Can I tell you about something that fills me heart with even more terror than the thought of being attacked by a 500 lb grizzly bear, that has caused me to abandon hiking plans a full 2.5 km into a trail, and that makes me look a crazy, skittish, jumpy freak on the trails?
Ready for it? It’s walking through spiderwebs.
I know it’s ridiculous for a grown adult/outdoor enthusiast to have such an irrational fear of not just spiders but also their empty webs. I live in a place where there are incredibly, incredibly few (in fact, I’m not sure there’s really any) deadly spiders. Those empty webs are just as bad as they serve as a powerful reminder of terrifying spiders’ existences. Plus, I loathe that feeling of wispy strands of spiderwebs clinging to my flesh, invisible to the eye, harmless, and yet so incredibly icky. I try to remind myself that spiders are good for the ecosystem, that they mean me no harm, that their webs are just their way of catching a mid-day snack. All of that works only as long as they stay off my trails.
Particularly in early mornings, when few if any hikers have passed through a trail, the risk of spiderweb encounters is at its peak. But even when trails are crowded, I have been amazed at how quickly new webs are spun. It’s like spiders don’t learn that it’s not really worth it to work their magic across well-trodden paths. As a result of this unpredictability, I’m always on watch and always at risk of making an utter fool of myself. Here are just a number of ways in which I have embarrassed myself when encountering spider webs on trails:
–Forced my father or friends to walk ahead of me for significant portions of the trail for the explicitly stated purpose of knocking down spider webs. The taller the person, the more likely I am to rope them into lead hiker/spider-web-killer.
–Walked for several kilometres swinging my fully-extended hiking pole up and down in front of me like a crazy person to try to knock down any spider webs that may be in my path.
–Shrieked such that friends have been certain I was actually being attacked by a ferocious forest beast. In fact, once when I was a child, my father actually got angry with me for doing this. I was off playing in the woods by our campsite when I passed through a spiderweb and screamed bloody murder. My father ran through the woods convinced I’d suffered some legitimate injury or attack only to find me perfectly fine (aside from the emotional trauma, of course). Apparently it’s super uncool to cry wolf in the woods.
–Repeatedly thrown small branches or rocks at the spider and his web in an effort to knock it down so I can continue without fear of the spider/web potentially landing on me. This sounds simple and straightforward, and yet I’m so afraid of getting close to the web that I end up throwing both rocks and branches from such a distance that the branches don’t reach the web or the rocks veer off target. You do not want to know how much time I’ve spent employing this tactic.
–Stood there for five minutes having an internal argument with myself about whether I can possibly continue on the trail. I am embarrassed to admit I have turned around before…after hiking 2.5 steep kilometres…when I only had one day for adventuring in the area. In my defence, this was a mammoth spider smack dab in the middle of the trail and about the fourth of its kind I had encountered in the last kilometre alone, all of which I’d had to “clear” with the aforementioned stick/rock throwing technique and under extreme emotional duress.
–Had a minor panic attack and proceeded to spend the next ten minutes furiously trying to dislodge a spider from my person (with no evidence to confirm that a spider was even on my person). Imagine something akin to the running move in Flashdance. Actually, let me provide a better visual, which is Chris Farley doing the Flashdance dance in Tommy Boy. In other words, it’s not pretty.
What I’m really getting at here is that, if I could have a super power, it would be to make spider webs in my path magically disappear, without harming the spiders of course. Also, I would happily accept a permanent hiking lead/spider-web-knocker-downer to be at my beck and call for the remainder of hiking season.
ps. One last sad fact: I was going to insert a picture with this post but even the Google image screen of spiderwebs was too terrifying a prospect.