New York: 98% Deet, 0% Sanity
New York began with me clutching my knees to my chest in my tent, naked, rocking back and forth, staring forwards, fervently whispering,”Nobugsnobugsnobugs!” And it only went downhill from there!
In short, the mosquitos were awful. I’m a person who always wants to be outside — to the point where I feel guilty if I’m inside when it’s a nice day out. This is not the case when my skin is an all you can eat buffet for some relentless, tiny, six-legged vampires. I finally understood how sushi felt when it comes down the little conveyor belt — except imagine every hiker was a little blood sack floating down the conveyor belt of the trail for your favorite mosquitos to munch on. I would try to stand still for a few minutes to eat a Clif bar or god forbid have a drink of water — and my legs would be ambushed with at least thirty mosquitos on them. Scratching bug bites became my new hobby. It provided some pleasure in the hell that was New York.
I used a bug net, which made me feel like my head was in its own little safe bubble where no bugs could buzz into my ears and drive me insane. There were times when I literally ran down the trail, batting the air around my head and screaming. And I’m a pretty tolerant person when it comes to the elements! Heat, cold, rain, shine — I can do. Bugs? In my ears? Biting me? Absolutely not. I wore 98% deet, which gave me a lovely sensation on my skin similar to icy hot — except the deet was 100% chemically burning my skin, unlike icy hot. So, in those dire times, as the bugs began their usual feast, I had to decide: do I want to risk disease and discomfort with bugs biting me (and spend the night awake, scratching my body raw since I lack self-control)? Or do I want to fry my skin with deet? I’m still choosing the deet.
My tent became my favorite place to be since the mosquitos couldn’t eat me in there. Every day, I breathed a sigh of relief after diving inside and violently zipped the tent flap shut behind me. If a bug dared venture into my safe zone, I would scream a battle cry of “I’M GOING TO GET YOU F***ER” and slap my hands together like a deranged monkey until I crushed the satan spawn.
The night before Lovechild and I decided to venture into New York, we stayed at West Mountain Shelter to see a view of the skyline. It was beautiful — off in the distance, the hazy shapes of New York took shape against the horizon across the verdant rolling hills. The sun colored the sky in shades of lavender and pink. We sat up on the roof and watched the sunset. Somehow, the shingles gave me a sensation similar to when fiberglass gets stuck in your skin, and my butt prickled the rest of the night like I had sat on a cactus.
From the top of the shelter, we heard an assortment of yelling from the woods. I looked at Lovechild. Oh shit. “HEY! YOU! GET AWAY FROM OUT FOOD! GO ON! GIT!” That could not be good. A bear had come into camp.
We climbed down from the roof to go help scare it off. It was getting dark at camp now too — a perfect time for a bear encounter! One of my favorite activities to settle down right before bed.
The other three hikers tenting at the shelter all had their headlamps aimed at the bear — right under our food bags! Our food bags were hung up on the bear cables, so they were safe… or so we thought. Lovechild strapped on his headlamp and slowly joined the crowd of hikers yelling at the bear, his arms outstretched to help scare it off. I watched and yelled from a further distance. I didn’t want the beast to get my food either, but I wanted it to get me even less.
Still, with all the yelling and the headlamps and the outstretched arms, the bear simply sat down under the food bags and stared at us, panting. Its mouth was agape, tongue hanging like a dog’s. Its eyes reflected our headlamps back at us, shining an eerie silver in the dark. It was about as big as a single person tent — a hulking black mass, hunched directly below our food and completely unphased by people. It began to stand up on its hind two legs and walk underneath the food, batting at one of the hikers. Much to everyone’s dread — it could reach easily. Finally, one of the hikers threw a rock near the bear and it began to lumber back off into the woods, scarily close to Lovechild and disappearing into the dark just a couple feet behind our tents. Great!
That night, I gathered all the rocks from the fire pit and set them next to my tent. Suddenly, rocks were my new favorite collectible item. The bear thankfully didn’t come back that night, but my dreams were full of an inventive array of bear maulings — so I didn’t sleep much.
And the next day, we ventured into the city. It’s still strange to me how you can go from yelling at a bear to scare it away from your food in the middle of the woods to yelling at a taxi to let the driver know that red lights exist in one of the largest cities on the east coast.
After visiting some of my friends in the city, we naturally decided to stay in the sketchiest and cheapest hotel known to man in NYC, like the true hiker trash we are. After spending an afternoon getting lost on subways and overwhelmed in Times Square, we walked into the hotel: the Jane. The entire hotel was under renovation and covered in scaffolding and pieces of tarp that flapped ominously like a serial killer’s lair. It looked as though it were built in the 1800s, and gave a gilded, tired aura. The front desk was neighbored by two stuffed monkeys that glared out at us. Our room key was a bolt of steel to plug into the wall. Oh boy.
Walking up to the room, eerie classical music blasted through the halls — that we thought was music from the hotel, but when Lovechild turned a corner, one of the visitor’s doors was flung wide open with his feet dangling off the edge of a recliner. We scooted by quickly before we saw any more. Our room resembled a closet with two bunk beds jammed inside of it. I looked at Lovechild. He looked at me. We laid inside the room for thirty minutes, grateful at least for an escape from all the calamity of New York City. Ah, the life of a dirt bag.
Deet in my ass!
A few days later, I experienced the hottest day on trail I ever have. The air was so thick I could barely breathe, and simply existing brought an onslaught of sweat to my pores. I gutturally screamed at the base of every mountain I had to climb. My legs struggled to continue to push upwards, and I leaned against most trees I passed on the way up.
Eventually, I came across a country store where I met up with Honeybun and Lovechild and hid underneath a picnic table from the heat. I preoccupied myself with throwing tiny pieces of gravel at Honeybun’s feet and consuming four hard boiled eggs. They did not cure my nausea — believe it or not — as I had hoped.
We decided to push onwards after some of the heat passed to the next shelter. I realized as I began to move that my ass had exploded with angry chafe. The sweat must have irritated my butt — because every time I tried to walk I wanted to scream. I shoved some body glide in my pants and cowboy walked towards trail, ready for a good old showdown. Or so I thought.
I slathered myself up with my 98% deet and shot into the woods (about as fast as one can walk like a duck.) Soon, the temperature shifted and storm clouds gathered overhead. Nice! At least the rain would make things cooler, I hoped.
It began to pour above Lovechild and I as I waddled down trail. We were hoping the rain would drive away the mosquitos, but it seemed to send them into a frenzy. They bit me everywhere, even on the ass chafe. And if that wasn’t enough — the rain began to wash away my Deet — straight down into my already irritated bug-bitten ass chafe. Things were not going well. I started to scream as the 98% Deet literally burned my ass chafe. I could not convince myself it was an icy hot sensation anymore, it felt like I had just sat down on a steel slide in the middle of summer, bare assed with my chafe.
I threw my trekking poles down and yelled “I AM TAKING OFF MY PANTS.” Lovechild nodded worriedly and hiked ahead. The shelter was in the next mile or two, but hell if I was going to walk even one more mile in those shorts. I ripped them off and began to indignantly walk in the thunderstorm, lower half completely naked, thoroughly soaked, being eaten alive by bugs and chafed to hell. The rain allowed my legs to glide easier, so that problem was solved. The rain continued to wash the Deet away, so it hurt less and less. With some crying and cursing, I made it to the shelter, waving to a very confused Honeybun and setting up my tent next to a concerned Lovechild. We agreed to chill out and not push high miles on hot days. The miles were not worth the mental drain they took when the heat got that bad.
The next day, we did a slow ten miles to a hotel where I recovered from my abysmal chafe and peer pressured the gang into watching a Godzilla marathon with me. Nothing quite hits like some guys battling in Godzilla and Mothra costumes on a dingy motel screen. We now greet each other with Godzilla roars and have escaped New York — with significantly less blood and sanity.
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