You can hear them sometimes before you see them. The incessant buzz rings in my ears even as I try to fall asleep. We’ve entered Oregon, where every other comment on our FarOut map app mentions “mosquito hell.”
Journey Man and I don our head nets, an unfashionable yet effective piece of gear that keeps the pests out of my eyes and ears. At least I don’t have to swat them away as I attempt to hike through them. When we get to camp, it’s a daily race to set up the tent as fast as we can. Our second challenge is to get all our gear into the tent without letting any mosquitos in. The ones that enter are then promptly squashed and eradicated from our safe haven.
The enemy is relentless, surrounding us on all sides of our tent. It’s like they know we have to exit in order to make dinner. We put on rain pants, importantly made with an impenetrable fabric. We dive out of the tent and boil water as quickly as we can, stir in our dehydrated meals, and reenter our haven. Two to five more minutes are spent clapping the life out of any more infiltrators before at last enjoying our hot meals.
In the morning, we pack up as quickly as we can and start the day with a climb. I’m once again wearing my rain gear and head net to keep the bugs at bay. The trade off of wearing rain gear to avoid bug bites is that I sweat buckets in the non-breathable fabric. We don’t stop for breaks because we fear the swarm that would descend upon us.
Unfortunately for me, my breakfast coffee kicks in and I know I don’t have much time. Journey Man conveys that he too needs to dig a cat hole, so we drop our packs and dash into the forest. I dig a hole as fast as I can while I strategize how to do my business and get the least amount of bites possible. Journey Man told me that someone told him that mosquitos are attracted to the CO2 that we exhale. I’ll hold my breath, I think to myself. I take one deep breath, but it’s all in vain as I struggle to peel my rain pants off my sweaty legs and my gloves from my sweaty fingers. I’m breathing heavily by the time my pants are around my ankles and I accept defeat, except I’m waving my hands around my body instead of a white flag.
A few red bumps on my bum later, I bushwhack back to the trail. I admit to Journey Man that I can’t finish the climb in my rain gear. He nods and we both peel the fabric from our legs once again, then roll up the layers and stick them in our packs. We douse ourselves in DEET before continuing the climb.
I have never had to embrace the suck more than I have on this stretch of trail. “Embrace the suck” is a common term thrown back and forth on long trails. It means exactly what its directive implies; hikers encounter challenges on trail daily, and sometimes they are best handled by leaning into them. Another mantra that I repeat in my head is, “This too shall pass.” Sometimes I need to acknowledge and sit in discomfort to get through it. It really helps.
Journey Man and I round a corner and come upon another hiker taking a break on a rock that overlooked the valley below. “Feel free to join me!” he invites us over with a friendly wave. “We’re trying to outrun the bugs,” Journey Man replies. The man nods in understanding, “I started at 4am this morning to avoid them, but they usually disappear when the sun comes out. This is my first break of the day!” Journey Man and I look at each other. Would we start hiking at 4am to escape the bloodthirsty swarms? We decline his invitation to break with him and continue onward.
“What a nice guy,” Journey Man states as we walk on. I agree; he had a lovely positive attitude. We walk with more vigor than we had prior to meeting the fellow hiker. Thinking about the encounter, I pause and pull off my head net. Journey Man does the same. No bugs!
We share a chuckle and tuck our nets away. I reflected on two things the rest of the day. One, sometimes you can get caught up in The Suck and not even realize that it has passed. Two, a brief, friendly conversation can do so much to change your mood and attitude. I resolved that I would strive to be more mindful of my experience in The Suck and that I would do my best to put out positive energy to fellow hikers that I passed!