Day 71: Cracked (An Ode to Mosquitoes)

Three summers ago I biked across the country. It took 70 days. That was the longest I had ever traveled continuously for. And today, day 71 of this glorious trail, breaks that record. If I am lucky, I’ll be on the trail for another 71, at the least. 

That, to me, is mind boggling. And yet, while that seems an impossibly long time to be away from home, I know 71 more days won’t feel like enough time to stuff all the goodness in.

Less than an hour ago I was sobbing hysterically and sweating profusely with all of my clothes on. The mosquitoes were everywhere. I couldn’t even slap them, that is how many there were. I simply brushed them off, or wiggled insanely, or tried (unsuccessfully) to be zen. 

 They had chased me this morning and then again for the last four hours of my day. The morning wasn’t bad, they just would not let me stop to take a break. As I had miles to go, this wasn’t too bad … extra motivation.

But this evening, they began after I had practically run up a pass trying to get up and over before evil looking storm clouds barreled over me. I was stressed about lightening — which can strike you from 52 miles away. So I guess trying to out walk them is sort of trivial, now that I threw that fact out there.

I had dropped down from the pass (advertised, cruelly, as “the easiest pass” by our guidebook — it was not!) to these sweet looking lakes, all sprawled out in a row. They were deep blue and reflected the white and grey rolling clouds above them, all extremely picturesque. I was in love. 

 I was also in pain. My feet were throbbing and I was so tired I was regularly tripping on rocks on the way down. I had been hiking for eight hours, broken up only by a few short stops (when the mosquitoes would allow). I had a few more hours left, but I needed a break.

I sat on a perfectly chair shaped rock, tossed off my pack, and gazed down at the lake. It was truly a thing of beauty. But then, only moments after sitting down I was swarmed. 10, 15, 20 mosquitoes buzzed around me. They started biting at my poor, exposed legs.

Gah! I jumped up and screamed, “Fine I am going, I am going,” and “Are you happy now?” 

 I stumbled on and on, down and down the path went. I paused to ask a family if they got better in the next few miles. They said they got much worse.

I stopped again, a little later, to filter some water. They were so terrible I got the water in my dirty bag and filtered as I walked (thank you Platypus Gravity Filter!).

It became dire when walking could not keep them away — that was the last two hours of my hike. I turned around and saw them all buzzing along behind me, nipping constantly at the backs of my knees (why do they love that spot so much?).

I was seized with horror as I hiked faster and faster. I was drenched in sweat, and they kept coming. It was comical! The more I walked, the more came along. I broke out into a run. But they were still there, stabbing me in the calves, the ankles, the knees! 

 I laughed, cried, yelled blind curses at them. I willed them all to die. I thought about the Radiolab podcast I had heard that told me that they have no biological purpose! They are here to torture us, to spread disease. They are satan’s helpers. And this stretch of trail is their play place.

Eventually I broke down, unwilling, unable to walk any further. And that is where I was an hour ago. 

 Now I’ve eaten and am all curled up, ready for bed. I will remember the mosquitoes, but I want to remember the pass.

It is called Selden Pass, the easiest one, remember? It was a long, hard climb, but when I reached 11,000 feet, I found a hidden wonderland. There were diamond encrusted lakes, all twinkling in the sunlight. There were red barked trees, holding their twisted arms up to the sky, proud of their age and wisdom. There were birds trilling in the wings. There were streams, tripping over rocks as one lake fed another. There were withered, ancient rocks, keeping the entire, beautiful place safe. There was magic, and I was the only one there to see it. There were perfect pink wildflowers by the bushel, lining the lakes and the path, showing me the way. It was my secret garden, just for today. 

I can only hope for all of us that all our hell days end in flowers, just like today.