By Christopher Cudworth
Gnats are agnnoying. Gnats are a product of that point in evolution where nature decided it wanted to invent an insect that can through sheer bothersomeness stop any person who is moving either slower than 2 mph or faster than 7 mph. The zone between those two human breaking points is known as the Gnat Factor because you are going fast enough to get away from gnats and slow enough to see them ahead of you.
Which is important because gnats are known to form thick little bizzy clouds that when buzzing around your face can cause something pretty close to an insane fit.
If you are running down a trail at 8:00 pace and head straight into a cloud of gnats, the results can be both tragic and comic. Runners have been known to do anything to get away from gnats in that situation. One friend of mine literally peeled off the trail and ran straight into a Minneapolis lake. I remember now those were flies. But you get the point. Flies. Gnats. What’s the damn difference?
Well, there is one crucial difference. Gnats are so small you can eat them quite easily. Ask any cyclist how many gnats they’ve eaten and you’ll hear tales of gnat ingestion that can turn your stomach. We’re talking piles of gnats. Platefuls of gnats. Gnat clouds so thick they look like thunderheads just before you pile into them like a jet plane on an August afternoon.
You come out the other side sputtering and hacking. Gnats are now coating your throat and stuck in the wet rims of your eyelids. Gnats decorate your clavicles in a gnecklace of gnatness. Gnats slide between your teeth as dark as peppercorns.
Most who run and ride simply smile and grunt when they’re eaten a pack of gnats.
“Protein,” they say. And then gack up a wad of gooey gnat stuff like a cat coughing a furball.
June is the height of gnat season. That’s because gnats have exactly one function in this universe other than driving you gnuts on the run or the ride. That is, gnats are food for everything in this earthly universe that flies. If you are small enough gnats make a good snack.
Certain birds eat gnats and mosquitoes. So next time you see a bird like a flycatcher or a swallow you should fall on your knees and thank the Creator of the Universe that evolution is a balancing act of the Eaten and the Eaters. Because otherwise we would be overrun by insects such as gnats and malaria-carrying mosquitoes.
The birds literally can’t keep up with all the gnat-eating that gneeds to be done. That’s because gnats are the horniest little buggers you’d ever want to meet. They don’t just breed, they swarm. And talk about obnoxious behavior. Gnats make those gnatty twits on the Jersey Shore look like college professors by comparison.
Gnats hold regular airborne rave sessions in which they fly together and dance to some music human beings cannot hear. They can’t even dance in unison, which might look kind of cool and worthy of YouTube. Instead they swirl and buzzipate in some insane testament to buggy freakouts. Perhaps they all get their hands on some sort of Insect Ecstasy or Gnatnip. That’s what makes them so intolerably annoying. They actually think they’re being funny and hip while making you crazy.
Have you ever noticed how hard it is to swat a gnat? There’s hardly enough to them to merit a swinging hand. They blow out of the way of your attempts to brush them away. Then they come right back, heading for your ears as if they have something important and vital to telllllll you. Once embedded in your cochlia or whatever that inner ear thing is called the Big Secret they have to offer sounds like this: bbzzzida douda fpoaisd uod uifajlljad. Which in gnat language means Fuck You I’m Gonna Die Here Right In Your Ear.
That means you have to dig the gnat out. That’s really difficult when you’re on a training run. But you can’t possibly keep going with a gnat stuck in your ear. So you jam your finger in there only to discover that sweat and ear wax form an impenetrably thick wall behind which the gnat lies dying in its own pathetic kamikaze dance with your eardrum.
Finally you pull the little bastard out with your fingertip and run on, heaving a sigh of relief as you head down the path. And then it happens again. Another kamikaze gnat piles into your other ear. You start the process all over again. Gnat. Dig. Repeat. The rest of your 8-mile run goes exactly like that because gnats far outnumber human beings on running paths.
It is reported that in some parts of the world gnats run so thick that cyclists riding at more than 15 mph have been known to increase their body weight during a long ride by as much as 2%. That’s a lot of gnats to ingest. They pile up in your lungs like iron filings drawn together by a powerful magnet.
You swig and hack trying to wash them down with Accelerade or anything you can get your hands on at the time. Your cycling buddies laugh and ask, “What the hell’s wrong with you?” Because they somehow did not hit the same cloud of gnats as you. They gnat cloud got sucked into the draft and aimed straight for your lonely little throat.
Now you’re in oxygen debt from trying to get oxygen through a layer of black gnats covering the inside of your lungs but your riding partners have no mercy. Cyclists are like that. Every single cyclist must suffer through their worries and fate on their own.
There is no such thing as waiting for someone over something so silly as ingesting a few gnats. Cycling is a merciless sport. The average riders in a weekend group would sooner have wine corkscrews jammed up their bums than slow down for a rider who has any excuse less than Armageddon holding them back.
It is in fact rumored that almost an entire peloton in an African bike race came down with ebola virus during a race. Riders veered off and died on the road shoulders bleeding from their orifices and the very pores of their skin. But the three riders off the front had escaped the outbreak and soared on to earn positions on the podium. Because that is how cyclists roll. The weakest drop while the strong roll on to victory.
Don’t Slow Down.
So it almost goes without saying. Asking a group of riders to slow down for a fellow cyclist afflicted with Gnat Poison is not going to earn much accord.
Runners are only slightly more sympathetic. A fellow runner might slap you on the back to help out if you are truly choking from a cloud of gnats. They might even stick a finger down your throat in an emergency. But otherwise you’re on your own. Just be glad that gnats generally do not fly up your ass. They do try.
Garden of Gnats
So the best response is always to pretend that the gnats don’t really bother you. Gardeners are famous for their ability to work in conditions that would make normal people insane from Gnat Gnuttiness. The secret to how they handle gnats and keep on weeding is that they are by definition more determined to rid their prized parcel from weeds than give in to a few gnats. They also gnow ways to gnaturally repel gnats.
Those of us who run and ride can learn a few things from gardeners, it seems. You’ve got to get obsessed and stay obsessed. So says John Irving in the Hotel New Hampshire.
Those of us who run and ride need to learn to Act Gnaturally and keep on moving despite the adversity created by a few (or a thousand) tiny gnats. You can clean up the Gnat Scat just fine when you get home.
Consider them trophies of a sort. If you look like you’re wearing Gnat Eyeliner or have so many gnats in your teeth your friends will swear you just ate a poppyseed muffin, so be it. Gnats are the price you sometimes pay to do something you love. They are one of the tarsnakes of the universe.