Nathan Lott's 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Richmond covers as much ground as most amateur hikers would care to do in a lifetime. And it stands to reason that somewhere in the course of such a robust lifetime of outdoor adventure that Lott would have flirted with Santa Muerte, guffawed in the general direction of Midrash or locked eyes with Charon.
Oddly, not so much.
In fact, the closest Lott's many hikes ever came to crossing the River Styx was during an afternoon stroll with his dog in the Amelia Wildlife Management Area, a 2,000-acre preserve that may be among Virginia's least creatively named hiking locations. It's also a spot that puts the casual in casualty.
"Wildlife areas can make a great place to hike so long as they've been mown recently," says Lott, laying the groundwork for an epic adventure destined not to be retold anywhere near as often as Gilgamesh.
Hiking through high grass, Lott looked down to notice that he and his dog were "both just covered in ticks."
The fearsome Ixodes scapularis and its cousin, Dermacentor variabilis, are not to be trifled with. Lurking in underbrush and piled leaves next to trails, ticks are annoying and gross. They attach to skin, burrowing where they suck blood. But they also transmit things like Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme disease. More recently, the Lone Star tick, common in Virginia, has been associated with causing a lifelong meat allergy.
As dangerous as they can be, defense is all about taking reasonable precautions before setting out and remembering to be vigilant after you get back home. The first thing to do before even entering the woods is to apply a strong bug repellent that includes a higher concentration of DEET, like Deep Woods Off. It's also smart, Lott says, to wear long sleeves and long pants. Light-colored clothing will allow you see the enemy before it can bite.
If a tick does manage to latch on, it's important to remember that most tick-borne diseases typically take at least an hour or more to be transmitted, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
Also important is that there's a right way and a wrong way to remove them. Most experts advise against using lighted matches and cigarettes or applying nail polish to suffocate them. The best approach is with a pair of tweezers, applied as close to the head as possible, to ensure that the entire tick is removed. At home, take a shower and conduct a thorough exam to make sure you don't have any other stowaways.
In Lott's case, he likely stumbled through a nest of recently hatched baby ticks — often hundreds of these spider relatives enter the world at once.
"My dog is a Basset hound, so she was right down there with them," says the brave explorer, who brushed away the pesky parasites and then did as any seasoned woodsman would do.
"I tucked my pants into my socks and tried to get the heck out of there."