When it comes to outdoor activities, I abide by the unofficial Post Office credo: Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays my appointed rounds.
I also, as loyal readers may recall, often invoke the adventurer’s aphorism: “There’s no such thing as bad weather – only inappropriate clothing.”
Regarding such self-imposed rules, though, I make exceptions, and in the past week two deterrents conspired to curtail recreation and postpone a planned expedition.
One impediment was a forecast for relentless thunderstorms, which persuaded friends and I to put off a hike considered one of the Northeast’s most elegant yet challenging — The Presidential Traverse.
This 23-mile scramble through the White Mountains of New Hampshire crosses the summits of seven peaks in the Presidential Range: Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower and Pierce.
Over the years I’ve scaled all these peaks numerous times in various seasons and conditions, including a foray up 6,288-foot Washington during 30-below-zero, 100-mph whiteout winds – but I’d sooner go above tree line during a blizzard in February than during a July lightning storm.
My friends and I agreed to reschedule the traverse to when skies clear.
The other obstacle to fun and games has not so much been life threatening as quality-of-life-diminishing – a proliferation of mosquitoes from recent torrential rains.
As Day Staff Writer Judy Benson reported last week, and anybody who has set food outdoors recently can attest, we are now enduring a biblical plague of blood-sucking insects. According to the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station field workers collected 32,561 mosquitoes in the 91 traps set throughout the state, about twice the usual number for this time of year and one of the highest weekly totals in the 16-year history of the testing program.
“It could get worse over the next couple of weeks,” warned Philip Armstrong, the station’s associate scientist warned.
They wretched pests have made it so unpleasant I’ve reluctantly scaled back on some of my favorite pastimes and cut short other activities.
Before the explosion I typically would spend hours almost every day weeding the garden, cutting firewood, building walls, hacking at bittersweet and other outdoor pursuits, but now I have to don long pants, a long shirt or jacket and head net, garments particularly uncomfortable in 90-plus-degree temperatures and 90-plus-percent humidity.
I’ve tried various types of repellent clothing with limited success, and prefer not to slather myself with insecticides, figuring I have precious few brain cells to spare, so am left with two choices, neither particularly appealing: Swat, suffer, sweat and curse, or simply hunker down indoors.
So far mosquitoes haven’t interrupted my daily runs because the winged creatures are not inclined to give chase, but we’re approaching peak deer and horse fly season and those miserable bugs can zip along faster than my race pace. What’s more, they use razor-sharp jaws to cut through the skin and then inject anticoagulant saliva so they can suck blood for several minutes.
All we need now are white-faced hornets to complete the trifecta of stinging insects. These are the pit bulls of the insect world, and every year I manage to get stung at least once by blundering into a nest.
You can swat a mosquito or deer fly, but if you kill a white-faced hornet, I’m told, it sends out a chemical signal equivalent to a cavalry call for reinforcements.
The sting is excruciatingly painful in two stages. At first it feels like being shot with a pellet gun, and then like being injected with a horse hypodermic needle filled with sulfuric acid. After one such bite my wrist and forearm swelled up to such Popeye-like proportions I couldn’t even strap on a watch for a week.
White-faced hornets are like fighter jets, amazingly fast and agile, and have struck while I’ve raced along on my bicycle.
I guess that leaves swimming as the only activity in which you can reliably avoid assault during these insect-infested periods – except …
Years ago, friends and I embarked on a multi-day canoe trip in Canada that unfortunately coincided with the height of black fly season. Black flies have been known to cause moose to collapse while desperately trying to escape, and there are undocumented claims of similarly large creatures exsanguinated by the blood-sucking insects.
Diving into the lake seemed to provide our only relief – until we surfaced covered in leeches.
“You win!” I cried, as we frantically packed gear and raced home.
You can’t fight Mother Nature, especially when her soldiers include such formidable foes.