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Everyone has their limit Phillip Brents | Fri, May 25 2012 03:45 PM

Bonita Vista’s Caesar Castillo executed his game plan to perfection at the 2012 Mesa League track and field championship meet on May 10. Castillo hung back a stride or two behind leader Steven Martinez of Otay Ranch for the opening three laps of the boys 1,600-meter race.

On the bell lap, however, Castillo turned on the jets, passed Martinez and won handily by a two-second margin.

“People are not machines — everyone has their limit,” Castillo said afterward. “I am trained to push it on the last one or two laps.”

Castillo obviously discovered Martinez’s limit in the 1,600, then capitalized on it to win the race.

I discovered my limit on Monday.

Words of wisdom: Don’t hike two miles in the Mojave Desert in 108-degree temperature.

It almost proved fatal.

Common sense
Rule No. 1 is that when off-roading in the desert, a four-wheel drive vehicle is a must requirement.

Rule No. 2 is that it is impossible to accurately judge distances in the desert.

Not adhering to these two points of common sense led to a great deal of personal hardship.

The goal was to collect a classic Cambrian trilobite fossil from a 60-foot-thick outcrop of 550-million-year-old shale along a hillside in the Marble Mountains just east of Amboy (where a near-perfect cinder cone also beckons explorers).

The area can be found by taking historic route 66 to the town site of Chambless, then taking Cadiz Road approximately four miles before making a left turn on the first dirt road. Four ridges define  the area. The third ridge includes the site, which is officially called the Trilobite Wilderness Area.

Vehicles that can successfully navigate the site should park at the fourth ridge; fossil-hunters then must hike the remaining three-fourths of a mile uphill to the dig site.

The Chambless site is regarded as one of the finest for trilobite fossils in the western United States.

Trilobites were small marine crustaceans that resemble modern horseshoe crabs. They were among the earliest known groups of anthropods. They constituted one of the most successful life forms on this planet before finally disappearing in the mass extinction that defined the end of the Permian Period. Their reign on Earth lasted for more than 270 million years — nearly double that of the dinosaurs.

The Cambrian Period spanned 542 to 488 million years ago.

The Chambless site is desolate but draws dedicated rock-hounds.

The geology of the area is early Cambrian layers of shale and limestone, tilted and occasionally interspersed with recent igneous activity. At that time this land was on the shoreline of the continent of Laurentia, near the equator. The layer of interest is named the Latham shale.

Bottom-dwelling animals are well preserved in this green layer, though not as perfectly as the more famous Burgess shale of British Columbia — the source of much information about the amazing explosion in the variety of animal life at the time. Fossil-hunters split pieces of this shale on site. It is full of Olenellid trilobites, as well as articulate brachiopods, worms, eocrinoids and the rare Anomalocaris appendages.

The Chambless site has increasingly become inaccessible to the so-called family automobile because of the yearly scattering of rocks and boulders down barren hillsides due to flash flooding.

Visiting the site means taking personal responsibility.

Our party of three could get only to the first ridge before we had to stop. The outcrop was easily sighted and appeared just over “the next hill.”

That next hill turned about to be a series of gullies, washes and ravines that merged together in the sand-colored landscape.

The outcrop turned out to be about four times more distant than originally gauged.

The first couple hills weren’t so bad. But the feeling of invincibility that one innately has about oneself quickly vanishes in the searing desert heat.

By the third hill, I was torn between finding the trilobite fossils still far ahead and returning to the safety of the car.

While I did bring what I felt was sufficient water with me, being overweight quickly took its toll in those extreme conditions. After 20 minutes of hiking  — about halfway to the outcrop — I had had enough.

In fact, I realized I had already gone too far.

The final 10 minutes back to the car proved to be the most difficult in my life. I had to focus on taking one step at a time — and time was quickly working against me with the hot air not only baking my body but also flooding into my lungs, which further depleted me of precious body fluids and salt.

I later estimated I lost 10 to 15 pounds during the ordeal.

Despite encouraging words from my fossil-hunter guide, I finally realized I could not take another step. I needed to be carried to the car, wherever it was. I had reached my limit.

Fatefully, at reaching that point of absolute helplessness, I looked up from the rock-strewn ground — and there was the welcome figure of our third party. The car was about 10 feet in front of me.

Somehow, miraculously, I had made it back!

On the way to the fossil site, I had spied a roadside memorial. I realized I had come very close to erecting another one.

The staff at Roy’s Cafe near the Amboy crater stands ready with ice water to resuscitate heat victims. Several foolhardy souls require that each week.
 
It took ice packs, cold compresses, five bottles of drinking water, air-conditioning and a quart of Gatorade to revive me over the next four hours.

It was not a pretty sight.

Because I didn’t see visions of deceased relatives, I figured I wasn’t going to die. But it definitely was a harrowing experience.

When I got back to the car, I had ceased to sweat and was at the point of fainting — the first signs of heat stroke. Oddly, all I could think about was not living to see if Bonita Vista or Mater Dei Catholic would win section softball titles or if Otay Ranch would win a state boys volleyball title.

Ultimately, what kept me going?

I had a dentist appointment the next morning. I didn’t want to be late.

Heat-induced illnesses can lead to death, often within minutes.

Heat stroke is defined by a body temperature of greater than 105.1 degrees. Symptoms include dry skin, rapid, strong pulse and dizziness.

Heat stroke is a form of hyperthermia in which the body temperature is elevated dramatically by environmental conditions. It is a medical emergency and can be fatal if not treated promptly.

Cooling (and rehydrating) the victim is critical in treatment.

Avoid becoming dehydrated and avoid vigorous physical activities in hot and humid weather to minimize heat strokes.
Even mild overheating with inadequate water or salt can lead to severe heat-induced illnesses.

Heat syncope (fainting) occurs when the body temperature climbs above 104 degrees; in young persons it is far more common than true sunstroke.

Even persons in seemingly good physical shape can succumb to heat illness.

As temperatures heat up during the upcoming summer months, it is important to monitor health patterns during activities. High temperatures and big football players, in particular, make a dangerous combination.

There are many excellent sources on the Internet on how to prevent heat-induced illnesses during summer sports activities. Feel free to Google the words “heat illness” and “high school football.”

The bottom line: Everyone has their limit.

Paul Martinez contributed to this column.

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