Wednesday, October 23, 2013

183. Scratching Mosquito Bites

During my thru-hike, the morning sun woke me every day like a hungry cat. I could roll over, hide my face, grumble and whine, and it wouldn't matter. Like a cat, the sun cares not for the pithy needs of a sleep deprived human. It would reach down its soft paw and gently prod at my cheek over and over again, insistent and unyielding. And, like my cat, if I ignored it for long enough it would eventually break out the claws. In the case of the sun, the claws were the sweltering heat that would fill up my tent the longer I refused to acknowledge its presence.

And yet this dance continued every morning. I was always the last one up in my hiking group, laying as still as possible with my eyes clenched shut, pretending that boiling in my own sweat was relaxing. Dumptruck, Whistle and Grim would be sitting around outside, eating breakfast and respectfully talking in low voices. Meanwhile, I would daydream about being a mammoth frozen in an iceberg. I like to think that my imagination is powerful, but I really only got as far as being able to feel like a snow cone left on a sidewalk.

One such morning I woke up to the sound of a stranger saying,

"Stop scratching."

Silence followed this unsolicited command, and then a few moments later, sounds of retching filled the quiet morning air. I blinked the sleep out of my eyes and asked in a sleepy voice,

"Whistle...? What... what is happening?"

"She's barfing," explained Grim matter-of-factly.

My sun-boiled sleep-brain was completely unable to organize an understanding of what I had heard. These were the facts, so far as I comprehended them:

1. A stranger had chided somebody about something
2. Whistle's response was to throw up

In my limited knowledge of animals, I remember learning that some creatures will yak on themselves as a defense mechanism. At this point Whistle had earned her second nickname, Ralph, for the number of times she had spewed on trail. However, I hadn't been witness to her hurling on herself to protect herself from the judgment of passers-by. Clearly, I needed to actually sit up and find out what the heck was going on.

I sat up and stared blearily out of the mesh of my tent, and gently asked for an explanation of what the blazes was going on.

Apparently Whistle and Grim had already packed up all of their things and were getting ready to hike, but were waiting for a few moments to see if I was going to show any signs of life. In the meanwhile, Whistle had begun scratching the mosquito bites on her legs absent-mindedly. This had been happening with increased frequency as the spring weather had come over the trail and the mosquitos had begun to rev up into an insane fervor. Both Whistle and Grim were like mosquito candy, and were covered in what seemed like 1,000s of bites. One of Grim's knees was twice as big as the other one because of all of the bites-on-bites.

As Whistle was sitting there, gnawing miserably on a clif bar and scratching away at her pock-marked legs, a day hiker came breezing by along the trail. He was an older gentleman whom we had never met, and who offered no greeting or good morning. He simply caught Whistle's eye, told her to stop scratching her bites, and went along his way up the trail.

Whistle, Grim and Dumptruck all looked at each other, bemused by this random hiker's remonstrations. Whistle shrugged and picked up her water bottle. She decided to chug it so that she could fill up at the nice creek before she started hiking, and to get the taste of clif bar out of her mouth. She chugged away with abandon, and apparently, her body was unhappy with the sudden introduction of an entire liter of water. Before she could say that Bob was her Uncle, cookies were tossed.

I don't think that the joy of scratching ones' mosquito bites has anything to do with losing your lunch, but the two things are now inescapably linked in my mind. Like Peanut Butter and Jelly. Nuts and Bolts. Scooby and Shaggy. Bites and Barfing. All matches made in heaven!

I would not advise that anyone scratch their bites. Especially not thru-hikers, because then it will all just get worse. That stranger on that long-ago morning was not only rude but also correct. These things, rudeness and accuracy in statement-making, are not necessarily mutually exclusive. We probably just shouldn't do it. For the most part I was able to resist the urge because I didn't want to make any scabs, and in some bizarre way, I didn't want the mosquitos to feel like they were the boss of me. I enjoy anthropomorphizing animals in the interest of self-preservation.


If I was able to go an entire day without giving in, I would occasionally reward myself with a few precious seconds of feverish scratching. I don't think I have to describe to you what it feels like to scratch a bite, because you probably know.

Oh, you know.

Clever Girl


  1. Ugh Clif Bars. I only ate them for a week straight on our Norway trip and was so sick of them from that. I can't imagine having to eat them for monntthhsss D:

  2. "Bite and Barf" would be a finalist in the "worst restaurant name" contest...