You may think that nobody cares whether or not you hike the AT. I can assure you, however, that the very moment you decide to thru-hike, billions of little arms will squiggle with delight. For it is true that countless minions eagerly await your presence on the trail. They crave your company as only a parasite can crave its host.
Mosquitoes were available for companionship from the aptly-named Blood Mountain in Georgia until I bumped up against the first of the White Mountains in New Hampshire. I was able to thwart their tireless advances by behavioral techniques until I finally reached for the Deet at Falls Creek, Pennsylvania, some 1,057 miles into my hike. Until then, mosquito ambushes were restricted to periods of humid weather preceding rainstorms, or to lowlands near standing water. If I was attacked while hiking, I merely increased my pace until the trail climbed out of the infested area (I could always count on the AT climbing before long). If I was attacked in camp, I simply donned rain gear until the blessed moment of retiring to my tent.
After I reached Falls Creek, my sporadic love-hate relationship with Deet continued until I reached the White Mountains. An application of Deet usually remained effective for about four hours before I sweated it off. I encountered my worst mosquito ambush in a stand of spruce near South Egmont, Massachusetts. Their attentions, however, began to diminish as I continued northwards.
Gnats seemed to be out in force earlier than mosquitoes. Their enthusiastic attentions also continued until I reached the Whites. Gnats seemed to be after my heat rather than my blood. They tended to adopt frenzied holding patterns on the leeward side of my head. Gnats were most annoying when the trail took an oblique direction away from the wind. Then they would swarm the side of my face, collide against the inner surface of my windward spectacle lens, and ricochet into my eyeball. Although their constant attentions in camp drove some thru-hikers batty, their swarming didn’t bother me. I would just sit facing into the wind, and try to make sure my head was lower than someone else’s They seemed to prefer the higher ones.
I define no-see-ums as “tiny little things that bite you during evenings in camp.” I didn’t notice them until I reached Maine. They had a way of sneaking up on me. I think there was a lag time between their bites and the horrible itching they caused. Their attentions were effectively thwarted by donning rain gear, once I finally realized that I was dancing around itching my legs.
I started noticing black flies soon after I reached Vermont. I think by then, their season was virtually over. They seemed to be programmed to circle my head for 5 minutes. After the orbiting menace finally crash-landed on my head, I was usually depraved enough to swat the damn thing just hard enough to stun it. That way, it might fall to the forest floor and be eaten alive by ants. Black flies seemed to have an agreement with each other to take turns. Nary twenty seconds would pass between the end of one attack and the commencement of another.
Most of the time, I was able to ignore my winged companions. When that failed, I reminded myself that if they weren’t around, the forest would be a lot more crowded.