Lure of the Land

Nature is beautiful. Wondrous. Awe inspiring. But the reality of nature, sometimes, not-so-much.Fellow trekkers

Biologists have now concluded that you have more “non-human” cells in your body than human ones. Your body is now called your Human Biome and more than half of it consists of cells that you don’t produce yourself. Think about it. You are a human universe with colonies of…

Well, don’t really think about it. It’s too gross. The idea of “stuff” living inside you is just plain gross. Things like ticks, f’rinstance
We pack our Roadtreks and head for the hills and hike, bike, rock climb, breathe clean air and enjoy the rush of camping by a fast flowing stream or in the mountains or anywhere. Those are the Big Things. And at the Roadtreking Montana Mountains Photo Safari in the Beartooth Mountains of Montana the other day we did all this, recorded it on with our camera, and we enjoyed a Big Time.

But the little things…ah… the little things that trip us up. And right now I’m thinking of–

Ticks. They climb onto the tips of leaves, lay on their backs with legs and proboscis poised to grab and wait for a tasty dinner table to pass by.

We each picked up several as we hiked throughout Theodore Roosevelt National Park on the way to the Photo Safari. One on a shirt. One in pants. One attaching itself to my chest. Several crept their way under my wife’s shirt and began to insert their creepy, invasive little proboscises into her flesh.

Yeah. Creepy.

After ridding ourselves of them by plucking two of them with fingernails and one with tweezers, we played “doctor” more closely than we did when we were dating. We checked hair, and ears and legs, and well, everywhere. Finally sure that we were free of the invaders, we tore apart our Roadtrek. Oh, and the dog, the poor dog. No veterinarian ever gave a more complete inspection. Twice an hour. And we still found one crawling around looking for a canine dinner table where it could settle in for a long meal.

the trailBut did ticks prevent us from enjoying the outdoors? No way. We got vigilant. We used DEET spray on ourselves. We did checks on each other most often for no reason other than one of us felt a creepy little twitch somewhere. We found a few that had grabbed onto us but not made it all the way to the “dinner table” of a soft fleshy fold, or a tucked under a belt or sock. We were lucky. And so we became “trusting but vigilant” and we had a great time.

But still, in the back of your mind, you carry that little fear, and that great indignation at being invaded.tick removal photo
Further along on our trek to Montana, we did what we usually do. We Geocached. We stopped for supplies. We went into Walmart in search of bargains.

Picture this: I'm in the WalMart parking lot working on some photos on my laptop when my phone rings. Rhonda, breathless on the other end, yells in a stage whisper, “Drop everything you are doing and get in here!”
“Bring everything you can. I’m in the women’s dressing room and I found a tick!”
“Wha-what? How am I—oh—OH! OKAY! be right there…”

So I grabbed everything and bolted to the entrance. Two problems faced me. First, how do I get into the women’s dressing room and second, how do I get a manicure set, a bottle of dish washing soap, Vaseline, Band-Aids, and a magnifying glass past the sweet looking little old lady Walmart Employee female-associate-greeter_129863377206112705Corp, Greeter First Class, and into the store? Will she want to look though the stuff and send me to the returns counter? Will she want a receipt to prove that I own it all? How will I explain it all politely? And worse case, will I be arrested for knocking some smiling septuagenarian to the floor and stepping across her while she screams in agony?

Luckily the greeter was looking the other way.

Rhonda was already seated outside the changing room smothered by more little old lady Walmart Corp Members. They were all distraught.
“I was changing into these really cute shorts that I've been looking for all spring when I looked down and between my toes was a TICK! I couldn’t get it out so I called you…”

“Where? Does it hurt?” Tick bites are notoriously painless, but I asked to calm her down. And between her big toe and second toe was a big, dark red tick. It had been there long enough to begin feeding.

The Dilligent Walmart Ladies' Corp Members wouldn’t let me touch her.

“We’ve sent to get word from the Pharmacist. He’ll know what to do.”

The panic level was climbing. Rhonda was really grossed out and her expression was interpreted by the Walmart Ladies Medical Corp as extreme pain. One of the younger members of the Corps who carried herself with the bearing of an Officer-In-Charge, rounded the corner and relayed that the Pharmacist told us we could pull it out in the way we had been doing, or leave it in and go to the EMERGENCY ROOM to have it extracted. Though our experience with ticks was limited to two days, this is not our first trip around the block. Emergency Room Personnel see “Tourist” and immediately our insurance is no good, and cash payment is demanded. Up front. At least that how it been in Podunkville, Alabama, and Carbonville, Pennsylvania several year s back.

Rhonda and I locked eyes.

“Pull it out,” she ordered softly, “but hurry, it is so GROSS!”

When you pull a tick with tweezers you have to get the head out. Leaving it in is the surest way to trouble. So I grabbed the little bugger with the Official Icky Bug Extraction Instrument, being sure to get his head and maybe pinching Rhonda just the tiniest bit.

Her eyes pleaded for me to” PULL IT OUT.”

You can’t yank out a tick.  Grab it and pull firmly and steadily, but not too hard. And don’t squeeze it too so hard as to squish it and shoot it’s innards into yourself or your loved one. Pulling slowly on the Embedded Insect Parasite, the skin between her toes stretched until the invader’s grip broke and it was free. I checked to be sure the head came with the body and indeed it had, still holding just the tiniest chunk of my wife. (In fact we are hearing now, that there is a miraculously easier way.)

Now to actually squish a tick takes great force and a hard surface. A boot heel spinning atop it, trying to grind the tick into the floor did not work. These buggers are tough. In the Roadtrek I had to use a steel knife blade against the counter and about half my body weight to do the job. Walmart has carts, so I grabbed one, placed the wheel squarely upon the offending creature and rolled it back and forth. Didn’t work, no squish. It took my full body weight on the cart to elicit that satisfying little pop.

Trauma over, but fear subsiding slowly, we found the Pharmacist. He said to put anti-itch cream or topical antibiotic
on the wound. If we wanted to take a precaution against Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever we could go to the EMERGENCY ROOM and get a prescription for a strong one course antibiotic.
Oh he said to be sure to look up the symptoms.  We did. Here they are.

Other advice from the Well-Meaning Walmart Little Old Ladies Medical Corps, Battalion 6:
• Wear white socks. Ticks don’t like white.
• Vaseline can (maybe) suffocate them cause them to back out
• Use a heat source like a heated needle or match flame to cause the tick to back out on its own
Our advice: Take precautions, wear DEET on your clothing, check each other for these visitors after every hike, check the dog every time it goes out. And just in case it works, wear white sox!

The blog has posted before about ticks. Here's a post on how to protect your pets against ticks. It also has info on some tools to help you remove them.