We headed out on a hike around noon. While I typically try to avoid the hottest time of the day for physical exertion, it was a day that skewed cooler. Wearing shorts, a shirt and a hat, I lathered on sunscreen and sprayed a thick cloud of skin-friendly yet reliable bug repellent. There were a few insects at the trailhead and I figured I’d be swatting away the random mosquito and dodging a few curious wasps. It was summer in the wilderness, after all.
Fairly early into the hike, we noticed that the bugs were going to be an issue. My hiking partner and I began strategizing. “Maybe they’ll quiet down in the sun? Oh the shade will be cooler and they won’t buzz us! If we walk faster they will stay behind. Why don’t we try some more repellent?” Our ultimate destination was a lake about 3 miles in. With a handful of light elevation gains and losses and a few too many double height stairs, the trek would have been labeled as moderate if the day before hadn’t been capped off with a leg-busting hike. What turned this particular adventure into a nightmare was the insect curtain.
It was a never lifting curtain. From that initial realization that this hike was “buggy” to the minute that we hurriedly climbed into the sanctuary of a car, we were swarmed. Head to toe, ears to knees, eyes to bellybutton, you name the body part… a bug was landing on it.
At one point I used my hat as a fan, but that just encouraged them to land in my hair. We tried switching who was in the lead. There was an aborted attempt at dipping into the lake for some peace. Fellow hikers shared their techniques and frustrations when passing by. DEET was sprayed in plumes. The only people with any chance at walking unscathed were the couple wearing long pants, long sleeves, and full face insect netting. But even that gear couldn’t protect them from the true villain of the day. An insect so evil, it would tear through clothes just to get some of your blood.
Horseflies. That’s right. Not the buzzing mosquitos, the biting flies, the wasps, spiders or the gnats. The damn horseflies.
I didn’t grow up with horseflies. In all my travels and outdoor adventures around the world, I hadn’t experienced the horror of crossing paths with this flying devil creature. At first glance, I thought bees were landing on me during the walk. I’m allergic to most insects so I would carefully wave them away or holler at my hiking partner to take up the bee/wasp/spider scouting and swatting role. Because of how thick and intense the amount of bugs were, there was no effective way of keeping any of the biting or stinging critters at bay. It was a suck it up and make it through type of day.
Halfway through the hike, my partner thought that they had been stung by a bee. There was a bit of fussing and some salty language that ultimately moved into staying distracted by the onslaught of wings and legs. As we were on the final stretch, I felt a sharp pain in my calf. I looked down and caught sight of a horsefly viscously ripping into my skin. I tried to smack it with hat, but it flew away in a blink.
A bit of pain, blood, some dizziness, and nausea hit pretty quickly. I thought that I may have been mistaken and it was actually a wasp or mutant spider. Nope. Just a jerk in a fly costume. By the time we reached the car, the bite had started to swell and turn red. After a few hours, the spot had grown to the size of a softball. Keeping an eye on the red ring around the swollen area, I took some antihistamines, drank all the water, and rubbed on some cortisone cream.
The following morning, my leg looked just about the same. Still a large hot red welt, but now a lovely pustule was forming on the bite mark. It echoed back to my recent spider bite kerfuffle. What surprised me most was the pain. I’ve had plenty of allergy super-juiced bug bites. Most of them are a little achy and then they get maddeningly itchy for a few days. That’s the typical cycle. Not this drama queen! The bite was so painful to the touch and the skin was so hot and tight that I felt it with every step and movement of my leg. On the third day, the swelling and blister had started to go down. That’s when the itching started. The itch wasn’t too bad. Less than hives, more than a mosquito bite. About that time, a bruise began to form and the nibble looked more like a bad contusion than a bug bite. It took two weeks for the bruise and tenderness to finally disappear.
Some perpetual discoloration seems to be the final parting gift from my first, and hopefully only, experience with a horsefly. I had no idea these airborne monsters existed until last month. Now that I know, they are on my “avoid at all costs” list. I highly recommend that you do the same.