To get ready for our big Cumberland Trail hike, last year, my naturalist father and I went backpacking in Prentice Cooper State Forest on the weekend of May fifth and sixth. We hiked on the McNabb Camp Loop. This loop is part of the Cumberland Trail but a side trail, not the main long-distance trail. Consider it our rehearsal backpack.
We saw the white flowers of mountain laurel in bloom and passed the ruins of an old still. We set up camp next to a creek and explored. Dad turned over a rock and found a poisonous but not venomous red eft. I waded in the cool water and found a snake (possibly a rattlesnake, venomous but edible) sticking its head out of a leaf pile on the shore.
Dinner was trail mix and tuna with Ramen noodles, or as Dad called them Ray-mon noodles. Dad had never had Ramen before. I was the local expert on Ramen, so I prepared the noodles for both of us. It felt strange telling him to follow the directions and wait two minutes for the water to soak the noodles, given that I usually don’t care and eat them half-crunchy.
After dark, I took off my clothes and stood in a three-inch-deep creek pool away from camp. I splashed myself for a few minutes and thought I was done. Then, I found two ticks nestled on my crotch. After throwing them off, I found another one on my leg. As the whippoorwills called and the coyotes yipped, I pulled off tick after tick, drowning each in the stream.
I saw another dark spot and pulled on it. It did not come free from my flesh. It was a mole. I got the feeling that the ticks were laughing at me in some sort of silent tick way.
The next day, Dad said he found it hard to sleep that night because he kept feeling ticks to pull off his skin and phantom ticks that he could not pull off.
We set out hiking again the next day. I stopped when we got to the view from Snooper’s Rock. It was a majestic view of the Tennessee River winding through the valley below.
It was also a great place for throwing ticks off the side of the ledge and imagining them falling to their deaths. Of course, ticks are too light to be bothered by the fall. I might as well have tried taking a tick’s picture without her permission in order to make her feel humiliated.
After we got home, Dad sprayed our backpacks, his car, my car, and the tent with permethrin, a neurotoxin designed to kill the ticks. He’d seen ticks before, but the sheer numbers we saw that weekend were unlike anything he’d ever seen before.
It wasn’t just his imagination. The Tennessee tick population was exploding that year. It might have been the early warm weather which did it. Forget melting ice caps, if the climate keeps warming, we’re going to have to face oodles of ticks.
For more on ticks and tick prevention in the Chattanooga area, you can read this article in the Chattanooga Times Free Press.