I am more afraid of ticks than bears

May 29, 2012 § 4 Comments

I recently discovered that I am more afraid of ticks than bears. As FDR said, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself…and some arachnids.

When you type “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” into Google image search, the first batch of images are t-shirts and cartoon pictures of FDR’s face that read “The only thing we have to fear is FEAR ITSELF…and spiders.” I’d substitute “ticks” for “spiders,” but my best friend S is mad arachnophobic, so let’s just say arachnids are no picnic in general (and yes, ticks are arachnids–at least according to Wikipedia. I checked.)
You can buy this t-shirt at zazzle.com and wear it to your next AA (Arachnophobics Anonymous) meeting.

My mom and aunt came to visit me in Virginia for a week earlier this month, after I finished my first round of grad school finals (Woo hoo! Now my stress is adult!)., and we spent a few days hiking and nature-ing around. One afternoon we were in Shenandoah National Park. We’d already done a fairly strenuous hike (at least to our legs, which were tired from basically climbing a mountain the day before) in the morning/early afternoon, so for our second hike of the day we wanted something short and manageable. Just a few miles. And FLAT.

We ended up on a trail that was less than 2-miles roundtrip–ostensibly very manageable–but that, despite the guidebook’s difficulty rating of “easy,” was all uphill. Through the grass. And weeds. And various other flora. Now, for a while this was quite lovely–tons of bluets and little white flowers and butterflies up the wazoo–until my mom mentioned ticks. She’d read about them in some of our guide literature to the park and another hiker we’d talked to earlier that day had warned her that the area we were in had tons of ticks and that they were particularly prevalent in this type of weather. I don’t know anything about ticks’ weather preferences, but I do know Ew! Ick! Oh my gods get it AWAY from me!!! 

Now, I’m not a particularly scaredy person when it comes to bugs. I find silver-fish terrifying for some reason (loved that recent episode of Up All Night that had Maya Rudolph calling Will Arnett, her best friend’s husband, to come kill a silverfish in her house), and I hate things with lots of legs (like centipedes, shudder), but I deal with even these fine. Spiders don’t especially bother me, or I’ve at least learned to be strong because my best friend S is terrified of them and someone needs to get the things out of the house. Also, since the warm weather started, these ants have shown up in my house here in Virginia and these suckers are like half an inch long. Since I’m used to California ants you practically look at through a microscope, the size of these Giant Ant Beings does make them seem like some kind of demon ants, but I still squish them with my bare fingers no problem. Point: I’m not usually too squeamish.

However, I hate anything that bites. Mosquitos $%*&ing love me for some reason; if there are mosquitos out, I will always get bit. If I’m with my family, usually I’ll have as many bites as the three of them combined, or more. It’s like I’m the Bella Swan to these bitches’ Edward Cullen: I’ve never smelled blood like yours in all my liiiiife.

My body is really sensitive, so as soon as an insect bites me, the area around the bite will turn red and swell up and itch like mad, like normal people’s mosquito bites on steroids (remember the whole steroids-gave-Barry-Bonds-bobble-head-proportions thing? Your mosquito bites are a normal head; mine are Barry Bonds’ head, post ‘roids.) After a few days, the swelling will go down and the general redness will darken to a patchy purple that looks like a cross between a bruise and a really strange, abstract tattoo. Recently, I was sitting at a friend’s place with my legs propped up on something when he pointed to my outstretched calf and said, “Oh, you have a birthmark on your leg!” Nope. No I do not. That is a mosquito bite from two days ago; it only looks like there’s a hickey on my leg.

Oh! And when I was like ten I got bit by a bunch of stone flies while I was in Florida on vacation and the bites swelled up so intensely it looked like I had half a softball shoved under my skin every place I’d been bitten. They itched like mad and it was about 100 degrees with approximately 500% humidity, so I was miserable (which probably means my family was miserable too–sorry, family, usually you’re okay as long as you keep me fed). That may be the most uncomfortable I’ve ever been in my life. I’ve been in more pain, but in terms of pure discomfort–ugh.

Suffice it to say I don’t like to have any kind of biting insect or arachnid anywhere near my skin, and something that fucking burrows into your flesh? When is the next plane/train/bus/camel out of this hellscape?

Also, I had a friend in college who got lyme disease and that shit is no joke. She had to take our sophomore year off and when she came back, she walked with a gorram cane. Stay the fuck away from ticks.

So we’re hiking. Then my mom mentions ticks. I get a little nervous but am distracted by the fact that the trail is still going uphill and only getting more overgrown and this is not what I signed up for. If this is going to be an Amazon-style adventure, I would like to know in advance so that I am emotionally prepared–and armed with a machete. But anyway, ticks are mentioned and it’s like the foreshadowing in a movie: dun dun dunnn!! If this is an arty drama, you know someone is going to die from lyme disease in the next 45 minutes. I don’t want to be that person.

The ominous music ratchets up when my mom notices a tick on my aunt’s pants. My aunt is totally calm (probs cause my mom is freaking out a tad bit) and able to pick the tick off with a stick, but it takes her a minute because the thing is clamped on for dear life–the way it wanted to be clamped onto her flesh. Oh my gods AAAHH!

Cue the footage of me running. I basically ran for the next mile or so.

Luckily we’d finally reached the downhill portion of the trail, and I took that opportunity to run like the wind, Bullseye. Whilst running I also would shake my arms and legs in what looked like the Hokey Pokey crossed with sheer panic. Or maybe some kind of seizure-related spasm. Regardless, I left my mom and aunt to fend for their own damn selves and hightailed it the fuck out of there, not stopping until I reached the ocean of asphalt that made up the rest stop parking lot, where we’d left our car. Praise Jesus. I never knew I could be so grateful to see a football field’s worth of asphalt. Sometimes they pave paradise to get me the fuck away from ticks.

So now I’m in the parking lot. I run to our car, but as my mom had been driving and it was her rental SUV, not my Acura, I didn’t have the keys. Luckily, Mom wasn’t far behind me because I’d started peeling off my clothes for the benefit of some deer and a trucker fueling his semi across the parking lot. She clicked the SUV open and I sat down on the open back, taking off my shoes and socks and rolling my yoga pants up to my thighs, turning everything inside out and feeling all surfaces to check for ticks. I also stripped off my REI fleece hoodie and a long-sleeved Stanford-emblazoned shirt (basically all my clothing that is vaguely workout apparel says Stanford on it somewhere–when I’m going to the gym I feel like an admissions brochure), so that I was standing in my untied hiking boots–newly verified to be tick free–and a sports bra, pants rolled up past my knees. A some point my mom or someone pointed out that there were bathrooms fifty or so yards away–and that there were strangers next to a car not thirty yards away that were staring at me–so I took that opportunity to 1) pee and 2) make sure every last inch of my body was tick-free beyond the prying eyes of truckers and tourists.

Even though I’d checked my every bodily surface, I still felt like things were crawling on me–ick ick ick–but by the time I returned from the bathroom I felt mostly better.

My mom and aunt verified their own tick-free status–in a much more sedate manner–and we got back in the car. We decided to drive the 50 or so miles to the southern end of the Shenandoah National Park, as the sun was going down and we could watch the sunset from various lookouts and just generally scope things out. I was amenable to this idea, especially once separated from the tick-laden grasses and presented with a bag of dried apple slices. Thus, we drove.

We stopped ten minutes or so later to watch the sun sink below the Blue Ridge Mountains, and yeah, it was pretty spectacular. All three of us we in a good mood once we’d recommenced the drive, so long as my aunt stayed away from grasses and foliage when we stopped at overlooks. She’s a birder and is more interested in getting a picture of or getting a good look at some interesting bird than she is in preventing ticks from clinging to her clothes and entering our tick-free-car-sanctuary–or god/dess forbid, my house. If you bring a tick into my house I will end your life. Unless you are a cute dog, in which case I will help get the tick off you with the tweezers and match and whatnot, but I will say “Ew! Ew! Ew!” the whole time and probably wear rubber dishwashing gloves. This is why I need a real rather than imaginary boyfriend (sorry, Darren Criss) or girlfriend (Lindsay…): so someone else can deal with ticks and I don’t have to!

My mom, aunt, and I managed, however, to return to our SUV asylum without bringing any tiny, horrifying passengers with us. After the sun had set, we set off to finish the last stretch of park before we totally lost the light, and after driving for maybe twenty minutes, we saw something a hundred or so yards ahead of us in the road. It was dark and appeared to be an animal, and then holy hellfires it’s a BEAR. 

No, it’s two bears! It’s a mama bear and a cub!! OH MY GODS STOP THE CAR!!!

My mom hit the brakes car and we inched toward them, staring agog through the windshield (or at least I was agog, mouth open–potentially with high pitched screeches of “It’s a baby bear!!” emanating from it). As we got closer my aunt recovered her senses a bit and was like, “Sweet fuck, BACK UP!” so my mom did so, eventually turning around, pulling off to the side of the road, and stopping the car. My aunt, apparently having used up all of her good sense in the “Back up!” moment, threw open her side door and jumped out with her camera, quiet-running (you know, when you pick up your feet really quickly and look like cartoon mouse Jerry trying not to wake a sleeping Tom) toward the bears. My mom, excited/panicked, whisper-yelled to her to be careful.

Not one to jump off bridges, I would, however, apparently have to say “Yes” to the question “If all your friends ran toward a bear, would you run too?” because I also jumped out of the car and walked/quiet-ran towards my aunt and the bears.

(We were at least 50 yards from them at our closest. We’re not complete morons. Only partial morons.)

My aunt had climbed a bit up the hill at the side of the road to get a better angle on the bears in hopes of seeing them and taking their picture. At some point in all this we realized that there was a mother and not one but two bear cubsHyperventilating with excitement/cuteness overload.

I wanted to see the bears as well as possible, not ever having even glimpsed a bear outside of a zoo, but I also did not want to get mauled/killed/eaten/etc. I knew I shouldn’t get any closer on the road, where the bears still sat, so my only choice was to climb the hill where my aunt was and hope for a better view.

I glanced over at my aunt and saw her standing in knee-high grass snapping photos. Grass = ticks = over my dead body. Evidently I take this last part seriously: since I couldn’t go up the hill, I took a step forward on the road, closer to the bears.

At this point my mom, still manning the car and staying prepared to warn any potential oncoming traffic, whisper-screamed at me, “Do. Not. Get. Any. Closer. Moron.” (The “moron” was implied.)

My body halted and my brain did a quick reality check: in hopes of getting a better view of some wildlife that could eat me, I was more willing to approach bears than to risk getting a tick on me.

Bear, tick. Bear, tick. Potentially angry mother bear desperate to protect her cubs, tick. Apparently, the answer was  “potentially angry bear” because there was no way I was getting anyway near that grass.

I conceded the backwards-ness of this preference. I backed up. A little. And stared open-jawed a bit more before the bears began to walk down the hill on the opposite side of the road and my mom whisper-screamed at us to get our asses back in the car.

Not a half-hour later we saw another mama bear and baby amongst the trees and brush at the roadside. Though we turned the car around once again to get a better look, this time we watched from the (relative) safety of our SUV.

Come to think of it, the SUV was probably a safer bet all along. Faced with plastic and metal and doors, those ticks didn’t stand a chance. They may have pinchers that grab on like a motherfucker, but they don’t have any opposable thumbs.

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