Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Head Net Diaries

"There usually are black flies as the snow melts," Beekeeper wrote of my upcoming section hike. Ugh! If it's one thing that will take me off trail, it's bitey bugs. A couple of years ago near White Pass, I hiked at a run clutching so called natural repellent one hand, considering quitting. Another memorable time in the interior of Alaska, my fire crew dug line in headnets, a truly awful experience. Then there were the sand flies on the long tramps of New Zealand. While I don't mind insects in general, the biting kind make a good adventure a nightmare.

In the Cascades, we passed a southbound couple, looks of anger on their faces, swathed in rain gear. Exchanging looks of puzzlement, Flash and I pressed on, soon to discover the reason. Stumbles and Hobbit, two thru hikers, approached carrying full size cans of Raid, the only repellent available at the Kracker Barrel store. "We heard the mosquitoes stop after sixteen miles," they said. I laughed; how could that be possible? But, strangely, it was. It was the same last year--northbound hikers grimly warned us that "the mosquitoes start at Yosemite." Oddly, this was true. Flash got out a pair of mosquito netting pants she had cleverly sewn, and we picked breezy campsites. We hadn't seen any mosquitoes until we crossed the park boundary.

I feel like I am good at most backcountry travel. But it's hard to prepare for a cloud of whining mosquitoes, except to just go. Some people treat their clothes with permethrin, but I'm not crazy about the idea. It's highly toxic to fish and wildlife and also cats are sensitive to it. Since I live in a tiny house, there's hardly any way to keep my pets from my hiking clothes. Also, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has been unwilling to state whether exposure causes cancer. So, no clothes treatment for me.

Of course, deet isn't any better, although you can clean it off your skin so it isn't always present. I try to use the more natural ones, weighing the possibility of a bear smelling eucalyptus from my tent. Because the natural ones don't last long, I spray all day like a teenager in the 1980s used to spray Loves Baby Soft (Don't ask).  For camping, I climb high into the rocks. I bring a tent that I can throw up quickly instead of a fiddly hiking pole supported one.  I bring food that doesn't need cooking.  I wear lighter colors.

Reluctantly I add my head net to the to go pile. I hope I don't need it. Usually on a long hike there are two items you are glad you don't need: your first aid kit and your rescue beacon. I'm okay with three things.








15 comments:

  1. I think the actual well-done studies have shown DEET is safe enough to be a good trade-off. It's funny how we evaluate the risk of things.

    Bug repellent is about the only thing I happily buy in an aerosol can. It allows me to put on a very thin layer without getting my hands soaked, and I can do my back. But I also feel so lucky that here in Alaska we don't have to worry about disease from skeeters.

    And I've found that as I get older, I react less to the bites. It used to be a secondary reaction the next day was bad, but now I don't react much at all. They never bothered my mom much. I'd assumed it was because she had smoked for decades, but twenty years after quitting she was the same, so now I think it was her being older. Not sure if this is common!

    Tom
    Fairbanks

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    1. Hmm, an advantage to getting older? Yes! I'm sure it's okay to treat clothes also, but something about it kind of bugs me. Haha, I'm funny.

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  2. Yeah, biting insects....not a fan either. Years ago my family camped at Denali National Park during peak mosquito season. I have a photo of the four of us decked out in headnets. I also try to avoid the chemical insect repellents like Deet. But, with the mosquito-borne illnesses like West Nile virus and Zika cropping up I guess you have to weigh your risks. Good luck on your next adventure, and hope you don't need that head net!

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    1. We may get lucky! And I've managed to avoid reading about Zika, but I probably should. Darn skeeters.

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  3. I feel like mosquitos you can at least combat with a headnet and gloves (yes, I would wear gloves while doing fieldwork with the FS NCRS when the skeeters were bad), but when I worked in the UP of MI (and a few in GA) many areas had bad no-see-ums. Although they don't bite, they will crawl into your ears, eyes, mouth - and they are too small to be kept out by a headnet. And then there are the ticks. While studying in southern IL we used to count them as we pulled them off (my record was somewhere 100+ seed ticks) and then stick 'em on the wall where we had the outline of the US going... Nothing like the middle-of-the-night wake-up call by the one you missed making trails in roadless area!

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    1. I grew up in the UP so I am sadly familiar with those no see ums of which you speak. 100 ticks though? That sounds horrifying.

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    2. Sorry to report that no-see-ums do bite, as do black flies, from personal experience camping in the North. One charming thought: they inject an anti-coagulant. Head net for sure, just in case!

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  4. Oh no I've become the maker of nightmares and a couple extra ounces. A tip I recently learned if you do get bit and have crazy itching apply heat. Boil water and heat your spoon then hold on bite. Be careful not to burn self. I've tried at home by microwaving a damp washcloth. Success!

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    1. Well, it is better to be forewarned. I probably would have brought a net anyway, just being unfamiliar with the local bug population. It's good to be mentally prepared though.

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  5. That pic is hilarious, and true.

    I've become a big fan of the mosquito patches. I won't go a summer without them, and you know I live in Alaska so I have to be serious about bug stuff.

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    1. What are these patches of which you speak?

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  6. Ugh. I hate mosquitoes. Matt and I spent an entire backpacking trip north of Fairbanks (Mt. Prindle) without ever removing our head nets. They're not that bad if you wear a hat and for how small they are, it's better to have one and not need it than the other way around. :)

    Fun facts: DEET takes the waterproofing off your raincoat and if you get it on painted fingernails (I knew I was going on muddy trip so I painted them to hide the dirt), it makes the paint tacky and all kinds of junk sticks to them.

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  7. I'm horribly allergic to mosquito bites and probably wouldn't venture outdoors in the summertime if it weren't for sunscreen and DEET. I consider DEET survival gear, because I learned in my 20s that if I incur more than ~15 bites at once, I develop a fever, chills, and generally become quite sick. You just reminded me that mosquito season is coming, and now I'm bummed out. :P

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    1. But maybe not so bad where you live now? Allergic, that is pretty bad. I need to stop whining now.

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  8. Ugh, I agree they can really be a buzz kill for any outdoor adventure. Some good tips in the comments. Good luck!! I packed my DEET and headnet for Alaska!!!

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