I’m confident enough to say that all backpackers dislike bugs. Acutally, hate bugs. Well, not all bugs but the kind bugs that bite and sting you while you’re trying to enjoy the outdoors. We protect ourselves with clothing, shelters and chemicals and maybe even avoid outings on certain areas during the worst bug season. So why would someone voluntarily walk into a swampy mosquito hell-hole during the worst bug season, and do it naked?
As I’ve mentioned earlier, I’m lucky to have some extra-ordinary friends who do extra-ordinary things. Including the one I just mentioned. Here is Huck’s report of what he did, why he did it and what he learned in the painful process. Enjoy if you dare!
Since I turned 16 I had the joy to experience the big value of solos. Adding to previous solo experiences, I went for a 40 hour solo in 2013. In 2014 it was a solo of 4 days of constant shivering resulting in an interesting physical state and eventually also in youturntime.org and this tedx talk. This year it had to be either 40 days or something else.
Well, 40 days are still to come, but as I was looking for something that does not require so much time, I opted for a pretty challenging four hour solo instead.
The story in brief:
On a beautiful summer day I went for a swim in a bog lake and then sat for four hours without any actions of defense, naked in a place, known and chosen for it’s high mosquito population.
Over the summer I had somehow mentally prepared for this and was pretty sure that I am ready for this challenge. I had done research about mosquitoes: 400.000 bites (that is 4000 bites for each of 100 minutes or 1666.667 bites for each of 240 minutes) could kill me. There was no real risk other than the expected discomfort, as we do not have malaria or other mosquito transmitted diseases in Finland.
I still think that death by mosquito bites must be a very committed and honorable way of suicide.
But back to the solo.
I like to start solos with cleaning myself and I also like ending them in a sauna. In this case I went for a swim in a little pond in the middle of a bog
It appeared, that after I emerged from my swim, waiting for the fury of the “Finnish airforce” that there was a problem. The problem was, that the mozzies were pretty kind and surprisingly low in numbers.
Instead, I attracted hundreds and hundreds of black flies. It was only a very short moment from when I realized that I am standing in a cloud of black flies, until the pain started. They were sitting all over my body and ate me.
I behaved. Occasionally nature is playing tricks on you and here I was witnessing and experiencing one. I asked for mozzies but was served black flies. Sitting down, I had to gain control of my breathing and my feelings.
I had hoped, that this solo would teach me about self control and maybe even allow me to switch of the pain by disconnecting mind and body. Closing my eyes I focused on my breathing. About 15 years ago I experienced the pain, given to me by one sulawesian mosquito in the form of dengue fever. It felt as if every bone in my body was broken. The pain here was a different story. Somehow more sharp, pointed, fast and somehow more painful. I could not tell which was worse.
In between I felt the different sensation of mosquito bites somewhere, which were a lot easier to take. My body was twitching and shivering (it was not a cold day) and now I wonder, what role black flies play to induce states of trance for shamanistic practices. My fellow beings found the easiest skin and it was at times hard to resist the temptation to brush them off. To remind you I was totally naked and every square centimeter of my skin was available.
In between suffering sounds came from my mouth, which at some point I managed to “switch off”. At some point I found myself laying on my back among plants of blueberry and Labrador tea. Always when I opened my eyes and I saw the feasting flies and the blood droplets all over me, the pain seemed to grow stronger.
At some point I started to observe my surroundings. Opened my senses and did nothing else but “be”. Amazingly, the pain level dropped. Looking at my body, I noticed that less and less black flies were benefiting from my solo idea. Where did they go?
The next time brought a change to my solo experience. There were still some black flies and mosquitoes, but it was a lot more quiet and enjoyable. I was very wrong thinking that the worst pain was over.
One horsefly visited me but left me in peace. It was ants that was the most painful.
They somehow knew where to bite/ sting so that it hurts badly. Between my toes and between my legs, in delicate places. I did not understand why they bit me. They walked around on me, heading exactly for the places that I hoped they wouldn’t and bit me there. The pain is really different to the black flies. If I were to rate all of my visitors, I’d give the mozzies a 1 for least painful, followed by horse flies, black flies and finally ants.
Luckily there were not so many ants and I’d guess I wasn’t bitten more often than 20 or so times, but the memory of these bites is the strongest. Just imagining the challenge of 4 naked minutes sitting on a nest of these big black ants is horrifying.
Reading this report one might think that I was only thinking about different insect bites during this four hour solo. Of course a big part of my attention went to the pain and to dealing with it, but the time spend meditating seemed to go by a lot faster.
Before I had set off to my solo I had put an alarm to my watch, 4:30 hours from then. The watch I had left laying a few meters from me, so that during the solo I had no idea how much time had passed.
Right in the moment when my alarm rang, a truly beautiful horsefly sat on my finger and performed a series of bites, which I then documented with my camera.
From there, I went to sauna and the second part of the challenge began: four or so days of resisting the itch to scratch.
Well, yes; it is recommendable.
While I personally get more out of longer solos, I believe that also these short solos have good value, for giving you opportunities of getting to know yourself, your body and your limits. Maybe most important, they are more easily doable.
Again, I learned a lot. Already the preparation for the assumed mosquito-solo was very beneficial, as I now am pretty good with dealing with mozzies. I remember the fuzz about wearing long sleeves and trousers on hot days and covering the head and face with nets and every inch of skin with repellent. This summer I was once again 98% of the time barefoot and was mostly wearing sarongs, which never caused me too much discomfort that I couldn’t easily stand it.
I guess it’s the same thing as with “no toilet paper”. Once you learn how to deal equally well with left hand and water or nature’s choices, you gain a lot more freedom when being in the woods.
Another thing I learned was indeed connected to my wish of learning something about self- and pain control. Even though I did not manage to be pain free, I nevertheless know now that I can stand a lot more than appreciated and that I have influence on the pain if I actively try to take this influence.
Did I learn anything else? Don’t expect to get what you came for. Even though I got a bit of a real challenge, I learned that there is a lot worse out there. In general, I believe it can be very beneficial in terms of possible symbiosis to be “open” and host parasites.
>I seek these experiences to learn, self reflect and grow. In addition I know that initiation rituals are very important but few in our times. I like to offer guidance and assistance for solos to others and thus want and need to know my own limits very well.
Text and photos by Huck. (Intro by editor.)