Spending 10 days on the road, camping, fishing, mountain biking, and trail running might sound like a pretty fun vacation (and it is!!), but as I try not to scratch the bug bites on my arms, and scabs are starting to itch as scratches heal, I realize this style of vacation is not for everyone.
I was outside for most of 10 days and my arms, legs, hands, back, belly, head, and ears are covered with an assortment of bites, ranging in size and itchiness. Mosquitoes, horse flies, sand flies, spiders, no-see-ums, midges… As a collection, it is both impressive and uncomfortable. There were at least two nights in the tent I spent some hours awake trying hard to not scratch, working to be zen about intense itchiness and the nature of change.
On the other hand, I also checked for bed bugs the one night I spent in a motel… inside bugs freak me out. After all, the rest of the time I was sleeping out under the stars, floating down a river, fishing, trail running, mountain biking, creeking… sharing the natural habitat of bugs. Worrying about what is living under the sheets in a cheap motel is just not worth it.
Thistles, roses, and other prickly plants.
Many of the creeks and rivers in Oregon are banked with berries! Roses! Thistles! So many plants with thorns and spines to scratch ankles, calves, and arms as you push through to get to the water. There was blood, but the wounds are mostly superficial, if plentiful. In return, we found tiny rainbow trout in mountain creeks, as well as plentiful redband trout in the warmer rivers.
Sometimes, though, those berry bushes will be bearing fruit. You can snack all day long on wild blackberries, no charge, and they will be warm from the sun and extra sweet with perfect ripeness.
When I got home, I spent at least 20 minutes scrubbing dirt out from under my toenails and from around their perimeter. The bottom of my feet are stained stubbornly in black. I wore the same pair of shorts for some part of 10 days, my flip flops are greasy with…? I don’t know what. I took only three showers while I was gone.
There is dirt from the bottom of 8 rivers and creeks in the swirls of my calloused feet. Dirt from 6 campsites, and one rustic cabin. Dirt from trails that run along rapids have views of the Willamette River and the vast Central Oregon desert. The clothes are stained and torn, but hopefully will wash more or less clean, and eventually, my feet will either get clean or slough off enough skin to seem clean.
A childhood spent on boats in reservoirs taught me that there is nothing quite like a sunburn when you can’t escape the sun. For three days last week, I was on a stand up paddleboard in the middle of a desert river with few trees. I was layered up in long sleeves, sunscreen, and brimmed hats. Still, there is a line of tan at my wrists and mid-thigh, and another across my biceps. My calves are rich with color. It is all uneven and unplanned, but at least not red and not painful. A certain amount of brainpower went to re-application of sunscreen after each dunk in the river, rubbing it into the dirt, and not worrying about when I would be able to wash it off.
The only connection I had to the world, beyond the people I was with, was snatched in towns, between rivers and mountains. A quick glance at email, voicemail, and texts while refueling the car, buying groceries and supplies. Cell coverage is sparse in Central Oregon. Even the motel wi-fi didn’t work (and the guy at the desk was fairly drunk and quite annoying, so I didn’t bother to complain).
When I could connect, I deleted 75% of the emails, did not check the news, did not connect on social media other than a couple of Instagram posts. My vacation bubble was maximum relaxing and I had only simple choices to make: fish or paddle? Bike or run? Whiskey or beer?
If you like to stay in touch, clean, unbloodied, and unscarred, you might want to stay inside. The flip side is that you will limit the perimeter of your adventures.
I may look like a wreck, will be scratching my legs and arms at work meetings all week, but the map of scratches and bites is the record of a successful vacation. The very best kind.