Though you might find it hard to believe, comfort is key. There is no multi-day through-hiking Appalachian Trail style for me. Car camping is where it’s at. It is entirely possible to make a tent quite comfy with the proper gear. For me, this is not simply limited to high tech sleeping pads beneath sleeping bags. When car camping, my preference is to jerry-rig two narrow mattresses into one larger one (the better to snuggle when it’s chilly). Then, said mattresses are covered by an honest-to-goodness fitted sheet, flat sheet, and a sleeping bag opened flat if it’s chilly. Also a for-real pillow borrowed from my bed. Believe me, it’s simply grand.
A campfire on a starry night is a beautiful thing. A place to gather friends for cold beer, warm laughs, and sparkling discussions. The sounds of the night creatures are accompanied by the crackle and pop of the firewood. The sky darkens to inky velvet. A few hundred words later of rhapsodizing, you are likely wondering what the catch might be.
Bugs. That is all. Bugs.
By and large, I can tolerate them. I won’t willfully squash a spider. In fact, I’d rather set them free outside. I’m not above swatting a fly or mosquito bent on tormenting me. On the other hand, I live in New Jersey. If you live outside the state, you may very well be thinking that there can scarcely be any form of insect life short of a cockroach, given our glow-in-the-dark reputation. Residents snidely call the mosquito the State Bird. On days when the prevailing wind is from the West, enormous horse flies that bite (hard!) can be a torment at the Jersey Shore. Ocean breezes from the East push them back landward. There are, in fact areas of the state that are quite rural. The farmland areas are rife with ticks carrying Lyme disease, no matter that the disease was first noted in Lyme, CT. Of all the insect life going, these itsy critters are the ones that I just cannot tolerate.
I flat do not understand how Country singer Brad Paisley came up with the bizarre notion that a “tick check” held some sort of romance. Witness the lyrics:
I’d like to kiss you way back in the sticks I’d like to walk you through a field of wildflowers and I’d like to check you for ticks.
You have got to be kidding me. I get the idea that what he’s trying for is to get a grown up kind of fun out of searching every nook and cranny–and I do mean every one of them, even the most impolite–for ticks. I fail to see the romance.
For me, the reaction goes something like this: I went hiking with a group of friends and my dog a few weeks back. I spent a good deal of my time picking ticks off my dog. She is lucky to have very dense fur, so it was an effort for the little nasties to actually make it to her skin. I am not so lucky. I wore hiking proper clothing, but the clever little adventurers still managed to creatively find their way to diverse patches of skin. I had the creepy-crawlies, so I got to them before they latched on to me. Freeloaders. It was cold, so I actually slept in my clothes. I kept waking during the night with the sensation that “something” was walking around in my left pant leg. Try as I might I couldn’t find it. I keep reassuring myself that I was merely getting a little over-imaginative. In the morning, as I began putting myself a bit more together for the day, I discovered that this was no imaginary tick. I scrambled out of my clothes right there and then, not caring especially that my pals were dying laughing as I hopped about like a frog on amphetamines in my haste to disrobe and be rid of the all-too-real critter and any of his buddies he might have invited along for the feast. I did not care who saw me in my undies at that stage.
Over the next few days, I lived in a sort of haze of imaginary ticks. They woke me from sleep, pestered me over lunch, and interrupted my thoughts at the most inopportune times. I didn’t find any more after returning home, but it didn’t stop the continual crawling sensations. Just as the experience was wearing off, I went out to the backyard for a tool from the shed. A short while after returning indoors I felt the incipient stages of being walked upon once more. I ignored it for a while, certain it was my mind playing tricks on me again. Eventually, mind conquered matter. I became absorbed in my task until I absent-mindedly scratched the itch on my right knee. Discovering something distinctly not imaginary, I shrieked, jumped out of my chair, and squished that tick into oblivion where he belonged. With that commenced a paranoic, hallucinogenic frenzy of tick scratching that bordered on a psychotic episode.
My better half, alerted to some mishap by my panicked yelps, arrived on the scene. Did he help soothe my now-shattered nerves? Quite the opposite. He had a fair amount of trouble just trying to keep a grin from stealing across his face. Exactly where, may I ask, is the romance in these blasted ticks?