When I first started talking to family and friends about my desire to take to the woods with a backpack they all, in one form or another, expressed concern over my potential run-ins with wild animals. “Aren’t you worried about bears?” and “I’m glad you’re going to deal with the snakes and not me” topped the list. To be honest, I’ve encountered both during trail runs, and other than being temporarily startled, came away pretty much unfazed. And mercifully untouched.
I’m much more concerned with ticks, and their disease-child, Lyme. I live in the Northeast, where tick populations are exploding, and cases of Lyme disease right along with them. In 2005, the CDC reported 247 confirmed cases of the disease here in Maine. Ten years later, they report 1169 confirmed cases, with an additional 232 listed as probable. Granted, as we become more educated about Lyme disease, the diagnosis and reporting of cases becomes more accurate. But even given better reporting, the increase in those numbers represents a pretty startling jump.
Anecdotally, the trail books I’ve read are showing an increase in the number of hikers contracting Lyme, too. It seems like, with every AT hiking book since 2010, at least one backpacker being written about suffered a mite bite that led to being pushed off the trail and into an antibiotics regimen for a period of time. Yikes.
So I’m digging in and doing the research, as always. Words like “permethrin” have found their way into my personal lexicon. Brands like ExOfficio have hit my search engine results. And the corresponding questions, like “Buy pre-treated, or spray my own?” and “Do I tuck my pants into my socks while hiking?” (ignoring the incredible geeky fashion faux pas of doing so) have started banging around my psyche as I prepare to start my section hike in the spring.
It does seem that, like so many other illness possibilities in life, an ounce of Lyme prevention does indeed equal a pound of cure. So I’m prepared to hike in long, Permethrin-treated pants. And plaster my exposed skin with DEET. And check myself at the end of each day for ticks. And avoid bushwhacking whenever necessary.
And make absolutely sure not to hug any deer…