Backpacking in the National Tick Refuge
I’ve often mentioned my slowly improving aversion to snakes and my complete irrational phobia of big yellow and black garden spiders. The other day, I realized there was something else that can make me writhe like a broken coil spring and even occasionally inspire my vocal cords to impressive audio gymnastics: ticks.
The scene of our most recent adventure was a three-day backpacking trip to the Charles C. Deam Wilderness Area in Hoosier National Forest, south of Bloomington along the shores of Lake Monroe.
Since its creation in 1982, the Deam Wilderness has been the only federally declared wilderness area in Indiana. The designation means that there is little tourism development aside from 39 miles of trails along the flat-topped ridges and deep ravines of the forest. Wilderness regulations mean that foot and horse traffic are allowed but no bicycling or other mechanical modes of travel are permitted.
The Grubb Ridge loop trail is the longest trail in the area, winding through northern half of the area high above the shoreline of Lake Monroe. At the northernmost reach, there is the 2.2-mile Peninsula Trail that descends o the shoreline of Lake Monroe. The goal for my first night was a small pond along the first ½ mile of that trail.
For the first half of the trip I would be traveling alone, something I greatly enjoy aside from the fact that it makes my family and life-insurance carrier break out in a cold sweat. My friend Ken would theoretically be meeting me at a certain trail junction on the second day.
Parking at the Grubb Ridge trailhead, I headed out on an unseasonably cool late May morning. The trail is wide and gently graded, making climbs easy to complete with stopping to rest and wheeze. Clumping away under the weight of my weekend pack, I headed out full of song.
Unfortunately, my happiness quickly turned sour. Since horses also use the trail, I found that the unseasonably wet spring had allowed the animals to churn the trail into a boot-sucking quagmire. Within minutes my feet were soaked in spite of my waterproof boots and I had grown tired of tiptoeing through ankle-twisting slop. As horses are legitimate users of the trail, I won’t complain further but I strongly urge hikers to think long and hard before using the trail during damp weather.
The first day and a half of the trip proved typical. I got turned around due to trail rerouting and managed to hike double the intended distance. Part of the trail was closed due to high water in Lake Monroe so I was forced to speed-hike a cutoff trail in order to meet Ken at the correct place and time. Ken turned out to be late and my lower body is still suffering the effects of that three-hour death march. I was also forced to draw drinking water from a pond that resembled barley soup.
All in all, it was a fairly typical trip until the invasion of the ticks.
Ken and I eventually met up and pitched our camp on a high ridge framed by oak trees. Protected from the chilly west wind by a living cathedral roof and carpeted with a thick layer of fallen leaves, it was the type of campsite we all dream about when planning a trip.
Unfortunately, as we stood around talking, I noticed something crawling on Ken’s shoulder. It was a tick.
I hate ticks because they inspire a profound sense of revulsion within me. They are evil, disease-carrying parasites that enjoy burrowing into your skin to drink of your vital juices. That is simply unacceptable behavior, even for presidential candidates.
I picked the tick off Ken; we both shuddered, then went about our business. However, when I picked another tick off my bare leg only a few minutes later, I realized we had a problem. A minute later Ken found another tick on his jacket and it suddenly dawned on us that we had apparently camped in the middle of a National Tick Refuge.
We walked about scratching imaginary critters and making constant checks of our legs, arms and hats. Any itch was imagined to be a trespasser and we stood around looking like two people with some kind of contagious nervous disorder.
At one point I lifted my shirt because I was sure a tick had crawled north of the Mason-Dixon Line. As I did, Ken said, “Hey, I didn’t know you had those pierced. Oh, wait, it’s just two ticks.”
It was just a joke. Ken had a good laugh.
I did too, about an hour later after my screaming finally subsided.