As much as I love the outdoors, there are a few nasties I have to keep my guard up for. Mosquitoes are quite the annoyance; there is nothing worse than getting bitten on a part of the body that is constantly rubbed by a backpack, sling, a seam in the pants, etc. Down in the Hill Country, the issue becomes imported fire ants. Crawling underneath a vehicle to fix something, grabbing firewood off the bottom of the pile, raking the yard, or any other task that yields the possibility of close contact with the ground and exposed skin is a risky proposition. Those bites do feel like fire! But there is a more noxious pest that results in nothing good when they come in close contact with me. It is something the world might be better off without even if it does have some minuscule part in the food chain; it is the chigger.
This nasty little critter and I just don't get along. Somehow, someway I inherited my Dad's allergic reaction to being bit by these nearly invisible mites. Granted, it isn't anything on the order of severe anaphylactic shock but it still is elevated slightly above nuisance. Most folks after being bit get a welt similar to a mosquito bite. I get this huge red welt that is about the size of a quarter. Add it several bites in close proximity to each other and my ankles now look like I took a 99 MPH Nolan Ryan fastball right at the shoe-line (minus the purple from the bruise). But that isn't the worst part.
The worst part is the itching. The incessant itching that never stop. It is a vicious cycle that the great comic strip Calvin and Hobbes illustrates perfectly from The Days are Just Packed on page 135. You refuse to scratch but then it feels as if ants are crawling all over you, as if you are walking through fire so you relent and scratch. The relief is wonderful, as if the flames are out and the ants are gone. BUT...before you take the next step, the itch comes back with a stronger vengeance. And the cycle continues. My screwed up immune system doesn't help either as the allergic reaction resulting in the red monstrosities around my ankles amplifies the need for a good scratch even more. Again, the slightest bump or brush with an object kicks the reaction into overdrive. Roll over in bed and the sheets moving over the bite sites make them scream "SCRATCH ME!" Running this morning was even worse; the rim of the running shoes were right where the bites are. Agony. Sheer agony. Hot shower afterwords...bad news. Hot water and insect bites that continue to ITCH result in a twenty-fold increase in the itch signal to the neurons in the brain.
I know what you are going to say next: "Why didn't you put on insect repellent?" That is what irks me the most; I DID spray down with Off. Apparently a 7.5% concentration by volume of DEET wasn't enough to kill those little critters or keep them off my skin. There is also a high likelihood that the ankle socks slipped a little bit and exposed the tiniest sliver of skin that they felt they could munch on without concern. Now I'm paying the price. The 7.5% DEET will be used for mosquitoes around the upper-half of the body but the next time I'm heading out to the softball fields I'm taking the big gun: Off! DeepWoods Sportsmen 1 ounce spray bottle. 98.5% DEET by volume baby. This stuff burns the skin when you put it on but it has yet to fail me in the battle against crawling/flying biting insects. I'll likely spray this down before putting on the socks and cleats hoping to prevent another round of red-lumped itching madness.
So I am off to the grocery store now. Part of the trip is to stock up on food for my upcoming work week but to also hunt down whatever ointment has the highest concentration of hydrocortizone to see if it will relieve the maddening itch. Last time it didn't help but I'll remain hopeful. Here is to hoping I can make it through the next seven days or so without tearing off my skin around the bites with my fingernails...