Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Ten Thousand Ticks and Maybe More

Well, can't say they didn't warn us.

I’m sure you’ve all been waiting with bated breath, hanging off the edge of your chairs by the skin of your teeth, for this blog that chronicles the exciting events of Zach’s and my 13-mile hike at Giant City State Park!

No? Oh well, I’m going to tell you about it anyway. (Read Part One here.)

After Zach and I camped the night, we crawled out of our tent into a “misty, moisty morning.” A blanket of gray clouds smothered the sky, making us wonder if the promised thunderstorms would come. Everything was still wet from the rain the night before. 

We packed up the tent and tossed a couple water bottles, some trail mix and PBJ sandwiches, and a two-liter of water into my spiffy new backpack, which I was eager to try out. (My verdict at the end of the day was overwhelmingly positive: it felt less like I was carrying a backpack and more like I had just gained 20 pounds of fat on my back.) Then we were off to the Red Cedar Trail, despite the campground host’s warning of rugged conditions and ticks.

The trail ran through typical Midwestern forest: youngish maples, oaks, and other hardwoods with lots of underbrush on rugged, boulder-strewn ground (there were never any cedars, incidentally). The trail was a bit rocky, but easy to follow— at first. It didn’t take long before it delved into thick undergrowth, and we soaked the fronts of our pants wading through the rain-soaked foliage. Still, the sun came out and a cool breeze rustled through the forest, making a pleasant hike despite our struggling.

We crossed some pretty streams on our path, which ran over beds of sandstone.

The trail also ran alongside several picturesque fields.

I look at these photos and remember that the trail was pretty. I have to remind myself because most of the experience on the trail was pretty awful. It wasn’t just that we were fighting through underbrush or wading through waist-high grass the entire time. It wasn’t just that the trail took an unmarked turn every few minutes that had us hunting a 100-yard radius in search of a blaze. It wasn’t even the fact that we missed a turn and trudged down a mile-long detour in armpit-deep grass.

See the trail? Yeah, me neither.
It was the ticks.

We were about four hours into the hike when we noticed them. At first we just found a stray one here or there, crawling on our pant legs or arms. We flicked them off and continued hiking. Then we started to notice they were showing up more and more. Then I pulled up my pant legs to check my ankles, and found a family of ticks camping out in my leg hair. I squawked and plucked them off, tossing them into the grass. 

With growing horror over the next hour, we discovered that the grass and underbrush we were wading through was swarming with these little bloodsuckers. And when I say “swarming,” I’m not exaggerating. There was a plague of them in those woods. For the final three hours of the hike, Zach and I stopped literally ever 100 yards to pluck a dozen ticks off our pants and ankles. We did a more thorough search every 40 minutes or so, where we pulled them off our kneepits, necks, and underwear lines. We’d walk and I’d see three huge ticks latch onto Zach’s pants as he walked in front of me and swarm up his legs at an alarming rate. Sometimes I asked him if he wanted to stop for a break, and he’d say, “No, let’s just get out of here!” 

The trail became a breathless nightmare, excruciatingly slow because of the tick-plucking rest stops. I began getting phantom tickles all over my body, making me jerk and scratch and freak out at anything that looked remotely tick-sized.

When at last we stumbled up to the end of the trail, I was covered in rashes and scratches, hot and breathless, still picking ticks off my legs. I wondered how humans had managed to survive on planet earth this long. Still, it was a good opportunity to ham it up for a few photos.

Zach and I both took long showers, and I picked off six tiny red ticks that had attached to my ankles. On the drive home, I found two more crawling around, and when I got home, I picked off another one. Do you ever want to become hyper-aware of every sunspot and mole on your body? Then hike in tick-infested woods for seven hours.

On the way home, Zach and I agreed that we would not be hiking the Red Cedar Trail again. But I said, “This is going to be an awesome blog.”


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