I had a wonderful weekend, full of great company, beautiful weather, delicious food, and gorgeous scenery. But who wants to hear about all that? The best stories are about adversity, not seamless perfection. They also have at least one antagonist — which we’ll get to shortly.
On Friday afternoon we pushed off a muddy shore in southeastern Utah for a three-day rafting trip down a flat section of the Green River. Hubs couldn’t make it, but we had a full crew nonetheless: my parents, my brother, his wife, and her parents as well as a frightening number of provisions, including two rafts, a kayak, forty-eight tortillas (or possibly more), twelve bananas, four cans of bug spray, and a dog. (As you can tell by the number of links in this post, I also packed my camera. But then, that shouldn’t be a surprise. Just click on the links sprinkled throughout this post to see accompanying photos, all of which are mine except the one of the Mineral Bottom road.)
We spent a gorgeous summer afternoon drifting lazily along the river, watching the herons fish, the swallows dive, and the shadows grow longer. We read and chatted and swam. We laughed. We napped in the sun and admired the scenery. In short, it was everything a river trip should be. A freakin’ stereotype. We could have starred in a beer commercial or an REI catalogue.
Until we pulled ashore for a short but much-needed break.
The mosquitoes smelled us coming before we hit the shallows. Within seconds we were stormed by swarms of blood-hungry bugs, all desperate for a drink in a sparsely-populated land. We dug into our bags, searching out DEET, which had little effect on the tiny fiends. It was our first indication that weather, timing, and sheer bad luck had led us into a mosquito infestation of epidemic proportions, the likes of which I can safely say I have never before seen. We did our business quickly, slapping at the bugs while trying to balance, then scurried back to the boats and pushed off, swatting the mosquitoes that followed in our wake.
Night brought us to our doom. We unloaded the boats, made and ate dinner, and set up camp, followed all the while by clouds of insects. My sister-in-law’s mother (my mother-in-law-in-law?) selected a spot for her tent, then asked the rest of us about our evening plans. Since everybody knows that mosquitoes go away at night, my brother, his wife, and her father informed her that we planned to sleep outside. Shaking her head, she set up her tent while we prepared our islands of serenity on a rock slab far from the water’s edge — and, we hoped, far from the accompanying mosquitoes.
As you have probably guessed, this brilliant strategy did not work. The setting sun brought mild relief at best. Only campfire smoke had any effect on the unholy creatures, and we could not leave open flames unchecked while we slept. Instead we used the only armor available to us, swaddling ourselves in clothes and pillows and sleeping bags despite the heat, then bracing for the next attack. It did not take long. This time, however, it came in the form of wind, as a sudden gust ripped my pillow off my head with the force of a camp counselor waking those too tired to face the day without help. My fleece flew off next. Sensing an opening, the tenacious insects dove in under the cover of night, zeroing in on my ears and neck. Despite the wind, which by all rights should have sent the tiny aerialists halfway around the world, they landed on the targeted areas with ease and hunkered down for a nice, long drink.
Invigorated by the snatched pillow incident, I recovered rapidly, again shielding all skin from wind and bugs, tucking in with extra vigilance to protect against my newest enemy: the wind. Only two square inches of skin remained open to the elements, allowing me to breathe. I braced myself against the buzzing as the bugs tried to worm their way inside my armor, and against the breeze as it blew my fleece against my face. And then it happened: a single brave mosquito landed on my lips. Spluttering, I sat up without thought and slapped it away, my carefully arranged protection spilling off around me, all hope of sleep vanishing into the night. I have had my share of adventures and handled them with varying degrees of poise, but I could not, would not sleep like this. Ever. Which left me with two options: insomnia or escape. I made my decision as another hot breeze tore at my hair.
Although I woke my mother-in-law-in-law from a dead sleep, she greeted me cheerfully and ushered me into her tiny abode, a self-proclaimed two-person tent built for one-and-a-half. She cut off my apologies with thanks for making her feel better about her choice of accommodations.
Before we’d even drifted off to sleep, my brother had carried his tent to our end of the field and created shelter of his own in four minutes flat. His wife arrived moments later, tanked up on Benadryl and dragging the rest of their camping supplies.
The next day we rushed through breakfast and the loading of the boats. Terrified at the thought of another night like the one we’d just experienced, we set out to make miles: thirty of them, to be precise. After ten hours of rowing under the desert sun against an upstream wind, we slid into takeout with enough time to sling everything onto the trailer, pile into the cars waiting for us, drive up the legendary Mineral Bottom road, and find a campsite — all well before sunset, thanks to the summer solstice. We feasted in peace on top of a mesa, our mosquito-free existence marred only by a misplaced cactus, a horde of harmless gnats, a stink bug and, for some inexplicable reason, a couple of horses looking for food and attention. But, thank God, there were no mosquitoes.
This afternoon when I got home, I showered off a half dozen alternating layers of bug spray, sunscreen, and grime, then took an iron tablet and dropped into bed. The last thing I remember thinking was, the next time someone warns me about insects when I plan to disappear into the wilderness for a while, I may just listen to them. Though even as I scratch my bites, I still can’t find it in me to regret the trip. Other than the mosquitoes, we had a wonderful time. And as for the little buggers, what doesn’t kill us gives us something to blog about.
My sister-in-law’s leg early on the first evening