Strap in! This is a horror story like no other! It comes to you from the PCT, it comes to you from the year 2017, and it comes to you from this disheveled hiker that we met along the way. It began as all trail stories begin. Sitting around food at a campsite talking to a fellow thru-hiker. Trading stories about the beauty of trail, trading stories about who and where each of us has come from literally and figuratively, and our favorite trading the stories that capture the mind the most, the stories of when it all went wrong. To this day we wish we remembered her name, she was an incredibly strong hiker and woman, but our paths only met for a night and then again diverged into her going Southbound and us Northbound. This is a story of danger, a story of luck, a story of creepy crawlers, and a story that has lodged itself into our head and every so often we will get a shiver as we vividly relive it. As we write this a tingle has begun in the back of our spine and slowly worked its way up the length of our back to our heads, just as spiders upon your body would. Give us a minute as we strip and just do a quick security check to make sure that it is not actually thousands of spiders crawling over us!
Give us miles of mud any day! Literally... Endless Mud Preferred!
Okay, our clothes are back on and we can happily say there were no spiders, yet the feeling remains. We have a deep seated irrational fear instilled in us and respect for spiders. We have heard horror stories over and over again and have even experienced a few of our own. One actually being on this same trail system when a spider bite left a crater of rotten flesh in our leg, to this day that we remember as a scar upon our bodies and minds. We never felt it bite, but noticed the next day as inflammation the radius of a softball and the thickness of a few inches raised itself on our thigh. We believed it must have been an allergic reaction, until it continued to grow outward and then eventually eat itself inward to our leg, at that point we knew it must have been a poisonous bite. Yet, this is a story for another time, we just wanted to set the stage for why spider stories are our nemesis, and our skin crawls as we relive this for you.
Before we dig into our ramen as we did when we were told this story, let us set the stage for you. The year of 2017 had many fires along the PCT. Many hikers had to re-route or do road walks around sections. Yet, many other hikers were in the sections before they were closed and their only way out was forward. We experienced this as well, yet not to the degree and closeness that the original storyteller did. She was literally only miles ahead of a fire, was incredibly lucky she was "quicker" and the burn pattern did not continue straight towards her. Yet, being this close to a fire brings about many scary moments, spiders being included.
She woke up one morning around 3-4 A.M. and believed it was snowing outside. Her tent had a thickness around its fly, and as she tapped her tent it appeared snow would fall to the ground. It was dark and she was puzzled because while not being warm outside, it was not frigid weather that brings about snow. Then as her mind began to wake along with her body the first sign of the wrongness of this situation assaulted her nostrils. It smelled of smoke, it smelled of death, it smelled of fire. Putting her headlamp on an assumption and fearful realization began to hit her before she even stuck her head outside the tent, to take stock of the situation around her. As the light shone back upon her tent and the world around her, the fear that had been growing inside, took upon a stark reality. The "snow" that had been raining down upon her tent was forest fire snow, or ash. We can only imagine the emotions that rolled through her at this moment, but the overriding and most important one being, she needed to move!
That is not snow.... blanketed in ash!
Packing all her belongings in the early morning dark as ash rained down upon her, she was frightened. Rightfully so. When she safely got out of this section and spoke to a Forest Ranger, they said that in itself was a sign, an obvious one, that you are unsafely close to a fire. So, all her belongings were packed in the dark, and she began a hard push forward and away from the fire that burned behind her and around her. Yet, in this rush she did not put her pants on in which she usually hiked. Instead she had grabbed the closest article of clothing and put on her hiking shorts. As she began to hike away from her campsite of death and ash, she began to feel a "breeze" upon her legs. Her mind was set on getting away from the fire and getting miles underneath her feet so she chalked it up to being early morning and being unused to shorts to feel the wind upon her bare skin. Yet, the feeling persisted even when there was no breeze throughout the trees. She still was in the go mentality so she again chalked it up to a rational response believing it must be the elephant grass that was abundant in this section. If you do not know elephant grass is thick vegetation that can grow quite high and when wading through can feel light and like a breath upon your skin. So, it was another rational response to an already scary situation.
Yet, as the feeling persisted for hours, she began to realize something was amiss. As the light began to bathe the world her sight began to become stronger. Her feeling of safety also began to grow, because the ash density was beginning to thin. Now that she was "safe" it was time to take stock of this weird persisting feeling. Stopping for the first time in hours, she glanced down to her legs. At first she believed it was ash that had consolidated and grouped over her exposed skin...until she saw that all the black dots were moving! Not knowing if this was a trick of the light or her adrenalized brain in panic she paused, took a breath, and could not wrap her mind around the scenario that was about to unfold. As she inspected closer she now realized that the "breeze" and the elephant grass upon her skin for the last few miles were in fact thousands of tiny spiders crawling upon her body! Let us re-iterate this moment. THOUSANDS OF SPIDERS of all shapes and sizes! Can you imagine? Our teeth itch, our skin is crawling, shivers our racking our body, we are going to have to take another minute to collect ourselves.
You have no idea how much it hurt us to include this picture...
but we had to give you a reference!
Okay, let us continue forward in fear. As her mind balked at the idea of this being real it took her a few moments to process this information. She stood still as the spiders continued their journey up her body and legs in astonishment. Then the dam broke. She ran. She ran and swatted her legs, brushed them against trees, tore at the piles of spiders crawling everywhere, she rightfully so freaked out. She did not tell us if she screamed, but our hearts are screaming even retelling this so we cannot imagine some sound not escaping her mouth. The sheer horror of this situation haunts us every moment of every day, it is unfathomable!
She then told us as we were already shivering and knowing it was going to be a sleepless night that she continued to find spiders in her clothes, on her body, in her pack, in her tent, in all of her gear, in her hair, in her shoes, absolutely everywhere for the rest of the day. Every time she believed she had found them all another would appear somewhere upon her body. For hours! At this point was she more hiker or more spider? What was the ratio? Well, no please don't tell us it already haunts us we do not need a number to define it. Throughout this entire storytelling she told it calmly... calmly! We are swatting imaginary spiders as we speak, we cannot imagine having just gone through this and calmly sitting telling this story. We would be swatting imaginary spiders for the rest of our lives!
So, why did all the spiders crawl on her? Again this knowledge came to her from speaking to the Ranger when she had safely exited this section. It is one of the first signs that you are way to close to a forest fire. Spiders are smart enough...that in itself is beyond a scary fact... that they will climb anything to get to higher ground when a forest fire is approaching. In this from they chose her, they chose to climb a hiker. If there is not already enough reason like death, suffocation and destruction to stay away from forest fires well here is another great reason!