, a swath of boisterous high schoolers arrived. They do not care about the old and the tired. I was kept up until my flight, whereupon I was finally gifted the Sleep award. I woke up in Denver nearly more hazy than when I’d gone night-night. A big yawn and leg stretch. A shoulder shift to crack my neck. A light scritch-scratch on my knees. Oh, that feels nice. Scritch-scratch, scritch-scratch. Lower. Ooooh, yeah get behind the knees, too. And the calves. Keep scratching. Oh wait. I look down.

The effects of urushiol can take between 12 and 24 hours to become apparent. That’s how poison ivy really gets you. You don’t even know you got hit and you keep on with your business, letting the oil soak and spread. Or you do know you got hit but you’re just an idiot and don’t change your clothes or take any preliminary measures to stopping the oil from ruining your week. I see the early signs of her affliction and realize that, once again, I’m too late to do anything about it. Oh well. Scratch-scratch. 

There's a hidden meaning in everything. | Photo by: Jon Stark

I wait for my connecting flight, trying to ignore the growing agitations on my legs. But the ivy consume me. Where else will it spread? If it started on my legs, does that mean it’s on my shorts? The shorts I’m still wearing? I know I touched my shorts at some point. And my boots! If it’s on my legs then it’s definitely on my boots, and I used my hands to untie those and then – what else did I touch after that? Oh god. I smoked a cigarette after I took my boots off. Did I spread it to my mouth?! Did I inhale urushiol?! That can kill you! At least hospitalize you. Fuckfuckfuck. And the homies! Shit – how many homies did I dap up? They’re fucked. No, I’m fucked – I fucked them! I think of Jon sleeping in our king sized bed back in Minneapolis. At least we’re not sharing the bed tonight. But fuck, I was in the room for like 30 minutes packing before I left. Urushiol’s probably everywhere. He’s done for. I’m done for. A walking toxin. Scratch-scratch. 

Lights on, nobody home. | Photo by: Jon Stark

The scratching soothes me this time. It reminds me that you can either be your own best friend or worst enemy. Scratch-scratch. I remember how tired I am. Scritch-scratch. I decide to calm down. I’m going to treat the ivy the same way I’m treating this article: I’ll worry about it when I get home. I board the plane and, once again, am swept by slumber. I have a dream that my snowboard was covered in poison ivy, and where ever I rode left a trail of urushiol. Not a good idea to follow me, I thought in the dream. I wake up at home and my legs are still itchy, and I’m still thinking the same thing.

A tremendous thank you needs to be issued to Boody, Adam Mahler, Bill Duder, Scott Ramberg, Marsha Hovey and the rest of the staff at Trollhaugen, Oren Tanzer and his crew at Frankie Bird, and to Joe Sexton, Erich Dummer, Casey Peterson, Hunter Drury and co. at Red Bull. Cheers to them for stopping at nothing to let people board in June.