Walking Among the Insects

     If you are at all uncomfortable with sharing your space with insects, then the Appalachian Trail may not be for you. In 1987, thru-hikers were treated to a bonus bug plague, the flight of the seventeen year cicada. Imagine a bug nearly 3 inches long with the heft of a pocket watch crawling out of the ground like a scene from a 1950s horror feature. Their slow flight was like a softball pitch to our walking sticks and the explosion at impact was juicy and disgusting. To add to the insect fun, the region was suffering a major invasion of tree denuding gypsy moths. The northern half of the Shenandoah National Park was heavily afflicted and the debate of pest control within the Park was a hot issue. The smell of rotting catapiller shit was overwhelming in some spots and the sound of it dropping from the trees was like steady rain.

Sweat bees were another treat on the Trail. Their UFO-like hovering and persistant landing attempts were enough to double our walking speed to avoid them. Mark and I were getting used to checking ourselves for ticks, another common Trail dweller. The Lyme disease scare had become a register topic and hikers were prime candidates for the sometimes fatal affliction. The fashion tip of the day was long pants with the cuffs tucked into the socks. If all these bugs weren’t enough, the black flies and mosquitos were just starting to be active, especially at the moist sections on the Trail. Mark was attracting more insects than me and it would piss him off to no end. We would buy a cigar-like smokable called Swisher Sweets that seemed to keep the bugs at bay when we puffed them. Insects would continue to be a part of our life on the Appalachian Trail all the way to Maine.

   Mark and I stopped into Front Royal for a mail drop and a hoagie. Harpers Ferry and the home of the Appalachian Trail Conference was only 40 miles away, so we shouldered our burden and headed north again. We did 11 miles to Manassas Gap Shelter, past grazing zebras and gazelles at a zoological preserve along the Trail. The shelter had room enough for 2 more, that would be us.

    Shelter life usually involved lying sardine-style, side by side in our sleeping bags like large, vividly colored insect larvae. At night, when all are asleep, the chorus of farting, wheezing, snoring and coughing accompany the night sounds of the forest. On that particular evening at Manassas Gap, I slept soundly in my selected position among the “sardines”. The gentle stroking I was feeling against my arm was pleasing at first. My sleep dulled senses slowly processed the event. In a sudden awareness of my heterosexuality, I realized there were no women next to me. I sat upright, only to see a sleeping Red Devil doing the caressing. “Hey…HEY…HEY…!” I yelled, waking all the shelter’s occupants. There was much laughter as well reassuring statements of our desire for the opposite sex.

    The next morning we hiked on to Rod Hollow Shelter, just missing a major soaking. Rod Hollow was a great shelter with an ice cold shower and a pavilion. We pulled a 23 mile day even after beers at the Horseshoe Curve and a stop at the Blackburn AT Center. There was beer near Keys Gap Shelter and yet another classic AT party that evening. The next morning, in a hungover daze, we walked into Harpers Ferry, a new state and yet another birthday party for the Appalachian Trail.

…continue the expedition, read: Its Happening in Harpers Ferry [link]