Opening Letters

Surviving Another Tick Season

walking in the woods while (mostly) avoiding the creepiest of creepy-crawlies

Rob Reid, photos by Justin Patchin |

A few weeks ago, I got out of the shower and jumped a mile in the air when I felt a tick crawling on my ankle. Turned out, the tick was a just drop of water.

The Chippewa Valley and surrounding counties are hotbeds for ticks: wood ticks, black ticks, (the latter more commonly known as deer ticks), and phantom ticks, like the one on my ankle. Many local folks are familiar with phantom ticks. You come in from the great outdoors and feel little tickling sensations on your head and body.

It is the deer tick that carries the dreaded Lyme disease. I’m also hearing more and more about other tick-borne diseases these little collective creepy categories of ticks carry and transmit to humans.

We had ticks in the car ride home, in our hair while showering (which is why I now wear my hair very short), and crawling out of the clothes hamper. (Cue the Hitchcock music.)

We spend a lot of time in the woods hiking and are always removing ticks from our clothing. I had my first deer tick attach itself to me earlier this year. I woke up around 5am and my hand brushed against something on my stomach. I went into the bathroom and there was the little sucker living up to its nickname. I tweezed it out, flushed the intruder, and cleaned the wound area. I watched it for days, ready to fly to the clinic in case a rash appeared or I had new aches or a fever. I’ve read a lot about Lyme disease, trying to decipher what is fact and what is fiction. I was lucky that time. My little guy apparently was not one of the small percentage of deer ticks that carry the disease.

One of my least pleasurable hikes of all-time was up in Crex Meadows by Grantsburg, Wisconsin. The young woman behind the desk at the visitor’s center told us that the short interpretive trail had just been groomed, so off we went to explore it.

It was not groomed.

Halfway through, we came upon tall grass loaded with ticks. We walked a bit and then stopped to de-tick each other. Walk and stop, walk and stop. We got back to the center and, as I was complaining to the young woman about her misinformation, a tick crawled up my shirt. I plucked it off and held it out to her, telling her that I believe it belonged to her. We had ticks in the car ride home, in our hair while showering (which is why I now wear my hair very short), and crawling out of the clothes hamper. (Cue the Hitchcock music.)

I was hiking up north in Vilas County, west of Eagle River, the first week of August this year and came across a trail groomer. He told me and my wife that there haven’t been any ticks in the area for a month. That comment surprised me because just the week before, I had picked up several ticks on my jeans at both Tower Ridge and Beaver Creek Reserve in Eau Claire County. But since the Vilas County comment, I haven’t seen a single tick. I survived another tick season (though I know they are still out there).

One reason is because of my increased preparation for a hike. I do the old trick of tucking my pant legs in my socks. My wife and I now turn back if a trail has very long grass on it. What really helped was when my colleague Mickey told me about the chemical permethrin. He is a hunter and is always following gamebirds through, what he calls “thick s#*%,” where the ticks live. Now, my boots, pants, socks, and shirts are sprayed with permethrin. All reports tell me it is safe for humans and that it kills ticks on contact. As a result, I have fewer and fewer tick problems. When they latch on my clothes, they are immediately dying. “Dead Tick Walking!” I say to myself when I see one slowly crawling on my jeans.

I’ve had friends tell me they avoid hiking in the woods because of the threat of picking up ticks. They shouldn’t be afraid. There are many trails that are well-groomed; no grass where the ticks are waiting. The above tips about permethrin and socks should also encourage folks to take advantage of our wonderful outdoor resources.

Just look at me. I’m in the woods every week.

I’m over my fear of ticks.


OK, not entirely…

As evidenced by my post-shower phantom tick.