When a fellow 2013 thru-hiker was hospitalized with severe Lyme meningitis (inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain) earlier this month, I decided to do some research and try to help raise awareness about Lyme.
Bambi (deer), Thumper (rabbit), and his fellow terrorists (skunks, squirrels, birds etc.) are loveable and cute, but they’re also masters of biological warfare! While we fawn all over them, they deliver their payloads of disease-laden ticks to our backyards, parks, trails, and campgrounds.
On the trail we have to get used to, and try to make peace with the creepy crawly things. Sometimes that peace comes easier than others.
The ticks are definitely the bugs that I like the least. A week or so ago my friend Sir Stooge developed a giant bulls eye rash on the back of his calf. There was absolutely no mistaking it… Lyme disease. He never saw the deer tick that bit and infected him (Probably because the deer ticks are smaller than the flecks of mud and leaves that cling to all of our exposed flesh).
Lyme disease on the trail was no longer an abstract thing, it was there, with us amongst the rocks and rattlers in Pennsylvania. Before I reached Pennsylvania I’d only found two ticks on me… One deer tick (which I showed to my mom) and one dog tick, but neither of them had actually bitten and attached to me…
I stopped for lunch and took my shoes and then socks off because my feet were, as usual, feeling sore. As I peeled my dirty, sweaty socks off I noticed something stuck to my ankle just at the sockline. I absentmindedly tried to brush it off, something that I do dozens of times a day to brush random bugs, dirt, and mud off of me.
It didn’t move. I bent my head down to inspect this resilient piece of mud and discovered that it wasn’t mud at all… It was a tick. Ewwww… I wanted it off of me… Now!
It reminded me of one of the less pleasant experiences of my childhood…. Going swimming in the cove and discovering when I took a shower afterwards that I was covered in leeches instead of being covered in mud. For me it is a very strong, visceral feeling that tries to replace all of my rational thoughts with, “Get it off of me, get it off of me, Get!.. It!… Off!… Of!… Me!…
I took a deep breath, swallowed my visceral emotions, and tried to determine the best (and fastest) way to get the tick off of me. I wasn’t sure where my patented tick remover was in my pack, but something like a credit card would work just as well. My friend Lotus had her license handy, so I used her license like razor, bringing it down underneath and below the mouth and body of the tick and then quickly scraping it off of my leg and flicking it onto my waterproof stuff sack with one smooth motion.
Though I’d looked at it on my leg and decided that it was a dog tick and not a deer tick, I took a picture of it so I could double check later. Knowing what kind of tick it was mattered because some ticks carry Lyme disease and others don’t. The next time I had Internet access I looked at the pictures of the different kind of ticks and compared them to the tick that I had taken off of my ankle. It was definitely a female dog tick… I breathed a sigh of relief. At least *that* tick bite wasn’t going to give me Lyme disease.
P.S. If you’re curious about where Lyme disease is the most prevalent, the CDC has some startling maps of confirmed cases of Lyme disease.