How to entertain a 16-year-old?
That’s the question that faced me last summer. Middle Grandson had come to visit, and I determined to make sure he enjoyed himself.
One sunny morning we decided a hike was just the thing. Our home is only five miles from Newport State Park, which is Wisconsin’s only wilderness designated state park.
Which means much of its territory is biologically intact, undisturbed natural area, land that has never been developed. The park is also Wisconsin’s first Dark Sky park, as designated by the International Dark-Sky Association, just one of 48 in the world. The idea is to protect night skies from the obscuring effect of man-made sources of light. This is great for astronomy and nocturnal wildlife.
Seemed like a grand idea, then, to take a little adventure hiking in such a highly acclaimed park. Little did we know just how much of an adventure it would be.
I let Middle Grandson choose the trail. He was game for the five-mile hike on the Newport Loop, so off we went.
Not being complete morons, we did apply some bug spray before we set off. Not thinking clearly, I cleverly left said bug spray in the car.
Can you see it coming? Northern wilderness park in summer after a heavy rain…what did I think we’d encounter?
You guessed it. Mosquitoes. Swarms of them.
At first, it wasn’t too bad. Then we hit what must have been the insect equivalent of the local hangout, for there they were. Bizz. Bizzzz. That little high-pitched whine set us to walking as fast as we could.
As we got to higher ground, we left most of our buggy friends behind. A few persistent ones followed.
Both of us waved our hands in front of our faces constantly to keep the bugs from our faces. We slapped at exposed skin, leaving trails of blood when we killed a mosquito who had already used us for lunch.
Did I mention both of us were wearing short sleeved shirts? And he was wearing shorts, and I had on capris?
Are you doubting our intelligence at this point?
In my defense, I’d hiked in that park before. A little mosquito repellent always did the trick in the past. Obviously, a few weeks of heavy rain had sparked a mosquito population explosion.
Halfway our trail skirted the shore. My hope of losing some of the bugs to a bit of an offshore breeze were dashed. We came close, gaining a few tantalizing glimpses of the waters of Lake Michigan, but our trail never led to the shoreline.
No chance of even a brief respite from the bugs determined to get every last drop of blood. They smelled fresh meat. They weren’t about to give up.
We walked faster, speeding up when we went through lower, boggier ground, slowing only for a breather in drier spots.
We’d round a bend. “Pretty trail,” one of us would say.
“Yeah. Keep going,” was the usual response. So much for enjoying the pristine wilderness.
“We’re almost there,” I kept saying.
Middle Grandson was becoming annoyed. “I’m becoming a serial killer,” he said. “And I’m not sorry.”
I was right there with him. The more of the mosquitoes we could exterminate, the fewer left to feast on us. Too bad we were facing scores, if not hundreds, of the blood thirsty arthropods.
Middle Grandson’s patience was wearing thin. To his credit, he didn’t whine or complain. He was tiring, growing weary, with no end in sight.
Tiring also were my legs, who weren’t quite up to a five-mile hike at racing walk pace.
My arms also grew weary of waving in front of my face. Some of the nasty little critters met their end when they flew into my mouth. Hopefully, you don’t get West Nile disease that way. Or else this adventure will have some long lasting after effects.
I took a minute to stop and refer to the trail map. A gutsy move, I know, since it made us stationary targets.
A few seconds were all I needed to find our location on the map. “Look,” I said. “Just a mile to go.” Middle Grandson didn’t look too thrilled. “We can do this.” I said it for as much my benefit as his.
But I was beginning to doubt. We were lost, I was sure. The trail map was probably lying. We were doomed to give our last drop of plasma to the relentless flying vampires.
Then, the glorious sight, a trail marker we’d passed earlier in the loop. We were almost back to the parking lot. A few minutes more, we could see it, the blessed asphalt that meant fewer bugs would pursue us.
We ran for the car and jumped in. Not quick enough A few indefatigable bugs followed. Middle Grandson killed one on the dashboard, leaving a long streak of blood. Another mosquito that died for its last meal.
We killed scores of them, and felt no remorse.
Checking the time, we realized we hiked the 5 miles in 65 minutes. Not too bad. Not a pace I’d ever set voluntarily. Amazing what motivation a pack of ravenous mosquitoes will give you.
Middle Grandson kept muttering, “We survived. We made it.” Then he laughed. “Do you think they’ll be holding mosquito funerals for all the dead ones?”
I didn’t know, and didn’t care. All I wanted was a shower to wash away the blood, sweat and what was left of the bug spray.
Note to self: no more morning hikes after a rain. Put on twice as much bug spray as you think you need. Take spray along the hike.
And be ready turn what could have been a miserable experience into a funny memory.