The Adirondack backcountry is a fascinating place to visit. It provides a respite from the hustle and bustle of daily life, where slow traffic, demanding bosses and other aspects of the daily grind are left far behind for the relaxing solitude that is increasingly rare in the modern world. Tranquility, outstanding photographs and a satiation of peace and quiet are just a few takeaway benefits of spending time in the remote backcountry.
It is not all forest bathing and new age communing out there, as these positive aspects of a backcountry adventure are not the only things making their way home with us. There is a whole host of nefarious backcountry things that may show up in your gear, your home, or heaven forbid, yourself.
These insidious backcountry hitchhikers range from the living, such as invertebrates trapped in gear, to more elemental, such as dirt and moisture. Regardless of their nature, most are unavoidable, and therefore must be dealt with in one manner or another as long we continue to visit the backcountry. Luckily, most of these unwelcome companions make themselves readily apparent upon arriving home, but some can lie in wait until the least inopportune time to make their presence known.
By far, the most unsettling hitchhikers are those living on, in or around the human body.
Numerous pathogens can find their way into your digestive system on a trip via contaminated fingers, food or water. Those refusing to filter their water or clean their hands are at most risk. Pathogens such as Giardia or Cryptosporidium, present in soil and/or water, can cause digestive distress, days or even weeks after returning home.
Other pathogens cause symptoms much worse than digestive distress, including death. Two particularly heinous culprits are Hantavirus and the many bacteria species causing Lyme disease. Although such viruses may be uncommon in the Adirondacks region currently, it is only a matter of time before they become more common, especially the bacteria causing Lyme disease.
A disgusting little critter called a deer tick carries the Lyme disease bacteria. These ticks attach themselves to a human host (i.e. you and I!) in their pursuit of nourishment, which in this case just happens to be our blood. Although these little vampires are not a major issue in the Adirondack backcountry, global climate change may soon change the situation. Light clothing in the backcountry will make these little buggers easier to spot, so remember that tan is the new backcountry black in outdoor clothing designs.
I am constantly surprised that with all the time I spend crawling, sitting and rolling around on the ground during my own Adirondack backcountry adventures, I have never observed a single tick on my person. Either ticks are not overly common in the backcountry yet, or perhaps they just find me unattractive, as many others do.
Sometimes it is not the invertebrate, or its nasty pathogens, that return home with you. Some vampiric insect pests send you home with a different type of gift entirely, one in the form of a scab, bump or swelling. Black flies, mosquitoes and deer flies are the responsible parties for these backcountry injuries, especially during bug season, which nowadays appears to last from mid-spring to late fall.
In addition to the biting, these bloodsuckers often stowaway inside either a shelter or backpack, although the most clever among them (or most persistent) find their way into a car. It is bad enough watching a stray fly emerge from a backpack in the safety of your own home, but it is another thing completely to share your ride with them on a long road trip home. Luckily, if you can avoid being bit on the road, and do not crash your vehicle while trying to swat them away, they typically end up meeting their demise during the next sunny day, where they intense heat generated in your vehicle thoroughly cooks them.
Of all the unwelcome hitchhikers, the unliving creepy crawlies that return from the backcountry are the most disturbing. I am not talking about the Walking Dead here either! Whether they are hiding in the folds of your equipment, in your clothes or, gasp, on your body, finding a squished insect, spider or, gasp, slug is an experience I would not even wish on my archenemy (and I do not mean Pete Nelson, so no accusatory emails or comments please).
Biologicals (i.e. living creatures) and their gifts are not the only things ending up accompanying us home from the backcountry. A whole slew of other non-living companions can cause problems for us after returning home, some of which resulting from our direct conduct , others just being facts of the backcountry that are difficult to avoid.
Hanging out gear to dry is a timeless (and highly effective) way to avoid one of the most unwelcome backcountry visitors: moisture. Moisture almost always returns in every backpack, regardless of whether wet weather is encountered or not. Then again, how often does a week go by without some type of precipitation in the Adirondacks anyways? Drying out all gear, regardless of exposure to the elements assures that this unwelcome guest does not act as a harbinger of an even worse condition, mildew.
Every backcountry explorer is familiar with another notorious scourge of the backcountry. Unlike most of the other visitors this one is of our own making. Sweat is a crucial component of our body’s temperature control system, as it acts like an air-conditioning system, using evaporation to keep the skin cool as one climbs over downed logs, through dense hobblebush or while balancing precariously on a poorly made beaver dam.
Although sweat is a necessarily part of our body, it has an evil twin that typically accompanies it. Body odor should be no stranger to any backcountry explorer. Once sweat permeates the high-tech material backcountry adventurers cover themselves in, it soon starts to acquire that familiar stench. The stench builds as the days go by until a personal tolerance level is reached, requiring a change of clothing, a backcountry laundry day or both. Personally, my tolerance is about five to seven days depending on the temperature.
Body odor is not the only stench accompanying us from the backcountry. Another odorous bouquet often returning home is one of our own making, that is, if we insist on building a fire. The wood smoke always appears to engulf each individual regardless of the number of people involved or their location around the flames. The smell appears to permeate all clothing and most of the gear, lasting days after returning home, where its rustic stench becomes increasingly gag-worthy. If someone starts burning plastic packaging in the campfire, the stink becomes even more potent and persistent.
Most of the hitchhikers returning home with us after an Adirondack backcountry adventure are primarily nuisances, requiring cleaning and tolerance, but little enough. Given the many benefits from spending time in remote places, handling the few inconveniences resulting from these hitchhikers are well worth the cost.
Photo: Perfect place to pick up some backcountry hitchhikers along Upper South Pond Trail in the Five Ponds Wilderness by Dan Crane.