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Don’t Breathe and They Won’t Bug You

 

I didn't take any photos of the bug, but did take several along the route. We loved the bike signs we found along the cycle path.
I didn’t take any photos of the bugs, but did take several along the route. We loved the bike signs we found along the cycle path.

The Copenhagen-Berlin Cycle Path runs 630 km between the two cities, largely on separated bike paths or through the woods on forest roads. Older cycle tourists, in their 60s rode along the path, waving a friendly “hallo!” as we crossed paths. We entered Germany through the cute city of Rostock and traveled through Mecklenburg, Germany’s poorest region.

We stayed in a town that had been hit by a freak tornado just weeks before our arrival and passed vacant, dilapidated mansions, relics from former East Germany. One major feature of the bikeway includes a tour of Germany’ lakes region, including the country’s largest lake, Müritz.

After several weeks of rain and cold and wind in Scandinavia, we finally found some sun and warmth in Germany. We also found bugs. Mosquitoes, gnats, beetles – if it flew and bit, they were out.

Not quite hot enough to swim in the lakes to escape the pests, we protected ourselves by wearing our rain coats, long pants, beanies, glasses, and neck gaiters over our entire faces.

On night one of the pest invasion, we pulled up to our campground and picked our site. Right near the trash. It was the only flat section of the grass, so it would have to do.

“Doesn’t trash attract more bugs?” I asked.

Dave didn’t think it would be much of a problem.

We had no idea what was in store for us that evening.

Our very favorite treat was the cherries found along the side of the path. Way better than bugs.
Our very favorite treat was the cherries found along the side of the path. Way better than bugs.

I left Dave to set up camp while I ventured into town, mapless, in search of a grocery store. After following the route which carried the most cyclists, I turned around and found an ancient woman walking her equally ancient small, white dog. I struggled to ask where I could find the grocery store in German.

She said there wasn’t one, but motioned for me to follow her, speaking many long sentences to me in German along the walk, leading me to a biergarten, where they kindly pointed me in the direction of the store.

Equipped with our meal for the evening, I returned to camp to find a very irritated Dave, swearing and swatting, and dressed like a bank robber with his gaiter pulled up to his eyes, his head hidden by his hood.

Sora was tied to a tree, biting at the bugs and gnawing on her belly where the bugs had chewed her skin.

“The bugs here are terrible!” he said. “Don’t breathe! They’re attracted to the oxygen you release.”

I had no idea whether this was true, but I donned my own bank robber outfit and tried my best not to breathe while I cooked dinner. Not breathing is difficult for any living being, of course, but it was especially difficult for me, as I had recently become incredibly allergic to Germany.

This photo cost me a few bug bites. Totally worth it.
This photo cost me a few bug bites. Totally worth it.

After growing up free of allergies to pollen, my move to Boston for college ruined my streak. I had noticed yellow stains around all of the puddles along the path, and initially thought that the water or ground contained high amounts of sulfur. I soon learned I was incorrect.

My nose was stuffed, my head felt like it was being squished by a c-clamp, I couldn’t stop sneezing, and my eyes itched so badly, I wanted to scratch my eyeballs out of my face (I made a trip to the pharmacist the next day and purchased $

2.99 allergy medication).

While prepping our stove, I stuck my face over the gas emissions, with the hope that the smoke in my face would stave off the bugs. As our food cooked, I walked around in circles while swinging my arms, maintaining constant motion so as to prevent a feasting upon my flesh. Because there was no picnic bench in sight, I cooked while squatting in the grass. This cost me 15 bug bites on the small of my back.

As we looked around, it seemed that no one else seemed disturbed by the flying, biting creatures. No one else dressed in head to toe protection, no one else was swatting and swearing, no one else was dancing around their campsite. We didn’t get it.

One of the many forest roads along the path.
One of the many forest roads along the path.

We found some refuge at a table outside of the reception office and ate our meal in relative peace. Afterward, we took a walk to the lake, where the setting sun cast a beautiful pink hue to the clouds above. We settled on a wall and agreed to a 10-minute sunset meditation.

Just moments later, I heard my least favorite sound in the world: the high pitch buzz of a mosquito in my ear. I swatted it away and tried to settle back into my breath.

It was hopeless. Our idle bodies provided easy targets for the bugs, and they began to dig in. I did my best to ignore the pricks of the mosquitos as they drained my blood, creating huge welts throughout my body.

I pulled my gaiter fully over my face and tried not to breathe.

 

Jen Sotolongo

Jen is the Chief Storyteller and Photographer for the Long Haul Trekkers. Born with the travel bug, she has lived in Spain, Chile, and New Zealand. When she’s not galavanting around the world by bicycle, she is running long distances in the woods, exploring nature, or whipping up delicious vegan meals. She is always planning her next adventure.

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