|Yeah, looks like a nice horse, doesn't it? Don't be fooled ...|
So this is a sort of rhetorical question, because I've already done a lot of camping, myself. So I know that there are plenty of people who consider camping to be a normal, wholesome activity. It was something I really enjoyed as a kid, and I still want to be able to camp as an adult. I want to do what the normals do.
Of course, when I was a kid, the water didn't have Giardia, the mosquitoes didn't have West Nile, and the ticks didn't have Lyme. Ah, those heady by-gone days ...
Continuing my overall plan and lifestyle of Doing Things Even If I Think They Are Going To Kill Me, I went camping with a group of friends last week. Problem number one is the need to protect oneself from the previously mentioned mosquitoes and ticks. The best way to do this is to spray oneself all over with DEET. Which is, ahem, poisonous. This is really part of my problem with a lot of things - I am afraid of condition A, but condition B, required to fix condition A, also scares the crap out of me.
So, I weighed my fear of bug diseases against my fear of spray poison - ended up deciding I'd rather be covered in DEET than in ticks, if only from the aesthetic perspective. The problem (as if there is just the one) is that there is no guarantee. Never a guarantee, and as you know, if there is one thing OCD really, really wants it is a guarantee. If you use the DEET, then you don't get Lyme disease - but it is just not that easy.
Still, I sprayed down my shoes, socks, pants and a bit of other territory, and made sure I was wearing light colored clothing and a white hat. That's supposed to be so that you can find the ticks easier, but I have to say I was trying really hard at first not to see any bugs at all. Not productive, I know, but it is what it is.
Things went generally okay, with us doing some nice hikes, lunch, side stop at a brewery, etc. I was struggling a little, but hanging in there. And then we made our way to the campsite.
We were camping in a place I'd only heard about, but never seen. I'd always wanted to go there, ever since I was a little kid and all my friends were reading "Misty of Chincoteague" and "Misty of Assateague." I was amazed to realize that there were wild horses really living on an island on the East Coast. At that age I'd hardly even learned about mustangs in the West.
It has always been an evocative image ... wild horses roaming about the beach sands. We arrived, pitched our tents amidst about a bazillion other campers, and I wondered if we'd be lucky enough to see a horse. We'd only be there one night. I imagined these majestic ponies, shy, timid, startling at the least sound, running in small groups in the distance, backlit by the sun as they passed by the sea grasses.
OMG. Have you been there? Wrong. Wrong wrong wrong.
The horses travel in gangs. They travel in gangs of five to ten, right up the road of the camp, plodding away, $h!ting and pissing as they go. They have utterly no fear of humans, and waltz right up to tents and cars, looking for goodies. They have learned how to open coolers, and tear open bags of chips. I know this because one of our group was forced to fend off an invasion as the rest of us went to see the sun over the ocean. Fortunately she had actually helped raise horses as a child, and had some idea of how to get them out of the camp. In the end, she actually had to push one out of the food.
That was the point at which the rest of us came back, and saw horse poop all over the place, torn bags, and the ruins of blue corn chips all over the ground. And my friend there, telling us the story and PICKING TICKS OFF OF HER SHIRT. Yes. She wasn't even surprised. She said, "Oh, yeah. The horses are covered with ticks. I had to put my hand on one and the ticks jumped on me, instead."
I sort of lost it at this point. I was capable of dealing (marginally) with relatively known risks. The ground has bugs, so use a tarp under the tent. Mosquitoes fly, so use some bug spray. The outside world is gross and dirty, so use lots of handiwipes. Whatever. But the horses added a dimension I was not prepared to cope with - a moving, changing dimension. So, you've checked to make sure there is no horse poop behind you? Well, that's going to change. Was that a good place to put the tent? Not anymore, because there is a horse standing on the tarp. That kind of thing.
So I had the choice of taking some Ativan, drinking a bunch of wine, or leaping into the car and not coming out. I chose the wine. I steadied myself with about 2/3 of a bottle while making dinner and also making sure I had someone watching my back. It was getting dark and the %@*&% horses can actually SNEAK up on you. I mean it.
For the rest of the night, gangs of horses would make circuits around the campsites. Morons (i.e. people who had just shown up, i.e. my group two hours previously) would gush and take pictures until they realized the horses were in their coolers and pulling food right out of their children's hands. Then they started swearing like us and trying to put up moats and other defensive fortifications. Eventually, we were in our tent, and yes, every few hours you could hear the gangs go by. One of them came right up to the tent, farted loudly, and whinnied in what I can only assume was appreciation. All I could think was, "Please don't piss on the tent."
That morning I couldn't get out of the place fast enough. I felt badly about it. After all, these were indeed the 'wild' horses of the islands, and there is something pretty cool about it. The coast was lovely and sunrise and sunset over the beach was glorious. But my general appreciation for the place could not stand up to the need to LEAVE.
The trip was capped, in a way, by me really spotting my first tick up close - on the inside of the car, hanging from the ceiling, right over my head. I fought a brief battle with myself, since normally touching one would be out of the question, but I could hardly just let the sucker roam around. So I managed to corral it into an extra ziploc bag. So I got a really good look at it. Deer tick. Yep. No question.
Needless to say, I am really @#&*% nervous. Really nervous. Sometimes this whole "doing what the normals do" is really ... well. Hard. Stupid. Scary. But, well, makes for a good story, anyway.
Your Hostess With Neuroses
Image credit/info: From our trip to Assateague State Park.