I hiked through the Castle Crags area in northern California last night and this morning. The Crags are pretty awesome and the surrounding Trinity Alps mountains were pretty cool to walk around in. But as the trail descended towards the trail head at I-5 I had an encounter, or series of encounters, that took my mind completely off the beauty that surrounded me.
I had expected that identifying and avoiding poison oak would be the biggest challenge on the way down. But not even close. Trying to stay sane while hiking through gnat swarms became my biggest problem. It’s not as though there were millions of them, or even thousands. But for about 10 miles they were a pretty constant companion. I lost track of how many gnats with a death wish I spit out or swallowed. And I know I hit at least a hundred while fanning the air in front of my face.
Now a gnat weighs about a milligram. And there are 1000 milligrams in a gram, 454,000 milligrams in a pound, and 79,450,000 milligrams in me. That means that I am 79,450,000 times bigger than a gnat. So why should a gnat, or even a dozen gnats swarming around my face bother me? It’s not as though they could carry me away or drain me of all my blood. I can’t even recall feeling a gnat bite before.
But after 10 miles, or nearly 5 hours, of these little critters dancing around in front of my face looking for opportunities to be ingested or inhaled, or just to take a bath in the sweat streaming down my face, I was ready to flee screaming down the trail. Every time I would let down my guard to concentrate on hopping across the rocks in a stream, they would take advantage of the opportunity and attack in renewed numbers. When the poison oak was thickest on the trails edges, they were there to distract me. I kept telling myself “they have no brain; they are not out to get me”. But it was a losing cause. I was slowly but surely going insane.
And then, just as suddenly as they had started, they were gone. Now, just as soon as I finish my psychiatric treatment, I can get back onto the trail.