Hike with Kevlar Pants: A horror story about hiking in Missouri

posted 2001-Aug-20
— updated 2001-Aug-29

Summary: If you ever going hiking in Missouri, I suggest kevlar pants.

Lisa (my wife) and I had been wanting to go hiking, so she bought a book of trails in Missouri. Missouri being the flat place that it is, we opted for something 2 hours away so as to get something approaching a hill involved, rather than just walking through fields.

We chose a gorgeous day--sunny and clear, high scheduled to be in the low 80s, with relatively low humidity. Still, I anticipated sweating, and so we both wore shorts.

The park we visited was very empty...only one other car was there when we arrived around noon. Walking along the path (a slightly-beaten trail through tall grasses) it quickly became apparent that we were the first to hike the trail, at least for the day, because of the large number of spider webs we walked through. I don't like spiders. Apparently my phobia is wearing off on Lisa to, because we both frequently and spastically slapped at our faces to get the cobwebs off and did the spinning "is there anything on me?" dance.

It wasn't quite swampy where we were walking, but we were right next to a stream, and the bugs were rather frustrating. Lots of butterflies (nice) but also normal flies and high-speed large bees.

Stopping at one of the creek overlooks (we were on a bank 5 feet above the river) Lisa suddenly and quickly trotted back to the path and half-pulled me saying "you want to get out of there". Apparently (though I didn't go back to check) there was a large fleshy black spider almost the size of Lisa's fist right by my leg. *shuddeR*

We continued on, and at one point I was rammed from behind by Lisa who was accelerating through me to get away from the large snake she saw. Yup, right next to the path was a 4-5 foot snake, 1"+ in diameter. Brown. Didn't really look poisonous, but I didn't inspect too closely.

We walked close together from then on, and soon the nettles started. The path at this point pretty much wasn't. The trained human brain could discern the presence of a path by the slightly reduced vegetation, but the plants held no respect for this work of man.

Nettles. Shorts. Stinging. Burning. Itching. Insanity.

I pulled up my socks, we poured water over our legs (and one of my arms) in an attempt to stop the madness, and crashed on through the field, me half-cursing, half-screaming about the fire which was my legs. I picked up a stick and started beating our way through.

Finally the trail took the promised turn up a hill and it started getting rockier and more open. The insects lessened. The burrs increased. Little green spheres which stuck to my socks and leg hairs, and the flat triangular burrs which grab so well entire stalks, stems and all, were being ripped from the host plant and sticking to my legs.

The spiderwebs continued to block our path so at this point I got a longer stick and started using it to clear the path ahead of us. (In the end, I think my arms got more of a workout than my legs.)

The path topped out on the hill with a nice view over the wooded valley. Lisa and I sat on some rocks and ate our packed lunch. It was nice! It was...well, almost worth it.


I'm not done. We still had to go down.

So down we went, and discovered that Missouri has cute *little* lizards. Cute little lizards that rush through the leaves and pretend to be snakes. Cute bastards.

A few spiderwebs continued to escape my SDI (Stick Defense Initiative) and cause repeated self-flagellation. And the burrs increased in number, though at this point it was rather welcome...the more things I had sticking to my legs, the less I worried whether things touching me were spiders. (I was so coated with annoying touches what did it matter if one or two happened to be alive.)

Friends and neighbors, it was then that I stepped next to the rattlesnake.

I didn't recognize the buzzing at first. I looked next to the path to see what it was and only saw a fast-fluttering butterfly. Except it was too fast to be a butterfly, too noisy. You know how sometimes leaves get caught in the breeze with mechanical resonance and freakily waver on an otherwise calm day? Maybe that's what it is. Except it's too violent.

All the above I thought in an instant until Lisa said "rattlesnake" and we both leaped back the path. (Though I didn't come to the conclusion first, I'd like to believe I was about to, and would have before I was bitten.) This is when I wished I had kevlar pants. To walk up to the snake and say "I DARE YOU! BITE A ROCK!" *sigh*

I saw the snake flash across the path and away into the woods (it was only a few feet long and it was black...how bizarre) and after repeatedly convincing Lisa that I really did see it leave and wasn't just lying to make her feel better, we continued on. Through the spiderwebs and the burrs.

Finally we got back to the car. We both spent a while picking burrs off our shoes, socks (and me off my legs). I eventually got frustrated and just pulled off my socks. My feet were covered with little dots of burr spores that itched and wouldn't come off well. I brushed off what I could and we decided to drive back home.


I'm not done yet.

After we got home, I started working at the computer. My legs itched, and I wanted to take a shower, but I first I wanted to identify the snakes we had seen. As I worked (and still haven't found either to my satisfaction) I kept scratching my legs. I suddenly had an all-too-familiar realization, having grown up in Bryn Athyn. I knew that tickling feeling. That persistent, slow path of hairs, a slight rustle that wouldn't go away with repeated brushings.

Close inspection revealed (yes) a tick. A SMALLLLLL tick. So small lowercase doesn't do it justice. Tinier than a deer tick. As tiny as the period at the end of this sentence (and perhaps smaller, depending on your monitor resolution.)

And then the horrible realization.

The brown dots, the ones COVERING my feet? Ticks.

The dots all over my legs, crawling up? Ticks.

I showed Lisa. I discovered one of the tiny buggers on her shoulder. We said "ooouuuuugh!"

We showered. HOT. Shampoo. Apricot Facial Scrub dispensed freely and scrubbing skin like people...well, like people attempting to remove the infestation of perhaps a hundred ticks almost too small to see.

We showered more. And scrubbed more. Soap. Backbrush. OW, hot water burns the new skin.

Lisa said we should go do a thorough inspection afterwards. At first I thought she was joking but as near the end of the shower I found another one on my foot despite the scrubbing, I decided she had a point. So on went all the lights possible, and close inspection revealed: one on her ankle. Two between the toes. Another on the shin. And I was just getting started.

In the end, we both pulled (yes, pulled, because many had started to bite in) about 10-15 more each off the other. We dumped our socks into scalding water (and without turning the socks our looking hard I later counted around 30 floating on the surface) and gathered every piece of cloth (clothes, bathmat, towels to dry off, bedsheets for inspection) we had touched since coming home and threw it in the washer on hot.

We put our shoes and the backpack back in the car and set off an insect defogger in there.

I tried to keep one of them alive for torturnin' and questioning, but after being sandwiched in the sticky parts of two post-it notes and blinded by the scanner twice, he took a cyanide pill and let his little legs curl up under him.


What have I learned? I learned that all ticks go through a life cycle where, after hatching, they only have 6 legs (and are called 'seed ticks'), which is what we gave a ride across Missouri. That ticks supposedly take a day or two to insert their feeding tube, and that before that disease infection is unlikely.

And that one should wear kevlar pants (and possibly wrap their body in Saran Wrap) before going hiking in Missouri.

11:40AM ET

I just got back from vacation and read about your Missouri hiking experience. Are you sure you weren't covered with Chiggers? Chiggers are like an official Missouri State insect, bird, and alien-life-form combined. Their population is so large, outspoken, organized and well represented, that I believe they have the right to vote in Missouri. There may even be Chigger Unions and Vo-Tech Schools - which by the way would include classes in "Kevlar Pants - Burrowing Through Them In Nano-Seconds", "Human Anatomy 101 - The Most Annoying Places To Bite", "Human Anatomy 102 - How to Hide For Days in Cracks & Crevices", and "Chigger Sociology 101 - Humans, Why We Live To Drive Them Insane".

Regardless - Chiggers or legions of tiny Ticks - sounds like your hiking experience confirms just about everything said by close friends of mine when they returned from their recent annual trek to St. Louis to visit their relatives - "If I never see Missouri again it will be too soon!"

You and Lisa obviously just don't know how to handle it like the natives. In my experience in Missouri - you never go out to experience "nature" without carrying fire-arms, lots of beer and/or Jack Daniels, and fireworks (an exploding roman candle pointed directly at a snake has a marvelously deleterious effect on it's macho attitude). Also, you must wear boots (the cowboy variety - stops snake-fangs cold), tight Wrangler jeans - keeps the chiggers from being able to get too far up or down and deters most burrs, a couple of layers of shirts (t-shirt, long sleeved button-up, jacket) and a hat of some kind - preferably cowboy or army surplus variety.

Remember - the rednecks have coexisted in this environment for years with the chiggers, ticks, snakes, spiders, alligator gar, etc. There is always something to be learned from the native inhabitants. (I can say this with impunity since my advice is modeled after the example of my own relatives.)

Good luck surviving the rest of your time there - perhaps you shouldn't try to do anything too outdoorsy until you return.

04:13PM ET
Ah, the great outdoors. I've spent a goodly amount of time hiking in my early-middle-aged life and I'll tell you somethin' whut... I hate ticks. I hate them because they resemble spiders. I hate them because unlike spiders, which just leave mysterious welts after a good night's sleep, ticks have staying power. They like to hang out. Get big and fat. And drop off to make more ticks. I've found ticks on me that must have been there for weeks. They were so damn big they looked like Verucca Salt after she ate the 3-course-meal gum in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. But I digress. There's more to it than that isn't there? The main thing that I hate about them, and this can be said of few other things that I can think of, is that they perform no use/have no function/exist to the benefit of no other creature. Even mosquitos perform a use as a food source for birds and bats. Even spiders serve a purpose in the cycle of life by feeding on flies and other pesky critters ( and sometimes my back.) In fact, as I write this, I'm struck by the fact that ticks are joined by only one other species in their complete lack of purpose, their total Taker attitude, their individualistic self-serving tendencies. Peeps.

Of course, we do something that a tick cannot. WE make art.

And we squash ticks.
kim robinson
04:58PM ET
Too funny!!!!!! I loved this story. I'm sure it wasn't funny at the time. I really enjoyed the good laugh. I needed it. I was in Arkansas on vacation when I was young and my feet were covered with ticks also. My grandfather burned them all off with a cigarette (while I cried). Thanks for the story. I love your site.
T E Church
04:44AM ET
In my home in Eldon,MO. we learn to get the paths cut down.weeds cut, keep the grass cut.chiggers thrive in weather over 60 deg.I love missouri and my 24 acres,I lived in phoenix, as it was growing into little L.A. I would rather put up with CHIGGERS,SNAKES,SPIDERS,TICKS,DEERS,RAIN,FLOWERS,TREES,down home people,and good country day ,riding my horse,mowing grass,growing a garden and making a meal for my family from that garden, taking a walk with my wife through a misty foggy morning with a cup of coffee down a path in our flower garden and sitting on our bench, than being cuked up in a apartment in 120 deg.weather and not able to get out of the house because of people from L.A. and Mexico and all there crime.and people who live there are in such a rush to make a buck they forget to live.
02:36AM ET
I'd just like to add that we also like to go out in the woods with lots of fireworks and beer in Delaware. Although since it's colder in Delaware we don't get nearly as many nasty bugs and snakes. So if you hate cities and bugs, but love fireworks, beer, and woods, then move up to Delaware and you'll be right at home.
04:11PM ET
where does one get such pants???
08:09AM ET
www.elkline.de - they have Kevlar pants
12:10PM ET
Too avoid the nasties i use "panty house" under my pants you would not belief the protection!!!!!try it you'll like it....provided your manhood isn't threatned...
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