I am not easily grossed out. Bugs usually don’t bother me, though I have been known to threaten mosquitos with Deet and don mosquito net hats (not as fashionable as you think) while trekking in Lapland. I grew up with cockroaches – yucky, yes, but once you resolve that there is no eradicating the being that will outlive us all, they’re kinda cute. I spent about two years of my life nurturing water fleas (for the sake of science), but they’re pretty cute too.
But show me a tick, and watch me do a variation of the I’ve-Gotta-Pee and Ants-In-My-Pants-Discombobulated dance.
Up until Thursday, I had only seen a lot of ticks when rangers swept grasses with white cloths, looking for them. I’d only really found a single tick at a time, on jeans or socks, at water breaks during multi-hour hikes.
Thursday took the cake. After hiking in less than ¼ mile, staying on the trail but with tall grass on both sides, I found tick #1 climbing up my pant leg. After tucking everyone’s pant legs in their socks, we immediately retreated, kids already complaining about snack time being postponed longer. Ticks 2 and 3 were found as we settled down for our snack, on a sock and a bit of hair. Ticks 4 and 5 were found 2 hours later, after Max had claimed I was tick-free (never trust a 4-year-old with precise observation, even when such observation is frankly obvious – these ticks were big and much browner than my fair skin).
They weren’t biting, which is great, but they still give me the willies.
We identified the ticks as Brown Dog Ticks, which thankfully are not associated with Lyme Disease (this is associated with the Deer Tick). Studies within the last decade have indicated that antibiotics taken within 72 hours of a bite may prevent infection, so I’ll be phoning my doctor tomorrow, just in case. I’m not one to take antibiotics lightly, but in this case, I’d rather be safe than sorry.
So what about hiking? Am I giving it up? Have the little critters scared me off?
No. If nothing else, I’m a little more informed now – my experience forced me to learn about ticks – that they can take up to three years to complete their life cycles, that they feed infrequently, how they hitch rides on unwilling hosts (think flying trapeze artist with front legs outstretched, waiting to grab ahold of a host), that they persist during the winter in leaf litter, and how the ranges of some species (and subsequent diseases) vary. Want to know more? The University of Rhode Island has a lovely site: http://www.tickencounter.org/ – I even contributed to their data collection by logging my ticks there.
I feel empowered. Itchy from paranoia, but empowered. I’ll be on a hike tomorrow morning, spritzing my clothes with Skin-So-Soft to deter ticks (I love my Avon-selling neighbor), scanning the grasses for them, keeping to the trail, and checking myself and my kids over for hitchhikers for sure (and tossing our clothes in the drier for an hour afterward, to kill any hiders), but I refuse to be scared by the wilderness. After all, Max isn’t fazed, even after my ridiculous freak-out dance, and he wants to hike and backpack this weekend (Max, with his backpacking gear, all set to go, below).
-Debbie, little Max, and wee Holly