Hikers by definition and by experience are very peaceful people. A hiker is travelling through land that they respect. They respect the animals around them. They respect the other hikers around them. Hikers even tend to go above and beyond to make sure other's are comfortable in any interaction. Yet, every hiker has a dark side, and every hiker has a universal enemy, that they detest with every fiber of their being. Hate is a very strong word and one we never like to use, but we have not met a hiker that does not hate this enemy. The saying goes, "keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.." Well hikers have taken this saying to heart with our universal enemy. There is not anything closer than a razor like needle going into your skin and sucking the blood and the essence and even sometimes the soul out of you. Yes, every hikers universal enemy is the Mosquito! Even while typing this out, we just had a flashback and heard a mosquito buzzing around our head looking to dive bomb any exposed piece of flesh to feast upon, we will be back after we fumigate our office...
Honestly, it feels like this is a fairly accurate representation of what a mosquito thinks when they see a hiker walk by...
Okay, we are back! The Mosquito! We use a singular name to define these little terrors that in fact our thousands upon thousands. It should be MOSQUITOS! When any hiker is preparing for a thru-hike, there may be small measures taken to avoid bears, such as bear spray. There may be preparations to mitigate encounters with other dangerous wildlife. Yet, for the most part this is vey minimal, and not a worry of many hikers. What takes up so much time, and so much brain space, is knowing for a fact that you will encounter these destructive insects, and encounter them in ferocious numbers. Do you have enough bug-spray? Do you have mosquito netting? Does Bug-Spray even work?!? It is a sad realization that occurs every hike, that no matter what you do the mosquitoes will find you, and they will terrorize your body and soul.
So, why do hikers detest and dare say it, even hate, these insects so much? Well, depending upon the season and depending upon the terrain, these insects can make a great hiking day a nightmare! They do not just affect the hiking aspect of a day either. They affect break spots, the affect the campsite at night, and they affect the campsite in the morning. They are a regularity ALL DAY, when you encounter an especially thick area, there is no reprieve. Somehow these little ingenious terrors have even evolved and found ways to bite through, covered skin. So no matter, what you do they will take their pound of flesh in any given day. When we say pound of flesh, we do mean it figuratively, but sadly enough also sometimes literally...
You may see this sign on many mosquito prevention techniques, sadly it is always false advertising...
To paint a picture for you, we will let you experience a day with us. This story comes to you from the Wind River Range, in Wyoming. When we set up camp the night before, we knew we were in store for a ferocious day the next day. We could not get into our tent fast enough, we had broken an invisible threshold of the mosquitoes territory at some point, and now they swarmed us. Putting up our tent, our hands were busy with constructing our shelter, so they feasted upon our shoulders, legs, face, ears, and every part of our body. When we finally, crawled weeping into our thin invisible mosquito net barrier, our body began to swell with mosquito bites. Ignoring those for the time being, we looked outside and listened to their numbers continue to grow. Why was our mosquito netting getting darker? The sun was not going down... It was from the sheer number of mosquitoes that wanted to get a taste of the yummy hiker! We were first to camp that night, and as we itched and scratched our fresh bites, we saw our first trail family member burst into the clearing. You could tell they had been fighting this losing battle for a few hours now. You could hear cusses escape them as they moved quickly over the land. When they spotted us, they let out a sigh of relief, knowing it was time to set up. As we watched them and traded profanities with them as they set up, we could only feel their pain as ours, because we had been there a few minutes ago. It was brutal to watch, as they were eviscerated by such a tiny insect. Yet, this tiny insect looked as if it was a cloud, do to the sheer numbers. This pattern continued into our entire trail family was in camp, and we wept together into a slumber that night, knowing the next day was going to be a test.
All throughout the night, the mosquitoes never relented their attack. They hovered, buzzed, and attacked the mesh looking for any weakness. If they only knew, eventually we would come to them, they could have saved the energy. As we broke camp that morning, every orifice of our face was filled with mosquitoes. We tasted them, smelled them, and heard them rattle in our ear canal. Only thing to do was try and run them out, so we attacked the trail. No matter the elevation, no matter the twists and turns, no matter the pace, they would hover above our heads. As soon as we stopped they would begin their feast. Okay, then so no stopping, eventually they would tire before us... That would not be. All day, every single time we had to stop to drink water, or wait for our friends, a 5 minute break that should have been pleasant turned into a living hell. We had entered their domain, where the APEX predator was a swarm of mosquitoes.
All this little black dots you see.. all mosquitoes on the rain-fly of a tent. Pray for these poor people's souls who stepped out into this... (HINT: It was our souls, and they are still broken, but we do appreciate the comfort in crying together!)
The physical energy spent during a consistent day of outrunning is immense. Yet, the mental energy spent is incalculable. Thoughts become a distant blur. The only thing on the mind is trying to find freedom from this pain. You hold onto a false hope, that as you had passed an invisible barrier into their domain, you will pass the invisible barrier leading out of their domain, yet it never comes. You pray that the next climb, next mountain, or next valley will give you a break. You pray to every and any deity that there is, hoping anyone will hear you, as long as it is not the mosquitoes! Then your dreams of peace are shattered over and over again, until your mental energy is a puddle of emotions swirling around within you. In this puddle there is sadness, anger, and a tiny bit of hope. If you lose the hope, you will become a swarm of mosquitoes itself, as they suck all the essence out of you and all that is left is what they have morphed you into, themselves. We believe the rumors of these areas, that when a hiker gives up, a new swarm of mosquitoes is created from their destroyed soul. We have been very close to this edge many times, but will never give in!
When you finally arrive at camp after a stressful day, there is no relaxing and enjoying the land around you. Instantly you set up your shelter, and cannot crawl in quick enough. Gone is the jokes around dinner, replaced with separate whimpers and murmurers traded between tents. Gone are the moments when you get to tell each other about your experience that day, instead replaced with a universal experience of pain. Gone are all thoughts, hope, and love, all that remains is pain.
Do not give the mosquitoes the satisfaction! Be strong! Show no pain to their swarm!
We have tried every technique known to mitigate these vicious devils. We have tried bug-spray (NEVER WORKS THERE ARE TOO MANY!), we have tried layering (NEVER WORKS THEY FIND A WAY THROUGH) and one time we even tried acceptance. One especially brutal day, we sat upon a rock and waited for our friends, not separate from the swarm, but very much within the swarm. We meditated as a wise-old man would, and repeated a mantra of "We get to choose our emotions, not the mosquitoes!" When our friends arrived, we were covered head to toe, and they exclaimed with amazement and frankly fear to make sure we were alive. We were, but just barely. We had found a place deep within ourselves, that drowned out much of the mosquitoes pain, yet deep within that place, there was a buzz? As we focused in on that buzz, it amplified to multiple resounding buzzes. Until we had lost our inner strength and realized we were being feasted upon by thousands of mosquitoes! All meditation went out the window as we realized, while being a fun joke that the mosquitoes were not bothering us, we had lost an insane amount of blood and our skin was one giant rash. Quite stupid. We believed we could become one with the swarm and they would accept us, but now we realize the only way to become one with the swarm is to completely lose yourself, and we are not ready for that yet!
Every hiker we know has a horror story or two of mosquitoes. Every long distance hiker we know that chooses this as their lifestyle has endless horror stories about mosquitos. Until we can thru-hike on the moon, they are going to be a constant. Even then, we have every assumption and belief that somehow these little devils would adapt to space, and become a norm of moon hikes.
It is peaceful for now... Yet if you look deep into the space, you see the mosquito migration has already begun!
As you can tell we have many emotions around mosquitoes, none of them good. We have tried to ignore them, we have tried to accept them, we have tried to fight them, nothing works. They are the consistent enemy of every hiker. No matter how Zen you are, the mosquitoes will shatter your existence! They cannot be stopped, they cannot be controlled, they cannot be conquered, they cannot be made friends with, they can only be recognized as what they truly are: a Hikers Enemy! The saying goes, "keep your friends close, and your enemies closer." Well then, as you can see every hiker has embraced this creed to the max. The mosquitoes are part of us, and we can never be a part of them, but they will always continue to take pieces of us, every hike. Good luck!
With a buzzing around our heads, and a skin rash from writing this article