By Christopher Cudworth
Every summer while running and riding there seems to be something new and annoying that comes along to bug you from one end of the season to the other.
Itching to run and ride
For me one summer it was itchy clothes. No matter what garment I chose to wear that year it seemed there was some sort of seam or tag or zipper scratching or digging into my skin to cause an itchy spot that did not respond to scratching. Itchiness is not good. It is distracting and that can take away from your effort.
It can also be a safety risk. One day while riding I was fussing with a tag just above my shorts line and while reaching back, I had just one hand on the handlebars when a giant truck filled with 8” metal pipe came whooshing past. The air compression of that heavy, giant truck passing at high speed pulled me half a foot into the lane. Thanks to my itching and scratching with that tag on my shorts, I was not in a good position to fully control the bike when the truck came by.
I survived the summer of itchiness only to ride head-on into the summer of bee stings the following year. Yellow jacket wasps suddenly had it in for me. While cycling I got stung twice on the same spot of my face within a two week period. There I was, pedaling along at 20mph in a group ride when a yellow jacket came into my riding path and clung to my face like Tom Cruise in an action movie. Then he stung me. It happened again a week later, and that sting hit a tender spot in the middle of my face, which swelled thanks to that skanky stinger poison those wasps inject when they go on the attack.
And the wasps wouldn’t quit bugging me even when I wasn’t on the bike.
I got stung four more times that summer, however. Not all while riding, grant you. But I did get stung on the arm while running. By my calculations 45% of my bee stings came while running and riding, with no explanation except that I got in the way of bees and wasps that had nothing better to do. Which is entirely random, if you ask me.
Except it wasn’t. A couple of those stings came while cleaning gutters on my house where a small colony of wasps had built a nest under the protection of the shingles and gutter guard. When I popped open the plastic two guard wasps came flying out to protect their home and nailed me on both sides of the face. Again my reaction was instinctual. I jumped off the ladder and stood there rubbing both my cheeks. “What the f***?!” I hollered.
Gnat hard to swallow
This summer it has been gnats and smaller insects on the attack. I have swallowed at least 8 bugs this summer. For a minute you try to gack up the bug but it won’t come out. Then you must proceed with the ignominious task of actually washing the bug down with some Gatorade or water. If they taste bad, and some do, you gladly eat the bug to get rid of the taste. But the idea of eating a bug still isn’t that appetizing in our part of the world.
Cyclists and runners almost universally pronounce the benefits of eating bugs however. “Good protein,” they’ll say, as a good-natured way to rib you about eating some insect matter.
Gnats are almost unavoidably ingested. You hit a cloud of those buggers and five or six of them can wind up in your gullet. Spit and cough and one or two might come out, but the rest become breakfast, lunch and dinner.
They also get in your eyes even if you’re wearing shades. It’s an odd thing to ride for 20 miles knowing there’s a fat little bug in your eye. You pick them out later with the tip of a finger and pitch them in the wastebasket. The biologist in me asks whether a gnat in the eye constitutes either a symbiotic or parasitic relationship.
Defiant little buggers
Perhaps the final thoughts in the small minds of a bee or a gnat are vindictive cries of defiance. The bee gets revenge with a sting, and the gnat does it’s best Mel Gibson imitation screaming like the character William Wallace in the movie Braveheart, shrieking in its high gnat voice, “Freeeedooooooommmmm!”
I know that doesn’t make any sense. I just like to think of that little gnat with wild hair and blue makeup charging across the gnat battlefield to challenge the cycling or running world to a duel. It is noble. It is good. If a gnat gives it life for the cause of gnat freedom, who are we to question its moral character?
It pays to think about these things in symbolic terms when things really are bugging you. Because whether it’s itchy clothes, angry wasps or freedom-seeking gnats, the things that bug you most can seem so senseless and random.
Ever had something bugging you on the run or ride? Feel free to write. It helps to get it off your chest, literally and figuratively. Leave a comment below.