A truly fabulous benefit of living in the high desert is: no mosquitoes!! I am one of those folks who are attractive to the little monsters, so I have always had to be careful not to go out at dawn or dusk, and to tuck my pants into my socks if I do, as well as dab myself with citronella oil, though the oil makes me as nauseous as mosquito bites do. In the desert, though, I have had much more freedom, going outside at any time of night or day.
For some reason, the other day I ended up with a bunch of insect bites on my legs. They seem to be non-poisonous spider bites, but even though the bites aren’t noxious, they itch like crazy, and none of my usual panaceas seem to work. (A Mary Kay dealer suggested using a face mask on new bites because the mask pulls out the excretions, but by the time I heard her suggestion, the bites were a couple of days old.)
These bites reminded me of the dreaded mosquito situation, and their prevalence on various trails, along with ticks. Oh, my.
Everything I have read about long hikes lead me to believe that while the benefits might outweigh the drawbacks, there is a lot of torture associated with such a lifestyle. I am so not into torture, so a lot of my research is about how to eliminate the pain without eliminating the benefits of the experience. (I am not one of those who subscribes to the rather ludicrous philosophy of “no pain, no gain.” What’s wrong with “gain, no pain?”)
In books and even online, people are always blasé about mosquito bites, but the insects are dangerous disease-bearing creatures, and for people who seem especially sensitive to the toxin, they are to be avoided at all costs. Hence today’s research in how to avoid mosquito bites.
Some of the best advice is what I have always followed: stay inside. But that advice is counter to the idea of a hike. Other suggestions stay away from water and stay away from trees. As far as I can see, if one goes for a walk in the woods, it’s hard to stay away from trees. And water seems to be a necessity of life. (I haven’t yet tested this theory. I’ll take the experts’s word for it.) Most important: stay cool and avoid exercise. Is it possible to hike without moving? Something to ponder.
I could follow the dictate to wear white and bright colors since black and dark colors attract the pests, but I have done so with little to no effect.
There are mosquito repellants, of course, though the directions on all the repellants say not to use for extended periods of time and to wash it off as soon as you go inside. But what if you don’t go inside but have to stay outside? And what if there isn’t a way to wash? Minty teas are supposed to help, as does (it is rumored) Skin-so-Soft by Avon. (These repellants work by changing one’s smell.) It’s possible to treat clothes with insect repellant, and to wear various mosquito-net hats, gloves, etc. There are even mosquito net full body suits. Would I wear them? I don’t think so. Just more gear to carry around, and besides, the point is to connect with the world, not to walk around in some sort of see-through Michelin man suit.
Winter hiking is a possibility, especially considering the problems of excessive heat in the summer along with the need to carry a huge amount of water, but winter hiking brings its own problems. I mean, it’s winter!!
When one thinks of walking and hiking, the dangers that are so often mentioned are bears, mountain lions, and other wild creatures. But bugs are my bugaboo. Don’t get me wrong. I like insects and don’t kill them (I always trap them and take them outside so they can come in again and be retrapped). But I draw the line at being eaten.
Note: a bugaboo is something that makes people worried or upset, and is akin to bogey as in bogeyman, coming from a Welsh word meaning “ghost.” Or maybe it is more African in origin, from words meaning “bug.” Any time such a dichotomy exists, I tend to believe in an earlier origin, one that encompasses both meanings.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.